MMA Review: #427: UFC 164: Henderson vs. Pettis

-The second UFC PPV in a row to have its main event changed by injury, this one also saw somewhat of an upgrade in terms of interest, as the initial challenger to Benson Henderson’s Lightweight crown – TJ Grant – withdrew citing a concussion and was replaced by the last man to defeat Henderson – in one of the best fights of 2010 nonetheless – Milwaukee’s own Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. A ton of fans immediately cried conspiracy on that one but I don’t buy it personally as apart from anything else, Grant hasn’t even been back in action since, and we’re now five months removed from this show. On a side note, the official DVD version also contains the first Henderson/Pettis fight as an extra, which is cool as fuck.

UFC 164: Henderson vs. Pettis

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Middleweight Fight: Magnus Cedenblad vs Jared Hamman

This one looked like your standard Loser Leaves Town type deal on paper as both men were coming off losses – Hamman two in a row in fact, while Cedenblad hadn’t fought since early 2012. I was leaning towards the Swede though just because I think Hamman’s taken enough punishment now and ought to consider getting out of the game.

Round One and Hamman opens with a pair of low kicks. Knee from Cedenblad avoids the clinch, and they continue to trade some strikes from the outside. Takedown attempt from Hamman but he leaves his neck open and Cedenblad grabs a guillotine and rolls right through to mount! Choke looks tight and Hamman decides not to tap, so he goes to sleep instead and the ref calls it there.

Really, really slick technique from Cedenblad and post-fight he shows a bit of charisma in the interview too, calling for the Submission of the Night bonus. Dude probably earned himself at least two or three more UFC bouts right there especially considering the European expansion coming in 2014. Hot opener.

Lightweight Fight: Al Iaquinta vs Ryan Couture

This was likely the last chance saloon for Couture given the issues with his father Randy and the fact that he hadn’t looked great in his UFC debut against Ross Pearson. TUF 15 finalist Iaquinta meanwhile hadn’t fought since that loss to Michael Chiesa in June 2012 and so questions of ring rust surrounded him, making this a tough one to call.

Round One and they circle with Iaquinta looking to establish the jab right away. Couple of jabs set up a hard right hand from Iaquinta. Front kick answers for Couture. Nice left to the body and a right to the head from Iaquinta. Couture comes back with a leg kick. This is looking like Couture’s kicks vs. Iaquinta’s boxing. Really nice combinations land for Iaquinta and he stuns Couture with a right hook, forcing him to clinch. Iaquinta shrugs him right off, though. Leg kick from Couture is caught and Iaquinta takes him down, but he pops back up and takes another combo from the TUF finalist. Iaquinta is really backing Couture up now. He’s really lighting Ryan up. Beautiful left to the body appears to stun Couture. Iaquinta is just owning him on the feet, mixing up his strikes nicely. Just as I say that a nice flying knee lands for Couture. Good left hook connects for Iaquinta. Couture comes back with a combo of his own. Takedown from Iaquinta ends the round and he finishes with some ground-and-pound. 10-9 Iaquinta in a fun round.

Round Two and Iaquinta opens with a pair of nice overhand rights. Leg kick from Iaquinta drops Couture for a second but he pops up and goes for a takedown. Iaquinta stuffs it well but ends up forced into the cage. Couture lands a couple of knees but Iaquinta manages to break with a right. Body kick from Couture and he goes for a single leg again but once again Iaquinta defends nicely and clocks him with a combo. Exchange continues and Iaquinta continues to light Couture up with punches. Couture evidently has quite a chin. Single leg attempt from Couture but he still can’t get Al down. Stiff jab from Iaquinta. Couture’s face looks badly marked up. He lands a decent leg kick, but Iaquinta comes forward and stuns him with another combination. Seconds to go and Iaquinta continues to land on the StrikeForce veteran. Round again ends though with an Iaquinta takedown. 10-9 Iaquinta.

Round Three and Couture gets tagged by a right hook right away. Spinning back kick lands to the body for Couture but doesn’t seem to have much effect. He’s at least pushing forward now though and he manages to get a takedown. Iaquinta immediately works back up but Couture looks to take him back down. Good shots to the body from Iaquinta as he works to get back up and manages to stand into the clinch. Nice knee inside for Couture but Iaquinta breaks free. Another takedown attempt is stuffed easily and Iaquinta continues where he left off with combinations. Good flying knee connects for Couture and backs Al up a little. Good right hand lands for Iaquinta. Body kick from Couture but Al makes him pay with a hard right hand counter. Another takedown is stuffed by Iaquinta and he lands some hard uppercuts in the clinch and then really rocks Couture with a combination. Iaquinta really starts to hit to the body and has Couture in a ton of trouble, cracking him with some brutal combinations that have him bloodied up. Couture to be fair is doing well to still be in this fight. One minute to go and Iaquinta really rocks him with an elbow strike. More shots land and Iaquinta catches a leg and casually tosses Ryan to the ground before dropping some bombs from the top. Ryan gets to his feet but takes some more punishment there. He keeps swinging but Iaquinta hurts him again to end the round. 10-8 round for me so it’s a 30-26 for Iaquinta in my eyes.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Al Iaquinta. Really good win for him as he’d been on the shelf for a while and showed no ring rust at all – in fact he looked wildly improved since his TUF run as his boxing looked fantastic as did his takedown defense. Couture showed a lot of heart but he was completely outclassed here and did well to last the distance really. Fight was a lot of fun to watch mainly for Iaquinta’s slick combinations.

Heavyweight Fight: Soa Palelei vs Nikita Krylov

It’s become hard to keep up with the UFC’s signing of Eastern European prospects recently and Krylov was a total unknown to me, although he was bringing in a decent 16-2 record as well as an apparent Al Capone gimmick (!). Palelei meanwhile had been brought back to the UFC after a string of ten wins with his only loss to Daniel Cormier since his UFC release in 2007. As that release had come after one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen with Eddie Sanchez, my hopes weren’t exactly high for this one.

Round One and Palelei quickly catches a kick and drives Krylov into the cage. Krylov grabs the fence to avoid a slam but gets taken down anyway. He goes for a guillotine but Soa easily avoids and looks to pass, landing a couple of shots in the process of getting to half-guard. Good punches from Soa but Krylov lands some shots from the bottom too. Armbar attempt from Krylov and it looks like he might roll into an oma plata, but it’s an awkward position and Soa lands some elbows to the body, then drops some big punches to the unprotected face of the Ukranian. Full mount for Soa and he lands some bombs that force Krylov to give his back. A scramble sees both men get to their feet, and Krylov closes the distance to land some knees. Wild flurry from Krylov and Soa looks in trouble for a second, before grabbing a clinch to slow Krylov down. Soa manages to take the back standing and as Krylov drops down, he lands some solid punches to the head. Krylov considers a kimura and then turns into Soa, who takes him down again. Sloppy triangle attempt from Krylov is avoided by Soa, who passes almost into side mount. Krylov tries to grab a leg for a reversal but Palelei avoids it and remains on top. REALLY weird spot follows as Palelei goes for the Mark Coleman neck crank….but practically puts himself into a crucifix neck crank (!) but Krylov can’t get it. Round ends there. 10-9 Soa but he looks fucked in terms of cardio.

Round Two and Krylov comes out with a head kick and wades in with strikes. Soa drops for a takedown and tackles him to the ground, avoiding a headlock in the process. Half-guard for Krylov and Palelei looks to be setting up a kimura. Instead he mounts again and Krylov gives his back once more. Punches connect for Soa but Krylov looks to wrap up an arm. Palelei avoids but Krylov rolls back to guard in the process. Soa takes his back again but Krylov reverses and goes for a single leg of his own. Soa stuffs it and lands some hard hammer fists to the side of the head, and they stand and both men are badly winded. They move along the fence in the clinch before Soa drops for another takedown. The pace has slowed down horribly now and the ref calls a stand-up. Krylov comes in swinging and Soa is GASSED. Big shots land for Krylov but Soa swings right back and we’re degenerating into Brad Imes territory, dude. Good combination from Krylov and he cracks Soa with a couple of knees too. Soa looks on the verge of a heart attack here. Krylov drops for a takedown but then gives it up to land some punches from the clinch. Wild swings again from both men and Krylov gets the better of it. Holy fuck these guys look like they’re moving through treacle. Krylov looks like he’s on the verge of stopping it but he just doesn’t have the energy to properly open up. Soa for his part looks to be going for an emotional hug or something. Round ends with another slooooow exchange. 10-9 Krylov.

Round Three (!) and thank god this can’t go five! Krylov comes wading forward swinging to begin but Soa tags him and his legs buckle. He manages to clinch and force Soa into the cage and these guys seem to be depriving the front row of oxygen at this point. Takedown attempt from Krylov but he can’t muster the energy to pull it off. Soa’s hammer fists in defense are comical, but Krylov can’t seem to defend himself. Jesus this is bad. Somehow Soa winds up in full mount and Krylov just looks DEAD. Slow ground-and-pound follows for Palelei and the ref ought to stop this just to kill the pain. Sure enough he does, thank the lord.

Erm, can’t fault the heart and will of either guy and I’d have zero problems with them being brought back because it was at least an entertaining brawl, but man, I haven’t seen such a sloppy fight in a long, long time and the cardio from both guys was truly embarrassing. Shall we not speak of this one again?

Bantamweight Fight: Chico Camus vs Kyung Ho Kang

Hometown boy Camus was looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss at UFC 156 to newcomer Dustin Kimura, while Korean prospect Kang had been basically dicked over by the judges in his debut loss to Bruce Leroy before the result was overturned due to the PERILS OF WEED. Despite Camus having the hometown advantage I was taking Kang as I’d been impressed with him against Leroy who I think is one of the more underrated 135lbers himself.

Fight begins and Kang opens with a swift kick to the body. Left hand connects for Camus as Kang throws out some more kicks. Right hand glances for Camus. Another one lands over the top nicely. Camus is doing a decent job of pressuring Kang. Good right hand lands for the Korean and he ducks under and gets a nice takedown into half-guard. Good job from Camus to get back to full guard and he lands some decent shots from his back too. Kang works to pass the guard and manages to do it, and then as Camus scrambles Kang takes his back. Camus manages to turn over though into full butterfly guard. Nice elbow over the top from Kang but Camus kicks him away. Kang drops back down and almost takes full mount, but Camus avoids with half-guard. Another hard elbow connects for Kang. Camus tries to reverse but puts himself in side mount in trying. Full mount for a second from Kang but Camus gets a half-butterfly guard back in, then switches to full guard. Really nasty elbow connect for Kang. Camus kicks him away again but he can’t shake the Korean off, and Kang continues to land with ground-and-pound. Oma plata attempt from Camus and he manages to reverse with seconds to go and goes wild from the top, but Kang pops up on the buzzer. 10-9 Kang in an entertaining round.

Into the 2nd and Kang hits a SWANK trip to guard right away. He lands some decent punches but Camus manages to use his legs to disrupt the base quite well. He can’t get the Korean out of top position however and Kang gets into half-guard. Good job from Camus to regain full guard, but he’s constantly eating short elbows from this position. Kang stacks up over him and lands some big shots, but he eats a heavy upkick en route to passing to side mount. Camus immediately gets back to half-guard though. Kang is really good from the top. He passes nicely into side mount and looks to set up a mounted crucifix, but Camus gets half-guard back and then hits a reversal to a big pop, getting into top position in full guard! Camus passes into half-guard and lands a couple of elbows, but Kang squirms towards the fence and looks to stand back up. Camus tries to keep him down, but Kang almost stands only for Camus to take his back and go for a choke! Kang has to roll free, but he takes some shots in doing so and winds up on the bottom again. Round ends with an exchange from the guard. 10-10 round for me.

Third and final round and this one could still go either way for sure. Kang opens with a right hand-left high kick combo, but Camus gets a takedown. Kang pops right back up but eats a solid right hand. Both men trade and land decent shots and then Kang fires off with a right kick to the body. Looks like Camus is cut over his left eye. Right hand connects nicely for him. Takedown attempt from Kang but Camus hits a good sprawl. Kang drives forward though and plants him squarely on his back. Half-guard for Camus but Kang passes into side mount. Camus right away regains half-guard. Body shots from Kang as Camus tries to get back to full guard. This is a really good fight actually. Camus looks tired to me as he’s taking some deep breaths. He does manage to get back to full guard though as Kang continues to work with strikes from the top. Into half-guard for Kang now and he lands some nice elbows. Good kick-off from Camus and he springs to his feet, but eats a right hand on the way up. Right hand glances for Camus. Good left from Camus and Kang looks hurt! He goes down, but instantly hits a reversal and takes top position again. Full guard for Camus but time is running out. They exchange from inside the guard but as he postures up Camus hits him with some nice upkicks. Kang drops back down and continues to land, but Camus clocks him with an upkick again and Kang looks stunned! He ends up in the turtle position and then has to roll to his back, and Camus ends the fight with a flurry of shots. Erm, too little, too late for me so it’s 30-28 Kang in my eyes.

Official scorecards read 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27….for Chico Camus. Well, fuck. Alright, so you could maaaaaybe see 29-28 for Chico if you gave him the second and then the third based on that ending, but shit, 30-27 is a totally retarded decision and whichever judge called that ought to be blacklisted. I just don’t see how anyone could give Chico the first round at all. Not that Kang lost much in this result anyway because I thought he looked really good and came away the moral victor, and the fight was a great, great fight anyway so kudos to both men.

Welterweight Fight: Hyun Gyu Lim vs Pascal Krauss

This one I was hyped for, as I’d been excited for Lim’s debut in March after seeing him looking like a killer on highlight videos, and he lived up to the expectation by KOing Marcelo Guimaraes with a nasty knee. Krauss meanwhile had looked good in a January win over Mike Stumpf, but given the opposition was questionable I was taking the Korean again and laid some money on him too as he was an underdog.

Round One and Lim looks to have a HUGE size advantage. Dude is ridiculous for a Welterweight. They circle and throw out some jabs, before Lim clocks Krauss with an overhand right. Good leg kick from Krauss. Big shots glance for both men. Good combination from Lim backs the German up a little. Lim is swinging HEAVY shots. Big combinations from both men and both connect, too. Front kick narrowly misses for Lim. Leg kick by Krauss is countered by a right from Lim that drops the German, but Lim lets him back up. Exchange continues and Krauss lands a stiff jab. Good counter right from Lim. Nice right hand lands for Krauss and Lim acknowledges it with a nod of his head. Big combination from Lim during a trade. These guys are just trading off in the pocket. BIG RIGHT HAND drops Krauss face-first after a DELAYED REACTION!~! and Lim pounces, looking to finish. Krauss manages to survive, getting back to his feet, but he’s all over the place. Lim wades in with a knee and some more punches and the German fighter just staggers back trying to get out of the way. Krauss tries to fight fire with fire but his punches don’t seem to effect Lim and so he shoots instead. Lim stuffs the takedown and Krauss still seems wobbled. Big right lands for Lim and he follows with a combo that leads into a CRUSHING KNEE that finally sends Krauss down and OUT. Good lord.

Tremendous fight and a tremendous knockout for Hyun Gyu Lim. He just looked terrifying in there as Krauss landed his fair share of shots too but had seemingly zero effect and once Lim landed on him, it was all downhill. This guy is a fucking badass and I can’t wait to see him move up the ladder and face the elite Welterweights as with that size and power, if he can avoid gassing I think he might be a legit contender.

Flyweight Fight: Tim Elliott vs Louis Gaudinot

I personally would’ve had this on the main card as I thought Gaudinot wasn’t far off a title shot given he’d choked out John Lineker in his previous fight and people were talking about Lineker as a title contender, but for whatever reason it was kept on the prelims. Despite Elliott looking good in his previous fight I was taking Gaudinot as I’ve been high on him since his TUF run in 2011 even if he hasn’t fought as much as I’d hoped since then.

Round One and there’s a big size advantage for Elliott here. They exchange some strikes from the off and Gaudinot takes an unfortunate eye poke. Ref calls time as the replay confirms a really blatant poke. Elliott gets a warning and we restart. Good exchange before Elliott hits a takedown to half-guard. Elliott looks like Daniel Bryan with his big beard. Guillotine attempt from Elliott from the half-guard but Gaudinot frees his head. Full guard for Gaudinot and an armbar attempt allows him to escape to his feet. Good combo from Gaudinot and it leads to a big exchange. Front kick to the body from Elliott. Gaudinot answers with a low kick. Leg kick from Elliott drops Gaudinot for a second but he pops up and forces Elliott into the fence. Good knee inside from Louis but Elliott clocks him with a left hand on the way out. These guys are really swinging here. Weird rolling ankle pick attempt misses for Elliott. Spinning back kick glances for Gaudinot. Exchange continues with Elliott rocking Gaudinot with some knees and a right hand. Trip takedown from Elliott and he begins to drop some solid ground-and-pound. Really nice hammer fists connect for him. More good ground-and-pound lands for Elliott and Gaudinot is beginning to take quite a bit of damage actually. He manages to scramble to his feet with just under a minute to go but Elliott stays on him and works him over from close quarters before taking him down again. More good work from the top ends the round for Elliott. Clear-cut round for him, 10-9.

Round Two and Gaudinot comes out swinging, but Elliott answers by throwing some really wild kicks. Neither man lands early on. Good combo from Elliott, beginning with a low leg kick. Gaudinot answers by looking to trade, but Elliott comes in with a jumping knee and follows with some hard elbows from the clinch. Gaudinot tries to grab the plum but he eats some more shots to the body before they break. Spinning backfist just about misses for Gaudinot. Wild exchanges follow but it’s pretty clear that Elliott hits a lot harder and is landing more often, unfortunately for Gaudinot. The TUF veteran’s face is looking badly busted up at this stage. Nicely timed takedown from Elliott plants Louis on his back and right away he begins to chop away with elbow strikes. Into half-guard for Elliott and Gaudinot is taking a lot of punishment here. Gaudinot tries to kick him away but it’s to no avail and Elliott is totally relentless. Round ends with Elliott randomly fishing for a leglock after continually pounding the TUF vet. 10-9 Elliott.

Round Three and they come out ready to trade. Body kick by Gaudinot but Elliott hits an easy single leg and goes back to work from the half-guard, feeding Gaudinot a steady diet of nasty elbows. Scramble from Gaudinot brings him back up, but Elliott pins him into the fence and lands knees to the legs. Gaudinot looks exhausted. He manages to break off, but Elliott still seems fresh. Good kick from Gaudinot but Elliott walks right through it and comes forward swinging. Big head kick from Gaudinot but Elliott grabs him and takes him down again. This time he gets into side mount and continues the punishment. Elliott looks for a crucifix, but can’t get it and uses it to take full mount instead. Gaudinot is just defending now. He does hip escape to half-guard but he’s still taking more shots. Elbows and punches continue to land for Elliott and you could perhaps make a case for stopping this at this stage as Gaudinot isn’t really doing much outside of just moving about a little. Seconds to go and Gaudinot manages to get to guard, but it doesn’t help him and Elliott keeps pounding until the buzzer goes. 10-8 Elliott for a 30-26 shutout.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26 for Tim Elliott. Dude looked awesome here as he just walked right through whatever Gaudinot threw and basically used his size and strength advantage to smash the guy apart for the full fifteen minutes. When you consider how good Gaudinot had looked against John Lineker, that’s pretty damn impressive. Perhaps the most impressive thing was the ridiculous pace he kept, as he literally didn’t slow down for a second and seemed to be throwing punches and elbows in every second of the fight. One-sided fight but an entertaining one to watch too simply due to the ridiculous aggression of Elliott and the toughness of Gaudinot to stay in the fight somehow.

Lightweight Fight: Gleison Tibau vs Jamie Varner

This was an interesting fight between two of the stronger wrestler/boxer types in the Lightweight division although neither man seemed on their way to a title shot or anything like that. Varner hadn’t fought since his December 2012 victory over Melvin Guillard – one of 2012’s most underrated fights – while Tibau had been more recently active – choking out John Cholish in May. As Varner’s 2012 had been as exciting as any other fighter in recent memory, I was hoping for another good one here.

Round One and they circle with Varner landing a quick combo and an inside leg kick. Head kick misses for him. Ton of movement here from Varner early on. Good combination again lands for Varner but he takes a counter right from Tibau. Nice right hand to the body from Varner. Counter right connects well for Tibau. Left hand lands for Varner. Big lunging left hook misses for Varner and Tibau lands with a right counter that looks to hurt the former WEC champ, but a follow-up flying knee misses and Varner seems recovered quickly. More combos from Varner glance and Tibau lands on him with the right hand counter again. Head kick glances for Varner. This is a really close round. Takedown attempt from Tibau and he dumps Varner onto his back in half-guard. That was impressive. Looks like Tibau’s going for an arm triangle choke, but in the process Varner winds up seated against the cage which prevents it. He almost gives his back, but manages to stand and Tibau gets a rear waistlock and lands some knees to the legs. Back elbows glance for Varner and that’s the round. Tight one to call but I think Tibau stole it in the last minute.

Round Two and Mike Goldberg drops a stat that Tibau has 20 UFC fights, which is pretty crazy for a guy who’s almost always been a gatekeeper. Good flying knee from Varner early on but Tibau tackles him to the ground. Varner looks for a guillotine but Tibau powers out into half-guard. Tibau smartly triangles the leg in half-guard too in order to stop Varner from squirming free. Good elbows from Tibau and again he appears to be setting up for an arm triangle. Varner manages to avoid that and at one point he looks ridiculously chilled given he’s got Gleison fucking Tibau on top of him. Tibau passes into full mount and takes the back for a second before Varner rolls back into mount. He’s in trouble here. Hard shots to the body from Tibau and then Varner gives his back again before again rolling back to mount. Varner’s cornerman is telling him to “have fun” which has to be certifiably insane. Couple more good punches from Tibau as Varner desperately tries to shake him off. Tibau flattens him out from back mount and continues to land until Varner rolls into full mount. Big elbow gets through but Varner manages to cling on to avoid the brunt of damage. Round ends with Tibau continuing to land shots from mount. I’d be tempted to call that a 10-8 actually, but I don’t think he did quite enough damage so 10-9 Tibau.

Round Three and Varner comes out swinging, knowing he probably needs a finish. A combo lands but Tibau manages to back up and he looks fine. Good right hand from Varner. Right to the body follows. Nice takedown from Tibau as he ducks under a punch, but Varner immediately scrambles to his feet. He gives his back though but manages to separate. Varner is really pushing forward now. Trade sees him land a crushing shot to the body. Tibau is firing back though and it doesn’t seem like Varner’s hurt him yet. Winging right hand lands for Varner but he shakes his hand out afterwards which is worrying for him. Exchange sees both men land cleanly. Good combo from Varner and he drops for a takedown of his own but Tibau stuffs it. Leg kick is caught by Tibau but Varner avoids the takedown. Big combo from Varner and an uppercut has Tibau wobbled! He stumbles back and Varner follows with a takedown and begins to drop some hard elbows from half-guard. Tibau looks really tired. Big shots land for Varner from the top but it’ll be too little, too late unless he can finish. Hard elbows from Varner and he looks to pass, but can’t get out of Tibau’s half-guard. Round ends with Varner teeing off from the top. 10-9 Varner but 29-28 Tibau overall I think.

And it’s actually a split decision, 29-27 for Varner but the other two judges going 29-28 for Tibau. No idea how you’d get 29-27 Varner as there’s no way that third round was a 10-8, but the split is fair as I could see Varner taking the first round by a hair as it was close. Very good fight actually and the difference turned out to be once again Tibau’s sheer strength and power as it allowed him to take Varner down with little difficulty in the first and second round. Neither guy is likely to bother the title scene any time soon but they both deserve a spot in the UFC and this was a solid addition to the card even if it wasn’t a barnburner.

Featherweight Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Erik Koch

These two basically felt like mirror images of one another – exciting, well-rounded young fighters looking to move up towards a title shot at 145lbs. Both were coming off tough losses too – Poirier to Cub Swanson and Koch to Ricardo Lamas. Despite Koch’s home-field advantage I was leaning towards Poirier as I thought his wild aggression would prove to be the difference.

First round and thank god, Koch has grown hair so they can be told apart. Hard leg kicks land for both men in an early exchange. Nice counter left lands for Poirier to combat a kick from Koch. Winging left hand drops Koch and he’s in trouble. Poirier pounces and looks to land some follow-ups, but Koch gets a triangle choke from the bottom and it looks tight! Poirier lifts him up but the choke gets deeper and now he’s in trouble. Koch pulls down on the head in an attempt to finish and tries to roll him to mount, but somehow Dustin survives and manages to break free into Koch’s guard. That was an awesome exchange. Koch goes for it again and locks it up, but Poirier punishes him with some nasty hammer fists and manages to escape to his feet. They clinch up and Koch drives him into the fence, landing a knee to the body, but Poirier spins him around. They exchange some knees from the clinch before breaking with just under two minutes to go. Good left hand from Poirier. Another one lands and a BIG RIGHT HAND drops Koch HARD! Koch looks just about done as Poirier lands some bombs from above, but somehow he manages to tie Dustin up a little from half-guard to avoid the stoppage. Big shots land for Poirier though and Koch is still in a lot of trouble. Koch manages to wall-walk to his feet but Poirier takes him right back down and lands in side mount. He tries to go for full mount, but Koch catches him in half-guard. Poirier sets up for a D’Arce choke and locks it in, and now it looks like Koch might have to tap! Poirier turns to tighten it up, but can’t quite finish it and the buzzer saves Koch, holy shit. That was one of the best rounds of the year. 10-9 Poirier.

Second round and they again exchange strikes. Koch keeps eating the left hand from Poirier. Couple of sharp counters connect for Koch but Poirier catches him hard with the left hand again. Poirier is really pushing forward here with power shots. Another left hurts Koch and he clinches, but Poirier hits a trip takedown into half-guard. Koch immediately works to get back to his feet, but he gives his back in the process and Poirier gets one hook in. He tries for a neck crank but can’t get it. He does get full mount however and looks for an arm triangle choke. Koch avoids that but he’s still mounted and Poirier lands some undefended, brutal left hands to the face. Koch’s face is all cut up. Mounted triangle attempt from Poirier allows Koch to post up to his feet into the clinch. Good shots inside from Poirier. Hard elbow connects for Dustin from the clinch. One minute to go and they exchange knees from the clinch before Poirier breaks with a left-right combo. Poirier continues to press forward and they end up clinched to end the round. 10-9 Poirier again although the round wasn’t as good as the first.

Third round and Koch opens with a nice combination. Both guys are swinging pretty wild here. Clinch from Poirier and he drops for a takedown, but Koch defends. Koch’s got a nasty cut underneath his right eye. They exchange knees and Poirier lands some hard punches to the body too. Koch continues to defend the takedown and in the end he manages to take top position when Poirier appears to fall off balance. Full guard from Poirier but some good shots get through from the top for Koch. Looks like Poirier’s looking for an armbar, but he doesn’t fully commit to it and Koch lands with some elbows. Koch tries to pass and as Poirier scrambles he gives his back. Koch gets one hook in and pretty much gets full back control, but Poirier does well to defend a choke attempt. Dustin stands in an attempt to shake him off, but Koch manages to force him back down and keep the position. Body triangle from Koch but he can’t get a choke before the round ends. 10-9 Koch but 29-28 Poirier overall.

Official scorecards read 29-28, 29-27 and 29-27 for Dustin Poirier to take the unanimous decision. Absolutely tremendous fight from start to finish – I wouldn’t call it a FOTYC but it wasn’t far off, as Poirier got himself into serious trouble early on in the first before roaring back to come incredibly close to stopping Koch at the end of that round. The second and third weren’t quite as spectacular but good lord that first round was good. Poirier is just one of the most exciting guys to watch in all of MMA right now and Koch more than held up his end of the bargain here. With the improvements he’s constantly making though I can see Poirier in a title fight in the near future and it’s something I look forward to seeing as the guy brings it every single time he’s in the cage.

Heavyweight Fight: Ben Rothwell vs Brandon Vera

A lot of people were horrified with the fact that this made the main card, and I could see their point when you had Gaudinot/Elliott on the prelims, but the UFC always wants to push Heavyweights as the division is notoriously thin so it’s just one of those things. I was semi-intrigued anyway as the word online was that Vera had taken to powerlifting in order to acclimatise to moving back up, and as a longtime fan of his who still has hopes that he can regain his form from 2006, the possibility of ‘UberVera’ was an interesting one indeed! The elephant in the room? Rothwell had gotten himself on TRT prior to the fight for the usual reasons.

Round One and well, Vera isn’t exactly Alistair Overeem, put it that way. He doesn’t look fat though which is good I guess. Lot of movement from both men early but Vera lands with the first decent shot – a low leg kick – and he quickly gets out of the way of Rothwell’s counters. Good combo from Vera but Rothwell catches him with a clean right hand and forces him to quickly circle out. HARD body kick connects for Vera. Good leg kick and left hand follow. Combo glances for Rothwell. Vera circles out again though and cracks him with a left hook. Rothwell seems to be coming up a little short on most of his punches. Body kick and another sharp counter left from Vera. Decent leg kick from Rothwell. Another hard body kick lands for Vera and he quickly dodges a combo. More of the same follows as Vera continues to dodge the big shots from Rothwell and land cleaner counters. Nasty low blow from Rothwell causes the ref to have to call time. They restart and right as they do, the buzzer goes. 10-9 round for Brandon Vera.

Round Two and Rothwell throws some more feints early on, but he still takes a hard leg kick from Vera in the opening seconds. Clinch from Rothwell and he forces Vera into the cage briefly, but they break soon after. Nice combination from Vera and he narrowly blocks a head kick from Rothwell. Good combo from Rothwell and he forces Vera back into the fence. They exchange knees from the clinch before Rothwell breaks off. Couple of combinations land for Rothwell. Good elbow over the top for Vera. Leg kicks connect for both men. Couple of kicks land for Vera but Rothwell easily shrugs him off when he tries for a single leg. Rothwell uses a body shot to get to the clinch, but Vera quickly breaks off. Right hand lands flush for Rothwell and he follows with an elbow, but eats a counter from the smaller man. Nice one-two from Vera. Big swings miss for Rothwell. Left hand lands clean for Vera. Round ends with Vera landing another counter. 10-9 Vera.

Round Three and Vera opens with a combination as Rothwell throws some feints. Rothwell suddenly charges forward into the clinch, but he can’t do much with him there as both men land knees. Herb Dean calls a clean break and they restart and suddenly Rothwell is FIRED UP, throwing a glancing head kick and then suddenly pressing forward with some wild Clay Guida-esque head and shoulder movement. Big overhand right connects for him on the way forward and he catches Vera standing still and NAILS him with an uppercut and a flurry! Vera is in trouble and Rothwell continues to land and drops him! Holy shit. Vera turtles up and Rothwell continues to land and Herb’s seen enough and stops it there. Well, that was quite the finish.

Odd fight as the story seemed to be that Rothwell was too slow and plodding to deal with Vera’s speed and countering skill, but in the third he got all fired up and managed to catch Vera standing and once he’d hurt him the fight was pretty much over. With two losses in a row you’d think this would’ve ended Vera’s UFC run, but he got another reprieve because, well, of course Rothwell tested positive for elevated testosterone – despite apparently needing TRT. I’m not getting into THAT can of worms here but I think at this point it’s something the UFC or the athletic commissions or SOMEBODY needs to deal with ASAP. Post-fight Rothwell cuts an AWESOME roaring promo calling out Travis Browne, but you know, TESTOSTERONE.

Featherweight Fight: Chad Mendes vs Clay Guida

After dropping to 145lbs earlier in the year, Guida had “beaten” Hatsu Hioki with a really questionable decision, and so he was moved up the ladder to fight the de facto #1 contender in Mendes here in what was a great fight on paper. Despite Guida’s smothering style I thought Mendes would be absolute kryptonite for him – a better wrestler who’d be able to hold him off and outstrike him – particularly considering he’d really developed his striking and become a knockout artist recently.

Fight begins with Guida of course showing his usual frenetic, mental footwork. Doesn’t seem to faze Chad at all though and he lands a chopping leg kick. Glancing right hand counters for Guida. Wild swings miss for Guida and Mendes clips him with a right hand. Nice counter combo from Mendes and Guida shoots, but Mendes shrugs him off and goes for a guillotine. Guida manages to scramble free though and pops to his feet. Head kick glances for Guida and he’s really pushing the action here. He’s coming up short on the majority of his strikes, though. Right hand lands for Mendes. Nice takedown from Mendes and he gets on top in Guida’s guard and lands an elbow. Guida does a good job of tying him up, but he still eats some elbows. Scramble attempt from Mendes and he looks to take the back but Guida avoids and that’s the round. 10-9 Mendes.

Into the 2nd and Guida really pushes forward early on, but he takes a counter left and a leg kick from Mendes. Wild left hook misses for Guida. Nice leg kick lands for Mendes. Jumping knee lands low for Guida and the ref calls time to let Mendes recover. They restart and Guida continues to push forward, but he takes counters. Takedown attempt from Guida but Mendes stuffs it and then forces Guida down himself, taking his back. Hard knee to the body from Mendes. Guida scrambles free but he eats another knee on his way up. Takedown attempt from Mendes but this time Guida sprawls to avoid. Another shot from Guida but Mendes sprawls and easily blocks it before forcing him into the fence. Uppercut breaks and Mendes hits a single leg, then takes the back in a scramble. No hooks but Mendes remains in control and he almost grabs a kimura as Guida turns into him. Guillotine attempt from Mendes and he lands a knee to the body as they stand. Guida pops his head free and breaks off with just over a minute to go. Guida keeps pushing forward but his strikes are coming up short and an odd spot follows as Mendes basically dives out of the way of a takedown and then gets one of his own to land some shots. Back up with seconds to go and Mendes cracks him with a counter left hand. 10-9 Mendes.

Third and final round and Guida comes out swinging, but Mendes tags him with a right that drops him. He pops back up and lunges for a takedown, but Mendes again sprawls and spins to the back. More punches land with Guida in a seated position and when he comes back up he eats a BIG COMBO that sends him crashing down! Guida looks done and referee Yves Lavigne comes in to rescue him just thirty seconds into the round. Wow.

That was a real eye-opening performance from Chad Mendes as not only did he have basically zero problems with the odd style of Guida – a style that even guys like Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard couldn’t really deal with – but he was also able to finish him off with strikes, which nobody had done in the UFC before. When you consider that just like, two years ago the guy was known as a decision fighter then that’s quite the improvement. I’d argue he’s the most improved fighter overall in the last few years in fact. Really exciting fight too as Mendes played matador to perfection and shut Guida down like few others had ever done before.

Heavyweight Fight: Josh Barnett vs Frank Mir

After loads of issues surrounding his contract coming out of StrikeForce, Barnett finally inked with the UFC in mid 2013 and was set to return after a massive eleven year absence. Of course, he’d left the UFC after being stripped as Heavyweight champion following a failed drug test, but that was hardly mentioned upon his return and he was being treated more like a returning contender. His first opponent? Former champion and now the best gatekeeper in the game, Frank Mir. Being two of the best promos in MMA, they did a tremendous job building the fight too and I was salivating to see it by the time it came around. My pick was Barnett because I figured he had more left in the tank than Mir, but to see Mir win wouldn’t have surprised me either.

Round One and Barnett comes out SWINGING. Mir fires right back and they trade pretty wildly with Mir landing some solid shots. Barnett grabs a clinch and the trade continues as they muscle for position. Did not expect this frenetic a start. Barnett forces him back into the cage and lands a couple of knees inside. Mir tries to fire back but Barnett’s putting a lot of pressure on him here and he keeps him clinched up. Good shots land inside for Mir but Barnett clocks him with a hard uppercut. And another. Mir suddenly looks like he’s wilting as Barnett lands on him with big knees and uppercuts. Solid elbow lands for Josh as does a knee to the body. More big shots from Barnett break the clinch but he quickly grabs Mir again. BRUTAL KNEE drops Mir HARD and the referee comes in and stops it before Barnett can even follow up.

Post-fight Mir claims an early stoppage but I disagree – even though he did get to his feet after the stoppage he looked like he’d gone out and I think Barnett would’ve hurt him further if he’d been allowed to by the referee. Excellent performance from Barnett as he didn’t waste any time at all and had a great gameplan – Mir’s historically struggled with guys who can crowd him and do damage from close range (Shane Carwin, Daniel Cormier, Brock Lesnar) and so Barnett followed that to a tee. As for Mir I think he’s realistically done and ought to consider retirement – I think he’s a surefire Hall of Famer given all his accomplishments, what he overcame in terms of his leg injury, and the fact that he’s been *the* go to guy for the UFC at HW for like a decade now – but he’s instead fighting the Reem in February and I think that ends badly for him too.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Benson Henderson vs Anthony Pettis

As I briefly mentioned in the opening, this rematch was set up when TJ Grant was unable to compete due to a concussion. The fact that Pettis stepped in though was a little surprising given he’d pulled out of a shot at the Featherweight title only four weeks previously, citing a knee injury. I mean sure, Milwaukee’s his hometown and this was a title shot, but it rang alarm bells for me and made me lean towards Henderson in terms of a pick. The first fight had been a legit classic – a back and forth war with Pettis edging it largely because of the famous Showtime Kick in the fifth round – but I thought Henderson had improved more since that fight, bringing better striking, better wrestling and more aggression, and so I was taking him to retain by decision.

Crowd are MASSIVELY behind Pettis, giving him one of the loudest pops I can recall at a UFC event and booing poor Henderson out of the building. Henderson looks completely focused though and in a first for him he’s sporting cornrows, too.

Round One and Henderson pushes forward early and lunges in for a takedown. Pettis works to defend and gets his back to the fence, but Henderson switches to a single leg. Big crowd chant for Pettis. Good job by Showtime to defend the takedown, but he takes a knee on the way out. Low side kick to the leg from Henderson. Good combo from the champ and he drops for a takedown again. Pettis defends once more and they move along the fence with Henderson landing some short punches. They break off and Henderson lands with a really low leg kick to set up another clinch. Good knees inside for Henderson but he still can’t get Pettis down. Just under two minutes to go and they break off. Nice body kick connects for Pettis. Another one follows and it looks nasty. Head kick misses but a third and a fourth and a FIFTH body kick connects. And a sixth, good lord. No wind-up too. Cartwheel kick misses and Henderson finally gets the takedown, but right away Pettis postures up and LOCKS UP AN ARMBAR! Henderson tries to defend but Pettis traps BOTH ARMS and extends it….and Henderson verbally taps. Holy shit.

UNBELIEVABLE ending when you consider that Henderson had basically looked unsubmittable in his previous fights with guys like Donald Cerrone and Mark Bocek, and then Pettis – a dude known for his striking – locks up an armbar from the guard and gets him out of there in seconds. My personal feeling is that he was probably a lot more hurt than anyone realized from those body kicks, but even so. Basically a flawless showing from Pettis to tear the belt right away from Henderson and for as much as I’m a fan of Bendo and loved the fights he put on as champ, I’m more excited for the reign of Pettis (assuming he can stay healthy) as he’s a more marketable guy and has a style that’s pretty much unique in the division right now. Tapping a guy as good as Benson Henderson in your hometown? That’s about as epic a title win as you can possibly get in MMA and so while it only lasted one round this was one of the most memorable fights of 2013, period.

-Highlight reel rolls and we’re done from Milwaukee.

Final Thoughts….

Top to bottom this was one of the best shows of 2013 point blank. None of the fights were bad really – Krylov/Palelei counts as entertaining crap – and we got some tremendous, action-packed clashes in Koch/Poirier, Elliott/Gaudinot and Kang/Camus to go along with a ton of highlight reel finishes in Pettis/Hendo, Barnett/Mir, Mendes/Guida and Lim/Krauss. So it’s an easy two thumbs up for UFC 164 and if you haven’t already seen it its well worth going out of your way to do so.

Best Fight: Poirier vs. Koch
Worst Fight: Palelei vs. Krylov

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: