MMA Review: #454: UFC Fight Night 39

-This was the first UFC show in Abu Dhabi since the semi-infamous UFC 112 in April 2010 – you remember, Anderson Silva’s dancing against Demian Maia. That card had two title matches plus a Hughes vs. Gracie clash; this one wasn’t nearly as stacked, being a Fight Pass exclusive card. Still, the co-main event of Guida vs. Kawajiri sounded cool, and so did the main event of Nogueira vs. Nelson.

UFC Fight Night 39

Abu Dhabi, UAE

-Your hosts are John Gooden and Dan Hardy. Guess they’re using the UK crew for all of the European/African/Asian type shows now then.

Lightweight Fight: Ramsey Nijem vs Beneil Dariush

Young grappling prodigy Dariush had made a surprisingly good UFC debut back in January, shocking veteran Charlie Brenneman by dropping and submitting him in under a minute. He was the favourite coming into this one against TUF runner-up Stripper Ramsey, and personally I wasn’t sure why as I’ve always liked Ramsey and think he’s pretty underrated with a solid all-round game. I ended up putting money on the Stripper in fact. Side note but it made a lot of sense to have these two on this card, with Dariush having an Iranian background and Nijem a Palestinian one.

Round One and Ramsey comes rushing out of the gate and lands with a low kick. Straight left connects for Dariush and slows Ramsey down though. Hard body kick lands for Dariush but Ramsey catches it and gets a takedown, landing a flurry of punches with Dariush on his back. Ramsey decides to let him back up and the exchange continues. Nice leg kick from Nijem and Dariush shoots and forces him into the fence. Crowd are way into this one as they exchange inside the clinch. Ramsey breaks and blocks a head kick. Good low kick from Ramsey. One-two lands for Nijem. Dariush has his hands a little low. Flying knee from Dariush but he jumps into a BIG COMBO from Ramsey that sends him down! He pops up but he’s in trouble. Another flurry puts him down and Nijem goes WILD looking for the finish with some huge shots. Guillotine attempt from Ramsey but he decides to give up on it to bomb on Dariush some more, and he finds himself in full mount. BRUTAL HAMMER FISTS from Ramsey and he continues to dribble Dariush’s head off the ground as Beneil looks for a leglock. Nijem avoids that and takes the back, flattening him out and continuing to bomb away. Dariush rolls, but he can’t escape the ground-and-pound and Ramsey continues to destroy him until referee Neal Hall calls the stoppage.

Hell of a finish from Ramsey Nijem. Literally from the moment he had Dariush hurt he didn’t let up for even a second, just smashing him to pieces with ground-and-pound in every position he found himself in. Dariush looked like he might survive for a moment, but the sheer aggression of Ramsey was not to be denied. I still think he’s a bit wild and that might catch up with him at some point, but that’s why he’s such an exciting fighter I guess. Great opener.

Welterweight Fight: Ryan Laflare vs John Howard

Laflare had gone 3-0 in the UFC in 2013 in solid but unspectacular fashion, beating pretty decent opponents actually in Ben Alloway, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Court McGee. Here he was faced with veteran striker Howard, who’d picked up his most impressive win in a while over Siyar Bahadurzada at UFC 168. I was leaning towards Laflare grinding out another tough win personally.

Round One and they circle before Laflare lands a pair of hard body kicks. Nice left counter from Howard but Laflare hits a single leg and gets him down into half-guard. Laflare works to pass, but Howard does a good job of locking down on the leg to avoid. Laflare keeps working though and slices his way through into side mount. Not much ground-and-pound, however. Beautiful scramble from Howard almost puts him back in guard but Laflare does a good job to retain the dominant position and then he looks to lock up a D’Arce choke. Looks like there’s too much space though and Howard pops his head free. He almost gets to his feet, but Laflare keeps him down. Another scramble allows Howard to get back up and he catches a kick and gets Laflare down for a second. Laflare scrambles and pops right back up though. They clinch and Laflare lands an elbow, but Howard breaks with a right hand. Takedown attempt again from Laflare and he moves into a rear waistlock, but he can’t get Howard down. Suplex puts Howard down for a split-second and then Laflare grabs a front facelock as Doomsday stands. Howard gets back to his feet though and forces Laflare back into the fence. They break off and Howard lands a combo into the clinch, but Laflare breaks quickly. Good body shot from Laflare. Big knee into a left hand follows and stops Howard in his tracks for a second. Head kick glances for Laflare. The guy is looking fantastic. Seconds to go and Howard lands a low kick, but he eats a body kick to end the round. 10-9 Laflare.

Round Two and Laflare lands a low kick, but Howard OPENS UP on him with a combo and Laflare goes down! He pops right back up though and quickly clinches, forcing Howard into the fence. Howard actually hits a takedown though and lands in guard. He moves into half-guard and it looks like the mount might be open for him. Sick reversal from Laflare though and he sweeps all the way into top position, taking side mount too. Awesome stuff and the crowd really appreciate it. Howard reverses that though and they come back to standing! Hard body kick from Laflare. They clinch back up and Laflare looks to secure a bodylock, but Howard blocks it and they end up on the fence. BRUTAL KNEE TO THE GROIN from Laflare and Howard collapses in AGONY, screaming and turning the air absolutely BLUE with his language. Jesus Christ.

Replay shows it was literally one of the worst low blows probably in UFC history, a knee directly to the groin. Fair play to referee Leon Roberts for not taking a point though as Laflare definitely didn’t mean it. Howard’s still writhing around in pain. Roberts calls a doctor in to check Howard and they ought to consider throwing this fight out I think as Howard appears to have tears in his eyes. Where’s the cornermen with the flag to fan his crotch when you need them? Howard’s now seated against the fence and appears to be sobbing. Apparently he’s still got two minutes to recover. Doctor gets him to walk forward and he looks as wobbly as he would if Laflare had cracked him in the temple rather than the balls. This fight’s over, let’s be frank. Crowd are now booing in horror as the quack touches Howard’s stomach and causes him to collapse again. Stop the fight already. Somehow though Howard decides to continue, which is INSANE.

We restart with about two and a half minutes remaining and Howard comes in swinging, but Laflare quickly hits a trip to side mount. It was as if Laflare felt ashamed to try to hit the guy. Howard gives his back in order to stand, and they remain clinched before Laflare actually separates with a knee to the body. Harsh! Another trip follows but Howard reverses it as soon as they hit the ground, and pops back up into the clinch. Laflare controls the clinch with some more knees, but Howard manages to fire back with a couple of his own. HARD uppercut breaks for Howard but they clinch again right away after. Big combo breaks for Howard though and Laflare looks rocked! Howard can’t capitalise before the round ends though. Gotta go 10-9 Howard there for the combos and the fact he had Laflare hurt on a couple of occasions. Brave man for continuing, too.

Round Three and Howard drops Laflare in the opening seconds with a VICIOUS LEG KICK. Laflare pops back up though and immediately hits an outside trip to guard. Laflare tries to posture up, but Howard reverses to his feet and opens up with another big flurry. Laflare takes it really well though and separates with a kick to the body. Nice head movement from Howard allows him to dodge a combo, but Laflare hits a takedown. Roll from Howard puts him on top for a second but Laflare reverses that and ends up on top in guard, where he feeds Howard a couple of elbows before moving into half-guard. Good job from Howard to sneak butterfly guard back in and he tries to kick Laflare off, but fails and eats some punches for his efforts. Nice pass from Laflare into side mount. Somehow Howard reverses again, but this time he ends up giving his back and Laflare takes an over/under. Howard tries to roll free but Laflare keeps the position and lands some shots to the side of the head. Looks like Howard might be rolling for a leglock, but Laflare defends well and attempts to set up an arm triangle choke. Howard manages to roll through right into a kneebar, but he’s a bit low on the leg and Laflare seems fine, pushing with his free leg to escape. He manages to get out, but Howard grabs the leg again. This time Laflare quickly yanks it free and takes the back again. Body and head punches from Laflare, and he ends the fight in a dominant position. 10-9 Laflare for a 29-28 I’d say, but that was a hell of a fight.

No scores read but it’s a unanimous decision for Ryan Laflare. This was one of those rare fights though where there is no loser as it was absolutely fantastic from start to finish, with brutal striking from Howard, some amazing scrambles on the ground and some tremendous tenacity from Laflare to come through a few sticky moments to basically outwork Howard for the victory. The low blow was really unfortunate and it must be said that it may well have changed the outcome of the fight – you could probably argue the fight should’ve been stopped in fact – but kudos to Howard for continuing and giving us a great, great fight.

Featherweight Fight: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs Clay Guida

Japanese legend Kawajiri had debuted in the UFC in impressive fashion in January, choking out Sean Soriano in two rounds, but obviously Soriano wasn’t the highest calibre opponent. Here he was tested with someone much more proven in the Octagon – Guida was making his nineteenth trip there and was looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Chad Mendes. My thought was that Kawajiri hadn’t taken quite as much damage as the other Japanese legends in the UFC (Gomi, Kid, Sexyama) and his strong wrestling background and better striking game would allow him to outwork Guida for the victory. Pre-fight both guys look PUMPED and are snarling at one another across the cage. Gotta love it!

Round One and Guida rushes out right away and presses forward. Hardy is such a mark for Guida it’s hilarious. Overhand right glances for Guida and a spinning backfist just misses for Kawajiri. Suddenly a HUGE OVERHAND RIGHT from Guida drops Kawajiri HARD! Guida quickly pounces on him as he tries to stand, leaping onto the back and going right into the koala position. Whoa. He can’t get a second hook in though and it looks like Kawajiri might shake him off. Big crowd chant for Guida. Kawajiri manages to turn into him and begins to lock up a kimura, but Guida drops for a single leg to counter and tries to lift him up. He can’t quite manage it though and decides to focus on freeing his arm instead. SLICK roll from Kawajiri allows him to roll into an armbar, and Guida looks like he might be in trouble. He tries to slam his way free, but Kawajiri appears to lock the hold in deeper. Guida remains calm though and manages to pull free, landing a nasty right hand as he does so. Kawajiri immediately stands but Guida stays right on him with a rear waistlock. Kawajiri tries to channel his inner Sakuraba with the kimura again, but this time Guida LIFTS HIM UP AND SLAMS HIM ON HIS HEAD!~! Somehow Kawajiri seems alright though and he pops back up. Knees to the thighs from Guida as he keeps hold of the waistlock. He’s going for the Karo Parisyan tripping kimura now it looks like, but Guida does a nice job defensively but he’s also grimacing a bit. Finally Kawajiri gives up on it and manages to hit a takedown, then HE lifts Guida up and hits a BIG SLAM of his own! Guida of course returns the favour by going for a kimura from his back, but he’s in half-guard and Kawajiri seems fine. Reversal from Guida flips the Japanese star over on the buzzer. Awesome round. 10-9 Guida.

Round Two and Guida pushes forward again as they exchange some jabs. Head kick glances for Kawajiri and he shoots, but Guida blocks it and looks for a takedown of his own. Kawajiri tries to lock up a guillotine, but Guida stays right on him and drives him into the fence before taking him down. Again Kawajiri tries to go for the kimura and uses it to stand back up. Nice short elbows to the head from Kawajiri, Travis Browne style, and he tries to roll into the kimura but Guida slips free and stands. Combo misses for the Crusher and Guida shoots again, but once more he takes elbows to the head. Big slam puts Kawajiri on his back though. Kawajiri immediately explodes to his feet, but Guida keeps the rear waistlock. Kimura attempt once again from Kawajiri and this time he rolls into the kimura and it almost looks locked, but Guida manages to scramble out and take top position. Again he takes the back as Kawajiri stands and goes to work with the knees to the legs. Kawajiri defends the takedown and takes a shoulder strike to the body for his efforts. He responds by busting out the fucking NEUTRALISER of all things, planting Guida face-first! Good lord. Guida spins but Kawajiri goes into a reverse triangle attempt. Guida works his head out though and then takes side mount. He tries to take the back and gets an over/under, where he lands punches as Kawajiri stands. More knees to the legs follow but he can’t hit a suplex before the round ends despite really going for it. 10-9 Guida. This fight RULES.

Round Three and Kawajiri tries to use his jab, but Guida gets wild with a glancing head kick and a pair of heavy left hooks. Kawajiri is beginning to swing wild and miss. Spinning backfist glances for Kawajiri and he shoots, but Guida sprawls to avoid it and appears to be securing a hold on the neck. He tries to drag Kawajiri down face-first, landing some short punches to the face for good measure. Kawajiri keeps trying for the takedown but he’s eating a lot of elbows in doing so. Action seems a lot slower in this round but if both men are tired you can’t exactly blame them. Finally Guida manages to stand and he lands with a left hook and a leg kick. Spinning backfist misses again for Kawajiri. Hard knee lands to the body for Kawajiri. Wild overhand right misses though and Guida grabs a rear waistlock. Kimura attempt again for Kawajiri but he can’t get it and ends up jumping for a guillotine. Guida slams him right down, and then forces his head free. He takes top position in guard and then takes the back as Kawajiri tries to reverse. Kawajiri rolls for a leglock but Guida rolls with him and maintains dominant position, grabbing a cradle where he lands knees to the body to end the round. 10-9 Guida for a 30-27, but it was a close fight regardless of the scoring.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Clay Guida. Credit to Kawajiri though as he fought an excellent fight and managed to drag the best fight out of Guida since his 2011 one with Benson Henderson. This was a return to the 2007-9 era Guida with all sorts of crazy scrambles, slams and the odd striking exchange with some cool submission attempts thrown in too. I mean it’s not often you see guys attempting the Karo Parisyan rolling kimura and the NEUTRALISER and yet we saw both in this fight. Awesome stuff and very close to being a low-end FOTYC in fact. Difference in the end was basically that Guida was able to outwrestle Kawajiri and also had the grappling chops to defend some dangerous submission attempts. Post-fight Guida cuts a hell of a promo calling out – who else? – Conor McGregor. Ha, everyone wants a piece of Conor these days as they know the guy is a fucking ROCK STAR who is going to draw eyeballs to any fight he’s involved in. Get in the queue, dude!

Heavyweight Fight: Roy Nelson vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Well, as cool a fight as this sounded on paper, I’ll admit that as a big Nogueira fan I was pretty worried for him coming into this one as he’s about as far past his prime as you can get at this stage and has ridiculous amounts of mileage on him coming from his epic PRIDE run and his almost-as-epic early UFC run. Everyone knows Nelson’s limitations by this point – his cardio’s not great and he can be easily outboxed by an excellent technical striker – but the question was whether Nogueira could capitalise on those limitations while working around his own (slower reflexes, questionable chin at this stage, penchant for brawling). Heart said Nogueira, head said Big Country.

First round and Nogueira takes the center of the cage as Nelson circles around him. They throw out some feeler strikes that don’t really land and Nogueira almost grabs a front headlock, but Roy quickly pulls free. Couple of jabs from Nelson and he hurts Nogueira with a short uppercut and follows with a CRUSHING OVERHAND RIGHT that drops the legend! Nog quickly spins to guard, but Nelson’s having none of that and lets him back up. Nogueira’s still wobbly though and a short left hurts him again. Big right hand just misses for Nelson. Body shot from Roy but Nogueira looks like he might’ve recovered and he’s pushing forward again. He begins to bull in with his jab, pegging Roy back a little, but he’s holding his hands worryingly low at the same time. Big right hand connects again for Nelson. BRUTAL RIGHT HOOK drops Nogueira again and this time he looks just about done. He manages to spin to guard once more and then gets to his feet, but he’s staggering like a drunkard on ice now. Nelson closes in swinging, looking for the finish, but he doesn’t catch the Brazilian cleanly. Nogueira manages to circle out of range, but Nelson keeps coming and then lands a HAYMAKER RIGHT THAT SENDS NOGUEIRA DOWN LIKE A CORPSE. Jesus Christ. No follow-up needed as poor Nog literally looks DEAD. Scary, scary knockout.

Replay shows the full horror as you can actually see Nogueira’s head wobble as the punch lands and bounce off the ground when he hits the deck as he was completely unconscious. One of the most violent knockouts in UFC history in my opinion and as a Nogueira fan it was horrific to watch. I mean, when you consider as well that nasty rumor that the guy is partially blind in one eye due to all the punishment he’s taken, and you’ve got to think it might be time for Uncle Dana to step in and convince him to call it a day, Chuck Liddell style. Surely there’s a job within Zuffa for him, I dunno, UFC Ambassador for Brazil or something? This was probably Roy Nelson’s all-time biggest highlight reel moment but it was uncomfortable to watch and in all honesty that’s never a good thing. Looking at it cold it was a hell of a way to cap off the night, but, you know.

-Show ends with Gooden and Hardy running down the highlights of the card, and of course a plug for TUF Brazil 3 with CHAEL VS. WANDY. Such a pity that things ended up how they did for that rivalry. Fucking drug tests!

Final Thoughts….

For some reason I remembered this as like a throwaway show and, well, I guess it was a throwaway show as nothing on it was ever going to affect title pictures or anything, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a really tremendous throwaway show. We got four fights that were all excellent in their own way, with Ramsey Nijem producing an incredibly aggressive finish in the opener, Laflare and Howard putting on a technical yet gutsy fight and Guida and Kawajiri going all scramble and slam-crazy, and to top it all off, one of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history from Roy Nelson. If you missed this one – which is probably likely, let’s be frank – you owe it to yourself to track it down and see it. Two thumbs up, baby.

Best Fight: Kawajiri vs. Guida
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: