MMA Review: #482: UFC Fight Night 55

-The UFC’s annual trip to Australia, this one was the first Aussie show to be broadcast via Fight Pass and it meant a much lower-key card with mainly local talent on show. With that said the main event of Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold could’ve main evented or co-main evented most of the shows in 2014 so that was the big selling point.

UFC Fight Night 55

Sydney, New South Wales

-Your hosts are Jon Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Heavyweight Fight: Soa Palelei vs Walt Harris

Originally this should’ve seen Australia’s home country favourite Palelei taking on Daniel Omielanczuk in what promised to be a beautiful Heavyweight slopfest, but when Omielanczuk picked up an injury and withdrew, Harris stepped in for a second UFC crack following a run that saw him go 0-2 against Jared Rosholt and Nikita Krylov. Of course inserting Harris instead of Omielanczuk still guaranteed a likely slopfest which was music to my ears as even when those fights suck they tend to be somehow entertaining.

Round One begins and both men look quite tentative early on. These guys are HUGE. Palelei bulls his way into a takedown attempt and looks for a single leg, but Harris hops around to defend quite nicely and escapes. Action slows down a bit as they circle and don’t throw much before Palelei shoots again. Once again Harris blocks it though and flurries on him on the way out, exiting with a body kick. Straight left glances for Palelei. Both guys seem to be having difficulties finding their range here. Just over a minute to go and the crowd are lightly booing. This is a bad round, wow. Head kick glances for Palelei to wake up the crowd but Harris seems fine. Good low kick from Harris and he follows with a HEAVY body kick that Soa somehow shrugs off. Another one glances off the chest of the Aussie. Head kick is blocked by Harris and that’s the round. Ugh. 10-9 Harris for the body kick.

Round Two and Palelei opens with a glancing body kick. Left hook connects for the Aussie. Leg kick drops Harris for a second but he pops back up right away. Big right hand follows and snaps Harris’s head back. Both men throw out some jabs before a pair of right hands from Palelei have Harris backing up. The Aussie sort of stumbles into a single leg attempt to follow up, but Harris stuffs it and exits with a right hand. Another stiff right lands for Palelei as he seems to have found his range in this round. Body kick answers for Harris but he eats another combo from the Aussie. Some good head movement allows Soa to avoid a few big shots too. Another takedown is easily avoided by Harris. Harris looks like he’s gassing to me as his hands seem to be getting lower and lower. Looks like he’s breathing heavily too. Couple of kicks glance for Soa and he goes for the takedown again, this time driving Harris into the cage. Harris tries to stuff it but it looks like he’s out of steam and Soa dumps him to the ground and lands in half-guard. Couple of punches land for Palelei as Harris seems to be reaching for a sweep. Palelei instead takes full mount and with seconds to go he opens up with some thudding ground-and-pound to force the stoppage.

Big crowd response for that win but it wasn’t the best fight of all time – basically Palelei showed solid fighting instincts though as he waited patiently to find his range and once he did in the second round, Harris was being tagged with punches and once he ran out of gas it was all over. Will Palelei trouble the top HWs in the UFC? Probably not, but he tends to at least finish fights in an exciting fight anyway so it’s worth having him around.

Middleweight Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Clint Hester

This one was surprising booking to me, mainly because I didn’t expect Whittaker to be making the move to 185lbs – he never looked like a big 170lber to me and his losses there didn’t seem to be due to the usual cardio or chin issues stemming from tough weight cuts – he lost a questionable decision to Court McGee and then got knocked out by an excellent striker in Stephen Thompson. I just thought this was a bad idea for him and couldn’t see him having much success against Hester, who had flown out of the blocks following a TUF run and gone 4-0 in the UFC, and looked like a pretty solid mid-level contender.

Fight begins and Hester wobbles Whittaker with a jab from the off, but it looked more like the Aussie was slightly off balance and he quickly comes back with a good leg kick. Physically Whittaker looks fine at 185lbs by the way, no excess fat or anything. Hester pushes forward and lands a hard right, but takes a BIG LEFT HOOK on his way in that stuns him and Whittaker explodes out with a flurry. Hester recovers quickly and wings a big overhand right before literally crawling for a takedown. Whittaker stuffs it nicely though and slips free. Stiff jab from Whittaker and his movement and speed look excellent at the new weight class. Another clinch is stuffed by Whittaker and he separates with an elbow, but Hester comes back with a VICIOUS spinning elbow that lands flush and somehow Whittaker takes it. Wild left hand misses for Hester and he takes a pair of leg kicks. Good leg kicks land for both men before Whittaker lands with a BEAUTIFUL RIGHT CROSS that drops Hester! He dives desperately for a leg as Whittaker bombs on him before spinning to take the back. Hester works up to one knee but Whittaker’s all over him here. Hester works back to his feet but Whittaker now switches for a double leg. He gets Hester down nicely and lands in full guard before passing into half-guard quickly. One minute to go and Whittaker stays on top and grinds with his elbows. Looks like he might have full mount here with seconds remaining. Sick reversal from Hester though as he kicks off the fence and flips Whittaker completely over before they come back to their feet to end the round. Great action. 10-9 Whittaker.

Second round and Whittaker uses a couple of jabs and low kicks to keep his distance early on. Lead elbow from Hester but Whittaker counters with a right hook that appears to stun the TUF 17 veteran. Quick combo follows and then the Aussie lands a low kick into a stiff jab that has Hester rocked again. Right hook follows and Hester is in trouble here. Whittaker is looking awesome, just beating Hester to the punch in all of the exchanges. Hester tries to fire right back and he’s really swinging for the fences now, but he can’t seem to hurt Whittaker. Single leg from Whittaker is stuffed though. Winging hooks from Hester set up a solid knee. Couple more jabs connect for Whittaker to keep Hester at a distance. Clinch from Hester and he forces Whittaker into the fence. Knees to the legs from Hester and he tries a takedown but Whittaker stuffs it beautifully. Nice combo from Whittaker and Hester looks wobbled again. He stumbles back into the fence and Whittaker DROPS HIM WITH A KNEE and finishes him off on the ground. Cue CROWD MAYHEM from the rabid Aussies.

Tremendous performance from Robert Whittaker. Probably the best of his UFC career in fact as Hester was a more dangerous opponent than Colton Smith which I’d say was his previous best win. Not only did he retain all his speed and movement from 170lbs but he seemed to have gained cardio, a better chin and most importantly, heavier punching power. I actually think the guy can go very far considering he’s only 24 – definitely a man to watch. Fight was wildly entertaining too as both men absolutely brought the fight.

Lightweight Fight: Al Iaquinta vs Ross Pearson

This one surprised me too when it was announced as I expected Pearson to be pushed into a fight with someone in the top ten after he’d shellacked Gray Maynard in August. I mean to be fair Iaquinta was due a step up too, but after a May loss to Mitch Clarke had derailed him (he’d since beaten Rodrigo Damm) I didn’t think he was really prepared for what Pearson could bring and expected the Brit to pick up the win.

Round One and Pearson stalks forward and connects with a counter right hook. Head kick glances for Iaquinta as both men show a lot of movement early on. Quick trade sees Pearson land with another right hand. Counter right hand lands for Al as Ross steps in. Good low kick from Pearson. Exchange continues with both men glancing on shots. Low kick from Iaquinta is caught but Ross can’t quite keep him down. Nice counter left hand lands for Iaquinta in a trade. Right hand follows but Pearson’s okay. Pair of jabs and a leg kick land for Ross. Uppercut glances for Iaquinta but Pearson fires back with a right hand of his own. Big left hook glances for Iaquinta. This is a really even round thus far. One minute to go and a clean right hand catches Pearson stepping in. Pearson comes back with a left head kick that doesn’t quite land cleanly. Uppercut lands for Iaquinta. Knee from Pearson but Iaquinta catches him with a left hook on the buzzer. 10-10 round for me as both men landed decent shots but neither one really established themselves as the round winner.

Round Two and Pearson really pressures Iaquinta back in the opening seconds as Al tries to throw kicks to keep the distance. Elbow misses narrowly for Iaquinta as Ross steps in. Good low kick from Iaquinta. Pearson continues to push forward but Iaquinta catches him in an exchange with an uppercut. To be fair it looked like Ross landed then too. Exchange continues and Ross throws a body kick, but Iaquinta counters with a right hand and SENDS HIM FLYING! Ross pops back up but he’s clearly hurt bad. Iaquinta stays calm though, and follows up with a BEAUTIFUL COMBINATION to put Pearson away! Whoa. Big win for Iaquinta.

Fight was basically completely even until Ross got clipped in the second round but the key for me was that when Iaquinta had him hurt he didn’t go crazy and was able to maintain his composure and just caught the Brit with the correct shots at the correct time to seal the deal. I’ve said for a while that if Iaquinta can keep his head screwed on (and not make brainfart mistakes as he did in the Mitch Clarke fight) then he’s a possible contender and this might be the first step for him on that trail. Three for three in terms of exciting finishes on this card too!

Middleweight Fight: Luke Rockhold vs Michael Bisping

There was a lot of bad blood coming into this one, stemming from – what else? – some classic trash talk from Bisping. The story goes that the Brit trained with Rockhold back when Luke was the StrikeForce champion and when asked about said sparring session, Bisping’s response was something like “let’s just say I’m the uncrowned StrikeForce champ”. Pretty comical stuff but apparently it was enough to seriously get under Rockhold’s skin, causing one of the most personal UFC feuds in some time. Despite Bisping clearly being in Rockhold’s head, I was picking the American to come out on top here – for me he’s the most well-rounded guy not named Weidman in the division, and his skills are basically like a souped-up version of Bisping actually, which seemed like bad news for the Brit.

Weirdness ensues from the crowd as they seem firmly behind Bisping and boo Rockhold quite viciously, which is surprising because you’d expect with the Brit/Aussie rivalry anyone from England to be booed, plus Bisping is like the quintessential heel in the UFC. Who knows? Maybe a ton of Brits travelled over to Sydney or something.

Round One begins and Rockhold takes the center of the cage as Bisping circles on the outside and looks to use his movement to get in and out to land on the former StrikeForce champ. Big crowd chant for Bisping but neither man’s really landing anything in the opening minute or so. Left hand from Rockhold allows him to get a clinch but as he forces Bisping into the cage the ref steps in as there was apparently a clash of heads. Replay confirms this and it looks like Bisping might be busted open. Totally unintentional stuff. Rockhold looks far bigger than Bisping it must be noted. After a bit of protesting from Bisping they restart inside the clinch and muscle for position before Bisping breaks free. Body kick glances for Rockhold in an exchange. Counter right connects too. Not much going on really which is quite surprising. Right hand glances for Bisping as he comes forward but Rockhold in general is doing a good job of staying out of range. Inside leg kick lands for Bisping. Wild swings miss for both men. Combo lands for Bisping and he jumps out of the way of a big left kick. Good body kick lands for Rockhold though and he has Bisping on the run following a straight left. Another body kick glances for the American. And another. Left hand connects for Rockhold. Right hand into a leg kick lands nicely for Bisping. A quick combo ends the round for Bisping. Really close round but Rockhold just about landed the better shots I think.

Round Two and Bisping lunges forward but walks right into a left hand counter. Straight left follows and catches Bisping coming in again. Rockhold is stalking forward more now too. Beautiful question mark kick connects for Rockhold and he follows with a left head kick that lands FLUSH AND DROPS BISPING! Rockhold pounces to look for the finish as Bisping desperately tries to flail and rolls, and from there Rockhold locks up a ONE-ARMED GUILLOTINE and rolls into the mount position to FORCE THE TAPOUT! Unbelievable finish for Luke Rockhold.

Post-fight both guys are pure class considering the build-up, with Rockhold saying how much he respects Bisping and all of his accomplishments and Bisping basically saying he was beaten by a better fighter. Excellent main event – it took Rockhold a while to get into his groove but once he did he tore right through Bisping and became the first man to ever submit the Count which is super-impressive. I think Rockhold gets a title shot at some point in 2015 and hopefully him against Chris Weidman will be a pretty incredible fight. As for Bisping he’s realistically probably on the tail end of his career now but with his personality and reputation he should be able to make a lot of money for some time by putting on entertaining fights with other big names in the division.

-Show ends with some plugs for UFC 180. Almost six months on and I’m STILL bummed that Cain didn’t manage to make that card.

Final Thoughts….

This was a quality show for a Fight Pass card, with all four bouts ending in violence and the main event living up to all expectations. Best fight was probably Whittaker vs. Hester while the opening round of Harris vs. Palelei stunk, but really you can find something to enjoy in all of the stuff on tap here. It’s an easy thumbs up then for UFN 55.

Best Fight: Whittaker vs. Hester
Worst Fight: Palelei vs. Harris

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: