MMA Review: #492: UFC on Fox: Gustafsson vs. Johnson

-With Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier going off at UFC 182, rather than give the next title shot to Alexander Gustafsson – who was supposed to face Jones before he got injured and Cormier stepped in – Zuffa decided to book a HUGE stadium show in Sweden for 2015’s first Fox show and made the headliner of Gustafsson vs. Rumble with the winner getting the next title shot. Hell of a fight but I was a little confused as to why they’d cannibalize a contender like that. Was I excited though? Hell yeah.

UFC on Fox: Gustafsson vs. Johnson

Stockholm, Sweden

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Featherweight Fight: Akira Corassani vs Sam Sicilia

Despite the undercard featuring a handful of very exciting prospects (Mirsad Bektic, Mairbek Taisumov, Albert Tumenov) evidently Zuffa decided this would make the perfect Fox main card opener as it was practically guaranteed to be a wild brawl – Sicilia doesn’t fight in any other style and while Corassani is an excellent technical striker he also tends to get drawn into shootouts. Despite Corassani being the local favourite I didn’t expect his chin to hold up under the brutal power of Sicilia.

Fight begins and Akira shows a ton of footwork from the off, dancing around and looking to land quick combos on Sicilia who takes more of a stalking stance. Wild swing glances for Sicilia and then he tags Akira with a left hand, but eats a couple in return. Akira clinches and they muscle for position on the fence before Akira breaks with a nice right hook. Pair of nice leg kicks follow for Corassani. Sicilia answers with a body kick that sets up another clinch. They break quickly this time and Akira almost gets a takedown off a failed Sicilia rush. Big right hook glances for Sicilia but Akira seems okay. Combo misses for Akira. He’s definitely looking to stay on the outside here. Spinning back kick glances for the adopted Swede. Left uppercut also lands for him in an exchange. Sicilia continues to stalk forward and with just over 1:30 remaining he manages to draw Akira into a trade….and KILLS HIM DEAD WITH A RIGHT HAYMAKER. Holy shit.

Replay shows poor Akira was stiff before he even hit the ground. In a surprisingly smart move he ended up retiring after this fight as it was his third knockout loss in a row and really nobody ought to be taking that many brutal shots to the head, especially not when they’ve been fighting for almost ten years like this guy. Sicilia on the other hand likely has a job for life with the UFC due to being able to pull knockouts like this out as it doesn’t really matter whether he wins or loses as he always fights in an entertaining way. This went exactly as advertised really.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ryan Bader vs Phil Davis

This was an interesting fight to make as although it didn’t sound overly exciting on paper, it was a match of two clear-cut top ten 205lbers looking to make it up into the top five, and also a match of two almost mirror images in that they’re both top wrestlers who tend to lack elsewhere, although Bader to be fair had always displayed brutal power in his strikes. Despite Davis being the betting favourite I was leaning slightly towards Bader due to that striking advantage as Mr Wonderful has never really looked completely confident on his feet.

Round One and Davis circles on the outside as Bader stalks forward. Neither man lands anything of note in the first minute or so despite Bader gritting his teeth and throwing a really big combo. Pair of left hooks from Bader back Davis up a little about a minute and half in. Takedown attempt from Davis but Bader easily shrugs him off. Wild left misses for Bader and Davis lands with a nice counter right. Body kick glances for Bader. Davis begins to fire with some kicks but Bader counters with a glancing right hand. Neither man’s really established their striking here yet. Clinch is shrugged off by Bader. Couple of jabs get through for Bader. Another takedown attempt from Davis is stuffed. Both men trade with low kicks before Bader lands with a clean right hand counter. Another takedown attempt is stuffed by Bader too. Round ends on the feet. Largely dull and the crowd don’t sound happy. 10-9 Bader by a hair.

Round Two and Bader opens with a short left hook. Couple of nice jabs land for Bader. This is a dull fight. Takedown attempt from Davis but again Bader defends well and this time he forces Davis back into the fence. They jockey for position before Bader separates with an elbow strike. Overhand left glances for Davis. Head kick follows but it doesn’t land flush and Bader shrugs off a takedown attempt again. Body kick and some more jabs from Bader as the crowd boo. Halfway through the round and Davis lands a front kick to the body. Nice body kick from Bader. Davis shoots again but Bader once again stuffs it. They end up clinched this time and Davis works some solid knees to the body, but Bader breaks free and almost gets a single leg of his own. Davis reverses that and finally trips Bader down, getting the back too, but Bader works to his knees right away and then works back to his feet with no real damage. Single leg attempt from Bader but Davis defends and they end up clinched. Good knees inside for Davis but he can’t get Bader back down and that’s the round. 10-10 round for me as Bader landed the better strikes for the most part and while Davis did get him down, he did nothing with it.

Round Three and Davis opens with some kicks that don’t really do much damage. Body kick glances for Bader. Couple of strong jabs follow and he shrugs off a clinch too. Counter left lands for Bader as Davis continues to throw kicks. Nice right hand over the top from Davis but Bader lands a left hand counter. Takedown attempt from Davis but Bader grabs a front headlock and controls him from there before landing a knee to the body as Davis stands. Another wild shot is stuffed by Bader. Couple more kicks land for Davis. Brief clinch is broken by a Bader knee. Body kick from Davis. Couple more jabs from Bader and Davis’s right eye is looking in a bad way. Crowd are openly booing now. These guys are basically cancelling each other out. Nice leg kick from Davis. One minute to go now and this could still be anyone’s fight. Another good leg kick lands for Davis. Body kick lands for him too. Bader’s coming up short on a lot of his strikes suddenly. Head kick misses for Davis and he eats a jab. Takedown attempt from Davis is stuffed and Bader gets a BIG SUPLEX to end the round, literally the biggest thing to happen in the fight. 10-10 round and I have this 30-29 for Ryan Bader but realistically it’s anyone’s fight.

Judges have it 29-28 Bader, 29-28 Davis and 29-28 Bader to give Ryan Bader the split decision. Could’ve gone either way really but it was a pretty dull fight – not because it was sloppy or either man gassed or anything but more because both guys completely cancelled each other out and meaningful offense was pretty much zero. Rewatching this it’s suddenly very easy to understand why Bader was passed over for a title shot as this didn’t really come off like an impressive win even though it was one in terms of name value. As for Davis he’s jumped ship to Bellator and while that’s disappointing from a sport standpoint, I don’t think he would ever have gotten to the peak of the mountain in the UFC and so it’s understandable he’d want to dominate lower level competition for more money.

Middleweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Dan Henderson

This was a bit of a surprising fight to make as it wasn’t really a pairing I’d ever thought about and yet when it was announced I was quite intrigued. Both men were coming off tough losses – Mousasi to Jacare Souza and Henderson to Daniel Cormier at 205lbs – and definitely needed the win to stay relevant, but I was leaning towards Mousasi as I just didn’t think Hendo had much left in the tank, especially against a guy as dangerous in all areas as Gegard.

Round One and both men come out throwing some jabs with Mousasi throwing in a couple of low kicks for good measure. Big right hand misses for Hendo. Good right hand coming forward from Mousasi. Something weird happens with Mousasi backing off for a second but he quickly gets back on it with a right hand. Solid leg kick from Henderson and now he begins to push forward. He walks right into a BIG RIGHT HOOK from Mousasi though and it drops him to his knees! Hendo pops back up, but a left hook drops him BACKWARDS INTO THE FENCE and his head hits the fence and he looks done. Referee Leon Roberts quickly tackles Mousasi off him as Henderson begins to protest the stoppage. Leon is just like “Dan, I’m sorry but you were out”.

Replay shows Hendo walked right into the first right hand that dropped him, but the left definitely seemed to turn his lights out as he fell back into the fence and he was blatantly gone for a split second. Could Roberts have let it go on? I guess so but why let a dude like Henderson who’s 44 years old get his head bounced off the ground by a killer like Mousasi? Strangely enough despite Henderson being way past his prime this was probably the biggest win of Mousasi’s career thus far. Nasty knockout too even though there was a bit of controversy around it. As for Henderson I figured this would be the end for him but somehow he’s got back on the wagon with a big knockout win of his own since. Dude just keeps on defying Father Time, go figure.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Alexander Gustafsson vs Anthony Johnson

As I mentioned in the introduction, this was a major, major fight as the winner would be next in line for a title shot at Jon Jones and there was interest around either man fighting the champ – Gustafsson as he’d been the toughest test for Jones to date and some fans even thought he’d won that fight; Johnson because he’d looked like an absolute murderer since his return to the UFC, destroying both Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with ease. Despite Rumble’s thunderous power though I still suspected he was the same Rumble he’d been at 170lbs – an incredibly fast starter and a ruthless finisher, but liable to be worn down along the stretch and a guy who might fade if he couldn’t put his opponent away early. With that in mind – as well as the massive home field advantage – I was picking Gustafsson to use his range to wear Johnson down before putting him away late in the fight, third or fourth round.

Massive, MASSIVE crowd pop greets Gustafsson during his entrance and it’s understandable as the guy is basically like GSP-level in Sweden at this point. It’s so great to see these fighters becoming such big stars in their home countries for sure.

Round One gets underway and the crowd are LOUD. Leg kick from Gustafsson opens proceedings and Rumble immediately begins to stalk forward with a leg kick of his own. Lot of movement from Gustafsson early and he lands with a jab. Head kick is blocked by the Swede. Leg kick lands for Gus. Johnson immediately returns fire with one of his own. Uppercut misses for Gus. Crowd are DEAFENING. Rumble takes an accidental eye poke and Marc Goddard has to call time. Replay shows it was legit although a total accident. They restart and Gustafsson throws a front kick, but Johnson lunges forward and a clear clash of heads sends the Swede down! Announcers miss it and think Rumble caught him with something but it was definitely an accidental headbutt. He pops back up but he’s clearly wobbly and Rumble begins to close him down. Crowd sound horrified. Head kick lands for Johnson but Gustafsson fires back with an uppercut. Big right hands land for both men but Gustafsson is still shaky on his feet. Head kick from Rumble into a flurry of right hands and Gustafsson is ALL OVER THE PLACE! More shots send him collapsing down and Rumble quickly gets on him, landing BIG SHOTS from behind until it’s clear he’s OUT. Jesus Christ.

Massive win for Johnson and a pretty big upset too. It must be said though for as impressive a win as this was, firstly nobody seemed to be talking about the headbutt and it was clearly that shot that lead to Gustafsson’s downfall, and secondly for those who thought he’d smash Jones (or Cormier as it turned out of course), they clearly forgot that Rumble was always this way at Welterweight in that he’d kill guys dead early but if he couldn’t he tended to fade, and that turned out to be the story in his eventual title fight. Still, once he had Gustafsson hurt Rumble showed his usual ruthless finishing power and in that division right now there’s perhaps nobody else as good at finishing a hurt opponent off. In all honesty though, rewatching this I feel bad for Gustafsson more than anything else as you have to wonder what could’ve happened without that clash of heads. And boy, what a buzzkill for the Swedish fans who were clearly there expecting Gustafsson to leave triumphant. Still, that kind of stuff happens in MMA.

Post-fight Rumble calls out Jon Jones of course while a tearful Gustafsson apologises to his fans. Harsh stuff to watch.

-And that’s all folks as the show ends there, heading back to the Fox studios.

Final Thoughts….

Dull Bader/Davis fight aside this was another strong showing for the UFC on Fox, as if you ignore the somewhat controversial ending to the main event we basically got three highlight reel KO’s out of four fights and how can anyone ever complain about that? None of the fights were great or anything which means it’s not as good a Fox show as the very best ones (Dos Santos vs. Miocic, Henderson vs. Diaz, Shogun vs. Vera) but it’s definitely worth an easy thumbs up from me.

Best Fight: Johnson vs. Gustafsson
Worst Fight: Bader vs. Davis

Overall Rating: ***1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: