MMA Review: #495: UFC Fight Night 61

-This was the first Brazilian UFC card of 2015 and the first one to ever take place in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. I’m still waiting for them to go to Manaus myself, just think a show in that jungle area would be cool as fuck. Main event here was originally set to be Glover Teixeira vs. Rashad Evans, but when Glover blew his knee out Zuffa stole from the upcoming UFC 184 card and gave us a match of HWs desperate for a win in Bigfoot Silva and Frank Mir, with an exciting-sounding semi in the form of Michael Johnson vs. Edson Barboza.

UFC Fight Night 61

02/22/15
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Kenny Florian.

Welterweight Fight: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs Sean Strickland

This was Strickland’s first drop to 170lbs following a pair of UFC wins at 185lbs, although to be fair his win over Luke Barnatt was a very questionable decision. Facing him here was TUF Brazil 2’s token Argentine Ponzinibbio, coming off his first UFC win over Wendell Oliveira. Tough fight to call actually but I was going for The Ponz based purely on TUF Brazil bias if I’m honest.

No clue what the Ponz’s entrance music is but the crowd ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT, singing along to it and giving the Argentine a massive pop.

Round One begins and Strickland looks to use his jab as Ponzinibbio wades forward swinging, landing a big right hand flush in the first exchange. You can see right away he’s dying to draw Strickland into a wild brawl. Big right-left land for the Ponz and Strickland has to clinch. They break quickly and Strickland hits a double leg, much to the disgust of the crowd. Ponzinibbio quickly reverses back up though and breaks free. Few kick glance for Strickland before the Ponz hits a one-two to the body. Strickland does a good job of using his jab to keep the Argentine at distance, and one drops the Ponz for a second but he pops back up. Strickland tries to wade in swinging but the Ponz fires right back and forces him to drop for a takedown. The Argentine stuffs it and lands with a hard leg kick. Big head kick glances for Ponzinibbio and a follow-up right hand has Strickland hurt. He retreats quickly but the Ponz follows in swinging wildly, forcing him to clinch again. More shots land for the Ponz and Strickland is in trouble. Crowd go wild as he clocks Strickland with a pair of right hands, but he’s still hanging in there. Great chin from Strickland. Both men land jabs before Ponzinibbio comes over the top with a nasty right hand that lands. Takedown attempt from Ponzinibbio and he forces Strickland down into guard to end the round. Great opening round; 10-9 Ponzinibbio.

Round Two and Strickland looks to establish the jab again but Ponzinibbio keeps wading through it to swing big hooks. Good leg kick from Strickland and he begins to push forward a little with the jab now, but again Ponzinibbio drags him into a wild exchange that he comes off worse in. More jabs from Strickland and Ponzinibbio’s face looks a little marked up now. Attempted head kick by the Ponz hits the shoulder instead. Ponzinibbio’s beginning to close him down again and as Strickland finds his back on the fence the Ponz clocks him with a big right hand. Strickland immediately looks for the takedown and trips him down for a second, but the Argentine reverses to his feet and escapes. Ponz continues to walk him down and swings his way in with a wild left hook. Good jab to the body from the Ponz. Wild swings again draw Strickland into an exchange and again the Ponz lands the better shots. Jabs from Strickland are still keeping him slightly at bay though. Big combo lands for the Ponz as he walks through Strickland’s jab again. Seconds to go now and Ponzinibbio connects on a heavy combo that forces Strickland on the retreat again as the round ends. Very close round but I’d value Ponzinibbio’s aggression and power shots slightly over Strickland’s jab. 10-9 Ponzinibbio.

Round Three and Ponzinibbio immediately wades through a pair of Strickland jabs to land a combination of wild shots. More jabs from Strickland but Ponzinibbio comes back with one of his own. Slip sends the Ponz to the ground but he pops right back up immediately. Strickland stays on him and looks to take him back down, but the Argentine defends momentarily. Strickland keeps trying though and gets him down. Immediately though the Ponz springs back up into the clinch and he breaks free to the delight of the crowd. Combo from the Ponz and it looks like Strickland’s nose is busted up. Nice leg kick from Ponzinibbio. Both men exchange jabs with Strickland landing more, but the Ponz continues to be the aggressor and he lands with a NASTY HEAD KICK that somehow Strickland eats right up. Dude has a phenomenal jaw as he goes right back to jabbing away. Takedown attempt from Ponzinibbio is stuffed but he lands an overhand right for good measure. One minute to go and they exchange some more jabs. Ponzinibbio continues to stalk forward and play the aggressor. Wild swings from the Ponz and he lands a big combination before eating a right to end the round. Another close one but like the second, I’d value Ponzinibbio’s aggression and power shots most. 30-27 for Ponzinibbio.

Judges officially have it 30-27 for Santiago Ponzinibbio. This was a bit of a relief to be honest as at the time I sort-of suspected the judges might give it to Strickland as he’d been more active with his jab despite doing far less damage overall. Crowd go INSANE for the win – this guy is one of the most popular fighters in Brazil for sure. Super-exciting fight as Ponzinibbio’s tactic of wading through Strickland’s jab to land power shots came up trumps as the inexperienced Strickland was basically unable to adjust and change his gameplan up when he needed to. Will the Ponz ever be a title contender? Likely not but he’s one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the division and so he’ll probably have a job for life with the UFC.

Bantamweight Fight: Iuri Alcantara vs Frankie Saenz

This seemed like a bit of odd matchmaking as Alcantara – still a staple in the 135lbs top ten – was matched again with an unheralded opponent rather than someone higher on the ladder. No idea why, either – don’t know if Sean Shelby just doesn’t like him or what. Saenz had made his debut in August 2014, beating another unheralded fighter in Nolan Ticman, and to me he seemed like another easy win for the Brazilian.

Comical entrance for Alcantara as he walks out to some sleazy-sounding ballad complete with a fucking BRASS SOLO like something Wet Wet Wet would’ve made in the 1980’s. Classic shit.

First round begins and Alcantara takes the center of the cage while Saenz circles on the outside. Takedown from Saenz and he lands in the full guard. Alcantara goes to rubber guard quickly so Saenz decides to stand back up and lets the Brazilian join him. Big left hand sends up a knee to the body for Alcantara but Saenz quickly breaks the clinch. Front kick hurts Saenz and Alcantara follows with an attempt at a flying knee, but it doesn’t land and Saenz clinches and forces him into the fence. Good takedown from Alcantara and he lands a nice elbow, but Saenz works free and up to his feet. Hard leg kick lands for Saenz. Bit of an exchange sees both men land with right hands. Good knee to the body from Saenz. Alcantara’s output seems to have slowed down already, which has always been a problem with his style of fighting in spurts. Flurry glances for Saenz. Takedown attempt from Alcantara but Saenz defends it well and they wind up clinched. The Brazilian manages to drag Saenz down though and takes the back with one hook, but Saenz quickly frees himself and takes top position before settling into the guard. Decent ground-and-pound lands for Saenz and he passes to half-guard to end the round. Close round to call as Alcantara started well but really faded. I’d say that last minute won the round for Saenz, 10-9.

Second round begins and Saenz circles on the outside again and avoids some kicks from the Brazilian. Big head kick connects for Alcantara though and Saenz is hurt! He goes for the takedown but Alcantara stuffs it well. Saenz somehow seems recovered, showing a phenomenal chin. Big left hand from Alcantara and he gets a takedown, but Saenz pops back up. Lunging left hand misses for Alcantara and Saenz hits a scramble and gets him down, taking the back with no hooks. Knees to the body from Saenz and the crowd boo loudly as he continues to drop shots, landing some solid punches to the side of the head. Leglock attempt from Alcantara and it looks like it might be quite deep, but Saenz scrambles free and gets on top in the guard. Short ground-and-pound lands for Saenz and he avoids a possible armbar too. Another attempt fails as well and Saenz sits in the guard and continues to work the body. Saenz stands free of the guard and kicks at the legs, leaving Alcantara on his back in the butt-scoot position. Just over a minute to go and Saenz remains in control. Crowd are really hating this now. Alcantara comes back to his feet and tries a flurry, but Saenz shoves him away. Left hand does connect for the Brazilian but he almost goes down off an inside leg kick from Saenz. Pair of brutal left hands end the round for Alcantara but Saenz again takes them well. 10-9 Saenz and I think Iuri needs a finish.

Third round and Saenz looks confident. He circles on the outside, but eats an early hard left hand. Saenz seems unfazed though and rushes in to close the distance, forcing Alcantara against the fence with a knee to the body. Crowd again are furious with this. Alcantara breaks off and swings a one-two, but Saenz ducks under and hits a slick double leg to guard. Iuri immediately rolls for a kimura, but Saenz seems fine and works the body. Looks like Saenz is into half-guard too. He pulls free and stands over the Brazilian, then drops into guard with some short elbows. Reversal from Alcantara allows him to stand, but Saenz stays on him in the clinch and lands some heavy knees to the body. Two minutes to go and Saenz takes his back standing and keeps landing with the knees. They break free and now both men seem tired. Wild swing misses for Saenz. Body kick from Alcantara and he shrugs off a takedown but eats a knee to the body from the clinch. Another takedown attempt follows for Saenz, but Alcantara stuffs it. He can’t get Saenz off him though and decides to go for a takedown of his own. This time he gets Saenz down and lands right in full mount! Saenz eats some shots and gives his back, and now he’s in trouble as Alcantara slaps both hooks in! Armbar attempt from Alcantara but Saenz escapes and takes top position, landing shots until the round ends. 10-9 Saenz for a 30-27 I’d say.

All three judges have it for Frankie Saenz; 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. Really big upset win for Saenz but if I’m honest – no offense meant – I don’t think this means he’s a title contender or anything, more that he had enough savvy to take advantage of Alcantara’s porous fighting style of having spurts of offense around long periods of doing very little. I don’t think he gets past Urijah Faber for a second, for instance. Real eye-opener for Alcantara though as he definitely needs to change up his style if he wants to stick around in the top ten. The talent is all there, it’s literally just a change in his fighting manner that he needs. Fight was basically fine throughout in terms of entertainment quality.

Lightweight Fight: Adriano Martins vs Rustam Khabilov

This was the fight that had me most excited on the card, as Martins is a guy who I feel gets a bit unfairly ignored at 155lbs – dude is huge for the weight and well-rounded and I don’t think you can hold his lone UFC loss to Cowboy against him. A lot of people figured this was a gimme for Khabilov – who hadn’t fought since his June 2014 loss to Benson Henderson due to Visa issues – but I thought the Dagestani might have a tougher time than people imagined with Martins, even though I was picking him to win.

All-time badass entrance for Khabilov as he uses Fuckin’ In The Bushes by Oasis, which was of course the track from Snatch during the infamous bare-knuckle boxing scene. Awesome shit.

Fight begins and they circle with very little action going on in the first minute. Right hand counter glances for Khabilov to answer a body shot. Crowd are practically silent like a Japanese crowd now. About two minutes in though they begin to boo for the inactivity. Jumping knee misses for Martins and he shoves Khabilov back but doesn’t follow up. Halfway through the round and there’s still very little happening. Takedown attempt from Martins and he tackles Khabilov down and almost takes the back before Khabilov scrambles down into half-guard. Martins keeps top position and looks to pass, considering prepping a possible kimura on the left arm too. Khabilov avoids it and scrambles to his feet nicely though. More boos follow as they circle with little action before Khabilov lands a right hand. Good leg kick from Martins but Khabilov counters with another right. Spin kick misses for the Dagestani. Takedown attempt from Khabilov but Martins avoids it nicely and lands a body kick. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Martins in a dull opener.

Into the 2nd and it’s another super-tentative beginning as both men throw a couple of kicks but little else. This is basically a staring contest at the minute. Couple of winging punches glance for Khabilov but he looks gunshy to say the least. To be fair though it’s more than Martins is doing at this point. Head kick misses for the Dagestani. Crowd are loudly booing again as nothing happens. Both men miss shots in another exchange. Short elbow connects for Khabilov but Martins manages to avoid anything he follows up with. Right hand from Khabilov is countered by a takedown attempt, but the Dagestani manages to spring back to his feet instantly. Nice left hand connects flush for Martins. Takedown attempt from Khabilov but Martins stuffs it and they separate quickly. Right hook lands clean for Khabilov as Martins comes forward but again he doesn’t really follow it up. Round ends with a Martins left hand that drops Khabilov, but he looked more off balance than hurt to me. Terrible round again; 10-9 Khabilov by a hair I guess so it’s 19-19 going into the third.

Third and final round and an early one-two from Martins rattles Khabilov a bit and forces him on the retreat. Good leg kick too from the Brazilian. Odd wheel kick goes awry for Khabilov and connects to Martins’ side with no effect. Big right hand misses for Khabilov and Martins takes advantage by tackling him to the ground and passing right into half-guard. Looks like he wants to set up a kimura, but instead he uses that to pass into full mount. Hip escape from Khabilov allows him back to guard though and a scramble puts him back on his feet where he looks for a takedown of his own until Martins escapes free. Flying knee misses for Khabilov. Action slows up again before Khabilov really drives for a takedown, but a slick sprawl from Martins allows him to stay on his feet. One minute to go and this could still be anyone’s fight if they’d actually do something of note. Nice right uppercut from Khabilov. Head kick follows but doesn’t land cleanly. Takedown from Martins and he lands in Khabilov’s guard, but allows him up as the fight ends. Crowd shower the cage with boos. 10-9 Martins for the two takedowns giving him a 29-28 win.

Judges have it a split decision; 29-28 Martins, 29-28 Khabilov and 29-28 for Adriano Martins. Crowd even boo that despite the Brazilian winning which shows you what they thought of the fight. Indeed, it really was terrible, as I think both men just respected the other too much and so they never really picked up the pace or got aggressive at all. Not as bad as Dan Kelly vs. Patrick Walsh or anything but this was still one of the most disappointing UFC fights in recent memory, especially given the high expectations I had coming in.

Middleweight Fight: Sam Alvey vs Cezar Ferreira

Some interesting matchmaking here as skill-for-skill you’d pick Cezar Mutante to beat Alvey basically every time – dude is bigger and stronger, has technically better striking and is a far better grappler, but Alvey always has that big equaliser in the KO power he has in his hands, and Mutante’s always had a very suspect chin. Despite the question marks around Mutante’s chin I was still picking him to come out on top, just because I never feel I can trust a guy as limited as Alvey even if he’s fun to watch.

Round One and Mutante comes out throwing all types of kicks as Alvey seems a bit tentative. Couple of good kicks land to the body for the TUF Brazil winner. Rushing right hand lands for Ferreira too and he’s picking Alvey apart in the opening minute or so. Overhand left and a head kick are just about deflected by Alvey. Brutal body kick connects for Mutante but a wild wheel kick misses. Alvey’s literally thrown like one punch thus far. Good leg kick from Mutante. Rushing right hand misses for Mutante and he takes a knee. Left answers for the Brazilian. Nice step-in elbow lands for Mutante but he leaves himself open trying to follow up and Alvey LEVELS HIM WITH A LEFT! Mutante is DONE and a pair of shots on the ground make it academic. Unbelievable.

Ridiculous fight as Mutante was picking Alvey apart through the whole round with Alvey literally throwing like three punches throughout, but once he landed he REALLY landed and took the Brazilian out with basically one shot. I knew going in that Alvey had the power to finish the fight but man, I did not expect it to be that extreme! Disappointing loss for Mutante but what an incredible finish for Sam Alvey.

Lightweight Fight: Michael Johnson vs Edson Barboza

Talk about a quality match-up – these two had made their way into the top ten at 155lbs in 2014 with wins over Evan Dunham and Bobby Green for Barboza and Gleison Tibau and Melvin Guillard for Johnson, and both men wanted to throw their name into the hat of possible title contenders with a win here. Tough fight to call as both men are fantastic strikers, Barboza slightly better but Johnson probably more well-rounded. Due to home country advantage I was leaning slightly to Barboza I guess.

Round One and Johnson comes out aggressively, but Barboza lands early with a body kick. Combo lands for Johnson and he’s really closing Barboza down. Good punches land for Johnson as Barboza almost slips down by swinging so wildly. Johnson’s pace is insane here. Good uppercut from Barboza as Johnson wades into the clinch. They break quickly and Johnson won’t slow down, continuing to pressure Barboza back. Nice body kick from the Brazilian. Good overhand right from Johnson catches Barboza right behind the ear but he seems okay. Counter knee lands for Barboza to the midsection. Johnson seems to have the quicker hands in the exchanges though. Beautiful one-two from Johnson to counter a half-shot from the Brazilian. Left hand connects hard for Johnson coming forward. More punches land for Johnson and Barboza comes back with a left hook and a leg kick. Action-packed round thus far. Pair of lunging right hands connect for Johnson. Barboza’s face is looking marked up. Combo has Barboza on the run a bit as Johnson’s pace just won’t slow down. Wild exchange sees both men land sharp punches. These guys are SWINGING. Round ends on the feet. Tight round but with most things even I’d go for Johnson’s aggression; 10-9 MJ.

Round Two and Johnson again pours on with the pressure, backing Barboza up. Body kick from Barboza but it doesn’t slow Johnson down. Combination lands for MJ. Pair of left hooks back Barboza up. He’s not giving Barboza any opportunity to breathe here. Few solid counters land for Barboza as well as a body kick, but he’s still being backed up. Head kick glances for the Brazilian. Nice left hand from Johnson. Couple of shots to the body land for the Blackzilian. Nice combo wobbles Barboza slightly and he shoots, but Johnson sprawls and ends up taking top position from the scramble, pinning Barboza into the fence before forcing him into a butterfly guard. Barboza definitely looks like he’s wearing more punishment than MJ too. Barboza pops up, but a kick lands to his body and he takes a deep breath. He fires right back with a body kick of his own though. One-two lands for Johnson. Nice right hand lands for Barboza in a dangerous exchange. Spinning kick misses for Barboza. Good combo from Johnson and he gets out before the Brazilian can counter. Round ends just after. Another close one but again I thought Johnson slightly got the better of it. 10-9 Johnson meaning Barboza likely needs a finish.

Round Three and Barboza looks tired to me. Johnson seems to sense it and walks him down right away, giving him no room to move again. Beautiful right hand from Johnson but Barboza counters with a left that stops him in his tracks. Spin kick misses though. Hard body kick lands for Barboza. Johnson continues to pressure though and lands with a right hand. Another body kick connects for Barboza. Big left hand from Johnson sets up a quick combo. More pressure from Johnson and he clocks the Brazilian with a clean one-two and continues to back him up. Wheel kick misses for Barboza. Body kick lands for him but Johnson won’t stop coming forward. Solid left hand for Johnson. Leaping knee misses by inches for Barboza. Less than a minute to go and Barboza’s still on his back foot. Takedown lands for Johnson with seconds to go and that might seal the deal. Crowd boo as I think they know Barboza’s lost. Round ends with Johnson on top. 10-9 Johnson for a 30-27 win I’d say.

Judges have it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Michael Johnson. Crowd aren’t impressed but it was the right call for sure. This was a masterful performance from Johnson as he completely shut Barboza’s best offense down by pushing a hard pace and constantly backing him up into the fence, not allowing him to really open up or to be able to land any truly dangerous counters. Barboza’s chin and cardio largely held up, but he didn’t really have any sort of answer to all the pressure. Johnson might be the best success story the Blackzilians have had actually when you think he didn’t look like anything special coming off TUF back in 2010 and now he’s a legit title contender. Fight was fantastic too with action from start to finish.

Heavyweight Fight: Frank Mir vs Antonio Silva

In a way this was a bit of an odd main event given both men hadn’t exactly looked great recently – Mir was coming back from a year off following a loss to Alistair Overeem, his fourth loss in a row, while Bigfoot had been viciously KOd by Andrei Arlovski in September and didn’t look like the same guy following the ban on TRT in 2014. While Mir hadn’t really looked good since like 2011 (!) I was actually leaning towards him to beat Bigfoot as I just felt Bigfoot physically was totally shot due to the lack of testosterone (he’s probably the one guy who could make a fair claim to legitimately needing TRT…) while Mir was at least still dangerous offensively even if his defense is practically gone at this point.

Fight begins and the crowd are red hot for Bigfoot. He throws literally nothing in the first thirty seconds though and eats a pretty clean combo from Mir who seems to be moving much faster. Slow front kick glances for Bigfoot. Couple of low kicks land for Bigfoot but Mir connects on a short left hook and DOWN GOES SILVA! Mir pounces with a couple of clean punches and elbows and that’s all she wrote as Bigfoot stiffens up.

Huge win for Frank Mir; dude has always been a ruthless finisher and as soon as Bigfoot went down the result was academic as there was no way Mir was going to let him off the hook. I think you’ve got to consider Mir (if you didn’t already) to be in the conversation for the best HW in the history of MMA at this point when you consider his list of victims and his longevity, even with his losses too. Guy is an absolute legend. As for Bigfoot, he looked awful here, like he was moving through treacle, and his chin seemed completely shot too. I know he’s won since but if he gets KOd like this again it really ought to be time for him to hang it up. Seriously violent way to end the show though and who would complain about that?

Post-fight Mir cuts a great promo basically giving all the credit to his wife – who encouraged him to take a long time off – and to a bunch of new coaches who helped him with his boxing. He’s still one of the best mic workers in MMA and he really ought to be given a Fox gig or something ASAP as his insight is fantastic in general.

-Show ends abruptly there as Jon Anik congratulates Mir as he’s now got the most finishes in UFC HW history – another big feather in his cap.

Final Thoughts….

Couple of slower fights (Martins/Khabilov and Saenz/Alcantara) bring this one down a little but outside of those it was a very entertaining show, with a pair of vicious finishes from Mir and Alvey and a pair of really fantastic high-energy fights in Ponzinibbio/Strickland and Johnson/Barboza. Nothing essential to see here as everyone’s seen Bigfoot KOd violently before but even so, it’s worth a thumbs up from me.

Best Fight: Johnson vs. Barboza
Worst Fight: Martins vs. Khabilov

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com