MMA Review: #501: UFC on Fox: Machida vs. Rockhold

-When the double-main event of this show was announced – Luke Rockhold vs. Lyoto Machida and Jacare Souza vs. Yoel Romero – it felt very much like the fourth Fox show where the most impressive winner of the two fights would probably get the next title shot – in this case against the Middleweight champion, the winner of Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort. Things didn’t quite go to plan though when Romero injured his knee and had to withdraw, and the replacement Zuffa found – Chris Camozzi – had already lost to Jacare and was a million miles away from a title shot. Stakes suddenly became a little higher for Machida/Rockhold, then.

UFC on Fox: Machida vs. Rockhold

Newark, New Jersey

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Paige VanZant vs Felice Herrig

After an impressive debut win over Kailin Curran in November, it felt like Zuffa were looking to push PVZ as the up-and-coming fighter to watch at 115lbs – maybe a bit questionable given Paige is very young and inexperienced, but she’s also got a shitload of charisma, is a great looking girl and seems to be improving with every fight. Here she was matched with Herrig, one of the villains of TUF 20 and a longtime veteran who’s faced a who’s who list of fighters in the weight class. Detractors were whining that the only reason the fight was being televised was that both girls are hot, but fuck em – they both put on entertaining fights and always draw eyeballs so more power to them!

Comical entrance for Felice who comes out wearing a leopard-print skirt-type deal as some hilarious 80’s power ballad plays in the background. Awesome stuff! And to top it all off SHAOLIN RIBEIRO is the REFEREE. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Round One and PVZ opens with a low kick as Felice throws a flurry. Into the clinch and PVZ lands some knees but Herrig opens up with some dirty boxing that lands pretty cleanly. PVZ responds by forcing her back into the fence and from there she hits a shoulder throw. Herrig almost takes the back from that position though and then they roll pretty wildly before Herrig takes the back properly with both hooks in. Looks like she might have a body triangle in fact. Paige winds up on her knees trying to defend both a choke and a possible armbar, and Felice attempts to lock up the arm ala BJ Penn to make the choke easier too. Tremendous job by Paige to scramble though and she somehow stands and shakes Felice off her! Felice tries an armbar but ends up spiked onto her head, and from there they stand inside the clinch. Nice knee to the body from Paige. Takedown attempt from Felice is avoided before they break off. Crowd are way into this one. Couple of punches come up short for Felice and Paige grabs the plum clinch to land a solid knee to the body and then some more knees up against the fence. They jockey for position along the fence before Paige blocks a trip and hits a hip throw down into guard. Punches from PVZ and she postures up to deliver some really nice shots. Into half-guard for Paige and she continues to drop punches and elbows. Her pace is insane. She pins Felice’s right arm down for a second but the veteran manages to escape and get full guard. Couple of triangle attempts are avoided by Paige but she does eat an upkick or two. Leglock attempt from VanZant but the buzzer goes before she can come close to finishing. Great round; 10-9 Paige.

Round Two and PVZ opens with a low kick but eats a left hook from the pocket. Low kick drops Paige for a second and Felice charges her with punches as she pops up. VanZant gets the clinch again to deliver some more knees though. Felice answers back with a hard knee to the body of her own and she manages to take the back for a second off a throw attempt again, but this time Paige recognizes it and forces her into the fence again. They trade more knees from the clinch and the pace does not seem to be slowing down at all. Nasty knees connect for Paige. She drags Felice down but screws up in the process and Felice gets on top, only for Paige to reverse that and take top position in guard! Nice. She slices into half-guard and lands with some punches, but Felice hits a sweep to get back up to her feet. Punches inside from Paige as Felice muscles her along the fence. Big knee from Paige is caught by Felice who uses it to dump her to the ground, but in a sick move Paige rolls through with the momentum and takes top position! This fight is awesome. Side mount now for Paige and she grinds on her with her forearm. Full guard for Felice but she’s eating punches and hammer fists. Leglock attempt by Felice is easily avoided and she’s taking a beating now with these punches. Armbar attempt from Felice but she’s too low on the arm and Paige postures up and pulls it free, then drops into north/south. More ground-and-pound follows and the round ends with some massive shots from Paige. 10-9 Paige.

Round Three and Paige opens with a nice body kick. Felice looks tired to me but she still wades into the clinch. They trade knees and Paige uses a whizzer to drag her down for a second before Felice pops up. Another hip throw follows though and Paige gets back on top in half-guard. Big shots land and Felice is in some trouble. She tries to get butterfly guard but Paige is just posturing over it to bomb down on her with punches. Felice tries to lace PVZ’s leg up but doesn’t seem to have the energy to do it properly, and Paige just keeps on punching. Good move from Herrig though to scoot her hips out, and somehow she manages to take Paige’s back! Looks like she’s using it to rest though and Paige works her way around and turns into the guard to a big crowd pop. She avoids a leglock again and continues to drop punches and hammer fists. Flurry of punches land for Paige and you could make an argument for stopping this. Shaolin’s not having that though and Paige ends up settling into half-guard while grinding on Felice with her forearm. Felice is busted up. She tries to roll but can’t shake VanZant off her, and Paige continues to work from the top. Seconds to go and credit to Felice, she keeps trying to escape, but she can’t do it and the round ends with VanZant on top. Got to be 30-27 for Paige.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26 for Paige VanZant. Really good fight as basically, the sheer pace that VanZant set broke Felice as she did well in spits and spats, but couldn’t really impose her will on Paige at all and seemed to gas during the second round. Paige didn’t gas, kept the ridiculous pace she set in the first round and once Felice was out of steam she really put a beating on her with the ground-and-pound. She’s quite clearly too raw to be pushed into a title shot or anything just yet – a more seasoned fighter would never have given her back to a gassed Felice like Paige did in the 3rd round for instance – but it seems like UFC are pushing her slowly anyway which makes more sense so I suspect she’ll continue her rise up the card over the next few years. This was a red hot opener.

Featherweight Fight: Max Holloway vs Cub Swanson

After reeling off his fifth straight win in a row over Cole Miller in February, it was clear that Holloway needed a step up in competition and in a rare move, the UFC literally announced his next fight the day after the Miller one and signed him to fight perennial contender Swanson here in a pretty short turnaround. For Swanson this was his chance to get himself back into contendership as he’d had his own lengthy win streak – six fights – snapped by Frankie Edgar in November. Tough one to call as this was clearly Holloway’s toughest opponent since Conor McGregor in 2013, but I felt that Swanson was a bit exposed by Edgar as a guy who struggles when he doesn’t have a speed advantage – and as I didn’t think he was faster than Max I was leaning slightly to the young Hawaiian.

First round begins and they circle with a lot of movement from Holloway. Body kick glances for Max and it looks like he wants to stay on the outside here. Another kick glances for him. Flurry of punches backs Cub up a little and Max quickly backs up out of range. Head kick just misses for Holloway. Another quick flurry tags Swanson and a body kick follows. Cub tries a head kick in answer but misses. Beautiful left to the body from Holloway. He’s doing a great job of leaping in and out here. Cartwheel kick (!) lands for Cub and he follows with a solid leg kick. He’s still coming up a little short on the majority of his punches though. Flying knee to the body into a quick combo from Holloway. Pair of counter lefts and a snapping counter right hook follow and Swanson is marked up around the left eye. Kick to the body answers for Swanson. Max is still doing a good job of keeping him on the end of his punches though and not allowing him to get into range. Couple more quick combos land for Holloway. Swanson looks like he might be outgunned standing here. Spinning back kick connects to Cub’s body. Big head kick glances for Max. Right hand counter connects as Swanson steps in. Kick to the body follows but Cub comes back with an overhand left. Pair of slick combos land for Holloway before Swanson draws him into a wild firefight to end the round. Holloway clearly got the better of that round; 10-9.

Second round and Holloway opens with a head kick that Swanson just about blocks. Big right hook misses for Swanson. Head kick is blocked by Holloway who lands with his own body kick. Big body kick form Holloway and he follows with a beautiful quick combo to the body. Cub just can’t get a handle on him at all. No clue why he’s not going for the takedown. Cub continues to swing heavy leather but can’t catch the Hawaiian who seems to be picking him apart now. Body kick again lands for Holloway. He’s landing with his longer jab too. Counter right hand lands cleanly for Holloway. Front headlock from Holloway and he separates with a knee and a right. Swanson looks so flat-footed in comparison. Combination from Holloway. Swanson’s beginning to look bewildered. Another combo ends with a head kick. Holloway’s even dropping his hands now and daring Cub to come at him, but his movement is so good that he’s avoiding everything Swanson’s throwing. Another four-shot combination lands for Holloway. Right to the body lands for Swanson but Holloway quickly circles out of range. Stiff jab from Holloway. Body kick from Cub lands well. Sick head movement from Holloway allows him to dodge Cub’s shots and land some sharp ones of his own. Knee to the body hurts Cub and forces him to back up although he does land with a leg kick. Big left hand into a combo clearly hurts Swanson right before the round ends. 10-9 Holloway and this is becoming surprisingly one-sided.

Third round and Holloway again backs Swanson up, landing a spinning back kick and a jab. Clinch from Cub and he muscles Max into the fence, finally looking to grapple, but Holloway quickly breaks off and clocks him with a left hook on the way out. Combination follows ending in a leg kick. Max continues to snake just out of range, and a slip sees Swanson on his back for a moment before Holloway forces him to his feet. Knee to the body lands hard for Holloway as does a left to the body. Another body kick doubles Cub over and he’s in deep trouble. Holloway closes in and Swanson goes down, and the Hawaiian pounces into the guard and then takes the back with no hooks as Cub rolls! Nice control from Holloway and it looks like he’s got an arm triangle locked in! Joe Rogan is in disbelief as it looks like Cub might have to tap, but he manages to survive only to get stuck in side mount. Scramble from Swanson though and Holloway decides to let him up. Knee to the body into a right hook from Holloway. Swanson is being dissected here. He comes back with his own body kick, but a pair of big hooks miss for him. Left hand lands flush for Holloway and two more have Cub wobbled! Cub goes down onto one knee and Holloway quickly pounces, locking up a standing guillotine, and it looks TIGHT! The Hawaiian forces Swanson down onto his back and TAKES THE MOUNT, locking the guillotine in completely and CUB TAPS! Holy shit.

Unbelievable performance from Max Holloway. Not only did he pick apart a guy who’d looked like one of the best strikers in the whole 145lbs division, but he put him away with a seriously slick choke too, and don’t forget that Cub Swanson is a longtime, accomplished BJJ black belt – it’s a massive step from catching a young and reckless dude like Andre Fili with a choke. The improvement in Holloway’s game from when he first came into the UFC in 2012 up to this point has been absolutely incredible and he’s definitely a legitimate title contender now. As for Swanson, I do wonder whether he’d properly recovered from the Edgar beating coming into this one, but wow, you can’t take anything away from Max Holloway as it’s a huge feather in his cap. Fight was massively entertaining too. Just tremendous stuff all round.

Middleweight Fight: Ronaldo Souza vs Chris Camozzi

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this would originally have seen Jacare vs. Yoel Romero in a really fantastic fight, but the Cuban wrestler got injured and so Camozzi stepped in on late notice, following a stint outside the UFC that saw him win two in a row. The problem though was that we’d all seen Jacare squash Camozzi just two years ago and while I guess it’s cool for Jacare to make easy money, there was just no intrigue in this fight. Personally I’d have moved him to another card with a better opponent and just moved one of the better prelims (Mizugaki/Sterling, Miller/Dariush or OSP/Cummins would’ve worked) into this slot. Anything other than a Jacare finish in the first would’ve been a major shocker here.

Fight begins and Camozzi opens with an inside leg kick. Jacare presses forward and takes another leg kick but doesn’t seem to care. Pair of big punches land for the Brazilian as he backs Camozzi up. Head kick misses for Camozzi. Body kick from Jacare. Takedown from Jacare and he plants Camozzi on his back in guard with ease. Camozzi’s in trouble. He tries to tie Jacare up in the guard but Jacare CRAWLS UP THE FENCE to pass into side mount. That was ridiculous. Knee-on-belly from Souza and he works the body for good measure before hopping right into an armbar. That was literally out of nowhere. Camozzi tries to defend but this is all over really. Jacare straightens the arm and that’s that.

Fight went exactly how I expected it to basically because, well, we’d seen it before in 2013 and it was like a carbon copy really. Total squash match as, no offense to Camozzi, but he just isn’t anywhere near Jacare’s level right now particularly on the ground. At least both guys got paid I guess. The Jacare/Romero fight is now re-booked for UFC 194 and I guess the winner will get a title shot. As for who’ll win? I have literally NO IDEA which is why it’s such an awesome match-up.

Middleweight Fight: Lyoto Machida vs Luke Rockhold

After Rockhold’s impressive win over Michael Bisping part of me expected Zuffa just to book him outright into the next title fight against Chris Weidman, but I guess they wanted Weidman to finish the whole issue with Vitor Belfort first – TRT notwithstanding – and so the former StrikeForce champion was matched instead with Weidman’s last opponent Machida, who had smacked CB Dollaway around to get back onto the winning track on the last show of 2014. With Jacare having to face Camozzi rather than Romero it looked likely that the winner would get the next title shot for sure. I was taking Rockhold, feeling that he was just too big, too strong and too aggressive in all areas for Machida – who seems to be slowing down as he approaches 40 – to handle at this point in his career.

Really smart entrance from Rockhold as he walks out to You’re The Best from the Karate Kid soundtrack, obviously because Lyoto IS the Karate Kid. Plus the track rules, obviously.

Round One begins and Machida glances on a lunging left hand. Rockhold indeed looks much bigger than Lyoto. He stalks forward as Lyoto circles on the outside early. Low kick from Rockhold. Crowd are behind Machida and he lands with a left hand. Another left sets up a big right hook that just misses, and Rockhold acknowledges it with a nod of the head. Nice left hand from Lyoto catches Rockhold coming in, and he follows with a right hand. Rockhold seems fine though and as Machida steps forward, he catches him with an overhand right that clips Lyoto round the back of the ear and sends him down! He’s in trouble as Rockhold pounces and hooks onto a guillotine, quickly rolling over into top position, but Machida manages to free himself and get to butterfly guard. Rockhold forces his way into full mount and Lyoto is in deep trouble. Lyoto manages to get back to half-guard and looks for a sweep, but he takes some punches to the body and Rockhold works to keep him down. Full guard now for Machida, but Rockhold puts the pressure on him and forces him to give his back. Big punches connect for Rockhold but Machida stands before he can put the hooks in. Rockhold drags him back down though and this time he slaps one hook in on the way down. Roll from Machida allows him into butterfly guard, but he takes another big shot from the former StrikeForce champ. Lyoto gives his back again and Rockhold lands some more punches, keeping heavy on him as Lyoto stands. Knees to the leg from Rockhold and he kicks Machida’s leg from under him to take him back down. This time he gets both hooks in and begins to SMASH him on the ground with punches. This is close to being over. Rockhold looks for the rear naked choke and it looks like Machida is doomed….but he manages to last it out, taking a brutal elbow as the buzzer sounds. Clear 10-8 round for Rockhold I’d say. Machida looks about done as he goes into his corner even.

Round Two and Lyoto doesn’t look right from the off and his movement looks wobbly still. He lands with a body kick, but Rockhold forces him back with some left hands and a low kick. Body kick lands for Rockhold and another one, and Lyoto is definitely still hurt. He doesn’t look with it at all. Beautiful leg kick from Rockhold. Body kick follows. Machida is swinging at air. Right hand glances for Rockhold and then he basically shoves Machida to the ground with ease, which is scary. Rockhold immediately follows him down and takes his back with one hook. Punches connect for Rockhold and it looks like he has one of Lyoto’s arms trapped behind his back. Full mount for Rockhold and then he takes the back with both hooks, and from there he slaps on the rear naked choke and forces Lyoto to tap out.

Well, not much to say there. Rockhold looked phenomenal throughout, completely dominating Machida from the moment the fight hit the ground early in the first round to the moment he forced Lyoto to tap in the second. To be honest the finish seemed inevitable in the second given how bad Machida looked coming out of his corner following that first round beatdown. This was probably the best anyone had ever looked against Machida actually when you consider he came back late on against Weidman to make that a close fight, and even guys like Jones and Shogun who beat him at 205lbs took their fair share of shots from him. Just a truly special performance from a truly special fighter in Rockhold, a guy who seems as skilled and dangerous on the ground as he is standing up, and possesses a scary killer instinct to finish a wounded opponent off. Post-fight Rockhold calls out Chris Weidman for a title fight and while it isn’t happening in New York as we all might’ve hoped, that fight is signed and ON for UFC 194 in December and I can’t wait. Still picking Weidman for the record, however good Rockhold looked here, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we get two or three wars between the two as they trade the belt ala Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. Fight wasn’t what you’d call a genuinely great one just due to its one-sidedness, but man it was entertaining and a really memorable way to end the show.

-And from there we cut to the Fox studios where Chris Weidman says he’s happy to fight Rockhold, and then Daniel Cormier cuts an INCREDIBLE promo to build the Weidman/Rockhold fight. Dude is a shilling MACHINE and he rules. We end the show with the inevitable Rockhold/Weidman debate which I expect to go on and on and on until December.

Final Thoughts….

The UFC Fox shows nearly always deliver simply due to the big matches they have on the cards, and this was no exception, as we got a super-exciting opener between PVZ and Herrig, the continuing and entertaining rise of Max Holloway, and then a legitimately phenomenal showing from Luke Rockhold in the main event. Jacare/Camozzi was a largely pointless squash, but what can you do about injuries? No real classic fight (Stipe/JDS, for instance) keeps it below the very best Fox cards but this one is definitely worth the thumbs up from me.

Best Fight: VanZant vs. Herrig
Worst Fight: Jacare vs. Camozzi

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: