MMA Review: #506: UFC Fight Night 68

-Original main event for this one was Daniel Cormier vs. Ryan Bader, but when Jon Jones ran into his legal troubles, Cormier stepped up to fight Rumble Johnson at UFC 187 and the Bader fight was scrapped. That moved Dan Henderson vs. Tim Boetsch into the main event slot. Rest of the card looked solid enough, with a big spotlight on the lighter weight classes – four of the six televised fights coming at 155lbs or under.

UFC Fight Night 68

New Orleans, Louisiana

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Bantamweight Fight: Francisco Rivera vs Alex Caceres

Battle of Urijah Faber’s 2014 victims to begin then as both men had been choked out by the California Kid last year. Despite Rivera doing better against Faber and taking a round off him on most people’s scorecards I was taking Caceres here, as I’ve always been a fan of Bruce Leroy and always did think he had the potential to develop into a contender.

Fight begins and Bruce Leroy pushes forward and lands a body kick. Right hand over the top glances for Rivera. They exchange and a BIG LEFT HOOK counter lands for Rivera and down goes Leroy! Right hand on the ground knocks Caceres SILLY and a few more shots seal the deal. Fight went about 30 seconds, wow.

Rivera has some serious power in his hands but then we all knew that anyway. Disappointing one for Bruce Leroy though and with all the current cuts being made I worry for him given he’s now 0-3 in his last three fights. We shall see though as he’s a decent personality. Brutal way to begin the night!

Bantamweight Fight: Anthony Birchak vs Joe Soto

This fight had originally been booked for the undercard of UFC 177, but obviously went down the pan when Soto had to main event the show against TJ Dillashaw. Birchak made his debut a little later and got submitted by Ian Entwistle. With that loss hanging over Birchak and Soto showing himself to be a really tough out in that fight with Dillashaw, I was taking the former Bellator champ to come away with the win.

Round One and they circle with Birchak feinting a lot and landing with a nice outside leg kick. Combo glances for Birchak coming forward. Both guys look quite tentative here. Combo again from Birchak but Soto catches him with a good counter right. Another combo backs Soto up a little. Brief clinch is broken by a Birchak knee and then he DROPS SOTO with a straight right on the exit! Soto goes down but seems okay and rolls for a leglock, and in avoiding Birchak allows him to his feet. He doesn’t let up though, opening up with a VIOLENT FLURRY and eventually Soto wilts under the power and goes down and OUT!

Hell of a showing from Anthony Birchak. Soto never really had a chance to get anything going as Birchak caught him early and then showed excellent killer instinct to put him away. He’s got Thomas Almeida next in what should prove to be an explosive fight, while Soto – after that solid start with the Dillashaw fight – now has his back to the wall big time for his next UFC outing. Two fights, two brutal knockouts thus far!

Featherweight Fight: Brian Ortega vs Thiago Tavares

Tavares – coming off a bit of a layoff which isn’t unusual for him – was initially set to fight Russian standout Zubaira Tukhugov here, but ended up matched with Ortega instead when the Russian got hurt. Ortega had been out for a long time too, though it was due to a positive PED test rather than an injury. Before that though he’d squashed Mike De La Torre in his UFC debut and looked great in doing so. I still had faith in Tavares as a potential title threat however and took the Brazilian to win.

Round One begins and Tavares really pushes forward early with a hard right hand and a partially blocked head kick. Double leg puts Ortega on his back in full guard. Armbar attempt right away from Ortega though and it looks pretty tight. Tavares avoids and drops some hammer fists, but Ortega tries it again before Tavares postures free. Couple of solid punches get through for Tavares. He’s doing a good job with this short ground-and-pound. Ortega is staying active from his back though, continually threatening from the bottom with possible submissions. Neck crank from Tavares forces Ortega to open his guard which allows the Brazilian to posture up and drop some more shots. Another armbar attempt from Ortega allows him to hit a SICK SWEEP right into mount. Wow that was some good grappling. Short elbows from the mount open a BAD CUT somewhere on Tavares’s face and there’s blood pissing everywhere now. Thiago muscles his way free though and pops up to his feet before hitting another takedown back into Ortega’s guard. Scramble and Ortega gets onto his knees for a second, but a front headlock forces him to give up position and Tavares gets hold of him by the fence. They come up with a minute to go and Ortega breaks with a knee and then lands a nice straight left. Nice combination lands for Tavares but Ortega fires back with one of his own. Tavares comes right back with some more punches before Ortega clinches, only for Tavares to hit a BIG SHOULDER THROW into guard. Round ends with Tavares on top. Great round; 10-9 Tavares.

Between rounds a replay shows the cuts on Tavares were actually caused by elbows from the BOTTOM, Joe Riggs/Chris Lytle style.

Round Two and Tavares fires off a partially blocked head kick to begin. He’s looking really aggressive tonight. Spinning elbow from Ortega catches him cleanly though and drops him! He pops back up but he’s wobbly and Ortega moves in and looks for the kill, swinging big punches before Tavares drops for a double leg. Ortega uses a possible guillotine to roll into top position, but the fence prevents him from mounting and Tavares muscles his way out and into top position, grapevining the legs for control. He gets into half-guard and it looks like he might be going for an arm triangle, but Ortega avoids only to eat some nasty hammer fists. Roll from Ortega almost allows him to escape, but Thiago catches him and stays on top in the guard. This is a hell of a fight. More hammer fists land for Tavares and he works the head and body as Ortega looks like he might be slowing down a bit. Ortega uses the fence to stand, but Tavares drops again and brings him right back down into guard. Another good elbow from the bottom opens Thiago up further, and a triangle attempt follows, but Tavares pulls free and in the transition takes the back and then gets a mount, where he drops some BOMBS that land flush! Ortega might be in trouble. Big elbows from Thiago as he looks to finish the fight, but Ortega manages to hold on and then somehow slips out and goes for a leglock! Thiago avoids that and gets back to his feet before hitting another takedown to half-guard. More good ground-and-pound follows for the Brazilian before Ortega regains full guard. Pair of nasty upkicks land for Ortega as Tavares tries to posture up, and then he throws up a triangle that looks sunk, but Tavares slips his head free. The blood probably helped him there actually. Seconds to go and Thiago continues to land shots from the guard. Round ends there. 10-9 Tavares despite being dropped as he came back really strongly.

Round Three but before they come out the doctor has to check Tavares’s cuts over. He’s got a bad gash on the forehead above his right eye, and his eye itself looks sliced up too. Doc allows it to continue though and the crowd go WILD. Tavares looks like Frankenstein. Takedown attempt from Tavares is stuffed well. They trade punches with neither really landing cleanly, until Tavares catches him flush with a right to the temple. Ortega seems okay though and SPRINGS OFF THE FENCE to land a hard right hand! That was nice. Tavares keeps on swinging before shooting for a single leg, but Ortega stuffs it and spins away. One-two lands for Ortega. These guys are swinging quite wildly here. Low blow lands for Tavares and Dan Miragliotta has to call time. Ortega recovers and they restart, and Tavares lands with a head kick that somehow doesn’t slow Ortega down at all. Combo from Ortega lands flush and backs the Brazilian up as they continue to trade quite wildly. Spinning wheel kick glances off the head of Tavares. Ortega seems to be getting more confident standing. Takedown attempt from Thiago but Ortega sprawls well. Tavares keeps driving forward though and forces him back into the fence. He gets a rear waistlock and puts one hook in, desperately trying to force Ortega to the ground, but Ortega manages to block until Big Dan calls a separation. Tavares is wearing the crimson mask. Big left hand from Ortega clearly hurts Tavares but Big Dan has to call time to let him put his mouthguard back in. Odd stoppage but they restart quickly and go right back to trading off. Big punches from both men and they’re swinging for the FENCES here. Big right from Ortega stuns Thiago and forces him to shoot, but Ortega stuffs it and DROPS HIM WITH A LEFT-RIGHT! Tavares goes down HARD and Ortega drops into full mount and DESTROYS HIM FOR THE STOPPAGE!

That fight was AWESOME. Seriously, seriously awesome. High-end FOTYC in fact. Both guys came to FIGHT and they absolutely went hell for leather in all areas, exchanging on the feet, on the ground, throwing in submission attempts, takedowns, sweeps, you name it. It was one of those fights too where I don’t think either man really came away looking badly as Tavares was actually looking really good before he got stopped. Ortega though at just 24 could well develop into something special, and I think he’s up there with Mirsad Bektic, Kevin Souza, Yair Rodriguez, Doo Ho Choi et al as one of the brightest prospects in the division. I can’t wait to see him in there again.

Lightweight Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Yancy Medeiros

This was Poirier’s second foray at 155lbs after a successful debut win there over Diego Ferreira. Opponent Medeiros was on a solid run himself and had last beaten Joe Proctor in an impressive performance. I thought this was a tricky fight to pick due to Poirier being a bit of an unknown quantity at 155lbs while Medeiros is less proven overall but arguably underrated. I ended up taking Poirier just because I thought his aggression would pull him through.

Fight begins and the crowd are HUGELY into Poirier as he’s a Louisiana native. They circle early on with Medeiros almost taking up an old school karate sideward stance, snapping out some jabs. Nice leg kick from Poirier and he gets Medeiros retreating with a long left hand and then drops him with a right! Medeiros is in trouble. He pops up but Poirier SWARMS on him and drops him again with a left! Somehow he gets up again, but Poirier shoves him down and then nails him with another right, and then a big combo as he wobbles back up. Everything Dustin is throwing seems to be landing! Medeiros clinches but continues to take shots before Poirier throws him back down and then takes the back with both hooks. Body triangle from Poirier but Medeiros defends the choke well. He seems to be recovered now and manages to scramble, which puts him back on his feet. Left hand connects for Poirier again though and Medeiros clearly still isn’t 100% with it. BRUTAL body kick doubles Yancy over and from there Poirier swarms again, opening up with a HUGE FLURRY until Big John McCarthy steps in to call the standing TKO.

Holy shit that was a MASSACRE. Medeiros showed heart and toughness but Poirier just ate him alive standing and on the ground too. Looks like Poirier might be for real at 155lbs and I can’t wait to see him fight the upper echelon – this weekend’s fight with Joseph Duffy would’ve been tremendous and hopefully they can reschedule it soon. Poirier remains, win or lose, one of the most exciting guys to watch in the whole sport.

Heavyweight Fight: Ben Rothwell vs Matt Mitrione

Odds on this one going the distance must’ve been wildly low, as both men are renowned for not only getting their opponents out of there fast, but also for not exactly having the best gas tanks around. My pick here? Rothwell, basically because he’s more durable than Meathead despite having a speed disadvantage. Part of me admittedly was also worried that we’d get a slopfest with the front row being deprived of oxygen.

Weird entrance for Rothwell as he walks out to some odd orchestral music that sounds like it’s come from a 1960’s Hammer Horror movie.

First round begins and Mitrione refuses a glove touch. Low kick connects for Rothwell early as Mitrione circles on the outside. Left hand connects for Meathead coming forward. Meathead seems far more light on his feet and he avoids a bit of a rush from Rothwell before landing a solid one-two. Lunging right hand connects for Mitrione. Leg kick and a right hook land for Rothwell and he follows in with a short uppercut. Plum clinch follows but Mitrione escapes without much damage. Left hand and a hard body kick land for Mitrione. Rothwell looks badly marked up around the left eye. Few more punches land for Mitrione and then he surprises Rothwell by shooting for a takedown, but Rothwell blocks with a whizzer and then locks up a guillotine variant off the scramble! From there he tightens it up and forces Mitrione down and MEATHEAD TAPS!

Man, I can’t help but feel that Mitrione threw that fight away. Admittedly he may well have ended up getting tagged on the feet but before that takedown attempt – the first one I can ever remember him trying in his UFC career in fact! – he seemed pretty comfortable standing and was looking to pick Rothwell apart. Big win for Rothwell but sorry, I still don’t buy the guy as a title contender and I think he’d lose to Overeem for sure if they ever rematched. Post-fight Rothwell cuts a REALLY odd promo too, demanding a title shot, claiming nobody but POLITICS can stop him and then ending with an EVIL LAUGH randomly. Between that and his entrance music he must’ve gotten obsessive over old-school horror movies I guess. Strange stuff.

Middleweight Fight: Dan Henderson vs Tim Boetsch

After his January knockout loss to Gegard Mousasi marked his fifth loss in six fights – as well as the second KO he’d suffered in the last two years – I have to admit that I expected the legend Hendo to retire and probably end up in the UFC’s Hall of Fame. Instead though he decided to carry on – at the age of 44! – and was matched with Boetsch, his lowest ranked opponent since probably the then largely unknown Rousimar Palhares back in 2008. Boetsch was coming off a loss of his own, to Thales Leites, but was being pegged as the favourite here as I guess everyone had lost faith in Hendo. I was actually picking the legend though feeling that even way past his prime, Hendo probably had enough to take out Boetsch, basically a poor man’s version of himself. If he couldn’t, then retirement would surely beckon.

Round One and they circle before Boetsch throws a front kick and then rushes in swinging, but Hendo lands a HUGE RIGHT HOOK going backwards that drops him to his knees! Boetsch pops up and tries to grab Henderson to hold himself up, but Hendo hits him with a knee and another uppercut that sends him down face-first! Flurry of punches KNOCK BOETSCH SILLY and that’s it! Crowd go INSANE.

Pretty stunning finish for Hendo although it must be said, Boetsch came in with like, the worst gameplan ever for fighting Dan Henderson, running in swinging wild punches with no defense at a guy who’s known for his brutal punching power. I guess Tim was banking on Henderson being totally shot, but he found out the hard way that the last thing to leave someone is their knockout power, even when the rest of the skills are faded. Don’t think this means Hendo is “back” or anything in terms of title contention – for me he’s still on the retirement path – but I will be pulling for him to beat serial drug cheat Vitor Belfort when they face off next month. And that’s such a tricky fight to pick too now Vitor is presumably clean.

Post-fight Henderson says he’s NOT DONE YET and then makes the comical observation that if you stick around something for a long time everyone will love you. Dude actually has an understated dry sense of humor.

-Show ends with Hendo and his crew celebrating the win.

Final Thoughts….

This was one of the best shows of 2015, period. It was almost like a Best Knockouts show with five of the six fights ending with highlight reel KO’s, and then the other fight also had a nasty submission ending. Add in the fact that one of those five highlight reel fights was Tavares/Ortega – a high-end FOTYC – and you’ve got probably the UFC’s best Fight Night card of the year if not of all time. Thumbs way up for this one.

Best Fight: Tavares vs. Ortega
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: