MMA Review: #523: UFC Fight Night 77

-This was to be the final show in Brazil in 2015 and it looked like a pretty good one on paper, with the trilogy fight between Belfort and Henderson in the main event and then a bunch of top prospects and contenders (Teixeira, Almeida, Burns, Magomedov, Oliveira) up and down the card. Not much more to say really as the card stayed intact for the most part and looked pretty good to me.

UFC Fight Night 77

Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Fabio Maldonado vs Corey Anderson

This was the lone main card fight to have an injury change, as Maldonado’s initial opponent was supposed to be Tom Lawlor, but when the Filthy one got injured, TUF 19 winner Anderson stepped in to replace him in a quick turnaround from his September win over Jan Blachowicz. Despite the late notice I thought Anderson was a lock to win this one – he’s one of the better wrestlers in that weight class and Maldonado’s never really developed any sort of strong takedown defense.

Round One and Maldonado is just ungodly over with this crowd. He might be the most popular Brazilian fighter who isn’t like a champion or top contender in fact. Either him or Massaranduba I’d say. Anderson seems really calm and comes out with a couple of glancing combos. One minute in and Anderson hits a simple double leg and plants Maldonado on the ground in half-guard. Crowd start booing instantly but Anderson begins to work Fabio over with some short elbows. Looks like Maldonado’s just trying to stall for a stand-up. Good right elbow from Anderson but Maldonado looks for a sweep and then slides out the back door to his feet. Nice. Few kicks from Anderson back him into the fence though and he looks for another takedown. Maldonado defends it this time and they end up clinched, before breaking and exchanging punches. Good body punch from Anderson and he follows with a really nice combo that sets up another takedown attempt. Maldonado defends again but really he isn’t getting the better of the striking here either as Anderson lands another combo. Clinch from Anderson and he lands a knee before Maldonado exits with an uppercut. Another knee from the clinch lands for Anderson and he follows with a left hook. Takedown follows that and Maldonado gives his back. No hooks for Anderson but he’s in firm control and he lands some punches from the position before dropping a knee to the body to end the round. Pretty clear round for Corey Anderson there.

Round Two and Anderson peppers him with some jabs before Maldonado comes forward swinging to a big pop. Anderson’s having none of that and he spins him into the fence and drops for a takedown. Maldonado defends and so Anderson switches to a single leg, finally ripping Maldonado away from the fence and onto the ground. The Brazilian gives his back in order to stand back up, but Anderson stays on him like glue and forces him down to his knees. Back up for Maldonado though and he turns into the clinch. Good knee to the body lands for the TUF winner. Crowd begin to boo as they exchange some short body punches. Nice right and a knee land for Anderson but Maldonado fires back with some hooks. Anderson drops for the takedown again but Maldonado defends it well. They break off and Maldonado looks for some body punches, but he takes a right hand from Anderson who follows by clinching to land a knee and a hard right. Easy takedown from Anderson and he lands in half-guard. He’s finding it so much easier to get Maldonado down when he’s not got his back to the fence. Elbows land for Anderson but Maldonado spins and escapes out the back door. Anderson clinches again to land a knee from the plum, then clinches again to avoid a combo as the round ends. Two rounds in the book for Corey Anderson.

Round Three and Maldonado comes out swinging, but Anderson stays out of range and lands a couple of low kicks. Takedown attempt from Anderson but Maldonado defends well this time. Couple of body shots land for Maldonado and he catches Corey with a left hand too, but Anderson seems fine and he hits a driving double leg into side mount. Maldonado gives his back in order to escape and manages to work up onto his knees, but Anderson laces his leg to keep him grounded. He drops some solid punches but doesn’t seem to be interested in putting his hooks in. Maldonado manages to stand back up, but he’s pressed against the cage. Knee into a right hook seems to hurt Maldonado and he’s breathing heavily. He swings back, but Anderson clinches again. Nice knee and uppercut from Anderson but Maldonado catches him with a clean right hook as they break. Anderson forces him into the fence again, but the Brazilian breaks with a left hook. Really hard right hand lands for Anderson in an exchange and rocks Maldonado, but he manages to recover in the clinch. They break with one minute to go but Anderson gets right back on him. Maldonado escapes again, but Anderson hits another double leg to half-guard and that’ll probably do it. Sure enough the fight ends there. I’d call it 30-27 for Anderson.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Corey Anderson. Even the worst judges couldn’t really screw that one up. Pretty simple win for Anderson in the end then as he didn’t even have trouble with Maldonado’s striking and largely outlanded him on the feet, but the big difference was obviously Anderson’s takedowns and clinch work. He’s still a work in progress but it’s taking fights like this that will help his career massively, as it’s another fifteen minutes in the book against a pretty dangerous opponent. Hopefully he’ll stay on the right track and evolve into a title contender in the next few years. Fight was decent enough if not really memorable.

Lightweight Fight: Rashid Magomedov vs Gilbert Burns

This was an interesting fight between two of the best prospects in the division. Burns was coming off his February submission of Alex Oliveira although that’d been a hugely tricky fight for him in the end as he’d been outstruck for the first two rounds by the Brazilian Cowboy before pulling the armbar out in the end. Magomedov meanwhile hadn’t fought in almost a year, when he’d been to Brazil and knocked out home country favourite Elias Silverio. My pick here was Magomedov despite Burns’ clear talent, as he’s one of the smoothest strikers in the division and also has excellent takedown defense, and after seeing Burns struggle with Oliveira on the feet I thought Magomedov could give him the same problems.

First round and Burns pressures Magomedov back with a few early strikes, but he walks into a really nasty sweeping right hand. Burns gets into range though and hits a beautiful trip takedown and looks to mount, but Magomedov scoots back to the fence and looks to stand. He gives his back, and Burns laces up the left leg and then SLAMS him right back down. Rashid again scrambles back to the fence and works back to his feet, but Burns stays on him and keeps him forced into the fence. Takedown attempt ends up with Burns on his back, but he goes for a leglock. Magomedov avoids though and pulls free, and they’re back on their feet. Quick combo lands for Rashid but Burns lands with a body kick. Good right hand counter from Magomedov. Pair of body kicks follow. Good leg kick from Burns. Couple more really smooth combinations land for Rashid. He’s slick on his feet for sure. Body kick again lands for the Dagestani and he’s forcing Burns backwards now with these combos. Burns looks outgunned standing here. Sweeping body kick does land for the Brazilian but Magomedov catches him with a clean right counter and a body kick. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Magomedov despite the early takedowns for Burns.

Second round and a quick body kick lands for Magomedov. Nice combination answers for Burns. Sneaky right hand connects for Rashid. Couple more body kicks land for Rashid but the action has slowed down a bit here. Takedown attempt from Burns and it looks like he’s considering pulling guard for a second, but Magomedov defends well and they end up clinched on the fence. Another takedown attempt follows but Burns still can’t get the Dagestani down. They break off and Magomedov surprisingly lands a left and takes Burns down. He doesn’t follow him down though and calls him back up instead. Overhand right connects for Magomedov and Burns looks hurt suddenly, sliding back like he’s on skates! He tries to hide it and retreats, but he still looks wobbled and Rashid comes in with a right and a glancing head kick. Uppercut into a pair of right hands land for Magomedov and Burns covers up. Body kick sets up a BIG right hand and Burns goes down! He’s in deep trouble. Magomedov pounces and looks to finish him off, but Burns covers up enough and Magomedov decides to stand over him and drop punches rather than go into the guard. He lets Burns back up, and Rashid gets back on him with a head kick and a left hand. Another counter right wobbles Burns again and he’s in survival mode. Front kick sets up a one-two for Rashid. He’s being really patient considering how hurt Burns looked. Brutal leg kick from the Dagestani. Another combo ends the round for Magomedov. Burns is going to need a finish for sure here.

Third round and Burns really goes for a single leg to begin, but Magomedov blocks it and the Brazilian ends up on his back for a second. Magomedov lets him back up though and lands a counter right when Burns throws a kick. Nice leg kick from Rashid. Head kick glances for Burns. Action’s slowed down a lot now though and Burns looks tired to me. Couple more counter shots land for Magomedov but he isn’t really picking up the output. Takedown attempt from Burns and he almost gets Rashid down, but somehow he remains on his feet. Incredible balance from the Dagestani. Burns keeps him clinched, and he decides to pull guard, but again Magomedov’s having none of that and he stands back up. Not long to go now in what has been a dull round. Head kick again glances for Burns. Right hand into a body kick from Magomedov. Couple more combinations follow for the Dagestani. Seconds to go and Magomedov opens up with a couple of kicks to end the round. Well, the final round sucked but it has to be a 30-27 for Rashid Magomedov.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Rashid Magomedov. Fight basically went how I suspected it would – outside of one point in the first round, Burns couldn’t get Magomedov down and on the feet he was painfully outgunned. I kind of think Magomedov could’ve gone harder in the third round to look for the finish, but really I get why he didn’t after seeing Burns come back in the third against Oliveira in that fight. Regardless, Magomedov is probably a top ten level fighter right now but I can’t stress enough that he needs to fight a lot more in order to make some real noise in the division, especially one as stacked with talent as 155lbs. This was a good fight for the most part but it wasn’t the sort of thing to make you salivate over seeing Rashid again and that’s the sort of showing he needs right now.

Lightweight Fight: Alex Oliveira vs Piotr Hallmann

Two of the biggest guys out there at 155lbs here, with Oliveira’s last two fights actually coming at 170lbs. This was Hallmann’s return from a year on the shelf following a positive drug test actually, Wiki tells me it was drostanolone which might explain why his biggest strength was, well, his physical strength. I’ve been massively high on Alex Cowboy since his UFC debut though and I thought he’d win this one quite easily assuming Hallmann was clean these days. For me he’s a dark horse title contender.

Round One and they trade off right away with Hallmann pushing forward, but he eats a series of uppercuts from the clinch. Looks like Hallmann’s cut on the nose right away. Few kicks from Oliveira but he takes a right from Hallmann as the Pole steps forward. Nice counter combo from Cowboy and Hallmann is all sorts of busted up. Takedown is easily stuffed by Oliveira. Clean left counter lands for Oliveira as Hallmann steps in. They clinch and Oliveira lands a knee and muscles Hallmann into the fence. Action slows down a bit from there but it’s Oliveira in control. He drops for a takedown but Hallmann defends it well. He keeps trying to get the Pole off his feet, but can’t quite manage it and so he keeps Hallmann pressed into the cage. Good shots from the clinch land for Oliveira and then he drops for a takedown again, but Hallmann continues to defend. Pair of right hands and a knee separate for Hallmann but Oliveira cracks him with a couple of right hands and then forces him back into the fence. Knee breaks for Hallmann but Oliveira opens up with a knee to the body and another combo. Big uppercut has Hallmann hurt and he’s taking shots with his back to the fence now. Couple more uppercuts end the round for Cowboy. 10-9 Oliveira.

Round Two and Hallmann connects on a left hook before they brawl into the clinch. They break off but Oliveira is still on him with strikes. Hallmann catches a leg kick though and manages to take Oliveira down with a double leg. Crowd begin to boo right away as Hallmann lands a couple of punches while Oliveira looks content to hold on. Triangle is avoided by the Pole but he isn’t doing much damage from the top really. Hallmann looks like he’s trying to trap one of Oliveira’s arms to deliver some shots, but he takes some elbows in the process. Ref Mario Yamasaki decides to stand them up and they restart. Body kick glances for Hallmann and he avoids a couple of sweeping punches from Cowboy. Low kick drops Hallmann and he gives his back as he tries to get up, and Oliveira pounces and gets an over/under quickly. He tries to get the hooks in, but goes too high and he slides off, allowing Hallmann to take north/south. Oliveira tries to reverse and gets into half-guard, where he ties Hallmann up, but the Pole does get through with some elbows and the crowd boo again. Round ends with Hallmann on top. Wasn’t pretty but Hallmann’s round, 10-9.

Round Three and Hallmann’s face is grotesquely swollen. He misses a combo to begin and eats a knee from Oliveira and then a following uppercut. Hallmann is really pushing the action here but he isn’t landing too much. He does get a left hook in though. They continue to exchange and suddenly Oliveira lands a CRUSHING RIGHT HAND THAT DROPS HALLMANN DEAD!~!

That was an unbelievable knockout. Hallmann was stiff before he even hit the deck, wow. Replay shows it was a perfectly timed and placed punch right to the jaw. Just beautiful stuff from Alex Oliveira. Fight showed a couple of holes in his game – namely his bottom game – but I still think he’s a hell of a prospect and if he continues to develop he could be a legit title contender. That was one of the best knockouts of 2015.

Bantamweight Fight: Thomas Almeida vs Anthony Birchak

After he dispatched of Brad Pickett with a vicious flying knee at UFC 189 it looked like the sky was the limit for Almeida, and I expected him to be matched with a top-level opponent next – a Bryan Caraway or Raphael Assuncao for instance – but instead he was faced with a fellow prospect in Birchak, who had previously knocked out Joe Soto in June. Despite Almeida showing some holes in his game against Pickett – namely a penchant for getting hit – I thought he’d walk right through Birchak with no issues.

Round One begins and Birchak circles on the outside and then throws a couple of low kicks out while Almeida appears to be looking to get his timing down. Combo glances for Birchak. Takedown attempt is avoided by Almeida. He does a good job of avoiding some shots from Birchak but he isn’t really landing much himself yet. Low kick from Birchak is countered by a right hand from Almeida. Another right hand counter lands for Almeida and then he follows with a left. Wild combo from Birchak and he has Almeida backing up, but he doesn’t seem hurt. Clinch follows but Birchak breaks it quickly with a right. Overhand right lands for Almeida and Birchak looks hurt, but he fires right back with a flying knee that misses. Single leg attempt follows but Almeida sprawls and goes for a wild anaconda choke, but Birchak avoids it and takes top position. Scramble allows Almeida back to his feet though and the striking exchange continues. Flurry glances for Birchak and backs Almeida up a bit. Nice left hand connects for Almeida as does a combo. Birchak fires right back though with a combo of his own. Couple of low kicks from Birchak and then he shoots on another single leg and drives Almeida into the fence. He works for a trip, but Almeida defends well and lands a knee inside. Elbow breaks for Birchak and he really charges forward swinging, but Almeida dodges. One minute to go and Almeida counters a body kick with a hard right that has Birchak hurt again. Combo follows and Birchak gets wobbled by a heavy left. He tries to clinch but Almeida throws him off and misses with a flying kick. Spinning elbow leads to a VICIOUS COMBO for Almeida and a HUGE RIGHT HAND PUTS BIRCHAK TO SLEEP.

That was a scary performance from Thomas Almeida. Birchak really went for it, came out aggressively and took the fight to him and Almeida just stayed calm, found his range and then killed the guy dead. The guy is an absolute monster and I can’t wait to see who they match him with next. Maybe Renan Barao so he can take the torch of the scary Brazilian in the division? At any rate he looked awesome here and this was his third killer knockout of 2015.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Glover Teixeira vs Patrick Cummins

Both of these guys were coming off big wins – Teixeira over Ovince St. Preux and Cummins over Rafael Feijao – and a win here would put them firmly into title contention. It was quite a tough fight to pick too – while Cummins has much less experience and has a bad tendency to get hit, he is a top wrestler and the last top wrestler Teixeira fought (Phil Davis) beat him pretty easily. With that said though I just didn’t trust Cummins’s defense to hold up under Glover’s onslaught and thought the Brazilian would probably win by submission.

Fight begins and Cummins shoots right away and gets Teixeira on his back. Teixeira immediately reverses to his feet though without taking any damage. Low kick glances for Cummins and he lands an uppercut as Glover comes forward. Another takedown attempt follows and he gets Glover down for a second time. Glover looks to escape again and does so, getting to his feet despite Cummins grabbing a front headlock. They end up clinched and Cummins lands a knee to the body before they break. Right-left combo lands for Teixeira. Short right hand stiffens Cummins’ legs up but he seems okay. Left hand follows. Teixeira begins to stalk forward and he avoids a takedown attempt. Quick jab lands for Glover. Left hook follows and Cummins might be in trouble. More jabs from Teixeira but Cummins shoots and gets a bodylock, driving him into the fence. Big suplex from Cummins and he takes the Brazilian’s back, but slips off and Teixeira escapes out the back door. Big uppercut lands for Glover and he’s got Cummins hurt badly with a combo. He stays on his feet but he’s dropping his hands a lot now. Knee glances for Cummins but he gets cracked by some more heavy punches. Takedown attempt follows and he manages to get Glover down, probably rescuing himself from being finished in fact. He settles into half-guard and tries to keep Glover grounded, but again Teixeira reverses to his feet. One minute to go and they break out of the clinch and they trade punches with Teixeira landing the better ones again. Series of uppercuts connect for Cummins to slow him down though. Flying knee lands for Cummins but Teixeira takes it and tries to get his own takedown. Cummins blocks that, and then gets hurt BADLY by a short left hand and an uppercut on the buzzer. 10-9 Teixeira.

Into the 2nd and Glover comes out headhunting and lands a left hand right away. Combo has Cummins hurt again and he’s in deep trouble. He’s also bleeding from the mouth badly. Takedown attempt from Cummins but Teixeira defends it well this time and then takes the back and lands a hammer fist. Cummins gets back up, but Teixeira closes him down with another heavy combo. BIG SHOTS have Cummins badly hurt and Glover’s looking to finish. More bombs land for Teixeira and Herb Dean decides to stop it with Cummins still standing. Great fight.

Brutal finish for Glover Teixeira and although he still showed he can be taken down relatively easily, he did reverse Cummins on the ground comfortably here and get back to his feet where he was able to deal with Cummins with little difficulty. I don’t think he ever gets up to that title level again – he might be able to get another shot in the future particularly if Daniel Cormier keeps hold of the title, but I think Cormier’s wrestling would be way too much for him to handle – but fights with the likes of Manuwa, Gustafsson and Rumble sound like a hell of a lot of fun. At the end of the day the guy is still one of the best in the world and he’s great to watch, too. As for Cummins he seems to be running into the same problems in that 205lbs is such a thin division, it allows him to beat lower-level opponents using his current skills without ever really defining the rest of his game, so when he makes that step up he always has problems. He may well develop yet though, we shall see. The amount of punishment he’s taken in his UFC career thus far is worrying though.

Middleweight Fight: Vitor Belfort vs Dan Henderson

If I’m honest there wasn’t that much buzz around this fight, simply due to the fact that at this point –especially after the TRT ban – both men feel like they’re on the verge of the end of their storied careers, but I guess it’s better for them to fight one another than to be fed to monstrous rising stars – especially with sharks like Jacare and Romero floating around in the division. I honestly wasn’t sure which way to go for a pick either given how different Vitor looked physically in his fight with Chris Weidman, although I must say I wasn’t putting much stock into Hendo’s KO of Tim Boetsch either as Boetsch came in with like, the worst gameplan for fighting Hendo that you possibly could. Basically I figured it’d end with either Henderson grinding Vitor out for a decision or Vitor turning his lights out early again.

Fight begins and both men come out looking really tentative. Low kick lands for Henderson but it’s pretty much the lone strike of the opening minute. Crowd begin to sound restless as we’re 1:30 in now with zero action. Suddenly two minutes in Vitor uncorks a HUGE LEFT HEAD KICK and Hendo is ROCKED! Clean punches follow for Vitor and Hendo CRASHES DOWN, and a couple of left hands on the ground have the legend stiff. Crowd go apeshit, naturally.

Wild to see Henderson put away by pretty much the first strike in the fight, but there you go. Post-fight Jon Anik says that Vitor is BACK (again!) but I’m not so sure myself – it might well be more that Hendo’s chin is totally shot at this stage. What’s next for both men, then? With Vitor I guess he moves back up into title contention but I’d say he needs to take out at least one of the top contenders before they consider giving him another shot. I wouldn’t mind Vitor vs. Machida actually, or Jacare for that matter. As for Henderson, he really ought to retire now but if he really wants to carry on, a match with Nick Diaz – assuming they can get him out of this suspension – sounds like a ton of fun to me. Not much of a fight here as it was literally two minutes of circling and then a wild flurry from Vitor, but it was a pretty awesome knockout.

-Show abruptly ends there as per usual with the poorly paced Fox Sports 1 Fight Nights.

Final Thoughts….

This one got off to a bit of a slower start thanks to Maldonado/Anderson and Magomedov/Burns – not that either was a horrible fight or anything – but everything from there was tremendous, like an Ultimate Knockouts compilation in fact. Best finish of the night for me was Alex Oliveira’s knockout, but both Almeida and Belfort definitely came close. Not the best Fight Night card of the year just because even with the great knockouts we didn’t get an outright great fight, but it’s definitely worth watching for those sick finishes. Easy thumbs up for this one.

Best Fight: Almeida vs. Birchak
Worst Fight: Anderson vs. Maldonado

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: