MMA Review: #526: UFC Fight Night 79

-The UFC’s first ever show from South Korea – a hotbed of sorts for MMA these days – happened to be one of the year’s most injury-hit cards too, with three of the four main card bouts being changed at late-ish notice. To be fair though it was a Fight Pass card meaning the changes didn’t make that much of a difference and the two biggest stars – Benson Henderson and Sexyama – remained on the card at least.

UFC Fight Night 79

11/28/15
Seoul, South Korea

-Your hosts are Jon Gooden and Kenny Florian.

Featherweight Fight: Doo Ho Choi vs Sam Sicilia

This one was bumped onto the main card when Mirko Cro Cop vs. Anthony Hamilton was cancelled (due to the EVILS OF HGH) but I for one wasn’t complaining as Choi is a guy I’ve had pegged as one of the top prospects at 145lbs for a long time now and despite over a year on the shelf I was looking forward to seeing him fight again. Sicilia looked like a fun opponent for him too as he’s a guy who tends to draw any opponent into a brawl, but he was also a test I figured Choi would pass as I thought the Korean had the faster, cleaner strikes.

Round One begins and ha, Choi still looks about twelve years old. Both men throw out some feints before Choi tags Sicilia with a right-left combo. Left hand and a low kick answer for Sicilia but Choi slips another shot and CRACKS him with another combo that has him stunned! Right hand drops Sicilia and Choi tries to mount him but Sicilia bucks him off and gets back to his feet. Wild swings from Sicilia and now he catches Choi and seems to have him hurt! Choi circles out though and seems okay, and another combo leads to a huge right uppercut that has Sicilia reaching for the clinch. Takedown attempt is blocked by Choi and they break, and a flying knee misses for Choi. Wild swings miss for Sicilia and then he walks right into a CRUSHING RIGHT-LEFT COMBO and goes down, and this time Choi pounces and finishes him off on the ground.

Seriously impressive knockout from Doo Ho Choi. He stood in the pocket with one of the harder punchers at 145lbs but never got drawn into a wild brawl (although he did get tagged once) and basically just used his superior accuracy and movement to knock Sicilia senseless. It was about as impressive a performance as anyone could’ve hoped for I’d say. Post-fight he calls out Tatsuya Kawajiri (who’d lost his opponent for an upcoming show) and while they didn’t manage to put that fight together on short notice I’d say it’d work for a show in early 2016 for sure. This guy could be the best fighter to come into the UFC from Asia in a long time.

Welterweight Fight: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs Alberto Mina

Sexyama had been on the shelf since September 2014’s win over Amir Sadollah but it was no surprise to see him booked for this show – not just due to it being in the far east, but more because for those who don’t know, he’s actually part Korean and is known as Choo Sung Hoon over there (I think at least, the whole issue confuses me a bit). He’d actually looked impressive in the Sadollah win but a fourteen month layoff is always worrying for a guy who’s now 40. Opponent Mina – a Brazilian fighter who’d mainly fought on the British circuit – had also had a long layoff – even longer than Akiyama’s in fact as he’d last fought at UFN 48 in August 2014. I figured he had a solid chance of pulling the upset due to Father Time more than anything else but part of me still believed in Sexyama’s skills and so I was picking him, just.

First round begins and Mina circles on the outside and throws out some feeler strikes before both men land hard leg kicks. The crowd are massively into Akiyama. Heavy leg kick lands for Mina and drops Akiyama to a knee for a second before he pops back up. He seems fine though and pushes forward. Another good leg kick lands for Mina. Overhand right follows but doesn’t land cleanly. Akiyama hasn’t really landed anything of note thus far. Leg kick again lands for Mina. Akiyama does land with a couple of low kicks of their own but they don’t seem to land fully. One minute to go and he does land a good one, but Mina quickly comes back with one of his own that lands harder. Takedown attempt from Mina is easily shrugged off by Sexyama. Spin kick for Mina misses. Front kick to the body from Mina but Akiyama catches him with a left hand. Takedown from Mina with seconds to go and he takes the back as the round ends. 10-9 Mina I’d say for the leg kicks and the late takedown.

Second round and Akiyama opens with a good leg kick. Mina again fires back with one of his own. Couple of punches glance for Mina but Akiyama hits him with a really good leg kick and then a nice combo that has Mina a bit stunned. He recovers fast, but takes another leg kick. Mina shoots but Akiyama easily blocks it. Few punches come up short for Mina and Akiyama keeps on pushing forward and connects with a hard left uppercut. Another leg kick lands for Sexyama. Mina is missing with some wild punches in this round. Another takedown attempt is blocked by Sexyama with ease. Trip takedown misses for Akiyama. He does land with another leg kick though. Another takedown attempt by Mina is avoided well. Mina keeps on swinging heavy punches though and he catches Akiyama going backwards with a clean left, and follows with a flurry! Akiyama looks rocked and he has to tie up, but Mina shrugs him off. One minute to go and Akiyama comes back with a leg kick, but Mina catches him low and the ref has to call for time. He takes a minute or so and then he’s ready to go. Couple of wild swings miss for Mina before Akiyama glances with a right head kick. Mina comes back with a straight left and Akiyama is hurt bad! Surprisingly Mina follows with a takedown attempt though and Akiyama stuffs it. More punches land for Mina though and DOWN GOES SEXYAMA! Didn’t catch what dropped him but he’s in deep trouble. Mina follows with some big shots on the ground before Akiyama stands, but he takes some more shots and he looks out on his feet as the round ends. WOW. Can’t go 10-8 as Akiyama was winning most of the round, but it’s clearly a 10-9 for Alberto Mina. Replay shows it was a pair of wild left hooks that dropped Sexyama.

Third round and somehow Akiyama looks recovered. Mina tags him with a one-two right away though. Wild swings to follow miss, however, and Akiyama comes back with a leg kick. These guys are both swinging wildly now. Leg kick lands for Mina but as he shoots he dives right into a hard right uppercut and Akiyama shrugs off the takedown. Spinning elbow misses for Mina and Akiyama makes him pay with a quick combo before stuffing another takedown. Mina looks gassed. Couple more uppercuts land for Akiyama but Mina gets to the clinch off a stuffed takedown. Akiyama breaks off though and he lands with another big combo. He’s backing Mina up in this round big time. Takedown again misses for Mina and he tries to pull guard, but Sexyama’s having none of that and forces the ref to wave him up. Mina’s left leg looks fucked. Big right hand lands for Akiyama and he continues to back Mina up before tagging him with a combo. Mina is in trouble. Takedown is stuffed by Akiyama again. Again Mina drops to his back and the crowd are FURIOUS as the ref waves him back up. Somehow though he catches Akiyama cleanly with a one-two off the restart and forces him to retreat a bit. Leg kick follows for Mina. Akiyama walks him down though and rocks him with another combo, and both men continue to swing wild. Akiyama seems to have more power though but as he throws a leg kick, Mina catches it and gets a takedown. Akiyama reverses though and in a scramble he lands on top in half-guard and from there he OPENS UP with some hard hammer fists before standing. Ref again forces Mina up to join him and fair play to him, he comes out swinging again. Another takedown fails though and this time he’s REALLY slow to get up. Big left hook lands for Sexyama. Mina’s still throwing haymakers but he can barely stand. Another takedown is avoided by Akiyama and this time he’s had enough of Mina’s butt-scooting and he dives into the guard with a solid right hand. Mina decides to roll for a leglock, but Akiyama defends with some clubbing punches to the side of the head. Mina turns over into full guard, but Akiyama absolutely leathers him with ground-and-pound until the round ends. I’d go 10-8 there for Akiyama and call it a 28-28 draw myself, but I could see 29-28 Mina or even 29-28 Akiyama (if you somehow gave him the 2nd) as well.

Judges have it a split decision; 29-28 Mina, 29-28 Akiyama and 29-28 for Alberto Mina to squeak out the win. Crowd are pissed off with that one but I think it was a fair result in the end as I guess Mina came as close to a finish in the 2nd as Akiyama did in the 3rd. Can’t call it a robbery in my opinion. Fight wasn’t the best in terms of finesse but it was a lot of fun I thought as both guys left it all in the cage and came out looking to finish the fight, and both men survived quite a lot of abuse from the other in the end. I look forward to seeing Mina fight again, especially now he’s with Rafael Cordeiro at Kings, and hey, if Sexyama decides to keep on fighting I wouldn’t be against it as he doesn’t look dangerously shot or anything. I’m probably in the minority but yeah, I liked this.

Welterweight Fight: Dong Hyun Kim vs Dominic Waters

Originally, the UFC’s best known Korean fighter (if you consider Sexyama Japanese…) Kim was pegged to face Jorge Masvidal here, but when Gamebred stepped up into the main event, former TUFer Waters stepped in on short notice to take on what looked like a horrible fight for him. Seriously, I don’t like to write anyone off in a UFC fight but despite Kim having some holes in his game (namely a penchant for getting hit hard and brawling) I couldn’t see any way for Waters to win this fight at all as I thought the Stun Gun had the advantage in every single area.

Round One and Kim pushes forward and glances on a cartwheel kick of all things. That allows Waters to pounce on him and get a rear waistlock, but he can’t get Kim off his feet and the Korean works to turn into him and get a regular clinch. Waters tries to get him down, but that’s a bit mistake and Kim begins to work for a trip before landing a hard knee to the body. Waters still tries to muscle him down and sure enough Kim hits a BIG HIP THROW and lands in side mount before stepping right into a mounted crucifix. Waters is in about as much shit as he could’ve possibly found himself. He tries desperately to escape but Kim’s base is too strong and he begins to drop hard, unanswered punches to the face while controlling Waters masterfully. Crowd begin to cheer loudly with every shot Kim lands and it doesn’t look like Waters is capable of escaping the position. More punches land for Kim and he begins to throw some elbows in for good measure, and finally the ref decides Waters isn’t doing enough to defend and stops the fight there.

Fight was a total squash as expected but as with Choi earlier, it went about as well for Kim as it could possibly have done. Waters literally got in zero offense as he managed to secure one clinch before he was thrown and then had the crap beaten out of him for two minutes before the stoppage. Obviously Kim needs a more difficult challenge next time – no offense to Waters but he’s way down the ladder at 170lbs and the horribly late notice just made things worse – but hey, if you’re faced with overmatched opposition you may as well put them away in impressive fashion and the Stun Gun did just that here.

Welterweight Fight: Benson Henderson vs Jorge Masvidal

After his February win over Brandon Thatch in a low-end FOTYC, I expected the end of Henderson’s excursion to 170lbs, but instead he chose to stay at the higher weight and was booked in the main event of this show – which made sense given his Korean heritage – initially against Thiago Alves. As has been the norm for him recently though, Alves got injured and so another man who’d only recently moved to 170lbs – Jorge Masvidal – was moved into the slot and out of his originally booked match with Dong Hyun Kim. My guess is with the IV ban we haven’t seen the last of this sort of weight jump. Anyway, as far as a pick went, I was siding with Henderson – while I felt Masvidal probably had a boxing advantage it was the only one I was giving him, as he’d always felt to me like the type of fighter to look outstanding against lower and mid-level opponents and then falter at the very top. And shit, after seeing him handle Thatch I couldn’t see what Masvidal could really do to him. Elephant in the room? This was the last fight on Henderson’s current contract and he was looking to test the free market after it, meaning higher stakes for him.

Round One and Masvidal takes the center of the cage as Henderson circles on the outside and throws a couple of early low kicks. Nice one-two lands for Bendo as Masvidal pushes forward. Body kick follows. Masvidal backs him up a little though and lands a body kick of his own. Body kick from Henderson is countered by a left from Masvidal. Left hand answers for Henderson. Combo from Masvidal and he continues to back Bendo up. Head kick glances for him. Flurry from Masvidal but Henderson catches him with a clean right hand counter. Jabs from Masvidal back Henderson up some more and he follows with a body kick too. Jumping body kick from Masvidal but he eats a right hand counter that drops him for a second. He pops back up, but Henderson clinches and forces him into the fence. They break quickly with Masvidal landing a body punch on the way out. Pair of hard body kicks land for Masvidal and he follows with a leg kick and a blocked head kick. One minute to go and Henderson connects on a chopping leg kick. Right hand sets up another low kick for Bendo. Masvidal comes back with a body kick and a heavy knee, but Henderson catches it and goes for the takedown. Masvidal defends it masterfully and that’s the round. Close one to call. I’d probably go 10-9 Masvidal by a hair.

Round Two and Bendo opens with a leg kick. Crowd are way into Henderson. Couple of front kicks land to Masvidal’s body but Henderson misses a head kick and then has to block one from Masvidal. One-two connects for Henderson. Axe kick of all things misses for Masvidal but he forces Henderson backwards again. This time he eats a couple of counters though. Body kick from Henderson but he slips down and then goes for the takedown. Masvidal blocks it and looks like he might be going for a D’Arce, but he gives up on it and then opens up wildly with a flurry as they stand! Henderson fires back though and neither man lands cleanly before they circle free. Clinch follows and they jockey for position and Henderson throws in some shoulder butts for good measure. Heel kicks also land for the former Lightweight champ. They exchange knees before breaking off, and Masvidal throws a head kick that Bendo narrowly blocks again. Missed superman punch sets up a nice leg kick for Henderson. Body kick from Masvidal is met by a Henderson right hand and the former champ follows with a glancing head kick. Jab answers for Masvidal and then both miss with big combos. Single leg attempt from Henderson and he avoids a possible guillotine, but struggles to get Masvidal off his feet. Masvidal goes for the guillotine again, but Henderson rolls through and locks up a guillotine of his own. Masvidal drops his hands to avoid knees, but Henderson lifts him up to land a couple anyway and then throws a ton of them to the hamstring instead until the round ends. 10-9 Henderson to even things up.

Round Three and Henderson opens with a sharp front kick to the face. Masvidal evidently has a great chin. Body kick answers for Gamebred. Stiff jab follows but Henderson pegs him back with a combo. Good counter right hook from Bendo and then he lands a heavy body kick of his own. Counter right again connects for Henderson. Left to the body lands for him too. Good right hand answers for Masvidal. Combination from Henderson lands cleanly and he uses it to set up a single leg attempt, but Masvidal does well to stay on his feet. Henderson keeps trying to get him down, and he also gets creative by landing a trio of upward elbows from the position. That was pretty sweet. He comes back up into a regular clinch and now Masvidal looks to muscle Bendo down, but he pops right back up. Good job from Henderson to turn into Masvidal, but Masvidal goes for a high-elbow guillotine that Bendo has to defend. Knees from the clinch land for Henderson but Masvidal breaks with a right hand. Low blow follows for Henderson and Herb Dean has to call time. They restart with just over a minute remaining and Masvidal glances on a high kick. Both men miss with some big shots as Henderson keeps pawing with the right hand. Good counter right from him but Masvidal fires back with a left to the body. Good body kick for Masvidal but he ends the round with a low blow and Herb Dean calls time strangely with the buzzer already gone. 10-9 Henderson but it must be said every round has been tight thus far.

Round Four begins with a leg kick from Henderson. Big left-right combination follows and he does a tremendous job of avoiding Masvidal’s counters too. Big shots miss for both again before Henderson shoots for a double leg. Masvidal again defends well, and they exchange some short strikes from close range. Henderson’s heel kicks from the clinch are pretty cool. He still can’t get Masvidal off his feet though. Masvidal’s takedown defense is pretty sick. Crowd are booing mildly now too. Right hand breaks for Bendo. Counter right lands for him too as Masvidal pushes forward. Head kick glances for him but Bendo forces him back into the fence again. He finally manages to use a whizzer to trip Masvidal down this time but Masvidal reverses and escapes to his feet right away. Elbow breaks for Masvidal though. Wild swing misses for Masvidal and finally Henderson tackles him to the ground, but right away Gamebred reverses up again and now it looks like he’s going to get a takedown of his own. Henderson defends by going for a kimura ala Sakuraba, and he drops to his back for good measure, but Masvidal escapes it and so he goes for rubber guard instead. Masvidal escapes that too but Henderson rolls and so he grabs a front headlock. Henderson escapes up to his feet and they separate with thirty seconds to go. This is such a close fight. Left hand glances for Bendo. He follows with a flying knee and suddenly Masvidal looks slightly tired. Buzzer sounds there. 10-9 Henderson again as I felt he just about edged it.

Round Five and again Henderson opens with a low leg kick. Side kick misses for him though. Low body punch from Henderson and Masvidal almost counters with a big knee, but thankfully for Bendo it doesn’t land flush. Big takedown attempt again from Henderson and finally – probably due to a bit of tiredness – Masvidal goes down. To his credit though again he works right back up to his feet. Guillotine attempt from Masvidal and he really cranks on it, forcing Henderson to drop to his back, but Masvidal can’t quite finish it off and has to give it up. Front headlock from Masvidal and he turns it into a single leg attempt, but Henderson blocks and they wind up clinched again. Action slows down a little as they pepper each other from the clinch, before Masvidal misses a spinning backfist but connects on a body kick. Henderson catches the leg though and goes for the takedown, but again Masvidal’s defense holds up. Knees to the legs land for Henderson and Masvidal decides to roll for something, but Henderson lands in mount! He lands a couple of shots but Masvidal scrambles and pops back to his feet. Knee lands for Bendo and they scramble again and it ends with Henderson on top. One minute left in the fight and it looks like Henderson is going to try to hold Masvidal down. He can’t manage it though and again Gamebred escapes to his feet. Henderson trips him back down though and this time he takes the back. Another scramble allows Masvidal to spin into him and go for a takedown of his own, and he manages to get Henderson on his knees for a second before he pops back up. Henderson sprawls out flat to avoid the takedown and that’s the fight. 10-9 Henderson and I’d go 49-46 for him, but any score is possible really.

Judges have it 48-47 Masvidal….48-47 Henderson….and 49-46 and it’s another split decision win for Benson Henderson. Fight was close but I’d say the right call was made this time as I thought Henderson just about eked out the majority of the rounds. You could call them for Masvidal and not be truly wrong I guess but yeah, I had it for Bendo. I have to admit though, I didn’t enjoy the fight all that much. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was very high-level stuff and you’ve got to be impressed with what both guys did in the fight – Masvidal’s takedown defense in particular was fantastic – but unfortunately it felt like one of those fights where a bunch of stuff happened but nothing was all that memorable. Hopefully we’ll see Henderson re-sign with the UFC now and I suspect he will – Bellator could throw money at him but I don’t see Zuffa letting him go as he’s a recognizable name, usually has exciting fights and he’s a proven TV draw as well for these smaller shows. But yeah, this was an acquired taste I’d say.

-Show ends with a few plugs for UFC 194 and then a highlight reel.

Final Thoughts….

For a Fight Pass show I thought this was really good – while I didn’t think the main event was a great one or anything it was definitely watchable, and the other three fights were excellent, with Kim and Choi really shining and Akiyama/Mina being a ton of fun too. Definitely a thumbs up show if you missed it first time around.

Best Fight: Akiyama vs. Mina
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ***1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com