MMA Review: #532: UFC Fight Night 81

-Pretty crazy that I’ve caught up on myself with these reviews for the first time since 2007 I think, maybe first time ever for the UFC in fact. Anyhow last night’s show on paper was probably the most loaded one that UFC have ever put on FS1, or at least the most loaded since the inaugural one in 2013, what with a title fight that could easily have headlined a PPV and a main card that would’ve been a high-end PPV one last year. In fact looking at it like that then yeah, it’s the best card they’ve ever put on FS1 for sure.

UFC Fight Night 81

01/17/16
Boston, Massachusetts

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Lightweight Fight: Francisco Trinaldo vs Ross Pearson

This was another step up for Massaranduba after an excellent 2015 that saw him put together three wins as part of a four-fight streak, the most impressive of course being his August knockout of Chad Laprise. I was taking him to beat Pearson – coming off a good win of his own over Paul Felder – in a mild upset as I thought he hit harder than Ross and contrary to popular belief he’s actually a deceptively sharp kickboxer. Throw in the fact that Evan Dunham beat Pearson last year with a grinding, stifling gameplan that had been common for Trinaldo recently and I thought he could outwork Pearson for a decision.

Round One and Trinaldo stays way on the outside and circles as Pearson plays the pressure man and stalks forward. Very little action in the opening minute outside of a low kick from Trinaldo. Head kick is blocked by the Brazilian. Big left hand misses for Trinaldo. Pearson continues to stalk forward as the crowd sound a bit restless. Good body kick from Pearson but Trinaldo answers with one of his own. Nice left hand lands for Massaranduba on the counter. Spinning backfist misses for him and Pearson clips him with a left. Pair of kicks glance for Pearson before he blocks a high kick. Good leg kick lands for Ross. Another one follows. Hard straight left lands through the guard for Massaranduba. Hard counter knee lands for him too as Pearson comes forward. Body kick glances for Pearson and Trinaldo comes back with another knee. One minute to go and it looks like Trinaldo’s worked out Pearson’s movement and he’s beginning to come forward some more. Head kicks miss for both men and then Trinaldo lands one that Pearson just about blocks. Ross comes back with a blocked high kick of his own before Massaranduba catches him with a clean left straight and another head kick. Pearson looks slightly hurt and backs up, and Trinaldo follows by grabbing a rear waistlock and hitting a HUGE GERMAN SUPLEX to end the round. Whoa. Interesting opening round; 10-9 Trinaldo for the cleaner strikes and that massive suplex at the end.

Round Two and Trinaldo opens right away with a body kick. Ross looks to establish the jab and pumps out the right hand too, but Trinaldo’s doing a good job of keeping his distance. Clinch from the Brazilian but Pearson breaks with a short left. Head kick glances again for Trinaldo. Leg kick from Pearson. Trinaldo backs him up a little and wings another head kick, but this time Ross catches it and dumps him to the ground into full guard. Trinaldo scrambles right away though and despite taking a solid shot, he reverses up to his feet. Wheel kick misses for Pearson and Trinaldo suddenly opens up on him with a big combo ending in a hard knee and a left hand. Another knee from the plum lands for Massaranduba and Pearson might be in trouble. He clinches to slow the Brazilian up, but two more knees land from the plum for Trinaldo before they break. He tries to wade in again but this time Pearson connects with an uppercut as they clinch. Good left hand from the clinch lands for Trinaldo. Looks like he wants the takedown now, but Ross works to stuff it and stays on his feet. They break with 1:30 to go and Trinaldo connects on a quick combo. Looks like Pearson’s a little bloodied up. Jumping kick misses for Trinaldo but a body kick lands for him nicely. Good body kick answers for Pearson. Seconds to go in this round now and a sharp counter left connects for Trinaldo. Good body kick and left hook answer for Pearson and Trinaldo ends the round with a low kick and a knee from the clinch. Another relatively close round in favour of Massaranduba, I’d say.

Round Three and Pearson opens with a hard, narrowly blocked head kick. Exchange follows though and Trinaldo clips him with the Matt Serra Special – the right hand behind the ear – and Ross is hurt. Big combo follows for Massaranduba and Pearson has to cover up with his back to the fence before trying to clinch. Good dirty boxing from Trinaldo and he drops for a single leg, but Pearson stuffs it. They remain clinched for a second before Ross shakes him off. He looks recovered now but he’s bleeding from his left eye. Front kick glances for Trinaldo. Body kick answers for Ross and Massaranduba looks like he might be slowing down slightly. Big head kick lands for Pearson just about through the guard, but Trinaldo seems okay. Left hand follows for the Brit. He’s putting a lot of pressure on Trinaldo now. Big head kick suddenly lands for Massaranduba, but Pearson catches it and takes him down. He begins to roll for a leglock, but Ross stands over him and then looks to drop into the guard. Another leglock attempt fails and Ross drops a right hand before Trinaldo work his way up. Two minutes to go now and Ross continues to stalk forward as Trinaldo stays out of range. Good left hand counter from Trinaldo but Pearson lands with a combo. Low kick connects for Massaranduba. Big winging left misses for Trinaldo. Nice low kick from Ross. Knee answers for Trinaldo. Body kick from Ross and he continues to back Trinaldo up. They clinch with seconds on the clock and Trinaldo connects on a knee from the plum before they break. Good right hand counter lands for Massaranduba in a brief exchange. Head kick glances for Pearson and that’s the fight. I’ve got it 30-27 for Massaranduba.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 all for Massaranduba. Right decision even though I was a bit worried that they’d get it wrong due to all the forward movement from Pearson. To be fair though anyone could see that Trinaldo landed the more effective strikes and did more damage – cosmetically too – so maybe I shouldn’t have been concerned. Really good striking-based fight I thought and it’s nice to see Trinaldo making this run up the rankings – I always did say he was the best fighter on the first TUF Brazil cast so it’s cool to be proven right! I think he’s earned a top fifteen opponent next too – maybe Dustin Poirier or Bobby Green would work.

Heavyweight Fight: Travis Browne vs Matt Mitrione

Even though HW is in a better place right now than it’s been in a long time, with plenty of possible contenders (Overeem, Miocic, Barnett, Rothwell, Arlovski et al) this still felt like a pretty pivotal match as Browne, don’t forget, was one win away from a title shot not long ago. Despite that a lot of people were picking Mitrione, which didn’t make sense in my opinion – maybe he has faster hands than Browne but his best win is a shot Gabriel Gonzaga and for me he’d done nothing to prove he could survive at a top ten level. I figured Browne would take him down and finish him off on the ground with an arm triangle or something of the sort, putting him back into contention – unless Mitrione managed to catch him with a haymaker on the feet.

Entrances are fascinating as this crowd HATE Browne. Don’t know whether it’s the Ronda connection, the Edmond Tarverdyan connection, the shady domestic violence issue or just his attitude, or a mix of both, but man do they hate him.

First round and both men come out bouncing around and throwing out some feeler strikes that don’t really land cleanly. Really wide stance here for Browne. Mitrione comes forward throwing punches but he doesn’t land. Neither man’s really landed anything two minutes into the round. Low kick glances for Browne. Front kick to the body also glances for him. Head kick is blocked by Mitrione. Another head kick glances and Mitrione fires back with some punches that don’t land cleanly. Good front kick to the body from Travis. Solid right hand connects for Mitrione in a brief exchange. Browne pushes forward but gets knocked down by something I didn’t quite catch, he pops back up right away though and doesn’t look overly wobbly. A slip maybe? Both men land with some low kicks and Mitrione misses a real left haymaker. Nice right hand lands for Browne and he follows with another front kick to the body. Blatant eye poke follows, though, and Meathead’s in pain. Referee Gary Forman calls time as the replay shows Mitrione run right into the outstretched fingers of Browne. Doctor checks him over and he decides he’s okay, and so they continue with seconds left in the round. Literally nothing happens before the buzzer goes. Round largely sucked; I’d probably call it 10-9 Mitrione for that knockdown but that’s about it really. Replay shows it was a very short left hook that dropped Browne, for the record.

Second round and Mitrione backs Travis up early with a quick combo and follows with a hard leg kick. Lunging punch misses for Meathead and Browne counters with a glancing right hand. Big left wobbles Travis and Meathead tries to wade in with a flurry…..but Travis puts a stop to that with another eye poke. Ref somehow MISSES IT ENTIRELY and Meathead manages to fend Browne off by swinging some crazy haymakers that miss, but force Travis to stay out of range. Mitrione’s wincing pretty badly now with his right eye. He outright tells the ref he’s seeing double and so Forman calls time. This looks pretty bad, and the replay shows it was quite obvious so lord knows how Forman missed it. Really ought to be a point deduction but somehow Browne gets away with it. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional but shit, refs need to start cracking down on this stuff because it’s dangerous as hell. They restart and Meathead runs right into a kick to the body from Browne. Front kick follows. Couple of punches come up short for Mitrione and Browne lands a knee to the gut. Leg kick answers for Mitrione. Lunging right hand glances for Meathead and he’s really swinging now. Some kicks from Travis keep him at bay though and Browne also lands a knee before hitting a trip to side mount. Two minutes to go and it appears that Browne is trying to set up an Americana on the right arm, but Mitrione rolls free and so Browne looks for a D’Arce instead. He takes the back instead but Mitrione scrambles to his feet. Front kick to the body lands for Browne but Meathead coems back with a body kick of his own. Meathead is still winging haymakers and missing for the most part. Nice counter knee from Browne and he follows with a front kick again. Round ends with another counter knee to the body, Cerrone-style from Browne. 10-9 Browne to even it up.

Third round and Browne lands with the front kick to the body again. Mitrione is still wincing from the right eye from that earlier poke. Switch kick to the body lands for Browne. Couple of haymakers miss again for Mitrione. Hard left hand connects for him but Browne takes it well. Solid counter right hand lands for Browne and stumbles Mitrione. His right eye is beginning to swell badly now. Crowd begin to boo now as both men are looking a bit tentative. Another good right lands for Browne though and he follows with a clinch, then goes to a rear waistlock and SLAMS MEATHEAD DOWN. That was some seriously freakish strength right there. He goes right into an easy mount and from there Mitrione is in big trouble. Heavy elbows land for Browne and holy shit is Mitrione’s eye swollen badly. I’m talking Ralph White at PRIDE 1 levels. Like a weird growth sticking out there. Big shots land for Browne and this ought to be stopped as Meathead isn’t defending properly. More shots land for Browne and eventually referee Forman decides to call it there. And the BOOS RAIN DOWN.

Post-fight Mitrione’s eye looks DISGUSTING, like one of the worst visuals I’ve ever seen in the UFC. Awful, awful stuff. Goldie and Rogan blame the big right hand in the third but the eye pokes probably didn’t help either. This wasn’t the best fight ever if I’m honest as both guys looked tentative and a bit slow, and in particular Meathead didn’t do much other than wing haymakers. This was the last fight on his contract too and I suspect he’s on his way to Bellator as Zuffa won’t want to offer him a ton of money coming off a loss, not when he’s hardly been a model employee with all his complaints recently. As for Browne he didn’t look like a world-beater or anything but he’s worth pushing up the card again now and a fight with the Hunt/Mir winner, or someone from left field like Todd Duffee would make sense I think.

Lightweight Fight: Anthony Pettis vs Eddie Alvarez

This could easily have main evented a Fight Night card or even a big Fox card in fact – the former UFC champion vs. the former Bellator champion? Fuck yeah. Granted Pettis was coming off that beatdown at the hands of Rafael Dos Anjos, but let’s be honest there’s no shame in that these days, and a win for Showtime here would put him right back into the title picture. Alvarez meanwhile was coming off a win over Gilbert Melendez, but it was somewhat underwhelming and I think we were still waiting for his breakout performance in the UFC. A win over Pettis though would definitely give him fair claim to a title shot. Big stakes, dude. I wasn’t sure which way to go, either – for me the confident, swaggering Pettis that tapped Melendez could win, but if the RDA beating had affected him at all then a tough-as-nails guy like Alvarez was definitely capable of taking him out.

Round One begins and Alvarez pushes forward right away, but Pettis quickly takes the center of the cage. Leg kick lands for Alvarez and he goes for the takedown and forces Pettis into the fence. He gets him down, but Pettis grabs the neck for a possible guillotine. Alvarez gets to side mount though and it doesn’t look like Showtime has anything really. He pops back up though, but Alvarez stays stuck to him and keeps pressing him back into the fence. They exchange some short punches and Eddie can’t get Pettis off his feet. Crowd seem behind Alvarez. Knee connects for Pettis but Alvarez keeps on leaning on him. Inside trip attempt is blocked by Pettis but he can’t shake Eddie off him. Trip finally does put Pettis down, but he shows some ludicrous athleticism to bounce right back up. Pettis manages to break free and then he lands a side kick to the body. Head kick follows and Alvarez just about blocks it. Wheel kick misses and Alvarez takes him down, but Pettis works back up again. Eddie gets him back down but he pops up again, and then breaks free with a minute to go. Hard body kick lands for Pettis. Body kick answers for Alvarez but he eats a left hand counter. Nice combo ends with a heavy body kick for Pettis. Clinch from Alvarez again, but Pettis shrugs him off. Round ends with Pettis blocking a head kick. I’d call that 10-9 Pettis for the cleaner strikes despite Alvarez’s clinching game.

Round Two and Pettis opens with two glancing high kicks. Good kick to the body answers for Alvarez and he continues to push forward, but Pettis catches him with a short right hand as he comes in. Wild right hook glances for Eddie and he clinches and looks for the takedown again. Pettis stuffs it again and they remain clinched. Knee separates for Pettis and he lands on a straight left. Both men land with a couple of punches from the outside before Pettis lands with a hard leg kick. Another one follows and he backs Eddie up with a front kick. Leg kick lands for Alvarez too. He gets hold of Pettis again and forces him into the fence once more, but Pettis locks up a guillotine and tries to switch it to a high-elbow variant. He can’t manage it though and Alvarez continues to try to get him down. Good job by Pettis to block and he connects on a left hand. Counter right follows for Pettis and he follows that with a body kick. Good leg kick from Alvarez but Pettis catches him with a one-two. Clinch from Alvarez but Pettis avoids the cage this time and breaks off. Another leg kick lands for Eddie but Pettis answers with a one-two. Leg kick from Pettis lands hard. Left hand replies for Alvarez. Head kick glances for Eddie and he ends the round with another stuffed takedown attempt. Razor-close round but I’d call it for Pettis again.

Round Three and Pettis opens with a chopping leg kick. Alvarez pushes forward though and both men land some hard kicks before Eddie shoots for the takedown, driving Pettis back into the fence. Crowd are booing now as Pettis defends the takedown, and then breaks off. Good body kick from Eddie but he takes a counter right hand. Leg kick answers for Alvarez. Knee from Pettis and he follows with a combo and you can hear his corner yelling that Eddie is hurt. Another leg kick from Pettis but Alvarez shoots and this time he gets the former champ down into guard. Pettis tries to go for a heel hook, but he can’t get it and Eddie makes him pay with a couple of punches. Another leglock attempt looks deeper but Eddie defends with a pair of hammer fists and then finds himself on top again, this time in half-guard. Pettis squirms but Eddie does a good job of keeping him down and he lands some punches before Pettis wriggles onto his side and then stands. Beautiful trip takedown from Alvarez puts him back down though. Pettis again works back up to his feet but he can’t shake Eddie off him. Crowd are openly booing now as Alvarez keeps on going for the takedown. He gets Pettis down again with a minute to go, but again Showtime works back to his feet. This time he breaks off, but Alvarez comes in with a decent combo. They exchange shots and Pettis lands with a good kick to the body, but Eddie lands a glancing head kick and they exchange to the buzzer. 10-9 Alvarez, 29-28 Pettis overall in my eyes.

Official scores are 29-28 Alvarez, 29-28 Pettis, and 29-28 for a split decision win for Eddie Alvarez. Well, even though I scored it for Pettis and seemingly the majority of online writers did too, if we’re honest the judges were always going to go for Alvarez because of that clinching in the first round. I don’t know why they reward it so heavily as I’ve said it time and time again, but surely if all you’re doing is forcing a guy into the fence then unless you’re doing serious damage in the clinch, it’s a neutral position? Blah. Anyway, to be fair Pettis didn’t exactly look stellar here either – it feels like for all his greatness he hasn’t really evolved that much since his 2011 loss to Clay Guida and it’s as if the blueprint has been created to beat him now, assuming you don’t leave yourself too open like Melendez did. As for Alvarez it’s another win for him and a massively important one, but it wasn’t overly exciting and I guess he’s made the decision now to become a bit more conservative in an attempt to pick up wins to get a title shot. Which does make sense but doesn’t make him as fun to watch as he once was. I think they’ll book him against Tony Ferguson for the title shot next, but we shall see. Fight was just okay rather than the barnburner we were hoping for.

UFC World Bantamweight Title: TJ Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz

Pretty crazy to think that I had this one as one of my top fights to watch in 2015, but that of course was before Cruz injured himself (again) and had to spend another fourteen months out of action. Things had gotten really heated going in too – despite Dillashaw no longer being with Cruz’s arch-enemies Team Alpha Male, Dominick had been in full-on antagonising mode, questioning how Dillashaw could ever beat him given he stole his style (I don’t totally agree with that as it goes, as TJ doesn’t throw his wrestling in as much as Dominick does and he’s got more knockout power) and doing his best to sell the fight and piss the champion off in the process. So yeah, massive stakes – the biggest fight the UFC have ever put on FS1 by a mile – and I honestly didn’t know who to pick, although I was pulling for Cruz, hoping the ring rust wouldn’t affect him too badly.

Interesting staredown as you can hear someone (Bang Ludwig? Justin Buccholz?) from TJ’s corner loudly yelling “Don’t you touch gloves!” over and over, I’m guessing because of all the shit Cruz had talked coming in.

Round One and both men come out dancing around as you’d expect. Couple of early strikes miss for Dillashaw before he lands with a kick to the body, but Cruz gets him down off it for a split second before he’s right back up. Inside leg kick lands for Cruz and he dodges some strikes from TJ as the crowd chant for him. Overhand right lands for Cruz and he follows with a quick combo in a brief exchange. Dillashaw is missing a lot of shots early on here. Right hand to the body lands for Dominick and again he dodges the counters from the champ. Rushing combo from Dillashaw misses and he winds up on the ground, but Cruz can’t keep him there. Left hand glances for Dillashaw as Cruz moves out of the way. Right to the body from Cruz and TJ shoots, but Cruz avoids. Right hands land for both and then Cruz gets right out of range again. Big uppercut from TJ is slipped by Cruz and he makes the champ pay with a left hand. Counter right hand lands for Cruz but TJ comes back with a kick to the body. Nice combo from Cruz backs TJ up. Leg kick follows. Right hand connects for Dillashaw and he forces Cruz into the fence and lands a body kick. Head kick replies for Cruz but it’s blocked. Kick is caught by Cruz and he gets Dillashaw down briefly again but the champ pops back up, only to take a counter right from Cruz. Takedown attempt from Dillashaw with seconds to go but Cruz stuffs it and they end the round in the clinch. Excellent opening round, I’d give it to Cruz because it felt like he landed the slightly better shots and made Dillashaw miss a lot more.

Round Two and both miss with kicks as Dillashaw looks to be trying to force Cruz to go back towards the fence. Cruz is too smart though and he uses his footwork to circle out, catching him on the end of a right hand counter. Two good leg kicks answer for TJ but Cruz slips some more punches and lands with a couple more counter rights, albeit not with much power. Two slick right hand counters land to the body for Cruz. He dodges some more punches from TJ and this has to be getting frustrating for him. He’s missing or glancing on practically all of his shots right now. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Cruz. Right hand does land for Dillashaw as Cruz comes forward, but he seems okay. Pair of leg kicks catch Cruz as he tries to get out of range too. Right hand lands for Cruz and then he throws a head kick that TJ blocks but follows it with a clean left hand. Dillashaw presses forward with a combo and catches him on the end of a head kick, but Cruz fires back with a right hand counter as TJ tries to follow it up. Right also lands for TJ in that exchange though. Beautiful change of levels from Cruz as TJ comes in and he takes him down, but TJ pops back up. Cruz hits a single leg and puts him back down, but a scramble allows Dillashaw back up again. Pair of big head kicks miss for Dillashaw as Cruz continues to dodge. Round ends with him dodging more strikes. Close round to call as TJ was more aggressive, but again Cruz avoided most of it and seemed to do more, plus he hit two takedowns. 10-9 Cruz.

Round Three and TJ comes in swinging really heavily, but he can’t land cleanly on Cruz and he gets popped by a couple of counters too. Nice right hand counter lands for Dominick. Head kick again misses for TJ. He does catch Cruz going backwards with a left hand, but can’t follow it up. Nice leg kick from TJ. Cruz meets him with a couple more counters though. TJ lands a right and backs him into the fence for a takedown attempt, but Dominick defends. Cruz pops TJ with a jab and then circles out of range again, and he seems really confident now. TJ catches him right on the end of a left hand but Cruz catches him in turn with a right hook. TJ is swinging so hard but he’s still missing a lot. Combination from Cruz and he dances out of range again. Couple of leg kicks do land for TJ though. Low kick is caught by Cruz and he tackles TJ down and gets into the guard. Dillashaw scrambles and manages to reverse back to his feet quickly again though. Wild right hand misses for TJ. One minute to go in the round and Cruz catches TJ with a right hand counter again. Left high kick glances for TJ but he’s still missing more than he’s landing. Beautiful combination connects for Cruz and he’s right out of the way again. Right high kick glances for TJ and he shoots again, but he can’t get Cruz down and Dominick tags him with a right at the end of the round. Another tight 10-9 for Cruz in my book and I’ve got him three rounds up.

Round Four and Dillashaw presses forward from the off and lands with a body kick. Right hand lands for TJ coming forward too but Cruz is still staying out of range. Good leg kick lands for TJ though and he follows with a decent right hand. Glancing combo answers for Cruz. They trade leg kicks and Cruz glances on a pair of lefts. Flicking jab from Cruz. Really good leg kick from Dillashaw has Cruz hurt and he shoots on a takedown and gets it, but TJ reverses right back up. Another kick lands for Dillashaw this time to the body. Couple of right hands glance for TJ and he lands a nice right hook to reply to a Cruz combo. Left hand from TJ but he gets popped by a jab. Right connects coming forward for Dillashaw and he’s having more success in this round for sure. Takedown from Dillashaw and he takes the back, but he can’t get hooks in and Cruz scrambles back to his feet. Dillashaw stays on him with some knees to the leg from the clinch and he continues to control Dominick. Cruz exits with a knee of his own but he takes a left on his way out. Seconds to go and some big shots miss for Dillashaw. Both men glance with shots before Cruz shoots, but Dillashaw stuffs it and meets him with a combination. Round ends just after. 10-9 Dillashaw and I’d say it might’ve been the clearest round yet. Cruz’s cornerman’s language is FOUL, for the record.

Round Five and the crowd are hugely into this fight, a massive bonus when you consider how people have reacted previously to similar fights. Good leg kick opens the round for TJ and he follows with one that doesn’t land quite as cleanly. Both men whiff on punches before Dillashaw lands with a hard kick to the body. Big right hand follows and snaps Cruz’s head back. Head kick follows that and seems to land flush, but Cruz eats it right up and replies with a glancing combo. Leg kick again from Dillashaw. Glancing combo from TJ and Cruz is looking a bit tired to me. Deep breaths from TJ though too. Body kick from Dillashaw lands flush. Cruz seems to be having a harder job dodging the strikes now and it’s probably down to a combination of tiredness and those leg kicks adding up. Another body kick lands for the champion. Spinning backfist misses for Cruz. Another leg kick lands for Dillashaw. Combinations miss for both men. Another leg kick from Dillashaw and he probably should’ve gone for those sooner in the fight to be honest. Overhand left glances for Cruz as Dillashaw looks to back him up. Combo is blocked by Dillashaw nicely and he glances on a head kick. Not long left now either, just over a minute. Beautiful combination lands flush for Cruz with about four punches. Dillashaw comes right back with a chopping leg kick. Another good combo for Cruz ending in a right hand. Takedown attempt is shrugged off by TJ who lands on the way out with a left. Crowd are going CRAZY as we’re in the final seconds. Good combo lands for TJ and he ends the round with another that leaves Cruz a little bloodied up. Awesome fight. 10-9 Dillashaw; I’d score it 48-47 Cruz myself but it was razor close.

And it’s a split decision; 48-47 Cruz, 49-46 Dillashaw and 49-46…..for DOMINICK THE DOMINATOR CRUZ. Crowd go absolutely CRAZY as Cruz looks overwhelmed by emotion and Dillashaw just walks off in disbelief. Post-fight Cruz pays tribute to the fans for sticking by him, puts over all his opponents (including Faber!) for making him what he is, and then he says ring rust doesn’t exist if you train correctly. He then reveals that he’s got an injury to his left foot that made him really struggle in the fifth round, but hopefully that won’t keep him out of action for too long this time! Dillashaw then says he’s very disappointed, as he felt he was the aggressor, scored the bigger shots and generally felt like he won, and he’s calling for a rematch. Them’s the breaks, dude, especially in a close fight like that.

So yeah, it was indeed a very tough fight to score. The telling thing to me is that I thought the clearest two rounds were the final two that TJ won, and while I had Cruz winning the first three I could see any of them going the other way which means that TJ probably did have a fair claim. It was a closer fight than Lawler/Condit for instance, because in that one it basically came down to how you scored the third round. This one was tricky to score in the majority of the rounds and it’ll probably be one of those decisions that gets talked about for years to come. At any rate though it was a tremendous fight, with Cruz seemingly having no ring rust (which was what he promised coming in) and showing the same incredible movement he’d done in his first run as champion, forcing Dillashaw to miss and miss again and turning him into a flat-footed haymaker swinger for a brief time. Once Dillashaw started landing more leg kicks the tide began to turn, just not quite enough for him to win the fight. Not quite a FOTYC I don’t think just because the crazier types of fights are more memorable and this was more of a cerebral, technical battle, but it was still awesome. And more to the point the crowd remained into it throughout despite it never getting crazy and despite crowds becoming bored previously with more technical fights from Mighty Mouse for instance. Just goes to show that it’s all about personality – people care about Cruz and his story and they cared about his rivalry with Dillashaw and so they got into this fight. It’s an important lesson to remember I think when some fans don’t get why some fighters just don’t get over. Who’s next for both? They could easily book a rematch and people would be happy, but I’d be tempted actually to put Cruz in with Urijah Faber to finally settle the score there and stick TJ in with Raphael Assuncao in a rematch of their first controversial fight (I scored it for TJ IIRC). That way assuming Dillashaw wins, he’s got a money fight with either Cruz or Faber down the line.

-We cut back to the studios for Ariel Helwani, Brian Stann and Jon Anik (no Kenny Florian as he’s a BAD MAN right now apparently) to break down the fight and then end the show.

Final Thoughts….

Hard show to rate really considering that while Pearson/Trinaldo was good, both Pettis/Alvarez and Browne/Meathead were pretty disappointing compared to what I was expecting coming in. With that said the main event delivered above and beyond all expectation when you consider Cruz’s layoff and is a must-watch fight for 2016. I’d say check the show out but you may want to skip to the main event once the opener is done. Thumbs mildly up for this one.

Best Fight: Cruz vs. Dillashaw
Worst Fight: Browne vs. Mitrione

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com