MMA Review: #543: UFC Fight Night 87

-The UFC’s first ever show in the Netherlands and who better to headline the show than the biggest Dutch star probably in the history of MMA (unless I’m missing someone obvious…) in the form of THE REEM? Well, Bas Rutten maybe but I’d say Overeem’s probably a bigger star due to the era he’s fighting in and everything. Anyway, the match with Arlovski was a bit of a surprising one for a few reasons we’ll touch on later but man was I hyped up. Elsewhere we had another couple of homegrown stars in Stefan Struve and Germanie de Randamie, and a cool-sounding Welterweight tilt between Gunnar Nelson and Albert Tumenov. A really solid card for a Euro effort actually.

UFC Fight Night 87

05/08/16
Rotterdam, Netherlands

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Kenny Florian.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Heather Jo Clark

Kowalkiewicz had made a successful debut in the UFC over Randa Markos of TUF fame in December and I kind of expected her to be matched with someone higher up the ladder for her next fight, but I guess they don’t need to rush anyone at Strawweight right now, so she was faced with another TUF fighter in the form of Clark, who’d been on the shelf for well over a year following a debut win over Bec Rawlings. Part of me felt like Clark was a little underrated – she’d been fighting on a blown knee during TUF – but Kowalkiewicz has top five potential in my mind and I was taking her to win.

Round One begins and they trade off with some feeler strikes with both girls showing a lot of movement. Quick combo glances for Kowalkiewicz as it looks like she might have the slightly quicker hands. Decent counter right lands for Clark though. Clinch from Clark and she works a couple of uppercuts before breaking with a right. Good jab gets through for Kowalkiewicz. Overhand right answers back for Clark and she follows with another hard right and then goes for a takedown. Kowalkiewicz stuffs it and they wind up clinched on the fence before the Pole breaks free. Nice combination ends in a body kick for Karolina. Beautiful right hand counter lands for Clark though and she again follows it up by forcing the Pole into the fence. Nice clinch strikes break off for Kowalkiewicz though but she slips on a high kick and has to pop up. Combo answers for Clark and she shoots again, but still can’t get Kowalkiewicz off her feet. Action slows down a little inside the clinch with just over a minute to go, before Kowalkiewicz breaks and then has Clark a little rattled by a flurry. Nice left head kick lands for Karolina and she continues to land on Clark from the pocket. Spinning back kick connects to Clark’s body and forces her firmly on the retreat, but she clinches to slow Kowalkiewicz down. Couple of elbows land in the clinch to prevent Clark taking her down, and the round ends there. 10-9 Kowalkiewicz in a fun round.

Round Two and Kowalkiewicz tags Clark right away with another pair of fast combinations. Her hands are pretty awesome. She backs Clark firmly into the fence and continues to snipe at her, but Clark manages to circle free and then almost gets a takedown, but Karolina again stuffs it. Clark finally manages to get a trip, but Kowalkiewicz reverses up almost immediately. They muscle for position before breaking off, and Kowalkiewicz lands with another combo. Body shot counters for Clark but she misses with a big right haymaker. Action slows down a little for a few moments before another combo lands for Kowalkiewicz. Couple of decent shots get through for Clark but she can’t really seem to slow Kowalkiewicz down. Another takedown is stuffed by Karolina too and this time she opens up on Clark with knees from the clinch that clearly have her hurt. Clark manages to clinch again to slow her down, but she takes a couple of hard elbows before Kowalkiewicz breaks and opens up with another combo. Knees to the body follow and then she gets the back of Clark standing before breaking with a side kick to the body. Clark is tough as nails to take all of this. She tries a lateral drop, but gives her back in the process and Kowalkiewicz goes for an armbar, but Clark manages to avoid and ends the round in top position. 10-9 Kowalkiewicz and this is looking like a shutout.

Round Three and the crowd give both women a big hand coming in and rightfully so. High kick lands early for Clark but Kowalkiewicz takes it well. Left hand answers back for the Pole and snaps Clark’s head back. Combination follows to back Clark up but Clark comes back with some good kicks. Clinch from Kowalkiewicz is quickly broken but it’s the Pole who lands the better shots. Combination follows and backs Heather up. Clinch from Clark and she forces Kowalkiewicz into the fence again. They break quickly this time and Kowalkiewicz absolutely TAGS Clark with a spinning backfist and a one-two, but Clark replies with a head kick and Kowalkiewicz clinches and goes for a takedown. Clark blocks and tries a headlock throw, but she can’t get it and ends up dropping for a double instead. Kowalkiewicz continues to defend, and makes her pay with some knees inside for good measure before breaking off. Two minutes to go and Karolina continues to tag Clark with punches, marking her up badly. Big combo has her rocked and reaching for a takedown, but again Kowalkiewicz blocks it. Just over a minute to go and Kowalkiewicz tags her again. Clark is still swinging to her credit but she’s missing with most of it and taking some nasty shots. Another big combo has her lunging for the takedown yet again, but it’s still no dice. Kowalkiewicz breaks with a pair of hard knees and then lands some more shots until the round ends. Big round for Karolina and Clark looks almost out on her feet as the buzzer sounds. 10-9 for Kowalkiewicz and a 30-27 overall.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Don’t see how you could give Clark a round but whatever. This was a tremendous showing for Kowalkiewicz as she blew right through Clark, owning her on the feet and in the clinch while blocking every attempted takedown too. Clark hung tough and showed a tremendous chin, but outside of that she just got beaten up basically. Post-fight Kowalkiewicz calls out a top five opponent for next time and hey, Carla Esparza would work for me, or maybe Maryna Moroz? I know UFC doesn’t usually do winner vs. loser fights too, but Kowalkiewicz vs. Tecia Torres could be fireworks too as I feel like Karolina could stop the takedown and both girls can definitely throw combos standing. Really fun fight to begin things with.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Nikita Krylov vs Francimar Barroso

Weird choice for a main card fight here from my POV – especially with Chris Wade vs. Rustam Khabilov on the prelims – but Zuffa always love to try to showcase this division so there you go. My one hope here was that Krylov could drag an exciting fight out of Barroso who had been horribly boring in all of his fights up to this point, and to be honest I was also pulling for the Ukrainian to win as he does seem to have some good potential – Marcos Rogerio de Lima is not an easy out for anyone – while Barroso’s ceiling seemed a lot lower.

And it’s a CHANGE OF NICKNAMES for Krylov as he’s apparently ‘The Miner’ now rather than ‘Al Capone’. I prefer Bloody Elbow’s hilarious ‘Nikki Thrills’ moniker for him as it reminds me of Nikki Sixx, but does it really matter? He also looks physically like a different guy to the sloppy one who debuted in 2013 in one of the worst UFC fights ever with Soa Palelei.

Fight begins and Krylov backs Barroso up with a front kick and some early punches. Left hook lands nicely for Barroso but he sees a takedown stuffed. Wild trade follows as Krylov tags him with punches, but Barroso slows things down with a takedown attempt and forces him into the fence. They trade knees from the clinch and very little happens to be honest before Krylov goes for a single leg of his own. Crowd begin to boo the inaction and the ref ought to call a clean break really. Decent combo suddenly breaks for Barroso but Krylov seems okay. Wild shots miss for Krylov. Good right hand lands for Barroso and he uses it to set up a takedown, but Krylov manages to resist. Barroso keeps trying though and drags him down for a second, taking the back before Krylov works up to his feet. They break off though and Krylov stalks forward with a strong combo that forces Barroso back into the clinch. One minute to go and a hard knee lands to the body for Barroso. He breaks off, but Krylov comes back with a front kick to the face. Body kick and an overhand right glance in answer for the Brazilian. Good right hand sets up a flurry for Krylov but he walks into an uppercut from Barroso. Seconds to go and they clinch again, and the round ends with another wild exchange. Probably 10-9 Barroso by a hair, decent round actually.

Into the 2nd and Krylov opens with a front kick to the body and a pair of head kicks that set up a SHOOTOUT that pops the crowd big. Krylov is bringing out the best in Barroso for sure! They clinch again and exchange some knees, jockeying for position before Barroso hits a nice trip. Krylov manages to reverse him though and winds up on top in half-guard. He opens up with some shots but Barroso nails him with a big upkick to slow him down. Krylov drops into the full guard, and then delivers a HEADBUTT TO THE CHEST that garners him a warning from the ref. Ha. To be fair I’d legalise headbutts to the body as it goes as they’re not cut-inducing which is why Coleman-style headbutts were banned I believe. Anyway. Krylov continues to drop shots by landing some shoulder strikes and a few elbows, as Marc Ratner joins the commentators for a second to say that the ref probably should’ve stood the fighters up after the foul. Barroso manages to kick Krylov off for a second and then goes for an oma plata, but the Ukrainian avoids and gets into half-guard where he lands some more strikes. Looks like he’s going for a mounted crucifix, but then Barroso twists into a possible leglock position and then into a triangle as Krylov screws up his positioning for a second. Krylov avoids though and somehow rolls him over and takes the back with both hooks! Choke looks sunk in and after a second BARROSO TAPS OUT! Wow.

Definitely did not expect Krylov to get a tapout from a BJJ black belt like Barroso, that’s for sure. Replay shows it was more of a face crank than a choke to be fair but even so! Massively exciting fight too which might well save Barroso’s job as I could’ve seen him being cut, Jared Rosholt style, with a dull loss. As for Krylov I don’t see him as a contender but he’s worth a push given how thin a division 205lbs is right now, and hey, he’s improving which is great for him. In a couple of years time if he can tighten up his game you never know!

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Germaine de Randamie vs Anna Elmose

If this fight were made anywhere else in the world it’d seem ridiculous, as Elmose was horribly inexperienced at just 3-0 and looked like a tiny Bantamweight as well compared to de Randamie – who is HUGE for the weight – but then given Rotterdam is Germaine’s hometown, suddenly it made sense – if cruel sense – to give her a showcase fight. My feeling was that with a quicker schedule de Randamie could probably be considered a contender in the division, and she’d be able to handle Elmose with relative ease here.

Elmose walks out, inexplicably, to I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston which should NOT WORK for a cage fighting entrance music and yet it somehow DOES. Crowd blow the fucking roof off for de Randamie, meanwhile, as she’s the hometown hero and comes out wrapped in the Dutch flag and stuff. Gotta love that kind of thing which you just don’t get in the Vegas shows.

First round begins and the crowd are deafening. De Randamie throws some shots from the outside early on before landing with a heavy uppercut that stuns Elmose. Clinch follows and Elmose lands shots to the body as de Randamie secures the plum. Takedown attempt from Elmose but de Randamie stuffs it by controlling the left arm, and from there she lands a couple of good knees to the body. Plum clinch from de Randamie sets up some VICOUS knees and then they break to a big pop. Big combo from de Randamie and she avoids a desperate takedown and decides to let Elmose back up. Stiff jab from the Dutch fighter and she follows with two more as she stalks forward. Big right hand has Elmose stunned and she follows with more knees from the plum. Elmose looks about done, and a NASTY KNEE TO THE BODY folds her for the stoppage. Cue MAYHEM from the Dutch crowd.

Well, it’s not often you see blatant, PRIDE-esque squash matches in the UFC but they are effective sometimes and this one definitely worked, unfortunately for Elmose of course. She was just wildly overmatched and got chewed up by the world-class striking of de Randamie. Post-fight Jon Anik reveals that de Randamie turned down the fight with Cyborg to be able to fight in Rotterdam, and hey, assuming Cyborg gets past Leslie Smith then that’d be a fun fight to make for sure as I think de Randamie’s big enough to at least give Cyborg a half-decent fight.

Welterweight Fight: Albert Tumenov vs Gunnar Nelson

Outside of the main event this was probably the most relevant match on the card in terms of rankings and it sounded like a great clash of styles too – Nelson’s smooth grappling against Tumenov’s incredibly smooth striking. Gist of things felt like Nelson would win on the ground and Tumenov would win standing – he’d taken out Alan Jouban on the feet for instance and made that look easy which is scary – and I was leaning towards Tumenov as Nelson’s takedowns aren’t his strong point and to get inside on Tumenov seemed to require better striking than Gunnar had shown before.

Round One and Nelson bounces on the outside and actually tags Tumenov early on with a couple of nice punches and a one-two. Quick rush lands for Gunnar with a left hook and Tumenov looks a bit confused. He comes back with a solid low kick and a body shot, though. Right hand counter glances for Tumenov but Nelson remains calm and gets a clinch briefly before they break. Side kick to the body from Nelson. Left hands glance for both men before Nelson lands with a body kick. Springing left hand from Nelson but he takes a low kick. Beautiful right hand counter from Tumenov snaps Nelson’s head back, but the Icelander comes back with a takedown! Right away he slices into mount too and Tumenov is in trouble. Nelson stays calm and low, landing a strong palm strike while controlling the Russian. Brutal elbow connects for Gunnar as it doesn’t look like Tumenov can get out of the mount. Few more elbows land for Nelson and he expertly prevents Tumenov from bucking or rolling free. One minute to go and more sharp shots land for Gunnar before Tumenov finally manages to spin and escape to his feet. Good left hook from Tumenov but Nelson seems fine. Couple more shots end the round for Tumenov. Great first round, 10-9 Nelson.

Round Two and Tumenov stalks forward and rips to the body with a left hook, but Nelson fires back with an overhand right. Left hand connects for Nelson too and he dodges some jabs nicely. Left hook glances for Tumenov but Nelson gets hold of him and forces him into the fence, looking for the takedown. Tumenov blocks it well and separates, but Nelson stays out of range well and only takes a couple of glancing blows before landing a left of his own. Left jab lands for Tumenov but Nelson replies with a left hook. Kick is caught by Tumenov who lands a pair of rights and a low kick, but Nelson comes right back with a beautiful takedown and immediately turns his way into side mount. Tumenov tries to hip escape but Gunnar steps into mount in slick fashion and again Tumenov’s in trouble. This time the Russian gives his back, and Nelson slaps both hooks in with ease and looks to work for the choke. He uses some backfists to soften him up a bit and then SINKS THE CHOKE, and Tumenov taps out!

Tremendous performance from Gunnar Nelson – I think he was unfairly written off after the Demian Maia loss when Maia made him look so bad on the ground, when in reality that’s just a testament to how insanely good Maia is down there as Nelson looked absolutely world-class here and owned Tumenov when the fight hit the mat. He also did far better standing than I expected as his range and movement seemed to confuse Tumenov, and he set up his takedowns much better than before too. On paper this looked like a bad fight for him and yet he blew those expectations away. Probably the best performance overall of Gunnar’s UFC career and it puts him firmly back on track as a top prospect at 170lbs.

Heavyweight Fight: Stefan Struve vs Antonio Silva

In a lot of ways this was a sad fight more than anything else as both men have looked shot to me for some time, showing horribly weakened chins in particular, and for me it was a case where the loser should probably think about hanging it up. Despite Bigfoot having a win last year over Soa Palelei I felt he looked a bit more shot than Struve, and with the added bonus of Struve being the home country fighter I went with him to win.

Big pop for Struve upon entrance, albeit not as big as de Randamie earlier on surprisingly enough given how big a star Struve’s been pushed as before compared to Germaine. As for Bigfoot he looks very different as he’s grown out his hair and his beard, but he also looks in pretty bad shape when compared to earlier in his career.

Fight begins and Bigfoot lumbers forward….right into a BIG RIGHT HAND and he’s in trouble INSTANTLY. Struve clocks him with an uppercut as he tries to clinch, and then lands with a knee to the chest that drops him like a ton of bricks. Looks like he’s done, but instead he tries to go for a double leg. Struve blocks that and lands a series of HARD ELBOWS TO THE SIDE OF THE HEAD, and Leon Roberts has seen enough at FIFTEEN SECONDS. Crowd go insane for that one.

Post-fight Struve slaps on a black armband with ‘JP’ on it and dedicates the fight to his teammate Jordan Parsons, who recently passed away following a horrible hit-and-run incident. Really nice gesture from Struve. This was one of the quickest stoppages in UFC history but I sort of think that it says more about the state of Bigfoot than it does of where Struve is right now, as while it puts Struve back on track somewhat, Bigfoot just looked terrible and I really worry for his future. I mean, he ought to retire on the spot, but I worry that he’ll want to continue and will either get another UFC fight, or end up in Bellator and losing to fucking Kimbo or something equally shitty. I know he needs to make a living, but surely not at the cost of his future health? If I’m Dana White I’d offer him a spot as Big Nog’s assistant or something, because for him to continue just wouldn’t be right. Finish was cool but sad at the same time.

Heavyweight Fight: Alistair Overeem vs Andrei Arlovski

So yeah, after Overeem starched Junior Dos Santos back in December I figured he’d be next in line for a title shot, but with the shenanigans surrounding Werdum, Velasquez and various injuries, as well as the presence of Stipe Miocic, it made more sense for him to headline this card instead, especially when he signed a new UFC deal anyway. The opponent was a trickier question and when Arlovski was announced in the slot I was surprised – not only was he coming off a loss (to Miocic) and winner vs. loser fights are always rare in the UFC, but he was also a teammate of Overeem’s at Jackson-Winkeljohn. Of course, the word was that they weren’t really friends and didn’t do much training together anyway, so there you go – Dana White must love these guys for agreeing to fight for one! As far as a pick, Overeem is one of those guys I just can’t ever pick against as he’s probably my second-favourite fighter behind Diego Sanchez at this point, and especially at home I couldn’t see him losing to Arlovski. So I was taking the new, improved Cerebro-Reem to take out Andrei and cement a title shot later in the year.

Crowd go insane for Overeem, naturally – particularly as he’s using the Dutch national anthem as part of his walk-out track! It’s so crazy to compare him to his Ubereem days now too – he doesn’t look freakishly hench any more, just an older version of the original Heavyweight Overeem from like 2006-7 when he took out Kharitonov and Buentello. Not as cool looking but seemingly much more effective at MMA.

Round One and they circle before Arlovski OPENS UP with a flurry that has Overeem covering up on the fence! Big shots from Andrei but they don’t really get through, aside from a wicked right to the body, thanks to Overeem’s good defence. Clinch from Overeem slows him down and then they separate. Arlovski continues to push the action, but Overeem clinches and nails him with a hard knee to the body. Andrei forces him into the fence, where they muscle for position and the action slows down somewhat. Crowd are chanting loudly in Dutch, can’t make it out but inevitably it’s for Overeem. Looks like Andrei wants the takedown for a second, but Overeem stops that with another heavy knee to the body and a knee to the head breaks off. Big right hand from Arlovski makes Overeem circle way out of range. He’s so much smarter these days. Long left hand sets up a plum clinch for the Reem, where he delivers two knees before breaking off. Brief clinch is quickly broken by Overeem who then hammers Arlovski with a left body kick. Nice leg kick follows. Arlovski appears to be slowing down a little. Oblique kick from the Reem but it doesn’t land cleanly. Beautiful leg kick follows for Overeem. Low kick glances for Arlovski but this time when he clinches, Overeem hits an outside trip and takes him down. He drops down into the guard with a couple of punches and then looks to break free to land more as Andrei looks to tie him up. Less than a minute to go and Overeem continues to work in Arlovski’s guard, landing some solid punches, before standing over him to end the round. Good first round; 10-9 Overeem despite Andrei’s early flurry.

Round Two and Overeem dodges a haymaker right from Arlovski early on. Front kick glances for Andrei as Overeem continues to circle on the outside. Lot of feints from Overeem and he lands with a nice right hook and then shoves Arlovski backwards. Body kick connects for Overeem, and he dodges a flurry in reply. Overeem is looking great here. Another body kick glances and he narrowly avoids an overhand right counter from Arlovski. Andrei pushes forward, but walks into a LEFT CRANE KICK that lands flush and freezes him in his tracks, and a BRUTAL LEFT HOOK follows and sends him crashing down! Arlovski is DONE and a few shots from Overeem on the ground seal the deal. BOOM!~!

Post-fight it appears that Overeem’s left big toe is dislocated, but a doctor quickly pops it back into place to sort that one out. This probably couldn’t have gone any better for Overeem to be quite honest – a highlight reel knockout, one of the very best in his career, in front of his home fans, and it was a super-entertaining fight as well. To see a huge guy like Overeem land that crane kick was pretty insane. I honestly thought Overeem was finished after Ben Rothwell knocked him out in 2014 but since then he’s hit probably the best run of his career since the Ubereem days ended, as he’s now a much more economical fighter, picking his shots from the outside and then staying away from the big bombs on the counter, and since he’s such an accomplished striker who hits like a truck it really works for him. Post-fight he calls out the Werdum/Miocic winner for a title shot at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden, and then says he’ll win the belt and defend it in Amsterdam in 2017. Can’t fault his confidence! I doubt the title shot comes in MSG – I think that’ll be headlined by New York-based fighters like Jones and Weidman – but it should definitely come elsewhere (I’m guessing UFC 204 in October personally….) and shit, I think he matches well with Werdum and Miocic and he could definitely win the belt. FINALLY!~! This was a killer main event to end this show with.

-Show ends with Overeem in celebration mode. Awesome.

Final Thoughts….

This was an awesome show. No bad fights at all and even Francimar Barroso got dragged into an entertaining one thanks to Nikita Krylov. Outside of Kowalkiewicz/Clark – which was an excellent fight in its own right – everything ended in highlight reel fashion too, with Overeem’s knockout being the big highlight but the wins for de Randamie, Nelson and Krylov being outstanding too. Struve’s win over Bigfoot wasn’t that great to watch but that’s nothing to do with Struve and you can’t call it a bad fight or anything. Thumbs way up for this one and it’s an absolute must-see if you’re an Overeem fan like me.

Best Fight: Overeem vs. Arlovski
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com