MMA Review: #546: UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping II

-For a card that was expected to be like an afterthought given the massive build-up to UFC 200 – set to be the biggest card in the promotion’s history – UFC 199 turned out to be pretty great on paper, with two title fights including the trilogy meeting between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, and while we lost the Luke Rockhold-Chris Weidman rematch in favour of a more one-sided sounding Rockhold-Michael Bisping rematch, it didn’t really matter as it still looked likely to be a very good show.

UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping II

Los Angeles, California

-We begin with a graphic dedicating the show to Muhammad Ali, who passed away the night before. Can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said about him – he’s obviously one of the great athletes of all time really, someone who transcends sport, and there likely won’t be another boxer quite like him. RIP.

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Brian Stann.

Lightweight Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Bobby Green

This opener looked like a fascinating one as Green had been ranked firmly in the top ten before a late 2014 loss to Edson Barboza and then a stretch of inactivity following that fight, and this was his comeback against Poirier, who had been on a serious roll since moving back to 155lbs, going over Diego Ferreira, Yancy Medeiros and more recently Joseph Duffy. My pick here was Poirier for the sole reason that I don’t like Green or his almost pseudo-Diaz style at all.

Round One begins and they circle off before Poirier catches Green in an exchange with a counter right. Another glancing right lands for Poirier but Green scoots out of range. Left hook counter from Green as Poirier steps in. Good leg kick from Green as Mike Goldberg gets totally confused and talks about Poirier’s fight with Medeiros “being crazy in Brazil” as evidently he’s mixed up Medeiros vs. Massaranduba. Nice low kick connects for Poirier as does a left hand, but Green’s now got his hands down trying to talk shit rather than actually throw back. Combo glances for Green before he talks more trash, and Poirier responds with a pair of HARD LEFT HANDS that drop him like a ton of bricks! Voila. Poirier pounces on him and pounds away and it looks like he’s done, but credit to Green as he rolls and manages to get to his feet. Couple more shots from Poirier stun him again as he tries to clinch, and an uppercut really hurts him on the break. Green continues to talk trash, insanely enough, and now it looks like Poirier’s just waiting to pick his shot. Body kick lands for him. Big left hand glances for Dustin but Green avoids a follow-up. Lot of movement allows Green to shoulder-roll away from some more punches but Poirier keeps bringing it, and he rocks Green again with the left hand. He manages to survive, but another BIG LEFT HOOK drops him for a second time and this time Dustin dives on him with a right and seals the deal.

Wild and fun opener; the big lesson has to be to not talk shit at your opponent with your hands by your waist, though. It rarely – if ever – works and it’s a needless risk to take when you’re in there with a guy as dangerous as Dustin Poirier. This ought to move Dustin into the lower reaches of the top ten I’d have thought and he’s a match for anyone in that division really. 155lbs for me is a division really in flux right now with a lot of newer contenders moving up – Tony Ferguson, Michael Chiesa, et al – and hopefully UFC can sign Will Brooks and add him to that list too. Actually Poirier would be a hell of a first opponent for him assuming he does come aboard.

Middleweight Fight: Hector Lombard vs Dan Henderson

This was an interesting match but also a worrying one for Henderson, facing one of the hardest hitters at any weight in the UFC in Lombard at a time when his chin seemed to have been truly cracked. Despite Lombard putting in a disappointing performance against Neil Magny in March, he was still able to almost finish Magny in the first round in that fight and was moving up to 185lbs for this one where he wouldn’t have to worry about a weight cut. And Henderson – now 45 – was talking about retirement and had already been KO’d three times in his past six fights and had been badly hurt in most of his other recent fights too. I was hoping for something different but could only see a Lombard KO here.

First round gets underway and both men throw out some early feints before Lombard misses with a massive right hand swing. Crowd are wildly into Henderson. Low kick lands for Henderson and again he dodges the Lombard haymaker. Big right hand glances for Henderson as Lombard comes forward and that really gets the crowd going. Lombard keeps stalking forward but both men look a little tentative. Suddenly Henderson connects with the right hand, and it drops Lombard to a knee! Crowd EXPLODE as Hendo charges in looking to finish him off, but he runs right into a CRUSHING COMBO and now his knees buckle! He goes down and Lombard gets right into side mount and looks to set up a mounted crucifix, landing some nasty shots before looking for an Americana. Henderson manages to defend it but he can’t get Lombard off him. He keeps squirming though and manages to scramble to his feet, only to eat a couple more haymakers from the Cuban. Lombard closes in looking to finish and sends him CRASHING DOWN WITH A LEFT HOOK and it looks like Hendo is out, but Herb Dean lets it go and somehow he gets back to his feet despite eating BOMBS! No clue how he’s surviving this. Lombard continues to bomb on him and he’s on roller skates, but somehow he still continues to wing punches back. This is insane. Takedown from Lombard finally slows things up though as he lands in Henderson’s guard. Action slows down a bit from there as Henderson clings on and Lombard appears to be saving some energy, and the round ends soon after. Lombard’s round, borderline a 10-8 in fact as he came so close to a finish. Yeah, 10-8 Lombard.

Second round and Henderson comes out throwing kicks, surprisingly enough. Lombard fires right back with a hard kick to the body and then both men miss on big hooks. Lombard looks like he’s slowed down a lot and now he’s standing right in front of Hendo. Both men throw right hands before Lombard misses a head kick. Crowd chants for Henderson are LOUD. Right head kick suddenly connects for Henderson and as Lombard grabs the leg on the way down, Henderson KILLS HIM DEAD WITH A BACK ELBOW TO THE TEMPLE! Lombard goes DOWN AND OUT and a pair of forearms are academic. Holy shit.

Post-fight Lombard takes FOREVER to come around while Henderson celebrates with his family in an amazing scene. Insane knockout from Hendo, especially when you consider the barrage he somehow survived in the first round – at one point he went down exactly how he did against Gegard Mousasi, but managed to fight through it. I still think he ought to retire though as not many guys go out on a win like this and he got badly hurt again in that first round, regardless of the finish. Hopefully Zuffa can find a job for him to keep him around as he deserves it as much as anyone. As for Lombard I think he’s Bellator bound after this, perhaps as the biggest bust in UFC history, what with a record of 4-4 and a steroid bust as well. Unfortunate but it is what it is. Fight was an absolute barnburner, however, maybe a low-end FOTYC in fact due to the sheer craziness of the first round.

Featherweight Fight: Max Holloway vs Ricardo Lamas

This one was a surprising addition to this card in a lot of ways, as it felt loaded enough (we originally had Guida vs. Ortega AND the return of BJ Penn on the prelims….) but of course I wasn’t complaining about its presence as it was a fight between two top ten, if not five 145lbers. I was taking Holloway due to his incredible run as of late and his superior striking, but admittedly I’d underrated Lamas massively in the past a few times.

Round One begins and Holloway takes the center of the cage as Lamas circles around him and throws some glancing kicks, though a couple of leg kicks get through nicely. Sweeping combination lands for Holloway and forces Lamas to cover up for a moment. He soon gets back to throwing kicks, but Holloway seems pretty unworried by them. Uppercut into a right hand land for Holloway. Nice left hand stings Lamas and Holloway follows with a quick flurry. Lamas is being backed up every time Holloway puts strikes together. Good leg kick does answer for Lamas. Beautiful flurry to the head and body lands for Holloway and Lamas is in trouble, desperately trying to cover up along the fence. Hard body shot lands for the Hawaiian. Takedown attempt from Lamas but Holloway stuffs it and winds up on top with a possible choke locked in for good measure. Lamas manages to avoid that and grips onto the leg, but Holloway pulls free and stands. Jumping kick to the body from Holloway. The guy is awesome these days. Couple of nice leg kicks land for Lamas. Single leg attempt follows but Holloway stuffs it pretty easily again. Lamas keeps trying but he just can’t get Holloway down. INSANE wheel kick from Holloway catches Lamas cleanly and he follows with another flush combo. Lamas has a hell of a chin. Round ends shortly after. Round was all Holloway; 10-9.

Round Two and Lamas glances on a head kick early on. Side kick to the leg from Holloway and he dodges a flurry, but takes a leg kick on his way back. Good flurry from Holloway and he shrugs off a brief clinch. Left to the body connects for Holloway and he backs Lamas up with some more shots. Lamas swings back but he gets caught again by Holloway. More sniping shots land for Holloway as Lamas does have some success with the leg kicks but little else. One-two wobbles Lamas’s legs and sends him right on the retreat, and a follow-up combo has the former title challenger badly hurt. He fires back though and catches Holloway with a clean right hand that forces him to slow up his attack. Takedown attempt from Lamas but Holloway stuffs it and drags him down into a north/south choke, Jeff Monson style. Lamas avoids that and scrambles, but winds up on the bottom and Holloway stands before nailing him with a kick to the body. Nice left-right combo from Holloway. One minute to go and Lamas shoots on another single leg, but Holloway again defends it well and lands a hard right before twisting him right into another choke attempt. Lamas manages to survive and gives the ref the thumbs up, but he gives his back and now Holloway goes for the rear naked choke. Lamas avoids that but Holloway keeps one hook in and begins to land some hard shots, ending the round in a dominant position. Another round for Holloway as outside of a couple of shots he was chewing Lamas up standing throughout and owned him on the ground too.

Round Three and Lamas opens with some decent strikes but they seem to have little effect on Holloway. Capoeira kick misses for him too. Nice counter right from Holloway as Lamas steps in. Head kick is blocked by the Hawaiian and he catches Lamas with another sharp counter. Wheel kick misses for Lamas. Combo from Holloway again backs him up into the fence and then Lamas walks right into a decent left-right combo. Beautiful leg kick answers for Lamas. Can’t question his heart, that’s for sure. Another nice leg kick from Lamas and he lunges for the takedown, but Holloway blocks and forces him into the fence before breaking. Two minutes to go and they exchange some more with both landing. Takedown attempt from Lamas is again stuffed, and then the Hawaiian shrugs him off out of the clinch. Sharp left hand from Holloway. Good right from Lamas is answered by a better one from Holloway. Big left hand sets up a nasty flurry and although Lamas fires back he’s in trouble again. He manages to clinch and force Holloway into the fence to slow him down, and then a spinning elbow lands and allows him to break off. Seconds to go and Lamas swings out of desperation, and then Holloway tells him to THROW DOWN and they TRADE WILDLY to end the fight! Awesome ending; 10-9 Holloway for a 30-27 I’d say.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Max Holloway, no surprise there. Pretty exciting fight for the most part as Holloway strung together some sick combos and hit Lamas with everything he had but couldn’t quite put him away. Lamas tried, hung in there, showed a ton of toughness and did land some decent shots but for the most part he was massively outmatched here, which is insane given this time two years ago he was just coming off a title shot while Holloway was literally nowhere near the title picture. The guy just has an unbelievable learning curve and seems to get better and better with each fight even as the calibre of opponent gets trickier. This was nine in a row for him and should be enough to net him a title shot; whether that’s against the Aldo/Edgar winner or the winner of Conor McGregor vs. one of those guys I don’t know, but it’s something to look forward to for sure. And shit, why not do it in Hawaii like Max wants? That’d be a pretty cool show for sure.

-I’d go amiss if I didn’t mention the UFC 200 promo here and the return of Brock Lesnar which I NEVER expected to see in a million years. Can’t see him getting past Mark Hunt but boy is that a trump card for the UFC to have pulled out! Most loaded card in MMA history with ease I’d say.

UFC World Bantamweight Title: Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber

This one had been brewing for a long, long time and if I’m frank I didn’t expect to see the trilogy fight given Cruz’s layoffs and Faber seemingly not so much fading from the top of the division, more that other fighters had risen to supplant him somewhat. But with Cruz returning and somehow beating TJ Dillashaw for the title and the only other really proven contender (Raphael Assuncao) coming off a layoff too, it felt just about right to make the match despite Faber only having beaten the likes of Francisco Rivera, Bruce Leroy and Frankie Saenz recently. Smart pick seemed to be Cruz but of course I was pulling for Faber because he’s the California Kid, baby. Plus he’s been through a ton of shit recently with his team seemingly imploding.

Round One and the crowd are hot and seem to be behind Urijah, duh. Cruz begins with his trademark movement, dancing around on the outside and flicking out a kick that doesn’t really land. Quick rush from Faber sees Cruz tackle him to the ground and land in the guard, avoiding a possible guillotine in the process. Faber tries to elevate him off, but Cruz grips onto his back to prevent that and then looks to pass. He moves into half-guard but Faber scrambles and forces his way to his feet. Cruz gets a rear waistlock as they stand and forces him into the cage, landing a couple of knees to the legs as Faber’s shorts appear to be falling down, ha. Takedown again from Cruz but Faber scrambles and almost gets a guillotine before they come back up and Cruz lands a right. As they break off Faber pulls his shorts up. Nice body kick lands for Cruz. Faber backs him into the cage but eats a knee to the body en route to going for a takedown. This time he manages to get Cruz off his feet and lands a HUGE SLAM, but Cruz immediately reverses on the ground and gets into north/south! Faber attempts to escape and manages to turn into him and gets up holding the ankle, but rather than look for a footlock he lets it go to drill Cruz with a right hand. Cruz clinches again though and forces him back into the fence, but he gives up on a single leg and separates. More dancing now from Cruz and he catches Faber with a clean counter right as Urijah charges in. Low kick also lands for Cruz. Overhand right narrowly misses for Faber before he defends a single leg. Trio of jabs land for Cruz and he lands with a left hook too. More movement allows Cruz to avoid Faber’s punches and the round ends there. 10-9 Cruz.

Round Two and Faber pushes forward as again Cruz moves around in his unique way and avoids Faber’s shots. Couple more swings miss for Faber before Cruz lands a left hand and SENDS HIM DOWN! The champion pounces and looks to finish him off, but Faber manages to hold onto a single leg and work back to his feet. Wow. Faber still looks wobbled and Cruz pushes forward now but it’s in a smart and cautious way and he barely misses a head kick before stuffing a takedown and stunning Urijah with another left. Nice leg kick from Cruz and he follows with a knee to the chest. Faber’s backing up a bit now. He does look recovered though but somehow the crowd are now chanting for Cruz. Another good leg kick lands for Dominick. They exchange strikes from the outside with Cruz landing another leg kick, and it looks like Faber can’t get into range nor get a handle on the champ’s movement. Pair of jabs from Cruz and he’s beginning to pick Faber apart. More incredible movement allows him to avoid Faber while also landing punches from the outside. One minute to go in the round and Faber almost gets hold of him, but Cruz quickly slips free. One-two from Cruz. Left hook connects as well. Left again lands for Cruz but this time Faber catches him with a right. Round ends on the feet. Clear-cut 10-9 for Cruz, especially with that nasty knockdown.

Round Three and Cruz again presses forward. Body kick glances for Faber but he gets dropped by a leg kick and then eats a left to the temple as he pops up. Left hook again connects for Cruz. Rushing right hand misses for Faber. Right hand glances for Faber and seems to knock Cruz off balance, but as Urijah closes in Cruz hits him with a right and that seems to have the challenger hurt. He circles out though and avoids a flying knee pretty easily. Leg kick into a nice combo connect for Cruz and again seem to have Faber slightly hurt. Cruz is looking tremendous. Flicking jab from Cruz as he continues to move in and out, and then catches Faber with a slick left hook. Another combo lands for Cruz. Inside leg kick into a head kick land for the champ. Faber just can’t seem to catch him. Another combo follows for Cruz. Just over a minute to go in the round and Cruz continues to stalk him before Faber manages to stuff a takedown. Decent left hand connects for Faber though as Cruz gets too close for a second. Takedown is narrowly avoided by the challenger but he takes another leg kick. Round ends just after and goes to Cruz again, 10-9.

Round Four and Faber needs to do something drastic to change things up here. Unfortunately for him the round begins exactly how the third left off with Faber being unable to catch the champion with anything significant. Left to the body and then a glancing right land for Cruz. Clinch from Faber is quickly shrugged off and then both men miss in a brief exchange. Couple of flicking jabs get through for Cruz and he avoids some more of Urijah’s punches. Solid right hand connects for Cruz but Faber seems fine. Another combo has Faber hurt though and he goes down for a moment along the fence and Cruz looks to finish. He closes in and hits Faber with some more punches and then glances with a head kick as Urijah covers up and gets back to his feet, remaining incredibly hard to put away. Jumping knee misses for Cruz and then he lands another snapping jab. Just over a minute to go and winging punches miss for both men. Less than a minute to go now and this looks like it’s going to the fifth. Combination lands again for Cruz to little answer. Round again ends with Faber unable to catch him. 10-9 Cruz.

Round Five and Cruz opens with some jabs as he dances in and out as per. Nice short uppercut sets up a combo for Cruz and he lands a head kick in there too but Faber manages to take it all well. Can’t ever fault his heart or chin. Good right hand answers for the challenger, but he can’t follow it up as Cruz isn’t there. Another one lands but Cruz dodges the follow-up and clocks him with a quick combination before moving out of range. Another right from Faber is answered by a Cruz combo. Takedown from Cruz off a Faber right hand and he takes the back with no hooks, holding on and landing a couple of punches as Faber looks to escape. Faber prevents him from getting the hooks in and then gets back to his feet, but Cruz stays on him and looks to drag him back down. They separate and Cruz lands a kick on the break that deflects off Faber’s arms. Just over a minute left now and Cruz goes for another takedown and then lands a quick combo as Faber defends it. Another attempt at the takedown does ground Faber and Cruz hops right into side mount. Faber manages to get to half-guard and his shorts fall down again as he stands, not a good look for Reebok in this fight. They break and Herb Dean has to call time to let him pull them up. Seconds to go now and Cruz continues to dance around, not allowing Faber to catch him with anything, and that’s the fight. Got to be a 50-45 shutout for Cruz.

Indeed, the judges have it 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 for Dominick Cruz. Not sure how you’d give Faber a round there to be honest, not that it matters. He tried, but unlike in the first fight where he did have some success in catching Cruz, this time he just couldn’t get a handle on the movement at all and not only that but Cruz hurt him badly a few times with strikes, coming close to finishes in the second and the fourth rounds. Basically this was pretty much a flawless performance from Cruz who remains a total marvel in MMA – nobody else could’ve come back from so many injuries looking somehow better than before. If he keeps this up he could easily get into the conversation for the best of all time. Post-fight Faber appears to tease retirement too but I don’t think it’ll happen just yet, maybe in a year or so though.

UFC World Middleweight Title: Luke Rockhold vs Michael Bisping

Much had always been made of Bisping’s inability to gain a title shot, to fall at the last hurdle so many times in the past – and mainly to fighters who would then test positive for PEDs – that when he fought and narrowly beat Anderson Silva in February it was seen as almost a consolation prize for the Brit. Of course, MMA is a weird sport and despite a handful of guys in front of him in the queue right now – Ronaldo Souza, Yoel Romero, maybe Vitor Belfort – when Chris Weidman went down with another injury, things fell into place for Bisping to finally get his title shot. And like Diego Sanchez back in 2009 he wouldn’t shut up about how it was his destiny to win the title. Unfortunately for him, the reigning champion Rockhold had fought and beaten him already in late 2014 in relatively one-sided fashion, finishing the Brit in the second round with a head kick into a one-armed mounted guillotine. And given Bisping hadn’t really improved notably since then – he’s still the same very solid fighter he’s always been – it was hard to see a way for him to win.

First round begins and Rockhold looks confident to the point of sheer arrogance. Both men press forward and throw some feints before Rockhold glances with a push kick to the body. Glancing right hand from Bisping and they continue to circle as Rockhold looks content to pick his shots. Good leg kick from Rockhold. Another one connects to Bisping’s body and then the Brit deflects a head kick. Right hand again glances for Bisping. Good left hand from Rockhold, using his reach advantage, and he avoids some replies from the Brit. Good left hand again from Rockhold and they trade briefly with both landing. Hard body kick from Rockhold. Bisping fires back with one of his own but Rockhold uses a couple of front kicks to the body and low kicks to keep distance. Rockhold keeps leaning out of the way with his chin up to avoid Bisping’s punches, and then cracks the Brit with another nasty body kick that seems to have the challenger hurt. He’s really good at using his range. Front kick and a right hand follow for Rockhold as he stalks forward, but Bisping comes back with a leg kick. Short right from Rockhold and he backs Bisping into the fence, but as he tries to lean back, Bisping catches him with a CLEAN LEFT HOOK THAT SENDS THE CHAMP DOWN! Crowd EXPLODE as Rockhold wobbles to his feet….only for Bisping to nail him AGAIN and this time he FINISHES HIM OFF!~! Absolutely unbelievable.

Post-fight Bisping cuts one of the best promos in MMA history, calling his family into the cage before saying he’s been a fighter “ever since he left his mother’s womb” and paying tribute to his family and team, and then saying he’s just an average guy who’ll fight anyone, anywhere at any time. From the biggest heel in the whole sport at one point to a true British hero. How can you not find that awesome? And it’s even more incredible given he did it at the age of 37, on two weeks notice, in his 26th UFC fight. It’s the sort of thing they make movies about really. Where does this sit in the all-time great upsets? It’s definitely up there; admittedly Bisping was more heralded than Matt Serra when he beat GSP, but I’d put it maybe behind that fight only just because we’d already seen Rockhold roll over Bisping while stuff like Holm vs. Rousey, at least Holm was a bit of a wild card going in. Say what you will about Rockhold coming in overconfident – he almost certainly did – but he was fighting his usual fight really and only made the mistake of trying to use his size and range and nothing but in terms of defense because I guess he figured Bisping didn’t have proper knockout power. How wrong did that turn out to be? This was a truly incredible and memorable way to end the show and might well end up the most memorable moment of what has been a pretty crazy 2016 so far. Viva Bisping, and viva England!

-Show ends with some more Ali tributes, UFC 200 plugs and of course more of Bisping celebrating as the new champion.

Final Thoughts….

For however loaded UFC 200 is looking, it’s going to have to be something special to top this show, as not only was it filled top to bottom with exciting fights and violent finishes, we also got two of the most memorable and emotional moments in recent memory in Henderson’s knockout of Lombard and Bisping’s title win. Throw in the amazing performance from Dominick Cruz and then the Ali tributes and the Lesnar announcement and so forth and you’ve got one of the best UFC shows in a long, long time. Thumbs way up for UFC 199.

Best Fight: Lombard vs. Henderson
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: