MMA Review: #551: UFC Fight Night 90

-Acting basically as the canapés to the TUF 23 Finale’s appetiser and UFC 200’s main course, this was a pretty good card for a Fight Pass exclusive, with a huge main event of Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez for the Lightweight Title. Just goes to show how much Fight Pass has developed actually that they’re willing to put a big title fight on there.

UFC Fight Night 90

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Lightweight Fight: Joseph Duffy vs Mitch Clarke

Both guys were coming off losses going into this one – Clarke had been out for over a year following his loss to Michael Chiesa, while Duffy saw his hype train derailed (last guy before Diaz to beat McGregor!) by Dustin Poirier at UFC 195. My pick here was Duffy as I’ve never rated Clarke that highly and still maintain, no offense, that his biggest win (Al Iaquinta) was a bit of a fluke.

Round One begins and Clarke throws some feeler strikes, but gets DROPPED by a right hand and goes down face-first! Duffy pounces on him and he looks out for a second, but manages to survive only for Duffy to take the back. Choke is sunk and Clarke taps out there. 25 seconds, wow.

Can’t really fault Clarke for giving up the choke so easily as he was probably too badly hurt to defend it anyway; he looked out to me when he went down. Awesome showing from Joseph Duffy who didn’t seem to let the Poirier loss bother him at all. He could well end up on another card in quick fashion too given how fast this fight went, and that’d be cool for sure.

Welterweight Fight: Alan Jouban vs Belal Muhammad

Jouban – fresh off a vicious TKO finish of Brendan O’Reilly in the Aussie’s home country – was initially set to face TUF: Nations veteran Nordine Taleb here, but when the Frenchman pulled out with an injury, newcomer Muhammad stepped in, coming off a win over TUF vet Steve Carl and bringing a 9-0 record. He was also bringing a TON of confidence, claiming he’d be a title contender within four fights! Nice to see that attitude but I couldn’t see him getting past the veteran Jouban, personally.

Round One begins and Jouban lands a hard leg kick as Muhammad presses forward. Groin kick lands for Jouban but Muhammad says he’s okay and they continue. Big left hook drops Muhammad and he’s in trouble. Jouban pounces into the guard, but the newcomer does a good job of tying him up to prevent any more damage, and he uses an oma plata to sweep his way to his feet. Takedown attempt from Muhammad and he gets Jouban down into a butterfly guard. Jouban gives his back and takes some punches en route to standing, but Muhammad foot sweeps him down. Jouban pops up right away and they’re back to standing. Nasty body kick lands for Jouban and a leg kick follows. They continue to circle and push forward before Jouban NAILS Muhammad with a BRUTAL LEFT HEAD KICK and down he goes again! This time Jouban lands a ton of shots and it looks like Muhammad might be out, but somehow he survives an absolute barrage of elbows and manages to get to guard. Unbelievable chin from Muhammad. He winds up on his side and he takes a knee to the body before falling to his back again, but again he ties Jouban up and manages to survive. One minute to go in the round and Muhammad rolls, but takes a leaping right hand before he somehow pops back up to his feet! Incredible stuff. Clinch from the newcomer but he eats a vicious knee to the body. Right hand separates for Muhammad and he glances on a combo. Round ends with a Jouban leg kick. 10-8 round for Jouban I’d say as he had Muhammad on the verge of being finished about three times.

Round Two and Muhammad presses forward and connects on a solid right hand. Good left follows for him too. Body kick answers for Jouban. Good low kick lands as well before Muhammad shoots, but Jouban stuffs it pretty easily. Big right hands miss for both men before Jouban gets a warning about leaving his fingers extended. Leg kick from Jouban as Muhammad continues to press forward. Head kick glances for Jouban but Muhammad seems okay. Big left counter drops him though, but somehow he pops up immediately. Insane as it landed absolutely flush. Muhammad manages to clinch and force Jouban into the fence to slow him down, and from there he drops for a takedown, but can’t quite get Jouban down. Lot of blood seems to be coming from Muhammad’s face somewhere. He persists with the single leg attempt, but still can’t take Jouban down and Jouban breaks off. 1:30 to go and Jouban wings some punches at him and glances on the left head kick again. Jab from Muhammad and Jouban is warned about an open hand again. Looks like it’s Muhammad’s nose that’s busted up. Low kick lands hard for Jouban and he follows with a trio of jabs. Body kick into a left hand lands hard for Jouban. Muhammad pushes forward swinging but he can’t really land cleanly. Takedown does work though and he puts Jouban down and lands a flurry of punches to end the round. 10-9 Jouban, though, what a great fight.

Round Three and both men get tagged by right hands in the first exchange before a left high kick wobbles Muhammad again. He fires right back though with a strong right hand. Nice leg kick from Jouban and he sprawls to defend a takedown attempt, but gets caught in the clinch and muscled into the fence. They break off and Muhammad continues to stalk forward, but he eats another left hand counter. Jouban looks like the faster guy in every exchange here. Head kick is blocked by Jouban and he replies with a nasty low kick. Another head kick glances for Muhammad and he continues to stalk but with little success really. Right hand finally does land for Muhammad and he flurries on Jouban and has him in some trouble! More shots land for Muhammad as he tries to go for the finish, but Jouban manages to fire back with some kicks that force some distance between them. Good work from the veteran. Head kick is blocked by Jouban. Good combo from Muhammad and he continues to walk Jouban down. Body kick lands for Jouban. Big combo from Muhammad and Jouban’s rocked again, but he fires back and manages to stay in it. This is crazy. Big right hand from Muhammad connects again, wow. Jouban fires right back and we’ve got a real shootout now. Seconds to go and Muhammad OPENS UP with a flurry! Jouban manages to take it though and fires back with a body kick. It doesn’t stop Muhammad and he continues to swing, and now both men get stunned by big shots. What a fight. More punches from Muhammad but he can’t put Jouban away even with a spinning backfist, and that’s the fight. 10-9 Muhammad, 29-27 for Jouban overall.

Judges have it 28-27, 29-28 and 29-27 for Alan Jouban. That fight was AWESOME, probably a low-end FOTYC in fact, as somehow Muhammad took an insane amount of punishment but kept on coming forward and while Jouban clearly won in the end with the damage he did early on, it was pretty wild to see Muhammad end the round stronger with those heavy flurries that really hurt the veteran. Post-fight Jouban says he broke his left hand in the second round which might explain why he slowed down a little in the third. Regardless, can’t wait to see both men fight again and even in losing I think Muhammad earned a ton of respect with his performance here.

Heavyweight Fight: Roy Nelson vs Derrick Lewis

This fight was one of those rare ones set up by a fighter actually – shock horror! – calling someone out during their post-fight interview, as Lewis had asked for Big Country to be his next fight after his May knockout of Gabriel Gonzaga. Always nice to see a fighter give an answer that isn’t “whoever Joe Silva decides”. As far as a pick, despite hitting insanely hard I felt Lewis was too limited as a fighter to beat Nelson, who I expected to absorb a couple of bombs from the Black Beast before taking him out probably on the ground.

Fight begins and Lewis opens with a hard kick to the body. Nelson looks pretty tentative. Clinch from Lewis and he lands a knee, but Nelson gets a bodylock and looks to swing him to the ground. Lewis avoids it and winds up against the cage, and the action slows down big time as Nelson continues to look for the takedown. Crowd begin to boo mildly as Nelson lands a couple of knees to the legs, and then Big John McCarthy calls the clean break. Pair of body kicks and a big combo land for Lewis but Nelson seems fine and then he finally gets the takedown from a bodylock. Half-guard for Lewis and it’s wide open too, but Nelson simply smothers him and drops a couple of elbows. Fantastic job of getting up from Lewis and he lands a hard knee to the body and a right hand that has Big Country stunned! He wobbles back and Lewis chases him down with a clubbing combo, adding a BRUTAL knee in for good measure, but Nelson takes it all and goes for another takedown. Lewis manages to defend, and Nelson appears to give it up to keep him pressed against the cage. Big John calls the break again with seconds remaining, and Lewis again unloads with a big combo including a left head kick of all things! More shots connect for Lewis, but Nelson manages to get a trip takedown into mount as the round ends. Call it 10-9 Lewis as he did more standing than Nelson did when he got the fight to the ground.

2nd round and Nelson comes out swinging, but Lewis avoids and glances on a big right of his own. Flying knee (!) from Lewis connects to Nelson’s midsection. Couple of hard low kicks land for Lewis but Nelson continues to stalk forward and he lands one of his own. Head kick is blocked by Nelson. Wild overhand right misses for Big Country before he gets a clinch and forces Lewis into the fence. Knees connect inside for Nelson and then he drops for the double leg, but Lewis defends well and the crowd begin to boo again. Finally Roy completes the takedown and this time he slides easily into side mount, looking to set up his crucifix. Not long to go in the round either. Looks like Nelson’s going for an Americana, but brute force allows Lewis to roll and escape to his feet. One minute left in the round. Another nice trip puts him back down, but again he forces his way back up. Nelson won’t get off him and he looks for the takedown again, and sure enough he manages to get it. Side mount again for Nelson and Lewis might be in trouble, but Big Country can’t get anything going and Lewis somehow muscles his way to his feet again. Nelson’s round though, evening things up going into the third.

3rd round and both guys look tired coming out. Wild haymaker misses for Lewis and Nelson catches him with a right hand counter in the first exchange. Right head kick glances for Lewis but he lands with a harsh knee to the body. Nelson clinches though and forces him into the fence, where he goes again for the takedown. Crowd again begin to boo before Nelson manages to force Lewis down to the ground in half-guard. Action really slows down there as Nelson does little from top position, but Lewis again muscles his way back up to his feet. Nelson stays clinched with some knees to the legs, and then he drops lower to hit another takedown. This time he takes the back, but it’s literally for a second or two as Lewis forces his way back up. Big John separates them with just over a minute to go, and Nelson looks GASSED. Big body kick connects for Lewis. Right hand follows and then he opens up with a combo as Nelson covers up. Big knee lands for Lewis. Takedown attempt from Nelson and he forces Lewis into the fence to a chorus of boos, but he can’t get him down this time and Lewis pushes him off and then lands a HUGE RIGHT HAND in an exchange that stuns Nelson badly, but somehow doesn’t put him away. I have literally no idea how Nelson didn’t go down off that one. I’d go 10-9 Lewis there as again he did more damage standing than Nelson did with his takedowns. 29-28 Lewis overall.

Judges have it as a split decision for Lewis; 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28. Pretty surprised to see them go that way as I’m so used to them scoring takedowns massively at this point, but hey, nice to see them get one right for once! Wasn’t the most impressive showing from Lewis as he didn’t offer much from his back and still seemed susceptible to takedowns, but you’d have to be stupid to say the guy doesn’t hit like a truck. How Nelson survived some of those shots I don’t know. Onward and upward for Lewis then – maybe the Arlovski/Barnett winner next? As for Nelson I don’t think this will get him cut or anything despite him being 1-4 in his last five, but it’s definitely a sign that he’s settling into a gatekeeper type role so I’d like to see him against a rising star like Francis Ngannou next, or finally make the Todd Duffee fight I wanted to see back in 2010, ha. Fight had its slow moments but was fun overall I thought.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Rafael Dos Anjos vs Eddie Alvarez

This was a bit of matchmaking I honestly didn’t expect – after the Conor McGregor fight went down the pan I fully expected Dos Anjos to be matched against either Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov, but I guess the timing didn’t work and so the former Bellator champ Alvarez was given the shot instead, fresh off wins over Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis – both victories arguably more impressive in name value than in the way Eddie got them, if that makes sense. RDA meanwhile had been on a roll since 2014, and had obviously destroyed Donald Cerrone in his last outing. Surprisingly though I ended up taking the upset, as I felt Eddie was probably the toughest guy RDA had ever faced in terms of his ability to take punishment and keep coming forward, and RDA really wasn’t that far away from losing to Khabib and almost to Evan Dunham even. My pick was Alvarez in the fourth round after weathering an early storm.

Round One begins and they circle and throw some feints before Alvarez connects on an inside leg kick. Another leg kick lands for the challenger but he eats a left from RDA. Front kick misses for the champion as he continues to push forward. Good leg kick from RDA. Big crowd chant for Eddie as both men come up short with some punches. RDA with a big right uppercut but Alvarez takes it well. Combo glances for RDA. Head kick narrowly misses but a left hand connects hard for the champ. Takedown from Alvarez but Dos Anjos quickly sprawls back and works to his feet, landing a hard knee as they separate. Nice combo from both men in a brief exchange. Takedown attempt again from Eddie but RDA stuffs it and then goes for a takedown of his own. Alvarez works to defend it, and does so, shrugging the Brazilian off. Good combo from RDA but Eddie connects on a right hand counter in reply. BIG RIGHT HOOK suddenly lands for Alvarez and Dos Anjos is in BIG TROUBLE, almost doubling over, and he’s on rubber legs! And from there Eddie OPENS UP, absolutely pouring it on with BOMBS to the body and head, and RDA is all over the place! He survives the barrage but staggers back towards the fence, and Alvarez doesn’t let up, chasing after him with a flying knee that causes him to land on his back! RDA manages to get on top for a second, but he’s too rocked to hold the position and Eddie reverses to his feet and dumps him with a double leg before landing some hard hammer fists. RDA works back up, but Eddie opens up again and DESTROYS him with a combo and Herb Dean calls it with Dos Anjos out on his feet. Unbelievable!

Pretty amazing performance from Eddie Alvarez; he stayed calm under fire and didn’t really take much damage, and once he landed and hurt Dos Anjos he just didn’t let up, keeping the pressure on and just hitting him over and over until he was completely unable to defend himself even though he was still standing. Disappointing result for Dos Anjos but then for as much as he’s become an offensive monster in the last couple of years, it was always his defence that let him down in his earlier UFC losses. Incredible to see Alvarez with the UFC title in 2016 too, especially when you think his wars in Japan with the likes of Hansen and Kawajiri were in 2008 – EIGHT YEARS ago. This of course though is the pinnacle of his career, and it’s great to see too as he always comes off as a good dude. I bet – no offense to RDA – that the UFC are happy too as Alvarez is clearly a more marketable and popular champion than the Brazilian. Is this the beginning of a new era at 155lbs? To be quite frank, who knows? Eddie could retain for a while or he could lose to Ferguson or Nurmagomedov or someone else entirely, such is the awesomeness of the Lightweight division. Regardless, this was a pretty great way to kick off the International Fight Weekend!

-Show ends with a discussion of the potential contenders for Alvarez – namely Nurmagomedov and Ferguson – and then we end with some plugs for UFC 200.

Final Thoughts….

Can’t go anything but thumbs up for this one with a 25 second tapout, a low-end FOTYC in Jouban/Muhammad and then Eddie Alvarez winning the UFC title in what was one of the most memorable title fights in some time. Sure, Lewis/Nelson wasn’t a great fight but it didn’t stink either, which means it’s definitely worth checking this one out on Fight Pass. Like, NOW.

Best Fight: Jouban vs. Muhammad
Worst Fight: Nelson vs. Lewis

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: