MMA Review: #555: UFC on Fox: Holm vs. Shevchenko

-Bit of an odd main event for the seemingly annual trip to Chicago for a Fox show then, as seemingly everyone was expecting Holly Holm to rematch Miesha Tate for the Women’s Bantamweight title at UFC 200 rather than Amanda Nunes challenging, but hey, I guess Uncle Dana has to slap down awkward managers sometimes which would be why Holly ended up facing Valentina Shevchenko here instead. Elsewhere? Not all too much for a Fox card to be honest, but then it did lose its co-main event of Teixeira vs. Rumble which can’t be helped.

UFC on Fox: Holm vs. Shevchenko

Chicago, Illinois

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Felice Herrig vs Kailin Curran

This was an obvious main card opener given A) Felice is from Chicago and B) both girls are extremely good looking and make for potential stars should they ever go on winning streaks. My pick – despite a long time on the shelf – was Herrig as I just felt she had the better all-round skills and record to go with it. Curran sure is a better singer, however!

Round One begins and neither girl wastes any time winging shots at one another, with Herrig landing with a kick to the body. Couple of jabs answer for Curran before Felice lands with a decent combo. Exchange continues before Curran catches a low kick and tags Felice with a head kick, but before she can follow it Felice takes her down into half-guard. SLICK pass from Felice allows her to take the back with both hooks and Kailin is in trouble. Rear naked choke follows and Felice locks it up tightly. Curran tries to defend it and holds off for a few moments, but eventually Felice just sinks it tighter to force the tapout.

Fun opener and a good win for Felice who could still be a star in this division if she can fight a bit more often and keep winning, as she’s obviously great looking and has a massive presence on Instagram and the like. It was a quick fight too but not really a squash, more just Felice taking full advantage of the slight opportunities Curran offered her. Good stuff!

Heavyweight Fight: Francis Ngannou vs Bojan Mihajilovic

This one was originally set for April’s Croatia Fight Night card, but Mihajilovic had gotten injured and so Ngannou had actually taken out a tougher opponent in Curtis Blaydes instead. Despite the ceiling on Ngannou still being a bit of a mystery at this point I figured he’d take out Mihajilovic pretty easily anyway due to a massive size advantage (Mihajilovic being 5’11” and 235lbs!) and in fact the fight reminded me a lot of the early Cain Velasquez squash match over Denis Stojnic.

First round begins and they circle with Bojan staying way on the outside. Little action in the opening minute and the crowd begin to boo a little. Wild swing misses for Bojan and then Ngannou shrugs off a clinch attempt. Couple of clipping left hands land for Ngannou and Mihajilovic goes down, and Ngannou pounces and OPENS UP with some shots on the ground that have him covering up. Herb Dean calls it there. Post-fight Mihajilovic tries to claim an early stoppage but he wasn’t really defending even if it wasn’t a proper knockout or anything.

Total squash, exactly as advertised basically. Would’ve been nicer for Ngannou to get more of a highlight reel finish but c’est la vie. I’d say for sure Curtis Blaydes was a tougher out for him. Onward and upward for Ngannou then and maybe someone like Stefan Struve or Bigfoot Silva next? Roy Nelson might work too actually. Hey, may as well try to shoot the guy to the top in what’s a relatively thin division right now.

Lightweight Fight: Gilbert Melendez vs Edson Barboza

Pretty good co-main event and a tricky fight to call too, this one. Barboza had of course looked awesome in smacking around former champ Anthony Pettis in April, even if I think it’s fair to question Pettis a little right now, and before that the Brazilian had looked good in a losing effort to top contender Tony Ferguson. Melendez meanwhile was coming off a disappointing loss to Eddie Alvarez, and an even more disappointing positive test for PEDs. In his prime I would’ve taken Gil over Barboza in a heartbeat as he would’ve been able to walk Barboza down and pressure him – the same recipe the likes of Jamie Varner and Michael Johnson used to beat him – but with his prime seemingly over I was leaning more towards Barboza and those vicious leg kicks.

Round One begins and Gilbert pushes forward, but eats a short left counter and a pair of leg kicks. Couple of big swings miss for Melendez before he shoots on a single, but Barboza stuffs it well. Right hand lands for Melendez. Couple more swings miss for Gil as he’s clearly struggling to get into range while avoiding the kicks. Feinted shot almost opens something up for Melendez but Barboza dodges. Nice left hand counter lands for the Brazilian. Kick is caught by Melendez and he forces Barboza into the fence and lands a knee to the body, but Barboza shrugs off the takedown and then nails him with a pair of heavy leg kicks. Spin kick to the body glances too. Good combination from Melendez with two minutes to go. Another combo lands and puts Barboza off balance for a second, but he manages to circle out without really getting hurt. Nice left lands for Barboza. Heavy counter combo lands for Barboza as Melendez closes in and they trade briefly, with the Brazilian getting the better of it. Round ends with a glancing knee to the body from Barboza. Close-ish round but Barboza got the better of it.

Round Two and they exchange from the off with both men glancing on some nice shots. Looks like Barboza’s chin is holding up well to Gilbert’s power. Melendez is really pushing forward now. Takedown attempt fails though and Barboza stands over him, kicking at the legs. Barboza’s takedown defense is fantastic these days. Big John McCarthy forces Melendez back to his feet, and he misses with a wild right haymaker and takes another leg kick. Another leg kick drops Melendez and he’s clearly in trouble. He pops back up but another one puts him right back down. Back up again for Gilbert but he’s moving gingerly on the left leg. Combo into another leg kick from Barboza. BRUTAL body kick lands for the Brazilian and he follows with another leg kick and then a partially blocked head kick. Melendez keeps pushing forward though and he drops Barboza for a second with a right hand! Barboza pops back up and they trade pretty wildly, risky stuff for Barboza. Takedown attempt is stuffed by the Brazilian as the crowd are really into this now. Stiff right hand lands for Barboza in a brief exchange, and then a leg kick follows. Gilbert’s leg is getting chewed up big time. Body kick from Melendez is caught and Barboza surprisingly takes him down to guard. Illegal upkick from Melendez goes ignored, and Barboza ends the round with a series of nasty hammer fists. Great round; 10-9 Barboza again though and Gil needs a finish I’d say.

Round Three and Melendez pushes the action, but he takes a pair of leg kicks that force him to back up as he’s struggling to keep his balance. VICIOUS leg kick follows and Melendez is really having a hard time of it. Another one connects for Barboza. Melendez is tough as hell to take this sort of punishment. Yet another leg kick has Gil obviously limping. He’s struggling to move around properly. Right hand misses for Melendez before Barboza switches to a nasty inside leg kick. Melendez pushes forward swinging but yet another leg kick lands on the counter. Barboza’s kicks are incredible. Deep shot from Melendez is stuffed easily. Another two leg kicks freeze Gil on the spot. Two minutes to go and Melendez keeps pushing forward, but Barboza stays out of range well and just keeps on looking for the leg kick. Crowd begin to sound restless with about thirty seconds to go which is just ridiculous. Big right hand glances for Melendez but Barboza’s fine. Bit of a trade follows but Barboza smartly circles out, and the fight ends there. Clear 10-9 for Barboza – you could maybe argue a 10-8 but I don’t think he came close enough to a finish – so it’s 30-27 for him overall for me.

Official scores are 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Edson Barboza. Not sure about that 29-28 but hey, it’s MMA judging! I thought this was a great fight in the end and a really impressive showing from Barboza, as he didn’t get sucked into trading with Melendez (for the most part) and picked him apart from distance with the leg kicks, showing excellent takedown defense too. The guy is definitely a contender now, no doubt about it, but with the title picture looking a bit tricky right now (basically two #1 contenders in Nurmagomedov and Ferguson, but the champ Alvarez wants Conor McGregor….) I’ve literally got no idea who you’d match him with next. Should be good regardless though. As for Melendez, he showed a lot of heart but he was clearly outgunned on the feet and didn’t really have much of an answer. He really needs to win his next one otherwise – especially with that big contract – his UFC career may well be in jeopardy.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Holly Holm vs Valentina Shevchenko

So yeah, as I mentioned in the introduction, this was a bit of a weird main event but I expect the feeling was that as Holm’s management are tricky to deal with, the UFC didn’t want to give her an immediate rematch for the title she lost at UFC 196 and decided to put her into a different match instead. The more surprising thing to me was the opponent chosen – Shevchenko had lost to Amanda Nunes on the same show that Holm lost her title, and she’d hardly been pushed as a Fox-level star previously. Perhaps they just figured that post-Rousey win, Holm was a big enough star to carry a card alone? As far as the match went, to me it came down to the fact that while I’d pick Holm to lose to some of the more well-rounded fighters at the top of the division (Tate, Zingano, Nunes, Pena) I just couldn’t see her losing to a fellow striker like Shevchenko.

Round One begins and Shevchenko takes the center of the cage as Holm circles around on the outside. Oblique kick opens things for Holly. Holm looks a lot bigger than Shevchenko too. Couple of low kicks glance for Shevchenko, with Holm firing back with a couple of her own. Nice inside leg kick from Shevchenko and she counters a forward movement with a right hand. Another hard counter right lands for Shevchenko. Sharp combination from Holm drops Shevchenko though and she might be in trouble. She pops back up and seems to be fully recovered, and Holm doesn’t really follow up as aggressively as you’d expect. Another inside leg kick lands for Shevchenko. Right hook from Shevchenko and she dodges a hook kick from Holm. More pressure from Holm and she’s backing Shevchenko up, but still takes a couple of counters. Takedown attempt from Shevchenko and she trips Holm down, but Holly pops right back up inside the clinch and muscles her into the fence. Nice knee to the body from Holly. She’s working Shevchenko over nicely here. Seconds to go and they break off, and the round ends standing. 10-9 Holm largely for the knockdown and a little more aggression.

Round Two and a mild USA chant starts up as Holm continues to circle on the outside. Good low kick from Shevchenko. This is hardly an exciting fight if we’re being frank. More feinting than actual striking from Holm. Axe kick misses for Shevchenko. Pair of decent inside leg kicks connect for her though and then she goes for a takedown, but Holm spins it around and forces her into the cage. Nice right hand breaks for Valentina though and it causes Holly to stumble slightly. Stiff jab from Shevchenko and she lands a beautiful counter right hook as Holm comes forward. Wild left misses for Holm and Shevchenko counters with a spinning backfist that partially lands. Side kick to the body answers for Holm. Combo glances for Holm but Shevchenko counters with a sharp left hand that stops her in her tracks. Nice combination from Shevchenko ends with an inside leg kick. Jab follows and she backs up to avoid Holm’s strikes. Clean counter lands again for Shevchenko. Short right catches Shevchenko off balance but she’s fine. Nice combination lands for Shevchenko and she adds another leg kick too before a right hook. Round ends there. Excellent round for Shevchenko as she was countering brilliantly. 10-9 to even things up.

Round Three and Shevchenko opens again with a sharp leg kick. Holm is doing more shouting than actual damage to be frank. Couple more leg kicks and a counter right hook land for Shevchenko. Superman punch misses for Holm but Shevchenko also misses with a spinning backfist on the counter. Another hard leg kick lands for Valentina. Her use of movement and range to avoid Holm’s shots is fantastic but this isn’t an exciting fight. Beautiful counter right hand from Shevchenko as she eats a low kick. Stiff jab from Shevchenko and she catches a low kick and trips the former champ down. Holm does an excellent job of popping up to her feet against the fence, switching position to control Shevchenko, but she’s cut over the right eye too. They exchange some short knees before Shevchenko trips her down again, this time landing in half-guard. Not much damage from Shevchenko from the top, but she does control Holm well. Crowd begin to boo a little due to the inaction, but it’s Shevchenko in firm control with a minute to go. Couple of short elbows begin to get through towards the end of the round and Holm is bleeding pretty badly now from that cut. Joe Rogan mentions that a replay shows the cut was caused by a clash of heads. Round ends with Shevchenko on top, and it’s a clear 10-9 for her.

Round Four and Holm pushes forward, but still can’t seem to catch Shevchenko cleanly. Side kick to the chest glances for the former champion. Flurry of kicks follows, but Valentina comes back with a hard leg kick again. Front kick lands for Holm off the body. Both women come up short with right hands before a nice combination connects for Shevchenko. She just looks like the better and more varied striker here. Wheel kick misses though. Nice leg kick from Holm. Counter right hook answers for Shevchenko and she follows with a leg kick. Sweet counter combo from Shevchenko and Holm is looking busted up. Couple more counters land for Shevchenko as Holm tries to get more aggressive. Lot of misses and feints follow before Holm avoids a really low single leg attempt. Holm’s corner sound furious. Decent leg kick lands for Holm and she shrugs off a clinch attempt and lands with a body kick on the break. Another counter combo connects for Valentina. Beautiful combo follows with a superman punch into a leg kick ala GSP. Stiff jab follows that. Shevchenko is doing brilliantly here. Another combo lands for her with seconds on the clock. Round ends with an inside leg kick. 10-9 Shevchenko; closer round due to Holm’s aggression but Shevchenko still landed the better shots overall.

Round Five and I’d say Holm needs a finish or in the least, a 10-8 round. She does push forward, but walks right into another heavy right hand literally seconds into the round. Flicking jab lands for Shevchenko. Holm is doing a lot of movement and throwing a ton of kicks but she’s just coming up short on them all. Sweet counter left hand from Shevchenko. One-two comes over the top for Valentina and connects clean. Low leg kick from Shevchenko and she lands with the counter right too. Can’t fault Holm’s efforts but she just can’t seem to get into range. Good body kick does connect though and she manages to shrug off a clinch attempt. Sharp inside leg kick lands back for Shevchenko. Wheel kick follows and lands and then she throws in the counter right hook too. More of the same follows as Holm continues to come up short with her kicks while Shevchenko catches her with quality counters. Pair of very good low kicks land for the former champ but she’ll need more than that. One minute to go now. Holm continues to be the aggressor to no avail. Crowd mildly begin to boo before Shevchenko cracks Holm with a combination, and a brief exchange ends the fight. I’ve got it 49-46 for Valentina Shevchenko.

Judges officially have it 49-46 all round for Shevchenko in a clean sweep. Holm looks absolutely devastated post-fight, but hey, she got beaten pretty thoroughly here. Not enough to make Shevchenko into a star I don’t think simply because the fight was largely slow and didn’t have enough memorable moments, but it was definitely an impressive performance from her as she essentially forced Holm to play the aggressor and just worked her over on the counter with unbelievable skill and accuracy. For all the talk that Holm was the best striker in the division by far, well, I guess that was just proven incorrect and the more I see her fight the more I feel like she was just the perfect kryptonite for Ronda Rousey and probably isn’t as good as people thought. It’s bad for the marketability of the division to have all the big stars (Ronda, Miesha, Holm) losing but I still maintain Ronda could probably come back to reclaim the belt now Holm’s lost it if she wants to, and that’d make millions regardless of the champion, whether it’s Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko or someone like Julianna Pena. Dull main event overall but it drew a huge number on Fox so there is that.

-Rogan and Goldie wrap things up and we head back to the Fox studios to end the show.

Final Thoughts….

Tricky show to rate given the first three fights were outstanding, but then the main event really slowed things down in my opinion. Can’t go thumbs down as Melendez/Barboza was excellent and I’ll never complain about a couple of exciting and short finishes on this type of card, but maybe stop before the main event unless you’re a real striking aficionado. So thumbs in the middle, leaning up.

Best Fight: Barboza vs. Melendez
Worst Fight: Holm vs. Shevchenko

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: