MMA Review: #560: UFC Fight Night 93

-The UFC’s latest foray into Germany, this card was pretty strong for a Fight Pass one as you could make an argument that both Ryan Bader vs. Ilir Latifi and Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jan Blachowicz could headline a card like this, but instead we had Andrei Arlovski vs. Josh Barnett – originally pegged to headline Affliction’s second card back in 2008!

UFC Fight Night 93

Hamburg, Germany

-Your hosts are Jon Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Lightweight Fight: Nick Hein vs Tae Hyun Bang

This one was elevated from the prelims onto the main card when the show lost Aisling Daly vs. Michelle Waterson thanks to injuries to both women, and it made sense due to Hein’s popularity in his native Germany despite not really ever setting the world alight in the UFC. A 3-1 record is pretty solid though I guess and I expected him to overcome the challenge of Bang too due to his grappling advantage.

Round One begins and both guys bounce around for a full minute without doing anything at all. Leg kick finally lands for Bang as the crowd begin to boo loudly for the inactivity. Head kick misses for Hein. Step-in left hook lands for the German before Bang comes back with a glancing combo. Right hand from Hein sets up a trip takedown and he lands in half-guard. He tries to pass the guard, but Bang manages to keep him in half-guard and doesn’t take too much damage before he reverses to his feet. Right hands glance for both men before Hein blocks a head kick. Wow this round sucks. Right hand glances for Bang. Head kick from Hein is blocked and that’s the round. Ugh. 10-9 Hein I guess?

Round Two and Hein pushes forward to begin but walks into a body kick and a short right hand. Right follows for Bang and seems to stun Hein, but he gets a rear waistlock and suplexes Bang down. Bang pops back up and finds himself forced into the fence in the clinch, but Hein can’t get him back down. Action slows down massively inside the clinch as Hein lands some short knees to the legs of Bang. Crowd aren’t liking this at all. They break off and Hein catches the Korean with a decent one-two. Dan Hardy is doing his absolute best to make this fight sound exciting on commentary but even he can’t save it. Solid leg kick connects for Hein. Overhand right misses for Bang and he really needs to get something going if he wants to win this. Both men miss some more shots before Bang connects on a short right hand that seems to stun Hein again. Takedown attempt from Hein and he gets it, hitting a trip from a waistlock. Bang springs right back up but Hein stays on him in the clinch and looks to drag him back down. Bang instead hits a judo throw, but Hein scrambles back up and they separate. Big swings miss for Bang and the round ends there. 10-9 Hein again in another pretty poor round.

Round Three and Bang glances on a bunch of punches as Hein presses forward but doesn’t throw all that much. Decent left hand connects for Hein. Left connects for Bang too and the ref has to call time due to a clash of heads causing a small cut over the right eye of Bang. It’s only a little cut and so they restart, with Bang pushing forward but not really landing anything major. Hein manages to land a right hook that staggers Bang, but he doesn’t really follow up with any aggression and it allows the Korean to recover. Clinch from Hein is shrugged off pretty quickly. Two minutes to go and both of these guys need to do something. Something that isn’t a clash of heads that is as the ref has to warn them again. Takedown attempt from Hein but Bang defends and breaks off. Just over a minute to go and Bang catches Hein with a right hand, but he can’t follow that up either really. Left hand from Bang connects in a brief exchange. Clinch from Hein but Bang lands a combo to break off. Both guys keep on missing punches or just getting close with them but not landing cleanly, and that’s it. Call it 30-27 Hein but who cares really?

Judges have it 29-28, 30-28 and 30-27 all for Nick Hein. Terrible fight though as neither man showed all that much urgency and it just never really got going, no offense. Kudos to Gooden and Hardy for making it sound exciting on commentary, however. And maybe it’s time for a step up for Hein now? He’s 4-1 in the UFC and the best guy he’s beaten is probably Drew Dober. Although to be fair they may keep protecting him for these German shows as he’s quite a star over there, who knows.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ryan Bader vs Ilir Latifi

Interesting fight here as Latifi was looking to step up into the upper echelon of the top ten while Bader was looking to rebound from his knockout loss to Rumble Johnson in January. I was going for Latifi for the win despite his lack of experience at this level, as I thought his stocky frame could make it tricky for Bader to get him to the ground, and on the feet while he’s a cruder striker than Bader he throws with POWER and Ryan’s chin is still questionable.

First round begins and the crowd are firmly behind Latifi. Bader presses forward early on as Latifi circles on the outside, and then Latifi shoots but Bader defends pretty easily. Couple of really heavy swings are avoided by Bader. Short right hand lands for Bader. Jab follows for Bader as Latifi steps in. Bader throws a head kick that doesn’t quite land, as both men look somewhat tentative. Another takedown attempt is shrugged off by Bader. Body kick lands for him as Latifi ducks in for a possible takedown, and he follows with another one and avoids the counter. Monster crowd chant for Latifi begins before Bader throws another body kick. Latifi catches the leg this time and almost gets a takedown off it, but Bader manages to stay up again. Big right hand misses for Bader. Just over a minute to go and Latifi continues to push forward, but he still can’t get a takedown on Bader. Couple of wild swings glance for Latifi and have Bader backing up a little. Another big crowd chant for Latifi begins as he chases Bader down and lands a BIG COMBO that hurts Bader and drops him! Bader dives for a takedown and uses it to get to the clinch to slow things down, and the round ends before Latifi can follow up. 10-9 Bader but the most significant moment was that knockdown for Latifi.

Second round and they exchange briefly with Bader landing a decent right hand. Clubbing rights from Latifi don’t land cleanly but they do force Bader backwards. Nice jab from Bader. Takedown attempt follows, but Latifi sprawls and grabs onto a front headlock, then forces Bader into the fence off a scramble. He can’t get Bader down though and he ends up breaking with a right hand. Big right hand glances for Bader and Latifi has to move out of harms way. Nice right hand from Bader and Latifi ties up for a clinch, but Bader exits with an elbow. Two minutes gone and Latifi ducks for a takedown….but changes levels right into a PERFECTLY TIMED KNEE THAT KNOCKS HIM DEAD!~! Bader doesn’t even need to follow up as it’s a WALK OFF KNOCKOUT.

Replay shows Latifi ducked directly into the knee as Bader threw it at the perfect time, and it looked like a grenade exploded into Latifi’s face or something as he flew backwards and was unconscious before he even hit the ground. One of the best knockouts of the year from Bader and the crazy part is that if he’d landed it on one of his opponents prior to Rumble – Phil Davis or OSP for instance – he probably would’ve gotten the title shot that Alexander Gustafsson got in October 2015. Phenomenal stuff and much needed after that opening fight. Back to the drawing board for Latifi then but since 205lbs is so thin he could be back into contention soon anyway.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Alexander Gustafsson vs Jan Blachowicz

This was Gustafsson’s first fight back after almost a year away, and a lot of people seemed annoyed that he wasn’t fighting someone higher up the ladder than Blachowicz, who had last been seen beating Igor Pokrajac but before that he’d lost comfortably to Jimi Manuwa and Corey Anderson. For me though I figured Gus deserved a bit of an easier comeback fight as he hadn’t actually won since March 2014 (!) and had talked briefly about retirement following his unlucky decision loss to Daniel Cormier. My pick was Gustafsson as I couldn’t see a single area that Blachowicz was better.

Round One begins and Blachowicz looks to trade right away, and he actually tags Gustafsson a couple of times as Gus looks like he’s keeping his chin way too high for some reason. He’s cut under the right eye too. Good shots from Blachowicz but Gustafsson doesn’t look stunned or anything. Good overhand right from Gus set up by a double jab, and then he goes for the takedown and muscles Blachowicz into the fence. Blachowicz breaks off and eats another jab, but then he tags Gus again with a quick combo. Clinch again from Gustafsson but Blachowicz manages to muscle him off. Jab lands for the Polish fighter and he follows with a decent combo. Gustafsson comes back with a combo of his own before Jan clinches to deliver a knee and an uppercut. They break off and a stiff jab lands for Gus. Nice combination from Blachowicz and he comes chasing forward with punches, but Gustafsson clinches to slow him down and then hits a sweet takedown to guard. Heavy, short elbows begin to get through from Gustafsson as Blachowicz doesn’t seem to have much off his back, and the rest of the round goes like that with the Swede having some really good success with the elbows. Even round until the takedown, but obviously 10-9 Gustafsson due to that.

Round Two and Blachowicz comes out throwing jabs, then tries an overhand right and that leads to a pretty open trade from both men, but Gustafsson immediately changes it up with another takedown to guard. Makes sense given his success there in the first. Elbows again begin to get through for Gus and it looks like he’s got Jan busted open now. Into side mount for Gus briefly but Blachowicz manages to hip escape back into full guard. Not much going on here as Gustafsson continues to feed Blachowicz a steady diet of elbows and punches and it looks like Jan can’t do anything from the bottom to escape whatsoever. His face looks messy now too. Still a better fight than Hein/Bang of course! Seconds to go and Gustafsson stands over him, then he drops a brutal left hand over the top before Blachowicz manages to scramble to guard. Round ends there. I’d go 10-8 for Gustafsson there as Blachowicz did nothing but eat elbows.

Round Three and Gustafsson comes out firing jabs and avoids some wild swings from Blachowicz. Big kick misses for Jan and then he shoots himself, but Gustafsson avoids it quite easily. Looks like Blachowicz is getting tired. Clean right hook lands for Gustafsson. Right hand and a body kick answer for Blachowicz but he eats another hard right from Gus. Stiff jab snaps his head back and then he swings some more, but finds himself planted with a double leg again. It’s back to guard for Blachowicz and it’s back to eating hard, short elbows too. He just can’t do a thing with Gustafsson on top here and with two minutes left this is likely over. Gustafsson looks to pass into half-guard, but Blachowicz blocks it and referee Marc Goddard decides to call a stand-up. 1:30 remaining and Blachowicz comes in swinging, but Gus gets an easy single leg and puts him right back down in guard. This time Gustafsson lands some more shots and passes to side mount, but again Jan hip escapes into guard. Round ends with more elbows and punches from Gustafsson. 10-9 Gustafsson, 30-26 overall for me.

All three judges have it 30-27 for Alexander Gustafsson, well, even a total idiot judge couldn’t get that one wrong. Not really a great fight to watch per say outside of the wild exchanges in the first round, but it was a smart performance from Gus as he took no chances in the end and once he realised Blachowicz had nothing from his back, he continually went back to the takedowns and just worked him over with elbows from there. His penchant for keeping his chin high was a bit worrying but I suspect against a higher level opponent he’d avoid doing that so much. Nice to see him back on the horse at any rate and I think one more win would probably earn him another shot at the top three (Cormier, Jones and Rumble). Gustafsson/Bader, anyone? As for Blachowicz, he tried, but he showed he hasn’t really improved his ground game since his loss to Corey Anderson in 2015 and unless he can close that hole then I don’t see him getting any further than he already is.

Heavyweight Fight: Andrei Arlovski vs Josh Barnett

So yeah, this one was originally pegged to headline Affliction’s second card back in 2008 with the winner facing Fedor Emelianenko, but that card got postponed, Arlovski ended up fighting Fedor anyway and despite sharing time in StrikeForce for a couple of years the fight never got made again until here. I was quite excited to see it to be honest – Heavyweight is weird in that guys like Barnett and Arlovski realistically are past their prime now, but because of the splintered nature of the division from basically 2006 to about 2013 with the top fighters spread across promotions, the match-ups still feel fresh. As far as a pick went, gut feeling told me Barnett had slightly more left in the tank and could probably avoid Arlovski’s one major weapon these days – his big right hand – and take him out on the ground.

Round One begins and both men press forward and right away Barnett tags Arlovski with a right hook and sends him down! He pops right back up though and as Barnett charges forward, he lands a BIG RIGHT that drops Josh to his knees! WILD SWINGS from both men follow and Arlovski goes down again, and finally they clinch and slow things down. Holy shit that was a wild beginning. Nice short right hand lands inside for Arlovski. Hard knee to the body answers for Barnett as they muscle for position, and the crowd seem to be behind Arlovski. Right elbow breaks for Andrei and he’s cut on the forehead. Leg kick glances for Barnett. Right to the body from Arlovski. Clinch again from Barnett and he muscles Arlovski back into the fence. They exchange short shots inside and Arlovski surprisingly hits a trip takedown to half-guard. Did not expect that! He postures up to drop a couple of hammer fists before standing over Barnett, and the crowd begin to get restless as Andrei just drops a few glancing shots over the top. Kicks to the legs from Andrei but ref Leon Roberts stands Barnett back up. Big swing misses for Arlovski and Barnett narrowly misses on a knee. Combination connects for Andrei and Barnett has to cover up, looking stunned for a second, but he recovers quickly. Another exchange leads back to the clinch and this time Barnett goes for the takedown, but Arlovski defends well. Barnett keeps trying for it, but the buzzer sounds before he can get it. 10-9 Arlovski but one hell of a round.

Round Two and Barnett lands with an overhand right that sets up the clinch. He shoves Arlovski into the fence again and drops for the takedown, but again Andrei defends it well. They continue to muscle for position with Arlovski beginning to control the bigger man, but Leon Roberts calls a clean break. Stiff jab from Barnett and they clinch again, exchanging shots to the body before Barnett breaks with a right hand after taking a knee to the gut. Big exchange sees both men land some hard punches en route to another clinch. Uppercut breaks for Arlovski but Barnett lands a left on him and forces him into the fence again. Looks like Andrei might be looking a bit tired which might explain the clinch-heavy gameplan of Barnett. They continue to jockey for position and Arlovski goes for an outside trip again, but this time Barnett shifts his weight and spins over to take top position, and from there he passes into mount quickly. Just over a minute to go and it looks like Barnett’s working for an arm triangle. Arlovski avoids that, but he takes some short elbows and it doesn’t look like he’s capable of getting out of this position. Big shots begin to land for Barnett and Andrei is in deep trouble, but he does just about enough to survive the round. 10-9 Barnett and we’re heading into the third.

Round Three and again Andrei comes out swinging, glancing on a combination, but Barnett looks like the fresher man. Arlovski continues to back him up a little with his punches, landing a heavy right hand, and they’re exchanging pretty openly now. Overhand right glances for Barnett but he gets tagged by a combo. Clinch from Barnett and he lands an uppercut, but Arlovski breaks and opens up with a combo and Barnett might be in trouble! He turns away as apparently he was poked in the eye, but Leon Roberts lets it go and Arlovski looks for the finish, only for Barnett to tie him up and land some hard knees and an uppercut from the plum. They clinch and Arlovski looks to get the back standing, but Barnett takes the opportunity to lace up the left arm for a possible kimura ala Sakuraba, and he drops down for it and rolls through all the way to top position! Arlovski manages to avoid the kimura, but Barnett lands some elbows and looks for the arm again. Instead he forces his way through into full mount and from there Arlovski turns and gives his back, and Barnett slaps on a VIOLENT rear naked choke for the tapout. Whew. Awesome fight.

Replay shows there was indeed a missed eye poke, but Barnett didn’t complain and kept going and surprisingly enough just about a minute later the fight was over in his favour. Post-fight Barnett cuts a great promo putting over Arlovski and saying how they both came out to fight and put on a show and of course they got tired, but they still gave their all. And that basically sums up the fight – in terms of effort you can’t fault them and indeed they put on a hell of a show, with both guys getting hurt, both men having moments of success and in the end it seemed like it was Barnett’s superior gas tank that allowed him to win. Arlovski’s now on a three-fight slide but given it’s HW and he’s a big name I hope they keep him around for at least another fight – Francis Ngannou needs a bigger test so why not have Andrei be it? As for Barnett, he’s never fought Alistair Overeem before so that one works for me. Or Junior Dos Santos for that matter! I do love HW in a strange way and I loved this fight too – nowhere near a FOTYC or anything but it was definitely worth watching this show for.

-Highlight reel rolls and that’ll do it for Hamburg.

Final Thoughts….

This was pretty much a one-fight show, as Arlovski/Barnett exceeded all expectations and really was a fantastic clash, but outside of that, sure Bader’s knockout was pretty crazy but Gustafsson/Blachowicz was largely one-sided and not that exciting and Hein/Bang outright stunk. I’d say check out Barnett/Arlovski for sure, and make sure you see Bader’s knockout too. Outside of that it’s a skippable one I guess.

Best Fight: Barnett vs. Arlovski
Worst Fight: Hein vs. Bang

Overall Rating: **1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: