MMA Review: #561: UFC 203: Miocic vs. Overeem

-Hype coming into this one seemed off the charts and strangely enough it wasn’t for the same reason I was pumped for the card (Alistair Overeem in a title fight!) – it was of course for the UFC and MMA debut of former WWE superstar CM Punk. If we’re honest it was closer to Bellator fare than anything the UFC had done before, but hey, at least eyeballs were going to be on the show!

UFC 203: Miocic vs. Overeem

Cleveland, Ohio

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Joanne Calderwood vs Jessica Andrade

This was Andrade’s second fight at 115lbs following a successful debut there, as she’d dominated former title challenger Jessica Penne. Calderwood meanwhile was returning to the weight class following a random 125lbs match with Valerie Letourneau, and that match had been her best UFC performance to date as she dispatched Letourneau via TKO. Tough fight to pick with the brutal aggression of Andrade against the more finesse-based style of Calderwood, but I was going with JoJo as I felt she’d be able to pick the Brazilian off on the feet.

Entrances here are comical as Andrade gains credibility points with me and probably loses them with EVERYONE ELSE as she walks out to ONE DIRECTION of all things. No shame in it sez I but I think I’d be alone in that thought.

Fight begins and Calderwood looks to stay on the outside and work her kicking game, and she lands a couple of decent ones early on before Andrade clinches and works some dirty boxing. Knee breaks off for Calderwood. Another knee connects for the Scot but Andrade lands with a clean left hand. Clinch again for Andrade and she looks for the takedown, and sure enough she gets it, slamming JoJo to the ground. Calderwood looks to work back to her feet, but Andrade drags her away from the fence and then takes the back standing as Calderwood gets up. Another big slam follows and Andrade lands in side mount. Calderwood pivots around in an attempt to get to guard, but Andrade again moves into side mount. Few punches land for Andrade and she attempts to step to mount, but Calderwood avoids it and goes back to full guard. Triangle attempt from Calderwood but Andrade slams her way out of that and lands some elbows and punches. Another pass to side mount follows for Andrade but Calderwood ties up her right leg to try to reverse. Andrade avoids that and lands some heavy shots to the body, then some more heavy ones to the head. Calderwood is getting mashed here. Upkick lands for her but Andrade pushes through it into side mount. Half-guard for Calderwood but Andrade catches a guillotine in the scramble and pulls guard, and this looks tight. Calderwood tries to escape but she looks stuck and has to tap out there.

Fantastic showing from Jessica Andrade as she just wasted no time in putting Calderwood on her back and from there she just dominated using superior size and strength, and the submission was just the icing on the cake really. I can definitely see her as a title contender and a match with someone like Carla Esparza or Jessica Aguilar might make sense next. Can’t see Calderwood making a title run any time soon but I think Andrade is going to be such a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division so I don’t think there’s much shame in the loss. Exciting opener for the PPV card.

Bantamweight Fight: Urijah Faber vs Jimmie Rivera

After his unsuccessful title challenge in June – a largely one-sided loss to rival Dominick Cruz – there were rumors of retirement for Faber, but instead he decided to keep on going and was matched with up-and-comer Rivera – who had won three straight in the UFC and hadn’t lost since 2008. Despite Faber never losing a non-title fight at 135lbs I was picking Rivera to pull off the upset here, as I felt like Faber had been slowing down even in his most recent wins (Frankie Saenz, Francisco Rivera) and had nothing more to prove, while Rivera was skilled in all areas and hungry to get to the top.

Round One begins and both men throw some feints before Faber lands an inside leg kick. A second one is caught but Faber gets away before Rivera can do anything. Single leg is blocked by Rivera and he lands a nice uppercut on the way out. Nice inside leg kick from Rivera. More feints from both men before Rivera tags Faber with a clean right hook. Leg kick follows. Faber looks gunshy to me. Combo from Rivera and he again shrugs off a clinch attempt. Counter right hand also lands for Rivera. Leg kick answers for Urijah. Rivera seems to be beating Faber to the punch so far. Left jab connects for Faber. Faber begins to really force him back, but Rivera connects on a hard counter left hook. One minute to go and Rivera connects with another leg kick. Combo glances for Rivera and an inside leg kick follows. Seconds to go and the round largely peters out standing. 10-9 Rivera for the better strikes I’d say.

Round Two and Rivera dodges a high kick and cracks Faber with another leg kick. Left hand gets through for Rivera but a low kick from Faber hits the groin and the ref has to call time to let Rivera recover. They restart and Faber continues to come up short on a lot of his strikes. Right hand counter to the body connects for Rivera. Front kick misses for Faber and he gets clocked by a sweet right hook. Brutal leg kick from Rivera drops Faber for a second and probably gives him Aldo flashbacks. Another leg kick follows but with less impact. Big right hook also lands for Rivera but Faber keeps his poker face up. Another hard leg kick lands for Rivera. Leg kick answers back for Faber. This is such a flat performance from Faber. Crowd begin to mildly boo as both men come up short on a lot of strikes. Leg kick lands again for Rivera though and buckles Urijah. More of the same follows with Rivera having success with his kicks but most of the strikes for both coming up short. Seconds to go and Rivera cracks Urijah with a quick combo in an exchange. Buzzer sounds then and the crowd don’t like this one bit. 10-9 Rivera.

Round Three and Faber comes out swinging wildly, but he walks into a left hook from Rivera that forces him to slow right down. Faber continues to come up short on a lot of his strikes. Good low kick again from Rivera. Crowd continue to boo as the action isn’t great to be honest. Low kick lands again for Rivera and he avoids allowing Faber to catch the leg. Faber continues to feint without landing and then he gets dropped for a second again with another leg kick. And another one follows quickly after. BLATANT eye poke from Faber responds and the ref has to call time. That ought to be a point deduction as it was so obvious, like Faber threw an open hand strike. Pretty shitty. Ref somehow lets him off with a warning and Rivera is clearly struggling, but he tells the doctor he’s okay to continue. Front kick misses for Faber off the restart and Rivera tags him with a right hand counter. Leg kick answers for Faber. You can tell Rivera’s still struggling with his eye I think. Leg kick lands for him again though anyway. Exchange continues as Faber pushes forward but can’t quite catch Rivera with anything really. Clinch is shrugged off by Rivera but he’s definitely backpedalling more since that eye poke. One minute to go now and Rivera connects on another thudding low kick. Loud boos from the crowd again as Rivera lands a right-left combo. Another left hand lands for him in another exchange. Wild swing misses for Faber and Rivera starts swinging himself, but he misses too and that’s the round. I’d call it 30-27 Rivera. Post-fight Rivera claims he can’t see out of his right eye, too.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Jimmie Rivera in by far the biggest win of his career. Odd fight to discuss too as while Rivera clearly fought an excellent fight and shut down Faber like nobody else outside of like, Cruz and Barao had done at 135lbs, it also wasn’t that entertaining of a fight and it means that I don’t think people will be clamouring to see Rivera again just yet. But shit, the guy beat URIJAH FABER 30-27 so you can’t fault him! Post-fight he admits he can’t see a thing out of his right eye due to the poke and we’ve since found out he’s got a bad retina injury which is worrying, hopefully he can recover from it. As for Faber, I think this might be it for him – he fought so flat, didn’t really trouble Rivera in any way outside of the eye poke honestly, and just looked like a guy on the tail end of his career. I think if the UFC can set up the Kid Yamamoto fight finally then he should do it, but if not it might be retirement time. Dude is one of the best ever, no denying that, but he’s got nothing more to prove now and there’s not much point in him fighting younger, hungrier guys I don’t think.

Welterweight Fight: CM Punk vs Mickey Gall

This had of course been almost two years in the making – Punk’s signing with the UFC had been announced in December 2014 (!) and he’d suffered some major injuries and been through two surgeries since then, but proving the naysayers who said he’d never step into the cage wrong, it was finally time for his debut. Despite talks of making someone like Michael Bisping (!) his first opponent when he first signed with the company, the UFC smartly chose someone almost as inexperienced to fight the former WWE champ in Mickey Gall, a young fighter discovered through Dana White’s Lookin’ For A Fight series. And naturally, there were SO MANY QUESTIONS to answer.

Firstly, the UFC had literally never done a fight like this before – sure, they’d had MMA debutants or massively inexperienced guys fighting for them but they had all been successful in other combat sports before – the likes of BJ Penn, Pe De Pano, James Toney and yep, Brock Lesnar – while Punk had absolutely zero experience outside of training in any form of fighting. And that wasn’t mentioning the fact that Punk was pushing 40 and was already banged up from years of pro-wrestling. But then Gall didn’t have much more experience – about seven minutes of cage time total – and the guy he fought in his own UFC debut was a reporter! Smart pick was obviously the younger and more experienced Gall, but regardless this was absolute must-see stuff – probably the biggest spectacle in the UFC in 2016 not involving McGregor or Lesnar.

Entrances are, well, quite something. Gall walks out to ‘Hey Mickey’ – shit song but I guess it fits and he looks super confident. Punk meanwhile walks out to ‘Cult of Personality’ as he did in his WWE days and shit, if you aren’t into this then you shouldn’t be watching MMA.

And here we go! Punk rushes right out of his corner….and misses a terrible right hand, which allows Gall to duck under and hit an easy double leg. Punk gets to full guard but Gall’s all over him with some HEAVY PUNCHES. He’s in trouble right away. Punk tries to kick him away but Gall passes into side mount and continues to maul him with punches and elbows. Looks like Punk might be busted open. Slick pass to mount from Gall and he takes the back as Punk looks to roll. Gall flattens him out and works for the choke, but he can’t get it so he drops some heavy bombs to the side of the head instead. More punches land and the ref could stop this, but he doesn’t and so Gall lands some more and then finally slaps on the choke to force the tap.

Well, that was about as one-sided as you’re going to get. Worst performance in UFC history, at least since the Zuffa buyout? Probably, yeah. Punk didn’t get one single punch in before Gall took him down and just tooled him, and he got BEATEN UP before the choke too. I’m pretty convinced in fact that a few of my friends who fight on the semi-pro circuit over here could beat him. And yet, he was humble throughout the whole thing, never claimed he was going to set the world on fire like say James Toney did, and he had the balls to get in there and do it. And yeah, I know he was paid well (500k!) to fight but he brought in a TON of eyeballs to the show – which apparently did somewhere between 400k and 600k buys, much more than it would’ve done without him – and that allowed people to not only see Gall – who is a charismatic guy with a possibly bright future – but also to see Miocic, Overeem, Werdum, Rivera, Andrade et al and that for me is a good thing. Should he fight in the UFC again? Hell no, I think the allure of how he’ll do is gone now so he wouldn’t draw big again anyway and he’s clearly not UFC level, but I have no problem with this whole thing and I respect CM Punk. Even if he threw a terrible punch!

Heavyweight Fight: Fabricio Werdum vs Travis Browne

Originally this would’ve seen Werdum taking on Ben Rothwell, but when Big Ben got injured, Browne stepped in in an attempt to avenge his 2014 loss to the Brazilian, the loss that cost him a title shot. Despite Werdum being knocked out by Stipe Miocic in his last fight I was still taking him to win this one, as he’d dominated Browne in all areas in their first fight and since then – and since his move to the Glendale Fight Club – Browne’s skills seemed to have degenerated rather than improved.

Round One begins and Werdum comes CHARGING OUT WITH A FLYING SUPERKICK!~! Browne actually looks stunned for a second but he recovers quickly as Werdum looks super aggressive and throws some more shots. Nice right hand lands for Werdum in a combination. Inside leg kick follows for Werdum and a combo comes right after that. Browne just looks static. Fucking HAROLD HOWARD ROLLING KICK misses for Werdum. No idea what he was trying there. Inside leg kick connects and Browne still looks pretty static. Weird moment follows as Browne TURNS AWAY and starts waving at his hand as if it’s injured. Werdum closes in to finish him, but the ref calls a TIME OUT and I have no fucking clue what’s going on. Apparently it was a hand injury to Browne, like a finger dislocation or something, but as far as I’m aware you can’t call a time out like that in a fight and so this ought to be stopped. Ref screws it up TOTALLY though and restarts it. Urgh.

Big body kick lands for Werdum off the restart. Clinch is broken by Browne who then stuffs a takedown, as Marc Ratner appears on commentary to explain that indeed, you can’t call a time out and it should’ve been a TKO stoppage. Big right hand lands for Werdum and Browne is stunned, and Werdum follows by clinching to look for a takedown. Action slows down there before Browne breaks off. Couple of glancing shots land for Browne and he stuffs a takedown. Werdum comes back with a wheel kick that glances. Both men miss some pretty sloppy shots before Werdum connects on a hard inside leg kick. Right hand replies for Travis and Werdum shakes his head. Body kick is caught by Browne, who then sweeps the leg from under Werdum before waving him back up. Two leg kicks land hard for Werdum and then he DROPS BROWNE WITH A RIGHT! Browne is in trouble and Werdum pounces and looks to finish him off, but Browne manages to survive only to give his back. Both hooks in for Werdum but he can’t quite sink the choke in and so he lands some punches to the head until the round ends. 10-8 round for Werdum for me due to the lack of offense from Browne as well as the refereeing gaffe. And of course Edmond Tarverdyan in Browne’s corner tells him Werdum doesn’t have SHIT for him!

Round Two and they exchange some punches with Browne landing a decent left hand. Super-low single leg attempt is stuffed by Browne. Another attempt is also stuffed and Werdum decides to drop to his back, which just pisses the crowd off. He gets back up though and lands with a jab and a right hand. Browne is looking terrible here, barely throwing anything of note. Inside leg kick lands for Werdum. Body kick also connects for the former champ as does a left hand. Crowd are heavily booing the slow pace now. Couple of front kicks glance for Browne, but Werdum comes back with a leg kick and a combo. Left hand connects for Browne but Werdum lands with a high kick. Spinning backfist misses for Werdum. Lunging left to the body from Browne but he eats another inside leg kick and a right hand. Compared to his earlier career Browne’s movement is glacial. Stiff jab from Werdum but it looks like he’s taken an eye poke. He carries on though with another inside leg kick. Good leg kick from Browne. Seconds to go and another rolling kick misses for Werdum. That’s the round. 10-9 Werdum, but this is just a weird fight.

Round Three and they trade glancing kicks before Werdum lands with a left hand. Big body kick connects for Werdum and a right hand follows. Browne just can’t seem to land a thing. Crowd are furious with this now as neither man is doing all that much. Good leg kick from Werdum. Overhand right glances for the former champion and then he drops for a single leg, but doesn’t really drive for it and Browne defends. Browne looks exhausted. Odd high kick glances for Werdum, almost like a question mark kick. Nice combination from Werdum puts Browne on the retreat. Pair of left hooks answer for Browne. They trade with leg kicks and then Werdum grabs the plum to land a knee and follows with a right hand. Right glances for Browne but he’s got nothing. Leg kick lands for Werdum and he avoids a couple of high kicks. Good right hand connects for Travis. Weird takedown attempt for Werdum goes wrong and he has to get back up. They exchange some punches and Werdum lands on a hard right hand. Leg kick into a left hand from Werdum. Boos are DEAFENING now. Round ends with Werdum dodging punches to land a body kick. 10-9 Werdum, 30-26 overall.

Post-fight we get a genuinely wild moment as the crowd continue to boo, so Werdum makes the crying gesture at them…..and then for some reason Edmond Tarverdyan goes crazy so Werdum HITS HIM WITH A FRONT KICK!~! Cue a pull-apart brawl ala Strikeforce: Nashville, that ends with Browne and his whole corner being ejected from the cage. Insane. At one point you can see known short-fuse BABALU!~! attempting to come in and get involved. Shit, I’d pay for him vs. Edmond!

Judges have it 29-28, 29-27 and 30-27 for Fabricio Werdum. Don’t get how Browne could get a round there to be honest. This was a weird fight, even taking away the post-fight fracas and the whole issue with Browne’s finger injury, as Browne basically did nothing while Werdum had spats of serious offense where he’d come close to a finish sandwiched between a lot of nothingness too. I mean it was a solid way for Werdum to come back from the loss to Miocic, but Browne to me looks finished and he needs either a change of scenery away from Edmond (ala Jake Ellenberger) or a long layoff to regain his mojo I think. He’s not the same fighter he was in 2013 at all. Wasn’t the worst fight of all time due to all the craziness but it wasn’t what you’d call good either.

UFC World Heavyweight Title: Stipe Miocic vs Alistair Overeem

Talk about a long time coming! Of course, the Overeem fans out there, myself included, expected to see him get a title shot back in 2012, but that was before the whole testosterone issue saw him suspended for a year and removed him from the potential fight with Junior Dos Santos. And since then he’d come back from the lows of the losses to Bigfoot, Browne and Rothwell by going on a four-fight win streak, culminating with knockout wins over Dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski to cement his title shot. Miocic meanwhile had won the title after knocking out Fabricio Werdum in his backyard, and now he was defending it in his own hometown of Cleveland. This was a tough fight to pick – not only is HW always tricky to call anyway, but Miocic throws shots with crazy power and Overeem’s chin is questionable, but on the other hand I felt like Overeem’s striking prowess, movement and takedown defense gave him some advantages too. I never pick against Overeem so I was going with the title change, naturally, and I was as excited for this as I was for any fight in 2016.

Crowd are just CRAZY into Miocic, giving him one of the biggest pops in UFC history, easily. They should book title fights in the champion’s hometown more often!

Fight begins and they circle with Overeem showing a lot of movement early on. Few wild swings miss for Stipe as Overeem stays on the move. Nasty body kick connects for the Reem. Weird moment follows as Miocic literally chases after Overeem who runs away. Miocic keeps following, but walks into a CRUSHING LEFT HAND that sits him down! He’s in big trouble, but Overeem grabs onto a guillotine rather than follow up with punches, and he pulls guard to look for the finish! It looks tight, but Miocic manages to free himself and he escapes to his feet, chasing Overeem all over the cage again. He still looks wobbly though. Miocic continues to walk Overeem down and finally he lands a left hand that slightly wobbles the Reem. Overeem comes back though with a body kick and a left of his own. Wild left misses for Overeem and Miocic lands with a right hand that has him hurt! He tries to cover up as Miocic closes in, and then outright runs away again to avoid the barrage, but Miocic tags him again with another combo. Overeem is wobbly, but he takes the punches well and runs again before coming back with the body kick and an uppercut! Knee to the body from Overeem but he has to retreat once more. This is crazy. Wild left misses for Overeem and he runs again, before being caught by a clean left hand. He’s definitely hurt. Big left lands for Overeem though and he follows with a glancing kick to the body. Body kick from Miocic answers and he lands a combo with Overeem covering up and trying to deflect the shots. Big left misses for Overeem and Miocic catches a low kick and gets a takedown off a scramble, landing on top in guard. And from there he postures up and just DESTROYS OVEREEM WITH PUNCHES until he’s COMPLETELY OUT to the point where he can’t even sit up. WOW.

Well, that was an insane fight for starters. Both guys got badly hurt, it looked like Overeem had Miocic on the verge of being finished, but he couldn’t seal the deal and once Miocic hurt him, he couldn’t really get back into the fight, being reduced to potshotting and running until the end finally came. Huge win for Miocic and hey, it’s his first successful title defense! Whether he can hold onto it again though I’m not sure – he got himself into deep trouble here and I think he’d lose to an on-form Cain Velasquez, but it’s HW and anything can happen. There’s still big fights on the horizon for Overeem too – he hasn’t fought Velasquez or Josh Barnett yet for example, but I don’t think he gets back to another title shot and that makes me sad. Post-fight things get even weirder as Overeem tries to claim Miocic tapped to the guillotine, a theory immediately refuted by the replay, but I’ll let him off because he was clearly concussed and I love the guy anyway. This was clearly the sloppiest main event of 2016 but it was also one of the most fun, and HW MMA is always a bit of a guilty pleasure so I loved this even if my favourite got knocked silly.

-Show ends with some highlights and recaps – poor CM Punk! – and a plug for the upcoming Bisping/Henderson rematch.

Final Thoughts….

First and foremost, this was a strange, strange show, as despite it being a great spectacle with a ton of hype, Punk/Gall in all honesty didn’t really belong on a UFC PPV. Miocic/Overeem was a tremendously fun fight though and while Werdum/Browne had a ton of slow spots, the comedy value of all the weird antics almost made up for it. Throw in a fun – if one-sided – opener in Andrade/Calderwood and I’d say it’s enough for a thumbs up even if Faber/Rivera wasn’t very good. It’s a must-see for the Punk fight anyway! Not the best show of the year, but check it out regardless.

Best Fight: Miocic vs. Overeem
Worst Fight: Faber vs. Rivera

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: