MMA Review: #574: UFC Fight Night 101

-General consensus was that this was the weakest UFC card of the year, as it lost its original main event (Luke Rockhold vs. Jacare Souza) and despite the new main event – Robert Whittaker vs. Derek Brunson – sounding like a good fight, the rest of the card wasn’t exactly noteworthy. I guess that’s probably why WME-IMG are looking to cut the number of shows next year. Still, there was always hope for some entertaining violence at least.

UFC Fight Night 101

Melbourne, Victoria

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Dan Hardy. Nice bit of mix and match there!

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Danielle Taylor vs Seo Hee Ham

No idea how this was chosen as the main card opener given Taylor put on one of the worst televised fights of the year in August in a losing effort to Maryna Moroz, but then UFC card placement rarely makes sense. Opponent Ham had also lost her previous fight – in Australia too – but it’d been a controversial decision loss to Bec Rawlings. I was picking Ham as for once she didn’t have a size disadvantage and she’d looked better even in her losses than Taylor had in her lone UFC appearance.

Round One begins and Ham pushes forward as Taylor circles on the outside. They exchange some punches early but neither woman really lands clean. Body kick lands for Taylor but Ham comes back with a clean left hand. Apparent eye poke from Taylor causes referee Jon Sharp to call time and sure enough a replay confirms it. They restart pretty swiftly though and Ham backs Taylor up with some punches, landing a couple of body kicks for good measure too. Nice right hand connects for Taylor in a brief exchange but Ham continues to push forward. Low kick from Taylor is countered by a sharp left from Ham. Another kick from the Korean glances but Taylor fires back with an overhand right. Overhand left from Ham wobbles Taylor for a second but she seems okay. Vicious straight left follows and lands cleanly again. Taylor is doing nothing but backpedal. Her face looks marked up too. Body kick into a combo glances for Taylor but Ham keeps on pushing forward. Takedown attempt from Taylor is blocked well by the Korean. Another left hand connects for Ham. Seconds to go and Ham keeps up the pressure until the round ends. 10-9 Ham for me.

Round Two and Taylor opens with a right hand but Ham walks right through it to land a left. She’s keeping up the same pace and pressure as she did in the first. Couple of leg kicks land for Taylor but don’t slow Ham down and she connects with another left. Counter right hand lands a couple of times for Taylor but she’s still being forced back. Hard, clean right hand connects for Taylor and it looks like Ham’s left eye is marked up. Right hand again from Taylor but this time Ham catches her with a hard left counter. Low kick from Taylor is countered by a left hook and the Korean continues to walk Taylor down. Another left connects for Ham but she walks into a hard one-two from Taylor. Overhand left lands clean for Ham. This is becoming frustrating to watch now due to Tayor’s constant backpedalling. Another nice left hand lands for Ham in a brief exchange. Big right hand lands for Taylor and snaps Ham’s head back but she seems undeterred and keeps walking Taylor down. Seconds to go and Taylor goes for a takedown, but Ham reverses right into mount and ends the round there. Closer round as the striking was more even, but Taylor backpedalled throughout and also gave up that late takedown, so 10-9 Ham.

Round Three and Taylor pushes forward….nah, just kidding OF COURSE SHE DOESN’T. Instead Ham continues to back her up, landing a left hand. Big counter right does connect for Taylor but evidently Ham’s chin is solid as she just takes it and keeps on backing her opponent up. Superman (superwoman?) punch glances for Ham. Nice combination lands for Taylor to slow Ham down for a second. Another trio of right hands follow as she actually pushes forward for a second. This is a much better round for Taylor, probably because Ham’s slowing down a bit. Uppercut misses for Taylor and she eats a counter left. Wild Liddell-style overhand right glances for Taylor. Both girls miss with some punches before Taylor uncorks a NASTY head kick that basically lands cleanly, but somehow Ham just walks through it. Ham has a fucking chin of iron. Takedown attempt from Ham but Taylor avoids an outside trip and then delivers a pretty blatant eye poke that referee Sharp somehow misses. Ham tries to call a time-out but you can’t do that and so Taylor UNLOADS ON HER with HAYMAKERS but even they don’t seem to stun Ham despite landing cleanly. Real bad refereeing there. Taylor keeps on swinging but Ham manages to come back into it and back her up. Seconds to go now and Dan Hardy confirms the eye poke. Clinch from Taylor and they muscle for position with Taylor getting a headlock takedown to end the round. 10-9 Taylor, 29-28 Ham overall.

Scores are 29-28 Ham, 30-27 Taylor (!) and 30-27 for DANIELLE TAYLOR. Well, not only did we get some shit refereeing but we also got some shit judging. I could MAYBE see 29-28 Taylor at a push if you gave her the second but I wouldn’t agree in any way with that. 30-27 is fucking ludicrous though, seriously, as Ham spent the whole of the first and most of the second round backing her up and landing the much cleaner shots. Taylor did recover well but to be fair her best offense in the third came from an eye poke! Fight wasn’t exactly one of the best either due to Taylor’s constant backpedalling.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Khalil Rountree vs Tyson Pedro

TUF 23 runner-up Rountree had garnered a lot of hype prior to coming to the UFC – the word was he’d KO’d Anderson Silva in training at one point, for instance – but his TUF final match with Andrew Sanchez had shown that he was massively a work in progress as he lost basically due to offering nothing on the ground. He was matched here with unbeaten Aussie newcomer Pedro – I’d never heard of him but at 4-0 he was even less experienced than Rountree. I was taking the TUF veteran to win by knockout with a bit of trepidation due to his seemingly weak ground game.

Fight begins and Rountree pushes forward, but Pedro forces him back with a couple of oblique kicks. Spin kick misses for Pedro and Rountree glances on a heavy right hand. BRUTAL LEFT HAND lands for Rountree and drops Pedro and he’s in deep trouble. Flurry follows but Pedro gets a bodylock and takes the TUF veteran down. Rountree gets his back to the fence and looks to work back to his feet, but Pedro stays on him and lands some punches. Rountree manages to stand, but Pedro keeps him firmly against the cage and he seems recovered now. Nice inside trip from Pedro puts Rountree down again and he lands in half-guard. Strong punches to the body land for Pedro and he works to pass and gets to full mount. Now Rountree’s in trouble, and he makes the big error of turning his back, and from there Pedro gets both hooks in and works for the choke. Looks like it’s sunk and he pulls Rountree down and tightens it up, and sure enough Rountree has to tap out there.

Post-fight Pedro shows a ton of charisma in his interview, basically just seeming really happy to be there before asking Dana White for one of the $50k bonus award which I believe he ended up getting. No surprise really as this was a super-exciting fight with a big comeback from Pedro to recover from that knockdown to choke Rountree out. Not sure how far Pedro can go but he’s very young and with the Aussie scene being one that could definitely grow, it’s worth treating him with kid gloves I think. As for Rountree I suspect he’ll be cut now which is unfortunate, he clearly has talent and is a fantastic athlete, he just needs more work on his ground game. If I’m WME I’d try to do something where they send him on loan to one of the smaller shows on Fight Pass rather than cut him outright, because in a few years he could be a contender and I don’t think they’d want to lose him to Bellator.

Lightweight Fight: Alex Volkanovski vs Yusuke Kasuya

Another Aussie newcomer here in the form of Volkanovski, a guy who I’d never heard of prior to this, but he was coming in with a 13-1 record which is impressive regardless of opposition. Kasuya meanwhile hadn’t fought since a September 2015 loss to Nick Hein and despite not knowing much about Volkanovski I was pretty confident in picking him over the Japanese fighter due to the layoff and the fact that he didn’t exactly look good against Hein.

First round begins and they exchange some early strikes with both men landing some glancing blows. Nice takedown from Kasuya and he tries to take the back as Volkanovski scrambles, but the Aussie works up to his feet and turns into the Japanese fighter, forcing him into the fence. Few knees land for Volkanovski from the clinch and he avoids a takedown pretty easily. Strong takedown from Volkanovski and then he grabs a front headlock as Kasuya stands. Nasty elbow lands for Volkanovski and he drops for the takedown again and this time he gets it, planting Kasuya down on his back. Butterfly guard from Kasuya but Volkanovski postures up and moves into half-guard. Some heavy punches begin to get through for Volkanovski and Kasuya might be in trouble. More punches and forearms land for the Aussie and he continues to work Kasuya over, but the Japanese fighter switches for a leglock attempt and although Volkanovski escapes, Kasuya gets on top in butterfly guard. Into half-guard for Kasuya and he lands a couple of shots, but Volkanovski gets the full butterflies back in and looks to escape. Reversal from Volkanovski and Kasuya goes for a leglock again, but Volkanovski makes him pay with some punches until the round ends. Crowd are going apeshit for Volkanovski and it’s his round for sure.

Second round begins and Volkanovski lands with a hard inside leg kick. Nice low takedown follows and he plants Kasuya against the fence. Kasuya gets his back to the fence and looks to escape, but he takes some heavy punches from the top too. Another leglock attempt follows for Kasuya but Volkanovski avoids it easily and remains on top in the full guard. Big punches begin to land for Volkanovski and Kasuya might be in trouble. He’s taking a ton of heavy shots here. He tries for another leglock but leaves his head WAY OPEN and Volkanovski takes full advantage, dropping some BOMBS that finish the Japanese fighter off.

Great debut win for Volkanovski as he showed some brutal ground-and-pound as well as a pretty solid technical grappling game. Going for leglocks and leaving yourself open like Kasuya did is usually never good unless you’re a Palhares-type – see Frank Mir against Ian Freeman or Rumina Sato against Joachim Hansen for a couple of other examples – and Volkanovski took full advantage. How high his ceiling is I don’t know – ground-and-pound guys who aren’t from a strong wrestling background do tend to struggle when they can’t take the better wrestlers in the division down – but I think like with Pedro, the UFC would be smart to build this guy as a semi-star for their future Australian shows. He’s certainly exciting to watch judging by this.

Welterweight Fight: Kyle Noke vs Omari Akhmedov

Tricky fight to pick here between the Aussie pioneer Noke and the Dagestani Akhmedov, as both men were coming off losses and probably had their backs to the wall with regards to their UFC future. Akhmedov had been knocked out in both of his previous fights, while Noke had last been seen falling prey to a choke from Keita Nakamura. Despite suspecting Noke was a shot fighter – he’s pushing 40 now and he’s been around for a LONG TIME – I decided to go with him due to the home field advantage.

Round One begins and Noke opens with a low kick. Akhmedov comes up a bit short on a couple of punches before landing a low kick of his own. Clipping left hook lands for Akhmedov. They exchange a couple of kicks before Akhmedov wobbles Noke with an overhand right and looks to chase him down, winging some hooks into the clinch. Trip takedown from the Dagestani and he lands in the half-guard of Noke. Noke does a good job of recovering full guard, but he isn’t doing much at all from the bottom here as Akhmedov grinds away with some elbows. Noke does go for a triangle, but Akhmedov postures free pretty easily and drops down with a HUGE right hand that busts Noke open. Another triangle attempt ends in the same way and it just doesn’t look like Noke can really disrupt the base of the Dagestani enough. More elbows connect for Akhmedov and he moves into half-guard. Noke is really bleeding now, looks like he’s cut around the left eye. Big shots connect for Akhmedov and the ref could even consider stopping this. He lets it go though and the round ends. 10-8 round for Akhmedov I’d say as he did some serious damage.

Round Two gets started and Akhmedov backs the Aussie up again. Wild overhand right glances for him as does a spinning backfist. Good leg kick answers back for Noke. Right hand lands for Akhmedov. Head kick replies for Noke but Akhmedov lands with a couple more right hands before taking a body kick. Akhmedov continues to stalk forward, and then he drives in for a takedown and gets a BIG SLAM down into full guard. From there Akhmedov works from the top with ground-and-pound, nothing too major really but he’s still doing enough damage not to be stood up. Noke just doesn’t seem to have enough answers for this. Finally Akhmedov slows down enough to be stood up, but Noke gets tagged on the feet by a combo as well. Big front kick misses for Noke as the crowd try to get him fired up, but Akhmedov nails him with a right hand counter. Beautiful leg kick connects for Noke. His face is a MESS though, wow. Another leg kick lands for Noke to end the round. 10-9 Akhmedov.

Round Three and Noke clearly needs a stoppage to win now. Good leg kick opens the round for Noke and he throws a couple more kicks to keep the distance, but Akhmedov catches him with a left hook and a leg kick of his own. Akhmedov doesn’t really look tired considering his reputation as someone who slows down after a round. Nice inside leg kick from Noke. Spinning backfist misses for Akhmedov. Noke really needs to get something going here. Left hand glances for him. Superkick (!) misses as it looks like Noke’s looking for the one-shot kill. Big combo glances for Akhmedov. Front kick to the body just misses for Noke. Another kick is caught but Noke avoids the takedown. Striking exchange continues and Noke’s outlanding Akhmedov but not really hurting him. Right hand lands for Akhmedov and backs Noke up a bit but the Dagestani doesn’t really follow it up. This is a dull round. One minute to go and Akhmedov shoots for a takedown, but this time Noke defends it well. A big overhand right from Noke misses though and Akhmedov shoots under it and plants the Aussie on his back. Full guard for Noke and Akhmedov seems content to hold him down and grind with elbows. Seconds to go and Akhmedov stands over him and they exchange kicks to the end of the fight. 10-9 Akhmedov, 30-26 Akhmedov on my scorecard.

Judges all agree thankfully, giving Akhmedov a unanimous decision; 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27. No idea how he didn’t get a 10-8 first round but it doesn’t really matter. The first round basically set the tone of the fight as Akhmedov hurt Noke standing and then beat the shit out of him on the ground, and unlike some of his earlier fights he paced himself well enough to be able to do the same in the second and then in the third too. Not the most entertaining fight but a strong showing for Akhmedov who’s saved his UFC career. Noke actually retired yesterday which is a good decision for him I think – hopefully the UFC might be able to give him some sort of role as an Australian ambassador or something? I think that’d be cool. He’s a real pioneer in a lot of ways and his UFC career lasted a lot longer than I expected it to as well.

Lightweight Fight: Jake Matthews vs Andrew Holbrook

Not much of a co-main event here to be honest but then it wasn’t in this spot initially I guess. Matthews was looking to bounce back from his loss to Kevin Lee, one that really derailed a lot of his hype, while Holbrook had been viciously knocked out in his last appearance by Joaquim Silva. I was taking Matthews feeling that he’d beaten a better opponent than Holbrook before in the form of Johnny Case.

Round One begins and Matthews circles on the outside, landing a front kick to the body as Holbrook pushes forward. Couple of counters land for Matthews as Holbrook continues to push forward. Decent body kick connects for Holbrook. Matthews almost takes him off his feet with an inside leg kick though. Clinch from Holbrook and he lands some nice body punches, as well as a knee, but Matthews comes back with a couple of knees of his own before breaking off. Right hand lands well for Matthews. Holbrook really chases forward with some strikes, but Matthews grabs a front headlock and drags him down before taking the back, but Holbrook shrugs him off over the top. Matthews pops to his feet before Holbrook can capitalise though and they clinch against the fence. Elbow breaks for Matthews and Holbrook gets back to pushing the action, but he does walk into a left hook. Big overhand right glances for Matthews and he lands a nasty leg kick, but Holbrook shoots in and gets a takedown off the leg. Looks like he’s going for some sort of arm triangle variant too and he almost takes the back off it, but Matthews stands back up only to eat a series of elbows to the head. Holbrook does get the back standing, but Matthews wraps up the right arm for a possible kimura and that forces Holbrook to stall a bit. Matthews drops down but lands on his head, and Holbrook drops some punches down on him before taking the back properly. Solid shots from Holbrook and he ends the round in back control. That last minute swung the round for Holbrook for me.

Round Two and the announcers mention a possible foot injury for Matthews. He shrugs off an early clinch and lands with a decent right hand, then connects on a good combination with Holbrook covering up. Looks like it’s the right foot that might be injured. Holbrook bombs his way into the clinch and looks for the takedown again, but Matthews defends only to take some strikes from inside the clinch. Nice knee answers back for Matthews and he breaks with a smooth right hook. Holbrook is really pushing the pace though. Couple more shots land for Matthews and he follows with a takedown of his own, landing in Holbrook’s guard. Holbrook rolls for a heel hook on the injured foot though and Matthews might be in trouble. He rolls and manages to come out on top, grabbing a front headlock before spinning to take the back. Holbrook stands to avoid Matthews getting the hooks in, but Matthews remains in control despite eating some back elbows. He drags Holbrook down, but Holbrook goes for a footlock and then turns that into a kimura attempt. Matthews looks pretty calm and stays on top, punching to the body for good measure, but when he shifts his weight to free the arm Holbrook goes into another leglock attempt. He switches to a toehold, but can’t finish and the round ends. 10-9 Matthews in a super-close round.

Round Three and Matthew is visibly limping on his right leg. Holbrook closes him down early but he avoids the clinch. He does a good job of staying out of range early, landing with the straight right, and then Holbrook randomly taunts him to a chorus of boos. They trade off for a second and Matthews catches him with a head kick, but Holbrook takes it well. Low kick fires back for Holbrook. Into the clinch and Holbrook misses with a jumping knee, but connects on a right hand. Nice combo from Matthews and Holbrook looks cut over his right eye. They clinch up and Holbrook tries to grab a headlock, working some knees inside for good measure, but Matthews breaks off. Takedown attempt from the Aussie and he gets Holbrook down, but Holbrook looks to reverse and again he goes for the leg. This time Matthews wins the scramble though and takes the back. Holbrook makes him pay with some elbows, then goes for the footlock again, but he can’t get it and Matthews sits up. Holbrook has him totally tied up though. Finally Matthews breaks free and takes the back, but he can’t get his hooks in as Holbrook controls his wrists too. Holbrook goes for the kimura on the left arm, but Matthews slips free and drops some quick punches, staying on top. Both guys look pretty tired now. Seconds remaining and Matthews remains on top, and they exchange from the guard until the fight ends. I’d go with Matthews in another close round and give him the fight 29-28.

And we’ve got another split decision; 29-28 Holbrook, 29-28 Matthews and 29-28 for Andrew Holbrook to steal the win. Crowd roundly boo the decision but to be fair it was close enough to go either way. I’d have scored it for Matthews but you could definitely argue that Holbrook’s grappling was enough to take the first and then either the second or third. People seem to be writing Matthews off for some reason after this as Holbrook isn’t really a top contender or anything, but the guy is still 22 and he could still develop into a special talent I think. Fight was a really hard going one too, with a torrid pace and both men exchanging big shots and a lot of energy-sapping grappling positions. Probably the best fight of the show thus far in fact.

Middleweight Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Derek Brunson

Originally set as the co-main event, this got bumped into the main slot when the show lost Rockhold/Jacare, but to be fair in a year when we’ve had Fight Night main events like Rodriguez vs. Caceres and (upcoming anyway) Lewis vs. Abdurakhimov, I don’t think you can really sneeze at a fight between two top ten MWs like this one. Both guys were on really hot streaks – Whittaker was 4-0 since moving to 185lbs in 2014, while Brunson had gone through five opponents since his last loss (to Yoel Romero) – and it was a tough fight to pick. I was slightly favouring Brunson due to his stronger ground game, but Whittaker had the home field advantage and I felt like he was the cleaner striker. I could see Brunson taking Whittaker out in the deeper waters or Whittaker catching Brunson in an early rush, and despite my head telling me to pick Brunson, I couldn’t go against Whittaker in his home country.

Round One begins and both men look pretty tentative before Brunson rushes in with punches that set up a takedown. Whittaker shrugs it off and tags him with an uppercut, but Brunson gets out of range. Good right hand from Whittaker and he follows with a left uppercut. Big left hand fires back for Brunson and it sets up a takedown attempt, but Whittaker works hard to defend it. Left hands connect inside for Brunson and both men are swinging now. Brunson starts to WILDLY SWARM, tagging Whittaker with punches and he’s got the Aussie on the run! Whittaker fires back, but Brunson keeps on chasing forward and he’s swinging like CRAZY now. Looks like Whittaker might be slightly hurt, but he’s staying calm while Brunson is seemingly LOSING HIS MIND in an attempt to finish. Sloppy takedown attempt from Brunson and Whittaker sprawls to avoid, but finds himself being shoved into the fence. Action slows down slightly as they exchange short shots from the clinch, and Brunson gets a takedown only for Whittaker to spring right back up. Left hand connects for Whittaker as he gets up and the crowd love that. Left hand connects for Whittaker again and now Brunson tries to fight fire with fire and CHASES IN WILDLY, but a BRUTAL LEFT COUNTER buckles his legs and he looks out on his feet! Now Whittaker swarms, tagging him with uppercuts and it doesn’t look like Brunson has much left! More punches land for Whittaker and he’s picking his shots, before Brunson goes for a desperate takedown and Whittaker shrugs him off easily this time. Left hand into a BIG RIGHT HEAD KICK lands for Whittaker and some big shots put Brunson down and it’s ALL OVER!~! Crowd go INSANE for the win, holy shit.

Well, that was one of the wildest fights of the year, for sure. Not really sure what Brunson was thinking with his gameplan – I suspect he just thought he had Whittaker much closer to being finished than he actually was – but better fighters have fallen foul to the same thing, look at how Fabricio Werdum lost his HW title for instance. Whittaker fought tremendously though, showing a strong chin and he stayed remarkably calm under a ton of fire and once he had Brunson hurt he didn’t get silly at all, picking his shots until he was able to finish. Both men are top ten MWs but I think this showed exactly which guy might break into the top five in the near future. Whittaker/Mousasi next, anyone? Or shit, why not do Whittaker against Anderson Silva and look to fill a big stadium in Australia? The guy certainly came off like a megastar here and I reckon that could work. This was a hell of a main event to end the night on.

-Show ends abruptly as usual for the badly-paced FS1 shows.

Final Thoughts….

For a super-weak card this didn’t turn out to be a horrible show – Taylor/Ham was a pretty bad fight and Noke/Akhmedov wasn’t great either, but we got a pair of fun finishes from the Aussie newcomers Pedro and Volkanovski, a fun gutter-war between Matthews and Holbrook and then one of the year’s craziest fights point blank in the main event. Still, can’t go the full thumbs up due to the pair of bad fights, so just find a way to check out the main event.

Best Fight: Whittaker vs. Brunson
Worst Fight: Ham vs. Taylor

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: