MMA Review: #577: UFC Fight Night 102

-This card was receiving about the least hype of any in 2016 – well, maybe a little more than the other week’s Australian card but it was close – mainly because it was super-short on name value despite showcasing two of the better prospects in the Heavyweight division. With two HW and two LHW fights on the main card it was also one of those shows too that looked like it’d either be wildly exciting or legitimately god-awful. On the plus side though it still feels nice to type ‘New York’ for a UFC show!

UFC Fight Night 102

Albany, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Gian Villante vs Saparbek Safarov

Native New Yorker Villante was originally pegged to fight Patrick Cummins here but Cummins had to withdraw due to a bad staph infection, and so Dagestani newcomer Safarov came in on late notice to take the fight. With the late notice and home-state advantage it was hard not to pick Villante, although he’d been a bit of a glass cannon in the past and so it wasn’t a definite lock.

Fight begins and Safarov opens with a stiff jab. Leg kick answers for Villante. These guys are swinging heavily here. Safarov looks totally out of shape too, like he should definitely be at 185lbs. Looks like he’s cut under the left eye already. They exchange some more jabs and Safarov’s throwing out some kicks to the body as well. Nasty leg kick lands for Villante and an overhand left buckles the newcomer’s legs, and he’s in trouble. He fires back with a wild left hook of his own and seems to be recovered, but Villante’s landing on him hard. Another left hand lands for Safarov though to slow the New Yorker down. Short left hand drops Safarov and as he pops back up, Villante decks him hard with an uppercut, and from there Villante pounces to look for the finish. Safarov is all sliced up. He manages to survive though and so Villante allows him back to his feet. Safarov still looks wobbly and he seems to hurt his knee on a blocked body kick, and he stumbles backwards only to come back and tag Villante with a combo of his own! Big combination answers for Villante and he’s really pushing forward now. Stiff jab has Safarov wiping at his eye which isn’t a good sign. It’s cut to hell, though. Big combo lands cleanly for Villante but Safarov fires back wildly and then lands a clear low blow that ref Keith Peterson ignores for some reason. Safarov tees off on him but finally Peterson calls time, causing the crowd to boo. Peterson’s voice is raspy as ever. Both guys are swinging pretty wildly now. Safarov’s knee practically goes out but the dude keeps on swinging, and he manages to clip Villante with a BIG LEFT HAND that wobbles his legs! Safarov comes forward now looking to finish, and he drops Villante with a right hand, but Villante pops right back up as we’re descending into a brawl now. Both guys look tired. Big punches land for both men. Takedown attempt from Safarov finally switches things up, but Villante blocks it and shrugs him off. Safarov’s left leg looks fucked. Big right hand connects for him though. Wild exchange continues until the buzzer. That was crazy. 10-9 Villante for doing more damage but he took some serious shots too.

Between rounds Safarov can barely get to his stool because of his knee issue, and the doctor decides to check him over as his eye is a MESS too. And he proves he’s TOTALLY INSANE by fucking SQUATTING to show his knee is apparently okay, before limping and stumbling as soon as the quack is gone. Bizarre.

Villante senses the finish and comes out into the 2nd with a pair of leg kicks, but Safarov doesn’t care and he tags him with a big combination. Can’t fault this guy’s heart. Big combo from Villante ends in a leg kick but Safarov just keeps on swinging. Another hard leg kick lands for the New Yorker. Clinch from Safarov is shrugged off and he eats another jab to the bad eye. Big overhand right lands for Villante. Wild swing misses for Safarov and Villante nails him with a BRUTAL LEFT HOOK and it looks like he might be out on his feet. Somehow he keeps on swinging back though and then shoots weakly, but Villante avoids and lands another leg kick. Two minutes gone and an uppercut and knee land for Villante, but he gets sloppy on a body kick and Safarov catches it and gets him down for a second. Villante reverses up immediately though and Safarov’s left practically crawling for the leg before getting up SLOWLY. Clinch from Villante and he lands a trio of uppercuts, but Safarov just won’t let up. He keeps on swinging, but he eats another hard leg kick and finally Villante opens up with a CRUSHING COMBO, ending with a punch of uppercuts and elbows from the clinch and finally Peterson’s seen enough and stops it with Safarov slumped on the fence.

This was a pretty crazy fight then and I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining, but some guys are too tough for their own good and I’d say Safarov is one of them as really the fight could’ve been stopped due to the knee injury, and how the hell the guy kept on fighting through that but also while he was eating absolute BOMBS from Villante I do not know. I doubt he sees much real success in the UFC but a guy as tough as that will always get more fights. How good that is for his future health is up in the air, of course! Post-fight Villante channels his buddy Al Iaquinta by cutting the sweariest promo I can recall in a long time, and it’s AWESOME of course. Dude still looks like a glass cannon to me but in a thin 205lbs division I guess he’s a borderline top ten fighter and he could do better if only he’d shore up his defense a bit.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Corey Anderson vs Sean O’Connell

After a bit of a weird loss to Shogun in May – personally I had him winning but it wasn’t a great performance regardless – Anderson was being given what looked like a somewhat easier opponent here in O’Connell, who had come off the wrong end of a decision in one of the year’s best fights against Steve Bosse. Despite always being entertaining, O’Connell had never really shown the level of ground skill that I figured he’d need to beat Anderson, and so I was fully behind the TUF winner.

Pre-fight announcer Joe Martinez calls Anderson ‘Overtime’ rather than his old ‘Beastin 25/8’ nickname which is unfortunate. When I heard he was switching it up I was hoping for ‘Beastin 26/9’ personally! Ah well.

Round One opens and O’Connell pushes forward as both guys come up short on some early strikes. O’Connell’s swinging pretty wildly as it goes. Takedown from Anderson but O’Connell springs right back up against the fence. Anderson keeps him pushed into the cage and then he looks to rip the legs out and gets O’Connell down again. O’Connell pops back up but gives his back, and Anderson easily forces him back down where he lands some punches until O’Connell spins over into side mount. Hip escape attempts from O’Connell allow him back to half-guard, but Anderson controls him from there and drops some short punches. Looks like he might be looking for an arm triangle, too. More punches get through for Anderson as he seems to be looking more aggressive than usual. Doesn’t look like O’Connell has anything from his back. Elbows connect for Anderson and he works to keep O’Connell down as he tries to use the fence to get to his feet. One minute to go and Anderson lands more punches as O’Connell gives his back to stand. Another double leg dumps him back down into side mount and Anderson continues to drop elbows. This is becoming brutal. O’Connell gets to half-guard, but he continues to take abuse until the round ends. 10-8 round for Corey Anderson in my book as he totally dominated for the full five minutes.

Round Two and right away Anderson catches a low kick and sweeps O’Connell to the ground. He moves right into half-guard too and goes back to dropping elbows. Anderson slows down a little as he looks to advance position while O’Connell prevents it, but eventually he begins to flurry again with some more hard shots. Full mount for Anderson now and he opens up with some THUDDING SHOTS and the ref calls the fight.

Totally one-sided beatdown for Corey Anderson. O’Connell couldn’t stop the takedown and offered very little from his back, but the big thing here was that Corey showed much more aggression than usual and was able to get O’Connell – a very tough guy – out of there pretty swiftly in the end, a much different approach than his past fights against Jan Blachowicz or Fabio Maldonado for instance. Looks like the bloom might be back on the rose of Anderson as a top prospect then. Post-fight he calls out Nikita Krylov but I don’t think that works now he’s lost to Misha Cirkunov. Maybe let him fight OSP next, assuming OSP gets past Blachowicz? If he keeps this sort of aggression up he could definitely still be a legit contender soon.

-Something I love about these Fight Pass shows? The commercials are all for stuff on Fight Pass like the quality ‘Where Are They Now’ series. We’re now getting a bunch of the former UK fighters on it like Nick Osipczak, Jess Liaudin, Mark Weir and Rosi Sexton which looks AWESOME. Did not expect to see Slick Nick on a UFC broadcast again!

Heavyweight Fight: Francis Ngannou vs Anthony Hamilton

This was the fight I was looking forward to the most on this card, as after seeing his first three UFC fights, I thought Ngannou could become a legitimate title contender in the near future, especially after he was able to stop the takedowns of another hot prospect and hulking wrestler in Curtis Blaydes. Hamilton was coming off an impressive win of his own over Damien Grabowski – knocking him out in seconds – but he’d struggled with superior athletes before (Todd Duffee for example) and I figured Ngannou would be able to handle him with relative ease. Prior to the fight Brian Stann mentions Ngannou’s hooked up with the Blackzilians too which is SCARY.

We begin and they circle around and both guys look pretty patient. Very little action in the opening minute before Hamilton catches a leg kick and gets a takedown. Ngannou rolls through and gets back up, but he gives his back and Hamilton goes for a suplex. Ngannou blocks that and winds up with his back against the cage, but from there he laces up Hamilton’s left arm in a standing kimura and he MUSCLES HAMILTON DOWN AND LOCKS IT UP FOR THE TAPOUT!

Holy shit was that impressive. Hamilton isn’t top ten or anything but he’s a huge, strong HW and not only did Ngannou basically toss him to his back using brute power with that kimura, but he didn’t even need to step over the head to finish the submission off! I mean shit, even guys like Frank Mir always had to step over to get a kimura fully locked in. This guy must be ridiculously strong. I’m going out on a limb right now and saying that he’ll either be in a title fight or holding the HW title by the end of 2018. He is absolutely the real deal. Needs to work on his English a bit though as it still sounds heavily broken in his post-fight interview. He does manage to call out Andrei Arlovski, Travis Browne and Mark Hunt though and while it might be a bit cruel to Andrei at this point I’d make that fight. Could make Ngannou into a legit star if he wins.

Heavyweight Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

To me this was a weird main event, mainly because Lewis had not only beaten two fighters above Abdurakhimov in the rankings, but Abdurakhimov hadn’t had a televised fight to this point in the UFC and his three previous fights had hardly been barn-burners. I get wanting to build Lewis up as he’s a character (big, scary dude who hits hard), but his cancelled fight with Marcin Tybura sounded much better than this one. I was just hoping for a quick Black Beast knockout personally.

Round One begins and Abdurakhimov circles on the outside before catching a wild high kick and getting a takedown to side mount. That was pretty sloppy from Lewis. Americana attempt from Shamil but he can’t finish it and so he switches to a straight armlock instead. Back to the Americana but Lewis muscles his way to his feet. Abdurakhimov stays on him and forces him back down, then grabs a rear waistlock as Lewis gets back up again. Big USA chant from the crowd as Shamil goes for another single leg, but Lewis avoids it. They muscle for position inside the clinch and Shamil keeps Lewis firmly pressed into the cage. They break off and Lewis stalks forward, but he misses with a big uppercut. Abdurakhimov is throwing basically nothing. Right hand leads to a clinch from Lewis but Shamil spins him into the fence and lands some knees to the legs. One minute left and they break off, and another leg kick is caught by Abdurakhimov who uses it to force Lewis down to his back in guard again. Into half-guard for Abdurakhimov and then he passes into full mount, but he can’t do anything from there before the end of the round. 10-9 Abdurakhimov though and a disappointing round for Lewis.

Round Two and Lewis swings his way into a clinch, landing a hard knee to the body, but Abdurakhimov moves him into the fence and lands some elbows to the thigh. Crowd are getting restless now as this is quite the slow pace. Takedown attempt from Shamil but somehow Lewis manages to block it despite his legs being almost together. Referee Dan Miragliotta separates them and Lewis counters a low kick with a clubbing right hand, but it allows Abdurakhimov to clinch and move him into the cage again. Crowd are outright booing now. This fight stinks. They break off and Lewis looks like he might be a bit tired. Wild head kick misses for Lewis. He keeps wiping at his right eye too, according to Brian Stann due to Shamil’s glove catching him in the opening exchange. Body kick is caught by Abdurakhimov and he gets Lewis down again into full guard. Very little happens from there as Lewis holds on while Abdurakhimov seems content just to control him from the top. Boos are getting really loud now. Leglock attempt from Lewis (!) but Abdurakhimov avoids it pretty easily. Lewis uses it to get up and lands some uppercuts, but Abdurakhimov keeps hold of his leg and forces him back down, into half-guard this time. Round ends with Shamil on top. 10-9 Abdurakhimov again.

Round Three and Abdurakhimov looks much more confident now. Kick from Lewis is caught again and Abdurakhimov gets a takedown, but Lewis explodes back up and glances on an uppercut. Flurry from Lewis connects as he catches Shamil leaning for a possible takedown, but the Dagestani quickly circles out of range. Looks like Lewis is basically looking for the one-hit knockout. Crowd are furious with this to say the least. Left hook glances for Abdurakhimov and he takes a short elbow from Lewis. Clinch from Lewis now and he moves Shamil into the fence, looking for a takedown of his own, but Abdurakhimov blocks it. We’re halfway through the round now and a spinning backfist misses for Abdurakhimov, but he avoids a wild haymaker from Lewis and takes him down into side mount. Lewis manages to get to full guard as Abdurakhimov continues to do very little from the top. He’s clearly winning, though. One minute to go and Dan Miragliotta stands them up, and Lewis pushes forward as Shamil tries desperately to stay out of range. Big Dan then decides to call time to give Abdurakhimov a warning for timidity, which is INSANE as he was clearly setting up a takedown! They restart and Lewis lands a couple of punches from close range as the round ends. 10-9 Abdurakhimov and Lewis needs a finish.

Round Four and Lewis pushes forward and just misses a wild right hand. Head kick from Lewis is caught AGAIN and Abdurakhimov throws him down, but he pops back up and Shamil grabs onto a rear waistlock. They wind up clinched on the fence and Lewis muscles the Dagestani into the cage before breaking off. Takedown attempt again from Abdurakhimov but this time Lewis blocks it and stuns him with some punches including a big uppercut. Abdurakhimov shoves him back into the fence again, before breaking with an elbow. This is a really bad fight, wow. Both guys miss on some punches and Abdurakhimov shoots again, but Lewis blocks it and lands on him with a knee. Weak spin kick misses for Shamil. Another knee connects for Lewis as Abdurakhimov comes forward. Clinch from Lewis and this time he drops for the takedown and gets Abdurakhimov onto his back. Lewis passes to side mount right away and begins to drop BOMBS, and it looks like Abdurakhimov’s got nothing from his back. Knee-on-belly for Lewis and then he secures full mount and from there he flurries with some heavy shots for the TKO.

Bad, bad main event. Post-fight Lewis seems to know it as well, admitting he had a terrible performance and saying because it was his first five-rounder he tried to pace himself, but the whole thing was bullshit. Fair play to the guy for being honest. This was meant to be a showcase for Lewis but in the end it didn’t turn out that way despite him picking up the TKO, as Abdurakhimov continually caught his kicks and took him down with little answer until the fourth round. Not sure what Lewis’s gameplan was, but for me it just points to the fact that while he’s a massively dangerous guy due to his power, he’s probably not going to make it to the top five any time soon. Compare this fight to say, Ngannou’s performance against Curtis Blaydes – a bigger guy than Abdurakhimov and a far superior wrestler – and it’s pretty clear who the hotter prospect is. This to me was probably the worst main event of 2016.

-Brian and Jon wrap up the night’s action as they actually have time due to the event being on Fight Pass (!) and we end with a plug for UFC 206.

Final Thoughts….

This was actually a decent show considering the lack of hype and name value going in. We got a pretty wild – if sloppy – fight between Villante and Safarov, a good performance from Corey Anderson and then a really impressive showing from Francis Ngannou with both of those guys picking up finishes. Main event wasn’t very good at all which brings the overall rating down a lot, but it’s worth checking out the show up until that point. Thumbs mildly up.

Best Fight: Villante vs. Safarov
Worst Fight: Lewis vs. Abdurakhimov

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: