MMA Review: #580: UFC on Fox: VanZant vs. Waterson

-If any card could sum up the somewhat odd state of the UFC in 2016 then this was the one. While it was still a good looking card on paper, we had Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson as the main event and Mickey Gall vs. Sage Northcutt as the co-main event, leaving Urijah Faber’s retirement fight – in Sacramento nonetheless – third in the pecking order. Sure, the word was that Faber wanted the UFC to showcase some younger talent, but when that younger talent is Mickey Gall and Sage Northcutt, who are there for their looks and beating CM Punk rather than being top-level prospects right now, it sort of grinds on you. I get using PVZ in the main event due to her mainstream appeal from Dancing with the Stars, but Faber at least deserved the co-main spot. Ah well.

UFC on Fox: VanZant vs. Waterson

12/17/16
Sacramento, California

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Brian Stann.

Welterweight Fight: Alan Jouban vs Mike Perry

This one looked like a fun fight of strikers to open the card, as Perry had started his UFC career with two nasty knockouts while Jouban is one of those guys who guarantees fireworks, and he’d beaten Belal Muhammad in a really exciting fight in his last outing. I was pulling for Jouban just because Perry comes off like a bit of a scumbag to me (and he might be a scumbag in fact as he’s a former burglar) but with his penchant for being hit and Perry carrying vicious power, I was worried for him. On a side note, with PVZ and Waterson in the main event and Sage Northcutt on the card too, the addition of Jouban – a model on the side – definitely made this the prettiest card in UFC history!

They circle to begin and Perry really pushes forward as Jouban stays on the outside. Big right to the body from Perry but he gets stunned by a left hand and Jouban follows with a trio of hard head kicks that Perry just about blocks. Good leg kick from Jouban. Body kick connects too as Perry misses on a couple of haymakers. Jouban’s movement is looking excellent so far. Leg kick connects for Perry but Jouban fires back with one of his own. Perry continues to chase forward, but he takes a head kick. Flurry from Perry allows him to close the distance but Jouban gets hold of him and takes the back standing before looking to drag him down. Perry does well to stay standing but Jouban switches to a bodylock and dumps him to the ground. Nice reversal from Perry allows him to stand, and he gets back to swinging, but Jouban stays out of range and lands another kick. Nice counter left into a knee from Jouban and he follows with a knee, but Perry fires back with an overhand right. Wild head kick lands for Perry and he tries to follow with some bombs, but Jouban slows him down briefly with a clinch. Beautiful body kick lands cleanly for Jouban as Perry charges forward. Perry catches him with something though and forces him on the retreat a bit. Flying knee misses for Perry but he takes a hard leg kick. Clinch is shrugged off by Jouban and he fires off a partially blocked head kick. Round ends there. 10-9 Jouban for me, he did the better work standing.

Perry again pushes forward to open the second round, but Jouban throws some more kicks to the body and remains out of range. Couple of leg kicks connect for Jouban and he dodges a counter. Sharp body kick lands for Jouban. Perry continues to stalk forward but he seems to be struggling to land anything. Good low kick does connect for him though. Perry manages to force Jouban into the fence, but he gets stunned by a left hand and Jouban opens up on him with a combo. Takedown attempt follows but Perry works to defend it. He lands some elbows to the head of Jouban and breaks free, but walks into a couple more counters from Jouban. Two minutes to go and a huge head kick narrowly misses for Perry. Body kick connects for Perry but Jouban avoids the follow-ups. Pair of kicks to the body land for Jouban in reply. More of the same follows as Perry just can’t seem to break Jouban’s rhythm. BIG LEFT HAND connects for Jouban basically from nowhere, and Perry goes down with seconds to go! Jouban pounces and looks to finish, and Perry gets up but he’s clearly wobbled. Jouban smartly doesn’t get too wild though and he throws a glancing head kick to end the round. Another one in the books for Jouban and now Perry needs a finish.

Perry opens the third round with a side kick to the body, and then he follows with a few low kicks that Jouban shakes his head at. This is such a smart gameplan from Jouban as he’s not letting Perry draw him into a brawl at all. Perry continues to try to close him down and catch him against the fence, but Jouban keeps on moving and gets away to land a couple more kicks. Head kick lands for Jouban and he manages to free his leg when Perry catches it. Looks like Perry might be a bit tired too as he isn’t winging as many haymakers. Jouban is basically picking him apart with low and body kicks. Beautiful combination lands clean for Jouban. Head kick into a left hand follows. Perry’s just got no answer for this level of striking. Another body kick lands hard for Jouban. Left hand follows that up as he continues to pick Perry off. Crowd begin to boo somewhat as Jouban ends the round with a nice combination and a missed cartwheel kick. Got to be 30-27 for Jouban really.

Judges have it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Alan Jouban. Couldn’t really get that one wrong. Fight wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as I was hoping but that was down to a super-smart gameplan from Jouban as he refused to allow Perry to draw him into a shootout and instead he stayed on the outside and used his movement, length and overall striking skill to basically outclass the lesser experienced fighter from start to finish. One of Jouban’s best UFC performances to date in fact. As for Perry I’m sure he’ll be back but after seeing this it’s clear he needs to work on his overall game as he can’t rely purely on his power as he moves up the ladder.

Bantamweight Fight: Urijah Faber vs Brad Pickett

When this one was announced it sounded like a good fight for Faber at this stage in his career as he’d looked past his best in his September loss to Jimmie Rivera, and Pickett is equally past his prime now coming off a handful of losses himself. The fight then took on a new dimension when Faber announced that he’d be retiring afterwards win or lose, ending a legendary career dating back to 2003. With the show taking place in Faber’s hometown of Sacramento it basically guaranteed a red-hot atmosphere, and despite Pickett being a fellow Brit I couldn’t help but want the California Kid to pull the win out. He seemed like the smart pick too as Pickett had looked far more shot than Faber, who also figured to have a big speed advantage.

Faber gets one of the all-time monster crowd pops here, probably even bigger than his WEC ones against Pulver, Brown and Aldo although that could be different crowd mic’ing for all I know. Still, they’re LOUD.

Round One begins and both men come up short on their early strikes. Crowd are chanting LOUDLY for Urijah right away. Front kick to the body lands for Faber. Big left hook misses for Pickett and Faber counters on him with a glancing one-two. Clinch is shrugged off by the Brit. Looks like Faber is indeed much quicker than Pickett. Low kick drops Urijah for a second but he pops up instantly. Clinch from Faber but again Pickett breaks off quickly. Quick combination glances for Urijah. Beautiful right hand lands cleanly for Faber and he dodges Pickett’s counter. Low single leg follows but Pickett avoids it and goes for a takedown of his own. Faber works to defend, but Pickett forces him down to one knee and then gets him on his back. Faber goes into a crucifix position from the bottom, but Pickett spins into top position only for Urijah to explode to his feet, and from there he DECKS PICKETT WITH A LEFT! Looks like Pickett’s out too as his right arm folds behind his back and everything, but Urijah is slightly slow with his follow-up and Big John McCarthy lets it go despite Faber dribbling Pickett’s head off the ground with more punches. Pickett gives his back and Faber gets both hooks in and looks for the choke, but he can’t sink it and so he just goes back to BOMBING on the Brit’s head with heavy punches. This could easily be stopped. Faber continues to land and then goes back to the choke attempt, but Pickett rolls and ends up mounted. Looks like he’s bleeding badly. He gives his back again to avoid eating more elbows, and Faber ends the round in back control. 10-8 round for Faber and really the fight should’ve been stopped.

Round Two and Pickett looks like he’s recovered well to be fair. He comes forward throwing punches, but eats a crisp jab from Faber who follows with a left hand and then a nice step-in knee. Good low kick responds for Pickett but Faber fires back with one of his own. Another low kick lands for Pickett and Faber stumbles slightly. He seems fine though. Takedown attempt is avoided by Pickett. Right hand lands hard for Faber but Pickett takes it well this time. Knee lands for Pickett but Faber catches the leg and takes him down into guard. Announcers are literally calling Faber a lock for the Hall of Fame and they’re not wrong. Pickett does well to tie him up from the guard, but he still eats a couple of shots. Reversal attempt from Pickett but Faber grabs a front headlock to control him and then he forces him back down. Slick move allows Faber to take the back with no hooks from there, but he slips off and Pickett escapes to his feet. 1:30 to go now and they trade some punches with both men landing. Low kick is almost caught by Faber but Pickett gets away. Right hand lands for Faber and then he shoves Pickett down and then latches onto a guillotine in a scramble, but the Brit manages to escape and quickly pops back up to his feet. Good work from Pickett there. His face is a mess though. They exchange from distance with Pickett landing on a left hook, but Faber gets hold of him and takes his back again to end the round. 10-9 Faber.

Round Three and Faber glances on a left head kick to open the round. He shoots in to follow and Pickett tries to stuff it, but gets tossed down into guard. Pickett looks for a guillotine but Faber frees his head relatively easily and from there he goes to work with a couple of elbows. Pickett looks to escape, but Faber gets him in a front headlock. Good job from Pickett to escape that though and they come back to their feet. Couple of kicks come up short for Faber but he lands a right hand that sets up another takedown. This time he laces both legs together with a figure four and then passes into side mount. Pickett rolls out and tries to escape, but again Faber gets a front headlock. Guillotine attempt follows, but Pickett manages to block the mount and instead Urijah ends up in side mount. Half-guard now for Pickett but he’s still taking some shots. Big elbows connect for Faber. Reversal attempt from Pickett is met with a big flurry, but a second one is successful and he’s on his feet. Head kick misses for Faber and Pickett counters with a left hand that drops him, but he pops right back up and doesn’t seem rocked. One minute to go and Pickett lands with a couple of low kicks, but Faber shoots again and drives him into the fence. He can’t get the takedown but he does land a knee to the body on the way out. Couple of wild hooks miss for Pickett with seconds to go, and Faber catches a kick and gets the back again before dragging the Brit down. Pickett escapes though and ends the round on top. Round goes to Faber and I’ve got it for him 30-26. Vintage performance actually!

Official scores are 30-26 all round for Urijah Faber. Massive pop for the announcement. Post-fight Faber pays tribute to the fans, Pickett, the UFC, and he says that he’s ready to move on to the future before putting over PVZ and Cody Garbrandt. Classy stuff all round. This was an amazing way for Faber to go out as he actually looked better than he’s done in ages – probably since his last great run in 2013 – but I don’t think it was any coincidence that this performance came against a guy in Pickett who’s probably ready for retirement himself. Not to take anything away from Urijah, though – it’s far better to go out like this, on your own terms, while still ranked in the top ten of your division than to slide down the ladder like most fighters do. As far as his legacy? Better writers than me will write better things about him, but basically without Urijah Faber the lighter weight classes probably would never have gotten the exposure that they have today and so the big stars right now – McGregor, Holloway, Aldo, Cruz et al have a lot to thank him for. He’s a pioneer and a legend just as much as the likes of Gracie and Coleman were in the early years and Shamrock and Ortiz were during the Dark Ages. And I’ll miss him hugely. Fight was great just as you’d always expect from Urijah Faber – and Brad Pickett too, to be fair.

Welterweight Fight: Mickey Gall vs Sage Northcutt

Gall had of course called out Northcutt following his one-sided beatdown of CM Punk in September, and while it sounded like a pretty reasonable fight to make I didn’t actually expect the UFC to put it together, largely because Northcutt had been fighting more at 155lbs than at 170lbs, and I didn’t see the brass wanting either man to lose just yet. I guess they figured that it was probably less risky to put them against one another than against live opponents though given their inexperience and rawness. As far as a pick went, despite Northcutt being more proven – while Frank Trevino, Cody Pfister and Enrique Marin aren’t world beaters they’re better than Michael Jackson and CM Punk! – I was actually taking Gall as I just had a suspicion that he was the real deal somehow.

Pre-fight Brian Stann mentions that Gall has been up in Canada training with Firas Zahabi at Tri-Star for this fight as well as in New Jersey with his usual camp, and that’s fascinating as Sage had a period of time training with Tri-Star too before migrating back to his father, who I’ve heard nothing but bad stuff about. Gall also carries himself like a total superstar, the guy just has the ‘it’ factor for sure.

Round One begins and they circle with both men gauging the distance. Quick flurry from both men as Gall looks to clinch. Northcutt lands a knee, but Gall drives through with a double leg and puts him on his back in guard. Rubber guard attempt from Sage but it doesn’t look correctly in and Mickey passes into half-guard. Looks like Gall wants to set up some sort of choke as he’s lacing Sage’s head up, and he lands a knee to the body for good measure. Mount attempt from Gall but Northcutt blocks it. Side mount is more successful though and Sage just looks lost. He manages to explode, but Gall grabs onto a guillotine and goes to his back. It doesn’t look totally locked, mainly because he’s not got full guard, but Mickey keeps wrenching on it and it seems to be getting tighter. Sage manages to separate the hands though and now he takes top position from half-guard. Gall kicks him away and in an odd moment he ends up facing away from Sage while still on his back, so Sage drops a big hammer fist onto him and then stands over him as he spins. Few kicks to the legs from Sage and now he’s TALKING SHIT, never expected to see that! More trash talk follows as Sage channels his inner Diaz before landing a body kick. This is hilarious. Low kick is caught by Gall and he takes Sage down again, landing in full guard. Sage’s takedown defense needs a ton of work methinks. Couple of punches get through for Gall, but nothing too major. Oma plata attempt from Sage is avoided easily and Gall manages to take full mount to end the round. Easy 10-9 for Gall as he owned Sage on the ground.

Round Two and Gall lands with a left hand as Sage looks to cut some angles. Right hand lands for Sage and he follows with a left that drops Gall, who recovers quickly and goes into the butt-scoot. Sage won’t go to the ground with him and calls him up instead, and so Mickey gets back up and they exchange with Sage landing another clean left hook. Looks like Gall is cut. He clinches, but Sage looks to shrug him off….only to eat a BIG RIGHT HOOK and now Sage goes down! He shoots out of desperation, but Gall sprawls and in a slick transition he spins and takes the back with both hooks and then a body triangle! Northcutt’s in trouble and Gall works for the choke and SINKS IT IN, and Sage taps out there.

Post-fight Gall says he’s considering dropping to 155lbs, but then he calls out Dan Hardy in a bit of an odd move considering there’s hardly been that much talk of an Outlaw comeback recently, but hey, Hardy’s a name I guess so fair play. Dude has a ton of charisma at any rate and while he’s still very raw judging by this – he clowned Sage on the mat but still didn’t look perfect and he clearly needs work on his stand-up – he has a lot of potential and working with Firas is only going to make him improve quickly. Keep him away from the wolves for the time being and WME probably have a future star. As for Sage, I don’t want to sound too scathing because he’s so young and clearly has room to grow, but I think even at this point he needs to move to a different camp if he wants to live up to his potential, as this was another fight where he looked pretty bad on the ground. Moving back to Tri-Star if they’ll have him again wouldn’t be a bad idea actually. If he doesn’t, to see him become a bit of a bust in the near future wouldn’t surprise me. Fight was fun though and to be frank it didn’t feel too sloppy to be on a UFC show like some were fearing.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Paige VanZant vs Michelle Waterson

Let’s not beat around the bush here, WME clearly matched these two up for the main event based more around their looks than their fighting skill. Not that either woman is a bad fighter by any means of course – I’d say both deserve to be in the top ten – but there was no promoting it as a possible title contender’s match or anything. But hey, both girls always put on exciting fights and draw eyeballs so it made sense for them to be in the spot. As far as a pick went, despite people in the know largely perceiving Waterson as being the more skilled fighter, most were siding with Paige due to her large size advantage and tremendous gas tank, and I was leaning in the same direction.

Fight begins and Waterson throws out a side kick to the body as PVZ circles on the outside. Nice counter right hand lands for Waterson before PVZ comes back with a side kick to the body of her own. More circling from Paige as Waterson throws out a couple more side kicks. Another counter right hand lands for Waterson as VanZant looks to close her down, and she avoids another clinch attempt. Clinch from PVZ and she tries a head-and-arm throw, but Waterson avoids and forces her into the fence where they exchange knees inside. SICK head-and-arm throw from Waterson puts Paige on her back, and as she tries to scramble the Karate Hottie takes her back with a body triangle! Wow that was slick. Waterson immediately begins to work for the choke and eventually sinks it in TIGHT, and rather than tap Paige passes out, forcing Big John McCarthy to step in.

Basically a flawless performance from Waterson, then, as she dominated Paige on the ground and didn’t have any issues taking the fight there either despite PVZ’s supposed size and strength advantage. It seems like people are basically writing VanZant off after this fight but I don’t buy that myself, she was just beaten cleanly by a far superior fighter who may well be a legitimate title contender right now. In fact, given that this show drew massive ratings for Fox and there’s no legitimate #1 contender right now (Gadelha’s lost twice to the champ, Aguilar is on the shelf, Esparza’s lost to the champ too) I wouldn’t be opposed to just giving Waterson the next shot at Joanna Jedrzejczyk. I know Jessica Andrade is up there too but let’s be honest, she won’t draw nearly as many eyeballs as the Karate Hottie challenging for the belt would. As for this fight, it was massively one-sided as Paige was never given a chance to get out of first gear, but it was a lot of fun too.

-Show wraps up there as we head back to the Fox studios.

Final Thoughts….

This was a good show but for some reason it didn’t feel all that memorable, I guess because the biggest moment of the night – Faber’s retirement – was slap-bang in the middle of the show. Still, we got a star-making performance from Michelle Waterson, a fun fight between Jouban and Perry, Northcutt/Gall was fine for what it was and the Faber fight was tremendous to watch. It’s a thumbs up from me even if I still maintain the card order was wrong.

Best Fight: Faber vs. Pickett
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com