MMA Review: #598: UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis

-The UFC’s debut in Missouri (finally!), this show was one of the best on paper of 2017 thus far, despite the main event of Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis seeming a bit one-sided to most. With the UFC in dire need of a great show following a handful of stinkers recently – most notably the bigger PPVs – it looked like this could be the one to deliver.

UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis

Kansas City, Missouri

-Your hosts are Jon Anik</b and Brian Stann.

Featherweight Fight: Jeremy Stephens vs Renato Moicano

This was a bit of an odd choice for an opener as the card had stuff like Volkov/Nelson and Duquesnoy/Williams on the prelims, but then I guess the UFC brass love Jeremy Stephens because most of the time his fights are exciting, so no issue here. Moicano hadn’t fought since May 2016 although he’d looked good in his two UFC fights, one win over Tom Niinimaki and one over Zubaira Tukhugov. I was leaning towards Stephens though just because Moicano had been so sporadic.

Fight begins and Moicano opens immediately with a pair of leg kicks. Spin kick misses for Moicano as both men throw out some strikes that don’t really land. Head kick glances for Moicano and he gets out of range as Stephens fires back. More kicks land for Moicano and he again does well to get out of range. Big right hand is blocked by the Brazilian and another one is avoided too. Moicano is doing a great job thus far. Wild swings miss for Stephens and Moicano counters with a hard right hand. Few more low kicks from Moicano before Stephens fires back with one of his own. Stephens finally catches Moicano moving out with a right hand, but the Brazilian doesn’t seem hurt by it. Exchange continues with Stephens landing a few more, but Moicano backs him up with a stiff jab. Nice takedown from Moicano with 1:30 remaining and he drops into the full guard. Good pass from Moicano allows him into half-guard as Stephens tries to tie up the left arm for a kimura. He can’t get it though and the round ends with Moicano on top. Pretty clearly 10-9 for Renato Moicano.

2nd round and Moicano opens with a couple more low kicks and avoids another right hand haymaker. More big swings from Stephens fail to land and then he switches things up and shoots, but Moicano manages to defend it brilliantly before cracking Stephens with a hard overhand right. Big combo from Stephens backs the Brazilian up and he shoots, but Stephens defends it well. Stephens pushes forward again and lands with a low kick, and then both men land some punches before Stephens nails him with another low kick. Nice body kick answers back for Moicano. Big combo again backs the Brazilian into the fence, but he’s okay and he circles back out. Very even exchange continues as Moicano’s moving a little slower now. Stephen is really walking him down. Crowd boo loudly as Moicano outright runs away from a Stephens flurry. Beautiful jab lands for the Brazilian but Stephens fires back with a low kick. Both men are still landing nicely here. Couple of big swings glance for Stephens. Stephens keeps on stalking forward but he’s only glancing on the blows. Wild pair of kicks miss for Moicano. Good right hand from Moicano right before the round ends. 10-9 Stephens for me as it was an even round, but he was clearly the aggressor.

3rd round and they trade in the opening seconds before Moicano gets a bodylock and a trip takedown to full guard. Smart work from Moicano as there’s just no point trading with a dude like Stephens. He passes into half-guard, but Stephens escapes to his feet only to eat a big right hand on the way. Looks like Moicano’s movement is better in this round again already as he circles out after landing a body kick. Jabs connect for both men and Stephens is really swinging like crazy now. He’s just not setting them up though which is allowing Moicano to avoid them. Takedown attempt from the Brazilian is blocked nicely. Exchange continues and Stephens continues to swing for the bleachers. Brief clinch is broken by Moicano, and they exchange low kicks. Big low kick from Moicano buckles Stephens for a second but he recovers quickly. Stephens is all busted up around his eyes from Moicano’s punches. Another jog from Moicano earns some boos, but it’s a smart tactic to be fair. More of the same follows as Moicano continues to circle out and pick at Stephens, who can’t land his haymaker. Less than a minute to go now and I’d say Stephens needs a knockout. He can’t catch the Brazilian though and Moicano keeps circling out much to the disgust of the crowd. Round ends with a decent combo from Stephens, but I’d go 10-9 for Moicano giving him a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28 Moicano, 29-28 Stephens, and 29-28 for Renato Moicano to pick up the split decision. Crowd don’t seem happy with it at all but I’m with the judges – well, two of them at least – as you should be able to win a fight by picking at a dude while circling out like Moicano did here. It’s a smart gameplan against a dude like Stephens. Not sure where Moicano goes now – Stephens’ #5 ranking coming in was a bit inflated I’d say, but a fight with someone like Ricardo Lamas could make sense I guess? This was a decent fight if nothing spectacular anyway.

Middleweight Fight: Jacare Souza vs Robert Whittaker

I was really surprised when this one was announced for the show as I figured Jacare would try to sit out for a title shot, but then Middleweight is such a mess right now at the top thanks to the whole Bisping/GSP debacle so I guess getting in there again made sense. Really risky fight for him in Whittaker though who had won five in a row since dropping to 185lbs and seemed like a tricky task for the Brazilian thanks to his crushing striking power. Most were going with Jacare but I just had a feeling Whittaker would hurt him standing and like Chuck Liddell for instance, Whittaker’s the type of guy who just doesn’t mess around when it comes to taking out a stunned opponent.

Round One begins and Souza takes the center of the cage as Whittaker circles on the outside. Couple of pawing left hands glance for Whittaker as he circles to avoid being closed down by Jacare. Lunging left hand glances for the Aussie but Jacare looks fine. Clinch from Souza is quickly broken and he follows with a takedown attempt, but Whittaker stuffs it. Circling continues for Whittaker and he’s keeping his hands low too, clearly to look to stop the takedown. Wheel kick misses for Jacare. Clinch from Souza and he forces the Aussie into the fence, then drops for a takedown and manages to get it, rolling Whittaker over, but the Aussie shows tremendous scrambling skill and manages to roll free, using a whizzer to get to his feet! Trip takedown follows but Whittaker turns his back and manages to get to his feet again, throwing the Brazilian over the top of his shoulder! Big crowd pop as Whittaker escapes free. Jab lands for Whittaker and then he follows with a right hand and shoves Souza down before the Brazilian pops up. Big right hand narrowly misses for Jacare. Uppercut lands well for Whittaker who quickly dodges the counters. Big right hand connects for Jacare twice but Whittaker circles out again. Both men glance on front kicks before a big right hook misses for Souza. Nice right hand lands for Whittaker as he avoids a clinch. Seconds to go and Whittaker continues to get the better of the striking exchange here. Round ends with a Whittaker combo. Awesome round for Whittaker; 10-9.

Round Two and Whittaker looks confident, dancing on the outside as Jacare pushes forward. Left hook glances for the Aussie as Jacare has to back up. HUGE RIGHT HAND suddenly lands and drops Jacare like a ton of bricks, and Whittaker pounces, but can’t finish and so he stands back up. Smart move as Jacare looks wobbly as hell when he gets up. He tries to swing back and then shoots, but Whittaker easily avoids it and clips him with a combo. Big uppercut lands for Whittaker and Souza is hurt again. He tries to fire back, but a head kick wobbles him badly and he backs up. Souza is in big trouble. Whittaker keeps on landing right through the defences of the Brazilian, and another combo buckles his legs. Big left hand connects and then an overhand right follows. Nice left hook from the Aussie. He’s so patient too, not getting crazy at all looking to finish. Just over two minutes to go and Whittaker continues to stalk, landing a big head kick that puts Jacare on roller skates! This time a follow-up combo puts him down and Whittaker smells the finish, landing a bunch of punches from the top as Souza tries to get up. More BIG SHOTS land though and Mario Yamasaki finally calls it as Jacare rolls to his knees! Unbelievable.

Best win of Robert Whittaker’s career by a MILE. Doesn’t do much to remove the logjam at 185lbs as he’s basically nicked Jacare’s spot in deserving a title shot now, but man was this awesome to watch. Souza just looked too slow on the feet to deal with Whittaker and as soon as the Aussie managed the ground escape in the first round you could see which way this fight was going. The most impressive thing? Plenty of fighters would’ve gotten wild after dropping Jacare like Whittaker did, and that could’ve been costly, but instead Whittaker played it smart, kept on landing and then went for the kill when he knew Jacare wasn’t getting back up. Phenomenal stuff. As for Jacare, I guess it’s back to the drawing board which is sad given the run he was on, but he just signed a new deal with the UFC so hopefully he’ll be okay financially regardless.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Rose Namajunas vs Michelle Waterson

This was basically an unofficial #1 contender’s fight, as Waterson had picked up a huge win to end 2016 by choking out Paige VanZant, while Namajunas was looking likely for a title shot in 2016 herself before a close loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz derailed her. Tight one to call too given the skills of both women but I was leaning slightly towards the more technical style of the Karate Hottie over the wild offense of Thug Rose.

First round gets started and they fire off on some feeler strikes looking to gauge the distance. Couple of punches glance for Rose to answer some low kicks from Waterson. Hook kick lands to the face for Waterson and she gets a headlock takeover to put Rose on her back. Namajunas looks like she’s going to attempt to take the back from the position, but Waterson keeps hold of the headlock to control her. She can’t keep the position though and in a slick move Rose manages to slap both hooks in to control the back. Full nelson (?) from Rose and then she spins over into top position only for Waterson to get to full guard. Waterson looks for rubber guard to keep control from the bottom, then lets it go as Rose isn’t doing much from the top anyway. She does begin to work through with some hard elbows though, so Waterson goes for an armbar. Namajunas defends it well and begins to land some more solid shots, before the Karate Hottie reverses to her feet. Sweet elbow from Rose breaks the clinch before Waterson hits her with a front kick to the leg. Combo misses for Waterson and Namajunas nails her with a counter right hand. They clinch and Waterson lands a hard knee to the body, but Namajunas takes her down into guard again and ends the round on top. 10-9 round for Rose.

Second round and Rose comes out in a taunting stance before dodging a telegraphed takedown attempt. They trade some kicks that don’t really land and then Waterson does land one cleanly to the body. Front kick connects to the chest too but Rose is really pushing forward swinging. Nice low kick from Rose and she dodges the clinch. Solid right from Waterson but Rose comes back with one of her own and DECKS HER WITH A HUGE RIGHT HEAD KICK! Waterson looks out but somehow comes around when she hits the ground, but Rose takes side mount and now Waterson’s in trouble. Big shots connect for Rose from the top as Waterson desperately tries to control her from guard. Into half-guard for Namajunas and she lands some more nasty shots before taking the back in a scramble and as they stand she slaps both hooks in! Rear naked choke looks sunk, and Waterson desperately tries to fight it off before tapping out.

Amazing showing from Rose Namajunas; she outworked Waterson on the ground in the first round and then took advantage of the side-on karate stance of Waterson in the second to land that head kick, and basically that was the fight over as Waterson was fighting on instinct from the moment she hit the ground. Disappointing for the Karate Hottie but I’m sure she can bounce back. As for Namajunas she’s clearly the top contender right now and hopefully Joanna Jedrzejczyk can beat Jessica Andrade next week because Rose/Joanna sounds like HOT FIRE. This was a great fight.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Wilson Reis

This one was originally pegged for UFC 201 back in July, but Johnson ended up injured and then had to defend against TUF winner Tim Elliott first, so Reis reeled off a couple more wins in the interim, taking his record to 5-1 at 125lbs to cement his title shot. Despite the record he was still a huge underdog – the biggest one on this card – just because Johnson’s basically the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport right now and the Brazilian just didn’t look anywhere near good enough to dethrone him.

Round One begins and Johnson presses forward and opens with a leg kick before dodging a combo from Reis. Big head kick glances for Johnson but Reis seems fine. Johnson’s movement is just crazy good. Nice inside leg kick lands for the champ. Quick right hand from Johnson forces Reis to slip and he follows with a combo. Nice right-left combo lands for Johnson. Body kick follows but Reis almost catches it. Wild swings miss for Reis. Kick is caught by Reis and he takes Johnson down, but the champ immediately uses a whizzer to pop back up to his feet. Right high kick lands for Johnson and it looks like he’s moving at a different speed to Reis despite the Brazilian really pushing forward. More strikes from the outside land for Johnson and he really opens up with a combo with about 1:30 remaining. Takedown attempt from Reis is stuffed and Johnson exits the clinch with a knee. Seconds to go and a quick flurry of right hands has Reis hurt momentarily but he recovers well. Round ends with Johnson landing some more. 10-9 for the champ.

Round Two and Johnson clinches early before muscling Reis off. Reis still hasn’t really caught Johnson with anything significant. Few punches land for Johnson who continues to dance around before looking for a single leg. Reis defends and gives his back for a second before escaping. Body kick lands for Johnson. Another quick combo follows. Beautiful clean right hand connects for Johnson. He follows with a clinch and a rear waistlock, but Reis somersaults his way out. Big left hook from Johnson and he dodges a takedown attempt from the Brazilian. Reis is getting absolutely owned here. Kick is caught by Reis and he does land a right hand though, probably his best of the fight thus far. Johnson remains undeterred though and continues to land with another combo, and then a big body kick. Another combo has Reis quickly covering up. One minute to go and Reis gets really cracked with a hard left hand. More of the same follows as Johnson continues to pick the challenger apart. Big knee to the body hurts Reis and he goes down, and Johnson pounces with some hammer fists and elbows but can’t finish before the round ends. 10-9 Johnson and that was close to a finish right there.

Round Three and Reis pushes forward to begin, but takes some glancing kicks on his way. Nice left hook lands for Johnson and he stuffs a takedown and then refuses to go to the ground with the Brazilian when he drops to his back. Looks like there’s some swelling round Reis’ right eye. Johnson is still catching him coming in and out, and then he sprawls to stuff another takedown attempt. Reis looks gassed too and he drops to his back again but still can’t get Johnson to follow him down. Body kick lands hard for Johnson. Another one follows and then they trade body kicks before Johnson dances out of range. Johnson is so awesome. Reis keeps on missing with most of his strikes, and with two minutes to go DJ clips him with a right and tackles him down, instantly passing into half-guard. Reis kicks him away but Johnson lands a right hand and then drops back into side mount, and now the challenger’s in big trouble. He looks busted up too. Johnson works from side mount but Reis works to guard only to eat some really hard elbows that open a cut on his forehead. Reis looks totally exhausted and Johnson passes into half-guard and then into full mount. Big shots follow before Johnson slaps on a straight armbar, and with seconds on the clock a bloody Reis has to tap. Crowd go APESHIT for the finish too which is cool.

That’s ten successful title defences for Johnson – matching Anderson Silva’s record – and I can’t see any way he doesn’t take an eleventh to be honest as there’s just no 125lber close to him right now. I guess next might be Ray Borg or Joseph Benavidez again but let’s be honest, either guy is going to get slapped around. Johnson is just too damn good right now and for me he’s by far the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound. It still doesn’t look like he’s catching on with the casual fans – this show drew a poor rating which is disappointing – but all he has to do is keep winning really and he’ll make money regardless. Totally one-sided main event but boy was it entertaining due to the sheer skill of Johnson. And the crowd seemed to love it too, so bravo to Kansas City!

-Show ends with some highlights and that’s that.

Final Thoughts….

Awesome show; far better than any of the UFC PPVs thus far this year. We got two breakout performances in two fantastic fights from Namajunas and Whittaker, Mighty Mouse lived up to all expectations in the main with a virtuoso performance again, and while Stephens/Moicano wasn’t great it was a perfectly acceptable opener. Thumbs way up for this one.

Best Fight: Whittaker vs. Jacare
Worst Fight: Stephens vs. Moicano

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: