MMA Review: #606: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXV Finale

-After skipping over TUF 24 and not really feeling like I missed much, I didn’t end up watching TUF 25 either – another ‘Comeback’ season featuring guys from all of the older seasons of TUF – and to be honest again it didn’t feel like I’d missed a lot as the cool old-school names like Joe Stevenson didn’t make it that far, and the finals ended up being Dhiego Lima – who was only cut in 2015! – vs. Jesse Taylor, a comical old-school name to be fair but not one that truly excited me. What DID excite me though was the debut of former WSOF champ Justin Gaethje, who’d finally signed with the UFC and was fighting Michael Johnson in the main event.

UFC: TUF XXV Finale

07/07/17
Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Todd Grisham and Brian Stann.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jordan Johnson vs Marcel Fortuna

Fortuna was coming off that big knockout in February over Anthony Hamilton – at HW nonetheless – while Johnson had debuted with a win over Henrique da Silva back in January. Not sure how this made the main card but eh, I guess the UFC needs to push all the talent they can at 205lbs right now.

Round One begins and Fortuna doesn’t even look big at 205lbs let alone a dude who was fighting up at Heavyweight. Couple of low kicks from Fortuna are countered by a Johnson right hand that sends him down. Johnson follows with some big hammer fists before Fortuna escapes to his feet. This crowd sound DEAD for the record. Action slows down a TON as they circle pretty aimlessly and don’t really throw much at all. Decent combination lands for Johnson in a brief trade. Both men miss some follow-ups though before Johnson gets to a rear waistlock and tries a German suplex. Fence grab prevents that and the fans boo, but the ref ignores it for some reason and allows Johnson to muscle Fortuna into the fence instead. That really ought to be a strong warning at least. They break off and Fortuna lands with a hard leg kick, and follows that with a left. Uppercut follows but Johnson takes it well. Few jabs get through for Johnson and the round ends just after. Probably 10-9 Johnson for me but it was a close round.

Round Two and a head kick misses for Fortuna as Johnson seems content to use his jab some more. Big right hand suddenly stuns Johnson and drops him to a knee, but he recovers quickly and manages to avoid being caught in a front headlock. Both men land decent right hands and Johnson’s beginning to back Fortuna up now. Both guys are throwing some big power shots but neither is really in range to land. Big left hook lands for Fortuna and Johnson looks wobbled again though, and he goes for a takedown that Fortuna defends. Right hand fires back for Johnson to pop the crowd, but they soon settle back into the slow pace. Fortuna’s definitely looking more comfortable in this round though. Another combination stuns Johnson and forces him to drop in for a takedown, but Fortuna stuffs it well and they end up clinched. A fence grab prevents a Johnson takedown, but he keeps working and sweeps the leg to take Fortuna down, where he lands some hammer fists before Fortuna reverses up to end the round. 10-9 Fortuna for me despite that late takedown.

Round Three and Johnson opens with a solid combination that actually forces Fortuna to shoot in. Johnson blocks it well and they break off, and it looks to me like Fortuna might be getting tired. Outside of backing him up though Johnson just isn’t doing all that much still. Some glancing punches land for Fortuna but he’s blowing a lot of energy in swinging them. Low kick lands for Fortuna but Johnson counters on him with some decent shots. Crowd are booing now unsurprisingly as this hasn’t been an inspiring fight at all. Exchanges continue but neither man’s really doing enough to pull away. One minute to go and Johnson looks for the takedown, but Fortuna stuffs it and they end up clinched. They break off, but the round largely peters out standing. 10-9 Johnson slightly I guess for a 29-28.

All three judges have it 29-28 for Jordan Johnson. Pretty dull fight for the most part though as neither man got really aggressive and went for the finish. Can’t really fault them for that with a lot on the line but I’m not sure this really belonged on a UFC main card. Johnson might develop into something special yet I guess but it’s a big question mark right now if you go by this fight.

Middleweight Fight: Elias Theodorou vs Brad Tavares

I was pretty excited for this one as I’m always excited to see Theodorou – one of my favourite fighters – in action, but to be honest I wasn’t sure it’d be a great fight as Tavares has a clinch-heavy style that doesn’t really make for fireworks a lot of the time and Elias had shown flashes of that kind of style at times too.

First round begins and Elias circles on the outside before landing a couple of low kicks. Takedown attempt from Elias is stuffed and Tavares clips him with a left hand on the way out. Exchange leads to a takedown from Tavares, and he pins Theodorou down. Elias turns his back in an attempt to work back up to his feet, but Tavares weighs heavy on him and looks to take the back. Good job from Elias to get back to his feet, but he eats a left on his way out. Few kicks glance for Elias before they clinch and muscle for position, and then exchange shots before breaking off. Nice counter right hand lands for Tavares as Elias tries to pepper him with a combo. Looks like Tavares is packing more power. They clinch up again and Theodorou looks to control a bit from there, but Tavares breaks with a right that Elias answers with a glancing head kick. Nice head kick into a right hand land for Tavares. Few more head kicks glance for Elias and that’s the round. 10-9 Tavares for the bigger shots.

Second round and Tavares looks to have Theodorou a little hurt with a hard low kick early on, and he follows with a hard left hand, but Theodorou catches a kick attempt and gets a German suplex. Tavares pops right back up though and ends up with his back to the fence. Elias drops for a takedown and almost gets it, but a sweet reversal allows Tavares to plant him face-first and then spin up to his feet. They muscle inside the clinch and exchange strikes inside, before breaking off. Nice punches land for both men from close range before Theodorou clinches again. This is a pretty close fight to call. Right elbow breaks for Elias and he catches a low kick and gets Tavares down, but the Hawaiian again pops right back up instantly. Elias gets a front headlock and controls him, but he can’t get any knees to the head off and so he pins him into the fence instead. Beautiful combination ending in a body kick breaks for Elias. Right hand from Tavares sets up a clinch for him, but they break off swiftly. One minute to go and it’s more of the same, with Theodorou looking to apply pressure to Tavares via volume. Glancing head kick ends the round for Tavares. 10-9 Theodorou as he was the busier man in that round for me.

Third round and Tavares comes out swinging, but Elias drops underneath for a takedown and drives him into the fence. The Hawaiian stuffs it really well, but Theodorou keeps going and manages to force him to the ground after a real struggle. Tavares immediately scoots backwards to attempt to get up, and he shows tremendous skill to manage it despite Theodorou desperately trying to keep him down. Elias keeps him pressed into the fence and attempts to bring him down again, and does so, dumping the Hawaiian down. Tavares spins again though and once again gets back up. Theodorou keeps him clinched and lands some knees to the shoulder, then drops for another takedown attempt. This time he hits a nice reversal and almost takes Theodorou’s back, but he can’t quite manage it. Another attempt is successful though and Tavares gets the back with one hook. The second one follows and this could win him the fight. Rear naked choke attempt follows but Elias manages to gut it out. He reverses and almost escapes, but Tavares keeps back control well and then goes for an arm. Elias avoids that, then spins into top position for a second before Tavares hits a beautiful switch to take the back again! Elias escapes though and they trade some strikes until the buzzer. 10-9 Tavares by a hair but it could go either way really.

Official scores are 29-28 all round for Brad Tavares. This was a pretty good fight in the end as both guys worked HARD and really pushed the pace and although neither came close to a finish, it wasn’t boring at any point really. The difference seemed to be that last minute or so with Tavares taking the back, as before that Elias seemed to be pulling away, but realistically I’m wondering if Theodorou could sacrifice some of his great cardio to work more on his strength as that seemed to be the advantage Tavares held over him here. I don’t think the loss does him much harm, though.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jared Cannonier vs Nick Roehrick

This was originally supposed to be a brawl involving Cannonier and Steve Bosse, but when the former hockey enforcer pulled out for undisclosed reasons, Roehrick stepped in on just three days notice, meaning Cannonier had a chance to get back on the winning track after his disappointing February loss to Glover Teixeira.

Fight begins and Cannonier looks in far better shape than last time he fought. They circle around to begin and exchange some glancing punches before Cannonier tags Roehrick with a combination. Clinch from Roehrick is shrugged off and Cannonier nails him with a right hand, and now they go straight into a trade with Cannonier landing some heavy shots and a head kick that also lands pretty flush. Roehrick is marked up pretty badly around his left eye. Big overhand right glances for him but Cannonier shrugs it right off and wings some more punches that have Roehrick backpedalling. Few punches miss for Roehrick as Cannonier looks super confident now. Big right hand connects for Cannonier but he eats one in response too. Another right from Cannonier lands but he strangely turns his back and allows Roehrick to get to a clinch. He can’t get Cannonier down though and they break quickly. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Cannonier.

Into the 2nd and Cannonier opens with a leg kick as Roehrick throws some punches that miss. Seems like Cannonier is by far the better striker here. Another leg kick lands for him and he follows with a combo off the jab. Brutal combination lands for Cannonier including a couple of thudding body shots and Roehrick is in trouble. Dude has a hell of a chin though. Cannonier begins to taunt him now as well, dropping his hands and calling Roehrick on before swinging more punches. Big right stumbles Roehrick and Cannonier takes him down and then opens up on him with a HUGE FLURRY as he stands, but somehow Roehrick manages to hang in there! This guy’s chin is AMAZING. He keeps swinging back too, albeit not with much success. Cannonier is playing it pretty smart too, not rushing in but picking him off from the outside. Takedown attempt from Cannonier is defended by Roehrick, but he’s looking tired now. Round ends with Cannonier stalking him. 10-9 Cannonier.

Third and final round now and Cannonier opens with a couple of leg kicks and continues to play it patiently. Roehrick keeps on swinging and lands a couple of jabs, but he’s still largely on the back foot. Big front kick stuns Roehrick and Cannonier follows with a big combo that has him in trouble. Takedown follows and this time Cannonier BOUNCES HIS HEAD OFF THE GROUND WITH ELBOWS and finally Big John McCarthy’s seen enough and stops it.

Tons of heart on display from Roehrick but he was totally outclassed on the feet and just took a pretty epic beatdown, surviving mainly by having a solid chin and good cardio. Cannonier looked excellent but I’m still wondering how he’d do against a more skilled guy than this next time out. I would’ve said Roehrick might have a bright future too, but he’s since been busted for steroids by USADA so you know. Fun fight anyway thanks to the terminator-like qualities of Cannonier.

Lightweight Fight: Marc Diakiese vs Drakkar Klose

This fight was getting quite a bit of hype thanks to Diakiese’s three UFC wins including a couple of highlight reel stoppages, but he was faced with a tough opponent here in the fellow undefeated Klose, a top amateur wrestler renowned for his crazy aggression. I was taking Diakiese as I could hardly pick against a top British prospect could I? Even if he’s technically from the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

Round One and Klose opens with a hard pair of low kicks. Wheel kick misses for Diakiese, and Klose spins him around with another leg kick. Klose charges him for the takedown and gets him down, but Diakiese right away works back up to his feet. Foot stomps land for Klose against the fence as he forces the Brit back, but Diakiese shifts his weight and dumps Klose down onto his back! Nice. He lands in half-guard and works from the top with some short punches before Klose pops back up. German suplex puts him back down, but he stands up again. Diakiese gets the back this time and puts one hook in from a standing position, before he drops Klose with basically a uranage! That was a HARD LANDING. He tries to take the back, but slips off and Klose works back up to his feet. They remain clinched and Klose drops for the takedown again, but Diakiese continues to defend it and then breaks off and lands a clean combo. Big wheel kick glances for Diakiese but Klose takes it well and then drops him with a leg kick! Diakiese goes down to guard and take a bunch of hammer fists as Klose drops down and attempts to mount. Diakiese manages to slow him down from there and then he goes for a heel hook, but Klose avoids it and it allows Diakiese to get into top position. Klose goes for a leglock of his own now, but Diakiese remains on top and the round ends there. Really close round to score as Diakiese controlled the majority, but Klose had the big moment with the leg kick. I’d actually go for Diakiese I think but yeah, difficult to score.

Round Two and Diakiese comes out swinging, landing a jump kick in response to an attempted low kick from Klose. Clinch from Klose and he forces the Brit into the fence, landing a good right hand as Diakiese attempts to wriggle free. They break off after little action and the crowd are now so quiet you can literally hear every word coming from Klose’s corner. Low kick again lands for Klose and then he catches a wild kick from Diakiese and takes him down. A scramble is avoided by Klose who manages to stay on top, standing over the Brit before he kicks off and gets up. Long left hand glances for Diakiese. Klose decides to taunt him and then lands a low kick, before Diakiese clinches off a missed knee from the American. Clear low blow lands from there for Diakiese and ref Marc Goddard calls time. A pretty quick recovery follows though and they restart. Good body kick lands for Klose and he manages to force Diakiese into the fence as he clinches. Body kick breaks for Klose and he goes for the takedown, but Diakiese defends well and lands with a knee and a left hand. Another combo connects for Diakiese and he stuffs an attempted takedown. A missed kick sees Diakiese slip to his back, and Klose stands over him before allowing him up. Low kick drops the Brit again though to end the round. 10-9 Klose for sure.

Round Three and Klose opens with the low kick, but eats a couple of right hands in response from Diakiese. HUGE jumping switch kick lands for Diakiese but somehow Klose eats it right up and taunts him. That guy has a hell of a chin. Takedown attempt from Klose is stuffed, but a second attempt quickly follows. Diakiese breaks off again though and glances on another head kick. Couple of shots to the body land for Diakiese but Klose comes back with a pretty clean left hand on the end of a combo. Takedown follows and he’s got Diakiese on his back, but a choke attempt allows him to reverse and get to his feet, pinning Klose to the fence in the process. He takes the back standing and lands some knees to the hamstrings from there, but they separate before he can really capitalise. Klose clinches again and forces Diakiese into the fence, but they break again. Punches glance for both men in an exchange and Klose taunts the Brit again like he’s Nick Diaz. Super risky strategy there but Diakiese doesn’t really capitalise. Spin kick into a left hand glances for Diakiese. Good body kick answers for Klose. Takedown attempt follows that, but Diakiese decides to drop for a choke attempt. Klose avoids that, but he can’t put Diakiese on his back and they stand back up. Big swings miss for both men and the round ends with Diakiese defending a takedown. I’d go 29-28 Diakiese I think, but boy was that a close one.

Official scores are 29-28 Klose, 29-28 Diakiese, and 29-28….for Drakkar Klose. Well, can’t really complain I guess – I thought Diakiese deserved the decision based on the round-by-round scoring as I figured he took 1 and 3, but PRIDE-style scoring would’ve given it to Klose so whatever. It was a close fight and it was a lot of fun too, with both men showing a lot of aggression and really pushing the fight. Klose did much better on his feet than I was expecting and showed a really great chin, while Diakiese did better in the grappling portions than I expected. Both guys should have a bright future I’d have thought based on this.

TUF 25: Welterweight Finals: Jesse Taylor vs Dhiego Lima

Well, the TUF series was subtitled ‘Redemption’ and while that didn’t really apply to Lima – who was only cut from the UFC in 2015 after a run of losses – it certainly did apply to Taylor, who infamously threw away his UFC career twice – once on TUF after the limo incident and then after badmouthing Rampage Jackson when he was given another chance. I had no idea on the pick as I hadn’t watched TUF but I was definitely intrigued to see JT Money again after so long!

Fight begins and Taylor comes right out for the takedown. Lima tries to block it and lands some quick hammer fists, but Taylor keeps on driving through and forces him into the fence. JT manages to get him down eventually and he takes the back with one hook as Lima works up to his feet. Taylor is all over him here. Lima manages to shake off the hook, but Taylor suplexes him down and then lands in the full guard. A few hard elbows begin to get through for Taylor and then he takes the back again and Lima’s in trouble. Taylor only manages to get one hook in though despite almost having the choke sunk, and that allows Lima to scramble free. Taylor keeps working though and slaps both hooks in and almost gets the choke, but again Lima manages to avoid, despite taking some hammer fists as he turns. Big elbows land for JT again and he keeps on looking for the back-take too. Round ends with Taylor in firm control working from the top. Clearly 10-9 Taylor, almost a 10-8 in fact.

Into the 2nd and Taylor walks right into a left hand that puts him down! He’s in trouble, but Lima makes the error of leaping on for a choke, and he slides off and allows JT Money to take his back with both hooks as he recovers. This time Taylor SINKS THE CHOKE and Lima has to tap out. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Post-fight Taylor slurs his way through a promo which is worrying. He fought really well here, totally whitewashing Lima on the ground and even surviving a bad knockdown….but he’s since been busted by USADA for steroids so I guess that big redemption story is out the window as is Taylor’s career – AGAIN. It’s sad but not surprising if I’m honest. Fight was fun but frustrating knowing that JT Money was likely roided up.

Lightweight Fight: Justin Gaethje vs Michael Johnson

This one looked like a hell of a main event, with unbeaten former WSOF champ Gaethje – a man seemingly incapable of having a dull fight or even an average one really – facing off with a top ten contender right away in Johnson, who was looking to get back to the sort of form that saw him knock Dustin Poirier silly in 2016. I was hoping Gaethje would win as he’s a fresh contender, but after seeing fellow WSOF champ Marlon Moraes struggle in his UFC debut I wasn’t really holding my breath.

Round One begins and Johnson comes out firing, tagging Gaethje with punches right away and putting him on the back foot. Crowd are well into Gaethje though and he fires right back as Johnson is just throwing everything he’s got at this guy right away. More combinations land for Johnson but Gaethje closes him down, rocks him with a combo of his own and follows with a big knee! That forces Johnson to circle out, but he comes right back with a one-two after taking a couple of low kicks. More forward pressure from Gaethje follows as both men continue to wing shots at one another with little defense to be honest. Leg kicks land for Gaethje but he eats a nice counter left hand. Exchange continues and you can tell Gaethje’s loving this as he just has a ridiculous grin on his face. His leg kicks look tremendous. Left hand wobbles Johnson but he hangs in there and fires back. Big punches land for both and Johnson appears to be getting sucked into Gaethje’s game, as he’s telling him to bring it on. More pressure from Gaethje leads to a clinch and both men landing with knees, and then they break and continue to trade off. Big crowd chant for Gaethje again but Johnson BUCKLES him with a huge right hand! Big combo follows and Johnson takes him down and gets his back, where he bombs away with punches. Gaethje gets back up, but he’s taking some serious shots as Johnson tees off on him to end the round. 10-9 Johnson, that last twenty seconds or so swayed it basically. Phenomenal round.

Round Two and Gaethje is STILL smiling. Naturally he comes out with more forward pressure, backing Johnson up, but Johnson tags him with a combo as he tries to use his leg kicks again. The pace here is insane as both men just won’t stop firing shots. Big right hand from Johnson has Gaethje on rubber legs AGAIN, but somehow he won’t go down as Johnson pours it on with more shots before forcing him into the fence. That allows Gaethje to recover, and he comes back with some clinch strikes of his own before they separate and somehow Gaethje’s walking forward again! This is crazy. Beautiful combination lands for Johnson but he takes another leg kick. Johnson is just landing the cleaner shots at the minute though. Looks like he may be getting tired, however, as he’s slowing down on his output somewhat while Gaethje just won’t stop walking him down. Clean right hands land for both men as Johnson goes to the body now too. Gaethje’s lack of defense is just criminal. He lands with a clean right uppercut though, and now it’s Johnson who’s on wobbly legs! He drops for a single leg that Gaethje stuffs, and instead he stumbles across the cage! HUGE UPPERCUT follows for Gaethje and snaps Johnson’s head back, and now he’s SWARMING ON HIM with some huge shots! Finally Gaethje switches to an elbow that drops Johnson, but he waves him up rather than diving on him. Johnson obliges but he gets stunned by another right hand and a leg kick, and it looks like he’s out on his feet. Takedown is stuffed by Gaethje and when Johnson gets up, Gaethje OPENS UP on him with some knees that finally cause Johnson to collapse, and that’s finally it.

And that right there is the Fight of the Year thus far and if something else tops it I’d be highly surprised. I knew Gaethje had a reputation for exciting wars but I honestly didn’t expect him to be able to replicate them in the UFC with the step up in competition, but I’m happy to say I was WRONG. The guy is just like a real-life terminator who takes insane punishment but walks right through it until he’s got his opponent finished. Awesome, star-making performance from Gaethje and I’d have personally given him a title shot off this. UFC haven’t, obviously, but he’s now a TUF coach so they obviously see something in him! How could you not? And on a related note, if they can get Cerrone to go back to 155lbs, they should book Gaethje/Cowboy at some point because it’d be incredible. Shit, get Gaethje to go to 170lbs if they have to.

-Show ends with Gaethje cutting a charismatic promo, cementing himself as a star. That’s how you fucking do it!

Final Thoughts….

This was basically a one-fight show in the end; nothing else was bad per say (well, Johnson/Fortuna wasn’t great I guess) but literally none of the other fights were memorable at all, just your run-of-the-mill UFC fare until the main event. I’d say just track Gaethje/Johnson down on Fight Pass and forget the rest unless you’re a big fan of one of those fighters. Thumbs in the middle.

Best Fight: Gaethje vs. Johnson
Worst Fight: Johnson vs. Fortuna

Overall Rating: **1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com