MMA Review: #621: UFC Fight Night 121

-The UFC’s latest return to Australia was a little controversial due to some issues with the main event, but we’ll get there in a bit. It wasn’t the strongest card ever either, mainly relying on local talent, but hey, it’s to be expected in this era I guess.

UFC Fight Night 121

11/18/17
Sydney, New South Wales

-Your hosts are John Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Featherweight Fight: Alexander Volkanovski vs Shane Young

Poor Volkanovski had his opponent changed twice – first from Jeremy Kennedy to Humberto Bandenay, and then from Bandenay to newcomer Young, who ended up taking the fight on about two weeks notice. Young was a fighter coming in from New Zealand with a solid record of 11-3, but I couldn’t take him over Volkanovski, who’d looked great since debuting in the UFC basically a year before this show.

Round One begins as Gooden reminds me that it’s a 150lbs catchweight due to Young’s super-late notice. They circle around early on and exchange some feeler strikes, and it’s notable that the fans are far more into Volkanovski. Good right hand from Volkanovski sets up a takedown attempt and he forces Young into the fence. Hard knee to the body lands for Volkanovski but Young manages to escape free. Few more shots from Volkanovski set up another takedown attempt, and this time he really drives in with it and trips Young down. Young gives his back in order to stand, but a foot sweep plants him down again. Good job from Young to get back up, and he manages to break free. They trade strikes before a pair of right hands seem to have Young hurt. Volkanovski follows with a takedown and he moves right into half-guard. It looks like he’s going for an arm triangle, but a good scramble allows Young to pop up again and he breaks free. Less than a minute to go and Volkanovski keeps on pushing forward, landing the right hand from close range again. Clinch follows and when he can’t get Young down he separates with a spinning backfist that Young narrowly avoids. Good low kick lands for Volkanovski. Round ends with a couple more strikes for him and it’s a 10-9 for Volkanovski in my eyes.

Round Two and Volkanovski closes the distance quickly and cracks Young with a short elbow en route to the takedown attempt. Good work from Young prevents it again though and he breaks off. Young is doing well defensively here but hasn’t had much offense at all yet. Both men glance with some more strikes before Volkanovski closes the distance with some punches to set up another clinch. Takedown follows this time and he muscles into half-guard and works to keep Young grounded. A scramble puts him up again, but Volkanovski stays on him and cracks him with an elbow. They separate and Volkanovski continues to push forward, landing the right hand again as Young backs up into the fence. Another one lands for him and Young goes for a takedown that Volkanovski easily blocks. Slam from Volkanovski finally puts Young down, but AGAIN the guy crawls to his feet. Volkanovski gets him back down, and this time he works some ground-and-pound before getting full mount. Young manages to get half-guard though but he can’t get up and he takes a couple more punches. Seconds to go and Young escapes to his feet as the round ends. 10-9 Volkanovski.

Round Three and Volkanovski works some low kicks to begin before adding a stiff left hand. Elbow and a knee land from the clinch for him and he drops for the takedown again. Young works to defend but he’s getting beaten up in the clinch as he does so. Surprising takedown from Young catches Volkanovski by surprise, but he tries some kind of weird move and Volkanovski pops right back up. Volkanovski gets him down again and lands in half-guard, and the action slows down a bit as he focuses on keeping Young grounded before landing with some decent shots. Young might be a bit tired now to be fair. He manages to work to his feet again with just under a minute remaining, but he can’t shake off Volkanovski and he continues to get grinded down until the fight ends. Should be a 30-27 shutout really.

Judges go 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26 for Alexander Volkanovski. Bit of a dull fight if I’m honest; Young worked hard but couldn’t get any offense in, and while Volkanovski clearly won he struggled with Young’s takedown defense for most of the fight (until Young gassed) and didn’t do that much damage. Dan Hardy at one point compared him to Sean Sherk which is very fair I think and he got similar criticism all the time. I’m interested to see him step up in competition now, but I think he’ll struggle with the better wrestlers in the division.

Middleweight Fight: Elias Theodorou vs Daniel Kelly

This was one of my most anticipated fights on this card, as obviously I’ve been a big fan of Theodorou’s for ages now and Kelly is basically everyone’s cult favourite thanks to his inexplicable comeback wins and comical ‘Dadbod’ nickname. I was picking Elias as I figured he could just outwork Kelly, but it was a tough one to call really. In an interesting note too, there was some bad blood between the two dating back to an argument during their time on TUF: Nations back in 2014.

First round begins and Elias refuses a glove touch, garnering a ton of boos. Couple of low kicks right away land for Theodorou and he’s moving around a LOT. Kelly throws some punches to try to catch him, but Elias stays on his bike and keeps on working him over with kicks. Decent head kick lands for Elias and he dodges a huge haymaker. Clinch from Kelly allows him to land some uppercuts, but Theodorou separates with a right hand. More kicks land for Elias and he avoids a clinch. Kelly ties up again, but he takes a knee to the body before they break. Left hand into a head kick land for Theodorou. Looks like he’s basically point-fighting here. He tries to spring off the cage with something, but can’t land it and it allows Kelly to catch him with some shots before he escapes with a glancing high kick. Couple of decent body kicks from Elias and he continues to play the matador. Kelly again gets a clinch and lands some uppercuts, but Theodorou sneaks out again and throws some more kicks. Kelly’s walking through most of these strikes but he’s eating a lot of them, too. Elias manages to escape from another clinch, and he continues to move and land strikes. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Theodorou on sheer volume really.

Second round and Theodorou opens with a nice low kick. He keeps on throwing kicks and working to keep his distance, catching Kelly with a decent right hand too. They clinch up but Theodorou separates with a right and another high kick. More of the same follows for Elias and he avoids a foot sweep attempt from the clinch for good measure. This is a really smart gameplan from Elias because Kelly just doesn’t have the nous to catch him. He does clinch and manage to hit a slick foot sweep, but Elias gives his back and manages to stand pretty easily. Kelly keeps hold of him, but Elias fights him off and separates. And it’s right back to the kicks before Theodorou lands one low. Ref Leon Roberts calls time, but Kelly recovers pretty quickly and they restart. Nasty leg kick almost drops Kelly as they restart, and Elias gets on his bike again. Clinch from Kelly but Theodorou lands some knees to counter the uppercuts. Big left hand separates for Kelly but he eats a trio of head kicks in response. Crowd are literally exploding every time Kelly lands anything, but he’s losing this fight. Clinch is broken by Elias who lands some more kicks. Another clinch sees Kelly almost get a trip, but Elias avoids it well and breaks. Flicking head kick lands for Theodorou in the dying seconds of the round, and he gets on his bike afterwards. 10-9 Theodorou and Kelly likely needs a finish.

Third round and more kicks connect for Theodorou and Kelly slips to the ground for a second. Elias is landing so many kicks to the legs and body here. Kelly looks stunned for a moment off a head kick, but he fires a body kick back pretty quickly. Kelly’s right leg looks hurt. He’s clearly limping too. Nice combination lands for Elias but Kelly wades through it and puts him on the fence. Takedown attempt follows and he gets Elias down, takes the back and SLAPS ON THE CHOKE! Theodorou looks like he’s in deep shit as the crowd go insane, but somehow Theodorou guts it out and manages to peel the arms off. He gets on top, taking the back himself, but he doesn’t have hooks in and Kelly scrambles to his knees. Kelly works to his feet and ends up in the clinch, where Elias pins him into the fence with some knees. The Aussie breaks off, but again Theodorou dances away from him and throws out more kicks. You have to admire the heart of Kelly as he just keeps on walking forward, taking kicks in the process. Couple of punches land for Kelly but Elias clinches to slow him down this time and then separates with a head kick. Kelly keeps on swinging, but he can’t catch Elias and that’s the round. Call it 10-10 as Kelly came close with that choke, but got picked apart mainly. 30-28 for Theodorou overall.

Official scores are 30-28, 30-27 and 30-26 for Elias Theodorou. I have no idea how he got a 10-8 in there for that 30-26, but whatever. Crowd boo him out of the building too, showing how much they adore Kelly. Post-fight he claims Kelly swore at him in an elevator which is why he refused the glove touch, which makes sense I guess. Fight was fun I thought, if a little frustrating in that Theodorou clearly won but didn’t do a huge amount of damage. What he did do though was expose Kelly’s limitations, as he stayed on his bike and picked at the Aussie from the outside, and Kelly couldn’t get hold of him or get into range without taking shots. Nice win for Theodorou to get back on track and I still have hopes for him as a top ten fighter in the future.

Welterweight Fight: Jake Matthews vs Bojan Velickovic

Aussie favourite Matthews was returning to Welterweight for this one for the first time since his stint on TUF: Nations back in 2014, while this was Velickovic’s first taste of main card UFC action after putting together a 2-2-1 record on undercards since April 2016. I was going for Matthews basically because I couldn’t imagine the UFC booking him in a loseable fight in front of his home crowd.

Fight gets started and wow, Velickovic is a HUGE 170lber. Matthews shoots early on and drives the Serbian into the fence, then drops for a single leg, but Bojan works to defend it by landing some elbows to the head. Matthews keeps driving forward, but he’s struggling to muscle Velickovic around. The Aussie finally manages to drag Bojan away from the fence and put him down, but Velickovic immediately pops up despite giving his back. Bojan turns into him inside the clinch, and they muscle along the fence with Matthews again looking for the takedown. Good sprawl from Velickovic allows him to avoid, but he remains forced into the fence. He’s constantly landing punches to the side of the head, though. Good trip from Matthews finally grounds the Serbian, and Matthews works into half-guard and lands a couple of punches. It looks like he might be going for an arm triangle, but Velickovic avoids by going for a leglock. Matthews comfortably avoids that, only to eat a pretty nasty upkick. Bojan pops back up to his feet, and the round ends there. Probably a 10-10 round actually as Matthews had no offense outside of two largely ineffective takedowns, while Bojan was defensive throughout but did land some strikes.

Second round and both guys largely come up short on punches before Velickovic lands a switch knee in a bit of a brawl. Takedown attempt from Matthews but Bojan uses a guillotine attempt to sweep into top position and he looks to finish off the choke from there. Matthews is in trouble as Velickovic cranks on the one-arm guillotine, but the Aussie pops his head free. He’s underneath the full mount now though and then he gives his back. Both hooks are in for Bojan and he does a good job of controlling Matthews although he doesn’t come close with a choke really. Matthews looks basically stuck though, until Bojan gets too high and Matthews slips out of the back door and looks for a takedown of his own. Bojan blocks that, but eats a hard elbow from the clinch. They break off and Matthews looks gassed. Bojan can’t capitalise though and it’s Matthews landing the better strikes as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Velickovic for all that back control, however.

Final round and Matthews comes out firing, throwing hard punches that don’t quite land cleanly but back Velickovic up. Kick is caught by the Aussie and Matthews dumps Bojan to the ground and lands in full guard. Nice elbow from Matthews from the top, but he can’t do all that much and Velickovic reverses to his feet and looks for his own takedown. He gets Matthews down into butterfly guard and then looks to take the back, moving around and putting one hook in. He gets the second hook in and Matthews could be in trouble again. He stands with Velickovic on his back, but can’t shake him off. Finally Matthews manages to force him off to the side, and gets on top in the guard. Couple of hammer fists land for Matthews and he passes into half-guard. Crowd are going mad for Matthews as he drops some more punches. Kimura attempt responds for Velickovic but he can’t lock it up and ends up giving his back instead. One hook is in for Matthews and he looks to slap the other in, and in a slick move he forces a roll to get full back control despite almost sliding off. A scramble from Velickovic frees him from that position and lets him stand, but Matthews takes him down again and the round ends there. I’d say Matthews stole the round, so for me it’s a 29-29 draw. Depends on that first round.

And it’s a split decision – 29-28 Matthews, 29-28 Velickovic, and 29-28 for Jake Matthews. Maybe some home country judging there? I’m not sure, I don’t really think Velickovic got robbed or anything but then I wouldn’t say Matthews really deserved to win given the first round was so even and he clearly lost the second round. No idea how far he can go in this division but I wasn’t convinced by this showing, sorry. Pretty workmanlike performance from both men really and while it wasn’t horrible, it won’t be a fight I’ll be looking to watch again.

Welterweight Fight: Belal Muhammad vs Tim Means

Originally this would’ve seen Muhammad taking on TUF 25 winner Jesse Taylor, but JT Money managed to sabotage himself again – this time with a positive drug test – and so Means stepped in to take the fight instead. This looked like an exciting fight on paper but I was siding with Means, feeling his clinch work and experience would pull him through.

First round begins and Muhammad comes forward, but eats some pretty hard punches from Means who makes the most of his reach. Muhammad looks notably smaller than Means actually. Combination lands for Muhammad but Means comes back with a leg kick. Overhand right glances for Muhammad and it looks like he’s settling down now to land some decent punches. Really clean straight left lands for Means. Short right hook answers for Muhammad. Exchange continues and Muhammad surprisingly looks to be getting the better of it, too. It’s a pretty even round though. We also get a hilarious rant from Dan Hardy on commentary railing against “tainted supplements” which to me is a bullshit excuse for when dudes get caught on the roids. Both men continue to exchange until the round ends. Razor-close round, but I’d go 10-9 Muhammad I think.

Second round and they trade punches before Muhammad shoots for a takedown. Means defends with a guillotine attempt, but Muhammad gets out right away and gets into half-guard. Means manages to escape back to full guard and get to his feet pretty quickly though. Striking exchange continues with Means being the aggressor, using his jab quite nicely. Looks like Muhammad might have a bloody nose actually. This is a bit frustrating because by any standards it’s a decent fight but this show is just crying out for a finish now and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get one. Takedown attempt with a minute to go from Muhammad is stuffed by Means, and the crowd sound bored as fuck now too. Exchange continues until the buzzer. 10-9 Means by a hair, but either round could’ve gone either way. Or you could go a draw, whatever.

Third round and again it’s an even punching exchange. Really nice low kick from Means spins Muhammad around but still neither man is really doing enough to make themselves clearly in front on points. Ref has to call time at one point for an eye poke from Means but they restart with no issue. Apparently Muhammad’s contact lens came out in fact. Takedown attempt from Means is stuffed and they continue to exchange. Good combination from Muhammad and again he’s beginning to slightly get the better of the exchanges. Head kick glances for Muhammad and he shoots, but Means stuffs it well. Just over a minute to go now and it’s still hard to pick a winner. Ludicrous tornado kick misses by a mile for Means. Muhammad comes in with a strong combo but Means fires right back. And from there they continue to exchange until the buzzer. You could honestly go either way. I’d go a draw in fact, fuck it. 10-10 for all three rounds.

Judges have it 29-28 Muhammad, 29-28 Means and 29-28 Muhammad for the split decision. Well, if any fight deserved a split decision it was this one as any judge would’ve had a hard time calling a winner and naturally they all hate using 10-10s for draws. Fight was perfectly acceptable but in the context of this show it was infuriating because neither man could really hurt the other or pull away in the fight. Post-fight Muhammad calls out Colby Covington but that dude has bigger fish to fry unfortunately.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Bec Rawlings vs Jessica Rose-Clark

Aussie favourite Rawlings was set to fight Joanne Calderwood initially, but when JoJo pulled out with an injury, another Aussie came in to take the fight in the form of debutant Clark, who had a middling record but had fought some decent competition like Carina Damm and Sarah Kaufman in her time. I was leaning Rawlings due to the UFC experience but then I’ve never rated her highly so I wasn’t counting Clark out at all.

Round One and they circle and exchange strikes as it’s like a battle of who has the goofier tattoos, too. I give it to Rawlings for the haircut I think, ha. Nice leg kick lands for Clark. Another one is caught by Bec and she lands on top in guard, but Clark wraps her up and prevents any damage from being done for the most part. Nice sweep from Clark puts her on top in guard now but Rawlings goes for an armbar. Good defense from Clark allows her to avoid and move into side mount for good measure. Rawlings works back to half-guard, though. Rawlings keeps working and gets to full guard and so Clark surprisingly stands back up. They trade off pretty wildly with Rawlings pushing forward, but Clark tags her with some punches. Decent shots connect for both women actually. Harder shots come from Clark, and that’s the round. 10-9 Clark for me.

Round Two and Clark shows a lot of movement on the outside again as Rawlings just marches forward. Rawlings is still absorbing more strikes, though. Clinch from Bec and she shoves Clark into the cage, where the action largely slows down. Few knees land for both and then they break off. Good left hook connects for Clark in an exchange. She’s clearly outlanding Rawlings here. Big combination backs Rawlings into the cage and Clark lands some heavy knees, then decides to take Rawlings down. Rawlings almost gets on top for a second but Clark reverses over and looks like she’s going for an arm triangle choke. Rawlings defends that well, and catches Clark in half-guard, but Clark keeps working and manages to take the back with both hooks instead. Hard elbow lands for Clark and now she’s got Rawlings mounted. Clark is looking great thus far. Round ends with her landing some more elbows. 10-9 Clark again.

Round Three and they come out trading with Rawlings swinging for the fences, but Clark fires right back and tags her with a few cleaner shots again. Couple of really good leg kicks land for Clark. Looks like Rawlings might be a bit gassed to me as well. She keeps pushing forward, drawing Clark into more trades, but she’s eating a ton of shots too. Halfway through the round now and these girls are really trading shots. Good right hand seems to have Clark wobbled, but Clark clinches and muscles Rawlings into the fence to slow her down and stop her from following up. Takedown from Rawlings puts Clark on her back against the fence, but she doesn’t do a lot with it and Clark works to her feet. Clark begins to land some knees from the clinch again and then hits a takedown of her own, and from there she ends the round with some really strong ground-and-pound. I’d go 30-27 for Jessy Jess.

Official scores are 29-28 Clark, 29-28 Rawlings (!) and 29-28 for Jessica-Rose Clark. Rawlings looks FURIOUS with the decision but she’s crazy if she thinks she won that fight, as is the judge who scored it for her. Clark looked great here in my opinion, crisp on the feet and really strong and positionally excellent on the ground, and she didn’t seem at all fazed by the late notice fight. Maybe a title contender in this new weight class, who knows. Fight was pretty decent too although another decision was disappointing.

Heavyweight Fight: Fabricio Werdum vs Marcin Tybura

There was a bit of controversy around this one, mainly because Werdum had come in as a late replacement for Mark Hunt, who was removed under odd circumstances after the UFC apparently had worries about his health following an interview where he admitted to memory loss and stuff like that. Hunt was furious as you’d imagine. Anyway, this was a big step up for Tybura, whose best win thus far was Andrei Arlovski, and naturally Werdum was the massive favourite coming in. I figured he’d win pretty comfortably too, assuming father time hadn’t caught up with him.

Round One and Werdum is so annoying with his shit-eating grin pre-fight. Low kicks land early for both men and then Werdum glances on a head kick. Decent counter right hand lands for Tybura as Werdum throws a low kick. Both men swing some heavy leather but don’t really land. Crowd are way into Werdum, who lands with a body kick. Nice flurry from the Brazilian. Another one sets up a solid knee to the head, and Werdum looks pretty confident in striking with the Polish fighter here. Looks like Tybura is marked up around his right eye. He throws out some low kicks and connects on an overhand right, but Werdum continues to walk him down and land the better shots. Takedown attempt from Werdum and he takes the back standing as Tybura defends. Tybura manages to avoid being dragged to the ground, but with seconds to go Werdum gets him down. Slick move allows the Polish fighter to escape though and now he takes Werdum’s back to end the round. 10-9 Werdum as he just outworked Tybura.

Round Two and Werdum opens with a really hard combination. Tybura’s chin seems really good as he’s eaten a lot of big shots without being wobbled at all. Nice stiff jab also gets through for Werdum. Combo glances for Tybura as both men are moving pretty slowly to be quite honest. Really hard high kick gets through for Tybura but Werdum takes it well. It’s a pretty even exchange but Werdum is just doing slightly more at the minute. Another head kick glances for Tybura though. Crowd now sound frustrated as they’ve been sitting literally for HOURS with no finishes and this one doesn’t look likely to provide one either. Big left uppercut snaps Tybura’s head back but Werdum can’t follow it up clearly. Couple of front kicks to the knee land for Tybura. Plum clinch is broken pretty quickly by the Polish fighter as Werdum continues to just about outwork him. Another plum though allows Werdum to land some really good shots, but again Tybura survives it all and the round ends there. 10-9 Werdum.

Round Three and Werdum walks through a low kick to deliver a right hand. Tybura’s face looks all marked up now as the Brazilian continues to land the majority of the strikes. To his credit Tybura keeps trying, but he walks into a hard knee from Werdum who follows with a head kick. Tybura still doesn’t look stunned though and he fires right back with a head kick of his own. Takedown attempt fails for Tybura. Werdum continues to back him up and land punches, but he can’t seem to really hurt Tybura at all. Just over 1:30 left in the round and Werdum continues to pick at Tybura with strikes while absorbing a few back from the Polish fighter. Werdum hasn’t really gone for any takedowns which is surprising. Series of knees from the plum seem to have Tybura rocked finally, and Werdum follows with more knees and some punches from close range too. Tybura manages to clinch to slow the pace down, but Werdum breaks off. They trade high kicks and then the round ends just after. 10-9 Werdum and Tybura needs a finish to win, basically.

Round Four and Dan Hardy mentions that (counting prelims too) this is now officially the LONGEST UFC CARD IN HISTORY. And doesn’t it just feel like it too! And it’s more of the same to begin with Werdum continuing to land strikes on the Polish fighter as Tybura just looks slightly outclassed. Single leg attempt almost puts Tybura down, but he pops up and ends up forced into the fence. Good knee to the body lands for Werdum and he breaks off. Exchange continues with little success for Tybura but still Werdum doesn’t look capable of finishing this. Takedown does work this time though and Tybura ends up on his back in half-guard. Nice elbows land for the Brazilian and this could be his big chance as he’s got two minutes to put Tybura away. He works almost into full mount, but Tybura does a good job of keeping the leg almost locked down to avoid it. Werdum moves into side mount instead, but the clock’s ticking big time now and Tybura just needs to survive for thirty seconds. Instead he escapes to his feet, only to eat a knee and get forced back into the cage. Round ends with a takedown for Tybura, but he gets caught in a guillotine and the buzzer goes before he can attempt to work free. 10-9 Werdum.

Round Five and Tybura opens with possibly the best shots he’s landed in the round, and then he appears to stun Werdum with a head kick. The Brazilian recovers very quickly though and gets back to business, but Tybura’s getting the better of the exchanges in this round. Ref Leon Roberts has to call time to deal with a glove issue for Werdum though. They restart and again it’s Tybura being the more active fighter with a bunch of front kicks to the midsection. Head kick again lands for the Polish fighter. It’s as if Werdum’s decided he’s already won or something. Spinning backfist misses for Werdum and Tybura lands a decent right on his way out. Head kick again glances for Tybura. Werdum wades in to respond with some decent punches, and then they continue to trade low and mid-level kicks. Big knee lands for Werdum and he follows with another combo. Just over a minute to go now and this is blatantly going to the judges again. Big trade sees Tybura get rocked a little. Tybura recovers quickly though and plods forward again, although he’s still unable to land the big shot. Round ends with another trade and Werdum gets the better of it. Closer round but I’d still go for Werdum, and give him a 50-45 shutout.

And in the final decision of the night, it’s 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 for Fabricio Werdum. Werdum looked good here in terms of being able to outland a solid striker for 25 minutes without really gassing, but it was a real plod to watch as the pace never really picked up, neither man came close to a finish – rare for a Heavyweight fight – and after five previous decisions nobody wanted to see a sixth. Tybura didn’t perform too badly given this was his first five rounder and I think he’s probably top ten at this point, but he was basically outclassed here. Dull fight overall, though.

-And with that, the show finally – mercifully? – ends.

Final Thoughts….

Boy was this one a slog to get through. It felt like it took me like five days to watch the whole thing and with SIX decisions pretty much nothing stood out. I mean, Theodorou/Kelly and Clark/Rawlings were both pretty decent but won’t exactly be remembered by the end of the year, and the rest was just well, there. Thumbs way down for one of the most forgettable UFC shows of all time.

Best Fight: Theodorou vs. Kelly
Worst Fight: Volkanovski vs. Young

Overall Rating: *

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com