MMA Review: #622: UFC Fight Night 122

-The UFC’s debut in mainland China was hardly a stacked card – in fact, it was probably one of the worst UFC cards of all time on paper, as no offense, Zak Ottow does not belong anywhere near a UFC main card let alone a co-main event in 2017! At least Gastelum vs. Bisping sounded like a cool main event I guess.

UFC Fight Night 122

Shanghai, China

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Dan Hardy, who don’t even get an intro segment as we’re straight into the first fight! Thank the lord for Fight Pass!

Welterweight Fight: Alex Garcia vs Muslim Salikhov

Newcomer Salikhov was coming in with a bit of hype behind him as he’d KOd Melvin Guillard on the smaller circuit with a spinning hook kick – actually the fourth knockout with that move on his record! He was presented with a tough challenge for his UFC debut though – Garcia had lost his last fight to Tim Means, but I still saw him as a guy with top ten potential and picked him to take out the newcomer despite Salikhov’s flashy skills.

Round One and both men come out throwing some feints before Salikhov lands a low kick. Takedown attempt from Garcia though and he drives Salikhov into the fence. The newcomer does a good job of defending – and then grabs the fence – but Garcia still forces him down and gets into half-guard. Not much happens from there as Salikhov ties him up from the bottom, and then hits a nice elevator to escape to his feet when Garcia tries for the mount. Spin kick misses for Salikhov. Both men come up short on their strikes before Salikhov lands a hard spin kick to the body. Left hand follows right through Garcia’s guard and Salikhov also lands a leg kick. Spinning backfist is blocked by Garcia, who follows with a takedown attempt. Salikhov defends initially but Garcia keeps trying for it and then breaks with a knee. Couple of shots come up short for Salikhov before Garcia hits a clean double leg to guard. Seconds to go and he drops some punches over the top and then takes the back before landing some more ground-and-pound to end the round. 10-9 Garcia for the takedowns.

Round Two and Garcia glances with a big overhand right. Head kick is narrowly avoided by Garcia who also avoids the spin kick again. Left hand connects for Garcia. He backs Salikhov up a bit by teasing the takedown and throwing punches instead, but the spinning hook kick narrowly glances off Garcia’s arms. Big right connects for Garcia to slow Salikhov up. Couple more kicks glance for Salikhov before Garcia shoots and gets him into the fence. Double leg puts Salikhov down, and Garcia moves instantly into half-guard. Big body punches land for Garcia and then he works into side mount before taking the back. Salikhov’s in trouble, and Garcia slaps on a tight rear naked choke and forces the tapout!

Excellent opener and a tremendous performance from Alex Garcia against a really tricky, if unheralded opponent. It was nice to see him fight smartly too, not blowing his wad throwing haymakers but using his punches to set up takedowns, and on the ground he just outworked Salikhov before he finished him off. Hopefully it’s a sign of him finally living up to that huge potential he’s got.

Featherweight Fight: Alex Caceres vs Wang Guan

For a Chinese newcomer, Guan actually had quite a lot of experience – 16-1 with the only loss to a noted fighter in Bekbulat Magomedov and some wins over non-Chinese opponents – but despite opponent Bruce Leeroy being on a bit of a slide – 1-2 in his last three – I couldn’t pick a Chinese fighter in good conscience and went with Caceres.

Round One begins and Leeroy gets tagged by a counter right hand instantly. Caceres is throwing kicks with reckless abandon here which is leaving him open to counters. Crowd are wildly into Guan. He throws some oblique kicks to keep Caceres at a distance and then clinches, but a low blow lands for Bruce Leeroy and the ref has to call time. They restart after some nice recovery time and Caceres lands with a low kick, but he eats a hard body kick from the Chinese fighter. Hard right elbow lands for Guan and Caceres is stunned and has to clinch. Guan muscles him off and he seems alright, but he gets caught again by a head kick. Clinch again from Caceres and they jockey for position, then break off. Caceres keeps on rushing forward with his punches which is leaving him massively open. Sure enough Guan connects on a counter right hand as Caceres lands with a left. Left into a head kick from Caceres but he misses a superman punch. Another couple of counters glance for Guan. Left hand lands for Caceres but Guan answers back with a pair of low kicks. Thirty seconds to go and Caceres keeps pushing forward, but he gets dropped BADLY by a short left and the buzzer basically saves him. 10-8 round for Guan for the near finish.

Round Two and the crowd are DEAFENING. So weird to hear a Chinese crowd be so loud given how quiet the Asian fans usually are. Then again maybe I’m stereotyping China and Japan together which is WRONG. Caceres still looks wobbly early on as Guan comes out swinging, but he can’t land the killer blow. Body punch into a head kick from Guan but Caceres takes it well and comes back with a kick to the body. BRUTAL right hand from Guan wobbles Caceres badly but somehow he remains on his feet. That was a nasty shot. Caceres eats a head kick too but recovers…to land a low blow. Guan doesn’t want too much time though and they restart quickly. Caceres manages to avoid some haymakers from the newcomer, and he glances on some shots of his own for good measure. LOUD chant starts up for Guan as he glances on a head kick. Both men glance on some more shots before Guan gets a rear waistlock and then lands a left as Caceres spins free. Hard right hand connects again for Guan. Seconds to go now and they throw out feints before another right glances for Guan. Couple of high kicks glance for Caceres before the round comes to an end. Closer round but still one in the books for Guan in my eyes.

Round Three and Caceres comes out throwing some decent strikes, albeit nothing that seems to truly bother Guan. Nice step-in left hand from Guan snaps Caceres’ head back, but Bruce Leeroy seems okay. Kick is caught by Guan but he can’t capitalise. Right hand drops Caceres but he pops up and manages to recover quickly. He comes back with some strikes of his own, but he seems to be either coming up short or walking into counters to land anything. Brief clinch is quickly broken and Caceres backs Guan up with a left uppercut and a spinning kick to the body. Exchange continues until time has to be called for ANOTHER low blow by Bruce Leeroy. Ref ought to consider taking a point I’d say but instead he just gives Guan time to recover. They restart and continue to trade strikes, with Caceres really pushing the action. He lands some nice strikes, but Guan clinches and manages to slow him down enough to finish the round. Caceres’ round, but I’d go 29-27 for Guan overall.

Judges have it 29-28 Caceres (!), 29-28 Guan and thankfully, 29-28 Guan for the split decision. I have no clue how anyone could’ve scored that fight for Caceres as he clearly lost the first two rounds. God knows. Fun fight though as Guan showed a lot of striking ability even if Bruce Leeroy largely played into his hands. Could Guan finally be a solid Chinese talent in the UFC? Quite possibly, depending on how he performs in his next fight.

Welterweight Fight: Li Jingliang vs Zak Ottow

So yeah, despite Jingliang being one of China’s best talents – he was coming in on a three-fight win streak in the UFC albeit over weak-ish competition – no way did this belong in the co-main event slot. I figured Jingliang would win comfortably though given Ottow had never looked impressive despite being 2-1 in the Octagon.

Fight begins and Jingliang opens with a low kick. Ottow throws out some kicks of his own but doesn’t really land cleanly. Crowd are HUGELY into Jingliang. Overhand right glances for him. Striking exchange continues with a lot of feints from both men. Nice right hand from Jingliang. Another right wobbles Ottow for a second. Jingliang is looking good thus far. Counter left connects for Jingliang in another exchange and then he catches a kick and decks Ottow with a right hand! Crowd go batshit as Jingliang pounces to deliver some follow-up punches, and Ottow can’t recover and goes down for the stoppage.

Post-fight Jingliang celebrates in the crowd as the fans go wild, really cool visual actually. And then he calls for a title shot (!) in his interview but I mean, there’s just no way. He did look excellent here, there’s no denying it, but you don’t get a title shot by beating the likes of Zak Ottow and Bobby Nash, sorry. Time for a step up for the Leech though for sure; a top fifteen-ish guy like Vicente Luque would probably work.

Middleweight Fight: Michael Bisping vs Kelvin Gastelum

So yeah, initially this would’ve seen Gastelum facing off with Anderson Silva in another possible legend-killing fight for the youngster after taking out Vitor Belfort in March, but then Silva got busted for PED’s AGAIN by USADA (worrying trend right there that’s damaging his legacy badly…) and so Bisping stepped in on late notice – just three weeks after losing to Georges St-Pierre. That was worrying to say the least given he got dropped pretty badly in that fight, and quite why he was allowed to take this booking I don’t know. I guess the UFC were desperate and Bisping was willing, but still – when they’re pulling Mark Hunt for health reasons and stuff I felt this was dodgy to say the least. Given all of that, I was taking Gastelum to win impressively.

Round One begins and they circle and throw out some feeler strikes with Gastelum landing a left to the body in the early going. Big body kick lands for Gastelum. Overhand right from Bisping sets up a clinch but they break quickly. Exchange continues with both men glancing on shots. Head kick from Bisping is caught but Gastelum can’t quite capitalise. Combination glances for Bisping. Body kick from Gastelum is countered by a solid right from Bisping. Gastelum keeps pushing forward, and in an exchange he lands a CRUSHING LEFT HAND that drops Bisping and he’s OUT COLD. Follow-up shots land but aren’t even needed. Jesus.

That was a really, really nasty knockout. I’d probably say it was the worst one Bisping’s taken since his infamous loss to Dan Henderson in 2009 in fact, as the only other knockout he took was against Vitor Belfort and that was nowhere near as bad. He got knocked silly here, and given it was likely the second time he was concussed in the space of four weeks, it’s really worrying. He’s said since that he wants one more fight – at the Fight Night in London in March – and that works for me because he’s accomplished it all now and it’s time for him to go. As for Gastelum, it’s onwards and upwards as this largely erased the memories of his summer loss to Chris Weidman and he’s now back in contention. And as he’s not booked yet – Gastelum vs. Yoel Romero next, anyone? This was a hell of a knockout, anyway.

-Show ends with some plugs for the upcoming shows and naturally, more replays of the Gastelum knockout.

Final Thoughts….

When you’ve got a total throwaway show like this one the best you can hope for is some decent action and we certainly got that here – three finishes out of four can never be sneezed at, and given one of them – Gastelum’s knockout of Bisping – was one of the best of 2017, it was made even better. Best fight was probably Garcia vs. Salikhov but the whole show was watchable really, especially with the quick Fight Pass pace. Thumbs up for this one for sure.

Best Fight: Garcia vs. Salikhov
Worst Fight: Guan vs. Caceres

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: