MMA Review: #623: Ultimate Fighter XXVI Finale

-This was the third straight season of TUF that I hadn’t really paid attention to, for a number of reasons really. Firstly I just can’t enjoy TUF any more – it’s become this stale mix of clichés and repetition; secondly I didn’t think the UFC needed another division introducing just yet even if Women’s Flyweight isn’t as thin as Women’s Featherweight, and thirdly I don’t think TUF ever works to truly find the best fighter in a division like that. Sadly too, there were no cool extra fights on the finale either like Gaethje/Johnson from the TUF 25 finale. It was just a throwaway card with a weird title fight to cap it off.

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXVI Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Dan Hellie (WHO?!) and Daniel Cormier. Hellie isn’t too bad, actually.

Bantamweight Fight: Brett Johns vs Joe Soto

This one at least had my interest as Welsh prospect Johns – AKA ‘The Pikey’ – had impressed in his two UFC outings thus far and was faced with an always-tough gatekeeper in the form of Soto here, in clearly the hardest fight of his career thus far. I was taking Johns as I felt he could be the real deal.

Round One begins and they circle before Johns throws a combo. Single leg attempt from Soto but Johns rolls through RIGHT INTO A CALF SLICER AND SOTO TAPS IN AGONY!~!

Holy shit. That was the best submission of 2017 point blank and probably one of the best in UFC history, too. The calf slicer is ULTRA rare and Johns caught Soto in it absolutely perfectly. Like, the whole thing took seconds to lock up and couldn’t have gone any better. Massive highlight reel win for Brett Johns and this dude is destined for big things for sure. Just awesome.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: DeAnna Bennett vs Melinda Fabian

These two ladies had competed on TUF; Bennett, the #4 ranked seed, had been eliminated in an upset by finalist Sijara Eubanks in the quarter-finals, while Hungarian fighter Fabian – the first Hungarian in UFC history to the best of my knowledge – had been eliminated in the opening round by the skilled Rachael Ostovich. No pick from me as I had no idea about either fighter.

Fight begins and the crowd are totally dead for this one. I guess none of them watched TUF or something? Man, I remember when being on TUF guaranteed you’d be over with the crowds for at least a few years. It’s sad really. They circle to begin and Fabian tags Bennett with some early punches, forcing her to go for a clinch right away. She forces Fabian into the fence and looks for the takedown, landing knees to the body in the process, but she can’t get the Hungarian down. They continue to jockey for position with very little action, and finally after like an AGE of clinching, Big John McCarthy calls a clean break. Fabian presses forward with some strikes and Bennett doesn’t look comfortable at all. Nice right hand from Bennett sets up another takedown attempt, but she can’t get Fabian down and so she goes for a standing guillotine instead. Fabian breaks free though and then KNOCKS BENNETT SILLY WITH A HEAD KICK, but the buzzer goes to save Bennett. She can barely get up though and it’s a surprise that Big John lets it go. 10-8 round for Fabian as the fight would’ve been over with like five more seconds.

Into the 2nd and somehow Bennett looks okay, but I can’t see how she could’ve recovered in that short time. Fabian comes out swinging, unsurprisingly, and she does land a few punches but nothing that has Bennett in trouble. Bennett goes for the takedown and drives her into the cage, dropping for a double leg, but Fabian defends well and we’ve got a TOTAL STALEMATE here. Again this goes on for what feels like forever, and when Bennett does almost get the takedown, Fabian grabs the fence. McCarthy calls time and decides to take a point from Fabian which is definitely a fair call. They restart in the same position but Bennett STILL can’t get her down. Good lord is this boring. Crowd are sick of it too. Two minutes to go in the round and McCarthy calls a clean break, but Bennett shoots from the restart and we’re BACK TO SQUARE ONE. This might be the worst fight of the year. Bennett still can’t get her down and so Big John calls another break, but you guessed it, she shoots from the restart and it’s the same old shit. Damn the MMA gods for not letting Fabian land the head kick ten seconds before she actually did! Fabian is actually the more active fighter here given she’s at least landing the odd strike. They separate to end the round with Fabian glancing on a high kick. 10-10 round but with the point deduction it’s 10-9 Bennett.

Third and final round and they circle with Bennett actually throwing some strikes, but Fabian again gets the better of the exchanges, landing the cleaner punches. Kick from Fabian is caught though and Bennett uses it to drive her into the fence again. Boos are literally INSTANT. Naturally nothing happens until Big John breaks them again, and Fabian closes in with some strikes, but again Bennett shoots. Fabian continues to defend the takedown and this time she escapes without the help of Big John. She again lands the better strikes in the exchanges, wobbling Bennett with an elbow, but in the waning seconds Bennett lands a shot that drops Fabian and she ends the round on top. Close one to call but I think Bennett just stole the round in the last few seconds. 10-9 Bennett, 28-28 overall for me.

Judges have it 29-27 Bennett, 28-28 and 28-28 for a majority draw. Well, at least two out of three judges got it right. The fight absolutely stunk though, as Bennett was outgunned on the feet, couldn’t get takedowns, but she was able to pin Fabian into the fence and unfortunately Fabian couldn’t do much about it. Probably the worst televised fight of 2017 I’d say in fact as clinching like that always sucks. Like a female Nik Lentz vs. Andre Winner or something.

Middleweight Fight: Gerald Meerschaert vs Eric Spicely

Both of these Middleweights were coming off losses, although given they’d both won the fight before that one it seemed like their UFC jobs were likely safe. Both men were known for submissions, too, but I was taking Spicely using some shady MMAth, as he’d tapped Thiago Santos in a big upset while Santos had beaten the hell out of Meerschaert when they fought.

Round One begins and Meerschaert lands some early punches as Spicely presses forward. Spicely looks totally out of shape. Right hand connects for Spicely but he eats a hard body kick and a combination from Meerschaert. Series of shots have Spicely in trouble and he’s covering up along the fence, but he manages to fire back to slow Meerschaert down and then he uses an overhand right to set up a takedown. Meerschaert defends it, but another attempt sees Spicely get him down and take the back with both hooks. Spicely begins to land some punches to soften Meerschaert up, and he works for the choke but can’t quite get the arm under the chin. He’s got a body triangle now though to control Meerschaert. He attempts to use the old BJ Penn trick of trapping the right arm with his leg, but he can’t quite pull that off so he goes back to the body triangle. Meerschaert continues to defend the choke well though. One minute to go and it doesn’t look like Spicely’s going to be able to get the finish here. He switches to an armbar attempt instead, but it doesn’t work and Meerschaert frees himself and gets into Spicely’s guard. Spicely controls him with a high rubber guard from there and that’s the round. 10-9 Spicely.

Round Two and Meerschaert opens with a body kick as Spicely pushes forward. Takedown attempt from Spicely and he drives Meerschaert back, but this time GM3 blocks it and escapes. Good left hand lands for Meerschaert. Spicely keeps on pushing forward, but he looks horribly stiff on his feet. Good body shot lands for Meerschaert. He’s got Spicely backing up with his punches now. Spicely goes for a single leg, but again Meerschaert blocks it and breaks off. He starts to land some more punches, forcing Spicely to cover up, and a hard body kick connects for him too. Another takedown attempt is closer for Spicely but he still can’t get Meerschaert down. Hard body kick again from Meerschaert. Punches have Spicely backpedalling some more. BRUTAL BODY KICK connects for Meerschaert and Spicely doubles over onto all fours, and Herb Dean has to save him there.

That was a brutal body kick finish – one of the best in UFC history in fact, and it made a lot of sense as Spicely is visibly soft around the midsection to begin with. Really good performance from Meerschaert actually as he was clearly behind after a bad first round but then came through strong in the second. Can’t see him moving far up the ladder or anything but I’d have no problem seeing him on another televised card after that finish.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Lauren Murphy vs Barb Honchak

Both of these women had been among the favourites to win the whole tournament coming into TUF, but they both ended up being upset by Nicco Montano who made the final. Murphy in fact wasn’t even supposed to fight on this card when her initial opponent had visa issues, but when Sijara Eubanks had to drop out of the final and was replaced by Roxanne Modafferi, she was re-booked into this fight with Honchak. I actually picked a winner here – Honchak, as she’d been the former Invicta champ at this weight and had won 9 in a row prior to TUF.

Round One begins and Honchak is in tremendous shape for a girl pushing 40. They exchange punches from the off, with Honchak looking to work a jab and Murphy pressing forward more. Both women land with some decent shots and this is a super-close fight thus far. Nice right hand lands cleanly for Murphy, best shot of the fight thus far. Exchange continues and this is basically just a boxing match. Hard leg kick does connect for Honchak though. More jabs and counters get through for Honchak but she eats another clean right hook. Big exchange with a minute to go sees Honchak land the better punches. Round ends with them continuing to trade punches. Really close round but I think Murphy just about got the better of it.

Round Two and they start exactly where they left off with more exchanges. Clean one-two lands for Honchak and it seems like she’s finding her range a little more now. Another one-two sends Murphy on the retreat and she’s clearly hurt, but Honchak doesn’t really follow it up hugely. Bit of an error from Honchak there I think. She’s definitely landing the better shots in this round so far, though. Murphy’s face is starting to look marked up. Pair of solid right hand counters land hard for Honchak. Clean right hand answers back for Murphy. Exchange continues and it doesn’t look like either one of them is going to look for a takedown. Honchak’s still getting the better of the exchanges, too. Finally Murphy does decide to go for a double leg and she gets it, but Honchak instantly reverses to her feet. Murphy takes her back standing and slaps one hook in, but Honchak seems calm and they go down with Honchak landing on top. Round ends there. 10-9 Honchak for me and I’d call it even going into the third.

Round Three and if you’re going by visible damage then Honchak is way ahead as Murphy’s face is a mess, but it’s much closer than that of course. Again though Honchak gets the best of the early exchanges despite Murphy landing a clean right hook. Takedown from Murphy changes things up though and she lands inside Honchak’s guard. Murphy doesn’t do a lot from the top but she is controlling Honchak. Armbar attempt from Honchak and it suddenly looks pretty close. Murphy seems calm and manages to avoid it, but Honchak switches to a triangle and now that looks tight. Murphy’s definitely in a lot of trouble this time. Crowd go pretty crazy as Honchak switches back to the armbar ala Nogueira, but Murphy manages to step over her body as she goes belly-down to alleviate the pressure. Murphy does a tremendous job of freeing her arm, and now she takes Honchak’s back with both hooks. Less than a minute to go and now it’s Honchak in trouble, but Murphy doesn’t really come close with a choke attempt. Round ends with Murphy in the dominant position. Tricky one to score but I’d probably go 10-9 Honchak for the close submissions, giving her the fight 29-28.

Judges have a split decision, 29-28 Murphy, 29-28 Honchak and 29-28 for Lauren Murphy. I would’ve gone the other way but I don’t think Honchak can have many complaints as it was such a close fight and really, every round could’ve gone either way. Great fight too as they showed a really high level of skill in all areas really and it never got boring for a second. Hopefully both women do well in the new division although at their age how long they can keep going I don’t know.

Lightweight Fight: Sean O’Malley vs Terrion Ware

This was O’Malley’s UFC debut proper after picking up a lot of hype coming off Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, and he was faced with Ware – who had lost in a close call against solid prospect Cody Stamman at UFC 213. Tough fight to call but I figured the UFC would want O’Malley to win so I figured he’d pull it out.

Announcers are going CRAZY for O’Malley, plugging him and calling him the potential new Conor McGregor and all sorts. Whoever said the UFC don’t try to get guys over any more?

Round One begins and O’Malley opens with a spin kick to the body. Head kick follows but Ware blocks it. Beautiful body kick from O’Malley and he seems to be moving at a far quicker speed than Ware. Spinning backfist into a head kick glances for O’Malley. Right hand from Ware and he wades into the clinch and forces O’Malley backwards. Ware can’t get him down though and O’Malley breaks off. Head kick glances for Ware. Trade sees Ware land but O’Malley escapes out of range and then fires back with some hooks and a question mark kick. Straight left connects cleanly and forces Ware backwards. O’Malley’s got some pretty weird movement going on and he picks at Ware with some more wild strikes. Trio of clean punches land for O’Malley as he easily dodges Ware’s more pedestrian movement. He’s looking excellent thus far. Ware manages to connect on some punches of his own though and he gets to the clinch, but O’Malley tosses him down with a foot sweep and then hits him with a left. Ware continues to push forward, but he just seems too slow to catch O’Malley. Nice right hand does land for Ware though. O’Malley fires back and then goes for a takedown, but Ware blocks it. Round ends there. 10-9 O’Malley.

Round Two and Ware pushes forward, but walks right into a hard body kick. He’s just struggling to get a feel for the weird movement and speed of O’Malley. O’Malley continues to pop him from the outside, and then hits him with a big head kick. Clinch from Ware but O’Malley quickly separates. Big swings from Ware force O’Malley to get out or range, and now both men are landing with punches as O’Malley slows down a bit. Knees land for Ware from close range. O’Malley’s poor man’s Dominick Cruz impression from the earlier round is seemingly long gone. Ware continues to push forward as his coaches scream that he’s broken O’Malley, and both men continue to land shots in the exchanges. Big right hand from Ware sets up a flurry and O’Malley looks gassed. Head kick attempt sees O’Malley slip to the ground and Ware decides to follow him down, but O’Malley scrambles to his feet and glances with a spinning backfist. Ware continues to push forward with punches and both guys continue to trade off, and this is becoming a dirty brawl. Seconds to go and O’Malley fires back, and then attempts a flying triangle of all things, but he can’t get it and they roll around with Ware avoiding a leglock to land a right hand on the buzzer. 10-9 Ware, hell of a round though.

Round Three and Ware pours on the pressure again, backing O’Malley up and landing the big right hand. Nice jabs from O’Malley snap Ware’s head back, and he glances on a spinning back kick and a front kick. Looks like O’Malley might be getting a second wind. Couple of big combinations land for O’Malley and now it’s Ware who appears to be slowing down. O’Malley’s really working his jab well in this round. Exchange turns into a pretty wild trade and they brawl again with both men landing blows. Two minutes to go and O’Malley seems to have Ware hurt for a second with a combo. Ware crowds him back into the fence but O’Malley is landing a lot more punches now. Spinning backfist into a wheel kick (!) pops the crowd and Ware shoots for the takedown, but O’Malley defends it. Ware looks to take the back standing before O’Malley switches it up and hits a takedown of his own. He lets Ware back up and lands a kick to the body and then the head, then hits a trip to guard. Downward elbow earns O’Malley a warning, and then he goes for a D’Arce, but slips and allows Ware to his feet. Ware takes the back again and they jockey for position on the fence, then break off ad both guys are just dead now, but they keep swinging until O’Malley hits another takedown on the buzzer. 10-9 O’Malley, 29-28 overall.

Official scores are 29-28 all round for Sean O’Malley. Really fun fight although I must say, it was very sloppy at times and I’m not sure if it should’ve been a UFC co-main event in 2017, you know? That’s another conversation entirely, though. Ware did his job and pushed O’Malley to his limits and it did look like O’Malley was breaking in the second round, but he roared back in the third to take the round and ended up looking pretty good in the process. He’s way too raw to be up against contenders at this point but there’s enough warm bodies for him to face and test himself against in the 155lbs division anyway, so all is good. He’s definitely a guy to watch.

UFC Women’s World Flyweight Title: Nicco Montano vs Roxanne Modafferi

So yeah, this was perhaps the weirdest title fight in UFC history given nobody had apparently been watching TUF and we had a late replacement in Modafferi taking the fight on one day’s notice following Sijara Eubanks missing weight and having to drop out. The late notice made Montano the favourite to me but I had no idea really due to never seeing Montano fight before.

First round begins and they trade some early strikes with Montano largely getting the better of it. She clinches and forces Roxy back for a second, but Modafferi quickly separates. Lot of pressure from Montano early. Modafferi gets a couple of decent strikes off but she’s clearly getting the worse of these exchanges. They tie up and Modafferi looks for a takedown, but Montano remains on her feet. Glancing head kick from Montano. Takedown follows and Roxy immediately looks to roll for a potential armbar, then closes up the guard as Montano settles down. Couple of hammer fists get through for Montano but largely Roxy controls her from the bottom. Just under a minute to go and Montano lets Modafferi back up, and from there she clinches and hits a trip of her own down into side mount. Decent punches land for Modafferi as she looks to set up a mounted crucifix, but Montano manages to avoid and get to half-guard. Couple of elbows end the round for Modafferi. Close-ish round but I’d go 10-9 Montano.

Second round and Roxy comes out swinging, but she walks into a couple of sharp counters and a body kick. Hard right hand from Modafferi has Montano hurt though and she chases her down and wades in with more punches. Clinch from Modafferi looks to set up a takedown, but she can’t get Montano off her feet. They break off and both women come up short on some strikes before Roxy wades into the clinch with a wild flurry. Montano shrugs it off though and they continue to exchange punches. Modafferi is pushing a pretty wild pace here considering she was only training for a three-rounder. Good left hand lands for Montano coming forward. Clean combination follows up for her. Roxy just looks too stiff on her feet even though she’s throwing straight combinations. Beautiful body kick from Montano as the crowd chant for her. Can’t fault the effort from these two, that’s for sure. Big takedown from Modafferi but she gets caught in a tight triangle attempt. She stands up to try to get rid of it, but Montano looks to have it locked down and she elbows the head for good measure. Roxy’s in trouble, but she manages to survive until the buzzer. 10-9 Montano again.

Third round and again they trade punches with Modafferi wading in with shots that don’t really land cleanly. She just doesn’t seem sharp enough to really hurt Montano even when she’s landing. Takedown attempt from Montano and she forces Roxy back into the fence. Modafferi defends it pretty well, but eats a left on the way out. Decent combination lands for Modafferi. Montano comes back with a combo of her own and she has Roxy backing up some more now. Exchange continues at a high pace and it looks like Montano’s pretty marked up, particularly around the right eye. Montano lands with some pretty good counters as Modafferi keeps on swinging. Seconds to go now and Roxy connects on a really good right hand, but it doesn’t have much effect. Round ends with Montano landing some nice clean punches. 10-9 Montano and I’m thinking Modafferi needs a finish.

Fourth round and Roxy gets stunned by some punches in an early exchange. Couple of heavy leg kicks land for Montano too. Roxy keeps on firing back but she’s clearly tired now and is pushing her punches more and more. Superman punch does land for her but Montano fires back with a big combination that forces Roxy into the fence. They clinch up and Montano gets a pretty wild takedown, then avoids a possible submission attempt and grabs a front facelock. Modafferi works to her feet, but Montano stays on her before they separate. Combo lands for Modafferi and they exchange pretty wildly with both women landing punches. Modafferi gets a plum clinch and tries to get a takedown from it (!) but can’t really get it and they end up clinched instead. Action slows down a little from the clinch before Montano separates. They continue to trade punches from there and Modafferi lands a trio of rights that have Montano hurt. Montano switches it up with a takedown to half-guard and works some elbows to the body, and the round ends with Montano working from top position before letting Roxy up. 10-9 Montano but she’s badly cut now.

Fifth round and both women look badly busted up now. This has been a great fight to be fair. They trade off right away to begin the round with Montano absolutely tagging Modafferi with a right hand. Can’t fault either’s chin, that’s for sure! Big takedown from Montano and she lands in half-guard. Probably a smart idea as she’s miles ahead on points I would think. Full mount follows and she lands some elbows, but Roxy gets back to half-guard and so Montano stands. Takedown from Roxy now, but Montano hits a beautiful reversal and lands on top in half-guard. She works into side mount and then full mount, and drops a big elbow before Modafferi gives her back. She uses that to reverse to her feet, and they break with half the round remaining. Both of them look exhausted now for good reason. Nice body kick lands for Roxy to end a combo and she comes wading forward, landing a couple of knees too as Montano tries to hold on. What a gutsy showing this is for Roxy, wow. Montano ends up on top in another scramble and she avoids an armbar, and Modafferi gets closed guard and tries to hold on. Armbar attempt with seconds remaining for Roxy and it actually looks decent, but Montano manages to slip the arm free at the last second. Holy shit that was close. Round ends with Modafferi absolutely swinging for the fences. 10-9 Montano, 50-45 overall, but I’ve got so much respect for Roxy after that, wow.

Judges have it 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46 to make Nicco Montano the first ever UFC Women’s Flyweight champion. Well, there was probably no doubt about the result but Modafferi put on a hell of a fight in the end and it literally just came down to the fact that she slowed down more (likely the late notice) and just isn’t a naturally great striker despite landing a lot of decent shots. Montano looked good too and this was a hell of a fight, but I just don’t see her holding onto the title that long I guess, not when the Invicta fighters (Jennifer Maia, etc) invariably move over and the likes of Valentina Shevchenko move down and stuff. Remember she didn’t pick up one finish during TUF, for instance. But shit, every division has to start somewhere – remember Dave Menne was the first UFC Middleweight champ! – and this was a great fight to kick this one off with even if the TUF season was largely under the radar.

-Show ends with Montano leaving the cage with her newly won title.

Final Thoughts….

For what was basically a throwaway show this was quite a lot of fun in the end. We got the likely sub of the year from Brett Johns, a nice finish from Gerald Meerschaert and then a trio of really excellent fights in Honchak/Murphy, O’Malley/Ware and Montano/Modafferi even if the latter two got sloppy at points. Bennett/Fabian stunk and really brought the whole show down, but outside of that this one’s definitely worth a look. Thumbs up mainly then.

Best Fight: Montano vs. Modafferi
Worst Fight: Bennett vs. Fabian

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman: