MMA Review: #643: UFC Fight Night 131

-This was a bit of a weaker card even for a Fight Night on paper, but despite that the main event – a long-awaited showdown between top Bantamweights Marlon Moraes and Jimmie Rivera – sounded pretty awesome, meaning it was still somewhat of a must-watch.

UFC Fight Night 131

Utica, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Jimmy Smith.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Sam Alvey vs Gian Villante

This was Alvey’s second run up at 205lbs after a win against Marcin Prachnio in February, and he was faced with a solid opponent in Villante, who had beaten Francimar Barroso back in January. I had no clue who would win this one and was just hoping for excitement really as Alvey can be dull unless he gets an early KO.

First round begins and Alvey circles around as Villante stalks forward. Few kicks glance for Villante as Alvey looks to be trying to lure him in somehow. Low kick lands for Alvey. More kicks glance for Villante as he continues to move forward, and we’ve got little action going on here really after three minutes. Couple of big shots miss for Alvey. Nice body kick lands for Villante and Alvey needs to do something soon. He wings a left hook back after taking a low kick but it doesn’t land cleanly. Low blow lands for Villante and rev Kevin McDonald has to call time for a moment before getting them restarted. This is a terrible round so far. Counter one-two connects for Alvey off a low kick and draws a grin, but a follow-up left hand puts him down hard! Villante pops up and Alvey flurries on him to end the round. Got to be 10-9 Alvey due to the knockdown even if he did literally nothing else all round.

Second round and Villante walks into another counter left although it doesn’t land cleanly this time. Head kick lands for Villante but Alvey takes it well. More kicks follow for the New Yorker and Alvey is waiting purely for the counter shot. Combination glances for Alvey but Villante takes it. Alvey’s habit of grimacing without doing much is really frustrating to watch. More glancing strikes from both follow although it’s still Villante with all the forward movement. Decent one-two combination lands for Villante. More of the same follows with Alvey just about avoiding Villante’s biggest strikes before ending the round with a bit of a flurry. 10-9 Villante due purely to lack of offense from Alvey.

Third round and Villante continues to press the action as Alvey remains super-passive, just looking for the big counter. This is one of the worst fights of 2018 I’d say. Couple of good kicks do make it through for Villante and still Alvey continues to do very little. One-two lands for Alvey to little effect. Nice combination from Villante and he’s got Alvey continually backpedalling. Kicks continue to work for the New Yorker. Bit of a brief exchange sees both men land a couple of solid shots. Couple of big swings miss for Villante. Less than a minute to go now and I think Alvey needs to do at least something, anything really. Wild swings from both men glance and they end the round by clinching. Diabolical stuff. 29-28 Villante for me.

Judges have it 29-28 Alvey, 29-28 Villante and 29-28 laughably for Sam Alvey. Dude basically won the fight off the back of one knockdown, lord only knows how he got two rounds. Fight absolutely sucked as Alvey just grimaced and through the odd big punch and Villante never really opened up for fear of that. I hate to criticise but fuck it, this was awful to watch.

Featherweight Fight: Julio Arce vs Daniel Teymur

This was a bit of a surprising choice for a main card fight given Daniel Teymur had only fought – and lost – once in the UFC while his younger brother David – who’s been featured on PPVs and stuff – was on the undercard, but it felt like the guy they were looking to showcase here was Arce, who’d come off Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and had already won one his UFC debut proper. Plus at 14-2 with a further 6 amateur wins he looked like a legit prospect.

Round One begins and Teymur presses the action with some low kicks in the early going. Kicks from Teymur continue and Arce looks to be waiting for his chance for some offense. Nice body kick lands for Arce. More kicks follow for Teymur who’s being by far the more active fighter thus far. Not really sure what Arce’s gameplan is. Nice double jab into a left hand connects cleanly for him though and snaps Teymur’s head back. Clinch from Arce but Teymur muscles him back into the fence. They jockey for position and Teymur breaks off, then lands with another low kick. Less than a minute to go and Arce’s becoming more aggressive with his strikes, but he doesn’t land cleanly really. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Teymur for more activity, not the best round overall.

Round Two and Arce looks more aggressive and lands with a hard left hand to open the round. He’s really pressing forward now. Nice combination from Arce ends in a head kick. Teymur comes back with a counter left as he backs up. Exchange continues with both men landing and they’ve really picked up the pace here. Good combination backs Teymur up. Arce’s left hand is looking great. Clinch from Teymur and he forces Arce into the cage, going for a single leg, but he can’t get him down. They muscle for position and then break off, and it looks like Arce’s pace is beginning to wear Teymur down. Spinning attack misses for Teymur and he eats a high kick. Back to the clinch and Teymur lands with a decent knee, but Arce throws off a guillotine attempt and they break. Seconds to go now and Arce continues to push forward, landing more strikes to end the round. 10-9 Arce for sure.

Round Three and Arce tags Teymur with combinations to open, forcing the Swede backwards. Spinning backfist misses for Teymur and it looks like he’s swinging recklessly now. Big left hook connects cleanly for Arce. He’s really sharpening up as the fight goes on. Low kick from Teymur is caught and Arce takes him down, landing shots before taking his back as he attempts to scramble up. Crowd pop loudly for that as Arce slaps on a body triangle, and now Teymur’s in deep trouble. Teymur works to defend, but Arce keeps on looking for the choke and eventually he slaps it on tightly, and despite the Swede giving the thumbs up for a second he has to tap shortly after.

Well, this started slowly but turned into a fun fight in the end and Arce pretty much followed that pattern himself, starting slowly before really opening up on Teymur and outstriking him en route to setting up the submission. If he can get past that slow start he’s definitely a guy to watch in the future.

Welterweight Fight: Ben Saunders vs Jake Ellenberger

Both of these veterans – at one point legit contenders a few years back – had hit hard times coming into this one, with both men having been knocked out in their last couple of fights, and really it looked like a case of who could land first given their apparently cracked chins. I was pulling for Saunders as a longtime fan of his but it was tricky to call.

Round One begins and Saunders fires a high kick early on and then lands a low kick. Ellenberger looks to close him down but almost walks into a big punch. Another head kick glances for Saunders. Kick is caught by Ellenberger and he clubs Saunders with a couple of solid punches en route to the clinch. Ellenberger force him into the fence, but a decent knee connects for Saunders and then he secures the plum to land a couple more. Big one connects to the body and Ellenberger DOUBLES OVER, and that’s basically it as he has to cover up and can’t defend some follow-up shots.

Big win for Ben Saunders and it was nice to see that his offensive game still remains even if his chin is probably long-gone. He’s still a very fun guy to watch and this was probably his best win since returning to the UFC back in 2014 in fact. As for Ellenberger, he’s probably done if we’re honest and ought to hang it up, but I could easily see him in Bellator at some point too. Nice finish for Saunders at any rate.

Heavyweight Fight: Walt Harris vs Daniel Spitz

Classic mid-level HW fight here with the UFC clearly hoping for an early knockout rather than a slugfest; Spitz had most recently knocked out Anthony Hamilton on late notice while Harris had last been seen in that odd fight with Mark Godbeer that saw him DQ’d for an illegal strike after the ref had called time for a low blow. Despite Harris having a ton of clear limitations I was taking him just due to the flashes of potential he’d shown at times.

Fight begins and Spitz dances around on the outside like he’s a giant Dominick Cruz. Low kick lands early for him. Bunch of strikes miss from both men as they continue to circle around. Crowd sound bored as fuck. Couple of big right hands finally land for Harris and seem to have Spitz hurt, but he gets out of range and Harris doesn’t follow it up. Couple of kicks connect for Spitz as they continue to largely miss on the big shots. This is dull as all hell. Less than a minute to go now and neither man looks that great really. Few more shots glance for Harris and the round ends in a chorus of boos. 10-9 Harris I guess? That was awful.

Into the 2nd and Harris opens with a right hook over the top that lands decently, but it doesn’t rock Spitz or anything. Knee connects for Harris and he shrugs off a takedown. Spitz just can’t seem to get anything going. Low kick is caught by Harris who then glances on a high kick. Crowd still sound bored as they continue to lumber around and glance on the odd strike. I guess it’s not a clinch fest at least. One minute to go and the boos are outright coming now. Hardly any surprise either. This is a terrible fight. Seconds to go though and Spitz fires a low kick that Harris counters with a NASTY LEFT HOOK and it freezes Spitz in his tracks! He’s in deep trouble and sure enough Harris follows up with a flurry that puts him away with one second to go.

Decent knockout from Harris but the ten minutes that led to the finish were awful, just an incredibly slow pace with neither man really landing anything of note. Let us never discuss it again.

Lightweight Fight: Gregor Gillespie vs Vinc Pichel

This was some confusing matchmaking as Gillespie had been rolling over everyone he’d faced and looking awesome in the process and clearly needed a step up in competition, and yet he was matched with Pichel – a tough guy for sure, but also someone who had been fighting only sporadically since like 2012. Despite Pichel’s talents I couldn’t see him stopping Gillespie and took ‘The Gift’ to win by submission.

Round One begins and Pichel throws out some punches at the smaller Gillespie, only to eat a left hand and then find himself easily taken down by a single leg. Gillespie’s wrestling game is absolutely sick. He moves pretty easily into side mount too despite Pichel being seated initially against the fence. Few short strikes land for Gillespie before Pichel scrambles, giving Gillespie his neck. He can’t get a choke before Pichel stands though, and they briefly separate before Gillespie gets him down with a single leg again. Back to side mount too and then he takes a front facelock to control him as he scrambles. Pichel pops back up but gets dumped down again, and this time Gillespie opens up with some nasty punches from the top. Pichel looks a bit gassed already due to the sheer pace. Half-guard this time for Pichel but Gillespie begins to prep an arm triangle choke. He uses it to pass into full mount and now Pichel could be in trouble. He does well to scramble though, but again ends up stuck in a front headlock. This time though he escapes to his feet. Takedown attempt again follows for Gillespie but this time Pichel blocks it. Another attempt puts Pichel down though and again Gillespie controls him from the top. Guillotine attempt from Gillespie this time and he switches to a different variant, Miguel Torres-style, but Pichel survives the round. 10-9 Gillespie.

Round Two and Gillespie dodges some early punches and lands with a left hand. Low kick from Pichel is caught and Gillespie slams him down into side mount. Another scramble allows Pichel up, but again Gillespie controls him with a front headlock. Gillespie is such a great grappler. He moves to take the back this time and clubs him with some punches before landing knees to the hamstring for good measure. One hook in for Gillespie now and then he slides the other in, hanging on Pichel’s back with the TUF veteran standing. Gillespie loses one hook but he’s still in firm control, but seconds later he loses the other only to try a suplex from the rear waistlock. Pichel manages to avoid that, but gets dragged down anyway. Weird dump sees Pichel land on the back of his head and Gillespie drops into side mount, and from there he puts himself into half-guard and then looks to prep the arm triangle again. Full mount follows and Pichel looks to be wilting, and sure enough Gillespie slaps on the arm triangle and gives it a tight squeeze, and Pichel taps there.

Well, that was a completely one-sided mauling, as Pichel pretty much had zero offense and Gillespie just worked him over from start to finish. The guy HAS to be given a step up in competition now surely as he’s just way above the guys he’s been fighting and it almost feels like a waste of his talent at this point! I mean, I genuinely don’t think many fighters in the division would be able to stop his takedown, he’s that good. And the pace he keeps means he always puts on fun fights, too. What’s not to love?

Bantamweight Fight: Jimmie Rivera vs Marlon Moraes

This one was originally set for UFC 219 in December, when Moraes agreed to replace Dominick Cruz in a fight with Rivera, but then had to pull out himself due to apparently being unable to make 135lbs on late notice. That triggered a massive war of words between the two with Rivera basically accusing Moraes of ducking, and so it was natural to re-book it in 2018. It was a really tough fight to pick too – Rivera was unbeaten in the UFC at 5-0 with a win over Urijah Faber, while Moraes had just beaten Aljamain Sterling and John Dodson and probably should’ve beaten Raphael Assuncao too with better judging. I was leaning slightly towards Rivera, but figured the winner should get the next title shot regardless.

Fight begins and they circle with Moraes landing a low kick. Rivera looks to be gauging the distance but before he can do anything Moraes WAYLAYS HIM WITH A HEAD KICK and as he goes down the Brazilian pounces and finishes him off! Jesus Christ that was fast.

Replay shows the kick landed perfectly, shin to the dome and Moraes was too quick with the follow-up to let Rivera recover. Insane finish for Moraes as Rivera had never been stopped before and hadn’t even lost since 2008! Post-fight Moraes calls for a shot at the title and the UFC really ought to go for it, just book him against the Dillashaw/Garbrandt winner and don’t go for any bullshit superfight deal with Demetrious Johnson or anything. With his last two wins Moraes has more than earned a shot and he’s exciting as hell too, what could be better really?

-Show abruptly ends as Moraes is leaving the cage and that’s it.

Final Thoughts….

Bit of a mixed bag; the main event was awesome even if it was quick, Ben Saunders’ TKO was cool and Gregor Gillespie had another great performance, but the rest left a lot to be desired really – Alvey/Villante and Harris/Spitz were as bad as any televised fights I can remember this year and Arce/Teymur was pretty forgettable too. Thumbs in the middle but track down Moraes’ KO for sure.

Best Fight: Moraes vs. Rivera
Worst Fight: Harris vs. Spitz

Overall Rating: **1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: