MMA Review: #656: UFC Fight Night 136

-Given this was the UFC’s first ever show in Russia, I was expecting a lot more than a Fight Pass card with the biggest name being Mark Hunt, but the UFC in 2018 is full of surprises I guess – not all of them good ones, either. Weird stuff to say the least but I guess Hunt vs. Oleinik sounded fun.

UFC Fight Night 136

09/15/18
Moscow, Russia

-Your hosts are John Gooden, Paul Felder and Dan Hardy.

Welterweight Fight: Thiago Alves vs Alexey Kunchenko

Alves had looked like he was on a real downward spiral in February with his loss to Curtis Millender, so I was surprised to see him back here, facing another debutant in Kunchenko, who was unbeaten at 18-0. Despite Kunchenko having fought basically nobody of note, I figured he’d have enough to take out a guy as close to likely retirement as Alves, sadly. Weird note from the Tale of the Tape though reveals them to be THE SAME AGE, which means it’s a bit of a farce to label Kunchenko a prospect as some were coming into the event.

Round One and this crowd are HOT. Leg kick opens things for Alves, unsurprisingly. Couple more kicks are blocked by Kunchenko who hasn’t really thrown a strike in the first two minutes. He finally does land a low kick, and a decent right hand. Exchange continues and Alves is the busier man. Nice leg kick lands for Kunchenko. One-two answers back for Thiago. Beautiful classic combo from Alves with a one-two directly into a leg kick. Kunchenko manages to back him up and land some punches, but Alves quickly fires back with a couple more kicks and a left hook. Nasty body kick follows. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Alves as he was definitely the more active fighter.

Round Two and they trade off with kicks to begin, and Kunchenko backs the veteran up a little only to take a strong combination. Vicious leg kick lands for Alves. Couple more kicks follow as Alves is doing a good job of avoiding Kunchenko’s shots and landing ones of his own. Jumping kick glances for Alves. Kunchenko is pressuring him back but he’s being outstruck thus far. Big head kick glances for the Brazilian. Kunchenko comes back with a clean leg kick, only to take a counter combo that bloodies his nose. Beautiful counter right hand lands for Kunchenko. Exchange continues and Alves lands with another sharp leg kick that clearly hurts the Russian. He keeps pushing forward though and lands the right hand a couple of times. Another leg kick spins Kunchenko round outright though and a body kick quickly follows. Alves’s kicks still have that bite they had back in 2008. Round ends with a pretty open trade. 10-9 Alves again for me.

Round Three and Alves again opens with kicks as Kunchenko presses the action and swings with a nice right hand. Combination leads into a low kick for Alves. Good flurry lands for Kunchenko. Both men are landing decent strikes in this round actually. Exchange continues and both men are throwing some bombs and taking them well too. Kunchenko is really opening up with his punching combinations now. Two minutes to go and a combo stuns Alves, but he fires right back with a low blow. Ref Marc Goddard calls time. They restart pretty quickly and Thiago gets right back to kicking. Exchange continues and a beautiful combination of punches and a low kick drops Alves for a second. He pops back up into the clinch, but Kunchenko drops and hits a double leg. Alves pops back up, only to eat another combination and from there Kunchenko looks to get him down again. He gives it up to land another sweet combo, and he’s clearly on the ascendency now. More big combinations land and Alves tries to fire back but he’s wilting. He manages to survive though, and the round ends with another exchange. 10-9 Kunchenko but 29-28 for Alves on my scorecard.

Official scores are 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 all for Alexey Kunchenko. Don’t really agree with that but it was close and I guess Kunchenko was the one pushing the action for the most part while Alves was more of the counter-fighter. Not a bad debut for the Russian but I don’t think he gets into title contention or anything. As for Alves he should probably still consider retiring, but to be fair he looked far better here than he did against Millender – which might say more about Millender I guess, who knows. Fun fight overall.

Heavyweight Fight: Andrei Arlovski vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

I wasn’t sure at all what to expect from this one given Arlovski had looked shot (again) midway through 2017 before somehow reeling off two wins and giving Tai Tuivasa a pretty close fight. Abdurakhimov had won his last fight by KO but had never really impressed me, and so despite his age and mileage I thought Arlovski might be able to pull this one off.

Round One and wow, Arlovski is MASSIVELY OVER with this Russian crowd despite being from Belarus. He looks in good shape too. They circle to begin and clinch briefly with a slight exchange, and then a slip sees Andrei go to his back. Abdurakhimov lets him back up, and they clinch and jockey for position before trading on the break. Nice takedown from Abdurakhimov off a caught kick, and he lands on top in guard. From there he works the head and body as the action slows down to a crawl. Ref calls a stand-up and Arlovski glances with a head kick. Right hand follows but Abdurakhimov clinches to slow him down. Decent left hand connects for Abdurakhimov. Low kick from Arlovski puts him down for a second but he pops right up. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Abdurakhimov for the ground work I guess.

Round Two and Abdurakhimov clinches and forces Andrei into the clinch for a moment to begin. They remain clinched up and Arlovski lands with a low blow, forcing ref Leon Roberts to call time. They restart and Abdurakhimov easily catches a low kick and dumps Arlovski again. He enters the guard and begins to work and once again the action slows down. Big shots get through for Abdurakhimov but Arlovski uses the opportunity to stand and escape. Arlovski’s looking tired. Looks like he’s bleeding too. They clinch up and now Arlovski manages a trip takedown, but Abdurakhimov scrambles right back up. These guys are moving SLOWLY now. Short right hand connects for Abdurakhimov to set up another clinch, and they exchange knees before Andrei trips him down again. Kimura attempt doesn’t work for Abdurakhimov and Arlovski ends the round with some punches. Probably 10-9 Abdurakhimov for the shots on the fence despite Andrei’s late surge.

Round Three and Abdurakhimov actually opens with a decent spinning backfist. Clinch follows but nothing comes of it. Both men miss on some punches and land a couple too in and out of the clinch, but neither man really looks hurt. This is a crazy slow pace now. Crowd seem very patient at least. Eye poke lands for Abdurakhimov and time has to be called. They restart and more of the same follows. Neither man is being very active at all here. Low blow now lands for Abdurakhimov and surely that ought to be a point deduction. It’s not though and so we get another minute of pretty slow action until the round ends. Call it 10-10 and a 30-28 for Shamil Abdurakhimov.

Judges have it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Shamil Abdurakhimov. Totally dull fight though as the second and third rounds in particular were fought at a glacial pace and it’s really starting to look now like Arlovski just has no more left in the tank. Dude has been around in the UFC for almost 20 years though so that’s hardly a shock! Nothing more to say really.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jan Blachowicz vs Nikita Krylov

This was Krylov’s big return to the Octagon following a couple of years in self-imposed exile in Russia – apparently he wanted to be closer to his family – and he’d gone 4-0 before re-signing with the UFC earlier in 2018. Opponent Blachowicz was on a hot run of three straight wins, so this was a big fight in the thin 205lbs division, but I was taking Krylov to win due to his wild aggressive style.

Fight begins and Krylov comes out throwing some wild kicks and he lands a hard right hand too to counter a low kick from Blachowicz. Krylov looks incredibly lean compared to how he did a few years back. Big takedown follows for him and he lands in Blachowicz’s guard. Couple of armbar attempts fail for the Polish fighter and Krylov looks pretty content to stay on top and grind with his forearms. Scramble from Blachowicz allows Krylov to grab his neck and go for a guillotine, but Blachowicz calmly passes into side mount to avoid that. Krylov keeps hold of the neck, making him vulnerable for the Von Flue choke, but eventually he lets it go before Jan can try it. Looks like Blachowicz might be setting up for a kimura, but he gives that up in order to land a couple of hammer fists instead. Blachowicz’s ground game is massively improved these days. Krylov manages to work back to half-guard, but Blachowicz continues to grind on him and moves back to side mount. Round ends there. Good round for Jan Blachowicz; 10-9.

Second round and both men trade off with kicks before Blachowicz goes for a single leg. Krylov blocks it but ends up giving his back, and then decides to roll for a leglock. That doesn’t work and Blachowicz ends up on top and passes into side mount. Action slows down a bit as Blachowicz continues to control him from the top, before Krylov ends up rolling onto his side while still on the bottom. Blachowicz begins to prep an arm triangle choke, and in an odd position, he takes the back with the choke pretty much sunk, and Krylov ends up tapping out with Blachowicz choking him from the side. That was a pretty sick choke actually. Really unique.

Fun fight and surprisingly the difference was Blachowicz’s superior ground game, crazy considering Krylov partially made his name by tapping guys out in the cage. It still feels weird to say it but Blachowicz is clearly a title contender now, not that I’d give him a shot against someone like Jones or Gustafsson. Krylov will probably bounce back from this loss as he’s so young and shouldn’t be harmed in the long run, but it was still surprising to see him dominated on the ground like this. Huge win for Blachowicz.

Heavyweight Fight: Mark Hunt vs Aleksei Oleinik

Given these pair were a combined 85 years old (!) coming into this fight, this was probably one of the weirdest UFC main events in promotional history, even if it sounded fun due to both men having a penchant for not going the distance. Hunt was coming off his disappointing loss to Curtis Blaydes, while Oleinik had last taken out Junior Albini with his trademark Ezekiel choke in May. It was a classic striker vs. grappler match and personally I was favouring Oleinik as I thought he could probably get the ageing Hunt down and finish him there.

Round One begins and it’s Oleinik who comes forward early on to press the action. Good leg kick lands for Hunt in the opening seconds. Couple of slow hooks miss for Oleinik as Hunt looks like he’s trying to time him for a counter. Left hook glances for Oleinik. Another hard leg kick lands for Hunt and almost buckles Oleinik’s leg. Big overhand right follows but Oleinik takes it remarkably well. He’s being pieced up on the feet though. Another leg kick has him badly limping. Nice left hook from Hunt. Oleinik just looks too slow on the feet to land on him. Takedown attempt is defended well by Hunt who lands another low kick. Again he throws Oleinik away from him when he steps in, too. 1:30 to go and Oleinik lands with a solid left hook of his own after chasing Hunt down, and a right drops him but it looks more like a slip as he pops right back up. Single leg follows and Oleinik somehow manages to get him down for a second, enough to take his back as he scrambles up! Oleinik yanks him right to the ground and quickly slaps both hooks in, and from there he begins to work for the choke and SINKS IT IN to force the tapout! Crowd go pretty crazy for the finish too.

Well, there probably isn’t a more apt nickname in the UFC right now than Oleinik being called the Boa Constrictor. He looks insanely slow and plodding on the feet and easy to hit too, but once he gets hold of his opponent and drags them down they’re basically screwed. His squeeze is INSANE. I’m not sure he gets a title shot any time soon purely because he has a loss to Curtis Blaydes who’s arguably the top contender right now, but matches with the likes of Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou sound awesome. Give us Oleinik/Miocic next perhaps? Anyhow, this fight was unsurprisingly a ton of fun and a cool way to end the show.

Final Thoughts….

Can’t really give this a total thumbs up as Arlovski/Abdurakhimov was terrible and the whole show felt somewhat like a throwaway one, but it’s worth checking out as the UFC’s first ever trip to Russia, and the main event was really cool. Track it down on Fight Pass if you didn’t catch it first time around.

Best Fight: Hunt vs. Oleinik
Worst Fight: Arlovski vs. Abdurakhimov

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com