MMA Review: #664: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXVIII Finale

-TUF Finales seem to be a bit of a waste of time these days given Dana White’s Contender Series is clearly the best way to get onto the UFC roster at this point, but somehow the show keeps trucking on. This was the 28th season and it probably had the least interest to date. Main event for the show sounded awesome though – Kamaru Usman vs. Rafael Dos Anjos, baby!

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXVIII Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Brendan Fitzgerald and Jimmy Smith.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Antonina Shevchenko vs Ji Yeon Kim

Shevchenko – the older sister of Valentina – was making her UFC debut here after coming off a win on Dana White’s Contender Series, and she was initially pegged to fight contender Ashlee Evans-Smith, but when Evans-Smith withdrew with injury, the less proven Kim stepped in – making Shevchenko a big favourite to win.

Round One begins and this crowd is FUCKING DEAD. Looks like the place is nearly empty. Why the fuck the UFC doesn’t take these TUF Finales to smaller states instead of staying in Vegas I don’t know. Nice strikes connect for Shevchenko from the outside and the crowd silence is made worse by the fact that you can clearly hear Valentina Shevchenko shouting “HEY!” with every shot her sister lands. Short punch from Kim wobbles her, but it looks more like an off-balance moment. Exchange continues and a couple of front kicks land clean to the face for Shevchenko. Clinch follows and the action slows down with neither girl doing a lot. Ref calls a clean break and Shevchenko connects with a combination. Another one follows and she gets a head-and-arm throw to land in side mount. Round ends there. 10-9 Shevchenko.

Round Two and Shevchenko snipes at Kim from the outside some more to begin. Clinch from Kim and she shoves Antonina into the fence, but the action slows down a ton until Yves Lavigne calls another break. Beautiful counter combination lands for Shevchenko as Kim tries to come forward. Shevchenko is just the far crisper striker here. Another nice combo lands and forces Kim backwards. Clinch from Shevchenko now and she works Kim over with some strikes from there too. Her sister’s shouting is REALLY DISTRACTING now though and annoying as fuck. One minute to go and they break, and Shevchenko continues to pick her off with counterstrikes. She’s REALLY skilled with this even if it’s not that exciting. Round ends on the feet; 10-9 Shevchenko again clearly.

Round Three and they exchange low kicks before Shevchenko catches the leg and hits a takedown to guard. Action slows down from there as Kim does a good job of tying her up to prevent any damage, and Shevchenko doesn’t really look to pass the guard. Eventually Shevchenko decides to just stand up over her to kick the legs, then nail her with a big knee as she stands. Yves Lavigne calls time though as the knee was illegal. It’s only a warning and they restart, and Shevchenko continues where she left off with a heavy body kick, although Kim fires back with a right hand. Clinch follows but little happens and they break, and Shevchenko goes back to work with a combo. Big knees from the plum follow for her as Kim continues to struggle. Big head kick from Shevchenko is somehow shrugged off by Kim. Another combo follows but Kim clinches, forcing her into the fence. Couple of hard knees end the fight for Shevchenko. Got to be 30-27 for Shevchenko really.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Antonina Shevchenko. Pretty one-sided fight in the end as the difference in the striking levels was just massive and Shevchenko basically picked Kim apart. The fact that she never really stunned her is a bit concerning going forward I think, but Antonina is clearly an incredibly good striker from a technical standpoint and that should hold her in good stead against anyone in the division. How far she goes now her sister is the champ in the weight class is a question mark though – maybe a move to 135lbs could be in the future? This wasn’t the most entertaining debut of all time but it wasn’t horrible, either.

Middleweight Fight: Darren Stewart vs Edmen Shahbazyan

Stewart was on a pretty solid run coming into this one following two straight wins at 185lbs, while Shahbazyan was yet another prospect off the Contender Series, and he hadn’t ever left the first round in 7 fights. However, the fact that the Armenian fighter was trained by the notorious Edmond Tarverdyan was enough in itself to make me pick Stewart to win, as he’d looked excellent in his last fight, particularly on the feet.

First round begins and they circle before Shahbazyan shoots for a takedown. Stewart manages to stay up for a second, but Shahbazyan drags him down and takes the back. The Brit pops up, but he can’t shake Shahbazyan off him, and a knee from that position cuts Stewart. Shahbazyan remains on him and keeps hold of the rear waistlock, landing more knees for good measure. Stewart won’t go down, but he still can’t get free. Big left head kick breaks off for Shahbazyan and they circle before the newcomer ties up again. Elbow breaks for Stewart but Shahbazyan closes distance again. They break off with a minute to go and a body kick connects for Shahbazyan, but Stewart catches the leg and wades in with some heavy punches. Shahbazyan seems okay and comes back with a knee to the body, then hits a double leg and puts the Brit down. Round ends on the ground. 10-9 Shahbazyan.

Second round and Stewart comes out firing, but Shahbazyan stays on the outside out of range and then he hits a low single leg takedown. Stewart manages to pop back up instantly, but again Shahbazyan stays on him and manages to take his back again. He gets one hook in to control Stewart and then uses a front headlock to hold the Brit before he manages to stand up into the clinch. Action really slows down as Stewart just can’t shake the newcomer off him at all. Switch goes awry for Stewart and Shahbazyan trips him down and takes the back with one hook again. Both hooks in now for Shahbazyan and the Brit could be in trouble. Shahbazyan looks for the choke, but he can’t lock it up and Stewart ends up standing with him on his back. Shahbazyan ends up letting go to stand and land a solid knee to the head, and the round ends with him in control. 10-9 Shahbazyan.

Third round and Stewart looks super frustrated with this. He looks to draw Shahbazyan into a striking exchange and does manage to walk him down a bit, but he’s struggling to get into range. Nice takedown from Shahbazyan and he’s got Stewart planted down. The Brit works his way back up, and this time he cracks Shahbazyan with a big elbow! Shahbazyan looks stunned and he fails on another takedown attempt, and now the newcomer might be in trouble. Big combo from Stewart but Shahbazyan manages to slow him down with a clinch. Another takedown follows but Stewart muscles his way to his feet. Ref calls a clean break with two minutes to go and this time Stewart hits a trip takedown and begins to drop some BOMBS. Shahbazyan turtles up and he looks in trouble. Big shots connect for Stewart and Shahbazyan rolls onto his back, and he looks EXHAUSTED. Back to the turtle position for Shahbazyan and it looks like the ref may stop it, but Stewart lets him up and somehow he hits a takedown. Crowd are booing now as Shahbazyan desperately holds onto the Brit to keep him down. Stewart pops back up, but gets taken back down and that might just do it. Round ends with Shahbazyan in control. 10-9 Stewart, but too little, too late, and 29-28 Shahbazyan overall.

Judges have it 29-28 Shahbazyan, 29-28 Stewart (!) and 29-28 Shahbazyan to pick up a split decision. No idea how the one judge scored it for Stewart as he clearly lost the first two rounds, but there you go. Not the best fight as Shahbazyan didn’t do a lot outside of wrestle him, but then Stewart didn’t manage to defend it so it’s more on him really. Didn’t expect it as Shahbazyan had a reputation as a wild striker so maybe that explains Stewart’s issues if he wasn’t expecting a grappler. Can’t see Shahbazyan having much success with that gameplan against guys further up on the ladder, but then he’s definitely young enough to improve greatly too.

Bantamweight Fight: Pedro Munhoz vs Bryan Caraway

This was quite an interesting fight as Caraway had managed to make it into title contention with his 2016 win over Aljamain Sterling, but then sat out for two years and when he came back, he’d lost to Cody Stamann, basically putting his back against the wall. Munhoz meanwhile had beaten Brett Johns in his last fight and was looking to continue on his run here. I was taking Munhoz as I just saw him as a better overall fighter than Caraway.

Fight begins and both guys come out swinging before Caraway shoots for a takedown. Munhoz stuffs it and lands a low kick, then clips Caraway with a counter left. Couple more leg kicks land for the Brazilian. Big takedown attempt from Caraway is stuffed well by Munhoz and he breaks off. Nice left hand from Munhoz and Caraway is cut around the left eye. Combination follows for Munhoz. Low kick almost knocks Caraway down. He’s firing back though to be fair. Exchange continue with both guys landing and Caraway fails on another takedown attempt. Big trade sees Munhoz tagging Caraway with some big shots. Kick to the body appears to hurt Caraway somewhat, and a second one results in him dropping for an ankle pick. Munhoz defends that and then hits him with a front kick to the body, and from there Caraway buckles and goes down for the TKO.

Fun and short fight and a really good showing for Pedro Munhoz, although he did get hit probably too many times in the process. Caraway didn’t look good at all though and I think he probably fucked his own career over by sitting out for so long after that Sterling win. Can’t say I care however as I’ve never been a fan of his. Nice win for Munhoz at any rate.

TUF 28 Women’s Featherweight Finals: Pannie Kianzad vs Macy Chiasson

The Women’s Featherweight tournament on TUF 28 was basically the first sign outside of Cris Cyborg’s promotional push that the UFC cared at all about the division, so this fight was semi-interesting to me if only due to that. Fight seemed loaded in Kianzad’s favour as she had a lot more experience than Chiasson – who was only 2-0 and looked like a one-dimensional striker on the show – but then Kianzad was a natural 135lber and so that gave Chiasson – a huge 145lber – a chance at least.

Round One begins and sure enough Chiasson looks HUGE in comparison to Kianzad. Quick rush from Chiasson is avoided as they fire some early strikes at one another. Good right hook lands for Kianzad. Takedown attempt is defended by Chiasson who then forces Kianzad into the fence. They jockey for position and land a couple of strikes inside, and then the action really slows before Chiasson lands a couple of hard knees. Takedown attempt from Chiasson now but Kianzad remains on her feet. Kianzad can’t get off the fence, and she takes a couple of knees – including one where it appears that Chiasson’s holding her hair. That was a bit dodgy to say the least. Right hand connects for Kianzad as they break, but she shoots for a takedown and Chiasson defends and then manages to take the back from a scramble. Body triangle from Chiasson and Kianzad’s in trouble, but time runs out before Chiasson can finish. 10-9 Chiasson.

Round Two and Chiasson comes out winging punches and backing Kianzad up. Takedown attempt follows and she forces Pannie into the fence. Kianzad breaks for a second but Chiasson gets right back on her. Good job from Kianzad to break, but Chiasson comes forward with a BIG COMBO and down she goes! Kianzad manages to tie her up in the guard to slow her down, but Chiasson stacks up and manages to avoid an armbar attempt nicely. The escape allows her to take the back, and from there Chiasson slaps both hooks in and begins to work for the choke. Kianzad defends, but Chiasson sinks it in and forces the tap there.

Excellent showing from Chiasson as she was all over Kianzad from the off and never really let her out of first gear. Obviously she’s way too inexperienced for Cyborg right now but I mean, if Cyborg does leave the UFC as she’s mentioned – and the UFC doesn’t cut the division – then I don’t see why Chiasson can’t be a title contender somewhere down the road. The rest of the division are either just as inexperienced or much smaller anyway. Kianzad I suspect will do just fine at 135lbs but this was clearly a step too far for her. Not the best fight due to all the clinching but the ending was fun.

TUF 28 Heavyweight Finals: Juan Espino vs Justin Frazier

To be honest I wasn’t expecting a lot from this one – sure, both guys had looked decent on their TUF stints, with Spain’s Espino outgrappling both of his opponents and Frazier getting past famed kickboxer Anderson ‘Braddock’ Silva and then knocking out renowned wrestler Michel Batista, but neither guy looked to be in decent shape, particularly Frazier, and I dunno, I couldn’t see success for either man going forward. I was taking Espino to win based on his superior grappling, for the record.

Fight begins and Espino goes for a takedown right away and slams Frazier to the ground, landing in half-guard. Elbows begin to get through for Espino and then he looks to take the back as Frazier attempts to scramble. Series of hard left hands connect for Espino and Frazier is in big trouble here. Both hooks in for Espino now and he lands more punches and looks for the choke. It looks sunk in at one point but Frazier manages to survive somehow. Frazier manages to escape out the back door, but as he gets up Espino gets right back on him with a clinch and forces him into the cage. Takedown follows and Espino lands in side mount this time. Mounted crucifix follows and then he locks up a straight armbar ala Matt Hughes on Royce Gracie to force the tapout.

Totally one-sided fight as Espino just whitewashed Frazier. The difference in grappling skill was easy to see from the off and Frazier just had nothing for the guy. Wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him again in the UFC to be honest. At 38 years old I doubt Espino becomes a title contender or anything but then stranger things have happened at HW so who knows!

Welterweight Fight: Kamaru Usman vs Rafael Dos Anjos

This was a pretty huge fight at 170lbs, as Dos Anjos had looked like a possible threat to Tyron Woodley before losing to Colby Covington for the Interim title in the summer, while Usman was riding a huge 8-fight win streak and had just beaten Demian Maia to cement himself as a title contender. Despite Dos Anjos probably being more well-rounded, I figured Usman would copy the same blueprint laid down by Covington and use his wrestling to push a pace that the Brazilian couldn’t match.

Round One begins and RDA circles on the outside as Usman stalks forward. Big right hand glances for Usman. Takedown attempt follows and he drives RDA into the fence. RDA works to defend it and manages to break free, and they trade with RDA landing with a low kick and a solid combo. Usman keeps coming forward though and this time he shoots and slams RDA down into half-guard. RDA pops back up to his feet, but Usman keeps him against the fence and works the body with some punches. Both men exchange knees to the body and then Usman breaks off with punches. Big head kick glances for Usman. Head kick misses for RDA in response. Big flying knee misses for RDA and Usman swings a hard body shot before looking for the takedown again. RDA blocks it again but he’s struggling to shake Usman off him. Eventually Kamaru gets him down into guard, where he works with some chopping punches. More shots get through but RDA lands a hard upkick when Usman postures up. Usman takes it well and ends the round on top. 10-9 Usman.

Round Two and Usman looks to close the distance right away, landing a glancing left hook. He’s putting RDA under a lot of pressure here. Right hand leads to the clinch and he drops for the takedown again. RDA defends initially but he eats a left hook which leads to another clinch. Body punches land for Usman as he continues to grind RDA down. Takedown finally happens for Usman and he lands some punches and elbows from the guard. Elbows from the bottom land for RDA but Usman remains on top grinding away. Kimura attempt from RDA suddenly looks pretty deep, and Usman might be in trouble. Usman manages to get into half-guard and he’s very close to the fence, but RDA keeps wrenching on the left arm and in the end Usman has to roll free, giving up position in the process. They stand back up and RDA lands a low kick, but Usman wades in with punches that lead to the clinch again, where he lands a hard elbow. Uppercut breaks for RDA and he follows with some kicks that back Usman up. Exchange ends the round. Tricky one to score as RDA came close with the kimura, but he was dominated for the majority of the round, so 10-9 Usman again.

Round Three and again Usman stalks forward. Nasty low kick lands for RDA but Usman wades into the clinch again and works the body with hard punches. Body kick answers for RDA but Usman nails him with a big right hand. Wild exchange sees Usman land some heavy shots to set up a takedown attempt, and now RDA is bleeding from the nose. Takedown follows but RDA instantly looks to stand. He does get up, but Usman drags him back down and lands some solid shots as RDA pops back up. Lot of blood on RDA’s face now. They separate and exchange strikes, with Usman landing on a strong right hand. Another takedown attempt follows and this time Usman dumps him down into half-guard. RDA looks for the kimura again, and that’s enough to prevent much offense, but Usman grabs his neck when he scrambles. RDA works back up and it looks like he’s going for a takedown of his own, but Usman hits a switch and forces the Brazilian down instead. Usman’s wrestling is fantastic. RDA pops back up into the clinch, but you can tell he’s getting tired now. They break off with seconds to go, and RDA does land some punches, but he also eats another right hand from Usman. Big punches land for Usman and then he misses a takedown on the buzzer. 10-9 Usman again.

Round Four and RDA lands a solid left hand in an early striking exchange. Usman’s striking looks pretty clean too though and he lands with some decent shots of his own. Big shots have RDA stunned and now he’s covering up on the fence. Nasty elbow connects for Usman. He’s really letting his hands go in this round. Big takedown follows and RDA is badly busted up now. RDA works onto his knees, but Usman’s still on him and he slaps a hook in to force him back down. RDA manages to get up for a moment, but Usman dumps him right back down and continues to work with ground-and-pound. RDA just looks beaten up at this stage. Usman uses a cradle to keep him grounded, then postures up over him to drop some more shots. Round ends with Usman dropping more elbows. 10-9 Usman, probably his best round yet.

Round Five and they exchange punches before Usman misses on an axe kick, but it allows him to open up with a right hand that stuns RDA. Big combination follows and he’s got the Brazilian stuck against the fence again. From there Usman drags him down to all fours and puts a hook in. RDA is a bloody mess and he’s taking more hammer fists again. He works back to his feet, but Usman keeps on working him over with dirty boxing from the clinch. Another takedown lands for Usman and he avoids a guillotine attempt by moving into side mount. Big elbows connect for Usman from the top despite RDA getting half-guard, and hammer fists have RDA’s head bouncing at one point. This is just a beatdown now. More punishment ends the round for Usman. 10-8 round for me, so I’d call it 50-44 overall.

Judges have it 50-43, 49-45 and 48-47 for Kamaru Usman. Well, that final scorecard is fucking retarded but at least the right man won. Usman basically dominated RDA throughout this fight outside of one kimura attempt; he used the Covington gameplan of wearing RDA out with his pressure and wrestling, but I’d actually say he did a better job than Colby because he also outstruck Dos Anjos and landed some huge shots on him standing, too. Personally I think Usman beats anyone in the division right now including Tyron Woodley, so I just hope we’ll get some clarity in the division in 2019, because right now nobody seems to know what’s going on. As for RDA, the blueprint is there to beat him now, but to be fair I don’t think many in the division could follow it – probably Colby, Usman, Woodley and now Ben Askren – so he should be fine even if he got beaten up here. Fight wasn’t the most exciting of all time but it was a great performance from Usman regardless.

-Show abruptly ends after Usman calls out Tyron Woodley.

Final Thoughts….

I guess this was a decent show in the end even if the interest levels were pretty low; main event wasn’t a FOTYC or anything but it was fine, and Munhoz/Caraway, Espino/Frazier and Chiasson/Kianzad all ended in pretty cool finishes. First two fights weren’t up to much and nothing will stand out come the end of the year, but I guess overall it’s worth a look. Thumbs slightly up for this one.

Best Fight: Usman vs. Dos Anjos
Worst Fight: Shahbazyan vs. Stewart

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: