MMA Review: #666: UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega

-This looked like a pretty quality show on paper, with one of the best main events of the year in Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega for the Featherweight title, a solid co-main event between Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the Flyweight title, and the likes of Jimi Manuwa, Thiago Santos and Gunnar Nelson elsewhere on the card.

UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega

Toronto, Ontario

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Paul Felder.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jimi Manuwa vs Thiago Santos

Big fight at 205lbs here; this was originally supposed to main event Fight Night 137 in September before Manuwa got injured and was replaced by Eryk Anders, who Santos subsequently stopped violently. It was a tough fight to pick as well given both men’s penchant for being glass cannons, but I was leaning towards Santos due to my worries over Manuwa’s chin.

Fight begins and Manuwa presses forward and right away these guys are SWINGING. Big combo from Santos puts Manuwa DOWN, and he pops up and gets dropped again! He manages to secure a takedown, but eats a hard knee to the body as Santos stands, and then gets stunned by the Brazilian again with some nasty shots from the clinch. Manuwa manages to hold on and survive, and then breaks with a big left elbow. He tries to follow up, but Santos hurts him with another combo and he’s in trouble again! Another clinch manages to slow Santos down, and from there Manuwa lands a solid knee to the body. Elbow and a right hand suddenly have Santos stunned, and the break off and now Marreta is wobbled! Jab has him shooting for a takedown, and suddenly they trade big shots with Santos landing a huge head kick to hurt Manuwa again. Takedown follows for the Brazilian.

Manuwa reverses to his feet and they clinch up again, exchanging big knees to the body. Heavy right elbow lands inside for Manuwa. Uppercut follows and suddenly Santos is in trouble. Manuwa tries to close in, but he gets rocked by a right hand and holy shit I have no clue what’s keeping these guys going. MASSIVE TRADE leads to the clinch and the crowd actually pop for the slowdown. Both men land more knees and then Santos breaks with an elbow. Big head kick leads to another WILD EXCHANGE with both guys throwing absolute haymakers. Takedown is blocked by Manuwa, who lands a right elbow into a HUGE left uppercut and now Santos is all over the place! He tries to run out of range and misses a spin kick in the process, and Manuwa grabs a front facelock before going for a guillotine. He quickly gives it up to take top position, and the round ends with him on top. 10-9 Santos I guess? That was one of the craziest rounds of all time, point blank.

Into the 2nd, and Santos stuns Manuwa instantly with a left hand. They keep on throwing haymakers into the clinch again, and Manuwa lands a knee to the body and almost trips him down. Big shots from Santos on the break and he’s got Manuwa wobbled again. They keep on swinging and Santos finally lands a HUGE LEFT HAND and another one drops Manuwa face-first for the stoppage.

Good lord that was a crazy fight. One of the best of 2018 easily, probably top 5 in fact. These guys just came in and threw nothing but haymakers, and it was only a matter of time before one of them went down, and in the end it was Manuwa. Santos might be *the* most exciting fighter to watch in MMA right now. He just never has a boring fight, and this was no exception. The very definition of kill or be killed. Insane stuff.

Featherweight Fight: Hakeem Dawodu vs Kyle Bochniak

I wasn’t too sure how this one made the main card over Elias Theodorou vs. Eryk Anders or Claudia Gadelha vs. Nina Ansaroff, but whatever. Canadian striker Dawodu was coming off a win over Austin Arnett while Bochniak – a noted brawler – hadn’t fought since his wild scrap with Zabit Magomedsharipov. I was taking Dawodu to out-athlete Bochniak, although I wasn’t counting Bochniak out either.

Round One begins and Bochniak circles on the outside as Dawodu throws out some feeler strikes that don’t really land cleanly. Not much going on at all here really. Couple of low kicks and a right hand glance for Bochniak. Bochniak keeps reaching down to touch his shorts, no clue what that’s all about. Couple of decent shots land for Dawodu who seems to be moving much quicker than his opponent. Brief exchange sees both men land. Low blow lands for Dawodu but Bochniak shrugs it off. Big takedown from Bochniak with a minute to go but Dawodu pops right back up. Bochniak drags him back down using a rear waistlock, but he can’t seem to keep him there. Seconds to go and they break, and the round ends on the feet. 10-9 Dawodu I guess? Close round to call as not a lot went on really.

Round Two and Dawodu opens with some early strikes including a nice left to the body. Couple of leg kicks also land for Dawodu. Bochniak is coming up short on most of his strikes. Jab begins to set up some combinations for Dawodu before Bochniak takes him down. Reversal sees Dawodu pop back up to his feet though. Nice right hand lands for Bochniak. He’s still eating a lot more shots from Dawodu though. Nice step-in knee to the body from Dawodu. This looks physically like Fake Melvin Guillard vs. Fake Mike Swick, for the record. Crowd are totally bored with this one. Exchange continues and Dawodu is still firmly outlanding Bochniak. Takedown attempt from Bochniak is stuffed in the final seconds. 10-9 Dawodu.

Round Three and Dawodu continues to pick at Bochniak from the off. It just doesn’t look like Bochniak’s got any answer for Dawodu’s sharper striking. Clinch from Bochniak is shrugged off and Dawodu continues to land on him. He’s got a really sharp left hook to the body too. Nice takedown from Bochniak with 3 minutes to go and he moves into half-guard. Dawodu manages to scramble though and works his way back to his feet. Bochniak keeps him against the fence, but not for much longer as Dawodu breaks off. Bochniak is bleeding all over the place now. Big takedown attempt fails for him and he’s looking tired now. Beautiful combination lands for Dawodu. He’s not close to a finish or anything though which is frustrating in a way. Round ends with some more clean striking for Dawodu. 10-9 Dawodu and it’s got to be 30-27.

Judges have it 29-28 Bochniak, 30-27 Dawodu and 30-27 for Hakeem Dawodu to pick up the win, thankfully. That judge who scored it for Bochniak needs his fucking eyes testing. Bit of a dull fight as Dawodu just comfortably picked Bochniak apart and for whatever reason Bochniak didn’t get crazy like he did against Zabit. Maybe he just figured he was outgunned, who knows. Dawodu looked good but I think he could’ve opened up a bit more perhaps. Post-fight he shows some nice charisma though so I could see the UFC getting behind him in 2019 for sure.

Welterweight Fight: Gunnar Nelson vs Alex Oliveira

This was Nelson’s first fight back following over a year on the shelf after his loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio, while Oliveira was coming off a total squash match against Carlo Pedersoli in September. Despite Oliveira’s insane offensive skills, I was taking Nelson here as I thought he could get Cowboy onto his back, and not many guys can survive Nelson from there.

Round One begins and Oliveira opens with a leg kick as Nelson goes into his standard karate stance. Lunging shot from Nelson leads to a takedown attempt, but Oliveira lands some elbows to the head to defend. Nelson keeps trying though and only a fence grab stops Oliveira from going down. Ref separates them and warns Oliveira, then restarts the fight back on the fence. Nelson finally gets him down and takes the back, slipping in a body triangle for good measure. Oliveira looks to turn into him though but fails, and Nelson’s firmly clamped on now. Cowboy keeps trying though and finally manages to spin into guard, where he opens up with some heavy elbows. More shots get through for Oliveira and Nelson might be in trouble here. Oliveira is really using his length to land shots through the guard. Seconds to go and Nelson switches things up by going for a straight ankle lock, but he can’t pull it off and the round ends there. 10-9 Oliveira.

Round Two and Oliveira ends up charging into the clinch and surprisingly looks for a takedown. Well, I guess he did do some damage from the top in the previous round. Nelson defends the takedown quite well and they jockey for position along the fence, and it looks like someone’s bleeding as Nelson has blood on his arms. Takedown attempt from Nelson now and he slams Oliveira down into half-guard. From there he passes right into mount and Cowboy’s in trouble. Looks like it’s Nelson’s nose which is busted up badly. Oliveira holds onto him to prevent much offense, but Nelson’s mount looks tight and he postures up to land some punches while slowly moving upwards. Oliveira keeps squirming but he can’t seem to get out, and from there Nelson begins to drop some elbows and a big one opens a TERRIBLE CUT on Oliveira that immediately causes blood to gush out like a tap. Jesus Christ. Oliveira gives his back and almost taps before the choke’s even sunk. Looked like he might’ve panicked due to the cut and it’d be hard to blame him as post-fight it’s literally pouring with blood.

Really fun fight with a pretty sick finish in the end, as Oliveira did well in the first round but once Nelson gained a really dominant position, he got him out of there in pretty short order. The cut was one of the worst in UFC history I’d say as his head was bleeding at a ridiculous rate like a horror film. I guess Nelson is now back, and as one of the best prospects/contenders in the division that’s good to see. He’d match well with basically anyone in the top ten in my opinion and I can’t wait for his next fight.

UFC Women’s World Flyweight Title: Valentina Shevchenko vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Story behind this one was pretty convoluted; basically Shevchenko was meant to fight champ Nicco Montano for the title at UFC 228, but Montano missed weight, the fight was scrapped and she was stripped of the title. So the UFC then made this fight between Shevchenko and former Strawweight queen Joanna, only to scrap that too to apparently make Shevchenko vs. Sijara Eubanks the main event of UFC 230. Finally Daniel Cormier decided to take the Derrick Lewis fight to main event that show and so we ended up back at the original plan. Tough fight to pick given the skills of both women but I was taking Shevchenko, feeling her extra size and grappling would pull her through.

First round begins and it doesn’t look like Joanna is giving up much size to be fair. Crowd are treating this as a big deal which is nice to see too. It’s a tentative opening for both girls with a lot of feinting, but one minute in Shevchenko clinches and hits a huge takedown into side mount. Never seen Joanna get taken down like that before. Shevchenko looks to be going for a crucifix, but Joanna rolls and pops up to her feet, taking a knee in the process. They remain clinched and exchange from there, and the action slows down a lot as Shevchenko keeps Joanna against the fence. Right hand separates for Shevchenko. Joanna’s really staying at distance now, probably to avoid another takedown. Nice spin kick to the body lands for Shevchenko. Counter left follows when Joanna throws a kick, and the round ends with Shevchenko catching the leg off another missed kick. 10-9 Shevchenko.

Second round and Joanna looks to press the action more, throwing a ton of strikes early but Shevchenko looks super-chilled and she lands a nasty front kick to the face. Spinning backfist misses for Valentina. Joanna’s still coming up short on her strikes while Shevchenko lands some cleaner counters. Beautiful counter combination lands for Shevchenko as Joanna throws a big right hand. More of the same follows as it looks like Joanna is being surprised by Shevchenko’s speed on the counters. Counter right hook wobbles Joanna for a split-second. Kick is caught by Shevchenko and she muscles Joanna down, and then slams her down with authority as she pops back up, landing in side mount for good measure. Shevchenko works from there with some short elbows, and the round ends with Joanna working to her feet before eating a knee and being taken down again. 10-9 Shevchenko.

Third round and Valentina opens with the front kick to the face twice, although neither one lands cleanly. Joanna keeps throwing kicks but she can’t seem to land cleanly at all. Beautiful spinning back kick from Shevchenko knocks her backwards. More sharp counters continue to land for Shevchenko as Joanna tries to put offense together. Kick is caught and Shevchenko gets her down, but Joanna pops right back up. Clean right hand lands for Jedrzejczyk. Big head kick follows and does land but Shevchenko takes it well and fires right back with a nasty left hand. Two minutes to go and the exchange continues, before Shevchenko grabs her for a takedown. Joanna blocks it, but eats a hard knee on her way out. Nice trade sees both women land kicks. Joanna’s having more success in this round but she’s still largely being outlanded. Takedown attempt with seconds to go is stuffed by Joanna, but she takes a hard knee from the clinch. Round ends from there. 10-9 Shevchenko.

Fourth round and Joanna wades in with a combo, even eating a spinning backfist to land a couple of shots. Looks like she knows she needs to pick up the pace. They exchange into the clinch and Valentina lands a really sharp elbow over the top. Joanna manages to put together a couple of combinations and they continue to trade before Shevchenko catches a kick and throws Jedrzejczyk down into side mount. Her takedowns are excellent. Joanna ends up muscling her way to her feet despite giving her back, and they remain clinched as Shevchenko looks for a possible headlock takeover. They end up going into a regular clinch and Shevchenko continues to look for the takedown, working knees for good measure. Less than a minute to go and they break off, and it looks like Shevchenko’s a bit tired. She still manages to uncork a nice left hand, but she’s definitely slower. Round ends with a nice exchange. 10-9 Shevchenko but it was a close round. Joanna still needs a finish to win though.

Fifth round and Joanna comes out firing and lands with a one-two. Front kick to the body follows. Shevchenko’s counters have definitely slowed down now. She still manages to get hold of Joanna and throw her into the fence, though. Joanna doesn’t go down but she’s still in the clinch. Action slows down as it looks like Shevchenko’s resting, and so the ref separates them and Joanna comes in with a combination. Combination fires back for Shevchenko. Exchange continues and it’s looking more and more like Shevchenko’s fight as Joanna isn’t going to finish her. One minute to go and Shevchenko muscles her back into the fence, but Joanna breaks off. Big right hand lands for Shevchenko in an exchange. Spinning backfist also lands for Valentina and they clinch to end the fight. 10-9 Shevchenko and I’d go 50-45 for her overall.

Judges all have it 49-46 for Valentina Shevchenko to finally win the Flyweight title. Couldn’t have been a different result really as she basically outworked Joanna throughout the fight, clinching and taking her down when she needed to but mainly just outlanding her with sharper counters in the earlier rounds. Literally the only knock you could make on her was that she got a bit tired, but I mean, she was facing a known cardio freak here so I hardly count it against her. I don’t see anyone beating her for a long time, basically. As for Joanna, I think she’s better off at 115lbs, especially if Rose Namajunas loses any time soon. Fight was decent overall, hardly the most memorable 5 rounder but it wasn’t terribly slow or anything either and I’m just glad the title is back in play now.

UFC World Featherweight Title: Max Holloway vs Brian Ortega

This was a legitimately great fight – easily one of the UFC’s best title fights in some time – as Holloway, who had clearly become the best 145lber on the planet following two wins over Jose Aldo and a 12-fight winning streak was faced with Ortega, who was still undefeated with wins over guys like Cub Swanson, Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar. They’d been booked for UFC 226 initially, but that fight was scrapped when Holloway had to withdraw with “concussion-like symptoms” – and in fact, he hadn’t fought in a year. Despite the champ having a big advantage standing, the questions over his health – as well as Ortega’s wild finishing style – made me end up taking the challenger to win.

Round One begins and they circle around and throw out some early feeler strikes, with Holloway largely backing Ortega up. Beautiful one-two lands cleanly for Holloway. Crowd love the guy. Ortega is swinging heavily but Holloway is just sliding out of range. Couple of heavy right hands land for Holloway. He continues to land on the challenger, going to the body as well as the head. He’s looking excellent in this round. Couple of counters get through for Ortega though as he seems happy to sit in the pocket and exchange. Elbow catches Holloway coming in and he applauds Ortega. Big right hand from Holloway quickly replies and Ortega shoots and gets Holloway down right after. Holloway pops back up to his feet though and escapes. Crowd are way into this. Big right hands land for both men as they openly exchange. Ortega is badly marked up already though. More shots land for Holloway and he’s got Ortega backpedalling. Ortega manages to fire back with a knee though and then he forces the champ into the fence to look for a takedown. Holloway blocks it and that’s the round. 10-9 Holloway.

Round Two and Holloway immediately backs Ortega up with his jab. Big one-two follows. Ortega keeps firing back but Holloway is just forcing him backwards all the time. Trio of jabs set up a big right hand for the Hawaiian. Right to the body lands for Ortega but Holloway just keeps on picking at him. His timing is crazy. Takedown attempt fails for Ortega and he’s bleeding badly from the nose now. Holloway keeps calling him on and then landing big shots, too. Ortega fires back with a heavy right, but Holloway just absorbs it and tells him to throw another. Lot of blood coming from Ortega’s nose. Combination into a head kick lands for the champ. Nice combination lands for Ortega but again Holloway absorbs it comfortably. The guy’s chin is insane. More clean shots get through for Holloway who seems to be able to land from any random angle. Ortega’s face is a MESS. He keeps swinging back though and lands a few clean right hands, but Holloway quickly makes him pay with some more combinations. Round ends with a big Ortega combo. 10-9 Holloway though for sure.

Round Three and Ortega comes out looking to exchange and fires off with some low kicks and a nice body kick. He’s actually backing Holloway up a bit in this round. Holloway fires right back with a right hand though and then gets back to business with some more shots. Big combination answers for Ortega though and a right hand has Holloway wobbled! Takedown follows and Ortega tries to grab a choke in the scramble, but the champ somehow slips free and escapes. These guys are jus trading openly now with very little defense. Spinning elbow from Ortega leads to a left hook and a low kick. Another big exchange sees Holloway’s head snapped back with an uppercut before he returns fire with a big right. Jesus this is a good round. Clinch from Ortega and he forces Holloway into the fence, but he can’t get him down. They break off and Holloway pushes forward with a big combo. Big right hand from Ortega forces him back though. Exchange continues with both men landing before Holloway stuffs a takedown attempt. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Ortega as he got the better of the exchanges in that round in my eyes. Between rounds Holloway tells his corner that Ortega is done, though.

Round Four and Ortega looks fine coming out of his corner. Holloway cracks him early with a HUGE right hand though and he’s really putting the pressure on now, landing more combinations and really forcing Ortega onto his back foot. Taunting follows for Holloway and he continues to dance around and crack Ortega with combinations. He’s looking phenomenal in this round so far. Ortega manages to fire back, but he looks outgunned now and Holloway’s all over him with punches to the head and body. He’s just not slowing down either. Big combo has Ortega badly hurt and Holloway just won’t let up, continuing to pour on the pressure even when Ortega hits him with a big right of his own. This might be the best example of pressure-fighting I’ve ever seen in the UFC. It’s like vintage Nick Diaz on speed. More huge shots have Ortega badly rocked now and he goes for a desperation takedown but Max defends it well. Ortega’s face is a TOTAL MESS now. He even tries to pull guard, but Holloway’s having none of that and he nails him with more combinations. No clue how Ortega is standing now as he’s being totally destroyed. Looks like Ortega’s left eye is swollen shut. More punishment follows before Holloway stuffs a single leg. Huge shots to the body land and Ortega finally goes down, but decides to go for a leglock so Holloway stands free. Seconds to go and more punches land for Holloway, with Ortega really wobbly now. Round ends with an INSANE FLURRY from Holloway. That’s like a 10-7 round for me, holy shit.

Between rounds the doctors decide to stop the fight as Ortega clearly can’t see out of his left eye. Great call from the doc as there would’ve been no point in sending the guy out to take more punishment.

Post-fight Holloway calls for a UFC show in Hawaii and I hope they make it happen this year, it’d be awesome to see this guy main event a huge show there. And then he teases a move to 155lbs which could well happen this year too, although he seems to want to stay at 145lbs too so who knows.

At any rate this was a crazy good performance from Holloway – he showed no issues stemming from the concussion and took Ortega’s best shots easily, and then just poured on the pressure and destroyed probably his toughest test to date. This probably should be considered one of the all-time best title defences actually, up there with stuff like GSP’s and Anderson Silva’s best wins. Ortega did his best and turned it into a truly great fight to watch, but he was outgunned in the end and I hope he can recover from such a violent beatdown.

-Announcers discuss what’s next for Holloway and then plug the upcoming shows and that’s that.

Final Thoughts….

Pretty great show in the end, bookended by two of the best fights of the year in Marreta/Manuwa and Holloway/Ortega and with a really excellent fight between Nelson and Oliveira in the middle. Dawodu/Bochniak and Shevchenko/Jedrzejczyk were a bit slow but neither one sucked really, making UFC 231 one of the best PPVs of the year for sure. Two thumbs up for this one.

Best Fight: Manuwa vs. Santos
Worst Fight: Dawodu vs. Bochniak

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: