MMA Review: #669: UFC Fight Night 143

-This was the first ever UFC show under the new big-money ESPN deal and the first Fight Night – following the same series that was on Spike and then Fox Sports 1 – to be shown on a streaming service, in this case ESPN+. It was a pretty big card too with a hell of a main event – Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw dropping to 125lbs to challenge Flyweight champ Henry Cejudo – but of course being the UFC in 2019 it had some controversy too, in the form of the debut of convicted domestic abuser and former NFL star Greg Hardy.

UFC Fight Night 143

Brooklyn, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Glover Teixeira vs Karl Roberson

Initially this should’ve seen veteran and former title challenger Teixeira facing hot prospect Ion Cutelaba, but when the Moldovan fighter got injured, natural 185lber Roberson stepped in to replace him, giving Teixeira a super-winnable fight instead due to his size and ground advantage.

Round One begins and they circle and Teixeira looks completely chilled out. Few strikes from the outside glance for Roberson, but Glover uses a right to close the distance and looks for the takedown. Roberson defends with a BIG SERIES OF ELBOWS and Glover looks stunned and collapses to his back, but he manage to get half-guard to defend himself. That was almost over then. Full mount for Roberson (!) and he lands some more clean shots, but Glover reverses and goes for the takedown again. He finally dumps Roberson and lands right in full mount, landing some heavy blows from there. Roberson looks a bit stuck from the bottom actually and Teixeira almost gets an arm triangle before giving it up to punch some more. He gets it again moments later though and slides to the side, and that’s that.

Great opener for the first ESPN card; it looked like Roberson had pulled the upset for a second when Glover went down from those elbows, but the Brazilian did a great job to recover and once he got on top, Roberson was done. Really nice comeback from Teixeira in a fun fight.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Paige VanZant vs Rachael Ostovich

This was VanZant’s first fight back for almost a year following forearm surgery after her Flyweight debut loss to Jessica-Rose Clark, and she was faced with a TUF veteran in Ostovich who also drew a bit of controversy after taking this fight despite some injuries sustained in a domestic violence incident – obviously the controversy came from the fact that she was sharing the card with Greg Hardy. Despite her clear limitations I was picking Paige here as Ostovich hadn’t looked great in her UFC debut and was just 4-4 overall.

Round One begins and VanZant comes out throwing some kicks before Ostovich clinches and forces her into the fence. Takedown from PVZ but Ostovich reverses and gets one of her own, landing in half-guard. PVZ gets to full guard, and the action slows down before the ref stands them up. Overhand right lands for Ostovich and she hits another takedown into half-guard, locking up the head for good measure. It looks like she’s going for a top-side guillotine in fact, but Paige seems fine despite turning pretty red. Ostovich gives up on that to continue to control from the top, but PVZ rolls for a leglock. Ostovich avoids that and remains on top, but a second heel hook attempt looks better. Ostovich still manages to avoid it though and they scramble to their feet before Ostovich hits another takedown. Armbar attempt from there for Ostovich but the round ends before she can get it. 10-9 Ostovich in an excellent round for her.

Round Two and PVZ comes out kicking, but takes a hard right hand on the counter. Huge right lands for Ostovich and sets the takedown up again, and she passes to half-guard and then takes the back. Paige scrambles up though and Ostovich slips over the top and lands on her head, allowing Paige to capitalize with some punches before slapping on both hooks to take back control. Big punches from PVZ and then she locks up an armbar on the left arm to force the tapout! Nice.

Replays appear to show that Ostovich pretty much KO’d herself slipping off Paige’s back and that led directly to the finish, but you can’t take anything away from Paige as she didn’t mess around at ALL in getting that submission. Fight was a lot of fun too due to the comeback from Paige; still don’t buy her as a title contender or anything but hopefully she’ll reach her potential a bit more now.

Flyweight Fight: Joseph Benavidez vs Dustin Ortiz

This one was a rematch of a 2014 fight that saw Benavidez pick up a decision, and despite some improvements from Ortiz since – he was on a 3-fight win streak – in all honesty I wasn’t sure why we needed to see it again here. The word was that the UFC were using Benavidez as a potential replacement in the main event should Dillashaw miss weight though, which made sense. My pick was Benavidez via decision again.

First round begins and Benavidez has Ortiz wobbled with a pair of early low leg kicks. Ortiz looks like a tiny Nate Marquardt with his hair and beard these days. Beautiful counter combo also lands for him. Another one follows and then Benavidez dodges a takedown and locks up a possible guillotine. Ortiz avoids that and works back to his feet, and then drops Benavidez for a second with a push kick to the stomach. He’s right back up though and he hits a takedown just after, landing in half-guard. Scramble from Ortiz gets him back up though. Another takedown puts him back on the ground and Benavidez works really hard to try to keep him there. He still gets up though with a minute to go. Big left hand then drops Ortiz and he ends up in guard, but he takes a couple more hard shots too. Round ends with Benavidez in control. 10-9 Benavidez easily.

Second round and Ortiz comes charging in and they end up in a scramble with Ortiz grabbing a clinch eventually. Good body work from Ortiz and they break off, and Ortiz lands some better stuff in the next couple of exchanges. He takes a couple more leg kicks though and then Benavidez clinches and forces him into the fence. Ortiz defends the takedown well and a slick scramble sees them back on their feet after going down for a second. Good takedown from Ortiz now and he takes the back soon after, but Benavidez stays super calm and they wind up in a weird spot before he gets on top. Benavidez takes the back himself then, but Ortiz spins over and gets top position. Back to their feet now and Ortiz walks into a pair of hard lefts that have him going for another takedown. Benavidez blocks, but Ortiz slams him down anyway. He takes the back from there and looks for the choke, but he can’t get it and the round ends there. 10-9 Ortiz to even it up.

Third round and Ortiz pushes the pace but Benavidez surprises him with a quick double leg. Slick reversal almost puts Ortiz on top but Benavidez avoids and takes the back, only for Ortiz to suddenly reverse that and end up taking his back! Benavidez counters that and gets on top again and holy shit these scrambles are great. Benavidez takes the back now and slaps on a body triangle, and it looks like he might have a choke sunk. Ortiz survives that but he looks stuck in this position. He does escape for a second but Benavidez trips him right back down and keeps control. He’s just an awesome grappler. Finally with a minute to go Ortiz gets back to his feet, but he still can’t secure a dominant position. Round ends with a brief exchange. 10-9 Benavidez for a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28 all round for Joseph Benavidez. Really great fight with some phenomenal scrambling exchanges on the ground, it felt like it didn’t last 15 minutes at all which is always a good sign. Benavidez was literally slightly ahead of Ortiz in all areas which won him the fight but it was definitely a tough one for him. Excellent stuff.

Lightweight Fight: Gregor Gillespie vs Yancy Medeiros

This was another step up for Gillespie after beating some lower level guys in his early UFC fights, but really despite Medeiros being a tough guy I thought Gillespie had top ten potential so I was kind of disappointed they hadn’t pushed him further up the ladder, especially as Medeiros hadn’t fought in almost a year. My pick was Gillespie via TKO.

Round One begins and they circle before Gillespie shoots on a single leg. Medeiros manages to defend it pretty well but Gillespie keeps coming and dumps him to the ground before taking the back with one hook. Medeiros stands up with Gillespie still on him, landing knees to the body, but the Hawaiian rolls through and gets on top for a second. Gillespie reverses literally right away though and gets back in control. This guy must be a nightmare to fight, wow. He just stays on Medeiros like glue and eventually takes the back again. Finally he gets Medeiros away from the fence and keeps on dragging him around, and that’s the round. 10-9 Gillespie, total control but not enough damage for a 10-8.

Round Two and they trade punches with Gillespie landing a pretty decent lunging right hand. Single leg attempt follows and he gets Medeiros down and then we’re back to the first round with Gillespie just dragging him around from a rear waistlock. Eventually Medeiros settles for a half-guard from the bottom, and Gillespie stays in control before working into full mount. Arm triangle attempt follows but he can’t get it, so he starts to land some short elbows instead. Medeiros ends up giving his back as he looks trapped, and he’s taking some big shots now. He manages to stand up but still can’t shake Gillespie off, and seconds later Gillespie drags him back down. Seconds to go in the round and Gillespie starts to land some big punches to the side of the head, and with one second remaining the ref stops it.

Totally one-sided fight; Medeiros tried hard but just couldn’t shake Gillespie off him from the first moment and once he tired out in the second round it was OVER. Got to be time for a top ten opponent for Gillespie next – he’s 6-0 in the UFC! – and with that wrestling he’s a danger to anyone in the world. Not the best style to watch admittedly but when he’s beating dudes up like this it’s fine with me.

Heavyweight Fight: Greg Hardy vs Allen Crowder

This was of course the big controversy on the card, as former NFL star Hardy had won just two fights on Dana White’s Contender Series and a single fight on the smaller circuit before being signed for this debut, which wouldn’t normally be so bad except obviously he had some major domestic violence issues – something the UFC normally has a zero tolerance rule against – to his name, meaning a lot of fans were completely put off. The UFC clearly saw something in him though as he was matched with Crowder, who had been KO’d easily in his UFC debut and appeared to have a shaky chin.

Fight begins and the crowd fucking HATE Hardy. He comes out swinging and they trade punches with neither man landing cleanly right away. Crowder takes a couple of big shots but he actually seems okay and he manages to get a clinch, forcing Hardy into the fence. Hardy breaks and throws some more big punches, but they’re not landing cleanly at all and he’s throwing EVERYTHING into them too. Good knee lands for Hardy but Crowder catches the leg and dumps him to the ground, and you can see the guy slowing down already. He does manage to get up for a second, but Crowder tackles him back down and gets side mount. He gets a mounted crucifix too now and Hardy’s in trouble. He manages to reverse out, but when he stands Crowder stays on him with a front headlock. Guillotine attempt now from Crowder but Hardy slips free and winds up on top. Couple of hammer fists land for Hardy but Crowder is looking for a triangle. Hardy avoids and gets side mount, but Crowder reverses and works to his feet to end the round. 10-9 Crowder as Hardy didn’t look all that at all.

Into the 2nd and both men are moving a lot slower now. Superman punch glances for Hardy. He throws some more but Crowder fires back with his own combo. More punches from Hardy but he isn’t landing cleanly and Crowder’s taunting him now, telling him to bring it on before firing back with some big hooks of his own! Crowd are way into Crowder now as he continues to taunt before shooting for a takedown. Big sprawl from Hardy….and then he NAILS CROWER WITH AN ILLEGAL KNEE. Crowd are disgusted as Dan Miragliotta tackles him off Crowder, who looks like he’s knocked silly.

Big Dan outright says Hardy’s going to be DQ’d if Crowder can’t continue….and sure enough he can’t and that’s that. Ridiculous stuff. To me it looked like Hardy just got angry with Crowder’s taunting and just lost control completely, which is a pretty bad trait to have as a pro MMA fighter. He didn’t look great in the fight at all either, as for all his vaunted power he didn’t hurt Crowder once and looked pretty bad on the ground, as well as seemingly gassing out. This was an experiment that backfired for the UFC big time, not much more to be said really.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw

When Henry Cejudo beat Demetrious Johnson for the Flyweight title and TJ Dillashaw defended his Bantamweight title against Cody Garbrandt last August the talk of a ‘superfight’ between the two was pretty immediate, despite Dillashaw having a number of potential contenders at 135lbs already. Strangely though they went the opposite way to most superfights and had Dillashaw drop to 125lbs to try to take Cejudo’s belt rather than the other way around, with the rumour being that the UFC would can Flyweight with a Dillashaw win. After a lot of questions around the weight cut Dillashaw managed to make it, but after seeing him look pretty gaunt at the weigh-in I was picking Cejudo in a mild upset, feeling the weight cut would cause TJ to gas out.

First round begins and Cejudo looks ANGRY. They trade a couple of early kicks and then a head kick misses for Cejudo. TJ lunges in and Cejudo literally shoves him down, then glances on a head kick as he pops up before catching him with a short right hand and DOWN GOES DILLASHAW! Cejudo pounces on him and starts to land a ton of short punches as he looks to spin, and as he stands Henry NAILS HIM WITH A COMBO that sends him crashing down and that’s it! Jesus Christ.

Unbelievable stuff from Henry Cejudo; I picked him but I didn’t expect it to be by knockout or that quick, too. Not to take anything away from Cejudo but it did look like Dillashaw’s ability to absorb punishment was completely ruined by the weight cut, but hey, Cejudo still had to get him out of there and he did it in STYLE. And worse for TJ, he tested positive for EPO post-fight and is likely finished for good now.

And six months on? The Flyweight division is still here and it looks like we might be getting a title fight in 2020 even though Cejudo is now holding the Bantamweight title too…but that’s another show, of course! Red-hot way to end the first UFC show on ESPN, wow.

-Show ends shortly after Cejudo’s celebration.

Final Thoughts….

Tremendous way to start the UFC on ESPN era; there were no classics here but we did get a bunch of quick finishes that were largely entertaining, and the only fight to go the distance was Benavidez/Ortiz which was awesome. Hardy/Crowder sucked and was an experiment that backfired on the UFC, but outside of that you can’t go wrong with this one! Two thumbs up.

Best Fight: Benavidez vs. Ortiz
Worst Fight: Hardy vs. Crowder

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: