MMA Review: #686: UFC 238: Cejudo vs. Moraes

-This one looked like a loaded card on paper, definitely one of the best of 2019, with two title fights and an unexpected but awesome-sounding Lightweight clash between Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone underneath. Basically the kind of thing that the UFC can actually justify putting on pay-per-view unlike some of their other recent shows!

UFC 238: Cejudo vs. Moraes

Chicago, Illinois

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier.

Heavyweight Fight: Tai Tuivasa vs Blagoy Ivanov

This was a big fight for Tuivasa, who had been knocked out in his first proper step up by Junior Dos Santos in December 2018. Ivanov was coming off his first UFC win over Ben Rothwell, but it did seem like his plodding style would mesh well with Tuivasa. Despite that I was picking the Bulgarian, as he’s a legit grappler and Tuivasa had looked terrible on the ground against JDS.

Classic entrance right here as Tuivasa walks out to BRYAN ADAMS singing EVERYTHING I DO I DO IT FOR YOU. While singing along too. You have to love this guy!

Round One begins and both men throw out a bunch of feints while circling before Tuivasa comes up short on a couple of strikes. Big rush from Tuivasa is avoided by Ivanov pretty well and he lands with a left to the body. Nice right hand connects for Tuivasa. Clinch follows and the Aussie presses Ivanov into the fence, where they jockey for position. Decent elbow lands from the clinch for Tuivasa. Action slows down a bit as they continue to move along the fence, and then Tuivasa breaks off. He steps in but a big counter right hand from Ivanov drops him face-first, and the Bulgarian pounces to attempt to finish. Tuivasa gets back up and avoids a guillotine, then manages to force Ivanov into the fence again to slow him down. Another guillotine attempt follows for Ivanov but Tuivasa frees his head. Big exchange from the clinch follows with both landing. Left breaks for Tuivasa and he charges in again with a step-in knee. Combination follows for the Aussie. Nice combinations from Ivanov counter a low kick from Tuivasa. Seconds to go now and Ivanov nails him with the big right hand again. Couple more clean shots land for Ivanov and that’s the round. 10-9 Ivanov for clearly landing the bigger punches.

Round Two and Tuivasa opens with a really big leg kick. Another one follows as he’s looking to chop Ivanov down. Big exchange leads into the clinch but they break quickly and Tuivasa lands the low kick again. One-two has Ivanov wobbled and he’s in trouble. Tuivasa comes in swinging and looks for the finish, but Ivanov clinches to try to slow him down. Punches break for Tuivasa but he takes a decent right hand and then a left. Punches connect for both men in an exchange that follows. Left hand connects cleanly for Ivanov. Ivanov’s nose looks cut open. Big combo from the Bulgarian backs Tuivasa up. Another clean combination follows for Ivanov. Good low kick answers for Tuivasa. This is a high output fight for two big guys. Nice combo and a leg kick land again for Tuivasa. Ivanov comes back with another combination and they continue to trade off. Beautiful clean combo lands for Ivanov. Both men continue to swing and evidently they’ve both got good chins. Clinch sees Ivanov go for a guillotine, and it looks pretty deep, but the buzzer goes before Tuivasa actually taps out. That was a bit weird. 10-9 Ivanov despite Tuivasa’s fast start.

Round Three and both men look pretty tired. Big trade begins the round with Ivanov again landing the cleaner shots. Tuivasa goes back to the low kick and it almost takes Ivanov off his feet, and then he follows with a big combination that hurts the Bulgarian. Ivanov clinches in reply and forces him into the fence, before grabbing the guillotine again as Tuivasa leans in. He drags him down and then takes the back, but Tuivasa pops back up to his feet. They continue to jockey for position and exchange some knees to the body, before Tuivasa lands a quick combo in a brief break. Guillotine attempt from Ivanov leads to some knees to the head, but Tuivasa gets free. 1:30 to go and they break off, and a couple of low kicks have Ivanov hurt. He fires back with a hard combo but Tuivasa takes it well and they exchange punches. Ivanov’s left hand is really nasty. Another low kick hurts him but he keeps on landing the better punches. Exchange continues until the round ends. 10-9 Ivanov again for a 30-27, but Tuivasa could’ve taken the final round with his low kicks.

Judges score it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Blagoy Ivanov. Really enjoyable opener as the big guys kept the pace high throughout and never got sucked into a slop-fest, but Ivanov’s hands just seemed to be slightly sharper across the fight and that’s what got him the win.

Bantamweight Fight: Petr Yan vs Jimmie Rivera

After dismantling John Dodson in February it was clear that Russia’s Yan needed another step up the ladder, and he was given it here against the ultra-tough Rivera, who’d suffered a disappointing loss to Aljamain Sterling in his last fight. I was expecting a great striking battle here but figured Yan’s volume and combinations would pull him through.

Round One begins and Yan takes the centre of the cage as Rivera circles on the outside. Both men miss on their early strikes with Yan putting a lot of forward pressure on El Terror. Low kick lands for Rivera and then they clinch before quickly breaking with a Rivera right hand. Wild right misses for Yan and Rivera lands another low kick. Rivera clinches and lands a right to break a couple more times. He’s doing a good job of avoiding Yan’s strikes too. Another low kick lands for Rivera. Clinch sees him force Yan into the fence, but they break off quickly again. Big exchange sees Rivera get the better shots in. Rivera’s looking great in this round. He peppers Yan with some more strikes while avoiding the Russian’s shots, but with a minute to go Yan looks for a takedown. Rivera stuffs it and quickly breaks, but he eats a hard body kick. Takedown is reversed by Rivera who lands on top, and they scramble wildly before popping up. Seconds to go and Yan suddenly lands a HUGE LEFT that folds Rivera! Big shots follow up and he almost looks done, but he survives the round. Hard round to score as it was all Rivera before that knockdown, so I’d be inclined to take him despite the near finish. 10-9 Rivera.

Round Two and Rivera looks much more wary of Yan after that knockdown. Big left hand from Yan tags him again in an early exchange. Nice overhand right connects for Rivera and Yan looks stunned for a second but recovers quickly. Beautiful low kick from Rivera folds Yan’s leg completely and he does well to stay up. Combination follows but Yan seems okay. Left to the body lands for Yan. Body kick follows. Another one lands too and Rivera takes a deep breath. He comes back with a right hand and a nice combination, but Yan tags him with a pair of lefts and avoids a potential takedown. Looks like Rivera is cut around his right eye. This is a really close round. Leg kick from Rivera forces Yan to switch stances. Big exchange sees both men land. Huge head kick lands for Yan but Rivera manages to take it well and look for a takedown. Yan blocks it well and breaks and Rivera’s bleeding badly now. Another takedown fails for Rivera and they trade some big punches. This is a great fight. Lunging knee connects for Yan. Big combo drops Rivera again but he manages to survive until the buzzer. 10-9 Yan and the advantage is with him going into the third.

Round Three and Yan connects on a left hook that catches Rivera off balance and knocks him down for a second. He pops up but takes a head kick that lands too. Takedown attempt from Rivera but Yan scrambles free. Good left to the body from Rivera. Couple of solid kicks follow but Yan forces him backwards with a teep. Beautiful combo from Yan knocks Rivera’s mouthpiece out and the ref calls time to replace it. Rivera might’ve gotten lucky with the stoppage there. Head kick glances for Yan. Combo fires back for Rivera. Big right hand connects for Rivera but Yan isn’t slowing down here and he keeps coming forward. Combinations land for both men in an exchange. Brutal body kick connects for Yan. Eye poke from Rivera forces the ref to call time, but Yan’s good to go and they restart. Yan gets on the hunt right away, backing Rivera up with his combos, and he narrowly misses with a head kick. Clinch sees Yan move Rivera into the fence, where he drops for a takedown. Rivera blocks that and lands with a clean left hook, but Yan stays on him and they wildly trade before Yan shoots and gets a takedown to end the round. 10-9 Yan, 29-28 overall. Great fight.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Petr Yan. Definitely the right call but Rivera pushed him HARD and Yan absolutely delivered one of the best showings of his career to beat him. Dude is a title contender but Bantamweight is loaded right now so who knows if or when he gets a title shot? Either way, whoever he fights next is a must-see deal as he’s awesome to watch.

Lightweight Fight: Tony Ferguson vs Donald Cerrone

Despite the two big title fights at the top of the card a lot of people were considering this the ‘real’ main event, as it sounded like the kind of fight that would absolutely guarantee fireworks. Cerrone had looked back to his best against Al Iaquinta in May, while Ferguson had beaten Anthony Pettis in brutal fashion in October 2018 to pick up his 11th win in a row. Despite Ferguson returning worryingly early from apparent mental health issues (!) I figured he’d still win here just because he sounded like a bad match for Cowboy.

Fight begins and the crowd are FUCKING AMPED. Low kick opens things for Cerrone. Head kick from Ferguson glances. Lot of movement early from Ferguson but he’s walking into Cerrone’s punches, especially the jab. Couple of shots get through for Ferguson too. Jabs connect for both men and they’re not really defending. Big combo lands for Cerrone but Ferguson fires right back too. Leg kicks land for both. Elbow from Ferguson but Cerrone fires back with a combination. Beautiful combo lands for Cowboy. He’s getting the better of these exchanges by a hair right now. Ferguson is leaning back to avoid strikes but Cerrone can still reach him. Looks like Ferguson is cut. Spinning elbow misses for El Cucuy. Couple of hard body kicks land for Ferguson as he continues to push the pace. Looks like Cerrone may be slowing down slightly. He still lands some punches but it’s definitely Ferguson pushing the action. Big left lands for Cerrone and a body kick follows. WILD TRADE ends the round with both men landing. Awesome. 10-9 Cerrone but I’d say Ferguson looks like the fresher man.

Into the 2nd and Ferguson stuns Cerrone with a jab right away. Cowboy comes back with a body kick but he eats another left and Ferguson just keeps coming forward. More strikes land for Tony and this guy’s pace is absolutely ridiculous. Head kick glances for El Cucuy. He’s walking Cowboy down now. Beautiful combination lands for Ferguson. Cerrone fires right back but he’s getting the worse of things now. Stiff jab stumbles Cerrone. His nose looks busted up bad. Exchange continues though as Cowboy has serious heart despite taking another heavy left hand. Head kick glances for Cerrone and Ferguson fires back with a big low kick and a spinning elbow. Stiff jab hurts Cerrone again. Cerrone’s face is a MESS. Combo lands for Cowboy but he eats another spinning elbow. Takedown attempt from Cowboy and he gets Ferguson down, but he pops right back up and lands a front kick to the body. Cerrone looks badly beaten up with both eyes and his nose swollen and bleeding. Ferguson looks totally fresh too and he keeps on landing hard shots. Cerrone’s right eye is almost swollen shut. Cowboy keeps firing back but he’s beginning to wilt now under the pressure. Huge elbow connects for Ferguson. Seconds to go and Ferguson keeps catching him with punches, and right after the buzzer Ferguson lands a HUGE RIGHT that stiffens Cowboy’s legs for a second. That was dodgy although I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. Ref Dan Miragliotta gives him a “hard warning” which is probably fair.

Between rounds Cerrone makes the error of blowing his nose….and that causes his right eye to COMPLETELY swell shut, causing the doctor to call off the fight. Crowd aren’t happy with that but there was no way he could continue with that injury. Cerrone doesn’t look happy either but yeah.

Controversy then ensues as Miragliotta has to check the replay of the late punch to see if it caused the swelling, but it turns out it didn’t, and the swelling was largely caused by earlier shots. Official call is Tony Ferguson via TKO.

Well, outside of a slightly anticlimactic ending this was an AWESOME FIGHT that lived up to all of the hype. Call it a low-end FOTYC in fact and even better than that with a proper ending. Cerrone came out with some serious aggression and took the fight to Ferguson, but El Cucuy is basically THE FUCKING TERMINATOR in the cage and he just took everything that came at him and then turned up the heat in the second round until Cowboy’s body basically gave up on him. Another incredible showing from Ferguson and hopefully we finally get the Khabib fight next because realistically he might be the only guy who can challenge him, with his insane pace, striking and ability to survive and even thrive from his back. Forget about so-called “money fights” – Khabib vs. Ferguson might be the best fight in UFC history on paper and we NEED to see it.

UFC Women’s World Flyweight Title: Valentina Shevchenko vs Jessica Eye

This was Shevchenko’s first title defense after beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk to claim the vacant title in December, and she was faced with Eye, who had won three fights in a row since dropping to 125lbs in 2018. Despite Eye’s good form I couldn’t take her over Shevchenko, who looked like a potential dominant champion in this weight class.

Round One begins and Eye comes out firing her right hand, but she eats a kick to the body as she moves forward. Two more connect for Shevchenko as Eye misses some punches. Big right misses for Eye and Shevchenko clinches and dumps her into side mount with a beautiful takedown. Eye does well to recover half-guard, but Shevchenko slices right through and gets full mount. Weird moment ensues as Jon Anik thinks Eye’s tapped out to nothing, but she hasn’t and instead she gets half-guard again. Crowd sound a bit restless as Valentina isn’t doing a lot from the top here outside of some short strikes. Scramble allows Eye back to full guard now. She works up the fence and stands despite taking some punches, but she can’t fully break free and Shevchenko slams her down again into side mount. Shevchenko’s grappling is massively underrated. Eye attempts some knees to the shoulder from the bottom, but Valentina locks up a mounted crucifix and then goes into an Americana attempt, but Eye reverses on the buzzer. Clear 10-9 for Shevchenko as Eye basically did nothing, or should I say was allowed to do nothing.

Round Two and Eye misses some early punches again as Shevchenko circles out. Body kick lands again for the champ and then she KILLS EYE DEAD WITH A LEFT HEAD KICK! Holy shit.

Post-fight Eye is down for AGES with her legs shaking and everything; that was one of the scariest KO’s in UFC history and probably the outright scariest in a women’s fight in the UFC period. Replay shows Eye appeared to be expecting another body kick and slightly dropped her arm and that was all it took. Kick caught her right in the head ala Mirko Cro Cop over Alberto del Rio back in the day and made a noise like a gunshot. Unbelievable stuff and a totally dominant showing from Shevchenko, who I can’t see losing her title any time soon.

UFC World Bantamweight Title: Henry Cejudo vs Marlon Moraes

At the start of 2019 it felt like we’d get a logjam at 135lbs; essentially champ TJ Dillashaw had moved down to 125lbs to challenge Henry Cejudo for his Flyweight title, only to be knocked out, and so he was calling for a rematch with Cejudo at 135lbs for his Bantamweight title despite there being a clear-cut top contender waiting for him in Marlon Moraes. Thankfully things had a way of sorting themselves out – Dillashaw popped for EPO and found himself suspended for a long time – and so the UFC put together a fight between Cejudo and Moraes for the vacant title. As for a pick? I was leaning towards Moraes, who I felt could wear the smaller man down with his kicks en route to a TKO.

Fight begins and Moraes opens with a savage leg kick. Head kick is blocked by Cejudo but the power was pretty clear. Left hook lands for Moraes as he continues to rush in and then step out. Low kick from Cejudo is countered by a big flurry from Moraes. Big trade sees Moraes land the better shots again. He’s scarily quick. Low kick lands hard again for Moraes. Another low kick connects and this time Moraes avoids a takedown attempt off it. Exchange sees Moraes land a hard right hand. Hard leg kick knocks Cejudo’s right leg backwards. Moraes is just chewing him up from the outside. Another one follows and Cejudo is clearly suffering. Both of his legs look marked up. Body kick now lands for Moraes and he lands a couple of hard counter shots as Cejudo comes in swinging too. Round ends on the feet. Clearly 10-9 Moraes.

Second round and Cejudo opens with a head kick that misses, but he does land with a solid left hook. Head kick misses for Moraes in turn but another vicious leg kick connects for the Brazilian. Cejudo looks to close the distance, but Moraes manages to circle out. Left hand lands for Cejudo though and forces Marlon backwards. Another brutal leg kick from Moraes knocks the right leg backwards. Head kick connects for Moraes but Cejudo takes it well. Wheel kick misses for Moraes but a leg kick does not. This guy has the best leg kicks out there right now. Another one lands following Cejudo’s attempts to close him down. Low kick drops Cejudo face-first but he pops right back up. Right hand connects for Cejudo and a couple more follow as Moraes tries to fire right back.

Big combo from Cejudo and he’s drawing Moraes into a firefight now. Moraes circles out but he’s definitely taking more punches. Cejudo backs him up into the fence, but eats a big head kick, only to fire right back with a combo that has Moraes stunned. Moraes keeps punching back but he’s eating a lot more shots now and he looks marked up. Cejudo has a ton of heart. Uppercut from Cejudo and he lands some BIG KNEES from the clinch and Moraes is rocked! More knees follow and Moraes actually shoots (!) but Cejudo stuffs it and lands more knees and a huge right hand. Wild exchange ends the round, with Moraes wobbling Cejudo with a right. Holy shit that was great. 10-9 Cejudo for the late rally I’d say but it was one of the best rounds of 2019.

Third round and Cejudo wades forward with a big right hand. He’s showing no fear now at all. Huge head kick misses for Moraes. Right hand from Cejudo and he’s pressuring Marlon backwards. Clinch follow and Cejudo forces him into the fence, but Moraes breaks. Leg kick lands for Moraes. Exchange continues and Cejudo lands another hard knee from the clinch. Seconds later Moraes claims an eye poke and Marc Goddard calls time, and they restart with no eye poke apparent from the replay. Head kick misses for Moraes and Cejudo gets a takedown, but he pops right up. Combination from Cejudo though and he lands more knees from the clinch. Moraes is running out of steam. Couple more knees have him doubling over almost and he’s clearly in trouble now. Clinch from Cejudo follows and Moraes looks exhausted. Headlock from Cejudo and he drags Moraes down and looks for an anaconda choke, but he can’t quite seal the deal. Scramble sees Moraes escape, but he eats a big knee to the body and ends up pinned in an awkward squat position against the fence. Cejudo pulls his legs out and puts him on his back, avoiding an armbar to drop some big punches down. Hammer fists follow and Moraes is in trouble. Half-guard now and Cejudo is in firm control. HUGE ELBOWS begin to get through for Cejudo and he’s bouncing Moraes’ head off the ground! More shots continue to land….and Goddard’s seen enough and calls it there. Incredible.

Well, people talk about “championship performances” in the UFC all the time but you probably won’t find one much better than that. Cejudo was getting smashed in the first round by Moraes’ striking game, and even in the second he was struggling, but something changed in his mind and he just started wading in with punches, putting an insane amount of pressure on the Brazilian until he found he could punish him from the clinch with those knees, and from there he just tore the fight away from him and forced him to wilt. Better still this was a truly brilliant fight – I’d call it a solid FOTYC for 2019 in fact.

To add to that, for me Cejudo is probably the best pound-for-pound fighter out there right now and obviously the fourth double champ in UFC history after Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes. What’s next for him? Apparently the UFC wants him to defend the Flyweight title so hopefully that, but obviously Bantamweight is the more intriguing weight class for him and fights against Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling sound phenomenal. Either way I can’t wait to see him get in there again. He’s awesome.

-Show ends with a pretty cool highlight reel of a hell of a show.

Final Thoughts….

This was one of the best PPVs in recent memory and dare I say it an all-time great too, as every fight delivered – even the slower-paced Heavyweight one – and the two title fights basically couldn’t have gone any better. People might not have liked the finish to Ferguson/Cerrone but even that was a hell of a war that totally lived up to the hype. If you missed this one, check it out on Fight Pass NOW as it’s awesome.

Best Fight: Cejudo vs. Moraes
Worst Fight: Tuivasa vs. Ivanov

Overall Rating: *****

Until next time,

Scott Newman: