MMA Review: #688: UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos

-The UFC’s first show in Minnesota since 2012 (!), this one had a hell of a main event between two the UFC’s most dangerous Heavyweights, as well as a Flyweight title eliminator in the co-main, making it sound pretty damn good on paper.

UFC on ESPN: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos

Minneapolis, Minnesota

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Michael Bisping and Paul Felder.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Alonzo Menifield vs Paul Craig

This was the undefeated Menifield’s second UFC outing following a vicious KO of Vinicius Moreira earlier in the year, while Craig was coming off another miracle submission win, this time over Kennedy Nzechukwu. Due to Menifield’s massive athletic advantage I picked him to knock the Scot out in this one.

Round One and holy shit Menifield is a hench dude. He comes right out and looks to tag Craig with punches before clinching, You can hear Menifield’s corner telling him to separate but they jockey for position instead before Craig attempts to pull guard. He gives up on that and then Menifield breaks off. Takedown attempt from Craig but he can’t get Menifield down. Couple of kicks miss for Craig before he goes for a takedown again, but Menifield again avoids. Big swings miss for Menifield. Spin kick glances for Craig. Nice low kick from Menifield but Craig manages to duck some punches to get a clinch. Menifield blocks the takedown again, then avoids another guard pull. Wheel kick lands again for Craig but another one misses and sees him slip, and as he goes down Menifield NAILS HIM WITH A RIGHT and follows with some more shots to knock Craig silly.

Brutal knockout for Menifield, evidently he has insane power in his hands as the first punch he landed put Craig out as soon as he slipped into position. Dude clearly has a lot of potential even if the UFC need to treat him carefully right now as he’s so raw. Definitely a guy to watch in the future!

Lightweight Fight: Drew Dober vs Polo Reyes

Both of these guys were coming off losses, but this still sounded like an exciting, dirty brawl given the styles they use. I was taking Dober as I felt he had more power in his hands – and better defense – but really it was a fight that could’ve gone either way.

Fight begins and they circle with both men clearly looking to throw down. Wild exchange follows and Reyes goes down from some heavy shots, but he manages to cling onto a single leg to pop up. He continues to look to trade, but Dober keeps on firing and drops him with a BIG FLURRY for the TKO!

Super-fast fight that lived up to all expectations; Reyes came to trade but as expected he couldn’t handle the power that Dober was bringing and it was OVER. Great fun to watch for the minute it lasted!

Lightweight Fight: Roosevelt Roberts vs Vinc Pichel

Hot prospect Roberts had beaten the overmatched Thomas Gifford in February, and this sounded like quite a big step up for him; Pichel isn’t a title contender or anything but he’s super-tough and his only recent loss had come to Gregor Gillespie. Still, I believed in Roberts’ skills and took him to win a decision using his lanky frame and long reach.

Round One begins and Pichel pushes forward from the off with a couple of jabs and low kicks. Looks like he’s aiming for the body which makes sense due to the long range of Roberts. Roberts connects with some long punches and then lands with a flurry to back Pichel up. Clinch from Pichel and he moves Roberts into the fence, only for Roberts to switch him and look for a takedown. It fails and they break off before Roberts lands with a flying knee. Pichel shoves him off from a clinch and then closes him down with a right hand, going for a takedown. Switch from Roberts and now he looks for the takedown, but Pichel blocks. Good low kick lands for Pichel. Big right hand from Roberts leads to a flurry and he goes for the takedown again, and this time he dumps Pichel to the ground in half-guard. Roberts takes the back in a scramble and looks to slap a choke on, but Pichel blocks it and stands. Good punches from Roberts follow but Pichel takes them well and comes back swinging. Round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Roberts.

Round Two and Pichel comes out with a pair of low kicks and looks to back Roberts up. Roberts comes back with some glancing punches but Pichel connects on another beautiful low kick. Big right misses for Pichel but he uses it to get a takedown to half-guard in a nice move. Good job from Pichel to lace up the legs and now he’s in firm control and he stops Roberts from standing back up. Couple of punches get through for Pichel but for the most part he concentrates on control. Roberts stays calm though and reverses to his feet, then goes for a takedown of his own before breaking off. Couple more good leg kicks land for Pichel but Roberts hits him with a combo to set up another takedown attempt. Pichel stuffs that well, but he’s backing up again now. Big punches get through for Roberts again and he lands a flying knee just as Pichel steps forward. Clinch follows and Pichel uses a kimura to block a takedown, but he botches it as he drops to his back and Roberts takes the back. He can’t capitalise though and Vinc reverses that and winds up on top with some short elbows. Round ends with Pichel on top in full mount. 10-9 Pichel by a hair.

Round Three and Pichel lands with an overhand right in the early exchanges. Couple of jabs from Roberts but Pichel is wading in with punches now. Big combo comes back for Roberts but Pichel closes distance and dumps him with a big takedown to half-guard. He works to keep Roberts grounded and moves into north/south, then into side mount. Roberts scrambles but gives his back, and Pichel uses his legs to control the left arm to drop some heavy punches to the head. Choke attempt follows but Roberts uses it to stand. Guillotine attempt now for Pichel and it looks quite deep, but Roberts manages to last it out and frees his head. Spinning elbow breaks the clinch for Pichel and they exchange shots with Pichel landing the better ones. He’s taking over this fight now. Another takedown follows for him and he quickly passes to full mount and takes the back again. Solid punches land for Pichel from there and he slaps on a body triangle. Full mount follows and Roberts is still in trouble as Pichel lands elbows. Arm triangle attempt follows but Roberts manages to avoid it. He’s being mashed though. He gives his back again and Pichel remains in control, ending the fight with an armbar attempt. 10-9 Pichel, 29-28 for him overall.

All three judges call it 29-28 for Vinc Pichel in a bit of an upset. It looked like he was in trouble early but evidently he realised he could take Roberts down and do damage from the top, and from there he took over the fight. Basically he dragged the younger guy into deep water and drowned him. Roberts will bounce back and this will be a learning curve for him – he’s got a brighter future than Pichel still, but he was well beaten here. Good win for Pichel and a good fight overall.

Welterweight Fight: Demian Maia vs Anthony Rocco Martin

After reeling off four straight wins since moving to 170lbs in 2018, this was Martin’s big step up in competition. Despite clearly being past his best at this point at the age of 41, Maia was still looking pretty good – choking out Lyman Good in February – and I figured he could still outgrapple Martin and probably submit him if he could get him down.

Fight begins and Martin has a pretty low stance, evidently planning to block the takedown. They circle with little action to begin with, before Maia shoots about 1:30 into the round. Martin works to defend it up against the fence, but Maia drags him down with a single leg. Maia laces the legs to try to keep him down, landing a couple of punches to soften him up. He’s basically got full mount in fact. Good body punches get through for Maia but Martin uses the fence to stand back up. He keeps Maia in the clinch for some reason before separating with seconds to go. Round ends with Martin missing some strikes. 10-9 Maia.

Into the 2nd and Martin glances with a front kick up the middle. Takedown attempt is blocked by Martin. Head kick glances before he blocks another takedown and it looks like Maia’s slightly slowing down. Another takedown attempt is successful and Maia puts him down, but Martin uses a headlock to reverse and get up. Maia immediately tackles him back down though and laces the legs up again. Martin just can’t seem to shake Maia off him. He does manage to work his way back up, but Maia quickly drags him back down. Maia’s not doing much damage here but he is in firm control. Ref calls a weird stand-up with seconds to go and Maia shoots from the restart, but lands in a guillotine and Martin takes top position. He tries for a choke, but Maia spins over and ends the round on top. 10-9 Maia.

Third and final round and Martin comes out throwing strikes but he’s not putting combos together and he isn’t landing cleanly on Maia at all. Couple of decent shots get through but Maia seems absolutely fine here even if he’s throwing nothing at all back. This is a boring round to be honest. 1:30 to go and a takedown is blocked by Martin. Another one follows but again Martin stuffs it. Martin just can’t manage to find the killer blow. Good right lands for him and forces Maia on the retreat, and with seconds to go he gets dropped, but he manages to grab Martin before he can follow up. Martin ends the round on top, but it won’t be enough. 10-9 Martin, 29-28 Maia.

Official scores are 29-28 all round for Demian Maia. No surprise there but the fight was largely dull as Maia just neutralised Martin’s offense without really coming close to finishing him or anything. Good win for Maia of course but yeah, not a fight worth rewatching.

Flyweight Fight: Joseph Benavidez vs Jussier Formiga

This was a pretty big fight at Flyweight – people were talking it up as a potential title eliminator, but that was a question mark given champ Henry Cejudo’s move to Bantamweight – with Benavidez back on track with two wins following a disappointing loss to Sergio Pettis, and Formiga on a four-fight win streak of his own. Despite Formiga making massive improvements from their first fight in 2013 – that saw Benavidez win by KO – I was still taking Joe-B-Wan to win due to his speed and punching power.

Round One begins and both men come out bouncing around and throwing punches that glance in the early going. Nasty body kick connects for Benavidez and he follows it up quickly with another one. Big overhand right glances for Benavidez. He looks way faster than Formiga. Combination connects for the Brazilian as Benavidez charges in though. Wheel kick misses for Formiga. Right hands land for both and it looks like Benavidez might be cut over his right eye. Exchange continues before Benavidez bulls into the clinch with some punches. They break off and Formiga lands a lunging knee to the body. Low kick lands for Benavidez but Formiga catches the leg and takes the back from the scramble. He hops on with both hooks and then they go into a WILD SCRAMBLE before standing back up. Guillotine attempt from Formiga but Benavidez blocks it and escapes. Good punches break for Benavidez but he walks into a right hand. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Benavidez.

Round Two and Benavidez opens with the body kick again. He’s really winging his punches now. Spinning backfist narrowly misses for Formiga. Right hand connects for him though as Benavidez steps forward. Both guys are swinging heavily now in fact. Takedown attempt from Formiga and he manages to get a rear waistlock and hit a suplex, but Benavidez scrambles immediately and manages to get on top in half-guard. Really good move from Benavidez given Formiga’s skill from back control. Formiga works to full guard and then gets to his feet, and they break off. Body kick from Benavidez sees him slip, but Formiga can’t capitalise. Nice combo from Benavidez. Left hand lands cleanly too and Formiga might be struggling now. Big exchange sees both men land shots. Head kick lands for Benavidez and then a right hand wobbles him, and he’s in trouble. HUGE FLURRY follows for Benavidez and Formiga goes down face-first and that’s it!

That was a VICIOUS FINISH from Benavidez as he smelt blood, had Formiga hurt and finished him off violently. Pretty tremendous fight but Benavidez always had the advantage with his speed and he made it count. Post-fight everyone talks about Benavidez vs. Cejudo – which would be a rematch as of course, Benavidez beat him in 2016 – but personally I don’t think it’ll happen and I think Benavidez will fight for the vacant title instead. We shall see!

Heavyweight Fight: Francis Ngannou vs Junior Dos Santos

After Ngannou sparked out Cain Velasquez in seconds in February I fully expected him to get the next title shot, but the UFC ended up going with the Cormier vs. Miocic rematch instead and so the Predator ended up matched here against Cain’s biggest rival in JDS, who had knocked out Derrick Lewis in March. Despite JDS looking really good in that fight I was picking Ngannou here as I didn’t think Dos Santos could stand up to his punching power. Great fight on paper though!

Round One begins and Ngannou lands with a vicious leg kick. Another one follows as JDS circles on the outside. Leg kick from JDS fires back and drops Ngannou for a second but he pops right back up. Jab to the body follows for Junior before Ngannou nails him with an overhand right that JDS takes well. Low kick lands again for Ngannou and a huge right glances. Wild right hand misses for JDS and Ngannou catches him out of position with a CRUSHING RIGHT, and a couple more punches send him down and OUT.

Not sure what JDS was thinking there, he left himself wide open with that wild shot and if Ngannou lands clean like that then it’s always going to be over. Super impressive showing from Ngannou of course and even though there’s still a ton of question marks over him – like how he’ll do against takedowns post-Miocic – surely he must be in line for another title shot now. Hell of a way to end the night at any rate.

-Post-fight Ngannou calls for a title shot, and we’re done.

Final Thoughts….

This was a tremendous show with some insane finishes, right from Menifield’s violent KO of Craig up to the main event with Ngannou once again showing that devastating power. Maia vs. Martin stunk but basically everything else delivered even better than we could’ve expected, so it’s an easy thumbs up for this one.

Best Fight: Benavidez vs. Formiga
Worst Fight: Maia vs. Martin

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: