MMA Review: #699: UFC Fight Night 159

-This was the UFC’s first trip to Mexico for over two years, and while the card didn’t look too great on paper, the main event of Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens sounded like FIRE.

UFC Fight Night 159

09/21/19
Mexico City, Mexico

-Your hosts are Brendan Fitzgerald and Michael Bisping.

Featherweight Fight: Steven Peterson vs Martin Bravo

Both of these guys had their backs to the wall going in after two straight losses each, although Peterson’s spot on the UFC roster was maybe more secure due to his exciting nature. This was actually Bravo’s first appearance for over a year, too.

Round One begins and they come right out and exchange strikes instantly, not landing cleanly but definitely setting the tone for this fight. Solid punches land for Bravo and then he gets a takedown to guard. Peterson kicks him away and stands, but Bravo quickly unloads a combo on him and forces him to circle out. Another big combo lands for Bravo and he follows with a spinning backfist. Peterson is getting really pegged back here as Bravo just keeps on coming with combinations. Low kick and a left hand drops Peterson but he pops back up. Bravo is all over him. Crowd are massively into the Mexican too. Peterson tries to fire back but Bravo is just outlanding him easily. This is an insane pace to be setting at altitude, too. Single leg attempt is blocked by Peterson and somehow he doesn’t look too flustered despite taking a ton of strikes. Big overhand right lands for Bravo. Seconds to go and Peterson’s really swinging back now, but he’s still being beaten to the punch. Round ends with another exchange. 10-9 Bravo in a tremendous round.

Round Two and Bravo starts quickly again, but this time Peterson really fires back and looks more confident. Big takedown from Bravo plants him on his back, but a scramble allows Peterson back up. He eats a flurry, but fires back some more and it does look like Bravo’s slowing down. Stiff jab lands for Peterson. This is just a wild slugfest now with both guys landing. Spinning backfist misses for Bravo, and Peterson RETURNS FIRE WITH HIS OWN SPINNING BACKFIST AND KILLS HIM DEAD! Big hammer fist lands to follow up but it was pointless as Bravo was already sleeping.

Amazing knockout; maybe the best spinning backfist in UFC history in fact as it landed incredibly cleanly and obviously countered Bravo’s own attempt at the move. Incredible comeback too as Peterson looked to be getting overwhelmed in the first round! On sheer action alone I’d say that was one of the best fights of 2019.

-Between rounds we see a shot of Cain Velasquez in the crowd taking a lucha mask off, and he looks OLD. Just shows how fast time flies.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Irene Aldana vs Vanessa Melo

Mexico’s own Aldana – who was coming off a controversial decision loss to Raquel Pennington – was supposed to face Marion Reneau here, but when Reneau withdrew, Brazil’s Melo stepped in on late notice – and missed weight by 4lbs in the process. Due to Melo’s 10-day notice, Aldana was the big favourite.

First round begins and Aldana looks to have a big size advantage. Melo comes out swinging, but Aldana keeps her firmly out of range and stings her with some long punches early on. Hard leg kick lands for Aldana. Combo from Melo lands cleanly but Aldana circles out and keeps on throwing her jab. Beautiful left hand to the body from the Mexican. She’s looking sharp. More of the same follows, with Aldana comfortably outboxing the Brazilian. Melo looks like she’s slowed down dramatically. Couple more low kicks and body shots connect for Aldana as she mixes things up with her jab and right hand too. She’s piecing Melo up. Round ends on the feet and I’m not sure how much more abuse Melo can take. 10-9 Aldana.

Second round and Aldana opens with a thudding left hook. Melo comes forward again with a flurry, but Aldana covers up well and just gets right back to work, tagging the Brazilian with cleaner strikes coming off the jab. Head kick into a one-two for Aldana. Crowd love her too. Can’t fault Melo’s heart as she keeps on swinging, but she’s being outclassed and doesn’t seem to know how to turn it around. Takedown attempt from Melo is easily shrugged off and she eats some nasty strikes in return. Just over a minute to go and Melo lands a clean left, but Aldana tags her in response with four or five clean shots. Seconds to go and Aldana continues to land, including with a faked uppercut into a right hand. Round ends with another combo. 10-9 Aldana.

Third round and Aldana goes right back to work with a spin kick and a question mark kick. Melo manages to get the clinch from that, but Aldana separates with a knee. From there it’s right back to business as Aldana uses her jab to set up more strikes while avoiding Melo’s flurries. Two minutes to go and she’s landing some really hard strikes now as Melo’s beginning to slow down again. This is some of the best boxing I’ve ever seen in this division in the UFC. Round ends with more punishment dished out by Aldana. 10-9 Aldana, 30-27 overall. Total shutout really.

Judges go 30-26 overall for Irene Aldana. Won’t argue with that as any of those rounds could’ve been classed as a 10-8 with the amount of damage Aldana dished out. Really the only criticism would be a lack of finish, but to be fair Melo was ultra-tough and clearly had a solid chin, so if anything, Aldana deserves praise for not taking too many risks and being content to pick the Brazilian apart. The Mexican looked awesome here and as she’s since picked up an even bigger win over Ketlen Vieira – who was undefeated – I could easily see her fighting Amanda Nunes for the title this year.

Flyweight Fight: Brandon Moreno vs Askar Askarov

This was Moreno’s return to the UFC after he’d bizarrely been cut in 2018 despite having a winning record in the promotion, and he was faced with a dangerous opponent in the form of the unbeaten Askarov, who looked like a hell of a grappler judging by his highlight reel.

Round One and they exchange some early strikes with neither man really landing cleanly. Single leg from Askarov and he gets the back standing in a scramble. German suplex follows and they roll all over the place before Askarov gets on top in half-guard. Scramble sees Askarov take the back with a body triangle, but a quick scramble then allows Moreno to get on top. Triangle attempt from Askarov is avoided and Moreno looks to get to side mount, but ends up in full guard instead. Wild exchange from the guard follows, with Askarov landing some nasty elbows. Moreno responds with some solid ground-and-pound, popping the crowd in the process. Reversal from Askarov and he stands, but he eats a big left on the exit and looks a bit wobbly. Exchange sees Moreno land the better shots, but Askarov seems recovered now. Round ends as Askarov tries to chase Moreno down, causing him to sprint across the cage. Close round but I’d go 10-9 Askarov, he got the more dominant position and also landed some nasty shots on the ground.

Round Two and Moreno looks to strike and draws Askarov into a BIG TRADE, but the Dagestani hits a takedown from the clinch. He works to take the back again and slaps one hook in, but Moreno drops to his back to avoid that. He looks to stand, but gives his back again, but this time he manages to avoid a suplex and gets free. Beautiful uppercut from Moreno but Askarov gets hold of him again with the rear waistlock. Big punches land for Askarov from behind and he throws Moreno down and lands in side mount. Askarov stacks him up to drop some punches, but Moreno hits a foot sweep and pops back to his feet. Nice combo from Moreno but Askarov gets hold of him again. Nice foot sweep from Askarov drops Moreno down. The Mexican reverses right back up though and they break off with punches. Askarov works to grab him again and this time he tags Moreno with some punches. Moreno fires back, landing some decent punches of his own, and with seconds to go he drops Askarov with a head kick! Askarov manages to dive for a takedown anyway, and they end up in a weird position with Moreno almost locking up a reverse triangle. Round ends in that position. Super-close round but I’d probably go 10-9 Moreno. Both rounds could’ve gone either way.

Round Three opens with a BRO HUG, causing ref Dan Miragliotta to applaud. Right hand from Moreno lands flush and then he surprisingly hits a throw and puts Askarov on his back in guard. Triangle attempt from Askarov and then he switches to an oma plata, but Moreno pulls free and drops a heavy left. Askarov continues to stay busy from his back with elbows. Nice upkick lands for the Dagestani too. Moreno keeps trying to land shots, but Askarov’s guard is brilliant from a defensive standpoint. Two minutes to go and Moreno manages to take the back though, then looks for the rear naked choke. Askarov looks like he might be in trouble here. He defends the choke well, but he’s definitely losing this round now. He keeps trying to turn into Moreno, but the body triangle prevents it. Seconds to go and Askarov finally spins over into the Mexican’s guard, but the round ends before he can do anything. 10-9 Moreno, 29-28 for him overall.

Official scores are 28-28 (!), 29-28 Askarov and 30-27 Moreno for a SPLIT DRAW. Well, I’m not sure I’d disagree with that to be fair, as the first two rounds were incredibly close, and you could easily have gone 10-9 Askarov in the first and second with a 10-8 for Moreno in the third. This was a great fight overall too, with tons of cool scrambles, striking exchanges and a couple of near finishes for Moreno. Both guys worked super-hard throughout so what else can you ask for really?

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Carla Esparza vs Alexa Grasso

This was a great-sounding co-main event on paper, and a big chance for Mexico’s Grasso to establish herself as a true title contender after overcoming Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her last fight. Esparza meanwhile was coming off a win over Virna Jandiroba, and was looking for her own path back to the top. I was taking Grasso to win as I figured her striking could overcome Esparza’s grapple-heavy style.

Fight begins and the crowd ADORE Grasso. Quick exchange sees both women land. Nice counter left connects for Grasso as Esparza comes forward. Another combo lands for her to counter a low kick. Nice right hand lands for Esparza. Striking seems to be very even thus far. Grasso’s jab is beginning to land though. Takedown attempt from Esparza is almost reversed into mount, but Carla powers her over and takes top position in guard. Mini-slam connects for Esparza. Good upkick from Grasso allows her to pop back to her feet, and she narrowly misses a head kick. Clean right hand lands for Carla in an exchange. Combo from Grasso and she shoves Esparza into the fence, but the former champ quickly switches position and goes for the takedown. Grasso blocks it, but a hip throw plants her down. Looks like Esparza’s going for a neck crank ala Mark Coleman on Dan Severn, but it doesn’t work too well and Grasso explodes to her feet. Combo lands for Grasso and she stings Carla with a right on the buzzer. Close round, but I’d say Grasso just about edged it.

Into the 2nd and Grasso lands a counter combo as Esparza jumps forward. Beautiful takedown from Esparza and she works her way into the guard. She really is a great wrestler. Grasso does well to avoid her strikes, though, and keeps on wrapping the former champ up. Esparza does work her over with some short punches though and she seems comfortable from the top. Scramble allows Carla to take the back, but Grasso spins into top position and then manages to get to her feet. 1:20 to go and she needs something big though. Big right hand does land for Grasso and she tags Esparza with a follow-up combo. Exchange sees Esparza connect on a heavy right hook, but she misses a takedown and eats more punches. A second attempt does plant Grasso on her back though, and the round ends on the ground. 10-9 Esparza and I’d say we’re even going into the third.

Third and final round and Grasso opens with a clean combo as Esparza steps forward. Nice left hook lands for Grasso. Big exchange sees Esparza get hurt by a left hand, and Grasso chases her down and follows up, forcing the former champ on the retreat big time. Takedown attempt from Esparza is defended this time and Grasso keeps pushing forward with another combo. Takedown is defended again, but this time Grasso goes to the ground and looks to set up an armbar. Esparza avoids though and rolls into the guard. Grasso keeps trying and locks the armbar up, and Carla is in trouble here. She flips over and Grasso EXTENDS THE ARM AND TWISTS IT AROUND but somehow Esparza escapes! Jesus Christ that was close. No idea how her arm didn’t snap. Grasso goes for a triangle now and lands a bunch of elbows to the head, but Esparza manages to hold on from the top. Grasso keeps working from the bottom and not letting the former champ rest, and then she escapes to her feet. Seconds to go and Grasso tags Esparza with some huge punches, busting her nose up badly, and the round ends there. 10-8 Grasso for me as she came so close with that armbar and beat Esparza up standing. I’d go 29-27 for her overall.

Official scores are delayed as we’ve apparently got a RECALCULATION. That’s worrying. Judges go 28-28, 29-28 and 29-28 for CARLA ESPARZA. That’s absolutely baffling in my opinion. I could see the 28-28 score if you gave Esparza the super-close first round, but to not give Grasso a 10-8 third round after she came so close to a finish is ludicrous. This was a great fight overall with tons of back-and-forth action, but man that decision stunk. Crowd boo it out of the building too which is understandable.

Featherweight Fight: Yair Rodriguez vs Jeremy Stephens

This one sounded like potentially one of the wildest brawls imaginable, as both guys always come to fight and never back down from anyone. Rodriguez hadn’t been seen since his insane last-second elbow KO of the Korean Zombie, while Stephens’ last fight had seen him outpointed by Zabit Magomedsharipov. I was going for Rodriguez, feeling that his youth and speed would be enough to pull him through.

Round One begins and both guys look amped, especially Stephens who has the look of a real psychopath. Leg kick opens things for Rodriguez and as Stephens lunges in, he takes an eye poke. Ref calls time and it looks like a bad one. Stephens even audibly tells Herb Dean “he got me good”. Replay confirms it, as it looks like Rodriguez almost swiped him in an attempt to push him away.

Crowd are HORRIFIED as Bisping explains that both Cain Velasquez and Brian Ortega are trying to orchestrate them to keep them going. After a couple of minutes Herb calls the doctor in, but Stephens can’t even OPEN his eye and they have to throw the fight out.

And from there we CUE MAYHEM as the crowd just lose it entirely, showering the Octagon with trash as Rodriguez himself looks furious with them when something hits him. This is awful. Fight is declared a NO CONTEST and Rodriguez is so angry that it looks like he’s going to go after Bisping at one point. Jesus. Post-fight he still seems angry with everything – including Stephens, which is ridiculous – and calls for a rematch soon.

Well, that was perhaps the worst ending to any UFC main event in history. Rodriguez clearly didn’t poke Stephens on purpose and you obviously can’t blame Stephens for being unable to continue, but shit, there was no reason for the crowd to react like that as these things happen in MMA, and it felt like the pelting of the cage definitely caused El Pantera to blow up like he did.

-Show ends with the crowd still furious as the announcers wrap things up.

Final Thoughts….

Until the main event this was a pretty decent show, as we got a knockout for the ages from Steven Peterson and then three super-entertaining fights, but due to the shitty decision in the Grasso/Esparza fight and the diabolical ending to the main event, it’s hard to really give the show a thumbs up overall. It’s not the worst of 2019 and is probably worth a look on Fight Pass for the Peterson KO, but it’s worth just pretending that Esparza/Grasso was the main event.

Best Fight: Askarov vs. Moreno
Worst Fight: Rodriguez vs. Stephens

Overall Rating: **3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com