MMA Review: #702: UFC Fight Night 161

-This trip to Florida looked like a classic throwaway one-fight show, with the main event of Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson looking good, and the rest looking pretty forgettable. Like a number of 2019’s shows this is another that for some reason I’ve got little to no memory of.

UFC Fight Night 161

Tampa, Florida

-Your hosts are Brendan Fitzgerald and Michael Bisping.

Middleweight Fight: Eryk Anders vs Gerald Meerschaert

This was Anders’ return to 185lbs after picking up one final win at 205lbs in his previous fight. Meerschaert meanwhile had last been seen choking out Trevin Giles with a sick guillotine in August – his fifth finish in the UFC.

First round begins and Anders definitely looks physically better at 185lbs. Couple of early combos land for Anders as he backs Meerschaert up, but the veteran returns fire with a pretty good left hand. This is weird thus far as they’re both firing shots but are both coming up largely short. Nice combo does land for Anders and Meerschaert goes down, but Ya Boi is having none of that and he calls him right back up. Heavy counter left connects for Anders and Meerschaert tries to get him down but fails. Knee lands from the plum for Anders. Meerschaert just looks too slow to catch him. Anders continues to back him up but the pace remains largely slow here. 30 seconds to go and Meerschaert does land a clean combo, but Anders is fine. Head kick and another hard combo end the round for Anders. Easy 10-9 for Ya Boi.

Second round and Meerschaert comes out with a bit more aggression, landing a combo to open the round, but Anders outright shoves him to the ground in a weird spot. He lets him back up and the exchange continues, with Anders landing a heavy counter left. Nice low kick from Meerschaert and they’re literally in the pocket exchanging but not landing cleanly. Right hand from Meerschaert snaps Anders’ head back as he continues to do a much better job in this round. Exchange continues with Meerschaert landing more shots, but Anders landing with the odd more powerful one. Lunging left into a glancing head kick from Anders force Meerschaert back for a second. Beautiful combo from Meerschaert as he dodges some punches. Anders tries to chase him down but ends up eating another combo, and the round ends there. 10-9 Meerschaert to even things up. Anders looks tired.

Third round and they trade from the off with the announcers mention Anders looked hurt from a body shot at the end of the second. Meerschaert’s having a lot of success now, catching Anders with cleaner punches as he steps in. Anders continues to come forward, but he’s got to land more to win this fight. He does connect on an uppercut, but Meerschaert quickly fires right back and they trade, with a big left landing for Anders. Body kick lands for Anders but Meerschaert fires back with one of his own to slow him down. Two minutes to go and this is a tight round to score. They’re trading pretty openly now. Big left misses for Anders and Meerschaert tags him with a right that has him hurt. He doesn’t quite follow up enough though, letting him off the hook a bit, and they continue to exchange until the round ends. 10-9 Meerschaert for a tight 29-28 in my book.

Official scores are 29-28 Meerschaert, 29-28 Anders and 29-28 for Eryk Anders to get the victory. Bit of a surprise there as I definitely felt like Meerschaert took the last two rounds, but to be fair the third was super-close and Anders was probably winning it until that right hand landed. Anders remains more raw athletic potential than anything else but he’s still a fun guy to watch and this fight was perfectly acceptable.

Lightweight Fight: Matt Frevola vs Luis Pena

Frevola was coming off his first UFC win prior to this one as he’d beaten Jalin Turner at UFC 236, while the Violent Bob Ross had looked excellent in his most recent win over Matt Wiman. My pick? Pena.

Round One and Frevola comes out swinging big combos right away, tagging Pena with a left hand. Couple of wild swings miss for Frevola but he does land with some low kicks. Crowd love Frevola as he’s a local guy. Pena keeps on leaning back to avoid punches which is a bit worrying. Frevola is just about coming up short right now. Good body kick lands for Pena. Right hand answers back for Frevola. Couple of jabs land for Pena but Frevola swings his way into the clinch and gets a slam. Violent Bob Ross pops right back up and both men land hard punches before Frevola goes for the takedown again. Pena works to defend, but gets slammed again into side mount this time. Weird position follows as Pena ties him up using his legs and it looks almost like some kind of arm triangle choke variant. This would be one of the best submissions ever if it were to work, but Frevola manages to slip free. They stand back up and Pena grabs a plum clinch to land some knees, then gets the back. He can’t get Frevola down, but ends up nailing him with some big combinations as the round ends. Close round but probably 10-9 Pena for the far stronger finish.

Round Two and Pena works to back Frevola up from the off. Big right hand tags him though but he seems okay. Frevola’s cut under the left eye quite badly. BEAUTIFUL flying knee lands for Pena and Frevola is badly hurt. Somehow he’s still standing, and he dives on a single leg only to eat a bunch of elbows. Kimura attempt from Pena and he sweeps into top position, but he can’t quite finish it off and Frevola scrambles wildly to his feet. Knees land from the plum for Pena before they break and Frevola is badly busted up. Pena is just sniping at him from the outside with long punches now. Jumping kick misses for Pena and Frevola comes back with a superman punch. Pena still looks super confident here though. Head kick lands for Pena but causes him to slip, and Frevola pounces on him to land some glancing shots. Takedown is stuffed by Pena who locks up the arm to look for the kimura again, but he winds up on the bottom and can’t quite lock it up. He switches to a triangle attempt instead, but slips and Frevola ends up inside the guard landing short punches. This is a fucking great fight. Round ends with Pena scrambling up, only to take a German suplex before somehow winding up in full mount. Awesome. 10-9 Pena.

Round Three and Violent Bob Ross doesn’t have a mark on him while Frevola is a MESS. Pena continues to land some long punches from the outside while Frevola’s now struggling with the range somewhat. Nice high kick lands for Pena. Wild punches suddenly connect for Frevola and have Pena on the run a little, but he seems okay. Flying knee is blocked by Frevola and he counters with a right that has Pena stumbling down for a second. He pops up but Frevola tackles him to the ground, but can’t keep him there. They stand and Frevola cracks him with a decent right before going for the takedown again, but he can’t get it and they break. Exchange continues with both men landing some solid punches. Jumping knee again glances for Pena. They trade punches before Frevola goes for the takedown, but Pena blocks to end the fight. 10-9 Frevola, but I’d go 29-28 Pena overall.

Judges go 29-28 Pena, 29-28 Frevola, and 29-28 for Matt Frevola to sneak the win. Well, can’t say I agree with that. Under PRIDE scoring Pena wins every day of the week for that strong second round, but I guess you could make an argument for Frevola edging the other two. Post-fight Pena clearly doesn’t agree as he STORMS OUT OF THE CAGE but shit, this was a great fight either way even with the questionable judging.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Mackenzie Dern vs Amanda Ribas

This was Dern’s big return to action following maternity leave, while Ribas was coming off a debut win over Emily Whitmire. With Dern actually making weight for this fight I was taking her world class grappling to win her the day.

Round One begins and they circle around with Dern glancing on a combo early on. Stiff right hand connects for Ribas though to back her up. They continue to exchange and it’s clear that Ribas is the much sharper puncher. Brutal counter right hand lands for her off a Dern combo. Another counter right lands for Ribas and Dern is looking outgunned. Low kick takes her off her feet for a second but she pops back up instantly. Another counter right has Dern stunned and she shoots and takes Ribas down, but the Brazilian pops up and lands a spin kick to the body. She’s opening up with combinations now. Another big combo lands and Dern looks to be in trouble. Dern lunges for a takedown but ends up getting thrown, and goes to guard. Armbar attempt from Dern is avoided and Ribas settles into guard, and the round ends from there. Fantastic round for Ribas, 10-9.

Round Two and Dern comes out swinging, but struggles to get into range. Takedown is stuffed well by Ribas and she refuses to drop into Dern’s guard. Ribas continues to pop her with clean counterpunches, and man Dern has an amazing chin to eat up all these shots. Big right hand lands for Dern in an exchange but Ribas takes it well. Takedown attempt from Dern is stuffed again. More of the same follows with Dern throwing haymakers and eating sharper punches on the counter. Deep single leg from Dern but Ribas lands another hip throw to reverse and drops into Dern’s full guard. She decides to stand back up, forcing Dern to join her, and the round ends with Ribas landing another combo. 10-9 Ribas.

Round Three and Dern comes out throwing bombs again, but Ribas drops her with a foot sweep and then forces her to pop back up. Head kick glances for Ribas. Pair of clean left hands also follow for the Brazilian. Dern’s chin is continuing to hold up well though. Takedown attempt from Dern and she ends up dropping to her back, but takes some short elbows before Ribas stands back up. Just over half the round to go and Dern’s still throwing haymakers, but she can’t land cleanly and she just keeps on eating counters. Big one-two lands for Ribas. She keeps on working her jab and landing sharp counters, and with seconds to go she opens up even more to land some nice combinations. Round ends there, and it’s got to be 30-27 overall for Amanda Ribas.

Unsurprisingly all three judges go 30-27 for Amanda Ribas, pretty much the only possible score. Ribas looked awesome here and just pieced Mackenzie up on the feet while avoiding the ground throughout, and I think she could definitely be a future contender with how sharp she looked. Disappointing fight for Dern unfortunately as she was outgunned standing and couldn’t get Ribas to the ground, but she should bounce back assuming she can really work on her takedowns and stand-up going forward.

Welterweight Fight: Niko Price vs James Vick

This fight was inexplicably on the prelims at first before it got moved up when the card lost Brok Weaver vs. Thomas Gifford. I say inexplicably because Niko Price should NEVER be on the prelims, dude is arguably the most exciting fighter in the whole of the UFC right now. This one looked like an interesting fight for him too, facing the lanky Vick who was moving up to 170lbs for the first time after starving himself to make 155lbs since his entry into the UFC in 2012.

Fight begins and Price stalks forward and glances on a heavy right from the off. Low kick lands for Price as he’s not having any issues with Vick’s range in the early going. Couple of kicks land for Vick as he circles out, but one gets caught and he ends up on his back. Price looks to land some hammer fists, moving into side mount for good measure, but Vick hip escapes to half-guard. Good job from Vick to work to his feet, but Price manages to put him back down in guard and land a couple of shots. Vick again works to his feet, but Price goes for the takedown again. This time he screws up and winds up on his back, and Vick starts to drop some bombs. He postures up for some more, but eats a HUGE UPKICK and he’s OUT COLD!

Crowd go APESHIT for Price post-fight as he celebrates, then looks pretty horrified at what he’s done as Vick is out for AGES, basically looking dead. Terrifying knockout for sure, one of the most brutal I’ve seen in some time. Replay shows the heel landed right on the jaw and knocked Vick silly. Dude has a dodgy chin but that would’ve put most fighters out to be fair. Chalk up another insane win for Price. He’s a must-see fighter literally every time he’s in the cage, win or lose.

Featherweight Fight: Cub Swanson vs Kron Gracie

Pretty cool-sounding co-main here between the veteran Swanson – who had been on a bit of a slump and had most recently been seen in a loss to Shane Burgos – and Gracie, the son of the legendary Rickson, who was looking to make his own mark in MMA. Kron was definitely the underdog coming into this one on experience alone despite being a world-class grappler, but I was pulling for him as I’m a Gracie mark in general.

First round and Kron begins with the classic Gracie flicking low kicks as he pushes forward. Decent counter right lands for Cub and then both men get tagged in a brief exchange. Kron continues to push the action and although Swanson’s landing the better shots here, Kron certainly doesn’t look like an amateurish striker or anything. Nice right hook connects for Cub. He’s going to the body well too in these exchanges. Swanson really begins to open up with two minutes to go and it looks like the difference is the movement more than anything as Cub is cutting more angles to land his shots. Huge right hook to the body lands for Cub. Couple of clubbing right hands land for Kron in response though. He looks to close Cub down with some more punches, but the veteran does well to circle away. Seconds to go and Swanson continues to play matador, just moving around and landing strikes as Gracie comes forward. Big body kick ends the round for Cub. 10-9 Swanson.

Second round and Gracie again continues to advance forward, but he’s struggling to catch Cub cleanly and he’s eating a lot of counters. Kron hasn’t even really gone for a takedown or a clinch yet which is odd. Beautiful combination lands to the body for Swanson. Nice combo answers back for Gracie and he gets to the clinch, but Cub quickly punches his way free and they exchange pretty openly for a second. Guard pull attempt from Kron but Cub quickly avoids that. He keeps on landing shots and digging to the body, but Kron keeps on coming forward. Another guard pull attempt leads to a sweep attempt for Gracie, but Cub manages to slip free. This is a gutsy performance from Kron even if he’s getting outlanded. He’s actually landing a fair number of strikes in this round, but he’s just eating more in return. Both guys look tired and a bit bloodied up now. Round ends with more trading. 10-9 Swanson but it was a much closer round.

Third round and Kron tags Swanson in the opening seconds and they trade off with some bombs and Cub looks TIRED. Exchange continues into the clinch and Kron is practically landing as many shots as Cub now. They break off and Swanson lands a big combo, but Kron just eats it all up and keeps pushing forward. This fight is incredible. Guard pull attempt from Gracie is avoided, but he does glance on an upkick as Cub looks to pull away. Another takedown is avoided but another upkick lands hard for Kron as Swanson steps off. Exchange continues on the feet and these guys are just landing bombs on one another now with little to no defense. Fitzgerald on commentary mentions that both guys have landed more than 100 strikes which is wild. One minute to go now and both guys look exhausted. It’s understandable too as they just won’t stop trading. Guard pull from Gracie with 30 seconds to go and he’s finally got Cub on the ground, but the time’s running out for him. Swanson avoids a guillotine and stands, and sure enough the TRADE CONTINUES. Round ends with another trade. 10-9 Gracie, but 29-28 Swanson overall.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Cub Swanson. In all honesty though nobody lost this fight as it was so good, definitely a FOTYC in my opinion as they literally did not slow down throughout the fifteen minutes. Early on it looked like Cub would run away with it as he used his footwork to land the better shots, but once he got tired and it turned into a brawl it became a much more even fight as Kron didn’t look out of his depth standing at all. Assuming he’s given some lesser competition in his next few fights he’ll be fine and could even make it into title contention I think. Dude looked insanely tough in this one. This was the best Swanson fight since his wild brawl in 2017 with Doo Ho Choi, too.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Michelle Waterson

While it wasn’t official, the winner of this one was likely in line for a title shot against new champ Weili Zhang, as despite Joanna not fighting since UFC 231 in December 2018, she’d still only ever lost to Rose Namajunas at 115lbs. Waterson meanwhile was on an impressive three-fight win streak of her own. I was taking Joanna to win, figuring she was the slightly sharper striker, as I doubted Waterson could get her to the ground.

Round One begins and Joanna presses forward as Waterson looks to circle on the outside and use her kicks to keep the distance. Quick combination lands for Joanna. Kick from Joanna is caught and Waterson goes for a takedown, but Joanna avoids it and they end up clinched. They jockey for position and exchange some knees, but Waterson breaks with a right elbow. Few kicks glance for Joanna and she follows with a right-left combo. Her hands look quick here. Kick is caught but Waterson can’t get her down. Exchange continues in the clinch and Joanna’s using some decent elbows. One minute to go and Joanna continues to work hard from the clinch, landing knees and short elbows. This is the best clinch work I’ve seen from Joanna. Round ends with her blocking a head and arm throw. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk.

Round Two and Joanna opens with some low kicks. She’s really forcing Waterson backwards here. Waterson comes back with some kicks but Joanna’s volume is insane as she’s throwing so many strikes, mainly low kicks and the odd combination. Waterson is bleeding from the nose. Takedown attempt from Waterson only leads to the clinch, but not a lot happens from there and they break off. Combo lands for Jedrzejczyk and she avoids a single leg. Waterson pushes her into the fence, but she’s taking a bunch of knees from the clinch again. Waterson’s shirt is covered in blood. Joanna continues to work her over from the clinch before breaking, and a BIG HEAD KICK lands for her shortly after. Waterson takes it well but she’s clearly losing this fight. More strikes end the round for Joanna. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk again.

Round Three and Joanna looks so confident now. She comes out throwing more kicks before Waterson manages to land a solid body kick. More combinations land for Joanna and she’s putting her kicks and punches together beautifully. Waterson is just being overwhelmed by the speed and volume. Clinch from Waterson but Joanna muscles her around and actually takes the back before dragging her down for a second. She goes for a D’Arce from there (!) and it looks pretty deep actually, but Waterson defends well and escapes to her feet inside the clinch. They break off and more strikes continue to land for the Polish fighter, as Waterson’s now reacting to nearly all of her feints as well. Clinch from Waterson and this time she manages a trip….and suddenly slides onto the back and LOCKS UP THE CHOKE! Crowd go apeshit but Joanna manages to avoid the choke despite giving up full back control. She stands with Waterson in the lemur position, and with seconds to go shakes her off and ends the round with a big flurry. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk despite the close submission attempt.

Round Four and Joanna opens with another sharp combination. Takedown is stuffed and she makes Waterson pay with a low kick and a big high kick. Jedrzejczyk’s volume is just not slowing down at all. Brief clinch is broken and Joanna continues to land at a high clip. Her kicks have never looked better than this. She continues to open up on Waterson with little return to be honest, looks like the Karate Hottie is probably exhausted and hurt by this point. Takedown is stuffed by Joanna with 1:30 to go, but Waterson forces her into the fence. You can’t fault her heart, that’s for sure. She tries a headlock takeover, but Joanna avoids that and then trips Waterson down. They pop back up and Joanna lands a SAVAGE ELBOW from the clinch. Big knees follow that as Joanna throws Waterson around like Anderson Silva on Rich Franklin. Round ends there. 10-9 Joanna and this is looking like a shutout.

Round Five and it looks like Joanna might’ve picked up a foot injury from landing so many kicks. She just gets right back to work with some more quick combinations though, backing Waterson up despite the Karate Hottie trying to fire back. Jedrzejczyk’s striking output and movement hasn’t slowed down in the slightest, even more impressive when you considered how much Cub Swanson slowed down in the previous fight. They clinch up and Waterson manages to keep Joanna pressed into the fence this time, but the Polish fighter breaks off and opens up with a nasty combination. Takedown from Waterson sees her scramble into the lemur position again, but Joanna defends the choke and looks to shake her off. Sure enough she escapes into the clinch, where they exchange knees to the body. Left breaks for Jedrzejczyk, and she avoids another takedown attempt. Can’t question Waterson’s heart here at all as she’s still trying. Joanna just keeps on tagging her with combinations though until the final buzzer. 10-9 Joanna, 50-45 overall.

Judges unsurprisingly have the decision for Jedrzejczyk, 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46. Well, it was a pretty one-sided fight in the end. Waterson didn’t stop trying and even came close with the choke in the third round, but Joanna just completely overwhelmed her with her volume and didn’t slow down for a single second from start to finish. This was the best performance from her since her final title defense against Jessica Andrade in 2017 as she outclassed the Karate Hottie which really, nobody had done in the UFC before outside of Rose Namajunas. And despite being a one-sided fight, it was also a lot of fun as Joanna kept such a high pace and Waterson never gave up.

And post-fight Joanna calls out Weili Zhang for a title fight and of course…..that’s another show.

-Show ends with Joanna celebrating with her team.
Final Thoughts….

Despite being INCREDIBLY long and lacking in finishes – outside of the sick upkick from Niko Price – this was a great show, with two of the better fights of 2019 in the form of Gracie/Swanson and Frevola/Pena on tap and an exciting – if one-sided – main event. Anders/Meerschaert was a slow and forgettable opener, but outside of that, it’s a thumbs up from me.

Best Fight: Gracie vs. Swanson
Worst Fight: Anders vs. Meerschaert

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: