MMA Review: #703: UFC on ESPN: Reyes vs. Weidman

-The UFC doesn’t do Friday night shows very often so this one was a rarity, but it also looked great on paper, with a huge main event between Chris Weidman – moving to 205lbs for the first time – and Dominick Reyes and a co-main event rematch of one of 2019’s most controversial fights – Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens.

UFC on ESPN: Reyes vs. Weidman

Boston, Massachusetts

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Dominick Cruz and Daniel Cormier.

Middleweight Fight: Deron Winn vs Darren Stewart

Daniel Cormier protégé Winn had debuted with a win in the UFC back in June after rising to fame on the undercard of the controversial Liddell/Ortiz show, and this one looked like a solid match for him and his wrestling skills, as the UK’s Stewart had struggled with takedowns before.

Weird moment during the entrances as Stewart wears a MEDICAL MASK, making reference to his ‘Dentist’ nickname but also giving us a horrible precursor of what was to come in 2020!

First round begins and Stewart looks massive in comparison to Winn, who looks like he could make 170lbs easily. Big right hand lands for Stewart and Winn looks for the takedown in response. Good job from Stewart to defend early, but Winn keeps going for it. Big knee connects for Stewart inside the clinch. Winn keeps working though and finally dumps him onto his back in guard. Triangle attempt fails for Stewart and Winn takes the back, but the Brit works onto one knee and then stands. Good job from the Brit to escape, but Winn clocks him with a left and gets him down again. Couple of punches land for Winn and he works to keep Stewart down, but after a scramble the Brit gets up again. Winn stays on him like glue, but eats a sharp pair of elbows from the clinch before hitting a slam to guard. Action slows down a bit as Winn lands some punches, but he ends up cut by an elbow before the round ends. 10-9 Winn for the takedowns and control.

Second round and they circle around with Stewart dodging an early takedown. He glances with a couple of long punches and then hits Winn hard with a counter knee, but the ref calls time as Stewart’s foot made contact with the groin on the way out. Winn recovers quickly and they restart, and he quickly moves to the clinch. Beautiful takedown follows into the Brit’s guard. Few punches get through for Winn but Stewart gives his back in order to stand. They separate and Stewart tags Winn with a hard combo, and suddenly Winn looks tired. Takedown is stuffed by Stewart and he lands some more punches. The Dentist is looking confident now. Another takedown is defended well but this time Winn gets a clinch. Heavy elbows land for Stewart from there though and he continues to prevent the takedown. Winn keeps driving and gets him down eventually, but again the Brit pops up. This time he lands a solid knee from the clinch and breaks away. Big combo puts Winn on the run to end the round. 10-9 Stewart to even it up.

Third round and Stewart is shuffling his feet like Muhammad Ali to show that he’s got more in the tank left. Winn looks GASSED. Jabs connect for Stewart and he blocks a double leg. Overhand right glances for Winn but the Dentist is landing more strikes by far. Pair of big hooks connect for Stewart. He’s piecing Winn up. Combo does land in reply for Winn, but Stewart eats the punches up and hits him with more of his own. Takedown attempt from Stewart and he surprisingly dumps Winn onto his back. Couple of punches land but Winn reverses for his own takedown. Sprawl from Stewart defends, but Winn manages to force him onto his back anyway with two minutes to go. Couple of punches land for Winn but Stewart rolls and looks to stand back up. He does get up but Winn gets him back down with a slam. Again the Brit gets to his knees, and then stands yet again. Seconds to go and they trade punches with Stewart backing Winn up. Couple of big shots land for both men and the round ends with Stewart dropping for a guillotine. 10-9 Stewart for me, giving him a 29-28 upset.

Judges call it a split decision, going 29-28 Winn, 29-28 Stewart, and 29-28 for Darren Stewart to pick up a big victory. Glad they went with him as Winn’s takedowns in the third definitely weren’t enough to offset Stewart’s solid striking in my eyes. The Dentist remains a solid gatekeeper in this division and this was an excellent win for him. Winn meanwhile clearly needs to work on his striking and cardio to succeed and I think he probably needs a drop to 170lbs to really reach his potential.

Women’s Flyweight Fight: Maycee Barber vs Gillian Robertson

This was the 21-year old Barber’s next step up in competition after she’d beaten JJ Aldrich in March, as Robertson had won her last two fights and was 4-1 overall in the UFC. Despite Robertson having more experience I was taking Barber to win this one as she’s awesome, basically.

Round One begins and Barber looks amazingly chilled for someone so young. She pops Robertson with some punches early on, then stumbles Robertson with an overhand right. Couple of low kicks land for Robertson but Barber continues to push forward throwing punches, particularly her jab. Both women miss on strikes before Barber connects on a right hook. Guard pull from Robertson and she looks to switch to a single leg, but takes some elbows in the process. Barber stands back up and they jockey for position along the fence. Elbows land for Barber as she defends another takedown attempt, and then she breaks off and hurts Robertson with a combo! Robertson stumbles around and Barber just DESTROYS HER with punches and elbows and the ref has to call a rare standing stoppage.

Savage showing from Maycee Barber who yet again showed that she’s one of the most dangerous finishers in this division. Her striking looked far better here than it did against Aldrich and she really showed a killer instinct to put Robertson away pretty quickly. She’s lost since – suffering a bad knee injury in the process – but at her age there’s still plenty of time for her to become a title contender, and this was a great showing.

Lightweight Fight: Joe Lauzon vs Jonathan Pearce

Lauzon hadn’t fought in well over a year prior to this one, and while it made sense to get him on this card due to it being in Boston, I was worried for him. He’d basically looked shot for the past few years, and despite Pearce being a relative unknown as well as a UFC debutant, the fact that Lauzon had taken so much damage over the years made me take ‘JSP’ to win.

Fight begins and unsurprisingly the crowd are wildly into Lauzon. Pearce opens with a low kick and gets on the attack, but Lauzon sticks him with a stiff jab. Big combo lands for Pearce and they seem happy to trade here. Left hand lands for Lauzon and Pearce looks wobbled, and a big right stiffens him up again! Lauzon follows with a bodylock and trips him down, and from there he takes mount and lands some BRUTAL PUNCHES while holding a half-nelson, and Herb Dean steps in to send the crowd into raptures.

Amazing showing from Joe Lauzon who had Pearce hurt early and just didn’t let up. The finish was beautiful too, reminiscent of Brock Lesnar’s TKO of Frank Mir with how he used the half-nelson to set up a bunch of unanswered punches. This really would’ve been the perfect opportunity for him to retire, but unfortunately that never happens in MMA. This was awesome at any rate.

Heavyweight Fight: Greg Hardy vs Ben Sosoli

After a controversial TKO of Juan Adams in July, this was Hardy’s FOURTH fight of 2019, facing off with newcomer Sosoli, a brawler fighting out of Australia. Obvious pick was Hardy as it felt like yet again the UFC had thrown him a favourable match.

Crowd unsurprisingly DESPISE Hardy who seems to get booed literally everywhere he goes. Why the UFC persists with this push for him is anyone’s guess.

Round One begins and Sosoli counters a low kick with a pretty hard right hand. Left hand follows as Sosoli actually looks pretty quick on his feet. Another left comes over the top for the Aussie as Hardy circles on the outside. Nice low kick connects for Hardy. Sosoli throws some more punches but a couple of heavy ones connect for Hardy. Sosoli is struggling a bit with the reach disadvantage. Big low kick into an uppercut from Hardy. Two more land for the former NFL man but Sosoli’s chin is evidently solid. Decent left to the body from Sosoli. Crowd are booing loudly now, not sure whether it’s down to the slow pace or just aimed at Hardy. Heavy right connects for Hardy. His punches are having a lot more impact than Sosoli’s. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Hardy and Sosoli’s right eye is in bad shape. Replays show it came from an EYE GOUGE too which sucks.

Round Two and the crowd continue to boo as Sosoli just can’t seem to get into range to land clean shots. Hardy’s leg kicks are looking good to be fair. Fight gets so boring in the opening couple of minutes that the announcers are just riffing on Sosoli’s epic mullet. Hardy is doing a good job defensively but he isn’t countering. He does land a pair of super hard low kicks though. Decent combo lands for the Aussie and Hardy has to back up. Boos are now overwhelming. Low kick almost takes Sosoli off his feet. Hardy is just chewing his legs up badly. Every time Sosoli starts to swing though, Hardy’s offense stops entirely. One minute to go and Hardy’s looking tired. He’s still landing jabs but Sosoli continues to push forward even if he’s not really landing. Round ends with Hardy taunting the Aussie to the sound of more boos. 10-9 Hardy. This fight stinks.

Between rounds Hardy asks someone if he can TAKE HIS INHALER and has a nice puff before getting off his stool. Announcers are immediately horrified as apparently YOU CAN’T DO THAT, but the fight goes on anyway.

Round Three and naturally Hardy looks fresher, ha. He lands with a low kick as Cormier is BAFFLED on commentary. They even bring in Trevor Whitman on commentary and his MIND IS BLOWN. At least the confusion and debate makes up for this crap fight. Crowd literally haven’t stopped booing from the start. Combo lands for Sosoli but Hardy circles out as MARC RATNER joins the commentary team and says Hardy’s inhaler is COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. This is beyond hilarious. In the fight, meanwhile, Sosoli keeps on swinging but can’t land, and he gets dropped by a low kick at one point. You can tell Hardy is tired again because he’s dropping his hands and taunting while not actually throwing a lot. Seconds to go and a big left hook connects for Sosoli to finally draw a crowd pop, but he can’t really follow it up and the fight ends shortly after. 10-9 Hardy, 30-27 overall but with inhaler-gate, who the fuck knows.

Judges go 29-28 all round for Greg Hardy, but of course the fight has since been turned into a NO CONTEST due to the use of the inhaler, which surprisingly enough turned out to be illegal. No shit! All the controversy couldn’t make up for a pretty bad fight too, as Sosoli just couldn’t get into range to do any real damage and while Hardy’s striking looked decent, he was either purely defensive or throwing one or two shots. All of the booing didn’t help either. I just don’t know why the UFC are persistent in this push when it’s clear that nobody likes the guy!

Featherweight Fight: Yair Rodriguez vs Jeremy Stephens

This was of course a rematch from their first fight a month earlier in Mexico City, a fight that ended in the opening seconds when Stephens took a bad eye poke and couldn’t continue. That’d caused one of the worst scenes in UFC history as the fans ended up pelting the Octagon with trash, and somehow Rodriguez decided to blame Stephens, turning the whole thing into a HUGE personal rivalry. Thankfully the UFC wasted no time in re-booking it, and basically everyone was buzzing to see it. I was still picking Rodriguez to win, but with Stephens being fuelled by anger, it was definitely a close one to call.

First round begins and Rodriguez comes right out with a flying kick that misses. Big head kick also misses and Stephens is swinging for the fences. Left hook connects for Rodriguez and he gets to the clinch and goes for a takedown. Stephens defends and they end up in the clinch, but Yair lands some nice knees inside. Big USA chant from the crowd as they jockey for position, and Rodriguez breaks with an elbow. Front kick to the body lands for Yair. Another body kick follows and he adds three more. He’s really digging to the body here. Couple of power hooks glance for Yair and he dodges some haymakers from Stephens. Axe kick into a left (!) from Yair. Stephens is loading up his shots too much. Body kick leads to a clean right for Rodriguez. Flying knee follows and Stephens counters with a takedown attempt. Yair defends and breaks, then swings his way back into the clinch. Combo breaks for Rodriguez again and he lands a clean overhand right before hitting Stephens with a spin kick to the body. Switch kick glances but Stephens walks through it. Yair’s kicks are really working here. Jab drops Stephens for a second but Yair is slow to follow up and it allows him to stand. Round ends with more kicks from the Mexican. 10-9 Rodriguez in a great round for him.

Second round and a tornado kick (!) glances for Yair. Hard leg kick into a superkick of all things follows. His kicking game is awesome. BRUTA L BODY KICK finally drops Stephens and he’s in trouble. Yair pounces and starts to destroy him, but somehow he survives and dives for a takedown. Yair avoids that and lands some huge shots and surely this should be over, but Stephens keeps on diving for a leg. Again Rodriguez stuffs it and keeps on landing, then goes for a front choke variant. Stephens avoids that and goes to his back, but he’s still taking plenty of shots. Rodriguez ends up on top dropping big hammer fists, and then he looks for a D’Arce. It looks pretty tight too and Stephens is in trouble, but the Mexican lets it go and remains on top. Two minutes to go and Stephens manages to stand, swinging haymakers at Yair that don’t land. Side kick to the body from Rodriguez but Stephens manages to end up on top after a scramble. Triangle attempt from Yair follows but Stephens avoids it well. He’s not doing a lot from the top, though. Seconds to go and Stephens manages to get through with some punches, but that allows Yair to stand. Big knees land for Stephens from there but Rodriguez circles out and glances with the body kick to end the round. 10-8 Rodriguez as I felt the fight should’ve been stopped at one point.

Third round and Rodriguez opens with a low blow, but Stephens is okay to continue. He comes in with a WILD COMBO that glances, but Yair circles out and lands partially with a head kick. Few shots land for Rodriguez from the outside but Stephens is walking him down now. Couple of kicks land for Yair but Stephens tackles him to the ground and starts to land some bombs. Yair works to his feet, but he looks a bit tired. Another takedown lands for Stephens and this time he gets into the guard. They exchange shots on the ground and Stephens works to pass into half-guard. Just over a minute to go and Stephens is still landing decent shots from the top, but he needs a finish really. Big elbows connect for Lil’ Heathen and he keeps on landing until the buzzer. 10-9 round for Stephens, but I’d go 29-27 for Rodriguez overall. Hell of a fight.

Post-fight they BURY THE HATCHET too which is why this sport is so great. Official scores are 29-28 all round for Yair Rodriguez. Well, that was an awesome fight that lived up to all the hype it had going into the original meeting in Mexico City. Rodriguez came out and took the fight to Stephens with his kicks and really could’ve had a stoppage, but when he didn’t get it he ended up a bit gassed and Stephens had enough heart and toughness to win that last round big. Fantastic stuff overall as Rodriguez remains one of the best fighters in the sport to watch right now.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Dominick Reyes vs Chris Weidman

After suffering a bad loss to Jacare Souza in November 2018, Weidman was making his big return here, albeit at 205lbs for the first time. I figured that would be a good move for him as you could literally track his downfall at 185lbs back to when USADA came in and banned rehydrating with an IV, which took away a lot of the former champ’s strength and also made his weight cuts trickier. However, taking on Reyes – who was unbeaten in the UFC at 5-0 with 11 wins overall – sounded like a horrible first fight for him, and so I went with ‘The Devastator’ to win by TKO.

Round One begins and Reyes opens with a low kick and a glancing high kick. Big takedown attempt from Weidman follow and he muscles Reyes right down to the ground. Reyes does well to regain his footing, but Weidman stays on him and looks to get him down again. This time Reyes manages to use the fence to keep vertical, and manages to break off moments later. Good body kick lands for Weidman but as he comes in Reyes DECKS HIM WITH A COUNTER LEFT! Weidman looks okay as he lands, but Reyes uses his reach to drop some BIG HAMMER FISTS over the top, and the former champ goes out after two of them.

Super-disappointing result for Weidman as he actually looked good until he got hit, but the truth is that he probably waited a little too long for the move to 205lbs. He probably should’ve gone there after the Romero loss in 2016, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that. In all honesty, it’s probably time for him to hang it up. Reyes on the other hand looked awesome here, turning the lights out on a tough opponent with a beautifully timed shot. Post-fight he calls for a title shot and of course, that’d come true for him in 2020. Fun – albeit quick – main event.

-Show ends with Reyes in celebration mode.

Final Thoughts….

Overall, this was a fun show. Rodriguez/Stephens was by far the best fight, but the main event, Barber/Robertson and Lauzon/Pearce all had massively entertaining finishes too and Winn/Stewart was a perfectly acceptable opener. The less said about Hardy/Sosoli the better, but I guess inhaler-gate at least made that one memorable. Thumbs up for this show overall as it’s definitely worth a watch on Fight Pass.

Best Fight: Rodriguez vs. Stephens
Worst Fight: Hardy vs. Sosoli

Overall Rating: ****

Until next time,

Scott Newman: