MMA Review: #712: UFC Fight Night 166

-After the McGregor-fuelled UFC 246 got so much publicity a week before, this show was flying way under the radar, but I was still excited due to the awesome-sounding main event between Curtis Blaydes and Junior Dos Santos.

UFC Fight Night 166

Raleigh, North Carolina

-Your hosts are Brendan Fitzgerald, Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jamahal Hill vs Darko Stosic

This was Hill’s full UFC debut after going 6-0 on the regional circuit – including a win on Dana White’s Contender Series – while Stosic was coming off one of the most horrible fights in recent memory against Kennedy Nzechukwu. Based on how Hill had looked in his appearance on the Contender Series I was picking him to win comfortably.

Round One begins and Hill looks incredibly chilled for a debutant. He lands some strikes from the outside as he circles around, then trips Stosic down for a split-second before he pops back up. Hill is really firing combos here early on even if they’re not landing cleanly. He’s super quick for a big guy. Big combination lands for Stosic though and it forces Hill backwards. Couple of kicks fire back for Hill but Stosic wades in with another flurry that leads to the clinch. They break off quickly and Stosic continues to push forward, glancing on a big head kick. Nice body kick from Hill. Right hand fires back for Stosic. They continue to trade and it’s still Stosic coming forward. He’s swinging for the fences. Big knee to the body from Hill but Stosic takes him down off it. Hill pops back up and lands the knee to the body again, then starts to pop Stosic with punches from the outside. Looks like Stosic’s got a problem with a cut on the bridge of his nose. He appears to be slowing down now too. Hill continues to snipe at him, but he eats a big left hook that he somehow absorbs. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Hill.

Round Two and Hill still looks fresh, popping Stosic with some really nice strikes from the outside. It definitely looks like Stosic’s slowing down. Hill continues to ping him with punches, but again he eats the big left hand counter. Evidently his chin’s good though as he seems fine. Big takedown attempt is shrugged off by Hill and he snipes at Stosic with a really nice combination. Crowd are way into Hill as he continues to throw combinations at his opponent. Stosic is looking badly beaten up now. Another takedown attempt is avoided by Hill and he lands a strong knee to the body. He’s just popping Stosic over and over from the outside. Flurry misses for Stosic and you can literally see him take a massive breath right after. Hill is just picking him apart. Round ends though with a solid takedown for Stosic. 10-9 Hill for sure.

Round Three and we begin in the same fashion as Hill continues to move around on the outside and pop Stosic with some nice strikes. For a debutant his pace is holding up really well. Huge takedown lands for Stosic, and suddenly he starts to CLUB Hill with some really heavy punches! Hill manages to survive and escapes to his feet, but Stosic keeps him clinched. Hill manages to separate, and from there he goes back to work with his strikes again. Another really good takedown from Stosic plants him again, but Hill immediately reverses back up. Big combo breaks for Hill. He lands with a few really heavy low kicks, then continues to pick at Stosic from the outside. Beautiful charging takedown from Stosic puts Hill down with a minute to go, and this time he goes to full guard. Hill works his way to his feet again with seconds remaining, but Stosic stays on him in the clinch and ends the round with a slam. Probably 10-9 Stosic actually, but 29-28 for Hill overall.

Official scores are 29-27 all round for Jamahal Hill. Really fun opener actually as both guys worked incredibly hard, kept a super-high pace throughout and gave everything they had. Hill was the clear winner as his striking, cardio and chin all looked brilliant, and if he can fix the blatant holes in his game – keeping his chin too high and having non-existent takedown defense – then he can go far. Dude has a lot of charisma too so the future is definitely bright.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Angela Hill vs Hannah Cifers

The perennially underrated Hill had picked up her first UFC finish over Ariane Carnelossi in her previous fight, and this was a pretty quick turnaround of just 3 months for her. Cifers meanwhile was on a two-fight win streak of her own, making this a tight one to call.

Fight begins and Cifers opens with a low kick. Hill’s afro is awesome, right out of the 1970’s. They trade some strikes and Hill’s the one pushing forward in the early going. Cifers seems to be looking to draw Hill into a brawl, but Angie’s having none of that thus far, choosing to pop her with straighter punches from range. Every time she steps inside though Cifers manages to glance with some quick flurries. Two minutes to go and they clinch, with both women landing some decent shots before breaking. Nice combination lands for Hill. Clinch from Cifers and she looks for a trip, but Hill avoids that and forces her into the fence. Wild shots land for both as they break off, and they continue to trade strikes until the round ends. Probably 10-9 Hill in a close one.

Second round and the exchange continues with the crowd way into Cifers. Hill opens with some jabs, but she’s now more willing to trade which is worrying. Nice knee to the body lands for Hill and she grabs a plum and trips Cifers down into side mount. Beautiful takedown there. Hill works to pass into full mount and then opens up with some big punches, then switches to some VICIOUS ELBOWS that bust Cifers open. Cifers doesn’t seem to be capable of any kind of escape, and Hill continues to land heavy shots until the ref decides he’s seen enough.

Really good showing from Hill, probably the best of her UFC career in fact as she dealt with a dangerous and aggressive opponent and just dominated her on the ground once the fight went there. Crowd didn’t like it but what can you do?

Flyweight Fight: Alex Perez vs Jordan Espinosa

Top prospect Perez had gone 4-1 in the UFC at this point with his only loss coming against Joseph Benavidez, and this was another chance for him to make a mark, as Espinosa had lost his previous fight to Matt Schnell – a fighter I’d consider to be below Perez in the pecking order. Weird matchmaking actually to see Perez almost matched with someone coming off a loss.

Round One gets underway and Perez looks really amped up. They exchange some shots from the outside with Perez landing a couple of solid low kicks. Eye poke is shrugged off by Perez and they continue to circle around before Perez wades in with punches and gets a takedown. Arm triangle setup is there for Perez and he locks it up from half-guard, then punches the body to soften Espinosa up a bit. From there he looks to squeeze it on, and somehow despite being in half-guard he manages to tighten it enough to put Espinosa OUT COLD.

Replay shows Espinosa’s legs were actually going into spasm as the oxygen to his brain was cut off which is insane. Perez’s squeeze must be absolutely crazy. That was a quick and easy win for him too and judging by what I’ve seen from the guy, I think he’s a legit title contender. Awesome submission at any rate.

Welterweight Fight: Michael Chiesa vs Rafael Dos Anjos

After beating up Carlos Condit and Diego Sanchez, this was Chiesa’s big chance to step into title contention at 170lbs. Dos Anjos was coming off a loss to Leon Edwards, but he was still recognised as a very legit fighter with finishing skills in all areas. To me this one was always going to come down to whether RDA could stop Chiesa’s takedown, as if he couldn’t, he was going to be in trouble.

Round One begins and holy shit, Chiesa is huge. How the hell he ever made 155lbs is anyone’s guess. He circles on the outside as RDA takes the centre of the cage, and neither man lands a lot in the early going before Chiesa rushes forward with punches that set up a takedown attempt. RDA defends, but Chiesa gets his back and slaps one hook in standing. Chiesa manages to drag him down and gets the second hook in, then almost gets him flattened out! Crowd go crazy as Chiesa almost gets a choke, but RDA just about avoids it. Body triangle is locked in now for Chiesa. RDA manages to avoid another choke and spins over, but Chiesa remains on top and grabs a headlock. He lets it go to look to take the back again, and then basically gets a full mount. Never seen anyone dominate RDA on the ground quite like this. RDA does an amazing job of spinning over though, and he manages to pop up to his feet and separate. Nasty body kick lands for the Brazilian and he follows with a leg kick. Big takedown replies for Chiesa, but RDA works right back up. Round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Chiesa.

Round Two and RDA opens with a sharp leg kick. Nice step-in knee to the body lands for Chiesa and he gets the clinch from it, but RDA muscles free. Nice low kick lands for RDA as Chiesa lunges in and he goes down, allowing RDA to grab a rear waistlock. They pop right back up though and Chiesa uses some windmill punches to set up another takedown. The Brazilian reverses back up to his feet though and separates. Another heavy leg kick lands for RDA. He lands it again and you can see that they’re hurting. Chiesa gets the clinch though and works some knees inside before RDA drops for the takedown. Chiesa looks to set up a sweep in response and then appears to be considering a Peruvian necktie, but RDA avoids that and they stand. Solid combination lands for Dos Anjos. They trade off with some more strikes and it looks like RDA’s at a definite advantage. Chiesa swings his way through though and hits another takedown. RDA works his way up to his knees, and then stands, but the round ends with Chiesa forcing him back down. 10-9 RDA for me as he landed a lot of good strikes and Chiesa didn’t do much with his takedowns.

Round Three and Chiesa opens with a nice combination. He’s really swinging his punches. He manages to walk through a low kick to get a clinch, and from there he secures a takedown to half-guard. That was really cool. Few elbows land for Chiesa and he avoids a potential leglock attempt. Looks like he might be willing to just keep RDA controlled from the half-guard too. He begins to work for a kimura on the left arm, but RDA avoids it and then goes for a heel hook. Chiesa looks pretty calm though and they end up in a bit of a stalemate before Chiesa frees himself and drops into the guard. From there Chiesa begins to chip away from the top with punches, avoiding a sweep attempt in the process. Time’s running out for RDA here. Round ends with Chiesa landing punches from the top. 10-9 Chiesa for a 29-28 win overall.

Judges go 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 for Michael Chiesa. He looked really good on the ground here, dominating RDA like few have done before in the first round before outwrestling him ala Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards in the third. Second was a bit more dodgy for him – he still needs some work on his striking otherwise someone’s going to KO him with a counterpunch – but yeah, he’s a contender in this division for sure now. Post-fight he calls out Colby Covington and then walks right off, which is pretty cool. No idea if they’ll put that fight together though!

Heavyweight Fight: Curtis Blaydes vs Junior Dos Santos

This was a pretty huge fight at Heavyweight, as JDS had been on a three-fight win streak before his loss to Francis Ngannou, making him essentially the most dangerous gatekeeper in the division, while Blaydes had won his last two and in fact was 8-2 in the UFC with his only losses coming to Ngannou as well. I was taking Blaydes to win, feeling he was one of the division’s top four fighters alongside Ngannou, Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.

First round begins and Blaydes presses forward, looking much more comfortable standing than he once did. Big takedown attempt is avoided well by JDS. They trade jabs and Blaydes lands a low kick, but a takedown attempt is avoided again by JDS. Nice body kick from Blaydes. Big uppercut narrowly misses for JDS. Both men glance on punches but Blaydes is really backing JDS up. JDS avoids another grab at the legs, then somehow manages to avoid a REALLY deep double leg. Low blow lands for Blaydes from the clinch though and ref Dan Miragliotta has to call time. JDS recovers pretty quickly and then evades another potential takedown. He’s doing really well at not being forced into the fence in this round. Nice right hand connects for Blaydes though. Another one connects as he manages to back JDS up. Big takedown attempt follows but JDS defends again. Body kick into a right from Blaydes. His striking looks markedly improved. Big right misses for JDS and the round ends with a powerful shot from Blaydes. 10-9 Blaydes, as JDS did well to block the takedown but still spent the round on the defensive.

Second round and Blaydes lands a low kick to begin with. He’s really forcing JDS backwards now. Big right hand lands for Blaydes and he follows with a takedown attempt, but JDS blocks well again. Blaydes looks incredibly confident now. Head kick is blocked by him. Another takedown is stuffed by JDS, but as he wings a right uppercut Blaydes comes over the top with a HUGE RIGHT HAND that has him badly hurt! He starts to cover up and Blaydes OPENS UP with more strikes to put him away! WOW.

Replay shows it was almost a repeat of the Rashad Evans/Chuck Liddell KO, just less brutal, as Blaydes’ overhand right landed right before JDS’s uppercut did. Story of the fight though was the fact that despite being unable to take him down, Blaydes had JDS so worried about the takedown that he became open to his striking game instead. After watching this I think I’d actually take Blaydes to beat Miocic at this point, and I reckon we’re going to see a third fight between him and Ngannou at some point – with the UFC title on the line. This was an awesome way to finish the main event.

-Show ends as the announcers wrap things up, with Cormier making sure that his claim to the title shot is mentioned after Blaydes’ big win, ha!

Final Thoughts….

This was basically your perfect Fight Night show as all of the fights on tap were exciting, from Jamahal Hill’s entertaining debut all the way through to Blaydes’ excellent win in the main event. Best fight was probably the main event for me, but Chiesa/RDA was great too and honestly nothing here was bad. If you missed this one, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Best Fight: Blaydes vs. Dos Santos
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****

Until next time,

Scott Newman: