MMA Review: #417: UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2

-This card was LOADED on paper even if the main event (we’ll get to that later!) wasn’t really all that. But shit, how could anyone complain about the rest of it when you had great sounding fights like Maynard/Grant and JDS/Hunt on tap? With most of the prelims sounding pretty cool too I was mega hyped for this one.

UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 2

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Featherweight Fight: Jeremy Stephens vs Estevan Payan

Payan was one of the least talked about StrikeForce imports, despite coming to the UFC with two wins in the defunct promotion. He was also dropping to 145lbs for the first time for his Octagon debut. Stephens was also making his debut at 145lbs after a loss to Yves Edwards, and given his legal issues –and three losses on the bounce – I was quite surprised Zuffa had even kept him around. Despite all those issues I was taking Lil’ Heathen to win based on his UFC experience.

First round and Payan comes out throwing some jabs and lands with a sharp leg kick. Good movement by Payan early on with his punches and leg kicks. Kick lands low for Stephens and referee Chris Tognoni calls time. They restart and exchange some more strikes before Payan stuffs a takedown. Exchange continues and a right hand wobbles Stephens and almost sends him down. Stephens decides to shoot for a takedown and gets it, avoiding a guillotine to get into top position in full guard. Payan stays active from his back as Stephens looks to posture up to deliver some shots. Armbar attempt from Payan but Stephens avoids and they come back to their feet with Stephens holding a rear waistlock. Looks like Payan is badly cut too from an elbow that landed on the ground. Stephens drops for a takedown again and once again Payan looks for the guillotine, but Jeremy brings him down and pops his head out. Lot of blood all over both men from Payan’s head. Scramble allows Payan back to his feet and he separates with a knee. Good inside leg kicks from Stephens in the exchange and he hurts Payan with a right hook. Payan comes back with a couple of leg kicks though. Round ends with another nice right from Stephens. 10-9 Stephens.

Second round and a big right hook from Stephens wobbles Payan right away. Payan can evidently take a shot as Stephens hits HARD. Good leg kick from the newcomer. He’s still landing shots, just not as cleanly as Stephens. Single leg from Stephens and he plants Payan on his back. Payan tries to get his back to the fence to stand and does so nicely. Stephens stays on him though with a single leg and takes some elbows to the head. Takedown follows and holy shit there’s a lot of blood here. Really gory stuff. Payan tries to land some elbows from his back but he eats some sharp ones from Stephens that open up the cut further. Payan tries to wipe his face which is never good. He tries to kick Stephens away unsuccessfully, and that allows Lil’ Heathen to pass into side mount. Payan gives his back and Stephens gets both hooks in, and from there it looks like the rear naked choke is sunk. Payan does a good job of defending though, pulling the hands off and tucking his chin tightly. Hard to say whether the blood is a good thing as it could allow Stephens to slip his arm under the chin, but it could also allow Payan to slip free. Round ends with Stephens releasing back control and standing. 10-9 Stephens. Doctor really checks Payan over between rounds but they decide to let it continue.

Third round and Payan to his credit is still pushing the action by throwing out jabs and coming forward. Good body kick connects for him. Stephens pops him with a nice stiff jab though that snaps his head back. Left head kick follows and lands for Stephens but not cleanly. The amount of blood is disgusting at this point. Striking exchange continues with Stephens landing the heavier shots to counter Payan’s jabs. Single leg attempt from Stephens and he transitions to a rear waistlock to get the takedown. He gets the back with no hooks and drops some knees to the body with Payan in a seated position. Good punches from Stephens with Payan in the seated position, and then he goes for a single again as Payan stands. Payan defends nicely even as Stephens muscles him around the cage. Just over a minute to go and Stephens land some knees from close range as they spread the blood all over the mat. Takedown from Stephens and he lands in half-guard. More elbows connect for Stephens from there to make matters worse for Payan, and the round ends with Lil’ Heathen in control. Clear-cut 30-27 for Jeremy Stephens.

Judges have it 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27 for Jeremy Stephens. Not exactly a decision that even an inept judge could screw up really! Payan tried and acquitted himself decently, but he was basically beaten by a better fighter here. Stephens looked good in his 145lbs debut and it should be interesting to see how far he can go, even if he’s not exactly an easy guy to root for at this point. The amount of blood wasn’t really nice to see either and although the cut wasn’t worthy of a stoppage it did make for a pretty disgusting visual. Solid enough fight, though.

Bantamweight Fight: George Roop vs Brian Bowles

This was Bowles’ first fight back after a massive layoff – he’d last fought in November 2011 in his loss to Urijah Faber! Roop meanwhile had picked up a much-needed win over Reuben Duran in his return to 135lbs at UFC 158. Despite Roop’s more recent experience I was taking Bowles based on his old WEC form and the fact that Roop tends to look like a skeleton at 135lbs.

Round One and Roop pushes forward, but walks into a right hook from the Fighting Mark Wahlberg. Good front kick to the body from Roop. Big knee follows. Roop seems to be using his reach nicely here. Right hand glances for Bowles. Combinations glance for both men. You can see Bowles looking to gauge the distance here as he has really good instincts for fighting, and sure enough he lands with a left hand and then wobbles Roop badly with a right hook to the temple. Another right follows and Roop looks in a bit of trouble. He keeps on swinging though which forces Bowles back a bit and allows him to recover. A couple of combos and missed head kicks back Bowles up a little. Decent punches land for both men in an exchange. Good leg kick for Roop. Nice combo from Roop ending in a body kick. Big swings from Bowles and a right hand sends him down face-first. He’s in deep trouble and Bowles pounces with more shots before locking up a guillotine. It looks tight and he winds up in the mounted variant, but somehow Roop manages to survive it and escapes. Bowles still has him mounted though and he drops some elbows and punches before going for the choke again to end the round. 10-9 Bowles.

Round Two and Bowles comes out swinging again before a front kick pegs him back a little. Jabs from Roop and Bowles takes a couple of deep breaths. Kicks from Roop keep the distance nicely. Nice combo from Roop. Body kick follows and Bowles looks tired. HARD LEFT JAB from Roop drops him and he follows with some NASTY SHOTS! Bowles tries to get up but Roop NAILS him with another shot that drops him again, and from there he finishes things off with some punches on the ground.

Post-fight Roop pulls out an odd celebration, dragging his cornerman OVER THE CAGE before pretending to mount him and elbow him. Odd stuff. Great finish from Roop though who evidently sensed Bowles slowing down and decided to go for the kill. Probably Roop’s best showing in the UFC in fact. As for Bowles, the poor guy not only lost but also got suspended after the event for elevated testosterone levels. Damnit some people can’t HELP having extra testosterone! Just ask the Reem!

Welterweight Fight: Stephen Thompson vs Nah-Shon Burrell

This one sounded like a clash of two flashy-type strikers, with Burrell’s kickboxing against Thompson’s more traditional martial arts style. I was taking Thompson just because I think he’s got more potential than Burrell who I thought lost his UFC debut, and the fact that he also missed weight for this fight didn’t sound good either.

Round One and Wonderboy tries a pair of side kicks, but Burrell rushes him with a flurry of punches and clinches. Thompson switches position and forces Burrell into the fence, and it actually looks like he might be going for a takedown. Burrell defends it well as Thompson tries to muscle it more than using technique. Burrell lands some good knees to the body too, but Thompson answers with some short hooks inside. They break off and Thompson tags him with a left high kick, but Burrell answers with a combo and continues to push the action, looking to close Thompson down. Nice takedown from Thompson though and he instantly passes into half-guard. Burrell gives his back in order to escape to his feet, but Thompson stays on him and forces him into the fence with some knees. They exchange knees inside and muscle along the fence, before Burrell breaks off. Exchange sees Burrell force Thompson back, but he also eats a right hook. They clinch again and Burrell continues to work him over with knees to the body. They break off and Thompson connects on a combo and a front kick to the body as Burrell tries to walk him down. Big left hook lands for Thompson and stuns Burrell for a second, but he manages to grab the clinch. Takedown from Burrell but he botches it and ends up giving mount and then his back. He explodes to his feet though before Thompson can gain any real control. Both men land from the clinch before Burrell separates to end the round. Close round but I’d call it 10-9 Thompson.

Round Two and Thompson opens with a Machida-esque hard body kick. Right hand follows but Burrell clinches. Thompson reverses position and forces Burrell into the cage, and they quickly break off. Good body shots from Thompson as Burrell pushes forward. Left hook follows. Burrell gets to the clinch and lands a knee, but Thompson pushes him into the fence again. They break off and Thompson circles out and lands some punches before Burrell clinches again. Another break follows and Thompson continues to chip at Burrell from the outside en route to another clinch. This is a dull fight. Thompson continues to pop him with strikes off another break, but he gets a takedown stuffed and we’re back to the clinch. Beautiful combo breaks for Thompson but it doesn’t seem to have much effect. Right hand from Burrell but Thompson lands another flurry on him. Big wheel kick misses for Wonderboy. Flying knee misses for Burrell. Spinning elbow misses too and Thompson drives him into the fence. Round ends inside the clinch. 10-9 Thompson.

Round Three and Burrell rushes in with a right hook over the top. Thompson circles out and begins to pop him with combos again, but Burrell clinches to deliver some knees. All this clinching in this fight is killing me. They break off and Burrell has some more success in the striking exchange, landing a nice combo and then a kick to the body. Good uppercuts for Burrell. He looks like the fresher man here. Nice shots land for Burrell from the clinch. They break and a big left hook connects for Burrell. Thompson comes back with a side kick but eats another left hook. Thompson fires back with a head kick and really starts to wing his punches. Takedown attempt from Thompson and he gets Burrell down, but instantly Burrell reverses to his feet. They break again and Thompson looks exhausted, throwing laboured punches and kicks. Burrell isn’t much faster to be fair and the exchange isn’t great. Clean left hook lands for Burrell but he isn’t pushing forward enough really for a guy two rounds in the hole. Flying knee misses and they wind up clinched again. Seconds to go and they break, and Burrell lands with some knees to end the round. 10-9 Burrell but 29-28 Thompson for me.

Official scores read 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28 for Stephen Thompson. I’ll be honest – I hated this fight. Hated it. It was just bunches of flashy but mainly ineffective striking from Thompson with Burrell just looking to clinch, wash, rinse and repeat for three rounds. Thompson got a win which he really did need, but it wasn’t really an impressive victory and I don’t think it’s a shock that Burrell was released from his UFC deal after this. A real yawner in my opinion.

Lightweight Fight: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Abel Trujillo

I was super excited for this fight given both men had looked awesome in their previous fights, destroying Thiago Tavares and Marcus LeVesseur respectively. I was taking Khabib given he’d looked more impressive against a better opponent and had more UFC experience, but a guy as big and powerful for 155lbs as Trujillo is pretty hard to count out.

Fight begins and they circle before Trujillo rushes Khabib and the Dagestani has to get out of the way fast. Left hook glances for Trujillo. He continues to try to rush Khabib with flurries, but can’t land flush. Almost 1:30 in and Khabib’s done nothing yet. Nice takedown from Trujillo but Nurmagomedov immediately goes for a triangle and then transitions to an armbar. It looks sunk in but Trujillo does a tremendous job of defending and he manages to escape into side mount, where he drops a knee to the body. Khabib looks for a reversal and escapes to his feet, where he grabs a rear waistlock and trips Trujillo down. Abel looks to work to his feet and does so, but Khabib keeps the rear waistlock and hits a SICK German suplex to plant him back down. Another one follows as Trujillo gets back up and he can’t seem to get Khabib off him. They come back up and Nurmagomedov suplexes him again. Trujillo gets back up, but he still can’t escape and this is insane as Khabib suplexes him a fourth and then a fifth time. Trujillo is a HUGE guy for 155lbs so it’s wild to see him being tossed around like this. Trujillo keeps getting up, but every time he does Khabib just suplexes or trips him back down. Finally Trujillo manages to hit an escape and ends up in Khabib’s guard, but Nurmagomedov quickly locks up a triangle. Trujillo is in major trouble here as this looks completely sunk in. He rolls into the mounted triangle but Trujillo manages to hold on, and it looks like Khabib’s switching off to an armbar. Instead he locks the triangle up fully and rolls to his back…but the buzzer sounds. That was close. 10-9 round for Nurmagomedov as he threw Trujillo around like he was nothing.

Into the 2nd and Trujillo is looking to keep his distance. Good combination connects for Khabib and he uses it to set up a takedown attempt. Trujillo stuffs it, but Khabib gets the rear waistlock and trips him down. Trujillo reverses up nicely and lands a combo that has Khabib backing up for a moment. Huge right hook connects for Nurmagomedov though and Trujillo looks stunned. He tries to swing back, but that allows Khabib to grab him and take the rear waistlock again. Trip follows and it looks like Trujillo’s grabbing the fence to try to get up. It doesn’t work as Khabib controls him and lands some knees to the legs. Trujillo does stand, but Khabib trips him right onto his head this time. He slaps one hook in and then gets the second, works a body triangle and flattens Abel out. Nurmagomedov is a phenomenal grappler. Trujillo shakes off the body control and explodes to his feet again, but Khabib stays on him like glue and hits a slam to put him back down. Good uppercut from Khabib as Trujillo tries to stand and fails miserably. He does hit a reversal and gets mount for a second, but Khabib instantly reverses that and pops up before tripping Abel back down. To his credit, Trujillo keeps on getting up, it’s just that he keeps on being put back down too! Big right from Khabib lands from close range. One minute to go and Nurmagomedov remains in firm control. Trujillo works up but – you guessed it – Khabib drags him right back down and lands punches from the rear waistlock. Round ends with Nurmagomedov still all over Abel. 10-9 Nurmagomedov and Trujillo clearly needs a finish. He looks exhausted and downhearted, though.

Third and final round and Trujillo pushes forward, but he allows Nurmagomedov to grab him again and sure enough seconds later he’s on his back. He explodes to his feet again but Khabib won’t let up and keeps the rear waistlock. Trujillo looks frustrated and completely broken. He gets tripped down, and then literally ragdolled down when he stands back up. Full mount for Nurmagomedov but Abel escapes to his feet. Khabib stays on him though and just throws him around like he’s nothing. This is ridiculous. Khabib lands some punches from behind too and it looks like Trujillo’s reduced to begging Mario Yamasaki to call a clean break. Doesn’t happen and Khabib puts him down in guard. Nurmagomedov passes into half-guard and with two minutes to go this looks like a whitewash. Punches land for Khabib as Abel works to his feet, but seconds later he goes back down via a MASSIVE SUPLEX. The most impressive thing is that Khabib doesn’t even seem tired at all despite throwing this big dude around for fifteen minutes. Crowd begin to boo with a minute to go and I have no idea why. Fight ends with a couple more ridiculous suplexes like Nurmagomedov is Taz in the old ECW days or something. I’d go 10-8 for Khabib in that round as Trujillo was unable to do a thing.

Judges score it 30-27 all round for Khabib Nurmagomedov. This really was a tremendous showing for him as he tossed Trujillo around like a ragdoll for three straight rounds and landed some heavy punches on him, and didn’t get tired or slow down for a second. Trujillo showed some heart I guess in being able to get up a few times, but really he just seemed unable to do anything of note to Nurmagomedov and it wasn’t for lack of trying – he was just waaaay out of his depth in there with a phenomenal grappler who I think is probably the most dangerous prospect in the UFC at 155lbs right now. If you like suplexes then this was your fight. Some people would bemoan the repetitive nature of it, but fuck them – I’d take this any day of the week over Thompson/Burrell for starters!

Welterweight Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Colton Smith

Ha, remember when fights between TUF winners would headline PPVs? Well, I guess that was when the show had only gone for like five seasons, but still. These two were the winners of the most recent seasons – Smith winning the dire TUF 16 and Whittaker winning the UK vs. Australia Smashes season. In an annoying trend – probably caused by the fact that these guys didn’t watch the Smashes – everyone online seemed to be taking Smith, despite the fact that he’s a one-dimensional wrestler while Whittaker is far more well-rounded and has vicious power in his hands. I was firmly behind the Aussie Whittaker and laid a bit of money down on him too as I figured it’d be an easy win.

Round One and Whittaker comes out REALLY hanging his left hand. Like, it’s literally down by his knee, let alone his waist. Smith pushes forward but takes a glancing right uppercut. Takedown attempt is shrugged off by the Aussie as it immediately becomes clear WHY he’s hanging the left hand – to grab an underhook to prevent Smith’s shot. Smith rushes forward, but he eats a counter combo from Whittaker who looks by far the sharper striker. Couple of jabs flash out for the Aussie but Smith catches him with a hard right hand. Another takedown is shrugged off by Whittaker, though. Good right connects for Whittaker to counter a kick. Fast combination from Whittaker and he shrugs off another takedown. Smith seems to be having problems with his right eye. Every time he rushes forward he’s eating counters, too. Big flurry from Whittaker answers a head kick. The jab lands a few times as well. Smith’s face looks marked up and he takes a trio of snapping lefts. Another takedown is stuffed and Whittaker makes him pay with a combo. Colton keeps rushing forward though. One minute to go and a pair of low kicks land for Smith. Whittaker is clearly out landing him though. Right hand finally gets through for Smith and he counters a left hook with a right that drops the Aussie. He pops back up, and looks to take Colton down, but Smith goes for a kimura. Nice reversal from Whittaker to escape and he leaps to his feet and lands a combo. Round ends there. 10-9 Whittaker despite the knockdown late on.

Round Two and Smith comes in swinging, but he walks into a counter left hook from Whittaker that drops him face-first! Smith pops up but he’s in trouble and he eats some uppercuts as he tries to clinch. He keeps bull-rushing, but he’s eating counters from the Aussie. Smith’s right eye is a mess now and Whittaker lands on him again with a couple more jabs. Right hand connects for Smith. Uppercut answers for Whittaker. Clean one-two on the counter lands for Whittaker. Whittaker seems to be tagging Colton every time he rushes forward. Another takedown is stuffed by the Aussie too. Wild right hand from Smith but Whittaker slips it and makes him pay with a combo. The same happens again as Smith rushes in and eats a combo, but in the process Whittaker eats a low blow and the ref calls time. He’s fine and they continue, and this time Smith eats an uppercut on his way in. Another two left hooks land for Whittaker. Smith’s face is in a real state. One minute to go and Whittaker wobbles Colton badly with a left hook and follows with some more nice combinations. Looks like Colton’s cut under his left eye now too. Takedown is easily stuffed by Whittaker. Uppercuts land for the Aussie as Colton lunges in for him, and he follows with some more clean shots as Colton looks desperate to grab him. Round ends just after. 10-9 Whittaker and Smith is in deep trouble.

Round Three and Whittaker begins to stalk forward now and lands the jab and the left hook a few times, particularly on the counter. Colton comes forward desperately swinging, but Whittaker calmly backs up and NAILS HIM WITH THE LEFT and the TUF 16 winner goes down HARD. Whittaker pounces to finish him and the ref calls it there.

Wow. Not only was that a really exciting fight but it was a tremendous performance from Robert Whittaker, too. People dogged on him for dropping the left hand but it was all part of his gameplan – he used it to grab an underhook in order to stop Smith’s takedowns and evidently he knew Smith’s striking wasn’t all that and indeed, he only got caught by the right hand a couple of times. Most of the time he was able to slip Smith’s wilder punches and connect with clean counters until the really nasty left hand landed to end the fight. I think Whittaker’s a really hot prospect and could well become a legit contender at 170lbs in the next few years judging on this showing. As for Smith, if he’s still in the UFC after his next couple of fights I’ll be surprised to be honest – he just seems too one-dimensional for me.

Featherweight Fight: Dennis Bermudez vs Max Holloway

This one sounded like fun given both guys tend to come out and go for it, fighting fire with fire for the most part. Bermudez had already had one crazy war in 2013 – a tight win over Matt Grice – and the likelihood of him having another here against young gun Holloway seemed pretty high. For his part, Holloway was looking to follow up a tricky win over Leonard Garcia with another win. My pick? Dennis the Menace, baby.

First round and they circle with Bermudez looking to close the distance early on. He catches a kick and goes for a single leg, but Holloway shows some excellent balance to remain vertical. Some nice straight punches begin to land for Holloway as he’s using his reach advantage smartly. Bermudez seems to be coming up just slightly short with his punches. Holloway keeps on picking at Dennis using the reach, and he’s doing a great job of slipping punches too. Bermudez manages to close the distance and goes for the takedown, but Holloway stuffs it nicely. Good leg kick from Dennis. Beautiful spinning back kick connects with the jaw of Bermudez and he shoots out of desperation, but Holloway stuffs it and then comes forward with a nice knee to the body to end a combo. Bermudez clinches again, but he can’t get Holloway off his feet and takes a knee to break the clinch. Seconds to go and Holloway lands with the spinning kick again, this time to the body. A third attempt misses but a fourth one lands cleanly and Dennis goes down for a second. He pops up and that’s the round. 10-9 Holloway in a great round for him.

Second round and Bermudez shoots early and gets Holloway down, but a reversal allows Holloway to take the back with both hooks! Dennis stands to shake him off, but eats a nasty head kick as they break off. Big right hand glances for Bermudez. He almost walks into a knee though but just about avoids. Good leg kick from Dennis but he’s still struggling with the reach of Holloway. Left hook connects for Dennis. Head kick glances for Holloway. Holloway’s movement is still looking excellent here. Good combo lands for him. Bermudez still seems to be having trouble closing the gap, but then he lands a leg kick that causes Max’s leg to buckle in. Takedown attempt from Bermudez and he lands an elbow from the clinch when Holloway defends. Good job from Holloway to separate. Another leg kick lands for Bermudez and he follows with a lunging left. Holloway comes right back with a body kick and a glancing spin kick. Good combo from Holloway as Bermudez tries to jump into his punches. Takedown attempt from Bermudez and this time he manages a slam and passes into half-guard. Holloway ties him up though, and tries an armbar as Dennis drops some punches to end the round. 10-9 Holloway for me although Bermudez did better in that round than in the first.

Third round and Holloway begins with a nice combination. Bermudez is just leaping in with strikes now in an attempt to close distance. Nice takedown from Dennis but Holloway immediately looks to escape to his feet. Bermudez grabs a guillotine, but can’t stop Holloway from standing so he lands a knee on the break. Jabs from Holloway allow him to keep his distance, but he’s slowing down a bit now and Dennis is beginning to walk him down more. Left to the body lands for Bermudez. He adds a leg kick and a glancing uppercut too. Single leg from Dennis and he gets Holloway down, but Holloway instantly pops up. Bermudez stays on him though and forces him into the cage, landing some dirty boxing before they break. Right hand lands for Dennis as he continues to push the action. Bermudez is actually outstriking him in this round as Holloway’s slowed down a lot. Pair of nice leg kicks land for the TUF veteran. Nice trip takedown from Bermudez and he lands in Holloway’s guard. Really nasty short elbows land for Bermudez and he passes into half-guard too. Holloway’s face is badly cut up from the elbows. Less than a minute to go now and Dennis tries to mount, but Holloway blocks it and keeps half-guard. Round ends with Bermudez continuing to drop elbows. 10-9 Bermudez but too little, too late in my opinion.

Judges score it a split decision, 29-28 Holloway, 29-28 Bermudez and 29-28….for Dennis Bermudez. Whoa, that’s a really bad decision. I wasn’t sure on a first watch but watching it more closely this time there’s no way Dennis won that fight. First round was clearly Holloway’s and despite the aggression of Bermudez I thought Holloway clearly took the second, too. Some really, really poor judging there as you wonder what the hell they must’ve been watching. Fun fight but man, that decision leaves a bad taste. At least Holloway didn’t seem to lose much momentum as he looked really good early on and should probably come away with the moral victory.

Welterweight Fight: Mike Pyle vs Rick Story

Pyle had been on a great run coming into this fight – going 6-1 in his last 7 fights – and he was coming off arguably his best win in a total slaughter of James Head in December. Story meanwhile had gotten his UFC career back on track at UFC 158 with a one-sided drubbing of newcomer Quinn Mulhern. This basically looked like Pyle’s technique and experience against Story’s aggression and brute force, and it was a tight one to call.

Round One and Story stalks forward with his usual style, swinging hard punches before throwing Pyle to the ground in guard. Pyle immediately looks to be prepping a possible triangle choke, but Story’s base is strong enough to prevent that. He doesn’t really land much from the top though, just keeping Pyle on his back instead. Beautiful guard work from Pyle allows him to elevate Story and then go right into an armbar, but Story spins free nicely and winds up back in the guard. Great exchange right there. Action slows down as Pyle ties Story up from the bottom again, only taking a couple of really short punches. Pyle works up to his feet, but takes a pretty wild flurry from Story that forces him to cover up. Story continues to wade forward and crack Pyle with big punches, and Pyle’s tactic of backing up and covering up is really questionable. Sure enough Pyle lands a couple of leg kicks, but Story comes wading in with a HUGE COMBINATION that drops Pyle like a ton of bricks! Pyle looks OUT and Story absolutely pounds on him, but somehow he manages to survive. Questionable refereeing there as you could’ve made a clear case for stopping it. Pyle somehow manages to tie Story up from guard though, but he eats more elbows as the round ends. Got to go 10-8 Story there as the fight probably should’ve been over with that knockdown.

Round Two and Pyle looks recovered somehow, bouncing around and throwing some kicks out as Story stalks him. Big right hook to the body from Story and he follows with another left hook that glances off the jaw of Pyle. Story continues to wade in with punches, but he eats a knee from the plum clinch that drops him! He decides to change it up and gets a takedown, but Pyle immediately locks up a kimura from the bottom. This fight is awesome. Story manages to resist using mainly brute force, and indeed he works free and gets into half-guard. Pyle stays active from his back and works back into full guard, where he continues to shift his hips and land elbows. Triangle attempt from Pyle but Story postures out nicely and drops a couple of punches. Crowd begin to boo which is fucking shameful. Pyle continues to work from the bottom and he’s really outworking Story on the ground. Amen to the Mazz for not calling a stand-up actually. Round ends in Pyle’s guard. I’d go 10-9 Pyle there as he did more from the bottom and landed that big knee, too. Evidently Story’s corner figure he lost the round too as he gets a real bollocking between rounds.

Round Three and Story cracks Pyle with the same combo that dropped him in the first – right to the body and a left hook to the head – but this time it doesn’t land as cleanly and Pyle seems okay. Pyle begins to push forward and again lands a good knee as Story ducks for a takedown. Story’s still looking like the more dangerous puncher though. Good front kick from Pyle glances off Story’s chin. Story’s beginning to slow down. Pair of good knees land for Pyle but Story connects on a left hand. Elbow strike from Pyle has Story backing up, and then he shoots into the clinch and forces Pyle into the cage. Nice knee from Pyle and he breaks with a sharp elbow. Story manages to clinch again but Pyle shrugs him off with the elbow. Story is definitely tired. He looks for the takedown and eats some elbows, but manages to get Pyle on his back. Pyle pops up and Story grabs a rear waistlock, where he looks to drag him to the ground. Good knees to the legs from Story but Pyle turns into him. Combo to the body from Story but Pyle wobbles him with knees and his face is a mess. Stiff right from Pyle and Story might be in trouble. He continues to land shots and Story is clearly on the retreat. He manages to dig down and hit a takedown, but Pyle locks up an armbar from the bottom and uses it to sweep! He takes the back with both hooks in and then goes to the body triangle, where he lands some punches until the round ends with an armbar attempt. 10-9 Pyle and I’d call this a 28-28 draw.

Judges score it 29-28 Story, 29-28 Pyle, and 29-28 for Mike Pyle! Did not expect that at ALL if I’m honest as it means that the judges actually rewarded Pyle for his work from the bottom in Round Two – I think Pyle taking Round Three was more obvious as Story got really busted up standing too, but the second was trickier to score. Unfortunately it also means that they still steadfastly refused to give a 10-8 round to Story, even though he had Pyle on the verge of unconsciousness and came about as close to finishing the fight as you get without actually doing it. You win some, you lose some I guess, but shit, this was a GREAT fight, back-and-forth throughout with both men showing the very best of their respective games. Best fight on this card thus far in fact. Bravo, guys.

Lightweight Fight: Donald Cerrone vs KJ Noons

This was StrikeForce stalwart Noons’ UFC debut and he was hardly given an easy fight either, going against Cowboy, who was coming in angry after a disappointing loss to Anthony Pettis. Despite Noons’ reputation as this great striker I’ve never rated him that highly, and I thought Cowboy probably had him beaten in all areas, and it would probably be up to him whether he’d take the easier path to victory (on the ground) or the slightly trickier one (standing).

Fight begins and they trade strikes right away with Noons firing off some leg kicks. Push kick to the chest from Cerrone and then he shoots, but Noons stuffs it only to eat a knee on the way out. Exchange continues and this is looking like a kickboxing match early on. Really surprising to see KJ throwing so many leg kicks. Head kick connects for Cerrone but not quite cleanly. They’re basically going strike-for-strike here. Brutal leg kick lands for Cerrone. Looks like Noons is cut under his right eye from something, not sure what. Nice knee to the body from Cowboy. Big combo follows and Cowboy connects on another head kick. Takedown from Cerrone but Noons immediately scrambles to his feet. Good job from Cowboy though to clock him with an uppercut as he stands. Leg kicks land nicely for both men. Cerrone is beginning to take over now though and he’s mixing his strikes up nicely. Big right hook misses for Noons and Cerrone makes him pay with a knee to the body. BEAUTIFUL combo from Cerrone and he snaps KJ’s head back with a head kick. Exchange continues and Noons seems to be slowing down a little. Spinning back kick misses for Noons. Round ends on the feet. Good stuff; 10-9 Cerrone for me.

Into the 2nd and Cerrone gets a takedown right away and moves to take the back as Noons scrambles. Noons keeps on scrambling and gets to his feet, but he takes a knee on the way out. Good uppercut from Noons coming forward and he begins to press the action now. Knee to the body connects for Cowboy. Nice counter-combo lands for Cerrone and Noons visibly checks his cut. Combination to the body from Noons but Cerrone cracks him with a knee. Noons is beginning to look really tired. Hard leg kick from Cowboy. Noons keeps pushing forward but his punches seem to be lacking steam. He’s constantly wiping his eye, too. Nasty body kick from Cowboy. Big combo follows but Noons tries to answer back. Takedown is stuffed by Noons but he eats another knee. Pair of lefts answer for KJ. His face is looking busted up, though. Spinning backfist lands for Noons! He tries to follow with a knee but Cerrone tackles him to the ground and lands in guard. He begins to work with some short elbows and hammer fists, and when Noons looks to kick him away he drops right back down to continue the punishment, moving to half-guard for good measure. Cerrone is really working Noons over down here. He throws in some knees to the body too and continues to drop sharp elbows en route to side mount. Round ends with more ground-and-pound. Another round in the books for Cerrone and he’s pulling away from Noons at this point.

Between rounds Noons says he can’t see properly out of his right eye, but tells his corner and the doctor that he wants to continue.

Third and final round and the crowd are hot for Cowboy. Noons comes out swinging but he still looks very tired and he eats a couple of stiff jabs from Cowboy. Noons fires off with the left hook but he looks so much slower than Cerrone and his punches miss. He tries to channel his inner Diaz by taunting Cerrone but that only leads to a Cowboy takedown. He lands in the guard of Noons and immediately goes to work with some sharp elbows. Noons is badly cut up. Cerrone is doing the Tito Ortiz trick of slicing the elbow right through the guard. Noons tries a reversal but Cowboy is slicker and he spins around with him to retain top position. This is beginning to look almost as bloody as Stephens/Payan from earlier in the night. Noons has zero answer for Cerrone’s ground-and-pound and he can’t get up, finding himself in half-guard when he does try to scramble free. Pass to side mount for Cerrone and he continues to feed Noons a steady diet of horrific elbows. Mario Yamasaki is asking Noons outright now if he can see but of course KJ is too busy eating elbows to answer him. Round ends with Cerrone punishing Noons some more. That’s a 10-8 round in my eyes and 30-26 for Cerrone overall.

Official scorecards read 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 all in favour of Donald Cerrone, naturally. This was a tremendous showing for Cowboy as Noons looked game in the first round, but once Donald managed to settle into his rhythm and began to mix his strikes and takedowns in, it was all one-way traffic. Cowboy’s ground game in particular looked fantastic as he was able to slice through Noons’ guard with some really vicious elbows and basically cut KJ’s face to ribbons in that third round. Fun main card opener as you’d expect when Donald Cerrone’s involved.

Lightweight Fight: TJ Grant vs Gray Maynard

Dana White was talking this up as a #1 Contender’s match going in, which sort-of surprised me given Grant had been largely flying under the radar while Maynard had of course already failed in two attempts at winning the title. Still, nice to see them looking to fresh matches at the top of 155lbs rather than the endless rematches we saw in the Edgar Era! My pick here was Grant basically because he’s a bigger guy than Maynard and with his brand of slick BJJ and nasty Muay Thai I thought he had more tools to win than Gray.

Round One and both men come out tentatively, before Gray lands with a quick left hand. Flurry from Maynard backs Grant up a little and a big uppercut connects cleanly for the TUF veteran. Grant fires back with a right hand, but then has to back up after eating a left hook. Big right from Maynard is answered by one from TJ. These guys are really swinging HARD. Combo lands for Maynard. Grant comes back with a right hook over the top. Mild chant for TJ. BIG right cross connects for him and wobbles Maynard, causing him to back up. Grant closes in, but Maynard fires right back. TJ backs up and lands a right to the body, then another BIG RIGHT HAND drops Gray hard! He looks to get up but Grant smells blood in the water and POUNCES, landing a BRUTAL FLURRY that has Maynard stumbling along the cage! BIG KNEES connect for Grant and he refuses to let up, landing SHOT AFTER SHOT and finally Maynard goes DOWN AND OUT. Crowd go APESHIT. Holy shit.

Well, I thought Grant would win this fight but I never expected it to be so quick and violent in favour of him. This was just CARNAGE as once TJ landed cleanly and had Maynard hurt he just didn’t let up and kept pouring it on until the fight was done. Phenomenal performance from TJ Grant and a total star-making turn too. This would’ve been enough to earn him a title shot but of course he’s suffered from bad concussion issues since and hasn’t been able to fight since. Hopefully he’ll be back in 2014 and get the title shot as he’s a total badass who definitely warrants a shot.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: James Te Huna vs Glover Teixeira

Originally Teixeira was set to face Ryan Bader here in what sounded like an interesting fight given Glover had never faced a top-level wrestler before, but when the TUF winner was sidelined with injury, the massive Maori Te Huna stepped in to replace him. This was a big step up for Te Huna after he’d beaten mid-level fighters like Joey Beltran and Ryan Jimmo, and although I like him I thought it was probably a step too far given Glover is a KILLER in all areas, and took the Brazilian to win via tapout.

Fight begins and Te Huna comes out swinging, but Glover drops for a single leg and then lands a right as Te Huna defends. Te Huna swings some more heavy leather but doesn’t land cleanly and Glover tags him with a couple of punches. Neither man is holding back at all here, just winging heavy punches from the pocket. Nice takedown from Teixeira and he immediately passes into half-guard. Te Huna does a good job of regaining full guard, but he eats some punches in the process. Teixeira works back into half-guard and then looks to slip into side mount. Te Huna grabs an underhook in an attempt to stand, but as he gets up Glover grabs a guillotine and pulls guard, and it’s TIGHT. Seconds later Te Huna taps out.

Post-fight Teixeira absolutely MARKS OUT for the fact that Mike Tyson’s at cageside, and to make it even better Iron Mike comes into the cage to congratulate him. Ha, well, who wouldn’t enjoy that? Interview is comical as all Glover can think about is Tyson, and of course he manages to show a ton of charisma while talking about it too. This was yet another fantastic showing from Teixeira and I know a lot of detractors say he’s been protected by the UFC on this run, but shit, I call it smart booking – when he comes up against Jon Jones he’ll be undefeated over five fights in the UFC, looking like a monster, and that’s always going to draw more than someone who wins a few and loses a few. And how can you dislike a guy like Glover who always looks to finish his fights violently?

Heavyweight Fight: Junior Dos Santos vs Mark Hunt

Originally this was supposed to see the cancelled UFC 146 main event, with Dos Santos finally taking on Alistair Overeem, but the Reem got injured and JDS was left without an opponent. After an odd situation that involved Dana White claiming Hunt had turned down the fight, a meeting between the two proved fruitful and not only was Hunt given the opportunity of a lifetime, but he was also given a nice new contract for good measure. Despite Hunt’s red-hot run of four wins in a row, I just couldn’t see how he’d deal with a younger, more dynamic striker in JDS – particularly when the Brazilian would be able to take him down if need be. I ended up taking JDS via decision but could also see a submission.

We get started and JDS circles on the outside as Hunt pushes forward. Leg kick lands for Hunt. Dos Santos looks quite tentative here, staying way on the outside before stepping in with a couple of right hands. Right to the body from JDS. Junior steps in but Hunt catches him nicely with a left hook. Brief clinch is broken quickly and JDS ABSOLUTELY LEVELS HIM with an overhand right! Holy shit. Hunt pops back up and takes a big flurry, but somehow he looks recovered right away. Jesus. Hunt pushes forward swinging and forces JDS on the retreat. Crowd are red hot now after that knockdown. Big “Cigano!” chant begins as they circle out. Good jab from Dos Santos as he slips the left hook. Overhand right glances again for JDS. Right hand from Hunt again backs up JDS. Both men land hard in an exchange. JDS appears to be cut over his right eye. Jab from JDS. Junior seems to be beating Hunt to the punch but he’s still clearly wary of Hunt’s power. Spinning backfist misses for Hunt and JDS makes him pay with a short left hook. Wild kick to the body from JDS but he misses a follow-up haymaker right. HUGE overhand right connects again but Hunt eats it up LIKE A MAN. This is great. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 JDS but a hell of a round.

2nd round and Hunt presses forward and comes in SWINGING with a one-two. JDS answers right back with a haymaker right of his own. JDS is really going for the jab to the body now to set up the right hand. Couple of hard leg kicks connect for Hunt. Left hook from Junior catches Hunt coming in. Stiff jab from Hunt. Good right to the body follows as he backs JDS up. Overhand right connects AGAIN for Junior and he follows with a snapping jab. Good combination follows and puts Hunt on the retreat. Hunt comes back swinging with a pair of haymakers that force JDS to dodge. Spinning back kick glances off Hunt’s body. They exchange jabs and Hunt follows with a pair of right hands that catch Junior. BIG LEFT HOOK from Hunt and he follows up with a flurry, but JDS survives and gets out of range. Jabs from JDS catch Hunt cleanly. Takedown follows and the crowd BOO. Ha. JDS moves into half-guard and he begins to grind away with the elbow. Less than a minute to go and Hunt squirms, looking for a reversal or an escape, but Junior keeps him down. Into side mount for JDS and he tries the mounted crucifix, landing some nasty elbows, but with seconds to go Hunt scrambles to his feet. Another great round but again it goes to Dos Santos, 10-9.

Third and final round and the crowd are DEAFENING. Both men look like they’ve been in a WAR. Hunt pushes forward, landing a left and narrowly missing a haymaker right. Right hand connects for JDS. Good right to the body follows. Hunt backs him up with a straight left. Good counter right from Hunt lands as JDS throws a low kick. Jabs land for both men. Hunt is really backing JDS up in this round. Good combo from JDS though. He continues to land the jab to the body nicely. Big overhand right connects for JDS but Hunt totally ignores it. Big left to the body from JDS. Good leg kick answers for Hunt and he follows with a pair of short left hooks. Nice jabs from Dos Santos. Hunt seems to be cut on his hairline. Two minutes to go. Hunt continues to back JDS up but he’s eating jabs from the former champ. Uppercut lands for Junior too. BRUTAL left hook from JDS wobbles Hunt and a big right follows but somehow he stays on his feet and swings right back. Hunt’s chin is ridiculous. Just over a minute to go and a FUCKING WHEEL KICK LANDS FOR JDS AND SENDS HUNT CRASHING DOWN! One shot on the ground and Hunt is OUT. Holy shit.

Replay shows the kick didn’t even look like it landed cleanly; more like it grazed the top of Hunt’s head ala Mirko Cro Cop’s KO of Wanderlei Silva, but evidently it was powerful enough to knock Hunt out which is INSANE given the punishment he’d survived previously. This was a genuinely great fight as Dos Santos was ahead from the beginning and was clearly landing the bigger and better strikes, but due to Hunt’s toughness and his striking ability it never felt for a second like he was out of the fight, until he was unconscious of course. One of the best Heavyweight fights I can ever recall the UFC putting on in fact – a flashback to the classic days of PRIDE in fact when they had the best Heavyweight talent and regularly put on titanic fights like this one. And I know he lost, but man, you have to admire Hunt’s rise up the UFC ranks considering it was only September 2010 when Sean McCorkle tapped him out and made him look like he didn’t even belong in the Octagon. Just a tremendous chapter in the crazy career of a true warrior.

UFC World Heavyweight Title: Cain Velasquez vs Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva

Soooo, in a way like the fight before it, this was originally supposed to feature Alistair Overeem. The plan of course was for the Reem to return from his suspension to knock out Bigfoot Silva at UFC 156 and set him up for a title shot, but naturally Bigfoot hadn’t read that script and ended up viciously KOing the Reem in one of the most memorable UFC moments of 2013. After that it seemed really difficult, almost impossible, to deny Bigfoot his title shot. The only problem? Well, Cain had bounced back from his initial title loss to JDS by absolutely dismantling Bigfoot almost a year prior to the day of this show. With Cain seemingly improved since then too based on his dominating win over JDS to reclaim the title, the only likely result was a repeat of that UFC 146 meeting, meaning the interest levels were quite low. Buuut then that’s the risk you take when you book a fight like Bigfoot/Reem I guess. As a Cain fan I was at least looking forward to what felt like a simple first defense for him.

Fight begins and the crowd at least are treating this as a HUGE FIGHT. Velasquez pushes forward and lands a glancing left before looking for a single leg, but Bigfoot manages to defend and escapes out. Uppercut glances for Silva. Velasquez keeps pushing forward but another takedown is stuffed. They circle and Cain lands a leg kick before dodging a big right. Big right narrowly misses for Silva, but Cain’s counter only just misses too. Cain pushes forward and Bigfoot preps a left….but gets caught CLEANLY by a left-right counter combo and GOES TUMBLING DOWN! He tries to grab Cain, but Velasquez spins out to the side and UNLOADS on him until he goes down flat and that’s all she wrote.

Well, I thought it’d be a simple defense for Cain but I didn’t expect it to be quite *that* fast. The champ just timed his counter combo perfectly and was so much faster than Bigfoot that he didn’t even have to slip any punches to land it – Bigfoot wasn’t even given a chance to throw them before he got caught! Not much of a fight, but a highlight reel for Cain Velasquez and as a fan of his I’m not complaining about that! Bottom line is that he’s the best Heavyweight walking the planet by far right now and I think in a year or two we’ll be looking at him, rather than Fedor, as the best Heavyweight to ever compete in MMA. Guy is just on another level.

-Highlight reel rolls and that’s another show in the books, dude.

Final Thoughts….

I said at the time that this was probably the best show of the year (up to that point) and a few months on it’s totally held up. This was a tremendous card from start to finish, with one slower fight out of twelve (Burrell/Thompson) and the rest being pretty damn great. Best fights were probably Dos Santos/Hunt and Pyle/Story, but we also got some great highlight reel finishes in Velasquez/Bigfoot, Grant/Maynard, Teixeira/Te Huna and Whittaker/Smith. Basically there’s something for everyone to love on this show but it’s a particularly high recommendation if you’re into more striking-based MMA fights. Two thumbs up for one of the best UFC shows of 2013.

Best Fight: Dos Santos vs. Hunt
Worst Fight: Thompson vs. Burrell

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: