MMA Review: #460: UFC Fight Night 41

-This was the UFC’s first visit to Germany since 2010’s pretty diabolical UFC 122 card, and this one – while a Fight Pass card – was arguably a better looking show on paper than that one, with a really interesting main event of Gegard Mousasi vs. Mark Munoz as well as a solid undercard.

UFC Fight Night 41

Berlin, Germany

-Your hosts are Jon Gooden and Dan Hardy. Fantastic announcing team, it must be said.

Featherweight Fight: Niklas Backstrom vs Tom Niinimaki

Finnish grappler Niinimaki was initially pegged to fight….someone else, I forget who (Wiki tells me Thiago Tavares so there you go) but when they got injured, Swedish grappler Backstrom stepped in to replace them. Despite Backstrom having a good reputation and undefeated record, after seeing Niinimaki outgrapple someone as legit as Rani Yahya I was still taking him to win.

Round One and Backstrom opens with a sharp leg kick. Single leg from Niinimaki and he puts Backstrom down into full guard. Right away he looks to pass into half-guard, but Backstrom uses a butterfly hook to avoid that and they spin around on the mat. Elevator sweep attempt from Backstrom is avoided and Niinimaki passes into half-guard. Reversal puts Backstrom back up, but Niinimaki trips him back down and takes the back with a rear waistlock with both men kneeling. Good job from Backstrom to get up again, but Niinimaki looks to lock up a standing choke, then drops to go for another single. Backstrom defends by controlling the left leg and they end up in an odd position for a second tussling for dominance. Takedown again from Niinimaki but Backstrom gets right back up. They wind up clinched on the fence, and Backstrom lands a knee to the body. Niinimaki fires back with a couple of his own knees, and holy shit are this crowd into the fight. Niinimaki drops for another takedown and really tries for the single leg, but he leaves his head out and Backstrom jumps into a tight guillotine attempt. He pulls guard and Niinimaki looks to be in some trouble, but he seems calm and manages to work his head free to a loud pop. Backstrom immediately pops back up to his feet and they trade strikes for a brief moment. HUGE FLYING KNEE connects for Backstrom and Niinimaki looks stunned! He goes for a single leg, but makes the error of leaving his neck open and in a SLICK MOVE Backstrom falls backwards into a TIGHT BULLDOG CHOKE and Niinimaki has to tap!

Unbelievable finish from Niklas Backstrom. To be honest Niinimaki didn’t really look comfortable at all during the fight despite getting the early takedowns, but for Backstrom to catch him in a submission like that was pretty special. I mean the last bulldog choke I can remember in the UFC would be Carlos Newton’s on Pat Miletich in 2001! Post-fight Backstrom cuts a super-charismatic promo (complete with FOUL LANGUAGE!~!) and I think this guy develops into a star on the European circuit, easy. Really fun opener.

Middleweight Fight: Luke Barnatt vs Sean Strickland

After destroying a pair of pretty good fighters in Andrew Craig and Mats Nilsson I was expecting Brit Barnatt to get a bigger step up for his next bout, but instead he was faced with ‘Tarzan’ Strickland, who had made an impressive UFC debut, taking out Barnatt’s TUF castmate Bubba McDaniel in easy fashion. Battle of two guys with a lot of potential here but I was taking the Brit based on more UFC experience.

Round One and it’s a horribly slow beginning as Barnatt slowly stalks forward and throws out some jabs. He’s not really establishing it though and Strickland looks fine. They exchange a couple of leg kicks but that’s about it for the first couple of minutes. Crowd begin to boo as the inaction continues. It must be said again that Gooden and Hardy are fantastic on commentary, on a side note. They continue to throw out jabs and leg kicks and neither man’s doing much to actually win the round. Decent right hand lands for Strickland but that’s about it. Awful, awful round. 10-10 because how do you split that?

Round Two and Strickland lands with a solid counter left as Barnatt continues to back him up. Quick trade sees both men land before Strickland tackles the Brit to the ground. He stands over Barnatt, avoiding an armbar before dropping back into the guard. Barnatt kicks him away though and pops back up. Clinch from Strickland and he forces Barnatt into the fence and looks for the takedown again. Barnatt blocks it and they break off. Action really slows down again from there as Barnatt stalks forward but can only land a few kicks. Combo from Barnatt sets up the clinch but Strickland separates with a right hand. Good straight right connects for the Brit. Another good right seems to have Strickland hurt, and he tries a takedown right away but Barnatt blocks. Thirty seconds to go and the action slows down again. Right hand lands again for Barnatt though. Strickland fires back with one of his own and they exchange for a second before quickly circling out. Round ends there. 10-9 Barnatt for the trio of right hands.

Round Three and it’s more of the same as Barnatt stalks forward and throws out the jab without really establishing it or hurting Strickland. Almost halfway through the round and the crowd begin to boo again as so little is happening. This is a truly awful fight. Looks like Strickland might be cut under his right eye. They clinch up and muscle for position before the Brit quickly breaks. Back into the clinch and Barnatt botches a throw, but Strickland decides to dive for a leg rather than take the back and Barnatt has to roll. He looks okay and they drop into a duelling leglock position, but Barnatt decides to pull free and stand rather than go for it. Couple of glancing blows from Barnatt. We’ve got less than a minute left here thank God. Right hand connects for Barnatt. Crowd boo in frustration as the fight ends. John Gooden calls it a “very technical striking battle” but I think he’s being overly nice there. Really bad fight. I’d call it 30-29 for Luke Barnatt I think.

Judges have it a split decision; 29-28 Barnatt, 30-27 Strickland and 29-28 for Sean Strickland. Bad decision I’d say as Strickland backpedalled throughout and only got like one takedown, but to be fair I don’t think Barnatt can have many complaints as he didn’t do enough to win either. I don’t usually agree with Dana White’s whole “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” deal but in this case it rings true as when two fighters do as little as these guys did, how can the judges be expected to score it perfectly? Terrible stuff. One of the worst televised fights of 2014 in fact.

Middleweight Fight: CB Dollaway vs Francis Carmont

The unfairly maligned Dollaway seemed to have turned a corner in 2013, beating Daniel Sarafian and with competent judges, Tim Boetsch, and he’d continued that run in 2014 by taking out Cezar Mutante in pretty spectacular fashion. Here he was faced with giant Frenchman Carmont, who was coming off his first UFC loss to Jacare Souza in February. I was going with Dollaway here as styles make fights and I thought his wrestling skill could give Carmont a lot of problems.

Fight begins and they circle before Dollaway glances on a lunging right hand. Body kick lands for Carmont. Chopping leg kick from CB but Carmont fires back with a left hand and a blocked head kick. Another good leg kick lands for Dollaway. Body kick again from the Frenchman. Couple of jabs from Carmont but the ref warns him for extending his fingers. Hard right hand lands for Carmont and almost takes Dollaway off balance. Another one quickly follows but CB looks fine. Double jab from Dollaway backs Carmont up a bit. Both men land with kicks to the body and then Dollaway begins to channel the Diaz brothers by taunting Carmont before landing a pair of leg kicks. Brutal body kick connects for Carmont but CB fires back with a BIG LEFT HOOK that drops the Frenchman! Carmont is in trouble as Dollaway pounces on him and looks to finish him off, but the French fighter manages to grab a single leg and drive CB into the fence. Dollaway defends with some elbows to the side of the head, showing some INSANE balance, and he manages to separate. Both men taunt each other to a big crowd pop. Carmont still looks a little wobbly to me though. One minute to go and Dollaway circles out, looking confident. Left hook glances for him again. He’s clearly outlanding Carmont in this round now. Couple more shots connect for him and Carmont shoots, managing to get CB down in impressive fashion. Dollaway immediately works to get back up, and hits a sick reversal to take top position. Round ends with Dollaway on top and Carmont stuck by the fence. 10-9 Dollaway.

Into the 2nd and Carmont opens with another hard body kick. Couple of counter shots and a low kick land for Carmont as CB pushes forward. More taunting from the Frenchman follows. Quick rush sets up a clinch for CB but Carmont shrugs him off. Good leg kick from CB. Couple of winging punches peg Carmont back a little. Big right hand glances for Carmont. Lunging left answers for Dollaway. Head kick from Carmont but it doesn’t land flush. CB replies with an inside leg kick. Into the clinch and Dollaway hits a picture-perfect outside trip to half-guard. Right away he passes into side mount too. Carmont turns, giving his back, but he uses it to stand. CB stays heavy on him though and forces him back down to a knee. Carmont works back to his feet and tries to twist the left arm up into a kimura, dropping to his back for leverage, but he doesn’t have any form of guard and Dollaway slips his arm free and takes the back. Carmont keeps hold of the kimura, but Dollaway winds up on top in half-guard and works to free the arm again. Looks like Dollaway is the better grappler here. He forces Carmont to his back again in side mount, avoiding the kimura again. Once more Carmont gives his back and Dollaway controls him, but doesn’t put the hooks in. Seconds to go and he tries to hop onto the back, but winds up slightly too high up. Round ends before any further action can happen. 10-9 Dollaway.

Third and final round and Carmont opens with a nice combo to set up a chopping leg kick. Dollaway fires back with a left hook though that pegs the Frenchman back. Side kick to the body lands for Carmont. CB continues to push forward though and easily stops a takedown attempt. Right hook lands for Carmont. Body kick follows. Another single leg attempt from Carmont is blocked and they wind up in the clinch. Quick level change from Dollaway and he easily plants Carmont on his back. Triangle attempt is avoided and Dollaway takes the back. One hook from CB and he controls Carmont and looks to take full mount. Carmont just can’t seem to get up. Looks like Dollaway’s working for the rear naked choke, but Carmont manages to avoid and looks to escape to his feet. Dollaway keeps him firmly grounded though and begins to land punches to the side of the head before slapping both hooks in as Carmont attempts to crawl towards the fence. Looks like Dollaway is badly cut though. Reversal from Carmont allows him to his feet but they remain clinched. Nice elbow from Carmont inside the clinch. Another one follows but Dollaway drops for a single leg. Carmont tries to fight it off but Dollaway’s too tenacious and he forces the Frenchman to the ground. Incredible wrestling. Full mount from Dollaway and he rears up to land some elbow strikes. Looks like CB might be setting up for a possible arm triangle choke. Carmont’s taking plenty of punches here too. Dollaway manages to get to back control with both hooks, but Carmont scrambles. He can’t get up from under CB though and ends up on his back in guard again. Seconds remaining and it looks like Dollaway’s fight to me. Round – and fight – ends with CB in firm control. I have it a 30-27 shutout for the Doberman.

Official scores are 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for CB Dollaway, unanimous decision. Real breakout showing for CB Dollaway as once again he put everything together, showing excellent striking, defensive work on the feet and a phenomenal, stifling grappling game to totally outwork a top ten ranked guy for the full fifteen minutes. For me Dollaway’s always had the offensive skill to be a legit contender at 185lbs, but the problem was always his shitty defensive skill. It looks like he’s closed up those holes right now which makes him a dangerous fighter to anyone at 185lbs in my mind. At 31 he’s probably right in his prime too. I know a lot of people dislike him but I think it’s great that he’s finally living up to his potential and I’m excited now to see him again.

Middleweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Mark Munoz

This was a super-intriguing main event to me, as while Munoz had looked admittedly past his best coming into this one (a nasty loss to Lyoto Machida had been his last fight), Mousasi historically had always struggled with big wrestlers with powerful top games, and that description fits Munoz down to a tee. With that said, I thought Mousasi would have enough game off his back to counter Munoz’s brutal ground-and-pound, and over five rounds I suspected the former StrikeForce champ could find a way to victory.

Round One and Munoz teases a takedown from the off, but Mousasi quickly dodges and keeps a really low stance. Another takedown is shrugged off with a right hand, but this time Munoz gets hold of the Armenian and lifts him up for a slam. Mousasi shifts his weight in mid-air though and somehow lands on top, reversing to his feet right away. He pegs Munoz back with a stiff jab, and then avoids a wild bull-rush. Another jab connects for him. Leg kick follows and Munoz seems a bit rattled. Clubbing punches are easily avoided by Mousasi, but they allow Munoz to get to the clinch. Mousasi reverses position though and works the body over with punches before they separate. Leg kick from Mousasi. He’s making this look effortless so far. Another takedown attempt from Munoz but Mousasi sprawls and uses a guillotine attempt to take top position in side mount. Impressive to see Mousasi stuff the takedown like that. Mousasi looks for full mount and manages to sneak his way into it, but Munoz grabs onto a leg to reverse. Big shots land for Mousasi though and he forces Munoz onto all fours before taking the back. Choke attempt follows but Munoz survives. He’s taking a lot of punishment here though. Munoz tries the takedown again, but can’t get it and in an attempt to drag Mousasi down he finds himself mounted. SICK reversal right there. Munoz gives his back this time and from there Mousasi immediately locks up the rear naked choke to force the tapout. WOW.

That was a tremendous performance from Gegard Mousasi. Munoz was literally never in the fight for a second and got tooled in all areas for the most part, including in the wrestling portions which is pretty insane given that was Mousasi’s weakness historically. This was the Gegard Mousasi I think we were all waiting for to appear in the UFC and I think he’s a legit top contender for the Middleweight title. Remember the only other two guys to work over Munoz like this were Weidman and Machida and they’re arguably #1 and #2 in the division right now. As for Munoz, at 36 and having taken tons of punishment this ought to be it for him I think. He seems like a genuinely great guy and I just don’t want to see him get hurt any more. Entertaining – if hugely one-sided – main event.

-Dan and John wrap things up and we’re done from Berlin.

Final Thoughts….

Take out Strickland/Barnatt and replace it with well, anything resembling a decent fight and this would’ve been one of the better Fight Night cards of 2014. As it is, it’s worth a mild recommendation for a trio of watchable fights, but just don’t bother at all with Strickland/Barnatt as it really does suck. Thumbs up just about.

Best Fight: Backstrom vs. Niinimaki
Worst Fight: Strickland vs. Barnatt

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman: