MMA Review: #477: UFC Fight Night 52

-This was the first UFC show in Japan since March 2013’s Fuel one, and while that was probably a more stacked card in terms of names (Wanderlei, Stann, Hunt, Okami, Gomi, Diego, Lombard, etc) this one looked pretty damn good too, especially the main event of Roy Nelson vs. Mark Hunt – practically a guaranteed slugfest.

UFC Fight Night 52

Saitama, Japan

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Brian Stann.

Flyweight Fight: Kyoji Horiguchi vs Jon Delos Reyes

Hot prospect Horiguchi – considered by many, myself included, to be the biggest hope for a Japanese UFC champion right now – was initially pegged to face Chris Cariaso here, but when Cariaso was moved inexplicably into a title challenge, Reyes stepped in, making his first appearance at 125lbs after a loss to Dustin Kimura at 135lbs. With Reyes hardly looking like a world-beater in that fight and Horiguchi, well, looking like a world-beater in his previous outing against Darrell Montague, the easy money was on the Japanese star.

Fight begins and they circle, with Reyes landing a right hand as Horiguchi seems to be carrying his hands casually low. Body kick connects for Horiguchi though and it doubles Reyes over. He goes down and then looks for a leglock as Horiguchi drops on top, but the Japanese fighter easily avoids and settles into top position in butterfly guard. He passes into half-guard and lands some solid short punches before landing a heavy right as Reyes scrambles to his feet. They exchange on the feet and man is Horiguchi fast. Hopping kick misses though and Reyes cracks him with a right hand and a follow-up flying knee! Clinch from Horiguchi and he muscles Reyes into the fence. Good knee connects for him now as they muscle for position from close quarters. Another excellent knee lands for Horiguchi. They break off and circle out, and Horiguchi counters a low kick with a BIG LEFT HOOK that drops Reyes to a knee! He pops back up but Horiguchi is all over him with punches, and Reyes goes down from the flurry. Horiguchi follows up with some BRUTAL ground-and-pound and Reyes has clearly had enough, rolling to his stomach and referee Steve Perceval calls it there.

Nasty stuff. Reyes tried but he was clearly outmatched and Horiguchi just carries ruthless power in his punches and has phenomenal killer instinct when he has a guy hurt. Reminds me a lot of John Dodson actually as he’s so quick and yet he hits like a sledgehammer too. People are talking about a title shot for him already and while I think that’s too early (Mighty Mouse is a genuinely incredible champion) it could definitely come at some point down the road for him. Red-hot opener.

Lightweight Fight: Kiichi Kunimoto vs Richard Walsh

This one was moved onto the main card when the show lost Urijah Faber vs. Masanori Kanehara, and was an interesting one as I expected Kunimoto to get a step up in competition after he throttled Daniel Sarafian in May, which didn’t seem to be the case. Walsh was coming off a win in his UFC debut, but hadn’t looked all that during his TUF Nations run and so I suspected this was put together to give Kunimoto a home country win.

Round One begins and Walsh opens with a leg kick that apparently landed low. Ref calls time but they literally restart like two seconds later. Big left hook lands for Walsh as he comes forward and down goes Kunimoto! Few more shots follow but Kunimoto manages to get up. He still looks wobbly though and the Aussie lands with the left again before clinching. They break quickly and Kunimoto lands with a body kick. Big head kick from Walsh drops Kunimoto again, but evidently he has a good chin as he manages to shoot for a takedown and then get to the clinch. Kick actually landed with the knee. Looks like Kunimoto’s nose is badly busted up. Ton of blood going all over Walsh’s back. The Aussie does some good work inside the clinch and then breaks with a hard right hand. Clinch from Walsh and he lands a knee, but again it’s a low one and the ref calls time. They again restart quickly and Walsh tags him again with another combo. Walsh is catching him with punches over and over here. Big combo has Kunimoto badly wobbled again but he manages to grab a clinch to slow the Aussie down. Kunimoto can’t get a takedown though and Walsh gets the better of the clinch by landing some hard knees. Round ends inside the clinch. Great round for Richard Walsh; 10-9.

Round Two and Walsh glances on a left hand and has Kunimoto wobbled instantly. More shots land for him and rock Kunimoto again, but he manages to clinch to slow the Aussie down. Kunimoto looks painfully outgunned standing. The Japanese fighter tries for the takedown, but he can’t get Walsh off his feet and they break off. They exchange strikes and it seems like Walsh still has much more pop in his shots although he looks like he’s slowed down a bit now. Good knee from Kunimoto as Walsh lunges into the clinch. Single leg attempt from Kunimoto but he still can’t get Walsh down. For an Aussie his takedown defense is excellent. Walsh breaks off with just under two minutes to go and both men come forward swinging. Good overhand right and body kick land for Walsh. Kunimoto comes back with a stiff jab and he shoots, but Walsh easily stuffs it. Knee does connect for Kunimoto on his way in but still he can’t get Walsh down. Good right hand inside the clinch from Walsh. They muscle along the fence and the round ends there. Closer round but still, 10-9 Walsh as he had the best offense.

Round Three and Kunimoto opens with a solid combo. Walsh fires back with a jab and they exchange before Walsh muscles Kunimoto into the fence. Kunimoto turns it around and looks for a takedown, but Walsh stuffs it. He eats a knee on the way out and now it’s Kunimoto landing combos before shooting again. Walsh stuffs it once more and they break off. Striking exchange continues and both men land some decent shots before Kunimoto uses a combo to set up the clinch. This time Walsh stuffs it and drills him down the center with a knee. Good overhand right from Walsh and he follows with a couple of chopping leg kicks. Kunimoto looks for the takedown again and this time he manages to trip Walsh down. The Aussie pops back up but gives his back, and Kunimoto controls him with a rear waistlock. He looks to put his hooks in, but Walsh does a good job of defending that. Kunimoto does a nice job of getting one hook in though and then he pulls Walsh down and looks to slap on the choke. Body triangle from Kunimoto and he continues to attempt the choke, but Walsh shows some good defense and it looks like he’s going to survive the round. Fight ends with Kunimoto in firm control. 10-9 Kunimoto but I like 29-28 for Richard Walsh here.

Judges score it 29-28 Walsh, 29-28 Kunimoto and 29-28 for Kiichi Kunimoto to get the win. Well, that’s bullshit. I’ve got no idea how the judges made that call as Kunimoto was getting lit up throughout the first two rounds and only managed to hold Walsh against the fence. Sure, he clearly won the third but there’s no way you could give him the first or second. Ridiculous call and it puts a bad taste in your mouth for sure. Pretty solid fight actually but the bad decision takes away from it a lot.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Miesha Tate vs Rin Nakai

Surprising to see this so low down on the card given all the marketing had it as the co-main event, but ah well! This was Miesha’s second fight back following her loss to Ronda Rousey and she was clearly looking to make a statement after stuttering her way past Liz Carmouche in April. Opponent Nakai was bringing in a gaudy undefeated record (16-0) but looked undersized for the division at 5’1” (!) and was also apparently better known in Japan for a soft-porn career (!) so Miesha seemed like the easy pick.

Cool entrance for Miesha as she walks out again to Roar by Katy Perry. It fit the Ronda Rousey fight more but it’s still a great entrance theme.

First round begins and man is Nakai tiny. Absolutely hench, but tiny nonetheless. Lot of movement from Nakai early but Miesha tags her with an initial combo, using her reach advantage. They clinch up and Tate muscles her into the fence, where they exchange knees. Couple of good elbows from Miesha too. Trip takedown follows but Nakai throws some upkicks and then springs to her feet. Low kick connects for Miesha. Body kick follows but Nakai catches it and goes for a takedown. Tate avoids but finds herself clinched on the fence. She quickly breaks though and glances on a big right hand. Nakai is coming up way short on her punches thus far. Uppercut lands for Tate. Big left head kick from Miesha and she shrugs off the takedown when Nakai catches the leg. They end up clinched against the fence again and Tate lands a really hard elbow that snaps Nakai’s head to the side. They break with two minutes to go and Miesha catches her with some more clean punches. Very quick shot from Nakai but Tate manages to sprawl brilliantly to avoid the takedown. Beautiful combo from Miesha backs Nakai up towards the fence. She’s lighting Nakai up here. Clinch from Nakai and she looks for a throw, but Tate defends and throws her off. Nakai springs back up and clinches again, but Miesha breaks off. Seconds remaining and Miesha continues to land the better shots as they exchange. 10-9 Tate.

Second round and Tate opens with a solid overhand right. Takedown attempt from Nakai and she gets deep on a single leg and gets Miesha down for a second, but immediately Tate reverses to her feet. Nice. Couple of jabs from Miesha and she has Nakai backing squarely up. Head kick glances from Miesha but Nakai catches the leg. Miesha hops around and makes her pay with some punches, and they wind up clinched on the fence. Good shots from Miesha in the clinch but Nakai manages to grab a rear waistlock. Takedown follows and she almost slaps on the rear naked choke, getting both hooks in, but Tate avoids it and stands with the Pancrase veteran on her back. She looks to shake Nakai off over the top, then manages to drag her around and drops down into the guard. Good job from Miesha. Couple of big elbows get through for Miesha and she avoids Nakai throwing her hips up for an armbar too. Nakai reverses to her feet, and they remain clinched, but Tate lands with some hard knees to the midsection. Crowd are way into this fight. One minute to go and Miesha lights her up with a nice combo. Big right elbow misses for Tate though and Nakai drops for a takedown. She almost gets it, but Miesha manages to remain on her feet as the round ends. 10-9 Tate.

Third round and Miesha opens with a nice left hook. Takedown from Nakai answers but Miesha pops right back up. Nakai gets her back and suplexes her back down though, slapping both hooks in to take full back control for good measure. Tate looks to free herself and shakes off one of the hooks, getting onto her haunches, but Nakai’s still in control. She hops up into the lemur position with Miesha standing, but Miesha shakes her off and then breaks with a combo. Big elbow connects for Miesha as Nakai clinches. Nakai muscles her into the fence, but Miesha forces her back and they jockey for position while moving around the cage. Nakai manages to force her into the fence again, but she can’t get Miesha down and Tate breaks off. Nakai quickly clinches again, but this time Miesha almost gets a takedown and that allows her to break. They clinch back up right away though but this time Miesha breaks quickly. Takedown attempt from Nakai but Miesha defends it well. She’s stalking forward now but she can’t seem to land anything before Nakai shoots again. Once again Miesha stuffs it and forces her backwards, then separates with less than a minute to go. This has been a bit of a dull round. Another takedown attempt from Nakai and this time she gets Miesha down, but right away the former champ reverses to her feet. Nakai lands some knees inside the clinch but Miesha breaks and lands a few punches to end the fight. I have this 30-27 for Miesha Tate.

Official scores are 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Miesha Tate. Bit of a dull fight if I’m honest though as Nakai was tough enough not to be finished, but was never truly in the fight in terms of offense as she couldn’t take Miesha down consistently and was badly outgunned standing due to the size issue. I think she probably needs to drop a ton of muscle and move down to 125lbs if not 115lbs if she wants any real success in the UFC (115lbs in fact as they don’t do 125lbs at the minute….) because she’s just too small for the weight class. Miesha did what she had to do but it was a workmanlike, Jon Fitch-esque performance rather than an exciting type of fight that she’s put on in the past, so yeah, overall a bit disappointing.

Welterweight Fight: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs Amir Sadollah

This was Sexyama’s return to action following over two years on the shelf after his loss to Jake Shields – his fourth in a row in the UFC. Part of me expected him to retire after that given his age and the fact that his fame in Japan means he probably doesn’t actually need to fight in the UFC, but I guess he decided he wanted one more big win at least. This seemed like a tailor made fight for him too as Sadollah isn’t the best grappler and while he’s a good technical striker I didn’t think he had the power to hurt Akiyama like a Belfort or a Bisping had done. Side note but Sexyama’s Con Te Partiro entrance is still probably the best in MMA.

Round One and they circle to begin with Amir throwing a couple of glancing kicks. Crowd are wildly into Akiyama. Amir peppers him with a combo but Sexyama catches a kick and hits a beautiful trip down into half-guard. Good control from Sexyama but he’s not doing much in the way of ground-and-pound or anything just yet. Amir tries desperately to shrimp back into full guard, but Akiyama’s base is strong as hell and he prevents it. Nice elbow from Akiyama and he works to pass the guard, looking for full mount. Amir’s doing a good job of preventing it though. Few good punches begin to get through for Sexyama as Amir looks a bit stuck. Good short elbows follow. Sadollah rolls, but ends up giving his back as they stand and Akiyama tries to drag him back down. Amir does well though to block and turns into him before breaking free with a minute to go. Spinning back kick lands nicely to the body for Akiyama. Akiyama is in phenomenal shape for a dude pushing 40. Left hand glances for Sexyama. Amir is looking tentative now probably due to the takedown. Good counter right lands for Amir right before the round ends. 10-9 Akiyama.

Round Two and shit, between rounds one of Akiyama’s cornermen appears to be wearing 3-D glasses. Seriously now. Couple of nice kicks open the round for Amir and seem to land cleanly, but Akiyama takes them LIKE A MAN and doesn’t even flinch. Good uppercut answers for Akiyama. Leg kick lands for Amir. Two more nice ones follow and really buckle the leg. Spinning back kick and spinning backfist glance for Sexyama. High kick answers for Amir. Another nice leg kick lands for Sadollah. Brutal right hand lands for Sexyama though and rocks Amir’s world. Somehow he manages to shrug it off though, but he looks like he might be sporting a busted nose from the shot. Left jab wobbles Amir badly and he tries to swing back, but Akiyama catches a kick and tackles him before dropping some bombs into the guard. Amir’s in trouble here but he manages to use his legs to push Akiyama off just enough to recover from the punishment. Hard shots still make it through the guard for Sexyama though. Looks like he’s trying to use a neck crank to set up for more shots as well. Amir fires off with some upkicks as Brian Stann tells us Akiyama is FLIRTING WITH JULIANNA PENA who is apparently cageside. The dude is fucking brilliant. Well, he is Sexyama I guess. More shots land for him from top position as Amir pivots around and tries to reverse. Round ends with Amir working to his feet. 10-9 Akiyama.

Round Three and Amir looks BUSTED UP. Head kick misses early for Sadollah. Nice counter right hand from Akiyama but he takes a combo from the TUF 7 winner. Pair of jabs land for Amir. Left-right lands for Akiyama. Big right hand stuns Amir but he fires back with a hard right of his own. Striking exchange continues with both men landing some decent blows. Beautiful spinning back kick lands for Akiyama to Amir’s body and has him retreating. Kick from Amir but he eats a right hand that drops him, and Sexyama stands over him and drops some hard shots down into the guard. More heavy ground-and-pound follows and the ref may as well call this because Amir’s not getting up for shit. Really brutal right hands get through for Sexyama and Amir’s face is a total mess at this stage, wow. His nose looks like it might be flat. More shots land for Akiyama and you could make a case for stopping this. Ref decides to let it go though I’m guessing because of just seconds remaining, and the fight ends with Akiyama delivering more punishment from the top. 10-8 Akiyama for a 30-26 win I’d say.

Judges all score it 30-27 for Yoshihiro Akiyama. Surprised about no 10-8 third round but it doesn’t matter really. This was Akiyama’s best UFC performance by a mile as his cardio held up, he landed the heavier shots standing despite Amir staying quite busy himself, and on the ground he looked like a BEAST, dropping bombs through Amir’s guard like it was absolutely nothing. I actually was going to suggest that he just stick to easy fights to bolster the Asian cards but after seeing this I wouldn’t mind Zuffa trying to push him up the card again as he still comes off as a MASSIVE STAR and if he can fight like this all the time then he’s a contender too. Very entertaining fight.

Lightweight Fight: Myles Jury vs Takanori Gomi

Interesting fight here as Jury was clearly in need of a step up after dominating all of his UFC opponents to date, albeit not in the most exciting fashion. Gomi definitely fit the bill as far as a step up went, and although he’s clearly past his prime now he’s still dangerous and with different judges, could’ve been on a four-fight win streak coming into this one. I was pulling for Gomi but based on his mileage the smart money was on Jury.

Fight begins and they circle and look to gauge the distance with some early strikes, with Jury missing on a head kick. Gomi looks surprisingly calm early on. Couple of kicks from Jury and Gomi misses a wild swing. Gomi seems to be struggling with the length of Jury. Takedown attempt from Myles but Gomi shrugs it off easily. Seconds later Jury CRUSHES Gomi with a HUGE RIGHT HAND that crumples the Japanese star! Jesus. He follows up with a flurry on the ground and that’s all she wrote.

Wow, I thought Jury would win but didn’t expect it to be so quick and easy for him. I mean Gomi is way past his best now (and ought to consider retirement I think…) but it’s still a big name win on the ledger for Jury. Of course he’s since lost to Donald Cerrone and his showing in that fight has taken the shine off him as a possible contender, but he’s young enough to recover from it. Hopefully he’ll show flashes of this kind of style in his next fight rather than going back to his duller style. Total highlight reel stuff.

Heavyweight Fight: Mark Hunt vs Roy Nelson

When this one was announced the UFC were firmly selling it as another Heavyweight slugfest – basically two big dudes trading punches until one falls over. Some fans actually suspected that it might not go that way as of course Big Country’s always got the option – particularly against a striking specialist like Hunt – of going for the takedown and working his excellent top game, but I didn’t buy that myself given I couldn’t even remember the last guy Nelson took down in the UFC! Maybe Kimbo Slice? Ha. Anyway given it was going to be a striking battle I was leaning towards Hunt and anticipated FIREWORKS.

Round One and they circle for a bit before Hunt opens up with a quick combo. Nelson takes it, naturally, but the crowd are ON EDGE. Single leg attempt from Nelson but Hunt shrugs it off. Thank God! Overhand right misses for Nelson. Accidental eye poke from Hunt and ref Leon Roberts has to call time to let Roy recover. They restart and Hunt lands with a sharp inside leg kick. Big overhand right from Nelson just about misses. Body kick glances for Hunt but a leg kick lands cleanly and buckles Nelson’s left leg. Nelson is swinging for the fences but hasn’t landed yet. Nice uppercut from Hunt coming forward. Left hand from Nelson backs Hunt up a bit. Big swing misses for Big Country. Right hand connects for Hunt. Hunt is doing a good job of ducking to avoid the big right hand. Both men miss big swings by a matter of millimetres. Leg kick again from Hunt. Big right hand from Hunt but Nelson fires back and lands the nasty right hook. Hunt takes it because he’s got a head filled with GRANITE. Nelson is ducking his head when he’s wading in which might leave him open for an uppercut though. Takedown is shrugged off by Hunt. Stiff jab from Nelson. Big leg kick follows and spins Hunt right around. Right hook connects for Roy. Round ends with both men continuing to swing. 10-9 Hunt in a close one.

Round Two and Nelson comes in ducking a lot again to avoid Hunt’s combos. Right hand lands cleanly for Hunt but Roy takes it and tackles him to the ground, then takes the back. He makes an error trying to put his hooks in though and Hunt slips out the back door and escapes to his feet to a big crowd pop. Exchange sees Nelson narrowly miss with a wild backhand strike. Jab connects for Hunt as does an uppercut, but Nelson fires back with a heavy right hook. Another uppercut glances for Hunt as Roy leans forward, but the TUF winner answers with a stiff jab. Nasty leg kick from Nelson. Uppercut narrowly misses for Hunt. Straight left lands for Nelson. Big right hand to the temple lands for Hunt and wobbles Roy’s legs slightly. Takedown is shrugged off by Hunt. Uppercut narrowly misses again for Hunt and Nelson lands with a counter left. Big combo from Hunt ends in a left hand that hurts Nelson, but he recovers fast and comes swinging back. Another takedown is stuffed by Hunt. Few jabs from Hunt back Nelson up and then a BIG UPPERCUT lands flush as he leans forward and DOWN GOES BIG COUNTRY! He’s out before he hits the deck and referee Leon Roberts dives in, but Hunt’s celebrating anyway rather than following up. Comical moment follows as Roberts somehow shoves Hunt OVER Nelson’s body and almost causes him to trip.

That was pretty much the mark of a very accomplished striker, as Hunt evidently picked up on the fact that Nelson had a tendency to lean forward and duck his head during exchanges and so he was looking for that uppercut throughout the second round. And of course when it landed, well, if Mark Hunt hits you flush it doesn’t matter how good your chin is, you’re probably done. Fight totally lived up to the expectations as a slugfest although it must be pointed out that Nelson did appear to want to take it to the ground at points and seemed unable to do so – I do wonder whether reinventing himself as a slugger has sort-of limited Nelson’s game in terms of actual success, but in another way it’s probably made him more money and given his UFC career more longevity because as long as he fights in that manner he’ll continue to be given big fights and be pushed by Zuffa. You could probably argue either way whether he’s done the right thing. As always I marvel at the fact that Mark Hunt is winning UFC fights in 2014 after that shitty run he had after the death of PRIDE and prior to his UFC career.

-Show ends with a plug for UFC 178 and some talk about Hunt’s next opponent, naming Andrei Arlovski, Ben Rothwell and Josh Barnett as possibilities. I know he ended up fighting Fabricio Werdum but all three of those matches still sound like fun to me actually. Highlights roll and we’re done from Japan.

Final Thoughts….

This looked like a good card on paper and for the most part it delivered – main event went exactly as advertised, Jury/Gomi had a surprisingly violent finish, Sexyama and Horiguchi both delivered the goods, and only the Tate/Nakai fight was really dull. Walsh/Kunimoto left a bad taste due to the crap decision but you seemingly expect at least one of those these days. Not as good as the best Fight Night cards of 2014 then but definitely worth a look.

Best Fight: Akiyama vs. Sadollah
Worst Fight: Tate vs. Nakai

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: