MMA Review: #500: UFC Fight Night 64

-This was the UFC’s first trip to Poland and while the card didn’t have the UFC’s biggest Polish star – Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk – it did have a bunch of top European fighters from top to bottom like Joanne Calderwood, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz. Main event was odd though – the newly re-signed Mirko Cro Cop (signed just days after being linked with Bellator, how about that?) rematching Gabriel Gonzaga almost eight years (!) on from their famous first fight that ended with the head kick that pretty much ended Mirko’s career as an elite-level fighter. All in all, not the greatest looking card to be honest.

UFC Fight Night 64

Krakow, Poland

-Your hosts are Jon Gooden and Dan Hardy. Forgot how good these pair were actually.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Joanne Calderwood vs Maryna Moroz

Calderwood had been one of the starring cast members of TUF 20, and with her striking background the word was that the popular Scottish fighter could secure a title shot against Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a win here. Opponent Moroz was largely unknown – a Ukrainian fighter coming from the regional scene rather than Invicta FC – and the feeling was she was there to provide a highlight reel victim for JoJo to set up her title challenge.

Pre-fight we get a shot of Jedrzejczyk in the crowd and the fans go NUTS. She just exudes charisma. Fight begins and Calderwood comes out with a couple of low kicks, but she gets tagged right away by a pair of right hands and a glancing left high kick from Moroz. Nice right hand from JoJo and she follows with a body kick, but Moroz comes back with a quick combo. Pair of lefts land for Moroz and she’s got Calderwood rocked with a flurry! They clinch up and Calderwood looks to slow the Ukrainian down, but Moroz pulls guard and goes right into an armbar! Calderwood tries to defend, but makes the error of stacking up and that actually makes it easier for Moroz to straighten the arm FOR THE TAPOUT!

Really shocking stuff. Calderwood didn’t look right from the beginning if I’m honest – apparently she had personal problems coming in, not that it’s any excuse – and Moroz was getting the better of her on the feet, which was a big surprise considering JoJo’s striking credentials. The armbar finish looked almost odd in that it was seemingly so easy for Moroz to finish it, but I suspect Calderwood was rocked by the punches worse than it looked at first and so she wasn’t thinking straight. Massive debut win for Moroz at any rate and a big blow to Calderwood’s hope of a possible title run.

Welterweight Fight: Pawel Pawlak vs Sheldon Westcott

Polish native Pawlak had lost his UFC debut to German fighter Peter Sobotta back in May 2014, and obviously made the main card here due to his heritage more than anything, no offense. Westcott meanwhile hadn’t been seen since his loss in the TUF Nations finale to Elias Theodorou, as he’d been on the shelf with various injuries. Despite Pawlak having the home field advantage I was taking Sheldon and his super-fast starting style to put the Pole away quickly.

Round One and the crowd are molten for Pawlak. Westcott comes out swinging though and immediately gets a clinch, forcing Pawlak into the fence. Takedown follows and Westcott gets into side mount, but Pawlak elevates him and pops back to his feet. They remain clinched and Sheldon looks to muscle the Pole down again, dragging him down and landing some short punches before the Pole pops up again. Westcott’s really working hard in the clinch for the takedown but Pawlak shows some good balance to remain standing. Sheldon drops for a full double leg and gets it, dragging Pawlak down but again the Pole stands. Looks like he might be grabbing the fence, but the ref seems to miss it. Westcott almost has his back here and he lands a knee from the position before Pawlak turns into him. Couple of good shots inside from Westcott and he continues to try to force Pawlak to the ground. Short punches land inside for Pawlak as he works to defend the takedown, then hits a surprising throw himself to land in side mount and take the back. He slips though and it allows Westcott to muscle free and pop up to his feet. Lot of clinch work here but they’re very active. Westcott keeps working for the takedown but he still can’t get Pawlak down. Nice knees connect for the TUF veteran inside though. Sheldon eventually forces him down but yet again Pawlak stands. More knees connect for Westcott and he ends the round unsuccessfully trying for the takedown. 10-9 Westcott for aggression I guess.

Round Two and Pawlak pushes forward and glances on a head kick. Pair of BIG KNEES follow and Westcott is down! He pops up and clinches but he’s definitely wobbly. He still manages to drive Pawlak into the fence though to slow things down and looks for the takedown again. The Canadian still can’t take Pawlak down though and when he does land a trip, the Pole reverses right back up to his feet. Westcott is going to gas himself out at this rate. Nice knee inside from Pawlak. Westcott drops deep for a double leg but still can’t complete it. Ref finally calls a clean break. Westcott wades right forward though and we’re back to the clinch, much to the disgust of the Polish crowd. They exchange knees inside and Pawlak won’t go down but still can’t shake Sheldon off him. Ref Grant Waterman calls another clean break with 1:30 remaining and Pawlak tags the Canadian with punches. Takedown attempt from Westcott is almost met with an illegal knee, but thankfully for Pawlak it doesn’t land cleanly. Takedown is stuffed however and Sheldon looks tired. Big head kick and a knee set up the plum clinch for Pawlak and from there he tosses Westcott to the ground! Side mount follows and Sheldon might be in trouble. Westcott uses the fence to roll, but Pawlak takes the back standing and he drags him back to the ground in side mount. Elbows to the head and body end the round for Pawlak. Clear-cut 10-9 for the Polish fighter.

Round Three and Westcott looks exhausted from the off. Pawlak pushes forward and nails him with punches, and even though Sheldon tries to return fire he does not look good. Westcott clinches and the crowd boo loudly, but he isn’t muscling the Pole around like he did in the first round now and Pawlak hits a trip for a second before the Canadian pops up. Good trip from Westcott but Pawlak works right back to his feet. Really good right hands connect inside for Pawlak and Jon Gooden points out that Westcott doesn’t appear to have a plan B. Trip from Pawlak puts him on top in half-guard. He works to pass and lands some elbows for good measure. Into side mount for Pawlak and suddenly this is looking like a replay of the Theodorou fight for Westcott. Elbows land for Pawlak and he’s all over the Canadian here. You get the feeling he could end it with a really hard flurry. North/south now for Pawlak and it looks like he might be setting up a topside triangle. Westcott rolls, but gives his back in the process and Pawlak almost gets an armbar, but he misses on it and it allows Sheldon to stand. One minute to go now and Westcott desperately tries to muscle the Pole down, but he still can’t manage it and the fight ends with Pawlak defending the takedown and then landing some kicks. 10-9 Pawlak for a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28 all round for Pawel Pawlak. Nice to see the Pole pick up a win at home but it wasn’t really a great fight – Pawlak’s bursts of offense were fun but Westcott seemed to run out of steam badly and even before he gassed he didn’t seem to have a plan past trying to take Pawlak down, and although Pawlak could defend the takedown he couldn’t really shake Sheldon off him for long periods of time although obviously he did enough to win. Meh.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jimi Manuwa vs Jan Blachowicz

In terms of fights to affect the rankings this was the most important on the card, with both men being ranked in the top fifteen of the thin 205lbs division, and a win for either would put them firmly into title contention despite it being their best career win, if that makes sense at all. I was siding with the Brit Manuwa but after seeing Blachowicz destroy the underrated Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut it wasn’t a sure thing.

Round One and Manuwa presses forward but walks into an early, stiff jab from Blachowicz. Crowd are massively into Blachowicz as you’d imagine. Manuwa continues to stalk forward and he lands with a left hook. Lot of jabs from Blachowicz but not many are landing. Solid body shot from Manuwa sets up a clinch and he lands a heavy knee to the body. More knees follow. They break off and Manuwa glances on a left head kick. Body kick lands for Jan. Couple more kicks from Manuwa and he stuffs a takedown attempt and forces Blachowicz into the fence. Good knees to the thigh from the Brit and he keeps Blachowicz pressed firmly into the fence. Bit of an uneventful clinch to be fair. Ref calls a break and they restart. Nice combo from Manuwa and he stuffs another takedown attempt and goes back to the clinch. Crowd are still very loud and hot for Blachowicz. Left hook breaks for the Pole. Head kick answers for Manuwa and he pushes forward again. Uppercut glances for Jan. Head kick misses and Manuwa continues to stalk right through the jab. Left head kick glances again for Manuwa. Nice leg kick connects for him to end the round. 10-9 Manuwa in a tentative round.

Round Two and a left body kick begins proceedings for Manuwa. Low kick answers for Jan but Manuwa fires back with a body kick. Lunging left hook misses for Manuwa, and then he backs off claiming an eye poke. Ref Marc Goddard calls time to check him over and they restart. Leg kick from Jimi. Nice body kick and a glancing left hook from Blachowicz. Manuwa’s head movement is excellent though as it’s allowing him to avoid the majority of Jan’s punches. Right kick sets up a clinch from Manuwa but this time Blachowicz forces him into the fence. They walk across while still inside the clinch and Blachowicz looks for a trip, but the Brit avoids it and forces him backwards. Heavy body shots from Manuwa connect from the clinch. Manuwa’s doing some great work with the knees to the thighs here. They break off and Jan keeps firing with the jab, but Manuwa avoids most of them with his head movement. Beautiful uppercut catches the Brit walking forward though and forces him to clinch again. Crowd are booing slightly now. Goddard calls a break again and Manuwa fires off with a leg kick. He’s backing Blachowicz up a lot and that’s basically winning him these rounds so far. Combo connects for Jan but Manuwa walks right through it and nails him with a hard left hook to the body. Another clinch ends the round. 10-9 Manuwa.

Round Three and Manuwa opens with a leg kick and a right hand before both men land hard left hooks ala the end of Condit/Hardy, with neither going down this time. Left kick to the body from Manuwa. He’s still backing Jan up and walking through the Polish fighter’s jab. Hard leg kick into a left from Manuwa and the Pole clinches, only for Manuwa to force him back into the fence. More knees to the thigh land for Manuwa. They muscle for position inside the clinch before Jan breaks with a slick left head kick! Jimi shrugs it right off though and pushes forward with a combo that backs Blachowicz up. Right hand from Manuwa sets up another clinch. Two minutes to go now and the crowd are outright booing this. Takedown attempt is defended by Blachowicz and Goddard calls the clean break. Uppercut glances for Blachowicz but Manuwa clinches again. Trip attempt from Jimi is defended. They break off and again Manuwa backs the Pole up with a combo into the clinch. Left hand breaks for Blachowicz. He looks for a takedown but Manuwa shrugs it off and connects on a leg kick. Couple of jabs from Jan land. Knee follows but it just seems to make Manuwa come forward more, where he lands a right hand into yet another clinch. Seconds to go and they break, and Manuwa comes in swinging but has to defend a single leg. Big right hand and a knee stun Blachowicz right at the end of the round. 10-9 Manuwa for a 30-27.

Official scores are 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 all for Jimi Manuwa. Not the most inspiring fight at all though as both men looked really tentative and nervy about the other man’s power and spent most of the time clinching, even though it didn’t seem like Blachowicz’s shots were hurting Jimi at all. Post-fight Manuwa explains that he had a serious injury coming in (turned out to be his knee) which might explain his more tentative showing I guess. Just a letdown of a fight overall unfortunately as I’m a big fan of Manuwa and usually enjoy Blachowicz’s fights too.

Heavyweight Fight: Mirko Cro Cop vs Gabriel Gonzaga

Well, what can you say about this one? Usually a rematch of such a famous fight would be pretty well received, but I don’t think, if I’m frank, many people at all wanted to see this one as in all honesty both men ought to have retired at this point. Cro Cop did in fact retire when he first left the UFC in 2011, but then came back out and he’d gone 3-1 since that point, with two wins over prospect Satoshi Ishii and a loss to current UFC fighter Oleksiy Oliynyk. Gonzaga meanwhile looked like he might be sneaking back into contention in late 2013 following his wins over Shawn Jordan and Dave Herman, but since then he’d lost to Stipe Miocic and then to Matt Mitrione – a fight that suggested his chin was completely ruined. To me this sounded like a question of which guy was less shot, and with that in mind I ended up siding with Gonzaga, just hoping he wouldn’t KO Cro Cop quite as badly as the first time around.

Round One and both men come out tentatively, circling around and feinting before Gonzaga lands with a right hand. It’s so weird to see Mirko wearing plain black shorts here too – and remember this was before the Reebok deal and everything. Good job from Mirko to avoid some punches from the Brazilian. Big crowd chant for Mirko as they continue to circle. Body kick lands for Gonzaga. Cro Cop’s hardly thrown a strike so far. Punches from Napao set up a takedown and he gets right into half-guard. Cro Cop holds on tightly as Gonzaga looks to pass. Short punches to the body land for Gonzaga before he slices his way into full mount. He hops upward into a high mount, but Mirko surprises him with a quick roll into a heel hook! Gonzaga’s having none of that and he rolls into a leglock attempt of his own, but Mirko slips free only to eat a diving right hand as Gonzaga drops back into the guard. Solid punches connect for Gonzaga as he keeps a low posture inside the guard. Round ends in the guard. Clear-cut round for Gabriel Gonzaga as Cro Cop barely had anything going on. 10-9 Gonzaga rather than 10-8 though as he didn’t do much damage himself.

Round Two and they circle slowly again before a big right kick misses for Napao. Cro Cop looks so tentative here. Big left hands glance for both men and then Mirko tries the left high kick, but Gonzaga ducks under it and forces him into the fence. Cro Cop defends the takedown but eats a knee to the groin and ref Leon Roberts has to call time. They restart quickly though as I guess Mirko is probably used to getting whacked in the groin by now due to his fights with Kongo and Overeem, ha. Right hand glances for Gonzaga. Good uppercut from Mirko but Gonzaga catches a single leg and trips him down into half-guard. He works to pass again and again gets to full mount, but it’s only for a second as Mirko hip escapes to half-guard. Very little action going on here. Cro Cop tries to spin from the bottom and lands a trio of hard elbows from his back, but he can’t shake the big Brazilian off him completely. Full mount again from Gonzaga and he’s got his legs grapevined underneath now too. Very short punches from Gonzaga as Dan Hardy riffs on his chest hair. Less than a minute to go and Gonzaga slides up into a super-high mount and considers an armbar, but gives up on that to continue to land punches. Nasty elbow connects for Gonzaga. Looks like he’s going for the armbar again but instead he lands punches that cut Mirko open as the round ends. 10-9 Gonzaga again. Cro Cop looks done.

Round Three and Mirko’s left eye is a MESS. Right to the body lands for Gonzaga. Mirko still looks wildly tentative. He throws out a couple of jabs that don’t really land, but he does manage to avoid a takedown attempt. Right hand glances for Gonzaga and he follows by clinching and forcing Cro Cop into the fence. Good takedown defense again from Cro Cop and he lands a couple of short uppercuts inside. Knee to the body answers for Gonzaga. Trip attempt fails and they exchange punches and it looks like Gonzaga might be hurt as he dives for another takedown! Cro Cop stuffs it again before Gonzaga forces him into the cage, but this time Mirko lands with a pair of BRUTAL LEFT ELBOWS that have the Brazilian hurt badly! Flurry lands for Cro Cop and Gonzaga goes down face-first! Crowd go INSANE as Gonzaga rolls to his back and manages to get guard to slow Cro Cop down as he looks for the finish. Gonzaga is in big trouble here but he’s managing to recover a bit. Cro Cop begins to work him over with some more BIG ELBOWS though and Gonzaga turns onto his side! Cro Cop postures up and continues to smash him and IT’S ALL OVER! Crowd are DEAFENING. Amazing finish for Mirko Cro Cop.

Hell of a finish for Cro Cop to avenge probably his most devastating career defeat, but while it was a lot of fun to watch for someone who’s followed Mirko since the PRIDE days, part of me honestly doesn’t want to see either man fight again after seeing that fight. For Cro Cop, while he pulled the rabbit out of the hat and won in the end, he looked awful up to the third round and barely had any offense prior to the finish. For Gonzaga, he was winning handily but looked like a much slower version of his earlier self and that was the second straight nasty TKO he’s suffered recently and that’s not even taking into consideration earlier brutal KO’s he’s suffered at the hands of Shane Carwin, JDS, Travis Browne et al. I just think it would’ve been a good time for both men to hang it up after this one, but I guess that’s not happening as both men are fighting again later in the year – Cro Cop against Anthony Hamilton – a winnable fight for him I think but I hope it doesn’t lead to a fight against an elite-level HW because I see Mirko getting hurt; and Gonzaga against Konstantin Erokhin which might well end in another nasty KO loss for him. I could be wrong as Heavyweight is an odd division (who would’ve thought Andrei Arlovski would be in title contention in 2015?) but I don’t like to see fighters stick around too long and end up in a bad way later in their lives.

-Show ends with a plug for the upcoming shows and then a highlight reel. Plus Cro Cop leaving the cage to Wonderwall which is fucking awesome.

Final Thoughts….

Fun Cro Cop ending aside this was a bit of a shoddy card actually, as we got a big upset in a really quick fight to open the card, then a pair of dull fights before the main event. And while the fight did end in a fun way, I don’t know how highly I’d rate a fight that made me want to see both men retire afterwards. So thumbs down for the UFC’s Polish debut unfortunately.

Best Fight: Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga
Worst Fight: Manuwa vs. Blachowicz

Overall Rating: *

Until next time,

Scott Newman: