MMA Review: #512: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXI Finale

-A couple of months down the line I’m still not sure how I feel about TUF 21 – AKA Blackzilians vs. American Top Team to be honest. The season was a new idea entirely for TUF – rather than a tournament with the winner (and usually a bunch of the others) getting a UFC contract, this season pitted the non-UFC Welterweights of the Blackzilians against their ATT counterparts, with each fight being worth a certain amount of points, and the winning team coming away with $500k – $200k going to the team with the most points and $300k to the team who’s fighter won in the final match. The season had a decent mix of drama and memorable moments (remember Tyrone Spong shutting the sauna on ATT’s Steve Carl? Or Creepy Steve Montgomery’s epileptic fit?) but for me there was too much emphasis on the feud between gym owners Glenn Robinson and Dan Lambert – neither of whom came off as likeable – and the first handful of fights weren’t exactly exciting. To be fair though the season did pick up somewhere around hot prospect Kamaru Usman outpointing Steve Carl, and the last three fights – especially Michael Graves’s comeback win over Jason Jackson – were fantastic. As for the finale? We got a surprising lack of TUF-based fights, with only the final (Usman vs. Hayder Hassan) and one more (Graves vs. Vicente Luque) being booked, but the card was full of fun sounding fights, ending with a quality main event of Jake Ellenberger vs. Stephen Thompson.

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXI Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Featherweight Fight: Maximo Blanco vs Mike de la Torre

Didn’t expect to see this on the main card and as far as I’m aware it was a late addition in fact, but I like Maxi so I didn’t mind! Blanco was coming off a pair of decent wins over Andy Ogle and Dan Hooker, while De la Torre had picked up his first UFC win in February over Tiago Trator. My pick? The Max Murderer, duh.

Fight begins and both men come out SWINGING. Big head kick glances for Blanco and then he lands a right that causes De la Torre to drop to his knees, and before he can really follow up Yves Lavigne comes diving in to call it off. Looked like a massively early stoppage to me. De la Torre was shooting a takedown during the stoppage.

Post-fight the crowd boo like crazy but to sort-of defend Lavigne, De la Torre looks really wobbled even a minute after the stoppage. I know you have to err on the side of caution, but I think Lavigne probably could’ve let that go a little longer personally. Ah well.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Michelle Waterson vs Angela Magana

This was the UFC debut of the ‘Karate Hottie’ Waterson, moving up from 105lbs for a shot in the UFC after a successful run in Invicta that saw her beat the likes of Jessica Penne. Her opponent here was TUF 20’s Magana – more renowned for a series of seedy Instagram photos than her fighting talent – and so I was taking Waterson to get off to a winning start to her UFC career.

Round One and Magana rushes forward to begin and forces Waterson into the clinch. Waterson defends well and neither girl really does that much damage. Good knee to the body from Waterson and she hits a SICK hip throw right into half-guard. Magana gets back to full guard and turns her hips for a possible armbar, but Waterson avoids it pretty easily and lands some short punches. Armbar attempt again from Magana but Waterson stays calm and low in the guard, then steps over the head as Magana tries to extend the arm. It looks almost locked in, but Waterson continues to defend well and they end up in a super-odd position, like an inverted north/south. Magana keeps trying for the armbar but with a minute to go it looks like Waterson’s out. Good punches to the body from Waterson and she scrambles to her feet and nails Magana with a hard knee. Another hip throw from Waterson puts her on top in side mount and then she steps to full mount. Reversal from Magana but now Waterson goes for the armbar. It looks close but Magana just about sides her elbow free, only to find herself mounted again. Big elbow ends the round for the Karate Hottie. 10-9 Waterson in a pretty tight round.

Round Two and Waterson opens with a pair of kicks and then a beautiful counter right hand, reminiscent of Anderson Silva’s on Forrest Griffin. More kicks from Waterson including a side kick to the chest, and then she trips Magana down after catching a kick before calmly letting her up. Another clean counter right lands for Waterson. Magana is beginning to chase her which isn’t a good idea. Right hook lands for the Karate Hottie. Magana looks gassed. Body kick sets up a hard knee from the plum for Waterson. Leg kick is caught by Magana and she takes Waterson down off it, landing in the full guard. Waterson immediately goes for an armbar though and it looks sunk in. She goes belly-down in an attempt to finish it off, but Magana defends well, only to find herself mounted. Waterson’s ground game looks excellent. She drops some elbows from there while looking to set up a possible armbar again, and Magana tries and fails to buck her off. She does manage to get to half-guard though and to be fair she isn’t taking tons of damage. Waterson works to trap the left arm, but Magana avoids that and then goes for a heel hook. Waterson stays calm and drops some hammer fists onto the body, then stands free and drops back on top in side mount. Full mount again for Waterson and she grinds with her elbow and it looks like she might’ve cut Magana. Armbar attempt ends the round again. 10-9 Waterson. Magana is indeed busted up along the left eye down to her nose.

Round Three and Magana looks out of steam coming out of her corner. Stiff jab opens things for Waterson. Magana again comes out aggressively throwing kicks, but Waterson has her timing down and she catches her with a hard left hook and then a head kick. Magana goes down off a failed takedown and she looks hurt. Beautiful combo from Waterson sees her land a leg kick and a front kick to the body. Front kick to the face follows as Waterson starts to open up. Leg kick answers for Magana. Right hand sets up a German suplex for Waterson and she takes the back with both hooks. Magana is in deep trouble. Waterson flattens her out and lands some punches and this pretty much looks over. Herb Dean begins to tell Magana to fight back, but Waterson slips the arm under the chin and sinks in a tight rear naked choke to force the tapout.

Excellent debut for Michelle Waterson and I guess we can add her name to the list with Tecia Torres, Randa Markos, PVZ et al as possible future contenders to Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s throne. Magana hung tough and probably earned herself another UFC fight, but she got outworked in all areas by a better fighter here. Whether Waterson’s size catches up with her against the better fighters in this division I don’t know yet, but it’s something I want to find out as this was one of the better UFC debuts in recent memory.

Welterweight Fight: Jorge Masvidal vs Cezar Ferreira

Talk about weird matchmaking – this would’ve sounded like a mistake like six months before, as Masvidal was fighting at 155lbs and Mutante was at 185lbs, but with all the recent changes – namely the ban on IV’s and the more strict drug testing – I guess we’re going to see weight class changes a lot more now and this was like a glimpse into the future in a way. Not saying either was on the juice of course, just making an observation. To me this was a dodgy matchup for Ferreira too as while he hits very hard and would be the bigger man, his chin is awful and Masvidal carried KO power at 155lbs let alone up at 170lbs.

Fight begins and they circle before Ferreira lands an inside leg kick. Body kick connects for the TUF Brazil winner. Nice left hand into a body kick for Mutante. He looks pretty sharp so far. Another body kick from Ferreira and then he ducks under a right and hits a double leg to guard. He passes into half-guard and looks to pin Masvidal’s arm down, potentially setting up for an arm triangle variant. Masvidal does a tremendous job of scrambling though and he escapes to his feet. Quick exchange sees both men glance on shots. Kick from Ferreira is caught but Masvidal can’t capitalise. Big left hook misses for Mutante and Masvidal blocks a head kick too. Right hand over the top and a body kick glance for Masvidal. Takedown attempt from Mutante and he drives Masvidal into the fence, but can’t get him down this time. Masvidal does well to break off, and he avoids a standing elbow shot and then stuffs another takedown by getting his back on the fence. Plum clinch from Masvidal and he lands a short elbow and then DROPS FERREIRA WITH A RIGHT! Mutante looks done and a couple of shots on the ground stiffen him up.

Damn. Mutante’s chin let him down there again, just as it did against Sam Alvey, as I’d say he was winning the round fairly comfortably before Masvidal connected cleanly and put him away. It’s really unfortunate for him as he’s a skilled guy, but he has a really bad chin and constantly leaves himself open to being hit. As for Masvidal, excellent debut for him at 170lbs and if he can put a consistent run together it’ll be interesting to see how far he can go. Brutal knockout at any rate.

-Dana White joins Jon Anik to announce that TUF 22 will be Team Europe vs. Team USA, with Urijah Faber and Conor McGregor – who had knocked out Chad Mendes the night before this show – acting as coaches but not building to a fight between the two. Series is of course happening now and it’s been pretty good fun actually.

Welterweight Fight: Michael Graves vs Vicente Luque

These two had been part of the TUF 21 cast – Graves representing ATT and Luque with the Blackzilians, and I’m guessing they were chosen because they’d put on two of the more exciting fights of the season – Luque in a wild brawl against Hayder Hassan and Graves with that insane comeback against Jason Jackson. Tough fight to pick too as Luque seemed more skilled but Graves appeared to be the better athlete. Bit of a guess told me to go with Luque.

First round and Luque comes out swinging before Graves clinches and hits a nice lateral drop down into side mount. Luque quickly gets to half-guard, but Graves lands some punches and grabs a front headlock as the Brazilian stands. Leg trip is avoided by Luque, but Graves breaks off with a nasty left elbow. They exchange some punches before Graves clinches again and forces Luque back into the fence. Luque reverses position for a second, but a left breaks for Graves and then he glances on a spin kick. Nice combination connects for Luque but Graves gets a single leg and puts him down in butterfly guard. Luque gets to full guard, but Graves works past that into half-guard and looks to keep the Blackzilian grounded. Luque does well to get up onto his knees, but Graves uses a front headlock to control him and keeps him against the fence. They break off and Luque lands a decent right hand. Graves comes back with a chopping leg kick, but he eats another combination from Luque. Nice knee connects for Luque but Graves drives through it and takes him down again. Luque tries to hit a switch but can’t manage it, and the round ends with Graves on top. 10-9 Graves in a bit of a dull round.

Second round and Luque presses forward with punches, but Graves hits a duck-under and takes him down again, then avoids a scramble to maintain top position. Luque manages to use an underhook to get back to his feet, but he finds himself controlled with a front facelock again. Referee Yves Lavigne calls time for an illegal knee from Graves, which is shitty as Luque was totally playing the game by dropping a hand to the ground even while standing. Thankfully Yves doesn’t deduct a point. They restart and Graves lands with a couple of decent jabs, but he eats a harder combo from Luque. Graves manages to clinch though and that slows Luque up. Good knee inside the clinch from Luque as Brian Stann waxes lyrical about how much he hates the illegal knee rule. Takedown attempt by Luque is blocked and Graves breaks off. He returns the favour with a single leg and manages to finish it, putting Luque down by the fence. Looks like he’s trying the Kawajiri low mount from there to keep the Brazilian grounded. He’s pretty much doing no damage from all of this top control though. Luque works back to his feet, but Graves dumps him right back down again. Into half-guard for Graves and he does land a couple of short punches and elbows. Luque tries to escape but a scramble allows Graves to take the back for a second before Luque avoids that and we’re back to the front facelock. Again Luque uses his hand on the ground to avoid knees, but Graves lands a nice one as soon as he lifts his hand up. Round ends there. 10-9 Graves.

Third round and they open with a brief exchange before Graves clinches again and forces Luque back into the fence. Luque manages to break off this time, and lands with a sharp left hand before sprawling to avoid a takedown. He looks like he might be setting up for an anaconda choke, but Graves defends and the crowd begin to boo. Luque switches off for a D’Arce and tries to roll his way into it, but with Graves sprawled right out it doesn’t look like he can close it off properly. Knees to the shoulder land for Luque but he still can’t finish the anaconda or D’Arce. He clearly needs the finish too being two rounds in the hole. Switch from Graves finally and he hits a beautiful reversal to take top position with just over a minute remaining. Luque goes for a one-arm guillotine but it isn’t sunk in at all. He lets it go and Graves stands over him and punches the body for a bit before working to keep the Blackzilian down. Luque stands, but Graves is still on him and he finishes another double leg, ending the fight with an elbow. 10-10 round so I’d call it 30-28 for Michael Graves.

All three judges have it 29-28 for Michael Graves. Bit of a dull fight though to be honest as Luque looked better standing but couldn’t stop the takedown, and Graves was able to get takedowns with ease but couldn’t do all that much with him. Post-fight Graves tells Jon Anik that he needs to work even harder in training, so I guess he probably felt the same as I did about the fight! I mean it wasn’t horrible or anything, it was just clear that both guys have a lot of holes in their games that they need to close. They’re both young and have potential though so best of luck to them.

Welterweight Fight: Kamaru Usman vs Hayder Hassan

This was the final match from the ATT vs. Blackzilians TUF series, with both fighters being chosen as the best from their team – Usman from the Blackzilians and Hassan from ATT. Both men had also done very well during TUF – Usman had dominated Michael Graves and former WSOF champ Steve Carl, while Hassan had used his heavy hands to KO DREAM veteran Andrews Nakahara and then outpoint Vicente Luque and Felipe Portela. For me though this was Usman’s fight to lose as he’s an incredible athlete and an incredible wrestler – he reminds me of a small Rashad Evans in fact – and he’s a guy I could see contenting for the title in a few years. My pick was Usman via clear-cut decision, with Hassan having a puncher’s chance.

Fight gets underway and Usman’s even squatting down in his corner like Rashad – or Jon Jones. Right away Usman throws a one-two and then dives in for a single leg, driving Hassan into the fence. Hassan works to defend the takedown, but some misdirection allows Usman to trip him down. A scramble from Hassan allows him to his feet, but he eats a left hand from the Nigerian as they separate. Usman’s actually doing a great job of keeping Hassan out of range. Clinch from Usman and he lands some knees to the body, then forces him into the cage again. Beautiful takedown follows and Usman’s on top in half-guard. Hassan scrambles, but gives his back in the process and Usman controls him with an over/under and slaps one hook in. He can’t get the second hook in but he controls Hayder, even as he stands up. Hassan looks to shake Usman off his back, and does so, but Usman stays on him and trips him back down. Good punches land from half-guard for Usman. He’s dominating Hassan so far. Hassan gives his back again, managing to stand back up, but Usman drags him back down and gets a hook in again. This time he gets the second hook and takes full back control. Hassan again stands with Usman on his back, but Usman rolls through and even when he slips off, he remains in control with a rear waistlock. He forces Hassan back down again, landing in half-guard this time. Round ends with Usman on top in control. Clear-cut 10-9 round for Kamaru Usman.

Into the 2nd and Hassan comes out and stuns Usman with a big uppercut! Kamaru’s legs buckle, but he’s still got enough about him to shoot on a takedown, but Hassan stuffs it and keeps on swinging. Usman ducks under though and hits a beautiful double leg to plant him back down. Lot of punches from Usman as Hassan tries to stand, and he ends up on top in full mount after a scramble. Sick grappling there. He goes for an arm triangle, but his body is right by the fence which makes finishing it difficult. It does look tight though and you can see Hassan panicking a bit. Usman slides his leg almost off to the side….and from there Hassan grimaces and taps out.

Outside of the uppercut that was a totally one-sided fight as Usman seemed like the bigger, stronger guy from the off and was quite clearly light years ahead of Hassan in the grappling department. With his clear natural gifts I think he might be the top prospect to watch at 170lbs right now, definitely up there with the likes of Alex Garcia, Warlley Alves, Colby Covington et al. Hassan tried but he couldn’t get anything going at all really as Usman just fought like a total beast, even better than he had on the TUF tapings. Fight was a lot of fun too.

Welterweight Fight: Stephen Thompson vs Jake Ellenberger

This fight was originally pegged for UFC 189 a day earlier, but when the original main event of Benson Henderson vs. Michael Johnson fell apart, it was moved here in its place as I guess UFC 189 was loaded enough anyway. Really good fight on paper actually – Ellenberger had gotten back on track somewhat in February with a win over Josh Koscheck, and while Thompson hadn’t fought since September, he was also on a sneakily good run having won four in a row after his tough loss to Matt Brown, the key to most of those wins being that he’d worked so much on his grappling game that he could really let loose with his tremendous striking. Indeed, I was picking him to win here, feeling that Ellenberger was past his best and had also reached that ten year spot in his career when fighters tend to start struggling with taking damage, and I thought Thompson could use his timing to tag him early and put him away.

Weird note on the tale of the tape as Ellenberger is 30 and Thompson is two years OLDER at 32. Just goes to show that in MMA it’s not necessarily your age that matters in terms of slowing down and looking past your best, it’s literally all about cumulative damage. Which is why I guess, a guy like Jordan Mein looks fucked enough to retire while Yoel Romero is pushing 40 and he’s still fine.

Round One and Thompson opens with a left head kick that Ellenberger blocks. Thompson is pretty much using a side-on stance here. Another head kick just misses. Leg kick lands for Wonderboy but a side kick misses. Nice counter left lands for Thompson as Ellenberger stalks forward. Ellenberger continues to press forward though, and in an exchange he lands a right hook to the temple and Thompson goes down! He shoots a desperate takedown in order to try to recover, and manages to clinch as he stands to slow Ellenberger down, but he might still be hurt. Action slows down a bit as Thompson works a couple of knees to the body, but Ellenberger comes back with a couple of short elbows from the clinch. They separate and Thompson seems to have recovered. Superkick lands for him and forces Ellenberger back, but Jake comes back with an inside trip. Thompson scrambles as they hit the ground though and he takes the back surprisingly enough, landing some punches with no hooks in. Good punches from Thompson but Ellenberger escapes to his feet. Head kick misses for Wonderboy. Nice straight left stuns Ellenberger and forces him back, and Thompson quickly unloads with a follow-up combination. Ellenberger looks outgunned now. BIG WHEEL KICK drops Jake and he’s in deep trouble! Thompson pounces and takes side mount, but Ellenberger scrambles and somehow gets to his feet. He looks badly hurt though and wobbles off a right hook. ANOTHER WHEEL KICK connects to the top of Ellenberger’s head, and this time he goes DOWN AND OUT! Holy shit.

That was one of the best knockouts in UFC history, point blank. Off the top of my head it’s got to be the best knockout of 2015 thus far too, somehow even topping the two insane flying knees from UFC 189 the night before. To drop a guy ONCE with a wheel kick is pretty crazy but to do it TWICE and knock someone out with it is just unheard of. I think you’ve got to consider Thompson as a legit contender at 170lbs at this point, particularly when you take into account that – flash knockdown aside – he dominated Ellenberger in every facet of the game here. Tremendous way to cap off the night and the weekend for the UFC.

-Show ends after Wonderboy’s post-fight interview.

Final Thoughts….

Graves/Luque aside this was another massively entertaining show from the UFC. Everything other than that fight was exciting and finished in pretty violent fashion, with Ellenberger/Thompson and Usman/Hassan being the standout fights. The early stoppage in Blanco/De la Torre along with the slow Graves/Luque fight means it’s not the very best Fight Night show of 2015, but it’s definitely worth a thumbs up, particularly to check out the wild knockout from Thompson.

Best Fight: Thompson vs. Ellenberger
Worst Fight: Luque vs. Graves

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: