MMA Review: #518: UFC Fight Night 74

-The first UFC show in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan – probably the last province they’ll break into in Canada actually – this one was being headlined by a clash between two of the best prospects at 145lbs looking to break into title contention, with a bunch of Canadian favourites backing them up. Not the most awe-inspiring show from a casual perspective but as a hardcore fan I was excited for pretty much every fight on this card.

UFC Fight Night 74

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Valerie Letourneau vs Maryna Moroz

Moroz had pulled off one of the upsets of 2015 with her UFC debut win over the highly favoured Joanne Calderwood in April, while Quebec’s Letourneau – now with American Top Team rather than TriStar – had made a successful debut at Strawweight in the same month, beating TUF finalist Jessica Rakoczy. Despite a lot of people selling Moroz as a possible phenom I was actually taking the underdog in Letourneau here – I thought Moroz was being slightly overrated based on a win over a fighter who wasn’t there mentally in Calderwood, and Letourneau’s record is massively impressive when you look at it – split decision losses to Claudia Gadelha and Alexis Davis aren’t exactly shameful.

First round and they trade strikes right from the off with both girls in the pocket willing to take one to give one. Couple of solid counters land for Letourneau. Moroz comes right back with a hard right hand. Exchange continues with both landing; Moroz throwing more volume but Letourneau catching her with pretty hard counters. Combo from Moroz but Letourneau follows a body kick with a BIG RIGHT HOOK and the Ukrainian goes down! She’s in trouble and Letourneau pounces and takes side mount right away in a slick move too. Crowd are way into Letourneau. She keeps Moroz grounded but she isn’t doing much in the way of ground-and-pound, surprisingly. Some good punches do get through to pop the crowd, and it looks like she’s trying to set up a mounted crucifix. Moroz manages to avoid it and she tries to set up an inverted triangle from the bottom, but Letourneau doesn’t really appear to be in any serious trouble although it does prevent her from any more offense. Less than a minute to go now and Letourneau’s still caught in the triangle, and they go into a super-odd position with Letourneau really trying to free herself. Round ends with Letourneau still in the hold. 10-9 Letourneau though for the harder strikes and the knockdown.

Second round and again they trade strikes with both girls landing. Moroz seems to be slightly faster but Letourneau is still landing heavily on the counter. Left body kick lands for Letourneau. Good combo from Moroz but Letourneau comes back with a right hook and a left body kick. Letourneau’s left eye looks marked up. Nice right hand counter from Letourneau. Good combo from Moroz ending in a hard right hand, but Letourneau fires back with two right hands that land cleanly. Right hand into a body kick from Letourneau and that leads into another shootout with both women connecting. Clinch from Moroz but Letourneau lands a knee to the body and breaks off. Nice counter left from Moroz in an exchange but Letourneau fires back with another hard right hook. Exchange continues and it’s more of the same with Letourneau countering heavily off Moroz’s higher volume. Right from Moroz wobbles the Canadian though and she follows with a body kick. Letourneau catches it, but eats some flush rights and then Moroz surprisingly decides to jump to guard, but Letourneau lets her go down and pulls out right away. Moroz comes in aggressively but she eats another few counters from Letourneau and they’re wildly brawling with just under a minute to go. Letourneau has swelling around both eyes now. She does land a good right hand and a jab before the round ends though. Probably 10-9 Moroz but it was close.

Third round and both girls look badly busted up actually. Hard body kick opens the round for Letourneau and she rocks Moroz with another right hand. Takedown off a caught kick follows and Letourneau settles on top in the guard of the Ukrainian. Moroz rolls for a possible kimura on the left arm, but Letourneau looks calm and she uses her free arm to hit Moroz before escaping it. Moroz is staying active off her back, but she’s not really coming close to anything and Letourneau works patiently from the top with short punches and hammer fists. Elbows begin to get through too with about two minutes remaining, and then she passes into half-guard for good measure. Moroz does a good job of hip escaping to get back to full guard though, and she looks for a triangle, but Letourneau does just enough to avoid it being fully synched in, standing and pulling free. One minute to go now and they’re back standing. Left head kick glances for Letourneau and she follows with a decent combo. Body kick answers for Moroz and they’re trading pretty openly again. Fight ends with another exchange that Moroz gets the best of with a stiff left hand. 10-9 Letourneau however, for a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 all for Valerie Letourneau to pick up the upset win. Big crowd pop for that one too as she’s evidently a crowd favourite in Canada. I thought this was an excellent fight and a really good showing from Letourneau too. The story of the fight was basically that Moroz had the faster strikes but didn’t really have the power to hurt Letourneau, and she was leaving herself open to harder counters from the former Bantamweight like the right hook that dropped her in the first. Ground work was largely a wash but again Letourneau was the bigger, stronger fighter and that really showed. And hey, she managed to parlay this performance into a surprising title shot and did alright for herself there even in losing, so I expect her to hang around the top ten for some time.

Lightweight Fight: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs Tony Sims

Sims had made a successful UFC debut in June, upsetting the favoured Creepy Steve Montgomery with a brutal knockout in a fight he took on short notice, a weight class up too. Here he was back at his proper weight – 155lbs – to take on Canadian favourite Aubin-Mercier, who had looked fantastic since coming off TUF: Nations back in 2014. Despite Sims having a clear puncher’s chance I thought Aubin-Mercier would probably run a grappling train on him here.

Round One and Olivier looks to cut off the cage, backing Sims up early on before landing a leg kick. Takedown attempt follows and he drives Sims into the fence to go for a double leg. Sims works to defend, but Aubin-Mercier dumps him down into guard. He locks up the legs ala Tatsuya Kawajiri and then works to pass, but Sims gets his back to the fence and it looks like he’ll be able to stand. Olivier keeps working though and then elevates him and drops him with a nice slam that pops the crowd. Sims scrambles, but gives his back in the process and Aubin-Mercier slaps both hooks in. The dude is a really great grappler. Body triangle for Aubin-Mercier and he begins to work for the choke. It looks like he might have it sunk, but Sims manages to tuck his chin just enough to survive. Aubin-Mercier lands some punches to soften Sims up, but Sims is doing a good job of defending the choke. He’s running out of time in the round pretty swiftly though. Seconds to go in the round and Aubin-Mercier remains clamped to Sims’ back, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to seal the deal. Round ends with Sims defending another choke attempt. 10-8 Aubin-Mercier as it was a totally one-sided round from start to finish.

Round Two and Sims comes out swinging, and manages to stuff a takedown nicely this time as Olivier shoots from way on the outside. Good body kick from Aubin-Mercier and this time he shoots a little quicker on a single leg, and forces Sims into the fence and down to one knee. Sims works back up to his feet, but Olivier trips him down RIGHT into back control. Nice job from Sims to escape the hooks though and he explodes to his feet. Aubin-Mercier stays right on him though and drags him down into guard. He really does have a suffocating grappling game. Aubin-Mercier works from the top with some punches, but Sims does well to prevent a guard pass before exploding to his feet again. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Sims but he makes the error of grabbing a front headlock, and Aubin-Mercier uses that to plant him down again. This time he laces up the legs to prevent Sims from popping back up, too. Somehow though Sims manages to escape and pops to his feet again. He pushes forward, but Aubin-Mercier ducks a right and drops for another double leg. Sims defends again but Aubin-Mercier keeps working and eventually trips him down into full guard. Action slows down a little as Olivier seems to be content to land some short punches while conserving energy, as Jon Anik gives us the alarming stat that Sims hasn’t landed one significant strike. Round ends with Aubin-Mercier in top control.

Round Three and they trade kicks before Aubin-Mercier shoots. Sims lands a counter right but Olivier keeps driving and gets him down before Sims pops back up. Looks like Sims is trying to take the back but he’s actually blocking a single leg, and he forces Olivier down and lands some elbows to the side of the head. Aubin-Mercier looks a bit stuck here actually. Big hammer fists land for Sims but they’re blatantly to the back of the head, no idea why the ref hasn’t called it. Aubin-Mercier manages to roll, but Sims still has him in an awkward position. Nice scramble from the Canadian allows him on top though, but Sims stands. Rear waistlock for Aubin-Mercier but they break off before he can get Sims down. Single leg attempt from Olivier and this time he plants Sims down cleanly. Sims goes for a guillotine, but it doesn’t look at all close and sure enough Aubin-Mercier frees himself and gets side mount. Sims tries to scramble, but gives his back again and Aubin-Mercier locks up another body triangle. He’s in total control with less than a minute to go, but it doesn’t look like he can get the finish. Sure enough, the fight ends with Aubin-Mercier trying the choke but not getting it. 10-9 for Aubin-Mercier giving him a 30-26 win.

Official scores are 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Fight went basically how I imagined it to, as Aubin-Mercier was able to impose his grappling on Sims from start to finish pretty much and did everything but get a finish really. Sims tried hard and did much better in the third round, but he didn’t have the movement to prevent Aubin-Mercier from cutting off the cage to set up his takedowns. I wonder how well Aubin-Mercier would do against a better wrestler or a striker who has better movement, but that’s a question we’ll see answered in the future I guess as they may as well treat him with kid gloves now because he’s such a great prospect and still very young. Fight was perfectly acceptable MMA.

Lightweight Fight: Francisco Trinaldo vs Chad Laprise

Along with the Letourneau fight this was another one where I’d put cash down on the underdog, as I felt Massaranduba was being really undervalued going in – particularly with his striking, as a lot of online fans were claiming he was nothing but a clinch-based grinder when in reality he’s a very skilled kickboxer who hits like a truck. Laprise had of course won TUF: Nations in 2014 and was unbeaten since then with wins over Yosdenis Cedeno and Bryan Barbarena, but he seemed a bit vulnerable in the Barbarena fight and I felt Trinaldo could take advantage of him either standing or on the ground to pick up an upset win.

Round One and Laprise pushes forward and opens with a glancing head kick that Trinaldo blocks. Trinaldo returns the favour with the same result, and both men look pretty aggressive here. Left hand glances for Massaranduba. Head kick is blocked by the Brazilian and he counters with the left hand. Low kick lands for Laprise. Left hand from Trinaldo but he gets caught coming in by a nice sharp right hand. Overhand left backs Laprise up but doesn’t land cleanly. Head kick sets up a combo for Laprise and he rips out a leg kick too and avoids a counter flurry. Massaranduba pushes forward though and suddenly lands a HUGE OVERHAND LEFT that drops Laprise hard! Laprise pops back up and manages to clinch, but his legs still look wobbly and he strangely pulls guard. Right away though Massaranduba passes into half-guard, and then he takes the back and slaps both hooks in. Laprise is in big trouble, and Trinaldo opens up with some CRUSHING PUNCHES that force referee Herb Dean to call the stoppage.

Post-fight the crowd surprisingly go apeshit for Massaranduba, bizarre when you consider the show’s in Canada! But yeah, that was a tremendous win for the guy who remains one of the most underrated fighters in the division in my opinion. Prior to the big left it was a close fight but it looked like once that shot landed, Laprise was probably out of it and was fighting on autopilot and Massaranduba fully capitalised. Next up for him is Ross Pearson and I think that’s a winnable fight too, and from there who knows how far he could go? At any rate this was a quality knockout and it won me some cash too so what’s not to love?

Welterweight Fight: Patrick Cote vs Josh Burkman

This was a real battle of veterans – and that almost feels weird to type given I still remember Cote as the fresh-faced youngster looking to upset Tito Ortiz and Burkman on the second (!) season of TUF, but yeah, between them they had a staggering 29 UFC fights coming into this one which is impressive. Of the two Cote had the better recent record – he was coming off a win over fellow veteran Joe Riggs (another guy I remember as a young prospect) while Burkman’s last fight had been a one-sided loss to Dong Hyun Kim, but overall it felt like Cote had taken more damage across his career. I was leaning towards Cote just because I’ve always liked him better, but it was a tight one.

Fight begins and Burkman opens with a couple of low kicks. Looks like he wants to use the kicks to keep Cote at distance, as he’s hanging his hands worryingly low. Big body kick does land for him though. Right hand catches him cleanly as he turns for a spin kick though and Cote follows with a couple more shots from a rear waistlock before Burkman frees himself. Overhand right lands for Cote. Big trade of punches follows and Cote’s legendary chin is still solid as he eats some huge shots without even flinching. Clinch from Cote but Burkman shrugs him off. Uppercut from Cote but Burkman counters with a nasty combo that has Cote shooting for a takedown. Burkman defends it, but finds himself being forced into the cage. He reverses position but Cote pushes him off. Side kick to the chest from Burkman. Big combo from Cote and they TRADE WILDLY before Cote clinches again. Burkman breaks off quickly but Cote backs him up and goes for a single leg. Burkman defends by hopping around for a while but Cote stays on him and peppers him with some short punches. He manages to get Burkman down onto his knees, but Burkman pops up only to take a knee to the gut. They remain clinched and muscle for position, and Cote lands some short elbows for good measure. Big left hook breaks for Cote and he follows with a leg kick, but Burkman comes back with a hard right hand. Seconds to go and Cote NAILS him with a HUGE RIGHT HAND that buckles Burkman’s legs, but Josh manages to stay standing and swings back, forcing Cote back as the buzzer goes. Very close round to score – probably 10-9 Cote by a hair but it could’ve gone either way.

Into the 2nd and Cote pushes forward aggressively before another wild trade sees both men landing. Spinning elbow misses for Burkman. Nice right hand connects for Cote from the pocket and he clinches and forces Burkman into the cage again. Short elbow lands for Cote from the clinch as the crowd start to chant loudly for him. They break off and Cote sees a head kick blocked. Good leg kick lands for him though. Burkman comes back with one of his own. Counter right hand glances for the Canadian but doesn’t land cleanly, nor do a body kick or head kick. Burkman’s output seems to have slowed down significantly. Suddenly though he steps in and hits a SICK trip takedown into side mount! Did not expect that. Cote gives his back in order to stand, and takes some hammer fists on the way before Burkman grabs a front facelock. Cote escapes that, and we’re back to standing. Good right hand lands for Burkman in an exchange. Cote fires right back with a rushing one-two. One minute to go and Burkman lands a big right hand, but Cote takes it and fires one right back before shooting on a single leg. Burkman defends excellently again, but Cote switches to a double. He gets him down for a second but Burkman uses a whizzer to explode to his feet. Takedown attempt from Burkman is blocked. Round ends with a jumping kick that largely misses for Cote. Another close round that could’ve gone either way, so it could be anyone’s going into the 3rd.

Third and final round and they open with the BRO HUG. And then hugging time is OVER as Burkman WADES FORWARD SWINGING HAYMAKERS and catches Cote with a right hook and an uppercut that have him hurt badly! Cote covers up on the fence and he looks in deep trouble as Burkman continues to bomb on him, but somehow his chin HOLDS UP and he fires back with a right hand that forces Burkman to retreat! Crowd are going APESHIT now. Big overhand right glances for Burkman and a right hook connects too, but Cote takes both and somehow seems fine. Big right misses for Cote and Burkman does his best Naseem Hamed impression, dropping his hands and leaning backwards while pouting. Side kick to the chest from Burkman but Cote catches him with a right in an exchange and then LEVELS HIM WITH A HAYMAKER! Cote pounces with some BOMBS and Burkman somehow gets to his knees, but he’s eating too much punishment and the ref steps in to call it.

Incredible finish for Patrick Cote in a fight that delivered absolute fireworks where in all honesty I was expecting nothing based on what both men had looked like recently. Both guys came out to throw down and it was a hugely even fight, but in the end the difference proved to be Cote’s still-ridiculous chin – somehow all the shots he’s taken in his career haven’t added up yet – and he weathered Burkman’s storm and then came back with a violent storm of his own to put the veteran away. Phenomenal stuff, not quite a FOTYC but not that far off.

Welterweight Fight: Neil Magny vs Erick Silva

This was originally supposed to see Silva face Rick Story in one of those rescheduled fights from UFN 70, but when Story withdrew with an injury, everyone’s favourite late replacement Magny stepped in, making this his 12th UFC fight since February 2013 – a schedule that puts everyone not named Donald Cerrone to shame basically. Despite Magny’s incredible guts in taking the fight – he’d lost to Demian Maia just a couple of weeks before – I was favouring Silva here as Neil had looked badly outclassed on the ground by Maia and while Silva isn’t quite on that level, he is a ruthless submission finisher – just ask Josh Koscheck, Jason High or Charlie Brenneman for instance.

Fight begins and it’s definitely noticeable that Silva looks softer than he usually does for his fights. Magny pushes forward early on and both men miss with looping punches. Magny uses a jab to set up a right hand before Silva misses a spinning elbow, causing him to tumble to his back and Magny quickly takes side mount. Slick scramble from Silva and he spins, almost gives his back, but then explodes to his feet. Magny stays on him with a clinch but Silva spins him around and gets a trip into full guard. He passes into side mount pretty easily and from there they spin around like hands on a clock with not much really happening. Couple of elbows land for Silva and it looks like he might be setting up for a possible guillotine from the top. Magny rolls though and reverses to his feet before hitting a trip takedown of his own. Silva gives his back again and takes a couple of punches, and suddenly Magny has him mounted! Silva again gives his back and he’s taking a lot of shots here. He stands up, but Magny drags him back down. Again Silva gets up, but he can’t shake Magny off his back and the TUF veteran tries to force him down again. Silva manages to turn into him, but Magny controls him from the clinch and looks for another takedown. He gets it and then takes the back again, and suddenly Silva looks like he’s in trouble! Magny rains down with a ton of shots from the back mount and you could make a case for stopping this, wow. Ref decides to let it go and Magny remains in control, keeping back mount until the round ends. 10-9 Magny, pretty amazing round for him actually.

2nd round and Magny looks supremely confident coming out of his corner. He walks Silva down from the off and clips him with a right hand. Silva looks like he’s gassed. Spin kick glances off Magny’s body and a wild haymaker from Silva misses. He can’t get inside Magny’s long reach. Jump kick glances for Silva and he manages to connect on a big left hand, but Magny doesn’t seem hurt and he fires back with a combo. Good body kick from Silva. Magny rushes him with punches but Silva shrugs off a possible takedown. Jabs from Magny force Silva to cover up and a long uppercut rocks his world, forcing him on the retreat. He comes back with a combo ending in a leg kick, but he eats a big knee from the plum from Magny in reply. Spin kick glances for Silva. Double jab from Magny and he avoids a wild left haymaker. Uppercut connects again for Magny. Few jabs set up a right hand from Magny, but he clinches and winds up getting taken down to guard. Silva tries to pass the guard, but Magny rolls and works to his feet, then drops for a takedown of his own. Silva blocks initially but Magny sticks to him like glue and lands a solid knee inside. Seconds to go and they separate, and Silva glances on a body kick. Magny fires back with a hard right and that’s the round. Closer round as Silva had more success on his feet, but I’d still call it 10-9 for Magny I think.

3rd round and Silva counters a low kick with a sharp left. Leg kick follows for the Brazilian. Jabs from Magny and he’s showing a lot of movement in this round so far. Couple more leg kicks land for Silva though. Big left hand connects for Silva but Magny catches him with a right cross. Nice jabs land for Magny. He does well to avoid a couple of rushes from Silva, but does take a leg kick that leads to a hard left hand. Combo answers for Magny and ends in a solid right. More jabs from Magny and he lands a hard knee as Silva stuffs a takedown for good measure. Double jab into an uppercut for Magny. Leg kick from Silva is caught and Magny drives him into the fence, but Silva avoids the takedown. Less than two minutes to go and Magny’s beginning to potshot Silva from the outside mainly using his jab. The Brazilian has definitely slowed down. Series of jabs set up a takedown for Magny and he lands some punches from back control before Silva reverses to his feet and hits a hip throw into Magny’s half-guard. Magny immediately uses a whizzer to stand and he lands some knees to the body. They jockey for position on the fence and Silva looks for another takedown, but Magny stuffs it and lands a hard knee to the body. They separate with seconds to go and Magny potshots him with some more jabs, and he avoids a wild rush from Silva as the fight ends. Call it 30-27 for Neil Magny.

Judges have it as a split decision somehow, going 29-28 Silva, 29-28 Magny and 30-27 for Neil Magny to rightfully pick up the win. No clue what the judge who scored it for Silva was watching. Exciting fight throughout and Magny did a tremendous job of weathering short storms from Silva before taking over using his jab, reach and most surprisingly, his ground game, an area where I thought Silva would have a huge advantage. In all honesty based on the changes in drug testing and the changes in Silva physically it’s hard not to suggest something might’ve been amiss, but that’d be unfair to Magny who fought a great fight here to establish himself back in the top fifteen after the Maia loss. Never thought the guy would develop into a contender but I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong as he’s one of the most improved fighters on the whole roster at the minute along with the likes of Rafael Dos Anjos and Beneil Dariush.

Featherweight Fight: Max Holloway vs Charles Oliveira

While this didn’t sound like the biggest main event of 2015 from a name value perspective, from a hardcore fan’s perspective it did sound like a hell of a fight between two of the very best prospects in the Featherweight division – Holloway was on an incredible run of six straight wins, including one over former top contender Cub Swanson, while Oliveira had reeled off an impressive four on the bounce himself, beating Andy Ogle, Hatsu Hioki, Jeremy Stephens and Nik Lentz. General consensus was that Oliveira would win if it became a grappling match, Holloway if it remained on the feet, although to be fair both men have shown themselves to be well-rounded too. Basically I was expecting fireworks with the winner going right into a top five spot and the loser probably not losing all that much momentum either to be fair.

Round One and Oliveira presses forward as Holloway circles on the outside. Low kick glances off Holloway’s groin but he ignores it. Left to the body lands for Holloway. Good knee from the plum from Oliveira but Holloway backs out quickly. Both men land long punches in an exchange before Oliveira misses a wheel kick. Right to the body from Holloway and he uses an uppercut to back Oliveira up before going to the body again. Couple of good shots from Holloway before Oliveira goes for a takedown. Holloway stuffs it and Oliveira looks to pull guard, but the Hawaiian is having none of that and he stands back up. Oliveira joins him….but then steps back and points to his neck and shoulder before collapsing, causing the ref to stop the fight. Totally anticlimactic ending right there.

Post-fight the doctors check Oliveira carefully as he seems to be clutching his collar bone. No clue how it happened as nothing in the fight seemed to be responsible for it. Reports initially claimed he had a torn oesophagus (!) but they proved to be false and apparently it was an existing neck injury from his training camp that flared up. I was hoping the two would be rematched once Oliveira recovered as the fight was over before it really begun, but Holloway now has Jeremy Stephens next while Oliveira has Myles Jury. Hopefully they can be paired again in the future because we were robbed of what looked like it would be a fantastic fight there.

-Show ends with Holloway sending prayers to Oliveira before calling out Frankie Edgar for a fight in Hawaii. That’d be pretty cool actually.

Final Thoughts….

With a better main event – not that it was Holloway or Oliveira’s fault – this would be one of the best Fight Night cards of 2015, as none of the fights were outright bad and Cote/Burkman actually delivered far more than I was expecting, but with such an anticlimactic main event I don’t think it matches some of the better shows. Still, with Cote/Burkman as well as impressive showings from Magny, Aubin-Mercier, Massaranduba and Letourneau it’s definitely worth checking out on Fight Pass, just don’t bother with the main event. Thumbs up for this one.

Best Fight: Cote vs. Burkman
Worst Fight: Holloway vs. Oliveira

Overall Rating: ***1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: