MMA Review: #571: UFC Fight Night 99

-This was the UFC’s first show in Belfast since June 2007’s UFC 72, a pretty weak card headlined by Rich Franklin vs. Yushin Okami, and if I’m being frank this card wasn’t any better, although that’s a little more understandable as it was a Fight Pass offering. Original main event was Gunnar Nelson vs. Dong Hyun Kim but when Nelson got injured and had to withdraw, Zuffa hastily threw together a rematch of Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall, basically a fair switch.

UFC Fight Night 99

Belfast, Northern Ireland

-Your hosts are John Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Featherweight Fight: Teruto Ishihara vs Artem Lobov

Well, to be honest there were better fights on the undercard (namely Ali Bagautinov vs. Kyoji Horiguchi and Kevin Lee vs. Magomed Mustafaev) than this one but I get why this was put on the main card – Lobov is Irish (from the Republic admittedly) and is Conor McGregor’s buddy – the Tiki to his Tito basically – while Ishihara had been KO’ing his opponents left right and center and had a ton of charisma to boot. While Lobov had looked impressive during his TUF run though, his actual UFC run had left a lot to be desired and so I figured Ishihara would turn his lights out and continue to move towards being a possible Japanese star for the UFC.

Round One begins and the crowd are massively into Lobov. Head kick misses for Ishihara as Lobov presses forward. Lobov is really walking him down here. Good left to the body lands for Ishihara. Big left misses for him though and Lobov continues to stalk. Big left hand connects for Lobov but Ishihara seems fine. Right hand follows before Ishihara takes him down, but Lobov pops right back up instantly. Couple of leg kicks land for the Japanese fighter but they don’t stop Lobov from coming forward. Big right hand lands for him to counter another low kick. Ishihara fires back with another two leg kicks as the exchange continues. Right to the body lands for Ishihara. Body kick fires back for Lobov and then he stuns Ishihara with a left hand. Both men land with low kicks but Ishihara is really hanging his hands. Body kick and a right hand land for Lobov and Ishihara has to get his legs back under him. Left hook wobbles him again but he recovers quickly. Clean right again lands for Lobov and he ends the round with a nasty body kick. Excellent round for Artem Lobov, 10-9.

Round Two and Ishihara opens with an inside leg kick and a blocked high kick. Another big head kick is blocked as the Japanese fighter tries his Cro Cop impression. Couple of counterpunches from Lobov pop the crowd hugely. Lobov is really swinging now. Another sharp leg kick connects for Ishihara. Nice right uppercut from Lobov. Lead uppercut follows and a body kick follows that before he dodges the counter from Ishihara. Ishihara’s leg kicks continue to land well though. Big combination glances for Lobov. Overhand right connects for Ishihara but Lobov takes it well and comes back with his own leg kick. Spin kick to the body glances for Lobov and he follows with a heavy uppercut and a chopping leg kick. Combo puts Ishihara on the run and he might be in trouble. Glancing overhand left from Ishihara but he takes a right hook from the Irishman. Counter left connects cleanly for Lobov. Big exchange sees both men land and Ishihara wobbles Lobov for a second with a right hand. One minute to go and Lobov almost spins him right around with a leg kick. Left to the body from Lobov and both men are swinging wildly. Brief clinch is broken by Lobov and he lands with a hard right hook and another leg kick. Pair of jabs from Ishihara are answered by a hard left from Lobov and he follows by stuffing a takedown easily. Round ends with Ishihara being wobbled by a big flurry from Lobov. Another one in the books for Lobov and this is turning into a really exciting fight.

Round Three and again Ishihara opens with some leg kicks. Lobov fires back with a couple of his own and follows with a hard one-two that forces the Japanese fighter back. Left to the body from Lobov and he lands with an overhand left too. Ishihara has a hell of a chin. Clinch is shrugged off by Lobov and another attempt meets the same ending. Right uppercut glances for Lobov. Really nasty low kick buckles Ishihara and he has to shake the leg off. Left hand and a standing hammer fist (!) land hard for Lobov and wobble Ishihara, but the Japanese fighter comes right back with a BIG LEFT HAND that sends Lobov DOWN! Ishihara pounces for the finish but Lobov ties him up in the guard and manages to survive. He got badly rocked there. Action slows down as Ishihara tries to work from the top and moves into half-guard, but Lobov goes for a footlock and that allows him to escape to his feet. He looks recovered now and now both guys are swinging REALLY wildly. Looks like they’re tired as well. Takedown is stuffed by Lobov and he gets on top of a really tired-looking Ishihara before letting him back up. Hard left from Lobov but Ishihara fires back. Another standing hammer fist sets up a left hook and Ishihara might be stunned again. They clinch though – probably for a bit of a breather – and then Lobov manages a slam to side mount. Seconds to go and Lobov looks for a possible arm triangle, but then just decides to land punches from mount until the round ends. Round was all Lobov outside of the knockdown so I’d call it 30-27 for him, 29-28 would be fair too though.

Post-fight Conor McGregor comes into the cage to celebrate with Lobov before the judges make it official, it’s 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 all for Artem Lobov. This was a really fun fight as both men pushed a pretty hard pace, stayed active throughout and exchanged some massive shots, and the difference in the end was basically that Lobov was the more seasoned striker and Ishihara just couldn’t change his gameplan enough to deal with that. I still think Ishihara has the brighter future – he’s younger and seems more like a work in progress while Lobov is the finished article at this point, but this probably saved Lobov’s UFC career, so fair play!

Heavyweight Fight: Alexander Volkov vs Timothy Johnson

This one wasn’t getting much fanfare considering it was a former Bellator champion in Volkov making his UFC debut, but then it’s understandable given he’s in the HW division, he lost a couple of bad fights on his way out of Bellator (to Cheick Kongo and Tony Johnson) and his opponent Timothy Johnson, no offense, wasn’t exactly known for having exciting fights. Still, at just 28 I had some hopes that Volkov could end up being a possible contender at some point and I was hoping to see him take out Johnson impressively here.

First round begins and Johnson circles on the outside as Volkov takes the cetner and pushes forward. Good combination from Johnson lands cleanly but Volkov takes it and fires back with a knee to the gut. Combination glances for Volkov and he follows with another and a knee from a plum clinch. Volkov looks like the quicker man by far and he stuns Johnson with a BIG COMBO that has Johnson covering up before dropping for a takedown. Volkov manages to stuff it and forces him back into the fence, then drops for a takedown of his own. Volkov gets him down and then lands a series of hard shots as Johnson works back to his feet. Johnson gives his back and surprisingly goes for the Sakuraba style standing kimura (!) before turning into Volkov and landing a HUGE RIGHT UPPERCUT that drops the Russian like he’s been shot! Big right hand comes over the top for Johnson as he looks for the finish from Volkov’s guard, but the Russian manages to survive, just about. Man did he get hit hard there. Big shots continue to land for Johnson and then he stands over the guard before dropping some more hard punches. Volkov kicks him away but Johnson quickly takes top position back inside the guard. Action slows down a little from there before Johnson postures up to deliver some more punches. One minute to go and Volkov really needs to get up from this position. He tries, but Johnson keeps him grounded. Volkov manages to use the fence to get back up and he lands some sharp elbows to the head before he breaks off and stuns Johnson with a pair of short right hands. Looks like Johnson’s nose is busted up. Takedown attempt from Volkov is stuffed and Johnson drives him into the fence to end the round. Really fun round actually. Got to be 10-9 Johnson for that brutal knockdown.

Second round and a hard right hand opens things for Volkov. Wild punches from Johnson mostly miss, but he does catch Volkov on the end of one or two although the Russian takes them well. Volkov fires back with another combination of his own and then he clinches and forces Johnson into the fence. Defense isn’t exactly the high point for these guys. Takedown attempt from Volkov but Johnson stuffs it well. Nice knee lands from the clinch for Johnson. He drops for a takedown of his own, but Volkov works hard to defend it before an ankle pick plants him on his back. Good punches from Johnson but Volkov springs back up to his feet pretty sharpish. Johnson stays on him in the clinch but Volkov manages to switch the position, and he lands with a sneaky uppercut. Referee Grant Waterman calls a clean break with two minutes to go and Johnson swings forward with haymakers, but they don’t land cleanly. Combo from Johnson is met by a knee from Volkov. Another knee lands for Volkov to stuff a takedown and he forces Johnson back into the fence. One minute to go now and Johnson’s face is a mess. Big right hand lands for Johnson but Volkov comes right back with a quick flurry. Another combo follows for the Russian. Decent counter knee connects for Volkov. Right hand follows and Volkov avoids some wild swings from Johnson as the round ends. Really close round to score, I’d probably go 10-9 Volkov as he looked to be the busier fighter, but it could’ve gone either way.

Third round and Volkov opens with a hard one-two to counter a Johnson low kick. Johnson looks gassed to say the least now. He does connect on a right hand, but Volkov comes back with one of his own. Head kick lands for Volkov but somehow Johnson takes it well. A body kick follows and seems to do more damage, and Johnson goes for a takedown but can’t get it. Crowd are suddenly doing the ICELAND WAR CHANT of all things as they muscle for position inside the clinch. Cool chant but it brings back HORRIBLE MEMORIES for me! Trip attempt from Volkov but Johnson defends it and they break, and Johnson basically jogs away for some reason. One-two glances for Volkov. Hard knee lands for the Russian as Johnson leans in, but somehow he takes it and manages to clinch. Volkov immediately forces him into the fence and lands some knees to the legs, but the action slows down a bit from there. They break with just over a minute to go and a wild haymaker right misses for Johnson. Couple of kicks land for Volkov but Johnson clips him with a crazy overhand right. Takedown attempt from Johnson but Volkov manages to defend it, but another trip attempt almost puts the Russian down. He pops up though and lands another vicious knee as they separate. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Volkov who drags Johnson down with a front facelock, and the fight ends there. 10-9 Volkov, 29-28 Volkov but it could probably go either way depending on the second round.

Judges have it 29-28 Volkov, 30-27 Johnson (!) and 29-28 for Alexander Volkov to win the split decision. No idea what the judge who gave Johnson all three rounds was thinking. This was pretty good for a HW fight actually as they exchanged some huge shots, kept a strong pace for the most part and it never really descended into a slop-fest like I feared it might. Last time out Johnson squeaked out a split decision over Marcin Tybura and this time he came out on the other end but I don’t think he can have many complaints – for me outside of that huge sequence in the first round, Volkov just did enough to outwork him. How far he can actually go in the division I don’t know, but he looks like a decent addition at any rate.

Lightweight Fight: Ross Pearson vs Stevie Ray

This was initially supposed to be Pearson facing off with James Krause, but when Krause pulled out with an injury, Scotsman Ray stepped in, looking for the biggest win of his career by a mile. Despite Ray showing some potential in his early UFC fights – his win over Leonardo Mafra in particular impressed me – he’d lost to Alan Patrick earlier in the year and I just didn’t see him being in that top ten/fifteen sort of area where the fighters who tend to beat Pearson reside. Despite Ross being past his prime and having lost his last two fights, I was picking him to pull out the win here.

Round One begins and Ray circles on the outside as Pearson takes the center. Inside leg kick connects for Pearson. Ray fires back with one of his own, and then follows with a straight left. Lot of movement early on from Ray. Iceland chant picks up again and this has been a great crowd. Both men continue to exchange from the outside, nothing too major though. Front kick to the chest lands for Ray. Head kick follows but Ross blocks it. Counter right hand connects for Pearson but Ray seems fine. Hard low kick answers for Ray. Pearson comes right back with one of his own. Body kick lands for Ray and Pearson responds with one of his own as they begin to pick the pace up. Switch kick lands for Ray but Pearson replies with a body kick. Beautiful straight left from Ray and he shrugs off a clinch. One minute to go and another body kick lands for Pearson. Big head kick misses for Ray but he catches Pearson to the body with a spin kick. Takedown attempt from Ray with seconds to go and he picks Pearson up and dumps him with a BIG SLAM! Pearson gives his back in order to scramble up, but he takes a heavy knee inside. They break out of the clinch and the round ends there. 10-9 Ray for me mainly for the last minute or so with that slam.

Round Two and Pearson pushes forward, but he walks into a hard left hand counter. Big head kick glances for Ray and he follows with a left hand. Jumping kick glances for Pearson but he’s finding it hard to get into range due to Ray’s movement. Exchange continues and Ray continues to get the better of it, with Pearson still struggling with the range and coming up short. Takedown attempt from Ray and he drives Ross into the fence, but the Scotsman can’t get him down and they break off. Head kick from Ray catches Ross leaning in, but his chin holds up. Lunging knee into a right hand glances for the former TUF winner. Nasty low kick from Pearson. Combination follows and lands cleanly for the Real Deal. 1:30 to go in the round and Ray continues to keep his distance though, even managing to land a clean left hook after almost slipping to the ground. Front kick to the body lands for Ray. Counter uppercut from Pearson and he counters a side kick with a quick combination. Big body kick lands for Ray but Pearson catches the leg and shoves him aside. Knee follows for the Scotsman but Ross quickly breaks the plum clinch. Left hands land for both men and Pearson ends the round with a hard body kick. 10-9 Ray, slightly closer round towards the end but the early work for Ray took it I’d say.

Round Three and Pearson might need a finish here. He pushes forward but again Ray shows a lot of movement to look to stay out of range. Nice right to the body from Ross. Hard leg kick follows as he dodges a head kick. Ray’s output seems to have slowed down dramatically but Pearson’s still finding it hard to catch him. Left hand and a body kick from Ray and he dodges a flying knee. Good leg kick again from Ross. Right to the body follows. Exchange continues and both men are landing decently now but not enough to really hurt the other or threaten a finish. Head kick glances for Ray but Pearson manages to absorb it. Low kick from Ray and he dodges a combo from Pearson. One minute to go and Ray chops with a leg kick and continues to look to stay out of range. Head kick glances again for the Scotsman. Right hand glances for Ross but he can’t seem to catch Ray cleanly. Knee lands for the TUF winner too. Low kick from Ray and they trade punches to end the round. 10-9 Pearson maybe, definitely Ray’s fight overall though.

Judges have it 30-27 Pearson (!), 30-27 Ray and 30-27 Ray for the Scotsman to win the split decision. I’ve got no idea what the judge scoring it 30-27 for Pearson was watching as he clearly got outpointed in the first two rounds. Ah well. This was an excellent win for Ray as he came in with a really good gameplan to beat Pearson; he kept moving, showed an excellent use of range and angles and never got too risky, and while it didn’t make for the most exciting fight at times it made sense. Pearson did get some good things going – namely the leg kicks and body kicks – but he seemed one step behind the Scotsman throughout and must’ve been frustrating. That’s three losses in a row for him now but hopefully he won’t be cut as he’s a reliable action fighter and a strong gatekeeper. We shall see though as you never know in the WME era. Not sure where Ray goes next but if he’s not booked at the minute I wouldn’t mind seeing a fight with Paul Felder, I think that’d be fun for sure. And hilariously right after I’ve typed that, Felder’s shown in the crowd. Unbelievable!

Middleweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Uriah Hall

After his impressive win over Vitor Belfort in October there were some rumors that Mousasi would be making a quick turnaround to challenge Michael Bisping for the Middleweight title in December (remember Weidman, Romero, Rockhold and Jacare were all tied up at that point) but when it was revealed Bisping would be on the shelf for longer than was first anticipated, I didn’t expect to see Mousasi until 2017. Instead though when the main event slot came up here he immediately accepted a rematch with Uriah Hall, who had of course knocked him out in a bit of a shocker in September 2015. This was Mousasi’s big chance to erase that loss and so it made sense for him, but for Hall – who had lost twice since the Mousasi win and had only been KO’d in September – it didn’t seem to make any sense at all. I’m not sure what made him accept the fight on that sort of notice personally. With Hall there’s always the chance of him pulling out something special but I couldn’t see any result other than a Mousasi win here.

First round begins and Mousasi looks as chilled as ever. Couple of kicks miss for Hall and Mousasi lands with an inside leg kick. Spin kick misses for Hall and Mousasi lands with another low kick. Long jab glances for Mousasi. Nice low kick connects for Hall. Jab answers back for Mousasi and then he lands a leg kick of his own. Beautiful jab snaps Hall’s head right back and he seems stunned for a second before throwing the spinning back kick, but Mousasi just about avoids it. Front kick replies for Mousasi and he follows with a glancing overhand right. Jab to the body lands for Hall but he misses another spinning kick. Right hand connects for Mousasi. They continue to circle and exchange shots from distance, before Mousasi shoots for a double leg. Hall works to defend it, but Mousasi muscles him down into half-guard. Right hand lands from there and Hall pretty much gives his back, and from there a short punch under the arm from Mousasi sets up a big flurry and Hall stops moving. More punches land for Mousasi and the ref has to call it there!

That was a bit of a weird finish – it looked like Hall just randomly gave up fighting back, but the more likely possibility was that one of Mousasi’s early punches on the ground knocked him out and he was basically gone from there. At any rate it was basically a flawless victory for Mousasi – he barely took a strike, avoided Hall’s hail mary spin kicks this time and left no doubt as to who the better fighter was. Post-fight Mousasi says he’s coming for the belt and he doesn’t give a fuck, but with Bisping fighting Romero next he might have to fight at least once more for a title shot. Luke Rockhold as his next opponent would work for me, assuming Rockhold can get healthy soon. One-sided main event but it was nice to get a finish to cap off the night.

-Show ends with a plug for the upcoming shows – boy is that Derrick Lewis vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov fight a weird main event – and then a highlight reel ends the night from Belfast.

Final Thoughts….

If it’s true that WME are looking to can these types of shows then I’ll be disappointed as they’re almost always fun despite a lack of name value, and this was no exception. I didn’t expect much from the opening two fights but they ended up being a ton of fun, especially Lobov/Ishihara, and while Ray/Pearson was slow at times it was pretty great to see Mousasi avenge his biggest career defeat in violent fashion. Not the best show of the year by any means but it’s a thumbs up for this one for sure.

Best Fight: Lobov vs. Ishihara
Worst Fight: Pearson vs. Ray

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: