MMA Review: #576: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXIV Finale

-With rumors flying around that WME are planning to kill off TUF next year, I almost feel bad for not watching a single episode of this season, but I guess I’m burned out at this point. This season was a somewhat novel concept – UFC basically signed a bunch of Flyweight champions from regional promotions and threw them into a tournament with the winner getting a title shot against Mighty Mouse, but the problem was that despite the fights apparently being good, the winner ended up being Tim Elliott, who was cut from the UFC in 2014 after three losses – two of them to guys Mighty Mouse had already beaten. Add in that UFC don’t seem to have signed many of the cast and it’s no wonder the season didn’t garner much interest. This card looked pretty decent though thankfully, particularly the coaches fight between Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo who apparently ended up really disliking each other following the tapings.

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XXIV Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann.

Flyweight Fight: Brandon Moreno vs Ryan Benoit

Quick turnaround for Moreno here when you consider he only upset Louis Smolka on 10/01, just eight weeks back. Benoit meanwhile had last been seen in that super-weird fight at UFC 201 against Fredy Serrano. I wasn’t sure which way to go for a pick here but I was pulling for Moreno as Benoit to me comes off like a dirty fighter a lot of the time.

Round One and Moreno looks really chilled. Benoit pushes forward early on and shit, this crowd is DEAD. Leg kick connects for Moreno. Nice combo from Moreno backs Benoit up into the fence. Big head kick glances for Benoit but Moreno shoots in and slams him down right off it. Half-butterfly guard for Benoit, but Moreno stays on top and lands a right hand. Benoit looks to get back up and does so, but Moreno trips him back down. Another reversal brings Benoit back up, where he takes a glancing right hand. Left hook to the body lands for Moreno. He tags Benoit with another combo and then shoots again, but this time Benoit defends well. Moreno keeps trying though and gets him down, but Benoit works back up again. Another takedown from Moreno grounds him, and this time as Benoit gets up he gives his back. Knees to the legs from Moreno and it looks like Benoit’s reaching to grab the fence. Good job from Benoit to spin into him and escape, but he takes a low blow and referee Mark Smith has to call time. They restart quickly and both men come up short on their strikes, but Benoit catches Moreno coming in and lands with a strong combination. Moreno seems fine and he backs Benoit up with some strikes of his own, before eating a vicious body kick. Combo follows for Benoit and they brawl with some wild strikes, and it looks like Benoit might’ve been hurt by a left hand. He recovers quickly and fires back, and that’s the round. 10-9 Moreno.

Round Two and Benoit comes SPRINTING out and looks for a takedown, but Moreno defends it well and ends up with his back to the fence. Knee to the body breaks for Moreno and in a weird moment the referee steps in to tell them to fight as they circle. Good overhand right from Moreno and he counters with a decent left hand as Benoit comes in swinging too. Benoit is really swinging heavily here. Good counter left again from Moreno and he follows with a quick combo, but a spin kick misses. Right hand glances for Benoit. Leg kick from Moreno but Benoit counters with a BIG LEFT that drops him, but somehow Moreno pops right back up. Big combination answers for Moreno. Benoit fires back and these guys are really exchanging now. Moreno keeps walking into heavy shots. Takedown attempt from Moreno changes things up though and he hits a BIG SLAM down into guard. Couple of punches land for Moreno as he works to keep the squirming Benoit down, and it looks like he’s working to trap the right arm too. Good job from Moreno to keep Benoit grounded but Benoit manages to kick him away and stand. Single leg attempt from Moreno leads to another slam, and this time the Mexican passes into half-guard. Seconds to go and it looks like Moreno is in firm control now. Sure enough the round ends with Moreno working from the top. 10-9 Moreno and I think Benoit needs a finish.

Round Three and Benoit pushes forward looking for a big shot, but Moreno stays out of range before shooting on a single leg. Benoit defends it well but still finds himself pressed into the fence, where Moreno lands some short punches. He keeps driving for the takedown and manages to take the back for a second, but Benoit manages to shrug him off and breaks. Punches come up short for both men in a brief exchange. Big overhand right glances for Moreno as this sounds like a Japanese crowd due to the silence. Combination glances for Benoit and backs Moreno up but he fires right back with a heavy overhand right. Takedown attempt follows but Benoit shrugs it off. A flying knee misses for Moreno and he changes it into a takedown attempt, but Benoit blocks the suplex and breaks off. Few nice strikes from the outside land for Moreno as Benoit just can’t get into a rhythm. He does land a hard right hand, but Moreno just walks through it and lands with a partially blocked head kick. Benoit looks tired to me. He’s still swinging haymakers though. Takedown attempt from Moreno with less than a minute to go, but a fence grab prevents a German suplex. Moreno stays on him though before breaking with a right hand. Seconds to go now and a spin kick misses for Moreno and allows Benoit to land a left hook, but Moreno fires right back. Slips from both men follow and Moreno lands a right hook to end the fight. I’d call it 30-27 for Brandon Moreno.

Judges have it 29-28 Benoit (!), 29-28 Moreno and 29-28 for Brandon Moreno to win the split decision. No clue what the judge who scored it for Benoit was watching as basically the only success he had was that second round knockdown. Fun opener and another great performance from Brandon Moreno who might be one of the best prospects in the UFC right now as he’s only 22 and seems to be improving all the time. His wrestling in particular looked excellent here and he showed sharp striking too. Not sure about his shitty nickname – ‘The Assassin Baby’ doesn’t make much sense to me – and he sounds like BJ Penn when he talks, but he’s a great find by the UFC. Looking forward to seeing him fight again for sure.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Sara McMann vs Alexis Davis

This one sounded like an intriguing fight as both girls have been around the top of the division for some time and obviously both have had title shots, losing to Ronda Rousey in 2014. McMann was coming off a less than convincing win over Jessica Eye earlier this year while this was Davis’s first fight since April 2015’s win over Sarah Kaufman. Tough one to pick as McMann’s flattered to deceive a few times now, but I was taking her mainly because I didn’t trust Davis coming off such a layoff as well as giving birth.

We get underway and Jesus, I forgot how hench McMann is. Her arms are ridiculous. Right hand connects early for her but Davis comes back with a quick combination. Right to the body connects for McMann. Big flurry follows and backs Davis up. McMann’s hands look sharp here. Exchange continues before McMann ducks for a takedown and gets it, planting Davis on her back in full guard. Davis immediately works for a triangle and lands some decent elbows from her back too, and it looks like McMann might be in trouble actually. She’s definitely cut as there’s blood all over Davis’s elbow. Davis’s guard is fantastic as she’s taking no damage here and keeps on threatening from her back. More of the same follows as Davis continues to land from her back and avoid the majority of the shots from McMann. Just over a minute to go and McMann finally manages to connect with some solid strikes, and then she moves into half-guard. Davis tries to scramble and goes for another triangle, and this time it looks pretty good, but McMann survives despite taking some more elbows right to the head. Davis won that round from her back, I’d say.

Second round begins and both women land some punches from distance early on, but it looks like Davis is slightly sharper. Big hip throw from McMann puts Davis down, but she goes right into a leglock attempt. McMann manages to force her way free though before Davis goes for it again. Brute strength from McMann allows her to get free, but she almost puts herself in an inverted triangle instead before working into top position properly. Couple of solid punches get through for McMann and she begins to set up an arm triangle choke. Looks like it’s sunk in fact and sure enough McMann passes over to the correct side mount….and gets the tap! Nice.

Well, certainly didn’t expect to see McMann tap a grappler as good as Davis, that’s for sure, but I guess the arm triangle would be the submission to go to for a ridiculously strong woman like her. Davis actually seemed in firm control on the ground in the first round too which makes that finish even more impressive. Post-fight McMann asks – politely – for a title shot, but there’s no way right now. I could see her given a possible title eliminator I guess though and there’s plenty of possibilities there – Valentina Shevchenko or Julianna Pena would both work. Or Holly Holm for that matter. This was a solid fight overall.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ion Cutelaba vs Jared Cannonier

If I’m honest I was surprised to see this on the main card given Ryan Hall vs. Gray Maynard was on the prelims, but it made sense as UFC are crying out for some new talent at 205lbs right now and these two looked like two of the more decent prospects in the division. Cannonier had knocked out Cyril Asker in April and this was his 205lbs debut, while Cutelaba had picked up a win over Jonathan Wilson in October (like Moreno earlier, another quick turnaround) and as he’d already pushed Misha Cirkunov – one of the top prospects in the division – to a tough fight I was going with him.

Cool moment during the introductions as Cutelaba walks right up to Cannonier and stares him down. Intimidating guy for sure. First round begins and Cannonier looks so much better at 205lbs. Sharp leg kick connects for Cannonier. Flurry from Cutelaba and he backs Cannonier up, but Cannonier fires back with a heavy right hook. Another right hand lands well for Cannonier as Cutelaba continues to push forward. Left hook leads to the clinch for Cutelaba and he lands a couple of knees before they separate. Spinning backfist glances for Cutelaba and he follows with a counter left and then works Cannonier’s body with a combo. Clinch from Cannonier and they muscle for position on the fence, before a big hip throw plants Cannonier on his back. Full guard for Cannonier as Cutelaba postures up to deliver some punches. Leglock attempt from Cannonier is avoided and Cutelaba tries a wild backfist from the top before going back into the guard. Cutelaba is a wild guy. He postures up again to deliver a thudding right hand, and then passes into half-guard. Good job from Cannonier to get full guard, but he takes a couple more nasty punches from the Moldovan. Beautiful leg sweep from Cannonier allows him to explode to his feet, and we have 1:30 remaining. Stiff jab connects for Cannonier but Cutelaba comes in swinging, lands a knee to the body and then throws Cannonier to the ground again. Full mount for Cutelaba for a second but Cannonier gets back to half-guard. Cutelaba stands over him and he drops a wild right hand, then he glances on a NASTY head kick as Cannonier explodes back up. Could’ve been the end had it landed cleanly. Cannonier tells him to bring it, so Cutelaba lands with a left hook. Jab ends the round for Cannonier. Excellent round, I’d go 10-9 Cutelaba.

Cannonier pushes forward to open the 2nd and a wild exchange sees him tag Cutelaba with a hard right hand. Stiff jab and another right hand back Cutelaba up and it looks like Cannonier’s got the timing down. Beautiful takedown from Cutelaba changes things up though and he drags Cannonier off the fence and lands a thudding right hand before Cannonier works back up. They clinch and Cutelaba hits a trip and despite going down face-first he works back into top position and drops some punches over the top onto Cannonier. A few upkicks allow Cannonier to spring back up into the clinch, and he separates with an uppercut before really hurting Cutelaba with a big combination, causing him to outright spin away. Takedown attempt from the Moldovan slows Cannonier down though and he finds himself planted down again. Headbutt to the chest (!) earns a warning for Cutelaba as he grinds away from the top with some short strikes. Cannonier manages to escape to his feet again, and this time he gets the back standing and looks for a suplex. Cutelaba manages to block, but winds up on the bottom off a scramble and now Cannonier passes into half-guard. Cutelaba looks tired to me. Cannonier grinds away with his forearm and the round ends with him on top. Close round but I’d call it 10-9 Cannonier for the better strikes and ending the round in control.

This could still clearly go either way. Third round gets started and Cutelaba tags Cannonier with some heavy shots early on, but Cannonier takes them well and lands some solid shots of his own including a pair of chopping leg kicks. Cannonier looks like the fresher man here for sure. He manages to avoid some big swings from Cutelaba, but the Moldovan easily takes him down. Cannonier pops back up and stuns him with a right hand out of the clinch, but Cutelaba fires right back with a right of his own as this is becoming a pretty wild brawl. Insane swings miss for Cutelaba. Counter right from Cannonier tags him and he responds by firing haymakers that don’t quite land. Clinch from Cannonier and he drives Cutelaba into the fence and then breaks off with a big combo. Both of these guys are swinging for the fences now. Beautiful counter right hand lands clean for Cannonier as he avoids a haymaker that almost has Cutelaba completely off balance. Cannonier’s backing him up now and he looks very tired. Head kick glances for Cannonier but he takes a glancing flurry only to fire back with one of his own. Can’t fault these guys at all for heart. Huge right hand lands for Cannonier and he’s really swinging for the finish now. Cutelaba manages to clinch to slow him down, and then he tries a takedown as Cannonier breaks. Cannonier stuffs it though and forces Cutelaba into the fence, then breaks off with a HUGE COMBO. Jesus these guys have chins of iron. Wild swings miss for Cutelaba and then Cannonier decides to DROP HIS HANDS AND LET CUTELABA HIT HIM. This is fucking insane. To be fair he’s moving his head out of the way of a lot of these shots too. Cutelaba is all bloodied up. Another big right hand lands for Cannonier and he continues to walk Cutelaba down until the round finally ends. That was AWESOME. 10-9 Cannonier, 29-28 Cannonier overall.

All three judges have it 29-28 for Cannonier, pretty clear-cut decision in the end although part of me expected to maybe see Cutelaba’s second-round takedowns muddy the waters a bit and maybe give Cannonier a split decision instead. This was a tremendously exciting fight even if it got sloppy at times, and while both guys have clear-cut holes in their games that they need to work on – Cannonier’s takedown defense did not look good and Cutelaba’s striking was overly wild and he emptied his gas tank quickly – they’re young enough to be able to work on them, close those holes and maybe develop into top-level contenders. In the very least this fight made me want to see both guys again and that’s what matters, right?

Welterweight Fight: Jorge Masvidal vs Jake Ellenberger

This was Masvidal’s return to action after a bit of an odd situation saw him paired with Kelvin Gastelum at UFN 98, then get pulled from that card when Gastelum was shifted onto UFC 205 (where he didn’t end up fighting anyway) and moved into this fight with Ellenberger here. I wasn’t sure which way to go here after seeing Ellenberger resurrect his UFC career in July with his win over Matt Brown and also by breaking away from Edmond Tarverdyan, but I ended up going with Masvidal just because I still didn’t trust Ellenberger’s chin and I thought Masvidal was the cleaner striker.

Fight begins and for an ex-155lber Masvidal doesn’t appear to be giving up any size at all. Both guys look a bit tentative in the early going, landing a leg kick or two but not much else. They continue to trade kicks until Masvidal catches Ellenberger’s leg and lands a quick flurry on him. Body kick follows but Ellenberger fires right back with a heavy combo. Masvidal shows a good chin by taking the shots and firing back with another kick and a jab, and suddenly he opens up on Ellenberger with a flurry and eventually knocks him down! Ellenberger’s in deep trouble, but he manages to get up and swing back. Masvidal stays on him and lands some big shots to the body as well as some knees, but Ellenberger manages to clinch to slow him down a bit. Masvidal breaks free and they circle out, exchanging from distance with Masvidal getting a warning for extending his fingers. Brutal leg kick connects for Masvidal. Couple more kicks follow before Ellenberger tags him with a right and backs him into the fence. Body kick fires back for Masvidal but he takes a counter left hand before coming back with a counter right of his own. Wheel kick and a body kick connect well for Masvidal but Ellenberger catches the leg and looks for a takedown. Masvidal manages to avoid but Ellenberger keeps rushing forward, only to slip….and apparently jam his foot into the crack between the fence and the mat. He tries to free his foot as Masvidal capitalises by landing a bunch of unanswered shots, and Herb Dean quickly steps in to call time. Ellenberger finally frees his foot, but after some deliberation it’s decided that the fight is over! Huh.

Post-fight Marc Ratner joins us on commentary to explain that Herb wasn’t necessarily allowed to call time due to Ellenberger’s foot getting stuck, and so because he couldn’t defend it’s technically a TKO. I don’t get that call at ALL, why not just let them restart? It wasn’t like anything offensive from Masvidal caused the foot to be stuck and Ellenberger wasn’t knocked out at all either. I’d say do a rematch but to be fair it might be a better idea to just go with Masvidal winning in terms of future booking as he clearly had Ellenberger in trouble on numerous occasions. For Ellenberger though at least he shouldn’t be in danger of being cut. Fight was exciting until the abrupt and weird ending, one of the weirdest I can recall in the UFC in fact.

Flyweight Fight: Joseph Benavidez vs Henry Cejudo

Despite both of these guys being beaten by Mighty Mouse, this was the fight I was most looking forward to on this show as while I didn’t see any of TUF, I did catch a video package building the fight and it was FANTASTIC, full of really needle-ish dislike between the two. Seemed like a very well-matched fight too – obviously you’d say Benavidez was the more well-rounded fighter and had more experience, but he had seemed to be slowing down at times in fights against Dustin Ortiz and Ali Bagautinov, and Cejudo of course had that Olympic wrestling and seemed to be improving in all areas too. In the end I felt Cejudo would pull out the mild upset due to his athleticism allowing him to make a huge improvement in a short period of time.

Round One begins and Benavidez throws out a couple of early kicks to keep distance before they exchange punches, Benavidez landing a quick right hand counter. Big flurry from Cejudo fires back though and Benavidez goes down! He pops back up instantly but he might be hurt here. Knee connects for Cejudo and Benavidez seems to have recovered and he comes back with an overhand right. Big body kick connects for Cejudo. Lunging knee to the body answers for Benavidez and they trade off with Cejudo landing another combo. Body kick from Cejudo is countered by a Benavidez combo, and then another kick lands to the groin of Benavidez. Yves Lavigne gives Cejudo a warning and they restart, and both men come back out swinging with both connecting. This is a hell of a pace. Wild punches glance for Cejudo but he lands with a second low blow that looked more like Benavidez ran onto the end of it. This time though Yves takes a point from Cejudo. That’s questionable to me as it looked so accidental. Three minutes left and they restart, and a brief clinch is broken by a Cejudo knee. Body kick follows but Benavidez comes back with one of his own and they trade again. Good counter left lands for Cejudo as Benavidez slips coming forward. Combination lands for Benavidez and they clash heads at the same time. Counter right from Benavidez but Cejudo gets hold of him and trips him down. Excellent scramble from Benavidez brings him back up to his feet though. Exchange continues and Benavidez catches Cejudo coming in with a knee. Cejudo is still pushing the action though. Body kick from Cejudo but Benavidez shrugs off a takedown attempt. Nice counter body kick from Cejudo catches Benavidez coming in, and he follows with a knee. Head kick answers for Benavidez but Cejudo eats it up and takes him down. Benavidez springs back up and the exchange continues to the end of the round. Well, that was awesome. Cejudo’s round but it’s 9-9 due to the point deduction.

Round Two and Benavidez slips from the off and eats a pair of right hands as he gets back up. Counter right lands for Cejudo off a Benavidez leg kick. Wheel kick misses for Benavidez. These guys are just incredibly fast. Big kick misses for Benavidez and Cejudo makes him pay with a counter combo. Nice left hook connects for Benavidez in a brief exchange. Couple of kicks come up short for him before another exchange sees both men land. Clean uppercut leads to a combo from Cejudo and he catches Benavidez with a knee that looks to have cut his mouth. Left hand answers for Benavidez before Cejudo connects on a body shot. Body kicks from both men and then Benavidez clips Cejudo with a flush left hand. Exchange continues with a left uppercut from Cejudo and another one sees Cejudo land a combination. Neither man looks like they want to grapple. Another combo from Cejudo has Benavidez stumbling but it looks more like a slip. Running knee lands to the body for Benavidez. This is a very close round. They exchange kicks and then Cejudo gets out of range before leaping back in with a heavy left hook. Body kick connects for Cejudo but he takes a pair of counters. Seconds to go in the round and both men continue to land. Round ends on the feet. Super-close round but I’d say Cejudo just about edged it.

Round Three and they exchange again from the off with Cejudo landing a hard left hook but Benavidez catching him cleanly with a combo. Quick scramble leads to Cejudo taking the back standing, but Benavidez escapes immediately. Elbow and a left hook glance for Benavidez on the way out. Nice combination lands for Cejudo. These guys are not slowing down at all. Exchange continues and Benavidez shrugs off a single leg attempt. Good combinations from both men before Benavidez lands a right hand stepping in. Quick right hand answers back for Cejudo and this is so tricky to split really. Body kick lands again for Cejudo. Nice combo lands for Benavidez and he connects on a couple of clean counters as Cejudo pushes forward. Two minutes to go and this is anyone’s round. Another combo lands flush for Benavidez. One-two connects hard for him too but Cejudo fires right back. This is so awesome. Body kick connects heavily for Cejudo. Benavidez is landing slightly more now though I’d say as Cejudo’s missing a little more. Crowd are way into this with seconds to go as they continue to exchange shots. Wild exchanges continue until the end of the round, wow. 10-9 Benavidez and I’d call this a 28-28 draw due to the deducted point.

Judges in fact have a split decision, 29-27 Cejudo, 30-26 Benavidez (!) and 29-27 for Joseph Benavidez. Crowd don’t seem happy with that call at all. Can’t say I really agree either as I just don’t see how you could give Benavidez the first round and while you could maybe argue for him taking the second, 30-26 is an absolutely bogus score. The point deduction really ended up marring what was one of the best fights of the year in the end because these guys went to WAR and set an absolutely incredible pace from start to finish, and this was – even in losing – probably the best that Cejudo’s ever looked in his UFC career, as while he couldn’t use his grappling due to the skill of Benavidez, he showed tremendous improvements in his striking, particularly his kicking game. A lot of people seem to be calling for Benavidez to get another title shot off this win but I disagree with that too – I say this fight was so close and so good that we need to see it again, but over five rounds. Surely there’s a 2017 Fight Night card in need of a headliner?

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Tim Elliott

Where to start here? Firstly, for those wondering, Elliott was indeed the first TUF winner to be given an immediate title shot since – yep, you guessed it – Matt Serra in 2007. Serra had of course pulled one of the all-time great MMA upsets in his title shot by KOing GSP to win the WW title, but to say another upset was unlikely here was a total understatement. I wouldn’t call Elliott a bad fighter at all – dude showed how skilled he is by winning the tournament, after all – but after seeing him lose pretty convincingly to the likes of Dodson, Benavidez and Bagautinov – guys Mighty Mouse dealt with relatively easily – I just couldn’t see a path to victory for him at all. It felt like DJ had the advantage in all areas, as he pretty much does against everyone at FLW right now, and to me this seemed like another notch on his belt and another step towards matching and probably overtaking Anderson Silva’s record of nine successful UFC title defences. Even Elliott himself didn’t seem convinced he could win, instead focusing on the fact that he was planning to take the fight to DJ and make it a messy brawl rather than a technical affair. I guess there was a little more intrigue for this than some of DJ’s past fights (Chris Cariaso, John Moraga, etc), simply due to the TUF connection, but yeah, it all felt a bit like a damp squib to me.

We get underway and Johnson lands with a quick low kick and circles away from the Keith Jardine-esque movement of Elliott. Quick combination from Elliott glances and then he does some odd dancing, but DJ is like, fuck that and he quickly hits a takedown and scrambles into half-guard. Elliott brings full guard back but Johnson works to pass that and rolls right into an armbar, but Elliott does a tremendous job of scrambling and he gets on top in side mount. Big crowd pop for that one. Looks like he might be going for a guillotine as DJ gets half-guard back. Full butterfly guard now for Johnson and he scrambles, but gives his neck and Elliott lands a knee to the shoulder and then drops into a TIGHT GUILLOTINE! Crowd look shocked as Johnson tries to escape and it actually looks close, and from there Elliott switches to a D’Arce and it looks SUNK! Holy shit. Somehow though Johnson seems okay and he gives the thumbs up to referee Herb Dean as Elliott desperately looks to finish. Sure enough Johnson eventually escapes, and now he pushes forward hard with a big combination. Takedown follows but Elliott scrambles into his own single leg attempt. Johnson stops that with a front headlock and now it looks like he might be going for a choke variant. He looks to spin to take the back, but can’t quite manage it and instead he remains in control of the neck. They come back up and DJ separates with a knee and Elliott looks tired. Combo misses for Johnson but Elliott is definitely gassed, leaning down with his hands on his knees. Left hand does connect for him as Johnson comes forward, though. Knee follows to break a brief clinch. Plum clinch from Johnson but Elliott responds with some wild hooks to the body, then breaks and STUNS HIM WITH A LEFT! Johnson looks like he’s going down face-first, but he manages to pop back up and he seems okay. Nice takedown from Elliott follows and he’s on top in half-guard. This is looking like a great round for Elliott. Sure enough the round ends with him on top. First round Johnson’s lost in a long time! 10-9 Elliott.

Second round and Elliott looks to use his size to keep distance, but he’s such a weird guy to watch, dropping his hands like mad and stuff and DJ lands on him with a pretty clean combo. Elliott is like a hybrid of Jardine and Dominick Cruz with all this wild movement. Flurry from Elliott but Johnson ducks under and drops for the takedown. Elliott looks for the guillotine again but this time it’s nowhere near and Mighty Mouse has him down in side mount. Arm triangle attempt allows DJ to take the back, and he controls the neck and looks to sink the choke. He’s got no hooks though and Elliott manages to spin back into bottom position under side mount. Johnson works for a mounted crucifix and then gives up on that to go for a kimura on the far side, but Elliott pulls his arm free and gets to half-guard. Johnson immediately gets back out of that into side mount though. Pretty odd knees from the bottom land for Elliott but Johnson takes the mounted crucifix to drop some shots before the challenger escapes. Another kimura attempt follows for DJ but he can’t get it. Mighty Mouse is all over Elliott in this round. He takes the back again but still doesn’t get the hooks, and he has to control Elliott in a scramble instead. They stand back up with Johnson holding a rear waistlock, and he lands a knee to the head before Elliott takes him down. Seconds to go and Elliott passes into half-guard before the buzzer. 10-9 Johnson for sure.

Third round and Elliott comes out throwing some kicks, but they come up short and he takes a couple of solid leg kicks from the champ. Wild flurry misses for Elliott. Johnson rushes him with a flurry and that allows him to take him down, and in a SICK scramble he ends up taking the back with no hooks again. Mighty Mouse has a phenomenal grappling game. Choke looks like it might be sunk, but again he doesn’t have the hooks and Elliott spins free. This time Johnson catches his neck and look for a guillotine, but Elliott works to avoid it and manages to get on top after another scramble. Johnson pops back up, only for Elliott to drag him back down. The champ pops up again and goes for another takedown, and despite taking some elbows, he manages to force the TUF winner onto his back again in half-guard. Strong punches get through for the champion from the half-guard and Elliott is beginning to struggle. Pass into side mount for Johnson but Elliott manoeuvres back into full guard. Triangle attempt by Elliott is easily avoided and Johnson remains on top with a minute to go. Inverted triangle attempt form Elliott now but it’s not close at all and Mighty Mouse easily pops his head free and remains on top. Good left hand from Mighty Mouse and then he strangely puts himself back into the full guard, where he lands with a right as Elliott throws a bunch of punches from his back to end the round. 10-9 Johnson in a fun round.

Elliott pushes forward to begin the fourth as the crowd are at least treating this as a big deal. Lot of taunting from Elliott and he tries to land some big shots and even comes in hopping (!) but he takes a punch from Johnson who follows with an easy takedown. No good doing all the Karate Kid shit if you can’t stop the takedown, dude. Half-guard for Elliott now but he turns his back and Johnson lands some hard punches before settling into north/south. He goes back to side mount and then takes the back again, but he still doesn’t slap the hooks in when he goes for the choke, allowing Elliott to scramble and avoid. He gets back to his feet, but Johnson drags him back down and finally he does get the hooks in and SINKS THE CHOKE! Somehow though Elliott manages to survive and escape. North/south again for DJ but the crowd are way behind Elliott here. Mounted crucifix from Johnson now and he peppers the challenger with punches as he desperately tries to escape. Bunch of unanswered punches land for Johnson but Elliott manages to free himself, still stuck under side mount though. Couple of elbows to the body land for Mighty Mouse and an exhausted Elliott is showing no sign of being able to get to his feet. Straight armlock attempt from Johnson and then he switches off to a kimura, but somehow Elliott manages to survive it despite Mighty Mouse stepping over the head! Mighty Mouse decides to go for a standard armbar instead, but Elliott escapes that and gets to his feet! Single leg attempt from Elliott is blocked and he misses a spin kick and a cartwheel kick as the round ends. Clear-cut round for Johnson but you can’t fault Elliott’s effort.

We’re into the final round now and Johnson doesn’t even look like he’s slightly tired. Elliott meanwhile is blatantly gassed, but then he was going into the second. Again Elliott pushes forward and when DJ circles out to avoid some kicks, he pretty much turns his back and almost moonwalks towards the champ. Just weird. Body kick lands for Johnson and he shoots, but this time Elliott blocks the takedown. A big takedown from Elliott follows and he plants DJ on his back, but the champ rolls for an armbar. Elliott manages to avoid that, but another scramble leads to a failed guillotine and Johnson gets on top again. He uses a front facelock to control the challenger and then spins to take the back before dropping down into side mount. Crowd are still chanting for Elliott throughout all of this. Action slows down as it looks like Elliott’s trying to stall for a stand-up, but Johnson does work with some strikes before the challenger wriggles into guard. Johnson scrambles free from that easily and gets to side mount again, but Elliott quickly locks down on half-guard. Two minutes to go and it looks like this is going to be another successful defense for Johnson. He looks for the far-side kimura again and pins Elliott’s left arm to the ground, dropping some elbows for good measure, but Elliott slips his arm free again. He turns his back again and looks to wrap an arm up himself, but Johnson seems wise to that and he spins around from Elliott’s kimura attempt into his own armbar, ala Matt Hughes in his first fight with GSP. Elliott manages to escape though and now he looks for his own takedown, but somehow Mighty Mouse still comes out on top of the scramble. Damn he’s good. Into half-guard for DJ and he tries the kimura one last time, but can’t get it and that’s the fight. Got to be 49-46 for Johnson but Elliott put up a hell of a fight.

Official scores are 49-46, 49-46 and 49-45 for Mighty Mouse, duh. This was a great fight though as Elliott came out all guns blazing as he’d promised and actually won the first round, but he couldn’t finish Johnson and from there, Mighty Mouse proved exactly why he’s so great as he made the adjustments needed to deal with Elliott’s style and ended up dominating him from there. The later rounds, strangely enough, reminded me a ton of GSP’s fight with Dan Hardy in that the champ dominated all of the scrambles and came close with a bunch of submissions, but he couldn’t seal the deal and didn’t really do that much damage. I liked that fight and I liked this one too personally but it still feels like Johnson didn’t really get over with the fans somehow, as they seemed way more behind Elliott and his Cinderella story rather than another tremendous performance from the champ. Announcers post-fight talk about Elliott matching up with some of the other top FLW’s, but the word right now is that he’s heading to 135lbs which I personally think is a big mistake – his whole game at 125lbs is based around his size, which obviously he wouldn’t have up at Bantamweight. As for Johnson, it’s another defense in the books and that’s nine for him, so one more would break the record. Talk right now is another Benavidez fight but personally I’d go with the Formiga/Pettis winner, particularly if it’s Formiga as the Brazilian is like the last guy of that era (McCall, Benavidez, Dodson etc) that Mighty Mouse hasn’t beaten. It just makes sense to me.

-Show wraps up there as abruptly as ever.

Final Thoughts….

This was a longer show but it was pretty damn great, with three of the better fights of the year in Johnson/Elliott, Cutelaba/Cannonier and Cejudo/Benavidez on tap. Moreno/Benoit and Davis/McMann were pretty good too actually which means it’s an easy thumbs up, but if you’re not that interested in sitting through the whole thing, just make sure you check out the last two fights, especially if you’re not a fan of the Flyweight division, because they just might change your mind.

Best Fight: Cejudo vs. Benavidez
Worst Fight: Moreno vs. Benoit

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: