MMA Review: #589: UFC on Fox: Shevchenko vs. Pena

-After the last two Fox shows headlined by women’s fights (Holm/Shevchenko and Waterson/PVZ) did great numbers, UFC were clearly hoping for more of the same here when they booked Shevchenko vs. Pena as the headliner for their first big show of 2017. Overall it was a solid-looking card with a pair of really intriguing fights underneath the main (Cowboy/Masvidal and Ngannou/Arlovski) so I was pretty excited going in.

UFC on Fox: Shevchenko vs. Pena

Denver, Colorado

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Brian Stann. Still no Todd Grisham then, huh.

Bantamweight Fight: Jason Knight vs Alex Caceres

I had no idea how this made the main card over Aljamain Sterling vs. Raphael Assuncao – a fight between two legit title contenders – but really there’s no point in doing anything but accepting the weird card order that the UFC tends to give us these days. It’s a small complaint anyway with everything televised somehow I guess. Knight was coming off a pair of wins over Jim Alers and Dan Hooker, and was garnering a bit of hype for being a bit of a trash-talker, while Bruce Leeroy has last been seen in a losing effort against Yair Rodriguez in a weird-but-entertaining fight. I was leaning towards Bruce just due to his experience. Pre-fight video package is comical as Knight’s accent reminds me of JUNIE BROWNING!~!

Round One begins and Knight tags Leeroy with a hard right hand from the off. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Caceres and they high-five, before Caceres lands a hard body kick. Leg is caught by Knight who forces Caceres into the fence, but they break off quickly. Nice counter left hand lands for Caceres. Big combo answers for Knight and he tags Caceres with a right hand counter to follow. These guys are going for it. Couple more good counters land for Knight as he shows some good hand speed. Nice leg kick from Caceres almost buckles him though. Exchange continues and Caceres looks like he’s found his range now, landing some shots and dodging some from Knight while grinning. Clinch from Knight and he rams Caceres into the fence and looks for the takedown, but Bruce blocks it and breaks free. Good left hand connects for Caceres and then he lands another to the body. Low kick almost drops Knight but he takes a right hand in the process. High kick glances for Knight. Combo replies for Caceres but Knight drops him with a counter left hand. Leeroy pops back up but Knight walks him down and lands with a right hand before getting a BIG SLAM and taking the back! He slaps both hooks in and drags Caceres down, but can’t get anything before the buzzer. Hell of an ending for Knight and it stole him the round.

Round Two and Knight opens with a right hand before Caceres comes back with a push kick to the body. Good leg kick connects for Knight. Body kick from Caceres is caught but Knight can’t quite capitalise. Left hand lands for Caceres. Exchange continues with both men landing a couple of decent shots. Clinch from Caceres but Knight shrugs him off. They clinch up again and Knight trips Bruce down and then manages to take the back in a SICK move from the scramble. Body triangle is in for Knight and Bruce Leeroy is in trouble. Knight controls him well and keeps on looking for the choke as Caceres works to defend. Nice elbows connect for Knight and then he manages to get the choke sunk, but somehow Caceres works to get free! Amazing defense there. Knight’s still in control though and he continues to look for the choke and land punches to soften him up. One minute to go and Knight SINKS THE CHOKE and really squeezes, and this time Caceres finally gives up the ghost and taps.

Really good opener as both men landed some good shots standing and it was pretty even there, but once they hit the ground Knight basically ran a clinic on Bruce Leeroy, controlling him from the back masterfully and then finishing him off despite Caceres defending really well initially. Looks like Knight is for real then when you consider the issues Caceres gave to the likes of Faber and Rodriguez before, even in losing efforts. No idea who he’ll end up matched with next but I look forward to seeing it. Post-fight he calls out Doo Ho Choi and fuck it, that’d do for sure! Knight for some reason reminds me of a villain from an old-school Western, consider me a convert.

Heavyweight Fight: Francis Ngannou vs Andrei Arlovski

This was a *really* big fight for the HW division, as Ngannou had felt like a breath of fresh air since his arrival in 2015, reeling off four straight wins, all with finishes too, and this was his first step up to the upper echelon, facing a former champion in Arlovski – a man he’d called out following his December win over Anthony Hamilton. Despite Arlovski’s massive experience advantage I was firmly behind Ngannou here – let’s be honest, Andrei’s best days are behind him now and he’d lost three in a row prior to this, all by stoppage too, and I thought he was massively overmatched by a younger, bigger, hungrier opponent.

Fight begins and they circle before Ngannou misses a massive right haymaker to counter a low kick. Couple of low kicks glance for Andrei as Ngannou seems to be sizing him up. A rush from Arlovski almost puts him in range for an Ngannou right hand, but it just about misses. Big right hand from Arlovski but Ngannou counters with a swiping left and then TAKES HIM OFF HIS FEET WITH A RIGHT! Arlovski goes down face-first and Ngannou pounces and finishes him off there. Holy shit.

Fight went even shorter than I was expecting going in as Ngannou basically killed Andrei dead with the first big shot he landed, unbelievable really. Sure, Andrei’s chin has never been the strongest and he’s on his way down now, but that doesn’t make him a bad striker per say and it wasn’t like he waded in with his chin up – it was more that Ngannou just timed his killshots perfectly and hit with insane, face-melting power. Ngannou’s since been calling for a fight with Cain Velasquez, and while I think he may well end up with the title in the future I think Cain might be a step too far for him right now – I don’t doubt the guy can wrestle as he stopped the takedowns of Curtis Blaydes (who will be top five himself in time in my opinion) but I still think a healthy Cain is the top guy in the world. Ben Rothwell works best for me as the next opponent as he’s beatable but is far more durable than Arlovski and is still floating around at the top of the division. Either that or maybe the Overeem/Hunt winner, which part of me wouldn’t want because I could see him beating the Reem right now! This was a fantastic knockout, anyway.

Welterweight Fight: Donald Cerrone vs Jorge Masvidal

Yet another quick turnaround for Cerrone then – this was coming just seven weeks after his war with Matt Brown at UFC 206 which is mad by anyone’s standards really. To be fair it was a pretty quick one for Masvidal too as he’d only fought on 12/03 as well. Good matchmaking too if a little off-the-cuff – I figured Cerrone would be put into a title contention type fight while Masvidal coming in wasn’t top ten, but then Cowboy fights anyone anyway. Overall I was hoping Cowboy’s style would drag a great fight out of Masvidal – who is a bit passive at times – and I was taking Cerrone to win too as I felt he was the slightly better fighter all round.

Crowd are absolutely all over Masvidal with the boos while Cerrone gets the monster pop as Denver is basically his hometown. Masvidal seems to be revelling in all the hatred though which is hilarious.

First round begins and Cerrone opens with a leg kick. Crowd are so into Cowboy it’s crazy. Quick jab lands for Masvidal as does a body kick, but Cerrone comes back with a sharp leg kick. Another jab lands for Masvidal and he seems to he pushing forward more, looking to cut Cerrone off. Masvidal lands with a right hand but Cowboy catches him with a clean left counter. Masvidal takes it well and goes back to his jab, and they exchange briefly with both men landing. Nice long jab connects for Cerrone and sets up a nasty leg kick. Quick combo into a jab answers for Masvidal but he takes another low kick. Masvidal fires back with another combo as it seems like he’s got the slightly faster hands. Jabs land for both before a wheel kick misses for Masvidal. Leg kick from Cerrone sets up a takedown but Masvidal springs right back up. Spinning backfist glances for Masvidal and he follows with a glancing combo. Head kick is blocked by Masvidal who smiles at Cerrone. Exchange continues with a kick to the body from Masvidal and a leg kick from Cowboy. Combo lands for Cerrone but Masvidal catches him with a jab and a clean counter right. Body kick sets up a hard one-two for Masvidal and he’s managing to get into boxing range to land clean shots now. Another body kick lands for Masvidal. Cerrone fires back with one of his own, but Masvidal counters with a HUGE COMBO and COWBOY FOLDS!~! Looks like he’s out as Masvidal pounces with a series of hammer fists….but the buzzer sounds to save him. Holy shit it looked for sure like he was out cold there. Announcers think Herb Dean’s stopped the fight but in fact it was the end of the round. Wow. Close round but that last minute clearly won it for Masvidal.

Second round and Cowboy has to be foggy surely. He opens with a leg kick and then wings a big left hook that misses, but he’s still standing right in the danger zone and Masvidal tags him with a right hand. Big combo to the body backs Cowboy up and Masvidal follows with a clinch and some knees to the midsection. Push kick to the leg from Masvidal and he’s really walking Cowboy down now. Cowboy is clearly running on autopilot. He lands with a body kick but Masvidal counters with a HUGE RIGHT HAND and Cerrone goes down again! He pops up but Masvidal’s all over him with more punches, and a combination to the body prompts Herb Dean to step in to save Cowboy as the crowd boo like crazy.

Post-fight Masvidal is STILL getting booed wildly as he says that he doesn’t post stuff on Instagram, he just kicks ass, and there’s guys out there ducking him so he’s offering 200k to Dana White (!), daring him to find someone who can beat him. Pretty sick promo actually as the guy just exudes nastiness. This was a superb performance from him at any rate as he used some excellent footwork and movement to get into boxing range with Cowboy where he had a big advantage in hand speed and general skill, and from there he was able to land the big shots to put Cowboy away. To take nothing away from Masvidal though, part of me does wonder whether this is the beginning of Cowboy’s wild schedule catching up with him – remember he took a lot of shots from Matt Brown in their fight and arguably lost two rounds there as well. Maybe it’s time for him to slow down a little? Not that I expect him to as he’s Cowboy and he’s batshit insane. At any rate this was a hell of a fight that lived up to all the hype. Biggest win of Masvidal’s career, too.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Valentina Shevchenko vs Julianna Pena

With Amanda Nunes beating Ronda Rousey pretty comprehensively, the Women’s Bantamweight division was basically back on track away from any dodgy “money fights” and so this was essentially a fight for the next title shot, with Shevchenko coming off her big summer win over Holly Holm while Pena had last beaten former top contender Cat Zingano and was on a very impressive four-fight winning streak of her own. Pena had also talked a monumental amount of shit coming in, raging against well, basically everyone in the entire division, making herself quite the villain in the process. For me this fight would come down to whether Pena could get Shevchenko down, as it looked basically like a striker vs. grappler match, and my money was on the Venezuelan Vixen – I figured she could use her size advantage to ground Shevchenko as Nunes had in her fight with her – she’s a crude striker but covers ground well in order to clinch – and from there I thought she could win via ground-and-pound.

Round One begins and Pena pushes forward, taking an early combo from Shevchenko but managing to get to the clinch. She forces Shevchenko into the fence and looks to secure a bodylock for a takedown, landing some knees inside in the process. Solid knees land inside for Pena but Shevchenko show some beautiful timing and catches one to hit a foot sweep to side mount! Pena takes an elbow but then scrambles back to her feet, pinning Shevchenko into the fence again. Takedown attempt from Pena is blocked well again but Shevchenko is still pressed into the cage. More solid knees to the body connect for Pena but Shevchenko hits the takedown again! Again she lands in side mount, and it looks like she’s got better control from the top this time too. Hard hammer fists land for Shevchenko but Pena manages to get to full guard. Shevchenko keeps her grounded as Pena tries to strike from her back, and with seconds to go the TUF winner goes for an armbar, but Shevchenko avoids it as the round ends. Close attempt though to be fair. 10-9 Shevchenko for the takedowns and ground control despite Pena’s aggressive clinch.

Round Two and Pena quickly manages to close distance again, landing a right hook en route to clinching. Takedown attempt from Pena is blocked again though as she just tries to muscle Shevchenko down and can’t manage it. They exchange more knees and Pena adds in some dirty boxing for good measure, but the action’s slowed down quite a lot now. Pena finally manages to drop for a double leg and gets it, but Shevchenko bounces right back up. She keeps trying though and finally manages to dump Shevchenko firmly onto her back, landing in the full guard. Pena tries to posture up to deliver some punches, but they’re not landing completely cleanly as Shevchenko defends well from her back. Just over a minute to go and Shevchenko works a high guard, but eats a couple of short elbows. Armbar attempt is avoided by Pena but she’s not doing as much damage from here as you’d think. Another armbar attempt follows for Shevchenko and this time it looks DEEP, and she manages to flip belly-down and then rolls into it and PENA TAPS OUT!

Wow, that was impressive. Beautiful armbar from Valentina Shevchenko and I don’t think anyone would’ve seen it coming as she was so well-known for her striking while everyone – myself included – figured Pena would have a massive advantage on the ground, particularly from the top. Fight wasn’t massively exciting due to all the clinch work, but you have to admire the skill of Shevchenko really – while she wasn’t able to keep Pena on the outside, she took little to no damage in Pena’s clinch, stuffed all but one takedown and landed two of her own, and obviously on the ground she finished things off. Basically as good a performance as she could’ve hoped for.

Post-fight Amanda Nunes gets into the cage to confront Shevchenko, sporting a mullet that a German soccer player from the 80’s would’ve been proud of, and they cut a duelling promo to build up to their future title fight. It’s weird how star power and stuff works though because unfortunately for the UFC, while the stoic Holly Holm absorbed some of Ronda Rousey’s allure with that famous victory and now seems to be a mid-level draw herself, none of the drawing power moved onto the arguably more charismatic Shevchenko via osmosis despite millions of people watching her beat Holm, as this show basically flopped in the ratings. I can’t really see Nunes/Shevchenko 2 selling well either despite it basically being the only title fight they can possibly put on, too. Sucks sometimes but that’s MMA for you.

-Show ends with Shevchenko busting out a pretty weird victory dance.

Final Thoughts….

Ratings be damned, this was a great show from the UFC. Four fights, four exciting finishes, and arguably four star-making performances too from Knight, Ngannou, Masvidal and Shevchenko. Main event wasn’t the most exciting fight ever but the hot finish almost made up for that and anyway, the first three fights would automatically make it a thumbs up anyway. Best big Fox show since December 2015’s RDA/Cerrone one for my money.

Best Fight: Cerrone vs. Masvidal
Worst Fight: Pena vs. Shevchenko

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: