MMA Review: #609: UFC on Fox: Weidman vs. Gastelum

-This one was essentially styled as a ‘New York vs. the world’ card, as all four matches on the main slot had a local New Yorker against an opponent from elsewhere, with Jimmie Rivera, Gian Villante, Dennis Bermudez and Chris Weidman all looking to defend New York pride.

UFC on Fox: Weidman vs. Gastelum

Long Island, New York

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Dominick Cruz and Brian Stann.

Bantamweight Fight: Jimmie Rivera vs Thomas Almeida

Aside from the main event this was probably the best fight on the card – two legit top ten 135lbers with exciting styles ready to throw down. I was favouring Rivera slightly due to his more well-rounded skills and better chin, but you can never count a guy as dangerous as Almeida out so it was close.

Round One begins and they circle and throw a lot of feints, with both guys pressing forward. Couple of combinations glance for Rivera. Inside leg kick and a body shot land for Rivera on the counter. Almeida fires back, but he takes a left to the body and then a short left in an exchange and he goes down! Rivera pounces on him to look for the finish, but Almeida manages to work his way back to his feet and forces him into the fence to slow the action down. Ref calls time to replace Rivera’s mouthpiece and in a questionable call from Big Dan he lets them start standing and not clinched. Flurry from Rivera off a failed takedown attempt lands, but Almeida manages to circle out of range. Quick combo from Rivera and then both men land with low kicks. Big exchange sees both men landing punches. Right hand from Rivera puts Almeida down a second time, but he pops up quickly only to take a hard body kick. Good recovery from Almeida actually as he seems okay. Crowd are massively into Rivera. Seconds to go and Rivera tries to clinch, but ends up shoving Almeida away instead. Round ends with Almeida on the attack. 10-9 Rivera for the knockdowns, not enough for a 10-8 however.

Round Two and they trade from the off with Almeida landing a nice combo. Knee from Almeida is caught and Rivera goes for the takedown but can’t get the Brazilian down. Flying knee glances for Almeida. Nice left hand lands for Rivera in an exchange. Sweeping left hook stuns Almeida again but he retreats well to avoid being hurt again. Big right hand buckles Almeida’s legs but again he recovers well and cracks Rivera back with a left hook. Looks like Rivera’s cut over the right eye. Jumping kick glances for Almeida. He’s throwing a lot more kicks this round at least. Wild right hand stuns and drops Rivera this time, but he pops up immediately and goes for a takedown. Almeida avoids it, but it allows Rivera to recover. This is becoming a hell of a fight. Exchange continues with both landing, and it seems like Almeida’s struggling with his left eye. Big head kick glances for Almeida but somehow Rivera just eats it right up. Trade continues with both landing, and the round ends with Almeida landing the cleaner blows. Almeida’s round, 10-9.

Round Three and Rivera comes out with an early single leg attempt, elevates Almeida and slams him down to guard. Smart move from Rivera as Almeida was beginning to outstrike him in the previous round. Almeida squirms from his back, but Rivera passes into half-guard and looks to keep him down. Good job from Almeida to work to his feet, but Rivera presses him into the fence and lands with some knees. He looks to force the Brazilian back down, but can’t manage it and they break off. Nice left hook from Rivera in a brief exchange. Almeida presses forward, but takes another left hook before landing one of his own. Spin kick misses for Almeida as neither man looks tired at all. Good combination lands for Rivera. Big trade sees both men glance. Takedown attempt from Rivera again, but this time Almeida defends it well and remains on his feet. They break off and Almeida cracks Rivera with a body kick into a hard left hook. Clean counter right hand connects for Rivera. This is an awesome fight. Flying knee is caught by Rivera who dumps Almeida down, and then takes the back in a scramble, only for Almeida to roll and get to his feet. Nice! Almeida keeps pressing forward, but Rivera fires right back as they exchange, with the Brazilian landing a hard knee to the body and a combo. Round ends in a trade; 10-9 Rivera for a 29-28 win.

Judges have it 29-28, 30-26 and 30-27 all for Jimmie Rivera, making the crowd REALLY happy. This was a pretty great fight from start to finish really, as Rivera was winning early on standing, Almeida managed to adjust to begin to take over, and then Rivera brought in the takedowns and grappling to add another dimension and outwork Almeida late on. Just two tremendous fighters throwing down at the peak of their game, basically. Next up for Rivera is Dominick Cruz which should be AWESOME and if he wins that then it’s gotta be a title shot basically.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Patrick Cummins vs Gian Villante

This was a really tricky fight to pick given the glass cannon-ish nature of both men – Villante was coming off a pretty crazy knockout loss to Shogun for instance in a fight he was winning at times – but while he had a penchant for leaving himself open I still felt he could take advantage of Cummins’ notoriously high chin, and so I took him to win in a tight one.

First round and Cummins stays on the outside before shooting on a single leg. He gets Villante down, but the New Yorker pops right back up and ends up against the fence. He breaks off though, only for Cummins to shoot again. Villante defends it well though and drops some hard hammer fists onto Cummins’ head that force him to break off. Pair of big right hands stun Cummins and it looks like he’s cut open around his right eye already. A third right drops him to a knee, but he pops up and tries for the takedown again. Good defense from Villante though and he circles out. Cummins manages to clinch, but he’s all over the place here. They separate and Big John McCarthy stops the fight due to an accidental headbutt, as Cummins looks busted open badly. They restart and Cummins drives Villante back into the fence, but he still can’t get him down. Couple of high kicks glance for Villante and they exchange punches. Takedown attempt follows for Cummins but again Villante defends it well. Villante is just spamming the overhand right now and it isn’t landing so well. Big right hand lands for Cummins and he uses it to set up a takedown, dragging Villante down and taking his back. Gian pops back up into the clinch though and they end up against the fence. They break off with thirty seconds to go and now Cummins lands some decent punches. Round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Villante on damage, but Cummins was taking over late.

Second round and both men come out swinging punches, with Cummins actually tagging Villante a couple of times. Big single leg attempt is defended well by Villante again. Both men keep on swinging before Cummins backs him into the fence, but again Gian separates. Series of kicks miss for Villante before Cummins throws a bunch of short punches from close range. Another takedown attempt fails for Cummins but he’s actually outlanding Villante standing now. Right hand does connect for Villante but Cummins hangs in there and tags him with some more punches. Big combo backs Villante up. Hard low kick lands for Villante. Another takedown attempt fails for Cummins as the round comes to an end, but it’s his round. 10-9 Cummins to even it up.

Third round and Cummins swings some punches again before shooting, but Villante manages to defend it again. Villante’s looking a bit tired actually. He swings back and a huge right to the temple wobbles Cummins, but he doesn’t follow it up well and has to defend a takedown instead. Left hand tags Villante and now these guys are just winging haymakers and throwing defense out of the window. Takedown is defended again by Villante and they continue to brawl. Cummins’ face is a MESS. He keeps pushing forward though, even landing a superman elbow (!) at one point. Looks like Cummins has more in the tank than Villante. Two minutes to go and Cummins tags Villante with a pair of big right hands, and then really opens up on him as he ends up with his back to the cage. Clinch from Cummins but he still can’t get Villante down. He does land a bunch of knees to the legs, though, and it doesn’t look like Villante’s got anything left. Big John separates them with seconds to go, and Cummins lands a heavy right hook again. Big right answers for Villante but Cummins eats it up and keeps on walking forward like a zombie as the round ends. I’d go 29-28 Cummins.

Official scores are 29-28 Cummins, 29-28 Villante, and 29-28 for Patrick Cummins to take the split decision. Can’t say I’d disagree really; this was a seriously gutsy display from Cummins as he got through a terrible first round, couldn’t get any takedowns, and yet he managed to use the threat of the takedown to outstrike a far more technical striker to pick up the win. Villante may have thrown the fight away by not opening up more in the first I guess but then he was very concerned by the takedown so it was almost understandable. Excellent win for Cummins at any rate in what was a hell of a brawl.

Featherweight Fight: Darren Elkins vs Dennis Bermudez

Odd co-main even in terms of name value here, but then I guess the UFC were looking to capitalise on the hype Elkins earned with his massive comeback win over Mirsad Bektic in March, and fair play to them for actually giving someone a bit of a promotional push for a performance like that. No trash talk needed either! This looked like a tough fight for Elkins as Bermudez was a better athlete and a similar fighter, but then his chin had never been great and so that gave Elkins a fighting chance.

Round One and HOLY SHIT is ref Dan Miragliotta orange. Jumping kick opens things for Bermudez but it doesn’t land cleanly and Elkins fires back with punches. Good leg kick lands for Bermudez. Clinch is shrugged off and Elkins lands on the break, then follows with a low kick. Lot of movement early on for Bermudez. Both guys are swinging pretty wildly here actually. A slip from Bermudez allows Elkins to grab a front facelock, and he spins to take the back and manages to hold on and land some decent punches too. Bermudez gets back to his feet, but Elkins stays on him like glue and forces him back down. They move along the fence with Elkins still holding the rear waistlock, but Bermudez manages to spin free. Exchange continues before Bermudez misses a punch, and it allows Elkins to dive on him and drag him to the ground, right into a body triangle. Really nice grappling from Elkins. One minute to go and Bermudez squirms around as Elkins keeps him locked down, but somehow Dennis stands and shakes him off. Clinch from Bermudez now and he drives Elkins back, but Elkins switches position and hits a slam. Bermudez pops up again, and manages a takedown of his own, but Elkins pops up only for Bermudez to tag him with a combo from the clinch. Round ends with a front choke attempt from Elkins. 10-9 Elkins, fun round.

Round Two and Bermudez walks Elkins down before landing a hard right hand that sets up a combo. Takedown attempt follows, but Elkins avoids it by setting up a guillotine. More wild hooks glance for Bermudez but he’s leaping in rather than setting them up. Takedown attempt is shrugged off by Bermudez but a second attempt sees them clinch on the fence. Clean right hand stuns Elkins and he dives on a single leg but can’t get it. He comes back with a combination of his own and now they’re basically openly trading. Big takedown from Bermudez plants Elkins down by the fence, and he lands some solid punches as Elkins works to his feet. They jockey for position inside the clinch before breaking off, and both men wing punches before Bermudez dives back into the clinch. Front headlock from Elkins defends the takedown and he forces Bermudez onto his knees, and from there he lands some knees to the shoulders and works to a rear waistlock. Slam follows for Elkins and he takes the back with both hooks, but Bermudez scrambles up to his feet. Round ends with Elkins tripping Bermudez down and taking his back again. 10-10 round for me as Bermudez started strong but Elkins took over later on.

Round Three and they exchange some early strikes with Bermudez landing a really nice knee to the body. Clinch from Bermudez and he forces Elkins into the fence, but they break off with punches soon after. Combination lands for Bermudez but Elkins doesn’t look hurt or anything. Weird moment as Bermudez practically throws Elkins into the fence, but he doesn’t really follow it up. Takedown attempt from Elkins now but he can’t get it and Bermudez spins him into the fence. Knee breaks for Bermudez and they trade some punches. Bermudez walks him down a bit, but takes a decent left hand too. Big right hand connects hard for Bermudez. Combo sets up a clinch for him, but they break quickly and trade off again. Can’t fault these guys for aggression that’s for sure. Exchange continues into another clinch, and they brawl from there before Bermudez rocks him with some punches. Another clinch sees both men land strikes, and they break with seconds to go before Bermudez lands some more punches. Elkins fires back and then goes for a takedown on the buzzer. 10-9 Bermudez and I’d call it a draw, could go either way depending on the 2nd round.

Judges have it 29-28 Elkins, 29-28 Bermudez, and 29-28 Elkins for another split decision. Incredibly difficult fight to score – I guess the judges went for the stronger finish to the second round for Elkins and that’s what made the difference. Excellent fight overall as both men showed a ton of aggression – it felt more like Bermudez could’ve won had he kept it more simple in the early rounds rather than all the leaping strikes and stuff, but c’est la vie. That’s five in a row for Elkins now too which is a tremendous run for him!

Middleweight Fight: Chris Weidman vs Kelvin Gastelum

Pretty huge main event here and quite possibly the final roll of the dice for Weidman too after losing three in a row. Hard to believe he was clearly the #1 185lber in the world just two years ago really but then three losses bring you down a lot. Personally I still had faith in him as he’d been beating both Rockhold and Romero until the later rounds, and the Mousasi fight was weird with that illegal knee anyway, but I did have some fears that the IV ban might’ve sapped him of a lot of his strength from his prime years. Gastelum was a tough out too given his wins over Kennedy and Belfort, but I thought his smaller size – and the fact that Kennedy took him down a lot – made him a better match for Weidman and figured the All-American would finally find a way to win in his hometown.

Round One begins and sure enough Weidman has a huge size advantage. Nice low kick from Weidman and he circles around a lot early on. Weidman lands with a right hand and he’s really keeping his distance here which is smart given the reach advantage. Couple more rights follow before Weidman shoots and gets Gastelum down. Scramble from Gastelum but he gives his back, albeit with no hooks. Crowd are going apeshit for Weidman. Couple of short punches land for him but Gastelum works up to his feet. Weidman drags him back down, but Gastelum stands again only for Weidman to drag him right down almost into an arm triangle. Gastelum avoids that, but he’s flat on his back now underneath side mount. Into north/south for Weidman now and he begins to work for a kimura, but Gastelum does a tremendous job of powering out and he escapes to his feet. One minute to go now and they circle around, before Gastelum steps in with a CRUSHING LEFT and sends Weidman DOWN! Weidman dives on a leg to try to recover, but he takes a bunch of punches and he’s in trouble. Round ends before Gastelum can finish, though. Difficult round to score but I’d say Gastelum might’ve stolen it with the near finish at the end.

Round Two and Weidman looks fully recovered now. Gastelum comes out swinging, understandably, but Weidman circles back out of range to avoid. Good leg kick from Kelvin. Weidman responds with one of his own though and he backs Gastelum up to deliver a hard right. Clinch from Weidman and they jockey for position, and Weidman finally gets him down to the ground with a trip. Gastelum tries to get up, but gives his back in the process and Weidman slaps a hook in. Rear naked choke attempt follows, but he can’t quite sink it in and Gastelum shakes the hook off and stands. Weidman quickly trips him back down and takes the back again, but again Kelvin works back up. Weidman keeps on him and looks to get him back down, which he does, but Gastelum looks pretty chilled despite having to drop to full guard. Elbows land for Weidman as the crowd begin a deafening chant for him. Weidman keeps on with the short elbows, staying patient, and it finally looks like Gastelum might be trapped on the bottom. Round ends as Gastelum gives his back and takes some more punishment. Clearly 10-9 for Weidman.

Round Three and Gastelum comes out swinging and tags Weidman with some wild punches, but gets dropped by a counter right momentarily and that allows Weidman to grab a front headlock. Kelvin breaks that and keeps on pushing forward swinging, stuffing a takedown too, but Weidman backs up and glances on a head kick. Beautiful combination connects for Weidman off a faked takedown, but Gastelum manages to use some head movement to avoid some follow-ups. Weidman’s really using his reach well now to land from the outside though. Big right hand from Weidman counters Gastelum’s jab, and he goes for a single leg, but Gastelum defends it brilliantly. Clinch follows though and he forces Kelvin into the fence. Double leg plants Gastelum down and he takes the back again as Kelvin stands. Knees to the legs follow as Weidman holds the rear waistlock, then dumps Gastelum down to the ground. He takes the back again and then drags him down, landing punches to the side of the head for good measure, and from there he takes full mount with some beautiful grappling. Gastelum tries to roll, but gives up an arm triangle choke in the process and Weidman locks it down and GETS THE TAPOUT! Crowd EXPLODE for it too, one of the biggest pops in UFC history.

Post-fight we get a really special moment as Weidman’s whole family enter the cage to celebrate, in particular his dad who goes absolutely CRAZY as you’d expect him to. This was an absolutely great fight as well, as Gastelum tried and almost took Weidman out with that knockdown, but he couldn’t quite deal with the size and particularly the length of Weidman, who fought to his strengths and put on his best showing since the Belfort fight in 2015. If he keeps going like this I could definitely see him with the belt again in the future. Crowd enthusiasm may have made it seem better and I admit I’m a big fan of Weidman anyway, but I thought this was one of the best main events of 2017 by far.

-Show ends with Weidman celebrating with his family to ‘Born in the USA’ because why not?

Final Thoughts….

Quality show from start to finish really; we could’ve done with another finish perhaps but I don’t think anyone could complain about a pair of action-packed fights like Rivera/Almeida and Elkins/Bermudez, and a gutter-war like Cummins/Villante too. Add in a really great main event and this one’s a must-see in my opinion. Thumbs way up.

Best Fight: Weidman vs. Gastelum
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: