MMA Review: #614: UFC Fight Night 116

-The first UFC show to take place in Pittsburgh since the Cowboy vs. Cowboy show in 2016, this was Luke Rockhold’s big return following his knockout loss at the hands of Michael Bisping. Obviously David Branch wasn’t the biggest name for his return fight, but he was on a huge win streak at least. The rest of the card looked pretty good too, filled with top prospects and action fighters.

UFC Fight Night 116

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Dominick Cruz, with Paul Felder joining them for the first four fights. For the record Felder is a NATURAL at this stuff.

Heavyweight Fight: Justin Ledet vs Zu Anyanwu

Former pro boxer Ledet had won his first two UFC outings but had then been on the shelf following a USADA bust for steroids (he was using the “contaminated supplement” excuse). He was supposed to fight Dmitriy Sosnovskiy here, but when Sosnovskiy had to withdraw, Anyanwu – a fighter who’d won on the Dana White’s Contender Series – stepped in to take the fight instead. I literally had no idea who would win this given I knew nothing about Zu.

First round begins and boy, Anyanwu is in HORRIBLE SHAPE. Ledet to be fair looks like he could make 205lbs as well. Anyanwu stalks forward and backs him up, but Ledet begins to work his jab pretty much right away. Crowd start booing a minute in, evidently a tough crowd to please. Big overhand right glances for Zu as he tries to come over the jab, but he’s taking a lot more punches from Ledet. Nice combination lands for Ledet. Good lord is this a dull round. Crowd must’ve been psychic and known they’d need to boo anyway. Decent counter right lands for Anyanwu but Ledet eats it up. Round ends with Ledet peppering him with more punches. 10-9 Ledet in a yawner.

Second round and Anyanwu comes out swinging, but Ledet laughs at him and starts to work the jab and the one-two again. Looks like Anyanwu is trying to draw Ledet into a brawl along the fence, but Ledet doesn’t seem to want any part of that and he continues to circle out and pop him with cleaner punches. Anyanwu’s wild swings just aren’t landing cleanly. Jabs begin to really get through cleanly for Ledet. Crowd are furious with Ledet’s gameplan as he keeps circling away from the potential brawl. It’s smart but dull. More of the same follows and Anyanwu’s face is all swollen up as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Ledet.

Third round and fair play to Anyanwu as he comes out SWINGING, probably knowing he’s got to knock Ledet out to win. He does land some wild hooks, but Ledet absorbs them well and smartly circles off the fence and goes back to jabbing. Again Anyanwu manages to chase him down and land some punches, but Ledet’s too clever with his movement. To be fair Zu is swinging heavy leather though and landing some good shots in this round. He’s clearly tired though as he’s finding it hard to actually track Ledet down to land on him. More of the same follows as Ledet stays out of range to end the fight. Probably Zu’s round due to the aggression and the fact that Ledet took his foot off the pedal, but it has to be Ledet’s fight overall.

Judges have it as a surprising split decision, two judges getting it right and going 29-28 for Ledet but one somehow calling it 29-28 Anyanwu which is ridiculous. I know Ledet didn’t do all that much but he clearly outlanded Anyanwu and was never in trouble at any point. Really dull fight though – there’s a reason Ledet’s got no fanfare despite being 3-0 at Heavyweight, as he barely did enough to get by a late replacement, and so when you compare his performance to what the likes of Ngannou and Blaydes have been doing then there’s no comparison really.

Welterweight Fight: Kamaru Usman vs Sergio Moraes

Odd matchmaking here as Usman was clearly ready for a top ten opponent but was instead faced with Moraes – a great grappler and on an excellent 6 fight win streak (with one draw) but not really a top-level opponent. Given how Usman had basically destroyed anyone he’d come up against previously, I figured he’d look to make a statement by taking out Moraes violently.

Round One begins and both guys push forward and swing early on. Usman’s really throwing some heavy leather. Big leg kick lands for Usman. Flurry follows and Moraes has to follow up. Right hand puts Moraes down, but Usman lets him back up. Both guys continue to swing and Usman connects on the low leg kick again. Body kick lands for Usman but he’s leaving himself a bit open with all of this aggression and Moraes is throwing too. Another low leg kick connects for Usman. Big overhand right answers for Moraes but Usman eats it up. Nice jab from Usman. He continues to push forward and forces Moraes back, and finally a BIG RIGHT HAND folds Moraes and he goes down face-first, and a BRUTAL SHOT on the ground stiffens the Brazilian up.

Brutal, brutal knockout from Kamaru Usman who I think is the best prospect at 170lbs right now, bar none. I think he probably takes out most of the top ten too – but despite a post-fight interview calling out the top five he STILL hasn’t been given a big fight, faced with a dangerous prospect in his own right in Emil Meek next. I don’t get it given the opportunities that a guy like Colby Covington’s been given, but there you go. As long as he keeps winning he should be fine, especially if it’s like this because this was AWESOME.

Lightweight Fight: Gregor Gillespie vs Jason Gonzalez

Former Division I national champion wrestler Gillespie had come into the UFC in 2016 with an impressive win over Glaico Franca and had followed that with a knockout of Andrew Holbrook, so he was starting to gain some traction in the division coming into this one. Opponent Gonzalez had come off TUF 22 and was 1-1 in the UFC, but due to the wrestling difference I was comfortably picking Gillespie.

Fight begins and Gonzalez comes out SWINGING and tags Gillespie with a big head kick, but evidently Gillespie’s chin is iron as he clinches and forces Gonzalez right into the fence. BRUTAL ELBOW from the clinch drops Gonzalez and he’s in trouble! Gillespie pounces and looks to finish, but Gonzalez manages to survive and ties him up from half-guard. Full guard now for Gonzalez and he looks to hold on, but takes a bunch of punches from Gillespie from the top. Foot sweep allows Gonzalez to pop back up to his feet, but he gets tagged by a BIG COMBO as soon as he stands! He fires back though and HOLY SHIT THIS IS A BRAWL. It’s basically like a Rocky movie as both guys just throw HAYMAKERS and stun each other before Gillespie tackles Gonzalez down into side mount. Jesus this is awesome. Gonzalez is bleeding all over the place. Full mount for Gillespie now and he begins to drop some heavy ground-and-pound before taking the back. Gonzalez manages to scramble up to his feet though and he lands a head kick! Another beautiful double leg drops Gonzalez back to the ground though and Gillespie mounts again. Gonzalez gets his back to the fence and works to his knees, but he takes a huge elbow as he stands. Somehow he eats it up though and fires back with a BIG FLURRY! Left uppercut drops Gillespie and he dives on a single leg, but he can’t get Gonzalez down and Gonzalez takes a huge risk with an attempted D’Arce, but botches it and they come up where Gillespie grabs a front headlock. He switches that into a single leg and looks to get Gonzalez down again, but this time Gonzalez defends really well. Another try gets him down though and he moves right into side mount. Seconds to go and Gillespie drops some elbows, and ends the round on top. 10-9 Gillespie in one of the best rounds of the year, wow.

2nd round begins and Gonzalez literally sprints out of his corner. Big head kick connects for him and stuns Gillespie, and then he tries to fire back, but eats a counter that hurts him too. Double leg puts Gonzalez down though and that allows Gillespie time to recover. He slices through the guard into full mount and now Gonzalez is in trouble. Gonzalez can’t seem to buck Gillespie off due to such a solid base, and Gillespie decides to go for an arm triangle from the mount. Gonzalez does enough to defend, but he’s got no answer for this mount. Another arm triangle attempt looks tighter, but Gonzalez grabs his hands together to defend. Gillespie keeps on squeezing though, and finally Gonzalez is stuck and has to tap out.

That might’ve been my favourite UFC fight of 2017 off the top of my head. Gonzalez looked overmatched in the wrestling game but didn’t care as he came out swinging, and rather than just stick to his grappling, Gillespie decided to throw caution to the wind and brawl with him just enough to set up the takedowns, and on the ground he pretty much owned him. Amazing fight in every possible way though and yeah, I can’t wait to see Gillespie fight again and I’d probably go out of my way to watch Gonzalez, too. Huge kudos to both men.

Middleweight Fight: Hector Lombard vs Anthony Smith

Lombard was essentially in the last chance saloon here following his return to Middleweight and another disappointing loss at the hands of Johny Hendricks. Smith was a massive step down for him in terms of competition, but he was at least on a two-fight win streak and with Lombard looking totally shot I was giving him a decent chance of winning over the Cuban.

Round One begins and they circle with Lombard eating an early high kick as he tries to swing over the reach of Smith. Big flurry lands for Lombard and backs Smith up, but he’s okay. Pair of nice front kicks land from distance for Smith. He’s clearly looking to keep a long range. Couple more big swings let Lombard get inside, and Smith shoots and winds up on his knees as Lombard tries to drop shots onto him. Smith gets back up but he might’ve been hurt there. Big head kick misses for Smith. Body kick lands cleanly for Lombard. Left hand from the Cuban backs Smith up. Lombard’s not doing too badly with getting into range actually. Exchange continues with Lombard landing a really nasty body kick. Smith comes back with a front kick. Both men trade punches and Lombard lands the better shots, really backing Smith up. He looks tiny when they get face-to-face though. More punches connect for Lombard but Smith’s chin holds up well. Nasty low kick from Lombard. More low kicks follow as Lombard chews Smith’s legs up. Round ends there. 10-9 Lombard for me as he was the busier fighter by far.

Round Two and Lombard opens with a low kick, but in the first minute at least it appears that his output has slowed down somewhat. Knee lands for Smith but Lombard wades in with some power hooks and almost gets a takedown, but Smith avoids it. Combination glances for Lombard as Smith covers up with his back to the fence. Action has really ground almost to a halt here. Looks like Smith’s in counter mode and Lombard might be gassed. Two minutes to go and Lombard gets a rear waistlock, but he can’t seem to get Smith down and lands a couple of knees to the hamstrings instead. Spinning elbow misses for Smith but sets up a bit of a trade with both men glancing on shots. Right hand drops Lombard but he dives in for the takedown and gets it to end the round. 10-9 Lombard again I guess for the better shots.

Round Three and Smith’s yelling at Lombard, asking if he knows his name. Uh, probably! Smith comes out firing punches and backing Lombard up, and they trade with some big shots including a really nasty knee from Smith. Body kick follows and Smith seems to be gaining the advantage now. Lombard wings in some massive hooks but can’t really land, and Smith stuns him with a counter right. Some jabs start to land for Smith now too. Lombard manages to walk Smith down a bit and lands with the low kick again, but a one-two from Smith drops him HARD and Smith quickly finishes things off on the ground.

Better fight than I remembered it being when I first watched, but it still wasn’t great or anything; the first round saw Lombard look pretty good, but then his output really slowed down and it felt like it took Smith a round to realise the fight was his for the taking, but in the third he really came out aggressively and managed to win. I doubt this pushes Smith into contention but it’s a good name win for him. As for Lombard, he’s probably the biggest bust in UFC history I’d say and if he fights again in the Octagon I’d be surprised.

Welterweight Fight: Mike Perry vs Alex Reyes

Initially, rising star Perry was pegged to fight Thiago Alves here in what would’ve been a tough test for him, but when Alves dropped out due to issues with Hurricane Irma, the unknown – and natural 155lber – Reyes stepped in with a thirteen-fight win streak for his UFC debut. Despite that I couldn’t see him getting past Perry’s power, though, and figured Platinum Mike would take another first round knockout.

Fight begins and Perry pushes forward from the off. Reyes to be fair doesn’t look that much smaller than Perry. Overhand right glances for Reyes but Perry backs him up with some jabs. Leg kick and another right land for Reyes. Perry keeps walking him down though and lands with a knee that wobbles Reyes. Wild swings follow but Reyes manages to clinch to slow him down. Big knee from inside the clinch hurts him though as does an elbow. Another knee follows and DOWN GOES REYES, and one hammer fist finishes it.

Well, at least Perry didn’t play with his food – not that Reyes was a tomato can or anything but you can’t read too much into a knockout win over a guy taking the fight on late notice who usually fights a weight class below, however good he is. Perry to me remains a very limited fighter and an unlikeable guy too, but he’s at least charismatic and gets people talking. How far he can actually go I don’t know, but given his style it’ll be fun to see him try – even if I think he’ll fail when he steps up in competition.

Middleweight Fight: Luke Rockhold vs David Branch

Well, talk about a long time coming for Rockhold. He had of course been out for well over a year following the knockout loss to Bisping, and outside of pulling out of a fight with Ronaldo Souza due to injury, he’d done very little other than whine about the state of the division – hardly endearing himself to fans. For Branch, this was his big chance at stardom as he’d come back from WSOF riding a ten-fight win streak and had beaten Kryz Jotko in his UFC return, but he’d never faced someone as good as Rockhold before. Despite Rockhold’s divisive personality, this looked like a fight that he’d probably win comfortably as Branch’s strengths – the ground game – seemed to play into Rockhold’s hands as he’d never had issues on the ground before.

Round One begins and Branch comes out swinging and tags Rockhold with some punches. Rockhold comes back with a couple of glancing body kicks, but Branch keeps pushing forward and really catches the former champ with some nice shots leading into the clinch. They separate quickly and Rockhold lands the body kick again, but another one is caught and Branch chases him down with a flurry of punches! Crowd go crazy as Rockhold has to clinch, but Branch takes him down surprisingly enough. Rockhold works right back up and remains in the clinch, where the action slows down a little. Rockhold spins the position around and leans on Branch before landing a knee, and they jockey for position before breaking off. Big right hook lands for Branch to set up another clinch, and he’s really pressuring Rockhold here. Trip takedown fails for Rockhold and he breaks with a knee, then lands a nasty low kick. Branch pressures him back with punches again though, and Rockhold actually looks like he might be a bit tired. Jump kick misses for the former champ. Another flurry sets up the clinch for Branch, but this time Rockhold manages to drag him down and land in the guard. Round ends with Rockhold tied up in the guard. 10-9 Branch for me as he clearly got the better of the standing exchanges.

Round Two and a good body kick opens for Rockhold. Branch forces him back with punches again and lands a body kick of his own, but Rockhold comes back with a low kick. Kick is caught by Branch and he lands a clean counter right and backs Rockhold up again, landing another body kick. Clinch from Rockhold and they exchange knees before Rockhold goes for the takedown. Branch works to defend, but Rockhold keeps trying and he trips Branch down eventually and immediately mounts! Nice work from Rockhold. Branch practically gives his back, but Rockhold’s mount is rock solid and he can’t get out. Big punches get through for Rockhold and Branch is in deep trouble. Eventually he turns his back fully and continues to eat bombs, and finally he gives us the ultra-rare tapout due to strikes.

Interesting fight overall; Rockhold picked up a really good win, especially when you consider how badly he dominated a legitimate black belt on the ground, but it wasn’t plain sailing for him – I worry about how he’d do against a harder hitter than Branch as he was being TAGGED by punches in that first round by a guy who’s not really a knockout striker. Dude really needs to work on his striking defence because he can’t just rely on landing kicks from the outside when it’s clear now that the path to hurt him is to really walk him down. Good main event though to end the night and I look forward to seeing what they’ve got for Rockhold next.

-Show ends with Rockhold celebrating his win after calling out GSP for apparently not really wanting to fight Michael Bisping. How wrong was he?

Final Thoughts….

This was a hell of a show once it got past that shitty opener between Ledet and Anyanwu. Obviously the best fight was Gillespie/Gonzalez – a legit FOTYC – but basically everything else was awesome too, in particular the brutal knockouts for Usman and Perry. Smith/Lombard got slow at points but had a nasty ending too and the main event was definitely a lot of fun. Two thumbs up for this one easily.

Best Fight: Gillespie vs. Gonzalez
Worst Fight: Ledet vs. Anyanwu

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: