MMA Review: #617: UFC Fight Night 118

-This show was getting pretty much zero hype, but to be fair that was to be expected given it was a Euro card with mainly local Polish fighters, even if the main event was pretty cool – Scouse prospect Darren Till stepping up to fight Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. Fuckin’ A.

UFC Fight Night 118

Gdansk, Poland

-Your hosts are John Gooden and Dan Hardy.

Middleweight Fight: Oskar Piechota vs Jonathan Wilson

Polish newcomer Piechota was bringing in a really big reputation from the European circuit – 9-0 with a bunch of knockouts on his record, but he was supposedly a great grappler too. This looked like a favourable match for him too – Wilson was coming down from 205lbs, but he’d lost in pretty one-sided fashion in his last two fights to Ion Cutelaba and Henrique da Silva.

Round One and you can see right away that Piechota is actually well-sized for a 185lber, rare for a European prospect. He circles on the outside as Wilson takes the center, where he lands a few glancing kicks. Crowd are red hot for Piechota. Both men exchange kicks that don’t really land cleanly, with Piechota throwing out a lot of feints. Two minutes to go now and neither man’s done all that much really. Big takedown from Piechota finally gives us some action and as Wilson scrambles, the Polish fighter quickly hops onto his back and slaps on the body triangle. It looks like the choke’s sunk with Wilson still standing, but Wilson manages to avoid it. Piechota works some punches to soften him up and he’s still in a lot of trouble. Wilson finally drops to his back with Piechota still in control, but he can’t finish the choke off. Seconds to go and it looks like he might have it, but Wilson just about survives. 10-9 Piechota.

Round Two and Wilson pushes forward, but he looks a bit gunshy. A slip puts him down and he almost eats a big head kick as he stands back up. Piechota isn’t throwing much at all here but Wilson can’t seem to find his range. Decent right hand connects for the Pole. High kick from Wilson is largely blocked. Wilson starts to really swing and pushes forward, but it looks like Oskar is the quicker striker and he lands with a couple of counters. This is becoming a bit of a boring fight. Big head kick sees Wilson slip to the ground, but Piechota can’t capitalise. Crowd even sound bored now, whistling like crazy. Seconds to go and a HUGE RIGHT HAND drops Wilson, but Piechota can’t finish him off before the buzzer. If that was like, 30 seconds earlier that was probably the fight, but it’s still 10-9 Piechota.

Round Three and both guys start pretty slowly again, throwing out some strikes that come up short. Head kick is blocked by Wilson. Left uppercut glances for Piechota. Both keep coming up short on strikes before Piechota shoots for the takedown, drives Wilson into the fence and then gets him down. He almost lands in back mount and then manages to take full mount instead. Wilson rolls and gives his back, and the Pole slaps both hooks in and then mounts again. Good punches land for Piechota and he uses those to force Wilson to give his back. Pair of nasty hammer fists connect for Piechota and he’s in full control now. Wilson rolls and gives up a possible arm triangle, but Piechota can’t quite seal the deal. Short elbows land for the Pole and it looks like he wants an armbar, but Wilson defends well until the buzzer sounds. 10-9 Piechota; 30-27 Piechota overall.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Oskar Piechota. No other scores were possible, really. Piechota fought pretty passively here as he allowed Wilson most of the forward motion, but literally all of the key offensive parts came from the Polish fighter, who showed skills in all areas – takedowns, grappling and striking. I think once he’s a little more comfortable, with his size and clear strength, we could be looking at a pretty decent prospect at 185lbs. Fight wasn’t the best due to all the inactivity, but Piechota is definitely a guy to watch.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jan Blachowicz vs Devin Clark

Clark was on a two-fight win streak here but this was clearly his toughest test to date against a native Polish fighter in his backyard, desperate for a win coming off two losses. Despite Clark being on a hotter run I was picking Blachowicz as he’d at least been losing to legit top ten (or thereabouts) guys.

Fight begins and the crowd are LOUD in favour of Blachowicz, naturally. Wild rush from Clark sets up a takedown attempt as he’s clearly got an idea of Blachowicz’z weakness, but the Polish fighter does well to defend it and he forces Clark back into the fence. Action slows down from there as they exchange some short strikes from inside the clinch, and after about a minute ref Marc Goddard separates them. Good counter right hand lands for Jan as Clark pushes forward. Low kick lands for Clark as both men are fighting from long range. Another chopping low kick lands for Clark and he pushes forward with a flurry that doesn’t really work. Low kick us caught by Blachowicz and he counters with a kick to the body and follows with a left to the same spot. Clark clinches, but Blachowicz pushes him into the fence with some knees. Big overhand right lands for Clark on the break but Jan recovers quickly and fires back with a body kick. Another big right hand connects for Clark, forcing Blachowicz to back up. Again Blachowicz fires back with a hard kick to the body. Round ends on the feet. Probably 10-9 Clark by a hair, but it was close.

2nd round and both men miss strikes from range, before another body kick lands for Blachowicz. A second body kick doubles Clark over and he’s in pain. He manages to circle away from the fence though, but that clearly hurt him. Another one lands for Jan as he keeps avoiding Clark’s wild rushes. Big takedown attempt from Clark but Blachowicz defends and then gets a surprising takedown of his own. He lands in the half-guard and drops a couple of punches, but the action is pretty slow really. Clark manages to kick him away and stands, but he definitely looks like he’s struggling. And that’d be due to an eye poke apparently, as Marc Goddard calls time. They restart quickly though and Clark comes forward swinging, but Blachowicz clinches and then locks up a STANDING REAR NAKED CHOKE literally out of nowhere and Clark has to tap!

That was one of the coolest submissions I can remember seeing recently – like an old-school sleeper hold from pro-wrestling or something. Not sure about Clark’s submission defence as you don’t normally see a choke like that without the choking fighter using hooks or body control, but it was still pretty awesome. Fight wasn’t the best but the finish made it all worth it really.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Jodie Esquibel

Kowalkiewicz was looking to bounce back from her loss to Claudia Gadelha in June and re-establish herself as one of the top Strawweights in the world, while this was the debut for Esquibel coming off a successful run in Invicta, with a 5-2 record. Despite Kowalkiewicz’s loss to Gadelha I was firmly behind her to win here – there’s just no shame in losing to Claudia and Joanna and everyone else that the Polish fighter had faced had been beaten.

Round One begins and Karolina looks substantially bigger than Esquibel. Esquibel circles on the outside and throws some strikes out, but comes up short as Karolina looks to catch her with counters and her jab. Nice combination lands for Kowalkiewicz. Esquibel throws out a few kicks, but every time she walks into range she’s eating sharp punches. More of the same follows as Kowalkiewicz continually lands her jab and fires off with some combinations too. Esquibel just can’t get into the correct range to land her strikes. Round basically continues with the same pattern throughout and Esquibel needs to change it up somehow in the second. 10-9 Kowalkiewicz.

Round Two and Karolina attacks more in the opening seconds, firing off with combinations and backing Esquibel up. Beautiful right hand connects for Karolina to counter a low kick and she follows with a pair of knees after seemingly grabbing Esquibel’s hair. To be fair it could’ve been a regular plum clinch. More shots land for Karolina as Esquibel continues to come up short. Big series of knees from the plum hurts Esquibel and as she backpedals Karolina follows up with a nasty combination. Esquibel’s in trouble here. She manages to survive and forces Kowalkiewicz back up into the fence, but the Polish fighter quickly breaks off. Another nice knee lands for Karolina set up by the jab. High kick follows and then a big flurry has Esquibel backpedalling again. She manages to clinch to slow the pace again but she’s just getting outclassed. Heavy knee lands inside for Esquibel but Karolina manages to separate. One minute to go and Karolina continues to stalk forward and fire strikes. Trip takedown from Karolina and she takes the back with thirty seconds to go and rolls right into an armbar, but Esquibel does enough to defend it and survive the round. Another one in the books for Kowalkiewicz.

Round Three and both girls come out swinging, but unsurprisingly it’s still Kowalkiewicz getting the better of it. She’s just got incredibly quick hands and some beautiful combinations. Takedown attempt from Esquibel is defended well. Another clean combo backs Esquibel up. More of the same continues and Karolina hits her with another hard knee when she gets too close. Esquibel just has zero answer for the game of Karolina. It’s basically just becoming target practice for the Polish fighter. Big combo connects with two minutes to go. More of the same follows and despite Esquibel trying her best she just can’t put together any meaningful offense. Few more knees land for Karolina too and the round ends with another exchange. Got to be 30-27 for Karolina really.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Really good performance for her to bounce back from her first two career losses; she could well have come in gunshy or passive but that wasn’t the case at all as she kept the shorter Esquibel at the end of her strikes, uncorked some tremendous combinations and did everything but get a finish, really. Esquibel tried hard but she just didn’t have enough in her arsenal to be able to change it up and really test the Polish fighter so it was quite one-sided, but relatively fun to watch too just because of the output of Karolina. She’s still clearly one of the best five fighters in the world in her weight class. Karolina vs. Tecia Torres next anyone?

Welterweight Fight: Donald Cerrone vs Darren Till

Ignoring Till for a second, this kind of fight is the reason I love Donald Cerrone – he never calls for money fights, or demands ranked fighters, he just takes on whoever the hell the UFC want him to and doesn’t care either way. This looked like an interesting fight for him as while still largely an unknown, Till had been talking himself up like mad – calling himself the best fighter on the planet, despite having never proved anything like that – and Cowboy was clearly the best opponent he’d ever faced. I felt like Cerrone just had too much experience for the young Scouser, but yeah, I was definitely interested.

Round One begins and holy shit Till is a big 170lbs. No wonder he’s nicknamed himself ‘The Gorilla’. He presses the action right away and backs Donald up into the fence. Single leg attempt from Cowboy but Till stuffs it well. Left hand glances for Till and he keeps on forcing Cerrone back. Nice one-two lands for the Scouser. Head kick is blocked but a left lands again and Cowboy’s being walked down. Flurry misses for Cowboy and he goes for another takedown and gets it, but Till pops right back up and ends up with his back to the fence. They break off and another left connects for Till. Couple of big shots miss for him and he looks so confident. Good low kick lands for Cowboy but Till hits him with another two lefts. More forward pressure follows for Till and he avoids the most of a body kick. Big left connects for the Scouer and Cerrone looks like he might be hurt. He keeps a good poker face though and throws out some kicks and a right to the body. Couple more kicks glance for Cerrone but Till comes in with a combo and Cerrone is BADLY HURT! Big elbow from Till sets up a huge combo and COWBOY WILTS! Big shots land for Till and Cowboy turns away and collapses, and that’s it!

Incredible performance from Darren Till. I know Cerrone’s not the biggest 170lbs and was coming off a pair of losses, but shit, I don’t think anyone ever made him look like he didn’t even belong on the same level as them, not even the likes of Lawler. Maybe you could argue Dos Anjos I guess, I dunno. For a first crack at an elite level opponent though this was just unbelievable. I remember saying that I thought the UFC might’ve stumbled onto a special talent with Till when he debuted back in 2015 and I guess that was right – I think he might just be one of those guys who fights up to the level of his opponent, if that makes sense.

Post-fight we get TOTAL CHAOS as Till again claims he’s the best fighter on the fookin’ planet, and then he calls out Mike Perry – who’s cageside and then leaps onto the cage to confront him in a CRAZY SCENE. Well, if Perry gets past The Ponz in December then that’s a hell of a fight to make….but I don’t think he gets past the Ponz so I’d say do Till/Stephen Thompson next. That’d be awesome and would cement Till as a top contender with a win.

-Show ends with some plugs for UFC 217.

Final Thoughts….

For a b-show I thought this was excellent. Piechota/Wilson was somewhat of a slow opener but then Blachowicz/Clark and Kowalkiewicz/Esquibel were both a lot of fun, and that tremendous main event with Darren Till becoming a true star was the icing on the cake. Easy thumbs up for this one then as Fight Pass continues to produce the goods even if the star names aren’t always there.

Best Fight: Till vs. Cerrone
Worst Fight: Piechota/Wilson

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: