MMA Review: #654: UFC Fight Night 135

-This was a bit of a lesser card even for a Fight Night, but really it was still must-see due to the presence of Justin Gaethje – perhaps the most exciting fighter in MMA right now.

UFC Fight Night 135

Lincoln, Nebraska

-Your hosts are Brendan Fitzgerald and Paul Felder.

Middleweight Fight: Eryk Anders vs Tim Williams

Anders was coming off his loss to Lyoto Machida in February, but really he could’ve taken that decision so there was no shame in the loss. This looked likely to be a nice rebound fight for him as TUF veteran Williams had been taken out easily in his lone UFC outing despite having the disgustingly cool nickname of ‘The South Jersey Strangler’.

Fight begins and Anders stalks forward to begin, but eats a body kick. Anders keeps backing him up, but it looks like he’s unsure how to get around the long reach of Williams. Big head kick lands well for Williams but Anders takes it well. Good low kick connects for Williams too. Clinch sees Anders land a big knee to the body, but Williams forces him into the fence and works some knees of his own. Left hand connects for Williams as Anders comes forward. He’s doing really well so far. Another big kick from Williams but Anders counters with a left. Williams fires a left of his own though and quickly circles out. Low kick nearly drops Anders and Williams adds another left hand too. Exchange sees Williams connect on a combination. Big body kick from Anders but Williams looks for the takedown and gets it. Seconds to go in the round and Williams takes the back, but he can’t finish him off. 10-9 Williams, surprisingly enough.

Into the 2nd and Anders pushes forward again, but walks right into a nice combo from Williams. Great showing from Williams thus far as he continues to pick at Anders as he comes forward. Takedown attempt from Williams and he slams Anders down and looks to take the back. Anders pops back up, but gives up a single hook. Over/under allows Williams to retain the position but Anders turns into him, eating a knee to the gut in the process. Big left connects for Anders and now he’s got Williams in trouble. Another big shot lands but Williams manages to clinch and fire back. More combinations from Anders and Williams is cut. Williams shoots but Anders stuffs it and pushes him onto his back. He decides to follow him down into mount, but Williams escapes up and they wildly trade with Anders landing big shots. Williams is a bloody mess. Big uppercut lands for Anders and he continues to open up. Williams just isn’t keeping him at range in this round. Couple more hard lefts end the round for Anders. 10-9 Anders to even it up.

Final round and this could realistically go either way. Both men circle and then Williams walks into a left hand as he throws a leg kick. He goes crashing down, but seems okay and stays on his back to recover before standing. Couple of big power hooks miss for Anders. Couple of low kicks lead into a big combination for Williams that slows Anders down a bit. Nice body kick from Williams too. He’s got Anders all marked up now. Pair of big lefts counter a low kick for Anders but Williams eats them well. Big takedown attempt from Williams but Anders defends it brilliantly and lands a head kick on the way out. Punches land for both men in an exchange. One minute to go and they’re both swinging now. Big right into a spinning backfist lands for Williams, but Anders fires back and drops him with a head kick! Williams attempts to get back up…but Anders FUCKING SMOKES HIM WITH A RIGHT HEAD KICK and that’s it!

Jesus Christ. That was one of the best knockouts of the year, period. Looked very close to being a soccer kick even as he caught Williams just at the right time as he was standing, but wasn’t standing enough to protect himself. Great fight too as Williams really brought the fight to Anders and gave him a lot of trouble with his length and reach before Anders found his range and took over. I think it showed that Anders isn’t necessarily ready for top opponents again yet, but he’s still definitely a dude to watch as he packs so much power.

Flyweight Fight: John Moraga vs Deiveson Figueiredo

A super-legit prospect at Flyweight, Figueiredo had already won three straight in the UFC, but this was his biggest test to date against a proven veteran like Moraga, who had also won three in a row and had stopped another top prospect in Magomed Bibulatov along the way. I was taking Figueiredo to win this one, but it was a close call.

Round One and Moraga opens with a sharp low kick. Lot of circling here as Figueiredo looks to get into range. Right uppercut glances for the Brazilian. Right hand from Moraga has Figueiredo hurt, but he clinches and they jockey for position with Moraga almost getting a takedown. Figueiredo avoids that though and trips Moraga down into guard. Moraga does well to keep full guard locked down, but the Brazilian remains in control. Armbar attempt goes awry for Moraga and Figueiredo moves into half-guard to drop some elbows. Leglock attempt from Moraga also leads to him getting hit a few times. Seconds to go and Figueiredo drops back for a heel hook, but Moraga avoids and they scramble with Figueiredo taking the back. Good shots land for the Brazilian and he ends the round in firm control. 10-9 Figueiredo.

Round Two and Moraga connects on a nice body kick. Figueiredo is really walking him down now though. Body kick lands well for Figueiredo and backs Moraga up. Both dudes are swinging heavily now. Into the clinch and Figueiredo looks for the takedown, and gets it, taking the back for a second before landing on top in half-guard. Heavy punches land for Figueiredo from the top and Moraga is cut open badly. Moraga tries a reversal, but he ends up standing and gets hurt by a pair of right elbows and a BIG RIGHT HAND that sends him down! He turtles up and takes a couple more shots, but somehow gets back up and swings back at the Brazilian! Clinch from Moraga but Figueiredo separates and then nails him with a left to the body, and that puts Moraga down again and it’s for good this time as the ref steps in.

Hell of a finish from Deiveson Figueiredo right there. Dude looked great in all areas as he totally out-powered Moraga on the feet and on the ground and outside of eating that right hand in the first round, he made easy work of a very tough veteran. The UFC ought to look to put him against another top contender next – maybe Pettis or Formiga – and if he wins that then give him a title shot as he’s clearly a very bad man. Definitely the top prospect at 125lbs right now.

Welterweight Fight: Bryan Barbarena vs Jake Ellenberger

Word coming into this one was that it was Ellenberger’s retirement match in his home state and that definitely made sense given he’d lost 5 of his last 6 fights and had been KO’d in 4 of those fights too. I mean, in his prime I’d have taken him to destroy a tough journeyman like Barbarena but I wasn’t picking him here at all as he’d looked so shot and figured Barbarena would probably knock him out, sadly.

Fight begins and the crowd are absolutely wired for Ellenberger. He comes out swinging and backs Barbarena up a little, and then they clinch and exchange some knees. Right hand breaks for Ellenberger and they exchange low kicks. Combo glances for Barbarena. Wild exchange sees both men glance on punches. Body kick from Ellenberger. Big overhand right from Barbarena has Ellenberger hurt and a quick follow-up combo drops him hard. Ellenberger goes for a takedown, but he doesn’t look recovered and Barbarena drops him with another right as he stands. Few more shots connect and it’s over. Crowd boo like CRAZY.

Well, that was predictable, unfortunately. Ellenberger looked fine early on but once he got hit cleanly his chin just couldn’t cope and he was done. Good call for him to retire and hopefully he stays retired for the good of his own health. Decent win for Barbarena but it doesn’t mean a lot in 2018 really, you know?

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Cortney Casey vs Angela Hill

Both of these women were looking for a win pretty desperately, as Casey had lost her last two and while Hill had beaten Maryna Moroz, it hadn’t been a convincing showing and she hadn’t looked great since returning to the UFC in 2017. I was picking Casey as I felt she could outpower Hill on the ground.

First round begins and the crowd are a bit dead for this fight. Brief exchange sees both women glance on blows. Low kick is caught by Hill and she gets a takedown, but allows Casey right back up. Couple of combos land decently for Hill. Casey comes back with some shots of her own and this is a really even round thus far. Left hook and an uppercut connect well for Casey. Combo lands cleanly for Hill. Takedown attempt from Casey with about 1:30 remaining and she forces Hill down and drops some elbows from the guard. Armbar attempt from Hill looks decent, but Casey seems pretty calm and stacks her up before shaking free. Hill uses the position to go for a takedown of her own though, and then she lands a nasty knee as they stand. Elbow breaks for Hill. Big exchange ends the round. Probably 10-9 Hill by a hair, but it was close.

Second round and Casey tags Hill with an early combination that forces her backwards. Big flurry from Casey and she follows with a takedown attempt. Hill defends well though and breaks free. Casey uncorks with another great combination, going to the body and head. Both women keep on firing combinations and they’re both landing, but it’s Casey getting the better of it in this round for sure. This is a hell of a fight, wow. Big takedown attempt from Casey and she gets Hill down, but the TUF veteran really fights her way back to her feet. Nice. Exchange continues with Hill stinging Casey with a left hook and a combination. They keep on trading off and if they can keep this pace in the third then it could be Fight of the Night. Round ends with Casey on the attack. 10-9 Casey in another close one.

Third round and to nobody’s surprise they carry on where they left off and keep on trading blows. It’s not sloppy stuff either as they’re uncorking pretty clean combinations on one another. Looks like Casey’s just about got the advantage in terms of strikes landed. This is a very tricky fight to score though as it’s so even. Good takedown defense again from Hill to avoid a shot from Casey. Two minutes remaining now and they’re not slowing down at all. Better shots still seem to be coming from Casey, but it’s so close. Seconds to go and they continue to trade off, and a questionable hair grab appears to allow Hill to land an uppercut. Round ends with another trade. 10-9 Casey and 29-28 for me, but who knows really. Bravo to both though!

Judges have a split decision; 30-27 Casey, 29-28 Hill and 29-28 for Cortney Casey to finally win a decision after coming up short with splits in her last two fights! Really though there was no loser in this fight as they just came out and gave it everything, with both women landing plenty of shots and keeping an insane pace throughout. Absolutely fantastic fight in the end where I wasn’t expecting a lot.

Featherweight Fight: Michael Johnson vs Andre Fili

Odd matchmaking here given Fili was on a two-fight win streak while Johnson had lost his last three, but to be fair Johnson’s opponents (Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje, Darren Elkins) were hardly scrubs and you’d actually pick them all to beat Fili most likely. I was taking Fili here due to fears over Johnson being shot, though.

Round One begins and Fili pushes forward but takes a couple of counterpunches early on. Head kick glances for Fili. Ref calls time for an apparent eye poke but Fili’s furious telling him to watch the tape as he didn’t do it. They restart quickly anyway and Fili continues to force the action, but Johnson does well to dodge and land glancing counters. Nice body kick lands for Fili. Exchange continues and Fili lands a big head kick that Johnson takes really well. More pressure from Fili follows but Johnson continues to land sharp counters on him. Couple more kicks land for Fili as he continues to walk Johnson down. Nice combo puts Johnson on the retreat some more but again he lands the counter left hand. Chopping low kick also lands for Johnson. Round ends there. 10-9 Johnson for the counterpunches.

Round Two and Johnson opens with a strong left. More good counter work from Johnson but he lands a low blow that forces the ref to call time. Left connects again for Johnson off the restart. Fili’s just walking into it again and again. Solid head kick lands for Fili and he follows with a takedown, and gets the back with both hooks off the scramble! Johnson stands with Fili on his back, and he could be in trouble. He manages to defend well, but can’t get Fili off his back. Choke suddenly looks sunk and Fili pulls him to the ground, but he can’t seal the deal and Johnson manages to survive. Armbar attempt misses for Fili as Johnson suddenly spins over, and from there Johnson works the body with punches. Elbows to the head follow before Fili goes for a triangle choke, but Johnson avoids that and ends the round on top. 10-9 Fili but the momentum is all with Johnson.

Round Three and Fili comes out with a pair of head kicks that Johnson narrowly blocks. Counter left again connects for Johnson. Takedown attempt from Fili and he gets Johnson’s back again, with no hooks this time and Johnson on one knee. Johnson does well to escape free, and the action slows from there a little as they exchange one strike at a time pretty much, Fili still throwing his kicks mainly. Two minutes to go and Johnson does well to prevent a takedown. He potshots Fili a bit from the outside largely with the left hand, while blocking a couple of big head kicks in answer. Takedown attempt from Johnson now and he forces Fili into the fence and works hard for it, finally forcing him to the ground. Fili pops right back up, but Johnson drops again and goes for the double leg. Fili sprawls to avoid and almost takes the back, but Johnson avoids and they stand and exchange to end the fight. 10-9 Johnson, 29-28 Johnson overall.

Official scores are 29-28 Johnson, 30-27 Fili and 29-28 for Michael Johnson to pick up his first win since 2016. Crowd boo the decision but I’m not buying that, I know Fili was more aggressive but he walked into so many counterpunches, particularly in the first round, that the 30-27 in his favour in particular is bogus. Fight was pretty decent if largely unmemorable compared to the rest of the show, but it was nice to see Johnson get a win as he’s a fun guy to watch.

Lightweight Fight: Justin Gaethje vs James Vick

This was a bit of a step down in competition for Gaethje after his losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, but it wasn’t a huge step down given Vick was 9-1 in the UFC and had won 4 in a row. Despite Vick coming off as super-confident and worries over Gaethje’s chin deteriorating, I was still picking him here as he hits HARD and Vick’s chin has never been great. And of course, being a Justin Gaethje fight I was expecting a violent classic, too.

First round begins and Vick rushes out but doesn’t throw a possible flying knee. He’s got a huge size advantage. He uses some kicks to try to keep Gaethje at range, and lands a short left to counter a wild right. Couple more kicks glance for Vick as Gaethje looks to set his shots up and he lands a flurry with Vick against the cage. They trade low kicks and Vick goes high, but Gaethje’s fine. Gaethje closes Vick down and literally out of nowhere he lands a FACE MELTING RIGHT HAND and Vick goes down and OUT. Good lord that was a powerful shot.

Post-fight Gaethje does a couple of flips off the cage in celebration while Vick has to be helped onto a stool. Dude got hit HARD, wow. Awesome knockout from Gaethje and while it wasn’t his usual war, it was nice to see him win a fight without taking a ton of damage for once! And post-fight he calls out Tony Ferguson and while I’d argue El Cucuy has bigger fish to fry right now, somewhere down the line that could be an AWESOME FIGHT.

-Show ends right after Gaethje’s interview.

Final Thoughts….

This was a quality Fight Night card, with no bad matches on offer, a bunch of highlight reel stuff like the knockouts for Gaethje, Anders, Barbarena and Figueiredo, and a great fight between Angela Hill and Cortney Casey where I was expecting nothing. Totally worth watching the whole thing on Fight Pass because it was fantastic top-to-bottom really.

Best Fight: Casey vs. Hill
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: