With so much focus on illegal substances and PEDs surrounding mixed martial arts over the last couple of weeks, it was a welcome return for all that we had so much action on offer to digest this past weekend with three very entertaining cards to sink our teeth in.
NBC’s ‘World Series of Fighting’ started-off proceedings with three nights of exciting fights in a row. Coming live from Alberta, Canada, the main attraction of the evening was a bantamweight championship bout between Marlon Moraes and Josh Hill.
Kicking things off was an interesting featherweight clash between Hakeem Dawodu and Tristan Johnson. There was certainly an air of expectation in the air as unbeaten prospect Dawodu made his way to the cage.
With all three of his wins prior to the fight coming by way of knock-out, an expectant Canadian crowd were hoping to see more of the same.
23-year-old Dawodu showed no signs of pressure or nervous energy in the opening exchanges against veteran Tristan Johnson as he showed off some slick boxing technique. For such a youngster, Dawodu looked a very accomplished fighter, landing countless times.
It’s a credit to Johnson’s heart and endurance that he survived for so long in the fight but was unable to really get anything going for himself.
Dawodu pushed the pace throughout and it was the third round that it all came to a halt for Johnson. It was a hard looping right hand that caught Johnson and sent him to the mat.
Having taken heavy punches previously in the fight, Johnson’s balance was clearly not there and the referee had seen enough. Johnson’s 4th win by TKO in his early professional career means that the future is bright for this talented fighter.
WSOF 18’s second fight on the main card ended in controversial circumstances. Andrew McInnes and Cody McKenzie’s welterweight contest was a heated affair from the off with both fighters already beginning the thrash talk at their weigh-in the night before.
It was a back and forth battle with neither fighter really taking pole position. Towards the latter stages of round number one, Andrew McInnes appeared to grab the hair of Cody McKenzie on the ground.
A warning from referee Kyle Cardinal was given to McInnes, whose position was reversed and McKenzie reigned down with punches before intentionally slamming his head into the face of McInnes, whose eye took the most significant damage of the headbutt.
Referee Cardinal halted the contest with just two seconds remaining on the clock after advice from the ringside doctor. McInnes was handed the win after McKenzie was disqualified, as boos rang around the arena, McKenzie retreated without an apology.
Less controversial was the evening’s main event of the evening as Marlon Moraes successfully defended his bantamweight championship against previously unbeaten fighter Josh Hill.
Hill certainly looked the more busy fighter and landed some very nice leg kicks and punches which had the champion swaying on his feet somewhat. It was certainly a dominant first round performance from Josh but it was the Brazilian who came out swinging and pushed the pace to his favour.
It was a very interesting technical battle with much of the action taking place on the feet. Some nice exchanges and flurries from both fighters had the Canadian crowd on their feet and despite a bloodied nose, the bantamweight champion was certainly seen to be landing the more damaging shots.
After a hard fought five rounds, Hill’s unbeaten record came to a halt as the judges declared Moraes to be the victor in front of Hill’s hometown fans.
Friday night saw Bellator’s 133rd event taking place in California. With three big fight cards on offer, the main event of Alexander Schlemenko and Melvin Manhoef was certainly one of the most anticipated contests of the whole weekend and boy did it deliver.
With 57 knock-outs between them, it was pretty much certain that there was no way that judges would be involved with this particular bout.
Manhoef, who lost his last fight against Joe Schilling in November looked a more cautious fighter than most are used to. Many were expecting a lightning quick flurry from the Dutchman but it was the Russian Schlemenko who enjoyed most of the early successes, showcasing some flashy spinning kicks.
After a tense first round, things really opened up for Schlemenko as he landed a very heavy spinning back fist. The impact rocked Manhoef as he crashed to the canvas. Two follow up punches were not necessary as the damage had already been inflicted.
Slow motion replays showed that Manhoef was clearly knocked out on the way down to the mat but the technique and the execution were absolutely perfect and worthy of any highlight reel’s “best of”.
The final fight card of the weekend came by way of Broomfield, Colorado as the UFC’s 60th Fight Night event presented local fighter Brandon Thatch and Benson Henderson who moved up a weight class to save the main event after Stephen Thompson’s late injury saw him withdraw from the card.
It was a flyweight bout between Ray Borg V Chris Kelades that opened up the main portion of the card. Kelades with an impressive ‘fight of the night’ victory against Paddy Holohan back in October, was looking to gain a second win under the UFC banner.
Young up and comer Ray Borg had other ideas and in a very technical ground game between the pair, it was Borg who had the upper hand with slick transitions on the ground through rounds 1 and 2. Kelades really had no answer to escape Borg’s dominant positions but did show tremendous submission defence for large periods of the contest.
Clearly losing the first two rounds, Kelades’ corner clearly needed a stoppage and encouraged the Canadian to throw quickly and furiously. Unfortunately for Kelades and ultimately smart thinking from Borg, he managed to level change with smooth precision and executed yet another takedown. This time Kelades’ submission defence was no match for a beautiful kimura attempt from Ray Borg in half guard which led to a tap out in round number 3.
With impressive wins continuing to rack up, Ray Borg may see himself fighting for a title sooner rather than later. As for Kelades, it’s back to the drawing board on takedown defence.
In truth, the action never really did pick up from there. That was until home town fighter Neil Magny made his way to the Octagon to take on Japanese fighter Kiichi Kunimoto.
It was Magny’s opening round for sure as he was able to land significant punches as Kunimoto’s eyes felt all the damage with large red marks appearing.
Kunimoto had brief glimpses of joy as he attempted to quell the pressure of Magny who continued to press forward. However, Magny’s insistence gained him a big takedown in the closing moments of the second round as he found himself on the back of Kunimoto showering him with unanswered punches.
Luckily for Kunimoto time was on his side but as round three began, it was Magny again who picked up where he left off as he dominated from a back mount as the weary Kunimoto struggled to fight off the Colorado native. Eventually Magny was able to lock in a rear naked choke and it was only a matter of time before Kunimoto submitted which led to a unanimous cheer from an expectant Colorado crowd.
In the co-main event, Max Holloway took on veteran Cole Miller in a very interesting contest. Miller known mostly for his ground game showcased some excellent stand up against Holloway in a back and forth flurry of exchanges in round one culminating in a beautiful technical battle on the ground.
The stand up game continued into the second round however it was Holloway with the greater success as Miller opted to try and take it to the ground to no avail. After an accidental headbutt on the feet by Holloway on Miller, the left eyebrow of Miller was cut badly and towards the end of the round the cut over the eye appeared to bother Miller’s vision with Cole complaining inbetween rounds that Holloway had head butted him for a second time.
With Miller’s mindset slightly distracted by the headbutts, Holloway took the baton and ran with it in the final round. His angles and combinations were far too much for Miller. Counter right hands were there all day for Holloway who opened up the cut over Miller’s left eye leaving a big target for him to aim at.
Unfortunately a finish wasn’t forthcoming for Holloway but he certainly provided a flashy striking offering from Holloway who was handed a unanimous decision victory from the judges.
With Neil Magny winning earlier in the night for the Colorado fans, it was up to Brandon Thatch to continue on the celebrations as he faced former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the main event of the evening.
If there was supposed to be a height and weight disadvantage coming into this fight then nobody told Benson Henderson based on proceedings in the opening round. With Henderson being a naturally lighter fighter, he certainly had the speed advantage as he was able to push the pace and catch Brandon Thatch with a few counter punches. Thatch on the other hand was certainly having his fair share of shots also in a very evenly contested round one.
It wasn’t so equal in the second round as Thatch took control landing some lovely combinations and rag dolled Henderson to the mat on more than one occasion. However, Thatch did not want anything to do with the black belt Henderson on the mat and the flurry of combinations continued to land for Thatch in a dominant round.
Thatch and his coaches may not have had the idea of going the ground with Henderson in their game plan leading up to the fight but they didn’t have much of a choice in the third as Henderson fought hard for a takedown and managed to complete it and took his opponents back and looked very close to getting a submission victory on a very tired looking Thatch by the end of the round.
It was difficult to know who the fresher fighter coming into the fourth round would be. Thatch hasn’t fought since 2013 and hasn’t seen a second round in such a long time. Henderson had no weight to cut but was fighting at altitude against a bigger sized opponent. After trading shots on the feet, Henderson capitalised on a big telegraphed punch which led to an easy takedown. Thatch was quite quick to get back to his feet and got caught out and Henderson was able to take his back again but this time was able to sink in a rear naked choke to get the victory on his debut at welterweight.
When questioned by UFC commentator as to where his future lies, Henderson joked that he would consider taking on Rory MacDonald who is without an opponent after Hector Lombard tested positive for illegal substances ahead of their fight.
After a performance like that, UFC officials may have to take Henderson seriously.
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Shane Saunders, Pundit Arena.