UFC 209 was a main event away from being a great card. There were upsets, comeback victories, submissions, KO’s and an absolute stand up war to boot. Yet the finale of the night will likely go down as one of the worst title fights in Middleweight history (if not worst in any weightclass). The card lost its co-main event Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson a day in advance and Woodley vs Thompson was almost unwatchable. In light of the two major match-ups failing to pay off, fan response seemed to lean towards disappointment. But exploring the fights that did happen is worthwhile because even without a great closing act this was a pretty good event with a little bit of everything mixed in.
A quick shout out for the comeback kids:
While this article will focus on the main card match-ups, it is impossible to comment on UFC 209 without mentioning two incredible come backs that took place on the undercard. Luke Sanders landed 94 significant strikes and 134 total strikes, mostly from top position in his bout with Iuri Alcantara. On multiple occasions it appeared that the ref would stop the fight but Alcantara did just enough to stave off a stoppage. Sanders may have gotten overconfident however as he was on top Alcantara when the Brazilian rolled into a knee bar attempt that forced Cool Hand Luke to tap. Somehow that wasn’t even the best come back of the night. Mirsad Bektic dominated for the better portion of three rounds with Darren Elkins, leaving the UFC veteran bloodied and in trouble the entire way. Bektic continued to wrestle and force close exchanges however, and with less than two minutes left in the fight, Elkins landed a head kick along the cage that knocked Bektic unconscious. Elkins roared with a face that was bloodied and misshapen from the beating he’d taken; a clip that’s bound to make some highlights. For Sanders and Bektic, the losses shouldn’t slow them too much. Both men made mistakes but dominated high level opponents. Alcantara and Elkins meanwhile took home performance of the night bonuses and proved that anything can happen in the octagon. These are the types of fights that turn people into fans of the sport.”
Alistair Overeem KO’s Mark Hunt:
This felt like a throwback to the PRIDE days when Ubereem was flattening all comers. The ringcraft on display from Overeem was truly impressive, as he almost never allowed Hunt to get into punching range by utilizing quick clinches whenever Hunt even sniffed the pocket. Alistair was back to using knees again and just like in his older fights, those knees led to a KO early in the third round. To Mark Hunt’s credit, he utilized a mix of leg and body kicks to try and slow Overeem. Hunt adjusted to Reem’s clinches by throwing more elbows and had some success but the big shocker on this night was just how well Overeem’s chin held up. Historically, Alistair has seemed to panic when he gets hurt and sometimes his ring craft collapses as he gets hit; but in this fight, even though he got trapped along the cage a couple of times there was never a defensive collapse. To top off the performance, news came out after the event that Overeem was nearly pulled from the fight with illness and vomiting. The man showed serious heart just making it to the octagon. Overeem proved that he’s not far from the top of the division and another opportunity at UFC gold.
Cynthia Calvillo submits Amanda Cooper (Rear-Naked Choke):
Cynthia Calvillo’s fourth professional fight went from opening Fight Pass to the second match-up on a PPV and she responded with a very nice victory. Cooper’s striking is a sight to see but she is a flawed grappler who needs development in the same way TUF alumni Angela Hill did. Once the fight went to the ground it was clear that Calvillo had the Alpha Male edge, winning scrambles and using chokes to gain advantages every step of the way. Calvillo went from an Anaconda attempt to taking Cooper’s back and got the rear-naked choke shortly after. She will be interesting to watch as Team Alpha Male continues to pump talent into the UFC’s smaller divisions.
Daniel Kelly snatches a split decision vs Rashad Evans:
The vocabulary to describe Daniel Kelly is a collection of journeyman clichés. He’s tough, he’s crafty and he manages to beat elite athletes while rocking a dad-bod. Crafty is the key phrase for this one though as he never let Suga get a comfortable rhythm. When the two clinched, Kelly would attempt throws and trips that kept Evans off balance and allowed Kelly to score with dirty boxing and knees. More astonishing though was that at distance, Kelly seemed to be on even standing with Rashad, many times winning the striking exchanges. For Rashad, the silver lining is that for all of Kellys trips and throws, Rashad was the only fighter to score a take down. His chin held up well against an assortment of strikes that kept him guessing throughout the fight. The decision could have gone Rashad’s way as it was a competitive match-up but Kelly’s work rate and varied attack was enough to edge the scorecards. Kelly needs a ranked test next, meanwhile it’s back to the drawing board for Rashad who did just enough to warrant one more shot if he truly wants to continue.
David Teymur wins the fight of the night vs Lando Vannata:
This was the unrivaled best match of the card. These two hit each other with everything they could muster and neither fighter backed down. Vannata’s unorthodox attach saw him scoring with an assortment of attacks including a cartwheel kick in the early going. Teymur meanwhile mixed levels with kicks, knees, punches and surprisingly some take down attempts too. Both men showed creativity and high level striking. Groovy was the more reckless of the two, moving forward and at times keeping his hands too low. In a competitive fight, it was Teymur’s discipline that had him winning every round on the judges’ scorecards although I personally gave Lando the first round. This was a coming out party for Teymur and Vannata’s third fight bonus in a row. Both men should see quality competition in their next match-ups as they should see themselves in the mix for top fifteen rankings very shortly.
5 Rounds almost no action as Tyron Woodley retaining the belt vs Stephen Thompson:
If there were adjustments made in the game plans of these two fighters, they were hard to spot. For two rounds it felt like the men were stuck in a prolonged staredown with neither man willing to take any risks. This meant two rounds that could justifiably be scored 10-10. Woodley finally chose to wrestle in the first round and scored a takedown that won the round convincingly but he never went back to his wrestling. For the better part of the championship rounds, it was back to safe fighting that showed virtually no urgency until Woodley unleashed a flurry inside of the final minute of competition. Woodley dropped Thompson with the flurry, for a second time displaying an ability to actually hurt his opponent.
It could be argued that Thompson did enough to win the low-action rounds, controlling the center of the octagon and scoring on slightly more strikes in the first and third rounds (they were dead even in the second on significant strikes) but it would be a shame for him to win the belt without ever truly hurting Woodley. Woodley for his inactivity almost gave away his belt but it’s difficult to argue that he’s not the better fighter when for a second fight in a row, he was the only fighter to actually put his opponent into dangerous positions. For Woodley, it’s probably a date with the winner of Maia and Masvidal next. Thompson meanwhile should get back up against quality opposition and hopefully a more aggressive striker enters the mix; Donald Cerrone and Carlos Condit are two names that come to mind.