With two loaded cards this past weekend, the UFC loaded fight fans with great match-ups to celebrate international fight week. With the myriad of options, it’s tough to narrow this weekend down to a handful of key fights but the match-ups with the biggest implications for the near future are fairly clear. Let’s review some of the biggest bouts of the weekend…
Drakkar Klose takes the legs out of Marc Diakese’s offense:
The best prospect match-up of the weekend came down to two up and coming lightweights that both look ready to make noise in the stacked division. Drakkar Klose landed inside leg kicks early and often to set the tone for the fight. At distance Diakese’s variety of attacks was on display, but Klose was quick to force the fight into close quarters. Klose snatched the first round with a late leg kick knockdown and controlled the second round with wrestling. By the third round, Diakese was forced to switch stances regularly while desperately chasing a KO. He took the round convincingly but couldn’t generate the power to finish the fight as Klose took the decision.
Klose’s success came from a frantic pace and non-stop pressure. His use of leg kicks was fantastic and his intensity from the weigh-ins to the post fight interview never let up. With an 8-0-1 record and a victory over fast rising Diakese, he’s set himself up for ranked opposition. A fighter with similar intensity and a skillset to challenge Klose would be Al Iaquinta. It’s the kind of test that could launch Klose into big time opposition fast. For Diakese, the loss hurts but he’s still one of the top prospects in the bout. He’s a super athlete and even though he lost, he was competitive throughout the bout and won the final round. The UFC has two exciting strikers and rising prospects fresh off of tough decision losses at the moment. Marc Diakese vs Lando Vannata makes a lot of sense and would be an absolute show stopper.
Jesse Taylor wins the TUF tournament over Dhiego Lima:
If you watched Jesse Taylor’s fights on TUF, you’ve seen all you need to. Taylor quickly shot for Lima’s legs and stayed with his takedown attempts until Lima went down. While Lima was fresh, he was able to defend for periods of time but eventually Taylor would force the fight to the ground and work for passes. When Taylor wasn’t passing, he was punishing Lima with ground and pound. As with his previous performances Taylor wore his opponent out and eventually scored the submission via choke. This wasn’t the most entertaining fight but it did continue Taylor’s display of excellent ground skills. He’s not a wrestler who will simply lay and wait for a decision; he’s savvy enough to pass guards and he has finishing ability. Taylor’s strength was truly impressive and he’ll overwhelm opponents who don’t have quality takedown defense or high level ground defense.
Justin Gaethje outlasts and KO’s Michael Johnson:
Justin Gaethje finished Michael Johnson in the second round of a fight of the year candidate. From the opening bell, both men proved willing to exchange. Almost immediately Gaethje began walking down the Menace regardless of what Johnson threw at him. The former WSOF champion used his trademark leg kicks to close nearly every exchange. Johnson closed the first round nearly finishing Gaethje, but made the odd choice to shoot instead keeping the fight at distance. That mistake allowed the Highlight to survive into the second round where Johnson once again hurt Gaethje but was unable to finish him. The champion showed his trademark toughness, recovering and landing an uppercut that not only hurt Johnson but led to multiple knockdowns. Johnson was never able to recover and eventually Gaethje scored the TKO, the first time the Menace has been stopped with strikes in his career.
There is a match-up that seems like an MMA fan’s dream come true just waiting to happen between Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez is similarly known for his toughness and willingness to get into absolute wars. Kevin Lee has also made a push for a bout with Gaethje so there’s no shortage of high ranked competition waiting to face the undefeated newcomer to the UFC. Johnson’s loss was tough, but he nearly finished Gaethje twice and should continue to face top tier competition. Michael Chiesa suffered a similarly tough loss and would make for a great match-up.
Anthony Pettis outstrikes Jim Miller for a decision:
Anthony Pettis got back on track with a decision victory over Jim Miller. Pettis consistently backed Miller up against the cage and unleashed flurries that included punching combinations, flying knees and cartwheel kicks. Miller kept the fight interesting by mixing inside leg kicks with overhand right counters that kept Pettis honest. In the second round, Miller scored an early takedown but Pettis’ aggression from the guard was impressive. Pettis attempted multiple triangles and eventually reversed positions, even taking Miller’s back late. In the third round, with the fight possibly up for grabs, Miller was unable to secure another takedown. Pettis pressed the New Jersey native back to the cage and went back to controlling the fight for the rest of the round to take the decision.
With the win, Pettis showed some of the old Showtime back at lightweight. His only losses have come to some of the best fighters on the planet and a top caliber opponent is the only kind he belongs against. Dustin Poirier was looking for a rematch with Eddie Alvarez but if Gaethje gets that opportunity, facing a former champion like Pettis would be a great consolation. Miller also deserves quality competition and an opponent like Chad Laprise, fresh off a performance of the night, would be a great chance to maintain stay near the top 15.
Alistair Overeem wins another snoozer with Fabricio Werdum:
It wasn’t a particularly exciting fight as Alistair Overeem won another decision over Fabricio Werdum. The decision was controversial as Werdum was the far busier fighter, throwing much more volume. Werdum opened each round with a flying kick attempt and continued to throw kicks and punches far more often than Reem. While Overeem searched for counters, Werdum appeared to take the first round outlanding his Reem 8-4. Alistair was economical but effective, landing a beautiful uppercut in the second round and appearing to land the cleaner strikes throughout the first two rounds. Werdum was able to control the third with his constant attack, landing a big knee to the head and controlling the fight on the ground. Werdum was close to a 10-8 round with his performance but at the end of the fight, the decision went to Overeem. Werdum is appealing the decision.
There aren’t many men that Overeem hasn’t fought in the UFC’s heavyweight division. He’ll likely need to string a few wins together to get another opportunity at Stipe Miocic. The winner of Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos would make a great opponent to work back toward a title shot. For Werdum, there is a similar lack of fresh opposition. Derrick Lewis in spite of a recent loss has been one of UFC’s rising talents. Werdum could take on Lewis in an attempt to get back on track.
Robert Whitaker takes the last three rounds and title from Yoel Romero:
Robert Whitaker rallied back from a 2-0 deficit in rounds to win the Interim Middleweight title over Yoel Romero. For the first two rounds, Romero would explode inside with knees and kicks but bounce out of harm’s way for many of the exchanges. Whitaker focused on body work, especially push kicks to try and keep Romero at bay. When the Olympian did get inside on Whitaker, he scored takedowns and trips but the Reaper did a great job scrambling back to his feet. By the third round, Whitaker was favoring a hurt knee and needed a clean sweep or a finish. In spite of his injury, the Reaper began to pour volume on while Romero slowed down. Romero was on the defensive throughout the third round, seeming to use the round for recovery rather than to press his lead. Unfortunately, Romero never gained enough breath to mount a consistent offense and Whitaker seemed to will his way into throwing kicks and fighting off takedowns for the championship rounds. Whitaker hurt Romero in the final round and if not for the bell, it would only have been a matter of time before a finish, but the decision went to the Reaper regardless.
With Whitaker as the interim champion, a unification match-up with Michael Bisping is guaranteed. The two have a similar style of using excellent striking and volume coupled with takedown defense to win matches. It should be an extremely entertaining match-up and one where tactics will play just as big a role as ability. Romero has beaten Chris Weidman and Jacare Souza, but lost to Whitaker. With Gegard Mousasi moving on to Bellator the last opponent standing is Luke Rockhold and what a fight that would be. Rockhold is huge for the division with a great ground game to counter Romero’s wrestling. Both men are explosive strikers with some holes that make them hittable as well. It would make for a really great bout.