UFC 218: Blessing MMA fans for the holidays

Ufc 218 lived up to the hype. There isn’t any need to dress that up, the card was stacked and the fights were great. There were highlight moments, major finishes and competitive fights throughout the night. Let’s dive right in…

Tecia Torres takes the decision vs Michelle Waterson:
Tecia Torres took a clear 2 rounds to 1 over Michelle Waterson to kick off the main card but didn’t make a compelling case for a title shot. While the two were competitive, Torres appeared to overpower the Karate Hottie. Tiny Tornado backed Waterson up whenever she threw flurries with power and while Waterson spent 4 and a half minutes on top in the second round, she couldn’t free herself up to land much damage. Torres finished the third round creating real separation between the two, getting the fight to the ground and nearly finishing the bout but the 2 to 1 victory really didn’t do much to put her above the likes of a Jessica Andrade.

Torres has won 6 of her 7 UFC fights, with a loss to champion Rose Namajunas being the only blemish. She also has a victory over Namajunas making her chances at a rematch strong in spite of the performance being less than stellar. Her chances get a bump with Andrade vs Kowalkiewicz booked already. Waterson falls to 3-2 in the UFC with two straight losses to top UFC contenders. In a still developing division, she’s not going to fall too far. A fight with the night’s earlier winner Felice Herrig wouldn’t be out of the question, but another interesting option could be Alexa Grasso who has yet to really capture her pre-UFC form.

Eddie Alvarez finishes Justin Gaethje:

Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje fought a back and forth battle for three rounds, showing heart and grit that few fighters can match in any sport. The fight wasn’t quite the war that fans expected but momentum was mounting and exchanges more desperate as the fighters fatigued and hurt fought more on willpower than skill. Eddie fought smart, constantly throwing jabs out for Gaethje to deal with and mixing in flurries of power punches that would sneak through. When The Highlight used his typical head down, high guard to protect himself; Alvarez fired off uppercuts to the body that seemed to be sapping Gaethje. That’s not to take away from Justin Gaethje though. The Highlight landed the heaviest punches of the fight and his leg kicked left Eddie switching stances at times and hopping on one leg at others. By the third round, Alvarez was swelling along his face and looked the worse for wear of the two. The fight ended with a knee to the head dropping Gaethje and while he tried desperately to grab a leg, the Highlight was too off balance for the ref to allow the fight to continue. It was a welcome stoppage after a late stoppage got Charles Oliveira hit with multiple unnecessary elbows.

Eddie seems to be chasing the most exciting fights possible and there’s an obvious answer to who should be next. Dustin Poirier was winning against Alvarez in a epic fight but the Underground King was storming back when an illegal knee ended the fight prematurely on a No Decision. The two have unfinished business and put on a great show last time. Gaethje meanwhile won’t lose much ground after the absolute slugfest that he was close to winning with a former UFC champion. He’s too exciting and talented not to get another high level opponent. My dream pick is a fight with the Lightweight division’s other legendary chin, Nate Diaz but Diaz seems to be waiting for a rematch with McGregor. A bout with former title challenger, Kevin Lee could be an interesting test for a fighter that hasn’t faced an eliter UFC wrestler yet.

Henry Cejudo wins against Pettis, but TJ likely gets the prize:
Henry Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis was supposed to make the case for a legitimate flyweight challenger to Demetrius Johnson but instead seemed to make TJ Dillashaw’s case for skipping the line even stronger. Cejudo’s stand up is much improved but while he looked comfortable against Pettis, he was at enough of a deficit on the feet to rely heavily on wrestling. Pettis could not stop the takedown, couldn’t get off of his back and simply had no answer for the Olympic pedigree wrestling. The Olympian, Cejudo didn’t threaten a finish but did manage to stifle the younger Pettis brother. What was missing however, was any sign that Cejudo has separated from the pack that Mighty Mouse has thoroughly dismantled since the inception of the division. That left the door wide open for a superfight with TJ Dillashaw while Cejudo continues to develop the tools he would need to match a pound for pound great.

At this point, Cejudo needs opponents that can at least make wrestling difficult. His stand up is the most important aspect in his development but unless opponents can force a fight to stay on the feet, it won’t be tested. Guys like Ray Borg or Ben Nguyen who scramble hard and make opponents work EVERYWHERE, could make Cejudo work everywhere instead of relying on his wrestling. Pettis meanwhile could do well to face with one of the same two fighters I just mentioned. They would further test his ability to defend takedowns as well as give him opportunities to scramble and work on his ground game.

Francis Ngannou makes a statement against Alistair Overeem:

Francis Ngannou knocked out Alistair Overeem in a fashion that made his next bout a foregone conclusion. Ngannou notched his fourth consecutive 4th round finish against consistently tougher competition, this time with one of the elite strikers in Heavyweight history. Overeem was going to be a true test for the fast rising prospect, but he seemed especially afraid of the Predator’s power. Overeem looked to land overhand rights and slip to the side to keep Ngannou off balance but he kept going to the well. Ngannou meanwhile used extra motion and feints to make himself hard to time. When he did commit, he seemed to be just out of reach for the Demolition Man. Overeem did try to force a clinch early, something I looked forward to seeing but there was no technique to be shown as Ngannou was too strong and gave no room to do damage. Ngannou finished the fight in an exchange that drew out Overeem’s overhand attack and catching him with an uppercut (some have said it’s more of a shovel hook but it came from extremely low) clean on the chin. It looked like Overeem might have a neck injury with the way his head flew back. He’s been knocked out in the past, but this one was straight out of a movie (when Brad Pitt gets sent flying at the end of Snatch by an uppercut specifically). This was a fighter with 11 professional fights dominating an all-time who was 6-1 over his last 7 fights. Overeem was the clear number 2 behind Miocic and an elite striker, but Ngannou made him look pedestrian.

Francis Ngannou will fight Stipe Miocic next. It was a clear number one contender fight and Ngannou passed this test with flying colors. Miocic presents a lot of new problems that we haven’t seen Ngannou tested by yet. There’s a busy jab, long straight power punches and a wrestling pedigree to boot combining to make Miocic a really compelling test for a potential star. Ngannou has been Jon Jones like in his early dominance, but his best competition has had questionable chins and nobody has taken him to a third round EVER. Miocic has looked near unstoppable as well, having won 5 straight all by KO (just once making it out of the 1st round). It’s an unstoppable force against an immovable object for the most exciting Heavyweight title fight in years. Overeem meanwhile, has fought virtually everybody. It’s hard to find compelling opponents that are both high ranked and haven’t already fought the legend. If Cain Velasquez ever got healthy, that would be an intriguing bout but Alistair might be better served matching up with the up and coming Alexander Volkov. Volkov hasn’t faced that kind of step up in competition but did show pop and toughness finishing off Stefan Struve in his last bout.

Max Holloway cements his rein stopping Aldo again:

Six months just isn’t enough time for a fighter to build new weapons after a clear loss. Jose Aldo was pushed into a title rematch with Holloway after an injury to Frankie Edgar. On short notice, he struggled to make weight and was picked apart in the fight similar to last time. Aldo kept his lead hand closer to his body and conserved energy better than the last fight also adding a lot more leg kicks that had an effect in the second round. Holloway meanwhile was dedicated to body work early and continually used his jab to keep Aldo working. Just like the first fight, Blessed rarely stepped out of the pocket. Even when he missed on some strikes, Max would switch stances to get the angle to threaten Aldo and avoid a return volley. The addition of leg kicks made Aldo look arguably better than the first fight with the exception of his early flurry that hurt Max the first time around. Max meanwhile was also busier than the first time and looked more comfortable at the open of this rematch. Aldo showed a ton of heart here, clearly gassing in the third he was continuing to trade with Holloway. Blessed would throw jab, cross combos back to back while Aldo tried to return fire but simply couldn’t keep up. The bout ended the same way it did the first time, late in the third Holloway was on top of a downed Aldo raining down damage until the ref called it.

Holloway doesn’t have the flash of a Tony Ferguson, the one hit power of a McGregor or the epic wars of Alvarez. But Max has the fluidity and versatility of Ferguson, the finishing finishing instincts of Conor and toughness right out of Eddie’s book. He has enough techniques to vary his attacks and keep opponents off balance and the gas tank to never slow down. This is one of the elite fighters in all of the UFC and after topping Aldo twice to make it twelve straight wins, maybe he’ll get the full recognition he deserves. Frankie Edgar is still the most obvious choice for next challenger although that could change with a major statement win from Cub Swanson or Brian Ortega this weekend. MMA is a “what have you done for me lately” sport in many respects, so it’s never a foregone conclusion who gets the next big fight. Aldo is practically out of opponents to fight in the division, struggled to make weight and probably won’t ever get another shot at Holloway having lost decisively twice. His best move would be up to 155 lbs where there are compelling match-ups with everyone in the top five. For my money, I want the Pettis/Aldo fight that almost came to fruition when both were champions years ago. A top 10 ranked opponent wouldn’t be too much for the legend, but watching Pettis and Aldo strike back and forth is too tempting to ignore.

Yancy Medeiros vs Alex Oliveira:

I mentioned on the preview podcast for this event that I felt Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje had the potential to be like an MMA Arturo Gatti vs Mickey Ward. That prediction didn’t hold up but Yancy Medeiros and Alex Oliveira sure as hell tried to make it happen anyway. While Alvarez vs Gaethje built to a crescendo with a knee; Medeiros and Oliveira started at 100 MPH and never slowed down. Medieros broke Oliveira’s nose early, then rushed back from a low blow to get knocked down by the Brazilian Cowboy. Oliveira landed more strikes (93-75) but Medeiros refused to stay down. This was a fight that came close to being stopped multiple times for each fighter in every round. One fighter would look like he was on the cusp of going down only to throw a game changing hook or elbow that shifted momentum 180 degrees. It was epic. Yancy Medeiros eventually survived the war of attrition with it appearing that Oliveira was injured too badly to continue in the middle of a third round he was winning (maybe the nose). This is the only fight I see competing with Johnson/Gaethje for fight of the year and feels closer to the epic Manhoef/Santos fight from years ago than anything I’ve seen since. It wasn’t the best technique, more a clash of wills but it was a sight to see and absolutely had to be mentioned with all of the other great fights.

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