Another Brazil event, another night of weirdness; this is the norm for the UFC these days. Also normal is the fact that the event largely delivered in the action department, and although the hometown faithful had a bit of a rough night overall, they went home happy (at least those who didn't leave after the co-main event) as Brazil has another champ to add to the record books. I can't recall who pointed it out in the live discussion here on Fightful (forgive me) but it really did appear that all the Brazilian legends (and BJ Penn, who might be honorary after all his time at Nova Uniao) sacrificed themselves so that Brazil could have a new champion, and it happened in dramatic comeback fashion! Let's get right to that, as well as the rest of what the hell happened at UFC 237!
The Main Card
UFC Women's Strawweight Championship
Namajunas impresses, but one slam, not one punch, is all Andrade needs to claim the title
#1 Jessica Andrade def. Rose Namajunas (c) by KO via slam (2:58, R2)
Well, they call her "Bate Estaca" for a reason! For those who don't know (or didn't read the above tweet), that's Portuguese for "Piledriver," and unless you're a pro wrestling nerd like me you'd say that's essentially what Andrade did to wrest the UFC strawweight title from Namajunas. However, as triumphant as the result was, Andrade had to go through quite a bit of trouble to get there. Prior to the finish, Namajunas arguably looked better than she ever had up to that point. She was composed, she moved well, and used her speed, footwork, and length beautifully, and really looked to have Andrade's number on the feet. It wasn't very surprising that she managed to get the better of the action early, but she was outright dominant in the first round. When Namajunas wasn't landing stiff jabs at distance, Andrade chased her around the octagon throwing wild hooks that Namajunas was keen to slip out of reach of and make her pay with sharp, straight punches. Andrade did try to slow her down with frequent leg kicks, but Namajunas started countering with hooks up top and, and Andrade was clearly outworked in punching exchanges, even though when she did land it was with more power.
Namajunas just generally did a great job of picking up reads on Andrade and drawing out her pretty limited approaches to exchanging. Early on she threw liberal jabs that Andrade would respond to by trying to walk through to throw a left hook over the top and lead Namajunas into a followup right. Andrade consistently uses a lunging left hook to start her blitzes, so it was something that wasn't to difficult for Rose to pick up on since she kept her distance pretty well. Once she read Andrade's response she would feint the jab and come through with the straight right, or throw a quick 1-2 or straight right to catch her moving in. She'd even throw naked right hands, and still be able to get in and out before Andrade's hook came around because she was so much faster. This just made Andrade try to chase her down more, which only walked her into more counters. It was some very intelligent work to combat Andrade's pressure, and it marked her face up pretty good by the end of the opening round. Namajunas' best shot came late in the round in the form a knee that dropped Andrade, but didn't have her too badly hurt. Still, it put a definite stamp on an already clear round.
In previewing this fight I made note of how Namajunas has always been very willing to enter the clinch, even if it may not be in her best interest. This has played a role in most of her less impressive performances in the UFC, and I thought it was something she could potentially get into trouble doing against a powerhouse like Andrade. This somewhat manifested in the first round in what was a nice bit of foreshadowing. In the clinch Andrade went for her patented high crotch lift to slam Namajunas, but Rose quickly grabbed a kimura to prevent it. Andrade still managed to dump her to the ground, albeit not as forcefully as she wanted to, but found herself in a serious armbar attempt. It appeared Namajunas may have had an answer for the power wrestling game of Andrade...though we were soon to find out that wasn't at all true.
If at first you don't succeed...
The second round was more of the same, with Namajunas a step ahead of Andrade the whole way and catching her with jabs. Andrade still rushed in to close the distance with hooks, and although she had more success than in the previous round, it was difficult to land cleanly. Andrade got in on a single leg again, went to the high crotch lift, and once again Namajunas grabbed a hold of the kimura to thwart the slam. Only this time, Andrade was able to break her grip enough to follow through on the slam anyway and drop Namajunas right onto the back of her head and neck. She was out immediately, and a couple short shots managed to get through before the referee stepped in to stop the fight. The same kimura that prevented her from being slammed hard in the first round ended up being her undoing the next time around because she wouldn't let it go of it so she could break her fall with her arms like you normally would to lessen the damage of a slam like that.
It was a spectacular finish in a fight that really wasn't going Andrade's way, but it also illustrated another of the many ways that Andrade is dangerous. She's shown the ability to put opponents away in many situations, and even when she doesn't, her cardio and pressure have done a great job of wearing opponents down. In turn it was a pretty disheartening loss for Namajunas considering how good she looked prior to the slam, though it does make a decent case for a rematch if she seeks one. And I do say 'if' because Namajunas has expressed that she's unsure if she'll even continue fighting after the loss, saying that she wants to do something else with her life right now and that it isn't fun for her anymore. She did however also say that she won't make any decisions at the moment, which I think is the smart way to go; fighters can go through a range of emotions following a fight, win or lose, so it's good practice not to read too much into things fighters say immediately following a fight. As a fan of hers I hope she doesn't call it a career because she looked fantastic for 95% of this fight.
The looks says it all: "Damn, I was whooping her too!"
So what's next for these two? As mentioned, Namajunas has a decision to make, and if she does stick around I wouldn't be opposed to a rematch. Otherwise she has several options; a rematch with Carla Esparza, the loser of the upcoming Tatiana Suarez vs Nina Ansaroff title eliminator, or the winner of the upcoming bout between Claudia Gadelha vs Randa Markos. And for the champ? Well if she doesn't get an immediate rematch going, the winner of the aforementioned title eliminator should be right there waiting. And of course a familiar foe in Joanna Jedrzejczyk had been making noise about wanting the winner of this title fight. At this point she hasn't really earned it, but she did deny Andrade in her first bid for the title, so maybe here's some interest for Andrade in getting that win back.
Cannonier leg kicks chop down Silva
#10 Jared Cannonier def. #14 Anderson Silva by TKO via leg kicks (4:47, R1)
Oh, how the mighty continue to fall. I'm sure I'm not the only one who had a case of deja vu in seeing Silva fall to the ground and clutch at his leg. My immediate thought was that Cannonier re-injured the broken shin Silva suffered in his rematch with Chris Weidman, but then I realized that he was holding his knee and that it was the wrong leg. Still an unfortunate and potentially serious injury, but of course nowhere near as bad as snapping your shin again (at least not visually). The fight up until then was a pretty typical Silva affair, as he spent much of the time gathering information, testing out the range with jabs and body kicks, and trying to draw out countering opportunities. He didn't look bad, but he also hadn't really loosened up much before the finish. Cannonier stayed in his face and stalked forward but didn't throw much outside of some hard low kicks (which turned out to be just what he needed). Cannonier did a nice salvo of punches as Silva backed into the fence, leading Silva to grab a Thai clinch, and from there he landed a few more hooks over the top of Silva's clinch, but Silva rolled with them well and looked to be starting to open up more when Cannonier landed an inside leg kick that buckled Silva's leg and sent him down to the canvas. He attempted to fight back as Cannonier moved in for the finish, but referee Herb Dean stopped the fight immediately for the shocking TKO finish.
Never did I think I would see Silva get finished with a leg kick (that wasn't his own), but after the fight he admitted that he injured the knee prior to the fight and fought anyway (Dean's quick stoppage almost made me wonder if he knew ahead of time about Silva's injury). I always hate hearing this. It not only makes said fighter look like an excuse maker in the eyes of many, but I just really dislike that it doesn't give us a true assessment of the fight. How would he have done with a healthy knee? He damn sure wouldn't have likely lost via leg kick! And of course if I knew he was injured coming in I probably wouldn't have picked him to win the fight. This makes Silva 1-6 with 1 no contest following his historic run as UFC middleweight champion, and honestly it should be 0-7 because he didn't really deserve to win the Derek Brunson fight. The oddest thing is that hasn't looked like a completely hollowed out husk of a fighter (we'll get to one of those later), and gives us enough flashes of the fighter he used to be to trick us into thinking he can recapture a bit of the old magic, even if just for a short time. He has struggled mightily with opponents people figure he can handle, and been surprisingly competitive with competition those same people think he'll lose badly to. As hard as it has been to read him from fight to fight, the sad, overarching theme is that he is done as a truly relevant fighter in the division.
This fight should give Cannonier a good amount of shine, but it didn't really say much about him. He didn't show much improvement or anything indicating that he's better equipped to handle the fighters ranked above him in the division. He does hit hard though, which can still be an x-factor. His next fight should come against Brunson or Weidman (if they don't fight each other, in which case he could also face the winner). Silva might want to really consider retirement, especially if this knee injury keeps him out a while. Otherwise it's kinda hard for me to place him. I'd put him in there with Elias Theodorou, but that could be both depressing AND hideous to watch. And who knows how another leg injury could affect him if and when he does return? Almost makes you wish he really was a spider, because between the left leg break and the right knee injury, he'd at least still have six legs left.
A title contender emerges; Volkanovski outworks Aldo over 15 minutes
#4 Alexander Volkanovski def. #1 Jose Aldo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
UPDATE: Welp, looks like Frankie Edgar is getting the next title shot after all! That's...kinda dumb.
If you didn't believe it after his breakout win over Chad Mendes, there's no doubting it anymore: Volkanovski is the rightful next contender for the featherweight title. He stifled Aldo right from the start and just never let him properly get into the fight. Volkanovski's evolution as a fighter has actually made it harder for me to anticipate what he looks like from fight to fight, and that's a great thing for him. As impressive as his win over Mendes was, the performance contained a good amount of holes that Aldo is tailor-made to exploit. Against Aldo he tightened up those holes and fought much smarter, taking fewer risks. That's the type of adjustment I love to see in a fighter; he knew he couldn't be as loose and wild with Aldo, so he kept his game tight and never really wavered in that regard.
The most shocking thing to me about the fight was Volkanovski's efficacy with leg kicks. We all know Aldo's reputation as a dangerous kicker (although he has somewhat frustratingly gotten away from it over the years), and Volkanovski simply decided he'd take that away from him by repeatedly kicking Aldo's legs when he stalked forward. The leg kicks were made even easier because of Volkanovski's liberal use of feints. Aldo relies pretty heavily on leaning and slipping shots dramatically to spring back with counters, and that was drawn out repeatedly with jab and right hand feints that left his legs right there for kicking since he plants his feet to swivel and counter. Outside of the final round, the head strike totals were actually pretty even throughout, but it was Volkanovski's willingness to mix it up that dictated this entire fight. He didn't throw a ton of power into everything like Aldo tends to do, but he just stayed in Aldo's face and constantly feinted and threw volume to disrupt his rhythm. Leg kicks were his greatest weapon, as he landed a whopping 50 of them over 15 minutes, which I'm sure brought a bit of a smile to Urijah Faber's face.
Another great tactical feat from Volkanovski was his more familiar clinch work. If Aldo began to show any comfort on the feet he would clinch and press him against the fence, keeping busy with frequent knees to the thigh. Aldo appeared to have trouble with the strength of Volkanovski in the clinch and struggled to reverse position and/or separate quickly. There was also an apparent lack of urgency as well from Aldo in the clinch, and there were stretches where all he would do is widen his base to prevent a takedown and throw punches to the body for an extended period of time instead of actually trying to improve his situation.
With that said, Aldo didn't look particularly bad, but he didn't look too good either. More than anything he didn't really look like he wanted to be there once the fight got tough, which doesn't normally characterize him. I don't know if it was his corner telling him he won a round or what, but he showed no urgency to go for the finish in the final round, and just repeatedly fell for the same tricks the entire fight. It's almost like he's more focused on his burger franchise than fighting right now.
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I mean that looks pretty good though. Maybe he's onto something...
The next move for Volkanovski is obvious: a title fight with Max Holloway. Frankie Edgar has called Holloway out, and while I'd very much enjoy that fight, Volkanovski is the way to go. With Aldo it's a bit more complicated. At this point he's essentially done it all at featherweight, so it may be time for him to finally move up to lightweight. There he has some fresh matchups and could even maybe get that rematch with Conor McGregor he's wanted for so long. On the other hand, he didn't look incredibly inspired against Volkanovski, and as mentioned he does have other ventures, so maybe a new and more dangerous division could be a detriment to him, and he should settle into the "gatekeeper to the shot" role he has occupied. Aldo has also talked of retirement before, so I'll be interested in seeing what he's thinking following this loss.
Burgers. He's thinking about burgers. And now so am I.
Staropoli's activity was too much for an aging Pitbull
Laureano Staropoli def. Thiago Alves by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
I think Staropoli might have been the only one shocked by the decision.
I'll be 100% honest here: I did watch this fight, but I found it difficult to care too much about it when Douglas Lima vs Michael Page was going on in Bellator at the same time. My not devoting full attention to it produced an interesting result in that I thought Alves was doing just fine and could potentially take the fight. This could also be because I got more focused on the fight in the third round (the Bellator fight had ended by then), which I thought Alves definitely won. Looking over the stats and some highlights, it looked relatively competitive so I could see how not being fully dialed in can produce the feeling that one fighter is edging the rounds out when maybe they weren't. I do remember that early Staropoli moved, switched stances, and kicked a lot while Alves mostly stayed compact and looked to counter, but didn't pull the trigger too much, which I'm sure garnered Staropoli a lot of favor. Round two was the one that really got by me, but my takeaway from the fight was that Staropoli was mostly the more active party, and that led to him having more memorable moments in the rounds. It was essentially another Alves fight that further confused my ability to figure out how good he really is anymore.
Aldana rallies to armbar a Bethe
#11 Irene Aldana def. #13 Bethe Correia by submission via arm bar (3:24, R3)
Fight IQ continues to be one of Correia's biggest foes. For as much guff as she gets from fans and pundits alike, she's not as bad a fighter as she's made out to be, and tends to get around her lack of athleticism and balance well. But then she'll do something baffling that kinda reaffirms her critics. Aldana has her own issues as a fighter, so while I favored her to win I actually saw this playing out pretty closely, and for the most part it did. Aldana stayed on the outside moving laterally and using jittery upper body movement early on, which is the norm for her. Correia wanted to get inside of Aldana's range, but was frequently countered with 1-2s and just couldn't seem to track her down. She adjusted well in round two due to throwing more leg kicks instead of just hunting for punches. Aldana's tendency to go to the well a bit too much and repeat the same movements and combinations eventually aided in allowing Correia into the fight, and by the end of the round they were all tied up. Round three was fairly even, with Aldana landing more but Correia landing a bit harder. She even appeared to stun Aldana a bit with a couple combinations.
That made Correia's next move all the more baffling: she shot a sloppy takedown from far out with no setup, which Aldana easily evaded and stepped over to take Correia's back. She was too high up to get her hooks in, so she switched to an armbar and got a tap pretty much immediately when she went belly-down. Correia was also bleeding from he head after the fight, and I think the one punch Aldana landed right after she stuffed the takedown may have hurt her a bit. Either way it was actually a pretty fun fight, as is normal when Aldana is involved. She may not be panning out the way some envisioned, but I don't think she's been in a boring fight yet.
Aldana always comes to scrap.
Ryan Spann def. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by KO via strikes (2:07, R1)
And another legend goes down. I expected Nogueira to lose but not quite that badly, even if Spann can hit pretty hard. It was easy to perhaps be fooled by his rousing knockout of Sam Alvey, but Alvey has always pretty much been a stationary target anyway. Spann just reminded us all of just how much Nogueira's reflexes have declined; his punches landed before Nogueira's could come around, and even before he could even get his guard up properly. Spann was just a much faster fighter, and he couldn't react to the shots in time or stage any counters. Even on the ground Nogueira had issues with Spann (who is actually an underrated grappler) locking in an arm-triangle on him that I was pretty glad he got out of at the time because as backwards as it sounds, as a fan watching him get submitted would've been a bit sadder than watching him get knocked out, even if Rogerio was always the much more boxing-oriented Nogueira brother. With this knockout and his all too common level of inactivity, it might be time for Nogueira to call it a career. That or he can take another year or two off and fight Ed Herman, or someone else more palatable to his declining skills.
Warlley Alves def. Sergio Moraes by KO via strikes (4:13, R3)
I'm glad I put my faith in Alves for this one; I was a bit surprised he was the underdog against Moraes. His cardio issues aside, he's the sort of quick, explosive striker that gives Moraes issues, and he's well-versed enough to take advantage of the fact that Moraes rarely checks leg kicks, which ended up playing a big role in how he was broken down. Moraes is a fighter that is very visibly affected when things aren't going his way, so if he doesn't like something you're doing to him, he makes it very obvious by getting a little too aggressive to get you back or expressing frustration in a bit of an over-the-top manner. You could tell the leg kicks really got to him because he just looked mentally fed up every time a hard one would land, and his posture was almost defeatist, like he didn't even want to be there anymore. He spent the better part of 14 minutes being bludgeoned around the cage until his forlorn demeanor signaled that a finish could be near. In a spectacular sequence that deserved every bit of the performance bonus it received, Alves soared at Mores with a flying knee that landed and had him covering up against the cage to defend a followup 1-2. Alves waited a beat, and then launched a huge uppercut that caught him flush on the chin and melted him where he stood in an awkward position that only Moraes seems to be able to produce with any regularity. Moraes' ceiling appears to be clear at this point, though with his oddball style of striking it won't be surprising to get a win here and there that is unexpected. Alves looked great, but at this point it's hard to tell if this is just another start on his start-stop path through the UFC. This fight wasn't very competitive, and his biggest challenge is his cardio and staying in a fight mentally once it wanes.
Clay Guida def. BJ Penn by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)
It's a sad day in MMA when BJ Penn is getting rocked by Clay Guida.
We've talked about worn out husks of fighters, diminished legends, and those who should retire; this was the prime example of it and they got it out of the way fairly early. While I might suggest retirement here and there, I rarely flat-out declare that someone needs to retire. I generally don't think that's for me to declare. BJ Penn needs to retire. He has now lost seven-straight in the UFC, and yes, that's definitely a promotional record. In my opinion it should be eight-straight, as I think the draw against Jon Fitch should've gone to Fitch. He is 1-9-1 in his last 11 fights, and that lone win was a quick knockout of a Matt Hughes that was at the end of his career. Before this stretch, Penn had never been properly stopped with strikes (yeah okay, the Hughes loss, but he was more tired than anything). He had never really been badly hurt, dropped, or submitted in competition. This was mostly still true even through what was thought of as his initial retirement following a three-round battering at the hands and feet of Rory MacDonald (he did get hurt in that one). Since then he's been dominated and beaten to a pulp to be stopped by Edgar, he was dropped for the first time and finished by Yair Rodriguez, and promptly submitted with ease by Ryan Hall. This time he lost a clear decision to another aging fighter in Guida (who is clearly aging much more gracefully).
A decade ago, Guida probably wouldn't have dared stand with Penn for the large majority of a fight, but here he felt all too comfortable with it and only shot for two takedowns (probably the lowest amount he's ever attempted in a three round fight). It wasn't that Guida had the better stand up either; Penn clearly took round one in my opinion on the strength of his still relatively solid fundamental boxing, which though slowed down was still effective. He also threw a good amount of volume and largely kept up with the energetic and frenetic Guida. It was a welcome change to the Penn we'd seen in his past couple fights, and actually gave me some hope for him. But by round two the old BJ was back; the one that gets tired and a lot less effective. This was when Guida began to run away with the striking, marking up Penn's face and soundly outworking him. Guida could keep up the same pace in rounds two and three that he did in round one, while Penn simply couldn't. There were also the clear signs of his style in general just not aging well. His boxing-centric style was the bee's knees in his heyday, but we're in a time now where staying heavy on your front foot all the time gets your leg kicked, and Guida gladly obliged, taking the sting off of Penn's punches and limiting his already slowing movement even more.
I won't lie, I was never a huge Penn fan. I always respected his skill and enjoyed watching him fight, but he was never someone I rooted for fight in and fight out. That said, it's been rough on me watching his decline, if only because he's someone I came up in the sport watching and it's sad what this is doing to his legacy. Penn is considered one of the greats in the sport; but a lot of people aren't going to believe that when they look at his 16-14-2 record, or his even less impressive UFC record of 12-13-2. It's sad to think that there are people who will think of him as a bum when there was a time where he was considered one of the most talented fighters to ever do this.
In other miscellaneous thoughts:
- Priscilla Cachoeira doesn't have much in the way of fighting ability, but you can never say she isn't tough. She showed a helluva a chin despite being a punching (and kicking) bag for the most part against Luana Carolina
This was the third flush head kick that landed, and the only one to drop her.
- Viviane Araujo looked great not just in flattening Talita Bernardo with one punch, but for the whole fight up until then as well. Her constant feints, stance switches, and tricky footwork baffled Bernardo most of the time, and she just could never get into the fight. Araujo was doubly impressive since she's a strawweight who jumped up two divisions for this fight! She might be a problem at 115.
All in all it was a great night of fights, and there were definitely some more prelims I would have touched on if this weren't already long enough. It was especially great paired with Bellator 221, which was so good that I was tempted to add the main card bouts to this recap because I really want to talk about the main and co-main. Not to make this thing much longer, but to briefly recap it, in the main event Bellator featherweight king Patricio "Pitbull" Freire knocked out lightweight champion Michael Chandler in just over a minute to become Bellator's second "champ-champ" after light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.
Chandler wasn't the only one who didn't see this coming.
In the co-main event, Michael Page's undefeated run (and hype train) was brought to a screeching halt at the hands of former welterweight champion Douglas Lima, who really showed the blueprint to fighting Page that I knew a top welterweight eventually would use (hint: it's pretty much just leg kicks). After kicking his leg out from under him to counter the lunging 1-2 (damn near the only punching offense Page really ever does), Lima caught him standing back up right on the chin with a perfectly placed uppercut that collapsed him like a house of cards.
Looks like we've found the anti-venom!
As much as I'd love to break down the fact that Michael Chandler can't lose a title without there being some sort of weirdness or controversy, or the fantastic lead up to Lima's finish, I'll call it here and see you all for the next one. Sado, out!