Disclaimer: This one's a beast!
One glance up and down the UFC 238 card and it was clear that expectations would be high. I must say that even through some lofty expectations the card delivered perhaps even more so than I thought it would. We really only saw one bad fight on the entire card (Darren Stewart's tepid unanimous decision victory over Bevon Lewis; I'm mentioning it now because I won't later), but outside of that the fights ranged from good to great and made for a phenomenal card. Both title fights delivered in a way that has become rare these days, and we even got ourselves a controversial finish, albeit in the fight that I'm sure not a single one of us wanted to end controversially. Needless to say it was a bad day for eyes...in more ways than one! But enough chatter, let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Cejudo weathers the storm and adjusts expertly to become champ-champ
Henry Cejudo defeated Marlon Moraes via 3rd Round TKO (4:51) to win the vacant bantamweight title
Just like that, the UFC has yet another double champ for the history books. The question now is whether or not he'll be the first champ to actually defend both belts after gaining the distinction. Amanda Nunes has a head start on him with her upcoming bantamweight title defense against Holly Holm, but who knows what will happen with her featherweight title (or the division, for that matter)? Nonetheless, he claimed the vacant UFC bantamweight title in thrilling fashion after getting off to a bit of a rough start. It was the start I imagined we'd see in the fight, since Cejudo does generally start his fights at long range striking with his opponents, and that's the worst place to be against Moraes, who wasted little time burying his shin into Cejudo's lead leg. He also landed the first significant punch of the fight, a long left hook that really got Cejudo's attention. Not far into the opening round Cejudo started reaching to catch leg kicks, which I really thought would work to Moraes' benefit when he sought to throw head kicks, but it never became an issue for Cejudo (a surprise considering the sheer size of his head).
Moraes looked extremely sharp early.
Cejudo started off round two a bit more aggressively, but still ate punches and leg kicks for his trouble, even being taken off his feet with a hard kick. When Cejudo briefly changed levels he was met with a knee up the middle, which seemed to spell trouble for his chances in the wrestling department. Cejudo has really had issues with Moraes' speed and timing at distance, and it appeared it'd be a long night for him. Then it all clicked. In breaking down this fight I mainly focused on the wrestling and how Cejudo's success in that area could be the x-factor in whether or not he takes the fight. It would turn out to be his pressure more than anything that turned the tide. Moraes can win striking battles all day at distance with his excellent speed and timing, but when Cejudo turned up the pressure and got in his face, you could see his game start to unravel little by little. Cejudo's striking is less predicated on defense than tanking damage to get inside where he's more dangerous, and it worked against a legitimate 135er in Moraes where I didn't anticipate it would. While Moraes would still land in exchanges, Cejudo would just chip away and force him to work by firing back with short punches on the inside of Moraes' wide counters, and he actually stunned him with a couple shots. The real turning point occurred when Cejudo got a hold of the Thai clinch; I don't know if Moraes was already fatigued or not, but he essentially froze there while Cejudo landed several knees to the head and body. After that he just didn't look the same, even if he managed to wobble Cejudo with a big right hook just before the horn.
Cejudo found success through grit and pressure.
Did he...even realize he was caught in the clinch?
In round three Cejudo's pressure became a real problem, and he scored with uppercuts and more knees in the clinch. After eating a right hand Moraes clinched again and ended up in a front headlock that Cejudo turned into a tight anaconda choke. He rolled it over but Moraes managed to escape to a seated position only to eat a knee to the body against the cage.
That Moraes hardly fought the choke was a testament to just how gassed he was.
At this point Cejudo managed to land his first and only takedown of the fight on an exhausted Moraes, who attempted and armbar but had nothing on it. Cejudo began to land hard punches and elbows from half guard before standing and landing some big hammerfists that prompted the referee to intervene.
What can you say about Cejudo? Some might find him grating and cringe-worthy outside of the cage (I certainly do!), but he's a hell of a fighter that has delivered the goods inside of it, regardless of whether you thought he rightfully beat Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title (I certainly didn't!). Now with consecutive wins over Johnson, disgraced former bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw, and now Moraes to capture the 135 lb crown, Cejudo is claiming to be the best combat sport athlete of all time. Between his two UFC belts and his Olympic gold medal (did you all know he had one of those? Pretty surprising, right?!), it's not the most far-fetched claim out there. I can't say I agree with it at this point, but maybe bantamweight Terrion Ware is onto something.
He's definitely half right in his assessment. Can you guess which half?
Honestly the most surprising thing about this fight for me was Moraes tiring out so quickly. He's fought five rounds in the past without issue and comes from a camp under Mark Henry that is known for housing fighters with exceptional cardio even through taking damage. At the same time he hasn't really faced the kind of relentless pressure and strong clinch work Cejudo brought to him. Early on he was adept at maintaining his preferred range, but over time Cejudo drew exchanges out of him and managed to track him down, and his cardio paid the price for engaging. Perhaps it wasn't just cardio though; it looked as if Cejudo just broke him in the end. With his cardio slipping away and an opponent who wouldn't stay out of his face, he lost his composure and just froze up strategically. He couldn't get a hold back on the fight and find his range, so he resorted to playing in Cejudo's, which was an uphill battle to a summit he would never reach.
I may not be the biggest fan of Cejudo, but it's pretty amazing how far he's come as a fighter over the years. He looks better and better every time out, and his ability to make sound adjustments is starting to become a trend, as he adjusted skillfully to Johnson as well. According to his post-fight interview he did it all with an injured ankle, which despite being another quirk that triggers annoyance from me (it's a bit tacky for winning fighters to go on about being injured prior to the fight), is pretty impressive. With the flyweight division practically dead in the water at this point (I know, Dana says it's sticking around, but they literally have 13 fighters), I think a fight with Aljamain Sterling, who won earlier in the night, should be next on deck. I've heard calls of Petr Yan, who also won tonight and on the main card, but honestly there's no justification rankings-wise for placing him ahead of Sterling. As for Moraes, the most sensible fight for him would be the man Sterling defeated: Pedro Munhoz.
Shevchenko high kick puts an Eye out
Valentina Shevchenko defeated Jessica Eye via 2nd Round KO (Head Kick - 0:26) to retain her Flyweight Title
Anyone being honest with themselves knew Shevchenko was all but a lock to win this fight, and I'm sure very few were surprised that she finished the fight, even if her style tends not to be the most finish-friendly. However, I have to say that I certainly didn't expect it to end like this. I pictured a Shevchenko finish coming by way of her wearing down Eye for a few rounds and earning a late mercy submission or TKO; not so much a brutal knockout via head kick. Shevchenko started the trend that would open up the finishing blow immediately from the start when she landed a heavy body kick right off the bat, followed by another. From there she changed levels under an Eye right hand and easily tripped her to the ground with a body lock takedown right into side control. After Eye gained half guard, Shevchenko passed to side again, and immediately into mount, but Eye did well to regain half guard quickly in a small victory. Eye managed to make it back to her feet, but was taken right back down into side control, and this time Shevchenko moved to a topside crucifix and locked in a keylock late in the round that Eye managed to reverse into top position just before the round ended.
This reversal may have been the only thing Eye did the entire fight.
Shevchenko started round two with another hard kick to the body, but this time her next kick went high and caught Eye totally off guard. Her shin crashed against Eye's temple and she was out cold before she hit the ground. To me this finish really showed just how many levels beneath Shevchenko Eye is. I underestimated just how not ready she was for this fight she was skill-wise. She's a striker by trade and a serviceable one, but there was a huge gulf in skill level here and it showed from start to finish. Shevchenko established an attack pattern early with a few body kicks and it didn't take long at all for Eye to start dropping her hands in anticipation. The first switch up Shevchenko threw didn't just work, but it worked almost as if Eye wasn't even aware a head kick was a possibility. Granted I am being a bit harsh on Eye; Shevchenko is one of the more technical strikers in the sport, but this is a setup we see quite often in the sport and there's a reason it doesn't land with this level of efficacy at a high level much these days.
By the look on her face it appears she stayed conscious just long enough after the kick landed to realize she'd made a huge mistake.
The ease with which she won projects a dire picture of what is left for her in the division. Eye is someone who outworked the number two contender in Katlyn Chookagian to get this opportunity, and there is a pretty fair likelihood that Chookagian is next in line for a title shot. While I do think Chookagian's style is a little better equipped for Shevchenko than Eye's is, do we really think someone who went tooth and nail with- and lost to Eye is going to beat Shevchenko? Especially after seeing how easily she was taken down off of kicks by Joanne Calderwood earlier tonight?
Shevchenko is a shark in a pool full of guppies at flyweight, and her only real challenge at this point lies in a third match with nemesis and aforementioned double champ Amanda Nunes (who can be seen in the Countdown telling Eye that Shevchenko doesn't hit hard. About that...), especially considering how controversial the decision was in their last bout; Shevchenko could have very well been the one hoisting up two belts in victory. Alternatively, there might be some cachet in a rematch with Liz Carmouche, who is ranked right behind Chookagian and handed Shevchenko her first defeat nearly nine years ago. The next bout for the title fight loser is similarly easy to plan here as in the main event: Eye can fight Calderwood, who lost a narrow decision to open the card. More than anything I'm just glad Eye regained consciousness and appeared to be fine; it got scary for a few moments there.
Now that we know she's alive...WE DANCE!
No dancing for the ref though, who clearly didn't ask for this kind of stress...
Tony Ferguson's the type of guy to win a fight via his opponent blowing his nose
Tony Ferguson defeated Donald Cerrone via 2nd Round TKO (Doctor Stoppage - 5:00)
How are there so few action clips of a fight that was ALL ACTION?
Well that certainly didn't end as any of us hoped. For ten minutes we got the thrilling, unorthodox fight we all wanted; then a late shot and an ill-advised nose blowing brought it all crashing down in anticlimactic fashion. The action was furious, as both men threw early and often from the start. As expected, Ferguson pressured right off the bat while Cerrone threw kicks to keep him at bay before opening up with jabs and 1-2s. Both men landed liberally with left hands and punching combinations, but while Ferguson landed more overall volume Cerrone appeared to land better quality punches on the feet early. Taking a cue from previous fights, Ferguson landed front kicks to the body over and over again hoping to hurt Cerrone's notoriously vulnerable torso. Though many of Ferguson's strikes were generally high-volume and lower-power, they certainly added up. Near the end of the opening round Cerrone landed a big left hand and chased Ferguson down with a combination that wobbled him, but ate a kick to the body just before the end of a thrilling round.
Did we expect anything but thrilling?
After Ferguson got his usual ritual of losing the first round out of the way, he simply turned up the pressure and went to work. He stunned Cerrone early with a couple stiff jabs, and continued his assault of body kicks and left hands. Cerrone still hung tough with a couple good counter rights, but he really began having trouble with Ferguson's pressure, the reach on his jabs, and the unpredictability of his actions. Ever the unorthodox stylist, Ferguson began to get funky, shuffling and almost getting a running start on his hard leg kicks, switching stances constantly, and liberally throwing spinning elbows, which started to land. There was one sequence where he overextended on a right hand, spun with it under a counter right from Cerrone, and came up with a spinning elbow that landed. That is insane, and very Tony Ferguson. Cerrone finally sought to slow things down and landed a takedown, only for Ferguson to roll through it, return to his feet, and continue his pressure with a kick to the body. A subsequent clinch attempt by Cerrone ended with him getting caught with an awkward back elbow and a hard right jab right off a stance switch from Ferguson, before landing another elbow.
He's just so damn awkward that it works.
Then things fell apart as Ferguson landed a hard straight right to Cerrone's nose clearly after the horn sounded to end the second stanza. He received a hard warning for the shot, but it did appear to rock Cerrone. To make matters worse, Cerrone did the one thing you never want to do when suffering from a broken nose: blow that nose. Right on cue his right eye swelled shut, and you could see the confusion followed by a hint of panic on Cerrone's face as he felt about his eye region. As feared, the eye was in no condition for the doctors to allow the fight to continue, so the contest had to be stopped and Ferguson awarded the TKO win.
DID I DO THAT?
The big question here is whether this was the right call, as opposed to a no contest ruling. Support for the no contest mostly comes from the viewpoint that the late punch was what broke Cerrone's nose, and therefore what caused him to blow his nose and lose the fight. Though the right hand clearly offset Cerrone's nose judging from the replays, it's hard to prove his nose wasn't broken prior, especially with the number of jabs to the nose he ate throughout the fight. Still, it's just unfortunate the whole thing happened at all, because late shot or not there's doubt in the victory. However, it's also hard to say things weren't trending toward a Ferguson win after that round. Cerrone's offense had slowed down and Ferguson's, as usual, was picking up. He was pushing the same pace throughout the fight and his accuracy was increasing, while Cerrone's accuracy was dropping significantly and he was clearly losing the boxing exchanges once Ferguson found his groove. Both fighters are slow starters that finish strong, and while Cerrone edged the battle of slow starters, Ferguson was running away with the battle of strong finishers. By end of the round Cerrone was a battered mess, and it wasn't courtesy of the shot after the horn. I don't imagine the final round would've gone much different, because Ferguson certainly wasn't slowing down or letting up on his pressure.
The fight more or less went as I expected except I thought Ferguson's spotty defense would land him in more trouble early on (and obviously I didn't see the doctor stoppage coming). Cerrone has made great strides in the boxing department, but he still doesn't have much in the way of power in his hands, which only gave Ferguson more willingness to pressure and limited Cerrone's use of front kicks and head kicks that give his opponents more pause. Even with the improvements, Cerrone still doesn't benefit from being forced into a prolonged boxing match and it showed here. All told he was outlanded 104-to-68 in significant strikes, and was outstruck in every facet on the feet in both rounds in terms of volume. He dealt well with Ferguson's pressure early, but Cerrone is just not someone who deals with consistent pressure; he needs to disincentivize you from pressuring him like he did to Al Iaquinta with his long jabs and kicks. The issue here was that Ferguson took away the reach advantage he usually enjoys and like few others could beat him to the punch with his own strikes. Ferguson has about three inches on Cerrone in terms of reach, but it becomes deceptively longer when you consider the fact that Ferguson extends and turns a lot more on his punches while Cerrone stands fairly upright when he throws. That can make a three-inch deficit feel more like a six-inch deficit.
I've seen suggestions for an immediate rematch, and in my opinion they shouldn't do it because I highly doubt things would've gone well for Cerrone had the fight continued. After his usual adjustment period Ferguson looked like the better fighter out there and essentially out-Cowboy'd Cowboy. Plus he's just so damn unpredictable out there that after a while Cerrone was clearly just baffled. He should be up next to take on the winner of the title unification bout between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier. However, we also know how Ferguson has been passed up before Dana White mentions Conor McGregor wanting a rematch with Khabib enough to make those of us who prefer title shots to be given based on a meritocracy a bit nervous. It doesn't help that the Khabib-Ferguson match up is pretty cursed. For Cerrone I would suggest McGregor next, but they tried that one and McGregor didn't want to play ball, so if not him then the loser of the title fight or Justin Gaethje will do instead.
Yan's strategically placed rallies carry him past a tough Rivera
Petr Yan defeated Jimmie Rivera via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)
While Yan certainly didn't look bad throughout the fight, you have to feel for Rivera because he really had this fight slip from between his fingers with a couple short defensive lapses. In breaking down the fight I thought a major factor that benefited Yan would be that he fights well at pretty much all ranges while Rivera general excels in close. Rivera apparently prepared well for this by turning to hard low kicks, which were very effective since Yan is heavy on his lead leg. Rivera ate up his leg early and maintained solid defense whenever Yan did close the distance. Offensively he was on point there too as expected, landing tight hooks and uppercuts, taking advantage of Yan's tendency to lean to his right a lot. The opening round went swimmingly for Rivera until a leaping left hook dropped him with seconds left, and Yan closed it out in the wrestling ride position landing hard right hands. He had essentially lost all but the waning seconds of the round, but that late offense was arguably enough to steal the round.
The cage was not Rivera's friend.
Round two started with Yan being stunned with a right hand and hurt with a leg kick, as Rivera again started to get the better of the action. Yan still came forward swinging, but couldn't find much success and got countered for his troubles with punches and hard leg kicks that really gave him issues. After the halfway point of the round Yan went for a head kick at close range and caught Rivera with his knee, but Rivera drove through it and clinched up. Upon separation both men exchanged hard in the center with both landing good shots. In yet another unfortunate happening for Rivera, he once again god dropped, this time by a huge right uppercut against the cage with seconds left, and once again he was saved by the bell in a round that Yan stole away from him.
He was dropped a couple times, but you can't say Rivera doesn't have a chin.
In the final round Rivera turned up the pressure at the behest of his corner and shot a couple takedowns that were very slickly scrambled out of by Yan. The Russian then landed a hard body kick and then an uppercut in the center of the cage that knocked Rivera's mouth guard out. Rivera came back with a right hand, but curiously abandoned the leg kicks that gave him so much success in the first two rounds. In a third round that was more competitive throughout, Yan put a stamp on it with a rear waist lock takedown at the horn.
As mentioned, the loss has to be a bit of a tough pill for Rivera to swallow since he was so successful through much of it. However, Yan was just able to do damage when it counted. It reminded me of Wanderlei Silva's win over Michael Bisping, where Bisping won most of the exchanges and generally controlled the fight, but found himself saved by the bell at the end of two rounds that ultimately cost him the decision. Had Rivera kept his distance in the closing seconds of the first couple rounds, he might have gotten the nod here, though credit should also be given to Yan for cutting him off so well in pushing him back to the cage to limit the angles the exit off of.
Judging by the placement of this fight on the card, it wouldn't surprise me to see the UFC hotshot Yan to a title shot against Cejudo, and while it would be a barn-burner of a fight, I don't think it's the right decision. Instead, he should face the winner of the upcoming Raphael Assuncao vs Cory Sandhagen fight in a fight which could determine the next contender after Sterling. Rivera finds himself in a bit of a tough spot, having lost three of his last four after winning his first five UFC fights, so I think a bit of a step down versus Cody Stamann may be in order.
Ivanov too savvy for a still-raw Tuivasa
Blagoy Ivanov defeated Tai Tuivasa via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)
For as high as Tuivasa began to rise in the division, he still has a lot of holes to plug up, particularly defensively. Despite the 30-27 scores (this is also how I scored the fight), it was a closer affair than the score may reflect, as it was largely a back and forth fight decided by several key moments that usually worked in Ivanov's favor. Much time was spent in the clinch throughout the fight, and a lot of that portion of the fight was even and both men landed well off the break. Ivanov's straight left began to land with regularity, including one that wobbled Tuivasa toward the end of the first round. The moment that likely sealed it for Ivanov however was a right hook earlier on that dropped Tuivasa briefly as he closed the distance.
Ivanov's counters were surprisingly quick.
In round two Ivanov's straight left continued to land, but a right hand from Tuivasa rocked him and had him on wobbly legs. He managed to recover, as Tuivasa seemed to accept the clinch to catch his breath. Both men still still landed jabs and 1-2s, but Tuivasa began opening up with leg kicks that got Ivanov's attention. Halfway through the round both men were tired and slowing down, but Ivanov appeared to be the more experienced with fighting fatigued and coming forward. Near the end of the round they clinched up and Ivanov was able to grab a hold of Tuivasa's neck and drag him to the ground for a tight guillotine. Tuivasa was saved by the horn, but actually tapped out just after it. A close round, but you could easily argue that final moment of the round put yet another one in the bank for Ivanov.
Both men were visibly tired to start round three, but they still exchanged between clinches. Tuivasa began landing tight hooks in the clinch, and Ivanov repeatedly would use guillotine attempts to reverse position and put Tuivasa's back to the fence. In one instance he landed some hard knees to the head of Tuivasa from the front headlock position. In the latter part of the round Tuivasa started landing some hard leg kicks that bothered Ivanov, who responded with more flush straight lefts before the horn. Another close round, but one that Ivanov got the better of.
All in all a decent, workmanlike performance from Ivanov. Tuivasa showed flashes of why he was once a hyped prospect at heavyweight, but it seems strategically and defensively he's lacking. He showed early on that he could switch stances freely and strike from either stance, but as the fight went on he insisted on staying in orthodox where the southpaw Ivanov had an easy target with his left hand. He repeatedly left himself open to left straights and did little to adjust to it, instead being content to eat the shots with a smile. His chin is impressive, but it won't win him rounds if he keeps testing it. It also wasn't in his best interest to hang around in the clinch as much as he did, but at the same time he's a big heavyweight and no doubt he was just tired. Ivanov should get a top 10 opponent next, perhaps the winner of Aleksei Oleinik vs Walt Harris, or Shamil Abdurakhimov. Tuivasa is now on a two-fight skid but shouldn't fall too far down the ranks. A fight with Marcin Tybura would be pivotal for both men.
Tatiana Suarez defeated Nina Ansaroff via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Suarez may have just secured herself a title shot with this win, something I know many have been anticipating. While I definitely think she earned it, after watching this fight I have some sizable doubts about how well she fares against Jessica Andrade, or most of the top five for that matter. Her wrestling is obviously a concern for anyone in the division. She draws comparisons to Khabib, and for good reason; not only is she dominant on the mat, but much like Khabib her takedown shots in the center of the cage mostly serve as a way to get her opponents to the fence where her wrestling is incredibly effective. Her initial shot almost isn't even intended to be successful, and she's adept at chaining shots together in the clinch. Wrestling got the job done here in banking her the first two rounds, but the final round was telling. We'd seen little of her stand up until now because her wrestling had been so effective, but come the third round we were forced to see it whether she wanted to show it or not.
And it didn't show particularly well.
During the first two rounds Ansaroff was not content to sit back and be dominated on the ground, and her activity led to a tired Suarez unable to get a hold of her and drag her to the ground. It was then that her instincts on the feet were bit exposed. Say what you will about Khabib's striking, but it tends to be effective and if anything he has a solid jab. Once Ansaroff made it a point to stay away from the cage, she had quite a bit of success with counterpunches and stunned Suarez several times. One has to wonder how much better she would've done if she cut Suarez off against the cage and turned up the pressure instead of simply following her around as she found success in the round. She would land more strikes in that round at 30 than all of Suarez's UFC opponents combined (26). Faulty fundamentals aside, the fatigue is just not a good sign for Suarez's foray into the elite. She could dominate Andrade for two rounds, but if she tires by the third round chances are she's getting finished. The same likely goes for a bout against Rose Namajunas or Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and with their footwork you have to think her wrestling could be even less effective against them (and in Rose's case, if she does go to the ground her grappling could present major issues). Suarez is still young and improving, so she's far from a lost cause; she could go out there and fight for the title in her next fight and look like a much better fighter on the feet. However, this particular performance didn't make me too optimistic. As or Ansaroff, Jedrzejczyk could be next for her, and if not (are they still teammates?) Namajunas could make for a good fight, provided she's ready to return.
Aljamain Sterling defeated Pedro Munhoz via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Sterling looked his surname here. Munhoz has little defense to speak of, but he possesses a real knack for luring his opponents into brawls that favor his durability and power. Sterling was having none of it. He stayed long with a multitude of kicks and lengthy punches, and constantly switched stances to flood Munhoz's senses with different looks to react to. At times it was hard to keep up with whether he'd landed a straight right or switched stances for a right jab. Defensively he looked as solid as ever, with effective head movement and footwork that kept the fight where he wanted it. Munhoz landed more strikes than just about anyone else has against Sterling, but that head movement prevented him from being hit too cleanly to the head, while he was able to land several hard left hooks up top to counter the Brazilian's kicks.
It worked pretty well most of the time.
All told, Sterling almost tripled up on Munhoz in significant head strikes (123-to-44), and Munhoz's only real method of disrupting Sterling's game was leg kicks. Sterling didn't land a takedown in seven attempts, something would have spelled disaster for him against a fighter like Munhoz not even a couple years ago. His stand up has come so far along that he no longer needs to rely on his wrestling to get the job done. I don't see a fight with Cejudo going particularly well for him, but he 100% deserves the title shot and should have it. Munhoz would put on a hell of a war with John Lineker.
Alexa Grasso defeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
I'm ashamed to admit that I had almost given up on Grasso as a prospect after her disheartening loss to Suarez, but she restored a good amount of my faith after the way she handled Kowalkiewicz here. Granted Kowalkiewicz's striking has never been what you would call good, but generally her pressure and clinch work overcome those technical deficiencies. Grasso has never worked particularly hard to avoid the clinch even when it was in her best interest, so I thought that was where the fight would get away from her. To my surprise she showed to be the stronger clinch fighter. Not only was she hitting an advancing Kowalkiewicz at will, but once the distance was closed and they entered the clinch she deftly dug for underhooks, landed hard knees to the body and head, and reversed position to separate. She only got stronger as the fight went on and her volume, movement, polished boxing, and speed were just too much for the comparatively slow Kowalkiewicz. The end of the fight saw both women stand and trade in the middle of the cage, and a Kowalkiewicz clinch attempt was met with a tight guillotine that Grasso jumped on just before the horn sounded and potentially saved Kowalkiewicz. It was easily Grasso's best performance in the UFC, and the win should put her just on the outer edge of the top ten.
Calvin Kattar defeated Ricardo Lamas via 1st Round TKO (4:06)
Kattar might have just ascended above being one of the best underrated talents in the featherweight division with an impressive knockout over former title challenger Lamas. Kattar has some of the best boxing in the division, and Lamas did well to open up with hard leg kicks, but whenever he attempted to close the distance he was stopped in his tracks by clean, accurate punches to the head and body. Kattar began focusing on body shots to get Lamas to drop his guard, coupled with frequent feints to draw out reactions he could exploit. It didn't take him too long to do just that as he feinted a jab while stepping forward to cover distance, getting Lamas to raise his guard, then landed a light setup left hook around the guard that moved Lamas right into a huge overhand right that dropped him along the cage. A followup shot that actually landed to the back of the head (in motion, so nothing dirty about it) put Lamas all the way down, and the referee wasted little time in intervening. Kattar is now 4-1 in the UFC with three finishes, and that loss came to top featherweight Renato Carneiro. He should be in the top ten with this win, and I think he should take on the winner of the upcoming Mirsad Bektic vs Josh Emmett clash. Lamas is very much on the downside of his career at this point, but he still has some steam left in him. Fellow struggling elite featherweight Jeremy Stephens may be a good opponent for him.
Xiaonan Yan defeated Angela Hill via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Props to Hill for stepping up on short notice yet again, this time to take on a surging prospect in Yan. It made for a fun fight that she very nearly won. Eight of eighteen media outlets on MMA Decisions actually scored the fight for Hill, and even the judges nearly came up split, as they couldn't all agree on who won the first or third rounds. This one basically came down to Yan's volume vs Hill's power and efficiency, and Yan won the day. Both women acquitted themselves well, and it was just a tough break for Hill, who hasn't panned out the way many thought she would in her second UFC stint.
Eddie Wineland defeated Grigory Popov via 2nd Round TKO (4:47)
This was a fun one, and it's always good to see Wineland pick up a win at this stage in his career. Popov was an odd signing since he'd essentially fought and beaten dreadful competition without being especially dominant, but he made for an entertaining fight here. The story of the action was mainly Popov's head being a magnet for Wineland's right hand. He landed some nice leg and body kicks, but so often he'd get countered with right hands and not do anything to adjust. They all came added up late in the second round when Wineland landed several hard rights that hurt Popov and dropped him. He briefly looked for a guillotine but let it go to keep punching, and after making it back to their feet he landed several more hard right hands until Popov collapsed to a knee bloodied and battered, and the ref called the fight.
How many right hands can one land in a row?!
Turns out the answer is "this many."
Katlyn Chookagian defeated Joanne Calderwood via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Don't do this unless you're dominating.
It was a bit perplexing that this fight opened the card since it had very clear title implications concerning the winner of the co-main event. The result was a back-and-forth affair that ended in a close, contentious decision for Chookagian. Calderwood's gameplan was clear: to kick the ever-loving crap out of Chookagian's legs. She landed UFC record 69 leg kicks, surpassing Carlos Condit's 68 from his interim title-clinching win over Nick Diaz (and it took him five rounds to do that). The kicks clearly had an effect on Chookagian, but Calderwood was also countered with flush punches frequently for her efforts. She may have banked a ton of leg kicks, but she was more than doubled-up on in terms of head strikes (50-to-24, to be exact), and many of them weren't light jabs, but hard 1-2s and right hands. Chookagian also landed pretty hard leg kicks herself when she threw them.
It brings up the old argument of whether or not leg kicks can win decisions. They certainly can, but because head strikes are much more likely to lead to a finish they're weighted more heavily, and I can't really find much fault in that. Unless your leg kicks are really hurting and hindering the process of your opponent, it's hard to favor them over quality offense up top, which Chookagian had plenty of. Calderwood would also frequently catch Chookagian's kicks and trip her to the ground, but she was never able to do anything significant with those takedowns, so it's hard to factor them into the scoring too much. As mentioned, it was a close fight, and I think the unanimous scoring belies that (the 30-27 was horrendous, but what should be expect from Sal D'Amato?). I don't think a 29-28 either way is a bad score, but in the end I think the judges got it right, and Calderwood certainly did herself no favors by spending the final stretches of the fight sticking her tongue out and clowning as if she had the fight in the bag, despite really showing nothing that round to suggest she had it locked down. While I think it was the right decision, I definitely don't think it was the most interesting; it'd be nice to have a title contender who is on a good streak, and Calderwood would have had a decent one going with a win here. Oh well, c'est la vie.
Whew, that was a long one! But it's difficult to keep it concise with an event filled with so much action! That, ladies and gents, was UFC 238. The fighters really came out to put on a show, as evidenced by the 1,818 significant strikes landed across the entire card; that's a UFC record, blowing away the previous record of 1,674 at UFC 231 (approximately 1,000 of which were landed by Max Holloway in his title defense against Brian Ortega). Thankfully we have next week off (I have wedding duties so I wouldn't be able to watch anyway), but I'll see you all for some guaranteed violence in two weeks when Chan Sung Jung takes on Renato Carneiro (for some reason)! Sado out!