Or should I say UFC on ESPN+ 7? The UFC would do well to just stick with the "UFC Fight Night: *insert name of place or headlining fighters* officially, because an event name that sounds like an algebraic equation just doesn't sound appealing at all. Nonetheless, the UFC's sophomore trip to Russia was a pretty decent one. No fight of the year contenders (let alone two, as we got last week), but it was good enough to keep me entertained and as I may have mentioned before, I love early morning cards! There were several big names on the card, and by that I mean names that were long and should be annoying to type repeatedly in this recap, so without further ado, let's get down to just what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Overeem weathers the storm, knees Oleinik into oblivion
#7 Alistair Overeem def. #9 Aleksei Oleinik by TKO via strikes (4:45, R1)
One of these Os had to go, and it was the hometown favorite Oleinik. Though just under a full round, the fight was just a bit odd from start to finish. In addition it was also action-packed. Contrary to what just about anyone likely thought would be Overeem's immediate strategy, he willingly entered the clinch with Oleinik right off the bat, to which Oleinik predictably responded to by pulling guard and looking for his patented Ezekiel choke. Overeem was hip to it though, and managed to escape back to his feet. Oleinik had been aggressive from the start, and while running Overeem back to the cage he landed a wide, lunging overhand right that clipped him on the chin. Used to being able to lean back and slide out of the way of strikes, I don't think Overeem was prepared for how freakishly long Oleinik's arms are for his stature. The shot looked to stun him and send him back to the cage covering up as Oleinik unloaded with flurries of wide hooks and uppercuts. Overeem was probably less hurt than he let on, and much of his strategy from this point on appeared to be to watch out for the Ezekiel choke, mind his defense on the feet, and let Oleinik tire himself out going for big punches.
One clue that Overeem was playing possum: he didn't get knocked out.
Even in the clinch Oleinik constantly threw heavy punches to the body when not trying to wrap up Overeem's neck. Whenever Oleinik would try to pursue a standing Ezekiel position, Overeem would snake his arm inside of Oleinik's grip to break it and grab the Thai plum. From there he would pick his spot and land a hard knee to the body or head, including a nifty hopping switch-knee to Oleinik's face that got his attention. However, the Russian just continued closing the distance with aggressive, wild combinations and having a fair amount of success until the clinch knees, which were practically the only strikes of note Overeem threw up to that point, added up. It was actually kind of smart for Overeem to rely almost exclusively on knees because Oleinik ducks his head down when he shoots takedowns or throws big looping overhands, and that's pretty much all he does, so knees and uppercuts are a pretty safe bet to land on him. Knees were the way to go for Overeem because his takedown defense is good enough to keep himself upright, and his arms can be used to guard his head from shots coming over the top. With so much freedom to launch knees, he started to change them up to great results. Rather than continuing to bring the knees right up the middle, he'd drop his right hand from the Thai clinch just in time for his knee to swing around and tag Oleinik to the side of the head, and after one of those clearly wobbled him, another knee up the middle dropped him to the ground, where Overeem secured top position and landed big punches and elbows until the fight was stopped.
Overeem gave Oleinik exactly what he kneed-ed.
The fight had a weird, tense pace to it and it had me on the edge of my seat. Oleinik was able to get to Overeem on the feet much more than I thought he would, and although I think Overeem is sneakily one of the better grapplers at heavyweight, I was a bit surprised he wasn't able to keep the distance better. However, as both men continue to slow down and age, I guess it shouldn't be too surprising. Overeem did show the best part of why some are inclined nickname him "Econoreem": the man knows how to pick his shots very well, and landed an impressive 87% of his significant strikes. This also ranks as his 40th finish in 45 wins, which is pretty damn impressive.
Overeem remains a perennial contender in the division and is never too far off from being considered for a title opportunity. The fact that he's skilled and dangerous everywhere, which isn't incredibly common at heavyweight, makes you wonder what his career would look like if he wasn't relatively fragile at the same time; he's one of the most notable "glass cannon" archetypes in the sport. As for Oleinik, he's already overachieved in the UFC compared to people's expectations. He's a fairly one-dimensional fighter, but that one dimension always makes his fights intriguing and it works for him more often than not. You have to be something special to have a gazillion wins via Ezekiel choke when most fighters couldn't' even hope to pull one off in a fight. He walked away with a loss here, but he's still a worthy member of the roster and the toughest of the tough dads.
Makhachev and Tsarukyan steal the show in a technical scramble-fest
Islam Makhachev def. Arman Tsarukyan by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
I don't know if everyone will agree with me (though I'm seeing the UFC did since they gave i the Fight of the Night bonus), but I absolutely loved this fight, and it was pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. Makhachev continued to look great and improve his streak, but Tsarukyan is a legitimate prospect and I'm glad he not only kept the fight competitive, but impressed the hell out of me in his debut. I expected this fight to be fairly evenly matched, but the difference-maker would be Makhachev's edge in wrestling and grappling. At some point in the lead up to this fight Tsarukyan must've shored up that wrestling differential because he gave Makhachev all he could handle everywhere the fight went. I figured Makhachev would be the one pushing the wrestling, especially with Tsarukyan having a speed edge on the feet, but he was instead the one fending off frequent takedown attempts. Tsarukyan's 1-for-12 takedown accuracy in the fight may seem laughable, but it's decidedly less so when you consider that the one takedown he landed was the only time Makhachev had been taken down in the UFC, and that Makhachev's takedown defense proved to be pretty unbelievable in this contest. He was right on the verge of being taken down several times, but managed to twist his body, catch his balance, and/or post up with startling efficacy to avoid actually being taken down and controlled.
The majority of this fight was just a gritty and grueling back-and-forth war of attrition, and while Tsarukyan was very competitive in the wrestling and grappling exchanges throughout most of the fight, it was Makhachev's experience and pacing that really kept him a step ahead. He rarely seemed to expend undue amounts of energy or accept bad positions, while Tsarukyan often shot takedowns with little or no setup that were stuffed, and he was forced to carry Makhachev's weight. In the third round both men were still going for it and pushing themselves, but Makhachev was clearly the fresher man. Him getting two fairly easy takedowns and being able to more comfortably establish control in the closing moments of the fight pretty much said it all.
The fight played out largely the same in every round, with the two men being very well matched but Makhachev doing just a bit more to drive ahead, and while I scored the fight 30-27 for Makhachev, it should be stressed that Tsarukyan kept the rounds pretty close. As such, I'm avoiding going down the rabbit hole of detailing each round. However, there were some moments really worth mentioning, such as just how fantastic and well-timed an outside trip Makhachev can execute. In the first round he waited for Tsarukyan to throw a knee in the clinch and not only hit a perfect outside trip where he used his wrist control on that same side to spin Tsarukyan to the ground, but he landed right into mount with that same arm trapped!
But another, consistent highlight of the fight was that Tsarukyan would never stay in a bad position long. Every time he was taken down he immediately worked to get back to his feet, and often did so fairly quickly, whether it was by scooting to the fence or even attacking from the bottom like he did with this kimura attempt.
Tsarukyan was prepared for everything Makhachev threw at him.
While Makhachev continues rolling in the lightweight division, I think Tsarukyan's stock went up considerably in defeat. Most expected him to lose, but I don't think too many expected him to make it so fun and competitive. Lightweight has another name to look out for in an already ridiculously stacked division.
Pavlovich rights the ship, wastes no time in wasting Golm
Sergei Pavlovich def. Marcelo Golm by KO via strikes (1:06, R1)
Pavlovich came into the UFC with a little hype behind him, and after dropping his debut in one-sided fashion to Overeem five months ago, he was in need of a good win. He got it here with a quick and brutal knockout of Golm, who came out aggressive to start and immediately regretted it. Pavlovich began landing right hands immediately, until a huge overhand right rocked Golm and had him trying to circle out to safety; but Pavlovich was all over him with lefts and rights as he covered up. Golm attempted a meager left hook counter during the flurry, but was caught with a big right hand over the top to the temple that took his legs out from under him and caused him to lean back against the cage. Immediately after, Pavlovich uncorked a thunderous uppercut that shut his lights out and left him slumped against the cage.
Golm hasn't really shown to be much of a UFC-level fighter, but I expected that this fight would likely see the scorecards. With two underwhelming losses and now a big knockout loss to top it off and put him at three-straight losses, you have to think Golm is done in the UFC. Pavlovich punched a bit wide and didn't show the best of defense, but in a division that needs prospects he's still one to keep an eye on.
Modaferri shows once and for all that Antonina is not to be confused with Valentina
#7 Roxanne Modafferi def. #12 Antonina Shevchenko by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
It took quite a while (17 years, to be exact...though she did take 12 years off from the sport), but Shevchenko has finally suffered her "prospect loss" in MMA at the age of 34. Much of her ability was assumed on the back of the success of her sister, reigning UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. Both both come from a long and decorated muay Thai background, and it seemed a lot of people just assumed that since they're sisters who have trained together most of their lives, they're probably at similar levels in MMA like they are in muay Thai. Iron sharpens iron, right? Well, not entirely. While it may have been known to many of us who follow the Shevchenko sisters even somewhat closely, many just didn't know that Antonina is nowhere near the grappler Valentina is. Whereas Valentina is a very well-rounded fighter who can parlay her striking and clinch skills into takedowns and a dangerous ground game from the top or the bottom, Antonina is still very much just a muay Thai stylist. She has a strong clinch game, but just doesn't deal as well with someone continuously going for her legs and has issues finding the right times to transition between looking for a Thai clinch to assert offense and digging for underhooks to prevent takedowns. In fact, even in their muay Thai careers Antonina was definitely the bigger distance striker of the two, whereas Valentina often favored bullying opponents in the clinch and hitting trips.
To her credit she wasn't just a free takedown, and it took a dogged wrestling approach from Modafferi to drag her to the ground repeatedly, but once down her ground game was relatively anemic and just couldn't stand up to a seasoned grappler the likes of whom she was fighting. You figure training with Valentina all this time has done her some good in her overall game, and it arguably has because she managed to do well defensively, get a couple of reversals, and not be put in any real danger; but her style has always been open for an experienced grappler to exploit if they can get her to the ground, and Modafferi was able to.
The early going of every round looked promising for Shevchenko, as she landed sharp, straight punches to counter Modafferi's forward movement with a good amount of success. However, one of the reasons her sister Valentina's grappling is such an important factor of her game is also the reason Antonina couldn't maintain her success before ending up in the clinch and eventually on the ground: she doesn't hit very hard. She landed some good shots as Modafferi closed the distance, but none of them were significant enough to disincentivize her from just trying to barrel through those strikes to grab a hold of Shevchenko. When this happens to Valentina she has the ability to hit sneaky trip takedowns, or at the very least employ an effective guard if she does end up on her back. Antonina has neither of those abilities.
This doesn't happen to Valentina.
She came out in the third round with the motivation of someone who knew they were probably down two rounds, but as much as she managed to land early on, it was never enough to deter Modafferi, and kicking eventually got her leg caught up again for a single leg takedown.
She tried, I'll give her that.
I thought Modafferi won every round, but even more so than the Makhachev win earlier, it wasn't a dominant performance per se. She still got hit a lot on the feet, and didn't land much in the way of damaging offense when she was in control. I would say that there's a strong case of a damage vs control argument here (one judge apparently thought so; the only Russian judging the fight. Coincidence?), but the problem with this is that Shevchenko didn't really appear to land many strikes that actually gave Modafferi any pause, and that along with the fact that Shevchenko's offense usually took place earlier in the round makes it much easier to argue that the grappling exchanges negated her success. This loss kills the notion some people had that the top two fighters in a division would be siblings (a notion that really never should've existed if you've seen Antonina fight; at least not yet), but like I said it's a bit of a prospect loss. She might not be a spring chicken at this point, but she should have a much better idea of what to work on and what to get better at. With the win Modaferri has another signature win in the UFC; despite this only being her second win in the promotion, those two are noteworthy even if not purely in terms of quality of opposition. She just beat the champion's sister, which one might think slides her up the ladder a little more than defeating anyone else outside of the top 10.
Jotko puts his hard hat back on, gets a much needed workmanlike win
Krzysztof Jotko def. Alen Amedovski by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-26)
I've always liked Jotko throughout his UFC tenure. There isn't really anything flashy or remarkable about him, but he's solid everywhere, he's tough, and is just a bit of a spoiler.
I meant nothing flashy or remarkable during a fight. B-boy Jotko uses up his allotment of those things.
So it was pretty great to see him snap a disheartening three-fight losing streak with a dominant decision win that showed off everything that made him a bit of an unlikely contender at the tail end of 2016. Despite the pressure on him to win, he came out looking loose, feinting, and moving well, while the newcomer Amedovski appeared stiff and tense. This is indicative of their styles as well, and was key in my confidence that Jotko was winning the fight. Amedovski was an undefeated power puncher with a lot of quick finishes, so he was used to coming out like a coiled up ball of energy to explode and get the knockout as soon as possible. It wasn't so here, as Jotko changed levels and took him down whenever Amedovski saw fit to commit to closing the distance. This wore on over time, and as Jotko banked more top control and made Amedovski work, the steam left his strikes and he was doing little more than surviving on the ground.
At one point in the second round Jotko gained a topside crucifix twice, with the second time allowing for an extended period where he rained down punches on a bloodied Amedovski. By the third round Amedovski would come out of his corner aggressively, but it was only a matter of time before he was on his back again struggling to get up and unable to do much else. All in all Jotko held a 43-to-6 advantage in significant strikes, and Amedovski failed to register a single strike in round three, significant or otherwise. I'm glad to see Jotko get back in the win column, and hopefully he'll ride that wave of momentum to another win streak.
Movsar Evloev def. Seungwoo Choi by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-26)
The standout facet of this fight was Evloev's relentless wrestling. He simply refused to give Choi any room to use his length and strike from distance, and made it a point to change levels any time there was the slightest opening. Overall Choi's wrestling defense actually wasn't bad, but Evloev just didn't give up until he managed to ground him. The only real break in the narrative of the fight occurred in round two when Evloev threw a knee to the head of a clearly downed Choi (who covered up to block it), and when the ref warned him for it he immediately threw another knee, this time landing it cleanly. An immediate point was rightfully taken, and then Evloev resumed his domination. It was a solid performance on his part, and hopefully Choi can fight someone next who gives him a bit more space to show what he can do.
Sultan Aliev def. Keita Nakamura by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
I missed a lot of the second round of this fight, but I really expected Nakamura to take over after a while. The key difference here was that Aliev actually showed a bit of striking here. He continually beat Nakamura to the punch with jabs and right hands, and as usual his stifling, if frustrating to watch grappling came into play significantly. With those wrinkles to his game he was able to mostly stall Nakamura against the cage while still keeping him honest on the feet at distance, and it made for a clear-cut decision for Aliev. Following the fight he announced his retirement, and after the obligatory "Good luck in your future endeavors, and kudos for getting out before staying too long," I'd have to say it was probably a good decision. He made it to the UFC and went 2-2, has a limited and not very pleasing to watch fighting style, and as he mentioned, he already has a job and a family so it's hard to find the time to really put into evolving as a fighter. He's very muscular but not very athletic, and I didn't really see him doing all that well in the promotion.
I will always remember most for suffering his first career loss by getting completely hosed by the judges against Doug Marshall in Bellator because apparently they were just as mad about Aliev's smothering grappling and clinching as the fans in attendance were. I've been a fan of Nakamura's for a long time, but if he's not able to get a rear-naked choke he's mostly good for tepid, close, split decision type fights, so hopefully he can get a good win next and stay on the roster.
Alexander Yakovlev def. Alex da Silva by submission via guillotine choke (3:10, R2)
I definitely had my worries about Yakovlev's long layoff coming into this fight as well as the weight cut, as he moved back down to 155. He is a spindly 6'1", but he also looks like he carries hardly an body fat. Da Silva had success early in the fight, and looked much improved in the grappling department, stuffing Yakovlev's takedowns while actually landing one of his own. That improved wrestling would be his undoing, as Yakovlev started to sprawl on his subsequent attempts and punish him until he finally worked a choke from the front headlock position. While he appeared to just be trying to set up a D'Arce, he squeezed on one side of da Silva's neck while leaning in to put pressure on the other side, and eventually got the tap. It somewhat reminded me of the "farm choke" that Matt Hughes put Ricardo Almeida to sleep with.
Stop-motion is not your thing, UFC.
#13 Shamil Abdurakhimov def. #10 Marcin Tybura by TKO via strikes (3:15, R2)
This fight was just another demonstration of how inconsistent Abdurakhimov can be, even in victory. Typically a slow, methodical striker and grinder these days, every now and then he'll just destroy an opponent and make you rethink your opinion of him. In this bout he looked sharp, and his right hands were frequently finding their mark as Tybura struggled to pull out counters. When Tybura did land there was a clear difference in power between the two in favor of the Russian. A big left hook in round two badly rocked Tybura and had him on shaky legs stumbling backward into the cage. Abdurakhimov followed him rocked him with a few more shots until the referee stepped in. With more performances like this, the UFC should take more notice of Abdurakhimov.
Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Gadzhimurad Antigulov by KO via strikes (0:44, R1)
It's like he had a fist magnet in his chin.
Antigulov may have trumped Cody Garbrandt in the race for worst fight IQ of the year with this performance. He rushed toward Oleksiejczuk with wild left hands before diving for a takedown that was easily rebuffed along the cage. Upon rising he rushed in again and got dropped by a left hook, but survived. At this point you figure he might want to gather his bearings and figure out a better way to get inside, but NOPE. He rushed in the exact same way and got dropped again, this time with an uppercut. Still managing to survive and convinced that running toward his opponent with his hands down was the right tact to take (third time's a charm, right?), he rushed right into a left hook that dropped him for a third and final time, and an uppercut with a couple more punches put him out cold to seal the deal for Oleksiejczuk, who continues to impress in the UFC. Antigulov now ties a dubious record for most times dropped in a light heavyweight fight with three, and it only took him 44 seconds to do it! Who said a complete lack of fight IQ never gave anyone anything?
Magomed Mustafaev def. Rafael Fiziev by TKO via strikes (1:26, R1)
Beautifully-timed kick to put oversized Dustin Ortiz down.
I was actually a bit pumped that Fiziev was fighting, as he's the fighter who went viral a while back for leaning back really far at the last second to dodge a head kick. Like really far, trust me. On top of that he's a pretty damn solid kickboxer to boot. Here he fought Mustafaev, who hadn't fought since late 2016 in a losing effort against Kevin Lee. He's a striker himself, but a much flashier one, as you you'll often encounter among sambo stylists who lean in the direction of stand up. Fiziev's straightforward style just wasn't ready for the unorthodox striking and angles of Mustafaev at this juncture. After a spinning back kick to the body put him on his seat briefly, it wasn't long before another lightning-quick spinning back kick, this time up top, smashed through Fiziev's guard and sent him to the canvas. Fiziev actually blocked the kick, but it was so strong it didn't matter (plus he was circling toward the kick), and follow up punches did the trick in not allowing him to recover. Mustafaev even had a nice display of restraint in stopping his attack when he knew it was over and not waiting for the referee. What a finish!
And that's it for UFC Fight Night St. Petersburg! It didn't close out with the big bang that UFC 236 did, but this was definitely the more balanced card in terms of enjoyability and quality. And as mentioned I do love early morning cards, so I'm sure that added to my enjoyment since I actually have time to do something else after an event! In the spirit of doing something else, sado out!