"God dag" fight fans! UFC Fight Night: Stockholm is in the books and as is tradition with these European cards that air early in the mornings in the US, the favorites did not have a good time overall. Also as usual, I didn't learn from it and my predictions for the card were just abysmal. The night started off well for the hometown charge, but that quickly changed at the tail-end of the card until it ultimately ended with Swedish crowd perhaps getting a last look at their premier representative in the sport. On that sullen note, let's get down to what hell happened!
The Main Card
Gustafsson chokes at home, Smith focused on Jones
Anthony Smith defeated Alexander Gustafsson via 4th Round Submission (Rear-Naked Choke - 2:38)
Anthony Smith (32-14) proves ever the ardent overachiever, subbing three-time title contender Alexander Gustafsson! Now 4-1 as a UFC light heavyweight, "Lionheart" boasts 29 finishes. #UFCStockholm pic.twitter.com/jSXS2RhFwS— Bulgogi Jones (@Hamderlei) June 1, 2019
After a lackluster performance in a dominant loss to champion Jon Jones that everyone saw coming, Smith is right back on his improbable run through the ranks of the light heavyweight division. As usual, it didn't come easily, but Smith is used to being the underdog who has to trudge through some treacherous waters to snatch away a victory. The fight started rather timidly, with Gustafsson using a lot of lateral movement and probing kicks while Smith stayed calm and tried to track him down to land shots. Not much of consequence landed other than a left hook that got Smith's attention before the horn in a fairly uneventful round. In the second round Smith started throwing a bit more liberally, but mostly whiffed on big overhand rights while Gustafsson was content to chip away with jabs and light body and leg kicks. Smith turned up the pressure but couldn't really do much with it, and nor could Gustafsson when he decided to dictate the pace near the end of the round, though he did have much more success in this round overall. In round three Gustafsson began opening up more, and visibly getting to Smith with his frequent jabs and head movement in what was definitely a clear momentum-shifting round. After stunning Smith briefly with a jab, he started to land with a bit more regularity, and a hard body kick hurt Smith before Gustafsson closed the distance to land a body lock takedown, land in side control, and remain on top until the close of the round.
The action really picked up in round three.
Nice sequence, but the takedown may have given Smith some much-needed recovery time.
In the fourth round Smith turned up the pressure and volume while Gustafsson continued peppering him with jabs and leg kicks. Gustafsson then clinched and tried to hip toss Smith to the mat, but it's Smith who dragged him down instead, and eventually made it to Gustafsson's back. Gustafsson tried to shake him off, but Smith dug his hooks in and in time flattened him out. He softened him up with punches and elbows before sneaking in the rear-naked choke and getting the tap for a sizeable upset over the hometown favorite.
As mentioned, this is just another trip on Smith's surprising run to the top of the division. We can talk about how flawed a fighter he is, and how unlikely it is that he'll ever get past a fighter like Jones, but his heart and killer instinct have been getting the job done more often than not. After the fight he said he's still gunning for a rematch against Jones, which is admirable given how the first fight went; you can't kill his resolve and drive, which makes him dangerous still. Obviously he has no business fighting Jones next, but the Jan Blachowicz vs Luke Rockhold winner makes a lot of sense, especially if Rockhold wins, since the two have been trading barbs recently.
As usual, it's a tough loss for Gustafsson. He really looked to be finding his groove on the feet and settling into a comfortable rhythm, but then came the questionable decision (in retrospect of course) to push an unnecessary grappling predicament against someone he was beginning to outwork on the feet. But hey, it's the fight game, and little mistakes can have huge consequences. This is also a loss I probably should've seen coming given my predilection for odd little factoids and superstitions in fighting. Why, you ask? Because although Smith is half white, he is still an African American man, and apparently they are Gustafsson's kryptonite (he is undefeated against Afro-Europeans). All six of his career losses have come to African American opponents, bringing his overall record against them to...0-6. So what's next for him?
Is the show really over for The Mauler?
Following this loss, Gustafsson was understandably disappointed, but not too downtrodden. While thanking his hometown and congratulating Smith in his post-fight interview, he started removing his gloves, which always makes me a bit anxious because we've come to know what laying your gloves in the ring means. It didn't appear as if Gustafsson was hinting that it was the end, but then suddenly with the words "The show is over," he dropped his gloves on the canvas and exited the octagon. It wasn't 100% clear to me at the time that he was retiring at the time, but he has since clarified that he does indeed plan on retiring from MMA. Whether it sticks is another topic, one Jon Jones wasted no time in bringing up.
Honestly I don’t believe you but if you’re serious, thank you for everything. You held the division to a standard and made us better. Go kick ass with that Family.— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) June 1, 2019
In before he deletes it.
Things have not gone swimmingly for Gustafsson since establishing himself as a top light heavyweight. Admittedly even that distinction was achieved through somewhat dubious means, as his spot became solidified not through a win, but in a losing championship effort against Jon Jones in which he gave the champ all he could handle before narrowly losing a decision. From that moment on he would never be too far from the title picture, as he put forth two more unsuccessful attempts at winning UFC gold. However, aside from another inspiring performance in a narrow title fight loss against Daniel Cormier that echoed the closeness of the Jones fight, Gustafsson would never really be able to capture the same fire and momentum he showed against Jones; even in a subsequent rematch. Even in his victories he had troubles where they generally weren't expected, such as having to resort to wrestling against Jan Blachowicz because of difficulties on the feet. At his worst he was quickly obliterated by Anthony Johnson following a lazy leg kick, once again in his own backyard of Stockholm, Sweden.
Following a win over Glover Teixeira that did instill a little more confidence in where Gustafsson was in the division, he would put on a bafflingly ineffective performance in a rematch against Jones where he was essentially completely shut down offensively before being taken down and pounded out with little trouble. To me the turning point in Gustafsson's style came after the Johnson loss. Prior to that he employed a useful mix of heavy movement and quick but relatively powerful volume punching. While his style didn't change completely, it became much more inconsistent, particularly in his increased concern with fighting a more carefully. He seemed at times more preoccupied with avoiding damage than giving it, despite his reputation of having quite a sturdy chin. It's very understandable to want to rely less on your durability after being cracked by Anthony Johnson, but for a fighter who made his bones off of his in-and-out boxing, his tendency to stick around on the outside just didn't benefit him a ton in recent years, especially against opponents who he didn't have such a marked reach advantage over. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the role injuries had in Gustafsson's career. How different would things have played out for him had he not so frequently been injured over the past several years? Would he have petered out faster or could he have built a better resume in the division? How much did those injuries directly affect his abilities in the cage? It's hard to know really.
Ultimately, Gustafsson's legacy is an odd one. While he'll definitely be recognized as one of the best light heavyweights of his time, he did much more to prove it in losses than he ever did in winning efforts. You can look at his wins and argue that maybe he's not as good as advertised, but then you look at his performances in his first two title fights that reveal him as a bona fide top light heavyweight that just couldn't pull it out when the fight was on the line. It's been a bit of a heartbreaking run for him, and you have to figure the mental rollercoaster of frustrating performances and injuries played as significant a part in his decision to retire than the losses themselves. I didn't think this latest performance was one that warranted retirement, but at the same time you can see that he's as mentally exhausted as he is physically, and it might just be all downhill from here. Because of that, even as a long time fan of Gustafsson, it's tough to really dispute his decision to call it a career. It's been a drag at times, but I've enjoyed watching him develop as a fighter and work his way to (almost) the top. He's made for some of the best light heavyweight fights in the UFC and has done a ton for the Swedish MMA scene as a bit of a pioneer for the country in that regard. Best of luck to Gus in whatever he does next!
He's still my boy!
Rakic ends Manuwa in seconds
Aleksandar Rakic defeated Jimi Manuwa via 1st Round KO (Head Kick - 0:42)
The ball got rolling downhill for All Stars Training Center early with this one! Rakic has shown to need a bit of work, but is still someone to look forward to at light heavyweight. Against Manuwa we didn't see much other than a nice ability to mix it up early, the benefit of which can be that you can catch your opponent cold, which is exactly what he did here. After trading leg kicks to start, Rakic ran forward with a right shovel hook that just barely touched Manuwa as he backed up and a switch-stance left hand that served mostly as a set up for what came next: a thunderous left high kick that caught Manuwa on chin that stiffened him up and sent him plummeting to the canvas, his head bouncing sickeningly off the mat. And that's all there was to that. Manuwa surely didn't expect the combination to be thrown in the portion of the fight usually reserved for feeling-out, and stepped to angle off to his right after the left hand and just stepped right into the kick.
The Good: Rakic is looking to be a legitimate light heavyweight prospect, which the division still sorely needs. Volkan Oezdemir needs an opponent after Ilir Latifi fell out of this event due to injury, and I take it Rakic isn't hurting after this fight, soooo...
The Bad: This is Manuwa's fourth straight loss, and his third in this current skid via clean knockout. The lone loss where he wasn't knocked out was a decision loss where he took a ton of punishment. He's also pushing 40. Perhaps he should follow his teammate Gustafsson's lead and hang 'em up?
The Ugly: Manuwa's wife and young daughter were in the crowd for the fight. That couldn't have been fun for them to watch.
Aleksandar Rakić (12-1) announces his contendership, corpsing Jimi Manuwa with a horrific, first-round head kick! The Austrian boosts his tear to 12 straight with 10 finishes, nine by knockout, and eight in round one. #UFCStockholm pic.twitter.com/unvZMRNef7— Bulgogi Jones (@Hamderlei) June 1, 2019
It was more fun for us though. Here's the knockout in glorious slow-mo!
'Mr. Finland' chases down an anaconda, ribs the crowd about hockey
Makwan Amirkhani defeated Chris Fishgold via 2nd Round Submission (Anaconda Choke - 4:25)
Amirkhani is another in an increasingly growing (and increasingly annoying) list of fighters I'm finding difficult to predict. He didn't really show anything in the way of improving upon the reasons I thought he might lose this fight; he still relies on grand, single shots and shows little urgency on the feet, and he still has issues blending phases together. This time Fishgold handed him the opening he needed to pick up the win. Amirkhani started the fight off in the same manner that tricked fans into thinking he was some explosive striker: by sprinting out and launching a flying knee. This time it didn't net him the knockout, so he had to resort to his usual low-volume stiking game. By contrast, Fishgold came very aggressively striking and feinting. He landed several low kicks, and Amirkhani did little but throw the occasional straight left. Eventually Amirkhani timed a double leg takedown that Fishgold rushed right into. Fishgold was active on the bottom, but Amirkhani was able to maintain position, and locked in a guillotine in a scramble just before the horn sounded.
Excellent timing on that level change.
Round two started off again with Fishgold stalking forward and Amirkhani leading with a leaping knee. Fishgold began to land with more success until once again Amirkani shot in for a double leg. This time Fishgold was ready with a guillotine, but Amirkhani was able to escape into side control. As Fishgold scrambles back to his feet he leaves his neck wide open and Amirkhani grabs and anaconda choke and commits to it immediately. In an equal parts tense and hilarious sequence, Fishgold prevented Amirkhani from hooking his legs to tighten the choke by walking his legs away, and the two ran in circles for a good amount of time before the squeeze just became too much for Fishgold anyway and he was forced to submit.
Makwan Amirkhani (15-3) moves to 6-1 in his last seven, scrambling 'round the clock to submit Chris Fishgold! The anaconda choke earns the debonair "Mr. Finland" his 11th finish (10th by sub). #UFCStockholm pic.twitter.com/pupYE5fY97— Bulgogi Jones (@Hamderlei) June 1, 2019
Curly of the Three Stooges would be proud.
Following the fight, Amirkhani intimated that he enjoyed the Swedish crowd...even though Finland beats them at hockey. This garnered boos from the stands, which prompted him to ensure them he was joking. You gotta commit to that cheap heat, Makwan!
Giagos' wrestling proves too much for Hadzovic
Christos Giagos defeated Damir Hadzovic via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-27 x2)
Much of the reason Hadzovic was favored going into this fight centered around how much he's grown as a well-rounded fighter whle having a strong striking base, whereas Giagos comes from an MMA base and isn't exception anywhere. In the end it was Giagos' ever-improving wrestling that essentially wore Hadzovic down over three rounds. Hadzovic never sat and accepted a bad position, but he still had little answer for Giagos' frequent takedowns , and it affected his ability to have success on the feet as well. After two fairly dominant rounds in Giagos' favor, he was perhaps not surprisingly the more fatigued of the two in round three. The same thing was true in his last fight, a decision win over Mizuto Hirota where he a tired Giagos handily lost the final round after winning the first 10 minutes with a wrestling-heavy attack. Hadzovic easily won the third stanza by stuffing Giagos' labored takedowns, punishing him on the break, and outright shoving Giagos to the ground after denying a takedown and maintaining top position for the rest of the round. Unfortunately for him he wasn't able to get any major offense going and he needed a finish.
Giagos getting a second run in the UFC was a bit of a head-scratcher since he really hadn't shown any improvement outside of the promotion after being cut the first time, but it appears there are improvements taking place in the octagon and he just might be beginning to put it all together in the cage. Hadzovic appeared to really be making strides as a fighter, but this bout shows that he has further to go than perhaps we thought.
Teymur finally gets his first UFC win, renders Jo tentative
Daniel Teymur defeated Sung-Bin Jo via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)
It was a bit surprising to see Jo so much more gun shy than usual; he usually fits the mold of the prototypical offense-first, defense-sometimes Korean fighter. The tone might have been set right from the opening bell when Teymur immediately stunned Jo with a left hook and swarmed him. Jo managed to recover well, but he seemed to have little interest in trading much for the rest of the fight. Instead he preferred to stick to the outside and try to use his significant height and reach advantage, but at times seemed a bit too cautious of Teymur's "all power" style of offense. He managed to stave him off for the most part in a very even second round, but in the third Teymur again got the upper hand for a pretty easy decision win.
Although authoritative in his win, it wasn't an especially impressive performance from Teymur, who still maintained a lot of the tactical flaws he's shown throughout his UFC run. The one significant improvement he did show was in his cardio, as he's one of the clearer examples of a one-round fighter you'll find in the UFC, and he actually managed to push a solid pace here for 15 minutes. At the same time that might be easier to do when you have an opponent who doesn't offer you too much resistance. I was still a solid win for Teymur though. He probably wouldn't have been on the roster if not to be used for a card in Sweden, and with this win he extended his stay in the promotion longer.
Sergey Khandozhko defeated Rostem Akman via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
I only include this fight for two reasons: 1) I initially didn't agree with the decision, but after another watch I do, and 2) Akman now has the title of hairiest man in the UFC. He looks like a sasquatch, and in fact he has an isolated bunch of hair on his lower back that I'm sure I'm not the only person who mistook it for a tramp stamp (I have henceforth dubbed it a "squatch patch"). Anyway, it was a fun fight but neither man looked overly impressive. Khandozhko manages to be stiff on the feet despite having a zest for spinning shit, and there's no real area where Akman stands out other than the amount of body hair he possesses.
Look at that squatch patch.
Lina Lansberg defeated Tonya Evinger via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-26 x2)
So I guess Sean Shelby was right back when he infamously sparked a feud with Evinger after saying she was 'unimpressive' following her failure to win her way onto The Ultimate Fighter. That comment appeared to motivate her to step up her game and become the most dominant bantamweight champion Invicta Fighting Championships has seen (and also the only one to defend the title). After a few rounds of trash talking the UFC and claiming she had no desire to be there, she finally signed a contract to fight Cris Cyborg at featherweight in 2017. It was a fight we all knew she'd lose, but it was her foot in the door of the promotion and she surprised by being more competitive than most competitive we'd seen anyone be with Cyborg in ages. What looked like a fresh chance to establish a foothold potential top bantamweight in the UFC quickly turned to proof that she may not have been all she was built up to be. A dominant TKO loss to surging talent Aspen Ladd wasn't very expected but wasn't a huge shocker given Ladd's style and the fact that she's essentially a younger, more physical version of Evinger.
It was this loss to Lansberg, a mid tier bantamweight at best, that really provided the damning evidence against her. It was expected that Lansberg would have the advantage at range and striking in the clinch, but that it was a matter of time before Evinger dragged the fight to the ground and did work. Instead Lansberg barely had time to throw strikes at distance before Evinger rushed in to clinch, but once there she struggled mightily to take Lansberg down and just ended up being taken down herself. On the ground she really had no answer for Lansberg's top control and ground and pound, which was pretty surprising to see. Though Evinger did manage to get a takedown in round two and get Lansberg's back, she was eventually reversed and again offered little but a meager kimura attempt while eating punches. Round three was the most dominant, as Evinger did one of the more "It looks like we're not in Invicta anymore" moves by going for a sloppy head-and-arm throw and ending up in a bad position after blowing it. From there she pretty much just found Lansberg on top of her punching and elbowing her until the fight was over, ultimately being outlanded 29-to-1 (50-to-6 across all 15 minutes) in significant strikes. It was a solid performance from Lansberg, who has alternated wins and losses across six octagon appearances. As for Evinger, I wouldn't be surprised if they cut her with three straight losses, and honestly with the way she performed she probably deserves to be. This fight just really showed that she doesn't have the requisite skill set to compete in the UFC.
Evinger was dominated everywhere.
Leonardo Santos defeated Stevie Ray via 1st Round KO (Right Hand - 2:17)
Speaking of not living up to expectations, this was likely the nail in the coffin of any thoughts about Ray being a factor in the lightweight division. Faith in him was already apparently low since he was the underdog in a fight against someone coming off a more than two-and-a-half year layoff who arguably didn't deserve to win his last fight. I'm sure many of us expected a measured decision win for Santos where he kept Ray on the outside of his range before taking him down and flexing his considerable jiu jitsu acumen, but instead we got a beautiful and kick knockout. After having his body marked up early with kicks, Ray decided to close the distance by overextending with a long left hand. Santos pulled back and launched a huge, almost chopping right hand that landed on the button and dropped Ray like a ton of bricks. There was no further offense needed; he was out. It was a perfect use of Santos' reach, and it sure as hell makes Kevin Lee's loss to him years ago look a bit less embarrassing.
Frank Camacho defeated Nick Hein via 2nd Round TKO (4:56)
So this is what Camacho can do when he calms down a bit and picks his shots. After a pretty competitive opening round, Camacho really took it to Hein in round two. Camacho established from the start of the fight that he would liberally use hard body kicks, and they paid dividends down the stretch, visibly slowing Hein down. Once Camacho sensed this he just went all out in the clinch with dirty boxing and knees before delivering an extended mauling on the fence. Hein tried his best to fight back, but Camacho picked his shots incredibly well and had already put the threat of the body kick out there early so Hein really had a lot of guesswork to do when it came to defending himself. Camacho had become a sentimental favorite of mine for his aggressive, violent style, but now that he's actively working to improve his fight IQ and composure, maybe he can actually make some noise at lightweight.
Bea Malecki defeated Eduarda Santana via 2nd Round Submission (Rear-Naked Choke - 1:59)
I felt like I was one of the few people who picked Malecki to win this fight, and a lot of it centered on Santana being a pupil of Alex Oliveira, whose style works pretty well for himself, but I wouldn't value him a ton as a teacher when he tends to depend on power and athleticism over technique himself. Still, this is women's featherweight and neither of these women are that experienecd at MMA, so power and athleticism almost carried Santana to victory in the first round. Once she got a hold of Malecki she managed to repeatedly take her down and control the action for the most part. But even on the feet, where I expected Malecki to have the advantage with her pro kickboxing experience, Santana managed to get the better of her pretty handily. In round two Santana picked up where she left off on the feet, but a lateral drop attempt ends up being her undoing. Malecki lands right in mount, transitions to Santana's back, and is able to find a rear-naked choke for an almost immediate tap. Not a great performance by Malecki, but she took full advantage of an opening to get the finish, and she'll make a good addition to the UFC's coveted "fighters who look great in a bikini" collection.
If the bikini fits...grab a tighter one?
I didn't get around to seeing the first couple fights in full, but this happened in the curtain jerker:
Other than that, Devin Clark picked up a win that people were mostly unsure about because his fight IQ can't be trusted, but good for him. Otherwise, that does it for UFC Fight Night: Stockholm! I'll see you all for the event we're really waiting for: UFC 238, where the fate of the flyweight division may be decided, we get to see Valentina Shevchenko likely pick apart another overmatched opponent, and Donald Cerrone and Tony Ferguson clash in a fight that for some stupid reason is three rounds. Until then, sado out!