What the hell happened at UFC Fight Night Vancouver?

Greetings, fight fans! Violence was promised, and violence was delivered when Justin Gaethje and Donald Cerrone met in the center of the octagon in Vancouver, British Columbia. Outside of the main event there wasn't a ton to write home about on the card, but you know that won't stop me from writing a ton about it, so let's get to what the hell happened! 

Video: UFC 261 Embedded Episodes 1 And 2

The Main Card

Another highlight for "The Highlight," Gaethje smashes Cerrone in one

#5 Justin Gaethje def. #4 Donald Cerrone by TKO via strikes (4:18, R1)

In breaking down this fight matchup I thought the most likely outcome was a first round knockout for Gaethje, and this is what we got. I have to say it was even more impressive than I thought it would be, though. Gaethje has made a career out of wading fearlessly into the pocket and taking shots to give harder ones, but here he showed a much more patient and strategic game that turned out to be exactly what he needed. Right from the start Gaethje liberally used one of his best weapons: leg kicks. At this point it's he has more than a solid case for being the most dangerous leg kicker in the division, having even outworked Edson Barboza in that category. Tony Ferguson used leg kicks with success against Cerrone, so it's no surprise that a vicious kicker like Gaethje would follow suit and eat up his lead leg early. This caused Cerrone to show more urgency to get on the inside with punches and clinch, but he learned early on that Gaethje was more than ready with a quick left hook as he Cerrone closed the distance, and another hard leg kick as he made his way out. Cerrone did have some moderate success with jabs and straight rights, but Gaethje was always there to make him pay for his offensive efforts with uppercuts, hooks, and leg kicks. A large part of the problem for Cerrone was just in his approach. He essentially threw the same combination over and over again: a blitzing straight right-jab-straight right combination. It was an invitation for to Gaethje to figure out his distance and timing, not to mention that it just isn't smart continuously overextending, squaring up by bringing your rear leg forward, and running into a guy who hits like Gaethje.

Angles are important.

I mentioned in breaking down the fight that neither man is very adept defensively, but Gaethje actually looked greatly improved in that aspect thanks to his more measured style, and the best thing about it was that in being more defensively savvy he didn't really sacrifice efficacy in his offense. Cerrone, on the other hand, still showed off his bad habit of standing upright and not moving his head when he advances with punching combinations, and he paid dearly for it since Gaethje is just the quicker, better boxer. After stepping in with a 1-2, which Gaethje sidestepped and countered with a left hook, Cerrone attempted to catch Gaethje at an angle with a straight left from southpaw. Gaethje slid out of the way and clobbered him with a slick counter right hand over the top that dropped him to a knee. As Cerrone stumbled to his feet, Gaethje grabbed a single collar tie and launched a few uppercuts before dropping him again to his hands and knees with a right hook to the temple. After a few largely unnecessary followup shots that Gaethje clearly didn't want to throw, the fight was waved off. 

Immediately after, Gaethje appeared to take referee Jerin Valel to task for not stopping the fight earlier, and I have to agree with him there. Gaethje appealed to him to stop the fight twice after putting Cerrone down, and during none of that stretch did Cerrone make any move to improve his position or intelligently defend himself. The fight honestly couldn't been stopped as soon as Gaethje hesitated after dropping Cerrone on all fours; Cerrone didn't attempt to go to his back, reach for a leg, or stand back up. He barely even had the wherewithal to turtle and cover up from further damage. I understand wanting to give fighters at this level every chance to recover, but Cerrone was clearly done. 

This was a consummate performance from Gaethje, and one that shows he's ready for a huge fight next. Not too many fighters make sense for him that won't be seen as him punching down, so the the two best options would either be Conor McGregor or roll the dice and wait for the winner of Khabib's next title defense, whether it be Ferguson (which it better be) or the fight with Georges St. Pierre that keeps being brought up. He shouldn't be more than one win away from a title fight. 

As for Cerrone, I thought this would be another fight that proved he doesn't handle a hard-charging pressure fighter who isn't scared off by his strikes, but Gaethje really didn't paint that picture this time. He simply just broke him down on the feet; he chopped down Cerrone's legs and made him close the distance where he's less comfortable, and once there he just pummeled him in a way no one else has really been able to in such short order. Despite all that, he still remains a top lightweight. If Gaethje doesn't fight McGregor, that fight still makes some sense, as well as Dustin Poirier. Much like Gaethje, there aren't too many else immediately surrounding him in the rankings that would make a lot of sense for him to fight. 

Teixeira's still got it, outlasts Krylov

#9 Glover Teixeira def. #13 Nikita Krylov by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

For as much crap as I always give Krylov for not being a good grappler, but just a very willing and fearless one, I do give him some credit for what he showed in this fight. He still made some questionable decisions and technical gaffs, but he still showed some savvy and the ability to just remain scrappy and find success in odd positions. He started out the fight with a lot of kicks and lateral movement, which was smart given that his standup centers around his kicking while his boxing isn't particularly dangerous or technically sound. Trading punches with Teixeira just wouldn't have been smart. However, it wasn't long before Teixeira caught a kick and ran him to the ground. He landed some good shots in half guard, and as he tried to move to mount, Krylov exploded on to his knees and tried to reverse, but Teixeira managed to switch to back control, where he was able to flatten Krylov out. eventually Krylov shook him off and immediately transitioned to mount, where he landed a couple elbows before teixeira exploded out and attempted a high crotch takedown against the cage. From the position Krylov, as he's wont to do, grabs a rear-naked choke grip on the side and actually turned it into a deep choke that looked to have Teixeira in trouble. He managed to escape, and once on the feet, Teixeira stunned Krylov with a straight right followed by a left hook before Krylov pushed forward to get some strikes back. 

In round two Teixeira struggled to land takedowns after catching kicks, but managed to stun Krylov with another right-left combination because Krylov just wasn't seeing the left hook coming behind the right hand. Teixeira started to land liberally up top, but also mixed in a few shots to the body, including a hard body kick that Krylov circled right into. As he started to land a few shots, Teixeira changed levels for a takedown, but ended up against the fence, and it was Krylov who would land a takedown shortly before the horn. 

In a back-and-forth final round the clinched up quickly and Krylov shot right into a guillotine. Teixeira pulled guard and it appeared to be pretty tight, but Krylov stayed calm and got to half guard before escaping. Teixeira got back to his feet and Krylov tried to jump on his back, but was too high so Teixeira flipped him over and ended up on top, where he landed short shots before passing to mount. Krylov managed to buck him off, but Teixeira transitioned to an armbar, which Krylov escaped and turned into a takedown attempt. He managed a takedown, but Teixeira grabbed another guillotine on the way down that was once again pretty tight, but escaped once Krylov was able to get to half guard. As Krylov tried to pass to mount Teixeira dug under for a deep half guard sweep, and although Krylov thwarted it he still ended up on the bottom in half guard in his attempt to scramble out shortly before the horn. 

Honestly, although this fight had a lot of back-and-forth action, I thought Teixeira definitely deserved the nod, and I actually scored it 30-27 for him. Krylov had plenty of moments, but Teixeira got the better of the action on the feet and had more significant offense on the ground as well. I take my hat off to both men; Teixeira put on a strong performance and didn't fade significantly down the stretch even though it was a relatively grueling fight. I give Krylov props just because I specifically thought one of the most likely ways the fight would end was with him shooting into a guillotine, and he survived that exact scenario not once, but twice. Teixeira's racked up three consecutive wins, and Volkan Oezdemir is the next guy in his way in the top 10, so I see no reason why that fight shouldn't be made. Krylov showed promise in his first time ever going to a decision, and I think he should fight Ilir Latifi next. 

Duff Man...wants out...OH YEAH!

Todd Duffee fought Jeff Hughes to a no contest via accidental eye poke (4:03, R1)

Hey, I'll give the guy a break; Todd Duffee hadn't fought in over four years before now, so I won't be too hard on him for looking horribly sloppy and expending a ton of energy trying to finish before suffering an eye poke that honestly didn't look like a fight-ender and declaring it bad enough to prompt a no contest. Then again, it's not like he was a crisp striker or was in any way adept at managing his cardio before his sabbatical. The abbreviated contest was mostly characterized by Duffee swarming in and winging wild punches between trying to catch his breath with takedown attempts while Hughes appeared to be trying to weather the storm and land opportunistic counters. Despite his volume and number of punches landed, Duffee appeared worse for wear, with significant cuts under both his eyes, thoug he did manage to wobble and drop Hughes at points in the round. Following a big right hand from Hughes, he appeared to stick a thumb in Duffee's eye when breaking away from the clinch, which prompted a break in the action. When checked Duffee said he was seeing double, and after some time I suppose he was deemed unfit to continue and the fight was called a no contest. 

Hughes: How's your eye, bud? Like...how is it really?

I've seen many an eye poke, and quite a few that looked worse than this one that didn't stop a fight. I don't want to act like I'm in Duffee's head or know what he was experiencing, but it sure looked like he was exhausted and looking for a way out of the fight. He didn't even seem particularly worked up about the ruling, nor did he seem raring to get back out there after the fight was paused, and even when it looked like the doctor might continue the fight he kept repeating that he was seeing double. Now if he was actually too impaired I don't blame him at all, but this is sort in line with the reputation he's earned over the years of not being the strongest mentally (in stark contrast to his physical stature). For all his faults mentally and physically, Duffee's still a pretty fun fighter even if not always for positive reasons, so hopefully we don't have to wait another four years to see him again. I say they run this one back. 

Connelly scores unlikely hometown victory and crashes Pereira's hype train

Tristan Connelly def. Michel Pereira by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)

I'm sure we all knew that hype train didn't have a long route, but most of us didn't expect it to end here. After Pereira's original opponent Serget Khandozkho was forced out of the fight, Connelly, a career lightweight, accepted the bout in his hometown on just five days' notice. Pereira is a big welterweight (big enough to miss weight for this fight), so the size difference was palpable, but that ended up being what ultimately worked for Connelly in the long run. If you've seen Pereira, you might be aware that his fighting style is slightly crazy.

Just a smidge. 

You don't actually even need to see him fight to know this. He put on a clearly rehearsed dance number with his cornermen during his walkout, and he broke into a break dancing routine while Bruce Buffer was announcing his name prior to the fight. Hey, did you know that these things require a decent amount of energy? I'm not sure Pereira did. Having already wasted energy before the fight even began, Pereira continued the flair with a superman punch off the cage followed by a round-off and backflip (which aren't even fighting moves!), and then a flying knee that almost sent him sailing over Connelly's head. After Connelly failed to slow things down with takedown attempts, Pereira launched a rolling koppu kick/abisegeri  that would've made Jushin Thunder Liger proud and a flying knee to the body. He even backflipped into Connelly's guard at one point, but it seemed more because he just wanted to do a backflip than due to any desire to improve his position. 

But WHY?

Like seriously. Normal guard passes are just fine.

It wasn't long after this that Pereira was clearly (and understandably) tired, while Connelly was mostly just watching the circus happen so his cardio was completely intact. That much was clear when Pereira jumped guard on a guillotine that wasn't locked in after a Connelly takedown attempt and it was easily escaped. After he was able to get to his feet, Connelly just chased him down with strikes, and while he avoided any real damage his body language did not instill confidence in how he'd fare in the next two rounds. 

Despite his exhaustion Pereira kept round two competitive and arguably won it. The striking was more or less even from a quality standpoint, and Pereira landed a takedown and spent the latter part of the round on top. Round three was all Connelly. After putting Pereira in serious trouble with a guillotine that caused him to roll all over the place before escaping, he would end up on top, spending most of the round controlling Pereira and landing ground and pound. 

It was an awesome moment for Connelly to get the upset win in a fight where most counted him out, and similarly satisfying to see  a fighter pay not only for missing weight but for using a style that is flashy beyond all reason or usefulness, but that very well could've been a 28-28 draw. Looking at scores and reactions to the fight, it reads a lot like the scenarios were fighters' performance are over-valued because they just weren't expected to do well at all. Connelly did much better than expected, but he still arguably lost rounds one and two, and still overall didn't look great outside of showing a ton of scrappiness and relentless pressure once Pereira gassed. Several people said Connelly had a clear 30-26 win, which is pretty ridiculous. Over the first 10 minutes he was aggressive, but Pereira appeared to land the harder shots and spend more time in top control. But as said, it was nice to see Connelly have his moment, and it'll be interesting to see how he fares in his natural weight class after this performance. As for Pereira, I suppose we may see a much more measured and orthodox version of him next time out. Hopefully he can balance being fun with actually being effective and conserving at least some of his cardio.

Hall squeaks by Carlos Jr. in a close affair

#12 Uriah Hall def. #13 Antonio Carlos Jr. by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

I didn't think this one went the right way, but it was a close fight that all came down to how you scored the opening round. Hall's game mostly revolved around landing heavy jabs, which busted Carlos Jr.'s nose early in the fight. In round one Carlos Jr. managed to trip him to the ground and take his back. A large chunk of the round was spent with Carlos Jr. on Hall's back while Hall defended by grabbing two-on-one to prevent the choke attempt. Hall eventually freed himself and landed a couple nice counters, but the round ended with Carlos Jr. landing a hard right over the top and landing a double leg before landing a stiff elbow before the horn. It was a round heavy on control for Carlos Jr. but Hall landed slightly harder punches, though the striking was still relatively even on the feet. 

Nothing even about this one though.

Rounds two and three were clear-cut. In round two Hall continued to land stiff jabs and dropped Carlos Jr. with a hard right hand. He swarmed to finish the fight and briefly slipped out of an armbar attempt before eventually opting to just let the fight back up to the feet. The rest of the round was actually in favor of Carlos Jr. but Hall did more than enough work prior to bank the round. In round three Carlos Jr. shot a takedown, took Halls' back, and dragged him to the ground where he would remain searching for a choke while Hall held onto the two-on-one grip for most of the round. It was a dominant round for Carlos Jr., albeit one based purely on control.

Yeah, pretty close. Even Hall was a bit shocked.

I didn't think it was a particularly inspiring fight, but both men impressed me in unexpected ways; Hall with his ability to defend on the ground against such a high level black belt, and Carlos Jr. for not falling apart down the stretch or when he faced adversity earlier on. Having a strong round three in a hard fight is not something you'd usually associate with him. Hall's time with the UFC has been up-and-down, and it's probably safe to say a title or even title contendership isn't in his future, but he can at least fight the winner of Brad Tavares vs Ian Heinisch to try to make his way into the top 10. Carlos Jr. could take on the lose of that fight.

Cirkunov teaches Crute how Peruvians wear ties

#15 Misha Cirkunov def. Jim Crute by submission via peruvian necktie (3:38, R1)

This was a wild one while it lasted. Cirkunov came out aggressive with hard kicks before changing levels and landing an easy double leg takedown into half guard. He managed a crucifix a couple times before passing to mount, demonstrating his advantage on the ground. He wasn't there long before Crute reversed position and then dragged him to the ground, only for Cirkunov to slip out and end up on top. Not to be outdone, Crute slipped out and ended up in the ride position landing hard punches that forced Cirkunov to his back, where Crute continued landing punches from the guard. Just as it looked like Cirkunov was really in trouble and Crute was turning up the heat with hard hammerfists, Cirkunov lands a beautiful sweep and stood to land punches to a seated Crute, who shot in on his legs in response. Cirkunov stuffed the attempt, grabbed a front headlock, and quickly worked his way to a Peruvian Necktie to eventually get the tap. 

I guess not finally jumping on the Crute bandwagon worked out in my favor, as I really felt Cirkunov was a different level of fighter than Sam Alvey or Paul Craig, and had a much better chance at corralling Crute's wild, scrappy ways. It did get dicey for him, but I thought Cirkunov was just far and away a better grappler technically and Crute wasn't good enough on the feet to put him in danger. Either way Cirkunov needed the win, and it looks like in terms of rankings the only fighter that makes sense is Mauricio Rua, who hasn't fought for over nine months and doesn't have a fight scheduled. Crute suffered his first career loss and still has plenty of time to improve. He should take on the loser of Ovince St. Preux vs Michal Oleksiejczuk. 

The Prelims 

#15 Augusto Sakai def. #14 Marcin Tybura by KO via strikes (0:59, R1)

Granted it's the heavyweight division, but Sakai really put on a performance to be excited about after winning a not-so-thrilling decision over Andrei Arlovski that he totally didn't deserve. Tybura started off as he normally does, moving around on the outside throwing kicks, but it didn't take long for Sakai to pressure him back to t he cage and counter onea low kick with a big counter right hook that wobbled him. Tybura looked for the Thai clinch as Sakai swarmed, but it was thwarted by a hard knee up the middle to his body. From there Sakai grabbed a single collar tie and rifled off right uppercuts and hooks until Tybura collapsed onto the canvas. Sakai was ranked 15th coming into this fight, and put himself in position to shoot up the rankings if he takes on the winner of Walt Harris vs Alistair Overeem next. Tybura has lost four of his last five and I wouldn't be surprised to see him cut, but otherwise he could face the loser of Tai Tuivasa vs Sergey Spivak. 

Miles Johns def. Cole Smith by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

Jones edged out Smith in a close, though not incredibly entertaining bout. The lack of entertainment was largely due to Smith's heavy insistence on purely grappling without making a ton of headway, though Johns did his best to turn up the heat when they'd separate. The first round was pretty much entirely Smith either on Johns' back or working for takedowns against the cage, which pretty much won him the round by default. The second round was the closest, as Johns switched gears for an early takedown, but Smith managed to get back to his feet and hop on Johns' back again and work for a choke. The round ended with Johns landing a couple of left hands after managing to turn into Smith's guard. The final round was all Johns, has he stunned Smith with big right hands. Smith managed to slow down the action a few times during the round, but couldn't get any offense going and spent the rest of the round whiffing in exchanges while getting tagged. After a breakout win over Mitch Gagnon in his debut, Smith didn't put on an inspiring sophomore effort, even if the fight was close. 

Hunter Azure def. Brad Katona by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)

We move to a similarly close and uninspiring fight here. Katona apparently fell in love with wrestling after being summarily outwrestled in his last effort by Merab Dvalishvili, but it wasn't enough to get the nod from the judges. I'll admit that I missed a few chunks of the fight, but from what I did see I thought he did enough to win. Ultimately it seemed to come down to the age-old damage vs control argument, as Azure got the better of the action on the feet, but Katona was the better wrestler and held more dominant positions. Between Katona and Johns losing close fights, there was little reason to be worried about home cooking on this card. Also, Clayton Weich's 30-27 Azure card was pretty dumb, but that's judging!

Chas Skelly def. Jordan Griffin by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

This was Fight of the Night for my money. Having come into the fight on a two-fight skid (though his most recent loss was extremely controversial), it's understandable that Skelly would be the underdog, but he showed why you just can't count out his scrappy nature. Griffin started off charging in with punches, only to be dragged to the ground and put through the ringer, having to defend a couple tight chokes and work hard to better his situation. After a furious opening round, both men were winded.

Awkward, bit...effective?

Round two was more competitive, with Griffin landing some hard strikes early and landing a takedown that one would think was ill-advised if he didn't transition to mount shortly after. But then Skelly gave up his back, stood up, and launched himself into the air for a beautiful somersault that disrupted Griffin's control enough for him to escape the position and take his back, where he stayed for the remainder of the round. The final round saw Griffin showing some urgency with his strikes. Skelly shot a single leg, but Griffin grabbed a guillotine choke that was easily escaped. Skelly eventually slipped out the back and gained back control once more, only for Griffin to try his hand at somersaulting out of it. It was a nice attempt, but he couldn't score the reversal. Eventually he does manage to turn into Skelly's guard before standing and locking in a tight guillotine that looked to have Skelly in trouble, but he ran out of time as the round and the fight ended. If you're a better striker than Skelly, don't indulge him in a grappling match. That's a lesson Griffin learned in this fight. 

Louis Smolka def. Ryan MacDonald by TKO via strikes (4:43, R1)

Smolka looked fantastic here and just set a ridiculous pace from the very start. The man threw 115 significant strikes in under five minutes, and landed more than half of them! What really stood out was his focus on hooks to the body. Anytime MacDonald's hands were up, Smolka was rifling off punches to the  body and using them to enter the clinch as well, though he didn't really get anything going from that position. MacDonald did manage to land some decent shots, as Smolka isn't a defensive dynamo and is always moving forward, but they didn't seem to affect Smolka much. The end came suddenly when Smolka rocked MacDonald with a big left hook over the top. It actually looked like MacDonald thought he might be looking for an outside leg kick; Smolka made an exaggerated step forward just before the punch, and MacDonald raised his lead leg in and dropped his lead hand response. From there Smolka blitzed him with knees and punches, eventually putting him down with a thudding overhand right to the temple. 

Austin Hubbard def. Kyle Prepolec by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

The card opened with a fun fight that showed some nice adjustments from Hubbard. After a tough first round that saw Prepolec consistently get the better of the striking exchanges and wobble him right at the horn, Hubbard switched gears to his wrestling in the latter two rounds and not only had success from top position, but also appeared to render Prepolec a bit more tentative on the feet in fear of the takedown. Hubbard may have been down on his performance, but it was the type of thing he needed to show at this early point in his career.

And that does it for UFC Vancouver! It was an overall decent card capped off with a crackling main event, which is sort of what's to be expected from the UFC these days. The next trip on the 12-week nonstop journey of UFC card is Mexico City, Mexico, where Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens go to war in what promises to be an entertaining affair, and in the co-main event Alexa Grasso tries to keep her momentum going after looking to have turned a corner against Karolina Kowalkiewicz as she takes on former strawweight champion Carla Esparza. Until then, sado out! 

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