Greetings, fight fans! I always love getting the opportunity to get started on these beastly recaps early, so although it was an odd decision I gotta give it up to UFC on ESPN 5 for starting so early even though it's just in New Jersey. I obviously love fights, but it's always nice to actually have a Saturday not held completely hostage. What isn't nice is the result of the main event, which saw former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington essentially dominate former champ Robbie Lawler with pure activity. But hey, we also got a lot of finishes and some decent fights on a card that certainly was anything but stacked on paper. So without further ado, let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Covington's insane pace prevails again, Lawler never gets into the fight
#2 Colby Covington def. #11 Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision (50-44, 50-45, 50-45)
As widely hated as he is, at this point you can't help but admit that Covington is a pretty great fighter who has earned every bit of his status in the division. He may not be the most exciting and lack of power in the striking department may not be the most pleasing to partake in, but his pace alone is a sight to behold. The man can just keep pushing forward, constantly throwing strikes and shooting takedowns for 25 minutes, and I almost get exhausted just watching him. He doesn't strike with the intention of knocking opponents out, and he doesn't shoot takedowns with the immediate intention of getting a dominant position and finishing; he wants to wear on opponents and break them. While it may not have seemed like he really broke Lawler, the amount of discouragement and hesitation in the way he fought was evidence that Covington's gameplan went off without much of a hitch.
I don't feel like it makes much sense to break the fight down round-by-round, mostly because it more or less went the same all five rounds, with the only notable difference being that Covington chose to strike more in the championship rounds, already having put in the work to wear Lawler down and make him less willing to engage. As I mentioned in my pre-fight breakdown, Lawler has always had tactical issues with opponents who pressure him consistently, and I don't think anyone has pressured him the way Covington did. His head was flooded with so much information from the constant stream of attacks coming his way that even when Covington let up and he was able to pressure, he failed to throw or land too much of consequence.
There was definitely a significant amount of frustration expressed by viewers about Lawler not going on the attack and slipping and rolling with Covington's strikes but not firing back with counters often enough, and while I do think there was a place for the criticism, I also believe it's mostly overblown from the standpoint that Lawler was "throwing the fight away." A ton of credit has to go to Covington's pace, pressure, and the diversity of his attack just tripping Lawler up mentally. When you have an opponent who is throwing constant jabs and leg kicks at range, mixing in shovel hooks and uppercuts when you slip their punches, but then are ready to clinch and shoot takedowns the moment you plant your feet to fire back, letting loose on the feet is so much easier said than done. This is exactly what Covington did; he constantly kept the jab in Lawler's face, mixed in leg kicks, the occasional body kick, and crowded him with punching flurries whenever he saw him attempt to get into a grove to slip and counter. He threw a whopping 541 total strikes over 25 minutes, and although Lawler was much more accurate, he was still outlanded 179-to-78 in significant strikes. Lawler landed some solid punches of his own, but Covington's chin held up well and he always kept Lawler close enough to the cage for him to clinch and press the action up against the fence if need be. His takedowns were probably at their best when he masked them behind his advancing punching combinations, something he's become more adept at from fight to fight. The diversity of his attack was very impressive, and it will continue to make him a difficult opponent to time and counter effectively. Lawler's takedown defense held up decently and he did pretty well when it came to getting up once being taken down, but it was all part of the bigger plan of Covington to just make him work carry his weight.
Lawler wouldn't stay down long, but Covington made him work hard for it.
Lawler had a few fleeting moments on the feet where he looked to be ready to pull the trigger, but he just couldn't land anything really significant before Covington resumed taking control of the fight. It was a disappointing performance from Lawler and a disappointing result, but I can't say any of it was surprising. From a style standpoint, Covington is a pretty rough matchup for him; on the surface it's easy to give Robbie a big chance because Covington's striking defense has many holes, but it again comes down to pressure, and Lawler's inability to deal with constant and effective pressure throughout his career. If his opponent is the type that pressures a lot but will ease up at certain points then he has a much better chance of getting back into the fight, but Covington just isn't that type. Lawler was able to pressure for a few moments as the fight went on and Covington was a lot more comfortable, but in the formative moments of the fight it was a constant push forward for Covington and it clearly gave Lawler issues. He appeared poised to stage a late-fight comeback when the fifth stanza rolled around, but by then he just didn't have the cardio or steam on the punches to seriously threaten an opponent who was more or less fresh.
Essentially the only time Lawler really tried to pour on the offense.
Lawler's tendency to start strong, take middle rounds mostly off, and roar back late in fights worked for him in his best years as a UFC contender and champion, but he's clearly out of his prime and his tactical game has suffered. During his prime he struck a nice balance between wanting to fight and wanting to win, but since losing the title it seems he's mostly concerned with the former, and that leads to him getting frustrated and shutting down when his opponents slow things down and no longer appearing to gather data to chart a pathway to effective striking, instead just going out there and seeming to work mostly on feel. Gathering data could've been useful against someone who is diverse, but uses a pretty rinse-repeat method of cycling through moves and hides it behind constant forward pressure.
Covington makes it very difficult to like him but as mentioned, the man can fight. This was a pretty fantastic performance, and even thought Lawler's best years are long behind him it's not that hard to imagine Covington having similar success against a prime version of him. His brand of pressure and constant stream of strikes and takedowns with some noticeably improved defense is just a nightmare for most fighters in the division. However, up next for him will be who is likely his most difficult style matchup: reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who may not carry quite as furious a pace as Covington, but he can still push hard for five rounds, is the physically stronger, harder hitter of the two, and is without a doubt the best wrestler he will have fought. It'll be interesting to see how he handles things if he not finds himself not able to be the one pushing forward, but also unable to fall back on his wrestling.
As for Lawler, he's dropped his third straight, and even though there's an asterisk there because of the controversial loss to Ben Askren, this is a rough spot to be in and it honestly didn't make much sense for him to be fighting Covington here. I seem to make this opponent suggestion anytime there's a great welterweight in need of a win or if there's a prospect who wants to break into the top 15, but how about Neil Magny? Otherwise, Alex Oliveira also makes sense.
Miller's latest resurgence keeps rolling as he puts Guida to sleep in under a minute
Jim Miller def. Clay Guida by submission via guillotine choke (0:58, R1)
It is still a trip that these two just fought each other for the first time after over a decade of being in the UFC together. It's one of those fights that you would swear already happened sometime in the early 2010s. Nonetheless, it finally happened and it was over almost as soon as it started. The southpaw Miller started off with a hard inside leg kick as he often does, while Guida furiously feinted his jab and looked to get inside. Miller then threw a left high kick followed by a straight left that Guida countered beautifully with a straight right that wobbled Miller and sent him backing up. Guida walked him down to follow up with another right hand, but failed to take his head off the center line and Miller parried the shot with his lead hand and countered with a hard left hook that stunned and backed Guida up.
Twas a nice counter indeed.
Guida then ducked under a left to change levels, but Miller is the last guy you want to shoot on when you're hurt. He wrapped up a guillotine, and Guida didn't even get the chance to tap before he went to sleep. At least that's what everyone but referee Herb Dean saw. Instead of realizing he was out, Dean proceeded to check an unconscious Guida's hand three times before realizing that he probably wasn't going to spring to life the fourth time, and called a halt to the bout. Referee's make mistakes, they're only human; but this isn't even the first time he made this same mistake on this very card! But hey, at least he was in position to see the losing fighter's hand this time. I'd go on about him, but I'll save that for his other blunder.
What's next for these two? I have no idea. They've both been around the block a few times and probably won't sniff the top 15 again, so it makes sense to either keep putting them in fights against other guys like themselves or mid tier up-and-comers that they'll either dominate or get dominated by.
Guida has to stop letting his brother soften him up before the fight.
Haqparast makes easy work of Silva
Nasrat Haqparast def. Joaquim Silva by KO via strikes (0:36, R2)
Haqparast remains one of the more interesting prospects at lightweight, or any division for that matter; on top of the fact that he looks like the son of Kelvin Gastelum and Ilir Latifi while sharing an alarming amount of similarities in the cage with the former. The best part is that he appears to share mostly the good qualities of Gastelum while evolving past the negative ones. He spent much of the first round pressuring but staying patient and delivering low output as Silva threw to his heart's content and provided him with useful information on his timing and patterns. Through all the headhunting, Silva didn't manage to land a single clean head strike in 30 attempts, only finding success in leg kicks and body shots. Haqparast on the other hand countered up top when the situation presented itself, and just allowed Silva to give him the reaction he needed to inch his overhand left closer and closer. Early in round two he found his distance and took advantage of Silva frequently trying to parry his jab and dropping his right hand with a huge overhand left that dropped Silva flat on his back. He tried to recover, but Haqparast was all over him with punches and he could no longer intelligently defend himself.
Keep those hands up!
I thought this was one of the closer fights on the main card skill-wise, and it turned out that Haqparast is just the overall better fighter. Silva has made his bones in the UFC as a blood-and-guts striker who is more power and heart than technical savvy, and maybe after this loss he'll actually start living up to his "Netto BJJ" nickname and go to the ground more often. Haqparast deserves a jump in competition following this win; he's shown a considerable amount of tools and has dominated his last three opponents since losing his UFC debut to Marcin Held. Perhaps Beneil Dariush or the winner of Gilbert Burns vs Alexey Kunchenko would be a good fit for him. Silva is hard to place since he's not incredibly active, but maybe he'd match up well with another fighter who likes to bang and lost on this event in Dong Hyun Ma.
Giles inexplicably grapples a grappler, Meerschaert (and Herb Dean) makes him pay
Gerald Meerschaert def. Trevin Giles by submission via guillotine choke (1:49, R3)
I picked Giles to win this fight because Meerschaert doesn't have the best wrestling and grappling is his bread and butter. It stands to reason that when you're an exceptional athlete fighting someone who has problems with exceptional athletes, and you hold the striking and wrestling advantage over a guy who likes to grapple, you probably want to avoid trying to grapple with them for an entire fight. Giles didn't get the memo. He started the fight well enough, rocking Meerschart's head back with a big straight left. Then things got funky when Giles rushed in and grabbed a body lock for a takedown. Obviously Meerschaert wanted to be on the ground, so he gleefully fell backwards once Giles grabbed a hold of him. Giles showed some good top control, but it wasn't long before Meerschaert swept and went straight to mount. to Giles' credit, he stayed composed and didn't take any major damage, and was able to explode into a sweep of his own. Giles actually looked solid in top control and at one point nearly locked in a D'Arce choke, but Meerschaert was able to escape and survive the round.
In round two Meerschaert became more aggressive and hunted for a single leg takedown. Giles did well to sprawl, but Meerschaert scooted his hips under to pull into half guard. Meerschaert was able to scramble to his knees, but as he tried to roll through Giles made his way to mount for a bit before Meerschaert reversed position into Giles' guard. Meerschaert would stay on top landing modest ground-and-pound for the remainder of the round. In round three it was in Giles' best interest to keep the fight standing since things were just a bit too competitive on the ground...but he still hadn't gotten that memo. Meerschaert shot in on his legs, Giles sprawled, and while he appeared for a second to do the smart thing and back away, Meerschaert's beckoning must have been too much and he decided to try and go back to the ground anyway. Just then, Meerchaert shot up and grabbed a body lock before locking in a guillotine. Giles rolled through to break the choke and managed to make it to his knees, grab a single, and try and outside trip, but Meerschaert continued to hold onto his neck and tighten the choke from that odd angle. Giles tapped, but Dean was out of position to see it, leading Giles to pass out while Dean stared at his limp hand for a few moments before checking it.
It was Dean's first blunder of the night, and while in hindsight it wasn't really his fault this time that he was out of position to see the tap, he did take his time checking Giles for consciousness. Even so, his mistake a couple fights after was much worse, and it's just another stop on the downfall tour of Herb Dean. I feel bad for the guy because he can't seem to catch a break, but on the other hand, he's gotta step it up. He's been such a highly respected judge for so long these mistakes are extra visible, especially when you have other refs that are far less accident prone.
Next up for these two? I think Meerschaert should take on the winner of Omari Akhmedov vs Zak Cummings, and Giles should probably get a shot at bouncing back against Trevor Smith.
Holtzman swells up Ma's eye, brings an anticlimactic halt to an exciting scrap
Scott Holtzman def. Dong Hyun Ma by TKO via doctor stoppage (5:00, R2)
For as tough as Ma has shown to be, you can't tough out tissue damage. It took a round to get going, but the story of this fight was Holtzman's right hand being glued to Ma's head, which had to be due in large part to the slick right hand he dropped Ma with early in the fight. The punch landed right to the eye and the swelling began immediately. The remainder of the round saw Holtzman putting in some solid positional work on top before Ma was able to sweep and eventually make it back to his feet where they start to trade punches. In the following stanza Holtzman's punches really started to find their mark, and Ma was content to eat them and come forward with punches of his own, though he came up short on a large majority of them. However, one left hook counter did manage to briefly drop Holtzman, but he was able to pop back up and slow things down with a takedown attempt. The issue for Ma was that his swollen left eye rendered him unable to see Holtzman's right hands coming, so on the feet he could do little to stop them. Late in the round Holtzman managed to land a double leg takedown into half guard, where he'd finish the round with some right hands and a couple big elbows.
Between rounds the doctor was called in to check Ma's eye, and he admitted that he couldn't see out of it, which is essentially a guaranteed fight stoppage. I know it's considered the tough thing to do to lie and tell them you can see, but judging by the way the eye looked I doubt they would've let it go anyway, and I give props to Ma for being honest about it and avoiding taking further damage in a fight he was clearly losing when he couldn't see Holtzman's most potent weapon coming.
Yeah, probably not a good idea to keep getting hit in that...thing.
Holtzman is back in the win column after having a three-fight win streak broken by Nik Lentz, and I think the winner of Drakkar Klose vs Christos Giagos could be on the horizon for him. As mentioned earlier, Ma and Joaquim Silva would put on a great fight, or he could take on Roosevelt Roberts, who recently suffered his first career loss.
Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Darko Stosic by unanimous decision (29-26, 28-27, 28-27)
This fight was listed everywhere as being on the main card, but it was shown as if it was a featured prelim, so I'll treat it as the latter. If there was ever a question as to whether groin kicks win fights, Stosic answered it. Also if there was ever a weirdest fight of the night bonus, this would be the easy choice. Most of the fight took the form of Nzechukwu using his height and reach relatively effectively but failing to turn it into any meaningful offense outside of a persistent jab in the second half of the fight. Stosic landed well early on the feet, but as he struggled to get on the inside once Nzechukwu realised he was 6'5", he turned to mostly ineffective takedowns that were either stuffed for that he was unable to do anything with before Nzechukwu popped right back up. All that being said, they should have been enough for him to edge out the third round, which in addition to his more clearly winning him the first round, would net him the win.
Then his foot got groin-happy. A low blow to start round two saw referee Gary Copeland warn Stosic that another instance of the foul would result in a point deduction. Late in the round he would land another, and true to his word, Copeland deducted a point. This was extra unfortunate for Stosic because leg kicks were a pretty major part of his gameplan and they were working pretty well in the opening round. In round three it was clear that he was avoiding leg kicks but of course the moment he starts letting loose with them, we get ANOTHER GROIN KICK. And this one was pretty bad; Nzechukwu needed some recovery time. Yet another point was deducted, meaning the only way he could win the fight was by stoppage, and even with the rest he got from pause in action, he was mostly content to try to take his opponent down than get that finish. It's unfortunate that Stosic had to lose a fight that he essentially won, but hey, stopping kicking dudes in the junk.
Mickey Gall def. Salim Touahri by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Gall still has some holes to work out in his game, but he definitely looked improved this time out in a relatively close win over Touahri. As usual he started off well, landing a nice switch-step 2-1 that he'd have some success with throughout the fight. Touahri was game on the feet, but despite his corner's advice he really didn't start throwing in combinations until the final round when he started to slow down. Gall's grappling and clinch work carried him accross the finish line in that round, no doubt aided greatly by his size. He won a close but clear decision where he showed some improvements on the feet and some slight improvements in his pacing, though he did get pretty tired towards the end. That made it all the more humorous when he decided to call out his most recent opponrnt Diego Sanchez for a rematch, claiming that he was sick during that fight as if his cardio was historically any better than it was back then. Judging by how tired he was at the end of this one, he better hope either Diego's gotten more shot since they fight or that he can put in some serious work in the early going and survive until the final horn.
Antonina Shevchenko def. Lucie Pudilova by submission via rear naked choke (1:20, R2)
I'm not sure this was a Fight of the Night caliber scrap over a couple of the others, but it was still quality, and I'm down with Pudilova getting a little cash consolation prize for the rough UFC stint she has endured. She's been forced to develop against more experienced opponents and she's lost some relatively close decisions. This loss was much more definitive. She certainly had her moments, including landing a couple hard elbows in the clinch in the opening round that rocked Shevchenko and opened up a deep cut over her eye.
The elbows were pretty significant.
It's understandable that Pudilova didn't really want to strike with a vaunted kickboxer like Shevchenko, but it was her insistence on wrestling that ended up being her undoing. It's great that she's been trying to round out her game and be more than an aggressive brawler, and if you've been following her social media (in a totally non-creepy manner) you'd see that she's taking her wrestling training seriously, enlisting the help of Czech freestyle wrestling Olympian Adéla Hanzlíčková.
I think she knows a thing or two.
However, it's clear she still has work to do in that area. Most of her attempts landed her in the clinch, which was exactly where Shevchenko is most comfortable, and she was kneed to the body relentlessly for her efforts. She managed to land a double leg takedown and land a hard elbow, but Shevchenko has apparently also been sharpening up her overall game and suddenly locked in a tight armbar that looked to surely end things, but Pudilova toughed it out and escaped.
Miraculously. I thought for sure it would be over.
In round two the fight came to an end when she grabbed a single leg and dumped Shevchenko to the ground, but Shevchenko already had her far arm hooked around Pudilova neck. This meant that when Pudilova brought the fight to the ground she was essentially forced to roll over and give Shevchenko her back with an arm already in place to look for the choke, and the single leg grip inadvertently putting a hook in for Shevchenko, who immediately sunk int the choke. Before long Pudilova was unconscious and the fight was over. As mentioned, it's a tough break for Pudilova, who has improved quite a bit in the UFC. Hopefully she gets another shot. It was a solid win for Shevchenko, and I think she should work her way up the ranks by taking on the winner of the upcoming Maycee Barber vs Gillian Robertson fight.
#13 Matt Schnell def. #9 Jordan Espinosa by submission via triangle choke (1:23, R1)
Schnell is never in a dull fight, and thankfully for him, his fan-friendly style has really turned itself around in his favor after his first two UFC fights saw him on the wrong end of a couple knockouts. Espinosa is fast even compared to most flyweights, and that showed immediately when he caught Schnell with a right hook off the bat and darted in and out of the pocket energetically. It wasn't long before Espinosa shot in for a double leg and Schnell immediately grabbed onto a guillotine as he went down. Once he realized he didn't have it, he transitioned into a tight triangle choke, causing Espinosa to tap. It was pretty cut and dry. Schnell declared himself a top fighter in a division that literally only has enough fighters to fill the top 15 at this point (he was ranked 14th prior to this fight), but there's a good deal of talent there and some solid fights waiting for him. I think the winner of Kai Kara-France vs Mark De La Rosa should be next for him, while Espinosa takes on the loser of Raulian Paiva vs Rogerio Bontorin.
#10 Lauren Murphy def. #12 Mara Romero Borella by TKO via strikes (1:46, R3)
I've admmittedly not been the biggest fan of Murphy over the years, but she turned in a pretty good performance here. Borella jumped out to an early leadon the strength of leg kicks and more efficient work on the feet, but Murphy came back in round two with better work in the clinch edging things out for her. In the decisive third round she stunned Borella with an uppercut that had her circling away, and after stuffing a takedown attempt she timed a knee to the head that caught Borella flush and dropped her to the mat. A few followup elbows sealed the deal on a huge win for Murphy.
Claudio Silva def. Cole Williams by submission via neck crank (2:35, R1)
This was essentially a gimme fight for Silva, and actually a step down in competition. After a few moments of trading on the feet, Silva did what he came there to do: put Williams on the ground. Once there Williams was immediately in danger; Silva took his back and began searching for a rear-naked choke. After a number of hard punches on the ground he locks up a neck crank and quickly gets the tap. Silva is wild and unrefined on the feet, but if he gets his opponent down to the ground it's usually curtains for them. His main issue is that he just doesn't fight enough. He defeated Leon Edwards in his second UFC fight (and Edwards' debut), and since then he's gone 3-0 while Edwards has gone 10-1 and is currently on the list of title contenders. Welterweight is stacked but perhaps it's time for him to fight someone more notable: I vote Warlley Alves.
And that's it for the UFC's early trek to Newark, New Jersey! To be honest, I hardly watched the opening fight with Miranda Granger sweeping the scorecards against Hanna Goldy, but from what I did see they stayed busy and it wasn't a bad scrap and it was closer than the scores would indicate. But the biggest thing take away from the card is that Colby Covington is the real deal and we're all much more annoyed for it.
I CANNOT STAND THIS MAN.
Next week Valentina, the better Shevchenko sister, defends her flyweight title against a familiar foe and attempts to avenge an early career loss to Liz Carmouche. It's not the deepest card, but there are definitely some interesting fights sprinkled in. Until then, sado out!