What the hell happened at UFC 234?

What the hell happened indeed! History has shown us that whenever the UFC ventures to the land down under, we're bound to get some craziness. From Michael Bisping illegally kneeing Jorge Rivera and spitting at his corner, to an all-finish card, to a draw between Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva that reeked of home cooking, to witnessing one of the biggest upsets in the sport when Holly Holm neck-chopped Ronda Rousey with a high kick to end her reign, we should be used to expecting the unexpected in Australia. Probably the most notable instance to me was the judging flub that awarded Demetrious Johnson a decision victory over then #1 ranked Ian McCall in the opening round of a four-man mini tournament to crown the inaugural UFC flyweight champion...despite the fact that the scorecards added up to a draw. This was promptly amended, but it still robbed McCall of a sudden death round (after he had utterly dominated the third) that could have dramatically altered the history of the flyweight division, and even the pound-for-pound rankings. It could have just as dramatically altered McCall's career, which due to a combination of injuries, inactivity, waning motivation, personal issues, and just plain bad luck saw his career slowly circle the drain immediately following the draw (but counterclockwise, because Australia. And yes, I'm aware that's a myth). In my opinion it's one of the the most intersting "what-if" scenarios in the sport.

On top of all this, Australia cards tend to wreak havoc on my fight picks. Underdogs come through in a big way when I'm not expecting them to, and when I try to counteract this by picking them, that's when things go according to the betting lines (which is what happened to me on this card). Needless to say, it's difficult for me to be confident about anything concerning these events; even certain fights happening at all, which brings us to UFC 234. It definitely brought some craziness, and it didn't even wait for the event to start...


Whittaker loses to his own body...but Gastelum wins the title?

Hernia def. Robert Whittaker via gutsy performance

Lurking beneath the frame: that dastardly hernia, plotting his attack

All joking aside, I wish Whittaker a speedy recovery; he's had a rough go of things since winning the middleweight title. In fact, due to injuries and other circumstances he technically has yet to even defend it. The night before the event Whittaker began feeling ill and vomiting; once he was checked out it was discovered he was suffering from a hernia and he was rushed in for emergency surgery hours before the event was scheduled to start. Obviously he couldn't make the title fight with Kelvin Gastelum. Hernias vary in severity, and according to Dana White this could have been fatal if they didn't act when they did, so thankfully they were prompt about it. Now to sound like an ass and talk about how it could screw up the division! This is just the latest unfortunate incident to throw the division into flux, and depending on his recovery time the fight with Gastelum could be re-booked, or perhaps they'll have Gastelum fight the winner of this card's de facto main event, Israel Adesanya, for an interim title; because casuals love shiny things and don't care if it's interim or undisputed.

Oh wait, it turns out the problem has been solved! Gastelum is the new middleweight champion! And he's even already upgraded (or downgraded, depending on your design tastes) to the legacy belt!

Well I'm glad that's settled.

We can thank Henry Cejudo for letting Gastelum borrow his belt, which allowed him to cut awkward promos the entire night declaring himself the champion offering to defend it against Whittaker. Very few can pull off this sort of trash talk successfully...Gastelum is not one of the few. But hey, I can't blame the guy for trying. He's just trying to stay relevant, and had he not done what he did I probably wouldn't even be writing about him right now. But now onto the actual event.


THE MAIN CARD

Silva turns back the clock, but Adesanya turns Silva away in a fun one

Israel Adesanya def. Anderson Silva by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)

First off, where the hell has this Silva been?! I don't think he's looked particuarly good at all since the Bisping fight (and even there, not too good), but I don't think he's looked himself since he lost his title to Chris Weidman five-and-a-half years ago. Against Adesanya he tapped into the old "Spider," filled with confidence and swagger; I've missed it, infuriating showboating and all. Perhaps it was because he was facing someone with a similar flare for showmanship on the feet that he showed out in such a big way; he knew the rhythm wouldn't be broken with takedowns, and that he would need to expect the unexpected at all times, because like himself Adesanya is unorthodox. There has been a lot of talk surrounding the event about how the two are mirror images and that Adesanya was the closest Silva was going to come to fulfilling his wish of fighting his clone. While I think that last part is likely true, they're not mirror images of each other; it's easy to say they fight mostly the same on the surface, but they set up attacks and approach the fight very differently. I liken it to the claims that TJ Dillshaw adopted Dominick Cruz's style. Sure, they both use shuffling footwork and shift to either side when advancing to create angles, but it mostly ends there. Their similarities are mainly cosmetic, and they actually utilize their footwork in pretty different ways. The differences between Adesanya and Silva actually manifested themselves into a pretty darn interesting fight that was a lot more competitive than most anticipated.

The most obvious difference between the two of them is that while they're both very patient on the feet, Silva is a pretty dedicated counter-striker while Adesanya is much more offense-oriented. Sure he's also adept at countering, but he does more offensively to pull those counters out than Silva typically does. I've said before in the past that a lot of Silva's showboating is just a tactic to draw out countering opportunities, and the more over the top the clowning, the more desperate he is for his opponent to take the bait (see the first Weidman fight). It's a psychological attack that gets you to strike and open up a counter. Adesanya will showboat as well, but he doesn't as often use it for as clear a functional purpose as Silva does, because Adesanya prefers to draw out counters with pressure, probing leg kicks, a variety of feints, and a nuanced jab that can come from a multitude of angles and levels. This key difference made for a compelling, and at times comedic battle between the two where each fighter dared the other to fight their fight: Silva with his back to the cage wanting Adesanya to open up and attack him, and Adesanya wanting Silva to meet him in the center where his range and spryer movement could better aid him. Neither man took the bait for long, but the back-and-forth was fun to watch.

In breaking down this fight I mentioned that it was obviously a fight to set Adesanya up for a title shot and put him over a big name. While I think that worked overall, Silva did not provide an easy road for him to travel. The first round was all Adesanya, mostly because Silva didn't do a whole lot. He seemed to wait for Adesanya to close the distance on him so he could counter, but Adesanya instead was content to test the range and keep his feet underneath him. The fight picked up toward the end of the round when Silva apparently became frustrated with Adesanya's taunting and unwillingness to play his game, and turned up the pressure. Adesanya dealt with it well and even appeared to briefly wobble Silva with a right hook following a knee, though you never really know with Silva.

In round two Silva turned up the heat, and actually rendered Adesanya a bit hesitant. It was a much more back and forth round, and in fact both men landed an identical amount of significant strikes. Silva however appeared to land the heavier shots and was the more effective counter fighter, and while the round was somewhat close, I believe he took it. However, round three was once again all Adesanya. Silva was much more lively, and turned up the showboating and exotic attacks, but at this point it seemed Adesanya knew the fight was likely on the line and wasn't willing to risk playing Silva's game. Silva would sit with his back to the cage and demand Adesanya attack him, and Adesanya would move to the center of the octagon and beckon Silva to fight him there. Adesanya kept it smart, opting to snipe from the outside with kicks and right hands while Silva just didn't throw much. Even with Silva's inactivity it was still entertaining to watch him goad Adesanya into hitting him, even if it was a bit frustrating that he didn't offer much in return. Silva's stock rose in a major way in defeat, and he went from someone we all thought we'd want to see retire following this fight to someone we definitely want to see continue fighting for a little longer. Adesanya was mostly expected to dominate Silva, so in a way you could say he disappointed, but he still looked every bit the slick striker he's shown us to be; he was just in there with a rejuvenated version of another slick, tricky striker. I still contend that I could see him doing very well against more straightforward fighters like Whittaker and Gastelum.

I mentioned in my breakdown that I held what was perhaps an unpopular opinion on Silva, and although what happened in this fight softens it a bit, my opinion mostly stays the same. It's definitely not of the "he was never that good" variety, as I think Silva in his prime was a phenomenal fighter, but I saw a lot of claims that a prime Silva would wreck Adesanya and still rule the division, and I have to disagree with that somewhat strongly. Overall I think Adesanya is a more nuanced striker than Silva ever was; he uses more of the tools at his disposal and is better at adjusting on the feet overall. That isn't to say that Silva in his prime couldn't get the better of him, but I don't think he'd dominate just because this fight was competitive. I'd wager even a prime Silva would've had the same issues he had with Weidman, and would similarly struggle against guys like Whittaker, Romero, Jacare, and even Rockhold (though all he'd have to do is land a good shot). It's not meant to rag on Silva because like I said, he is indeed great. It's just a matter of saying the sport evolves; hell, the middleweight division has evolved leaps and bounds since Silva was on top, and while you certainly can't blame Silva for the talent level of his division, it's the main reason I always put Georges St. Pierre above him in pound-for-pound talks. Silva's legend is definitely due in significant part to how good he was, but you can also attribute a decent amount to being the right guy at the right time. Which is fine; the guy is still one of the greatest fighters we've ever seen.

As for Adesanya, he still figures to be right up there in the title mix. I imagine they'll probably re-book the scrapped title fight, so he'll probably be positioned to fight the winner.

Vannata easily dispatches Mariano in one-sided affair

Lando Vannata def. Marcos Mariano by submission via kimura (4:55, R1)

Once hyped prospect Lando Vannata finally got a badly needed win...the UFC made sure of it. I'm all for softball fights to get fighters' confidence and records back up to snuff, but Mariano was more of a whiffle ball disguised as a dollar store Anderson Silva. He started off with several kicks, but only managed to land a stiff leg kick before Vannata had enough and completed a body lock takedown. After some ground and pound, a hard elbow caused Mariano to cover up, and Vannata moved to north-south position where locked in a kimura to get the tap seconds before the end of the round.

It was a dominant performance from Vannata, and it should've been given that his opponent was 6-4 coming into the fight, had no notable wins (or losses for that matter), and a style that heavily favored Vannata. He wasn't even on a streak prior to getting the call up. It's as if the UFC only signed him to get Vannata back in the win column. All the more comical is that this fight went from being buried on the Fight Pass prelims to co-main event with the original main event falling off. A faded prospect with a 1-3-2 UFC record fought an unknown 6-4 debutant in the co-main event of a pay per view. Never change, UFC.

Simon just says no to grappling, denies Yahya advances

Ricky Simon def. #15 Rani Yahya by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)

A shoulder block any pro wrestling monster heel would be proud of.

I (of course) picked Yahya to wn this fight, and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised by Simon's performance here. In my breakdown I referred to him as an "offense-first, defense-never" type of fighter, and in this fight he not only showed some solid pressure offense, but flashed some good head movement at times and actually fought pretty smart for the most part. I expected him to run headlong into exchanges and open himself up to takedowns, where Yahya would put him in major trouble on the mat, but he was keen to avoid extended wrestling and grappling exchanges at all costs, and achieved this by not overextending himself as much as he has in past fights. Yahya, while still stiff and a bit awkward on the feet, did still show some improvement there and managed to land several good shots, even bloodying up Simon a bit as the fight wore on.

I think Simon's repeated rebuffs of Yahya's attempts to get the fight to the ground and the visual of Yahya's desperation to get it there belied how close the fight was. The one 30-25 scorecard even more so. It was a pretty clear decision win for Simon, but 30-25 is crazy. The first round could have easily been scored 10-8 after Simon scored two knockdowns (though Yahya actually did outland him on the feet), but I don't think either of the other two rounds were quite dominant enough.

Round two I actually scored narrowly for Yahya; Simon landed two takedowns but didn't do much with them, and Yahya was not only much busier but got the better the of the striking. The final round saw Simon at his most dominant from minute to minute, though he never had Yahya in any particular trouble.

Something that impressed me about both men was their cardio; Yahya's in particular, as he has been known for very poor cardio (which he exacerbated with a love of junk food). Both men kept a pretty high pace for all three rounds, and surprisingly Yahya was much busier on the feet. I've always compared him to Demian Maia, and while they still have plenty of similarities, Yahya's improved cardio and striking are starting to set him apart so that he doesn't look quite as helpless as Maia does when he can't get his takedowns going.

Kassem proves tough, but not at all ready for De La Rosa

Montana De La Rosa def. Nadia Kassem by submission via arm bar (2:37, R2)

Nothing surprising about this one. Kassem took a break from injuring herself punching car side windows and popping wheelies with her nephew to offer not much of anything to De La Rosa. To start, De La Rosa immediately ran forward throwing robotic 1-2's that would make Matt Riddle proud, but several of them landed and they were enough to close the distance and shove Kassem to the ground. From there she put on some big pressure and ground and pound, leaving Kassem with little to do but survive. Round two started off pretty much the same way, with De La Rosa rushing in with punches until she could secure an early takedown. This time she managed to pass from side control into full mount, where she eventually found an armbar. It looked deep but Kassem was able to scramble out of it, only to found herself in a triangle choke. De La Rosa reversed position to a mounted triangle choke and began landing punches while one top before switching back to the armbar and finally getting the tap.

The only thing I expected different from this fight was that De La Rosa would've finished the fight in the first round. Kassem proved tough, but in breaking down the fight I didn't give her much chance to win the fight outside of a puncher's chance. Struggling against a strawweight Alex Chambers is not a good look when facing a younger, bigger, faster, and better grappler a weight class up. Plus as I mentioned, Chambers is a bottom-tier strawweight; if you have any trouble against her it means you have a lot of work to do. Kassem has shown some potential, but she's still very raw and faced absolutely dreadful competition before coming into the UFC (they had a combined record of 0-11). De La Rosa is now 3-0 in the promotion with a divisional record three finishes; I think she's earned a crack at the top 10.

Crute removes Alvey's smile, and Scowlin' Sam Alvey is born

Jim Crute def. Sam Alvey by TKO via strikes (2:49, R1)

Sam Alvey's turned heel! He had already previously voiced a dislike for referee Marc Goddard, stating that he ends fights to early, so it should be of little surprise that Alvey flew off the handle when he felt this fight was stopped prematurely. I (of course) picked Alvey to win this fight, because as far as Alvey and my picks are concerned I'm screwed either way; he will do the opposite of whatever I pick. Similarly to Simon, Crute impressed me with his ability to be composed and not just rush into counters like he did against Paul Craig. As is the case in pretty much every Alvey fight, Alvey didn't throw much; rather being content to wait for his opponent to attack him so he can land a counter check-right hook, his favorite punch and one of maybe four moves in his arsenal. Just when he started to attack, feinting an overhand left and dipping to his right to launch a big right hook, Crute caught him flush on the chin coming in with a right hand that sent him to his hands and knees. From there Crute almost gave the win away, opting to walk away to celebrate instead of finishing the job. Alvey popped back up, but was extremely wobbly backing up to the cage. Crute resumed his attack, but Alvey regained enough composure to catch a kick and trip him to the ground. Now it may seem like Alvey was recovered at this point, but do you know why I think he wasn't? Because he was immediately swept once he landed that takedown. So immediately that it didn't even count as a takedown on the official stats because he was unable to secure position for any amount of time. From there Crute resumed pounding on a turtled Alvey until Goddard stepped in.

This is where Alvey made the turn. He was absolutely livid at Goddard stopping the fight, running around the cage screaming at him. He looked all the more villanous while sporting his bright ginger mustachioed mutton chops and crude happy face shaved into the back of his head. It was just plain weird to see "Smile'n Sam" so angry! As for how justified the stoppage was, I thought it was just fine. Alvey may have been able to survive a bit more, but once I saw him blow that takedown like that, I really didn't think he was going to last much longer. I don't begrudge him for thinking it was stopped too early, but I think Goddard did his job just fine that time because it's not just about how you feel; no one truly knows that but you. It's about what you show, and Alvey wasn't showing much.


THE PRELIMS

All the prelim highlights you need in one convenient video!

Devonte Smith def. Dong Hyun Ma by TKO via strikes (3:53, R1)

I thought this fight would be pretty closely contested and that "Maestro" Dong Hyun Kim AKA Not-That-Dong Hyun Kim AKA Dong Hyun Ma AKA The Dong Maestro even had some underdog shine in handicapping the fight. It certainly was not and he did not. Smith did well early measuring the distance with kicks and good use of the jab. Kim (I'm not calling him Ma) seemed pretty frazzled by Smith's volume and pressure, and appeared to simply freeze up for most of the bout. The finish came in a brutal and beautiful (brutiful?) sequence where Smith checked a leg kick from Kim that appeared hurt him and buckle his leg, and immediately followed up with a jab feint into a hard right hand that briefly buckled Kim's legs again. From there he smelled blood, and a series of accurate lefts and rights dropped Kim facedown, where Smith held him in place and absolutely blasted the side of his head with hammerfists that would make Donkey Kong cringe.

I think it's worth looking at again.

I have to circle back to Kim's name change. The "Ma" is just a shortened form of his nickname "Maestro" that he took on so as not to confuse him with the longtime UFC welterweight Dong Hyun "Stun Gun" Kim any longer. To me it was initially just more confusing. I have to wonder how many people first thought Dong Hyun Ma was just another new Korean fighter in the UFC. I wonder if there are any people who still think that. I kinda would've liked it better if "Stun Gun" decided to change his name to Dong Hyun Gun instead, but he was the original Dong Hyun Kim, so I get it.

But I digress. Fantastic performance from Smith, and his post-fight interview followed suit. The man can not only fight, but he has quite the personality on him! If he keeps up his winning ways I can definitely see the UFC giving him the opportunity shine on the microphone outside of the cage. Check it out:

Shane Young def. Austin Arnett by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

It wasn't the most technical display, but this was a pretty fun fight with both men going after it. Arnett has proven tough through four octagon appearances, but his lack of defense and tendency to head hunt are major factors in why he's only won a single fight in that stretch. It's not to say he hasn't had success in his fights, but he's too willing to take a shot to give one, and all the while his opponents are also racking up strikes to his legs and body while he's only focused on punching them in the face. Young in particular liberally went to the legs and body while the fight was mostly even in terms of head strike numbers. Young did appear to hold the edge in terms of quality, and some of this is also Arnett's own doing since sometimes he prefers putting his hands down, mean-mugging, and screaming rather than using actual defensive techniques. All in all a solid win for Young, and Arnett once again shows that while he can be a fun watch, he's not exactly UFC caliber. But then again, look who we had in the co-main!

Kai Kara-France def. Raulian Paiva by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

This was a pretty close fight that I actually had Paiva edging out on the scorecards. I don't know if I'd call it a hometown decision since one of the two Australian judges on assignment gave Paiva the fight, but I think it's possible the home crowd may have had a bit of influence. Either way it was still a close, back-and-forth affair in pretty much every round and both men had similar levels of success. The final round seems to be the swing round, where Paiva narrowly outlanded Kara-France, but the latter came on stronger in the closing moments of the fight. According to MMA Decisions, 12 of 19 media outlets thought Paiva deserved the nod, while over 80% of fan scores on the site also favored him. Although those totals might not indicate it, this was a close affair where Paiva's lack of head movement didn't do him many favors with the judges I'm sure, but was supplemented by a very sturdy chin and the composure to land shots in return.

Kara-France didn't look bad by any stretch, but he also didn't look like the future contender he's been touted to be. He has some improving to do, and who knows if the division will last long enough for us to see him fulfill it in the UFC. Regardless, the man can withstand a mean groin kick.

GOOOOOAAAAAAAL!

Kyung Ho Kang def. Teruto Ishihara by submission via rear naked choke (3:59, R1)

It didn't last long, but what we did see was much more exciting than I anticipated. After a short time exchanging kicks, both men threw caution to the wind and engaged in a heated exchange that saw Ishihara get briefly dropped with a right uppercut and immediately pop up and drop Kang with a big left hook. He wasn't able to finish, and when they made it back to the feet they wildly exchanged before Kang secured a takedown. From there he transitioned to the back and eventually sunk in a rear-naked choke that the referee addressed maybe a tad too late. Brought back memories of when a referee damn near let Takeya Mizugaki die in a rear-naked choke against Urijah Faber. Either way, short but very fun fight.

Things got wild.

Jalin Turner def. Callan Potter by KO via strikes (0:53, R1)

Another quick finish, and this one was a lot more expected. Potter is a throwback to earlier Australian fighters: he's not incredibly athletic, he's aggressive, and often tries to make up for technical shortcomings with tenacity. This is how you get a record with mostly knockout and/or submission wins and also suffer all your losses by knockout and/or submission; if he doesn't finish you then you'll finish him. That just doesn't cut it against many of today's breed of fighter, and especially those who have every physical advantage in the book over you, which Turner does have over Potter. Potter was just too slow and not at all prepared for the speed, power, and accuracy Turner threw at him. He would be halfway through a strike attempt when a Turner counter strike already connected. The finish was another brutiful (that's right, I'm going with it) sequence with Turner countering a leg kick with a hard lead right hook, followed by another that stunned Potter, and immediately chased with a body kick to a right-left combination that put Potter on his seat. From there it only took a few shots on the ground to separate Potter from consciousness. Again, I think that deserves another look:

Jonathan Martinez def. Wuliji Buren by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Our curtain jerker for the night provided some relatively fun but very flawed blue belt level jiu jitsu full of guard passes and reversals that were just as much due to the fighters' weaknesses as they were their strengths. Both men found themselves in advantageous positions that were squandered mainly by their own lack of technical prowess. It had the kind of grappling exchanges that probably prompt Bas Rutten to get on commentary for PFL and suggest that all you have to do to sweep an opponent is "just roll them over." Buren in particular had mount early in the final round and managed to pretty quickly get swept, still lock in an armbar, but have it easily escaped. Although he was clearly the better wrestler and guard passer of the two, it was Buren that frequently found himself in precarious positions and forced to defend on the ground. He's pretty much the embodiment of the prototypical talented, but still very raw Chinese prospect who could make some noise if he had a better camp behind him. Martinez looked decent, but still hasn't provided enough evidence of where he stands in the division.


That does it for UFC 234. We had to endure quite a bit of turmoil, but we made it! I have to say, I've tried to write this thing a few times now, and I'm glad to finally get it out. The power actually went out when I was probably a third of the way through it, and I lost the entire thing and had to start over! This is what I go through for you guys. Hope you enjoyed the recap, and I'll see you all next week when we (fingers crossed) actually get to see Cain Velasquez fight! Rejoice, as this happens about as often as Halley's Comet comes around. Until then, sado, out!

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