Boy, do I love me an early European card! For me the early start times are a small price to pay for a Saturday when I can actually get out and do other things! Or sit here and write another recap article for all you Fightful faithful many hours earlier than usual. Either way, I kinda wish there were more of these. This time the UFC made the trek to the Czech Republic for the first time ever, and it resulted in a pretty respectable card overall. No over-the-top exciting or incredibly memorable fights, but generally solid action throughout and a good collection of finishes. We also got a little more clarity in the light heavyweight division, which is starting to show some signs of life after being one of the shallowest divisions in the sport for quite some time. Not to mention for once we get a European card where underdogs didn't turn everything on its head; not that that's a bad thing. So let's get down to business and break down what the hell happened at UFC Fight Night Prague!
The Main Card
Santos drops the hammer on a rushing Blachowicz
#6 Thiago Santos def. #4 Jan Blachowicz by TKO via strikes (0:39, R3)
Just when we think he is king of the brawlers after his ludicrous war with Jimi Manuwa a few months back, Santos turns around and puts on a fairly mature performance here against Blachowicz. Normally one to storm out of the gates, walk his opponents down, and hunt for the finish as soon as he can, this time he was content with testing the range to find his shots and patiently waiting for potential openings before committing. He still over-commits on his counter hooks, which definitely threw him off balance a few times during the fight, but he usually made sure Blachowicz was retreating or didn't have an open angle to hit him when he did so. Blachowicz being historically composed and patient also gave Santos a bit of leeway with this.
The first two rounds were fairly close, and very heavy on leg kicks from Santos, particularly lead leg stomping and oblique kicks. He would also switch stances to open up body kicks, which he was successful with a few times, but Blachowicz seemed very aware of this at the start and frequently matched Santos' stance switches to close himself off more. I believed the first round went to Santos based off his pressure, volume, and diversity of attack; and the second went to Blachowicz because he began controlling the distance better, varying up his attacks more, and being the more accurate of the two. It was in the second that Santos appeared to become a little less patient and swung wide with several of his counters.
Despite that I didn't really think either fighter had a lot of momentum going into the final round. Shockingly, it was Blachowicz who would be the one to sprint forward with strikes early in the third round...and he immediately paid dearly for it. Once again switching stances to match Santos', he quickly followed up with a wild four-punch combination bereft of any defense; he came straight forward and never took his head off the center line. It gave Santos the perfect chance to land a quick right followed by a left hook that spun Blachowicz around mid-punch. He rolled to his back, and Santos delivered a torrent of hammerfists while postured up in side control while Blachowicz could do nothing but cover up and wait for the stoppage (and he had to wait a tad longer than he maybe should have).
I took my chance on Blachowicz after he'd proven me wrong a few times when I counted him out, and well, this time he proved me wrong for not counting him out. But to his credit, until that final reckless moment he was fighting as well as he normally does, and he was probably expecting a different Santos much like I'm sure most of us watching were. Can a more thoughtful Thiago Santos rise to the top of the division? Probably not as long as Jon Jones is on top, but otherwise who knows? With this win I think it's not too much to ask for Santos to be positioned opposite the winner of next week's title fight between Jones and Anthony Smith; it's reasonable for him to leapfrog considering Blachowicz's ranking. As for Blachowicz, he could take on the loser of the upcoming fight between Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes; or it might even be time for him to rematch Alexander Gustafsson if the latter isn't too injured.
Struve scores big comeback, and contemplates retirement
Stefan Struve def. Marcos Rogerio De Lima by submission via arm triangle choke (2:21, R2)
If this fight was the last we've seen of Struve in a cage or ring, I think it would serve as a pretty fitting performance that symbolized some of the best and worst qualities he's exhibited throughout his career. The fight started off immediately showing of the negative hallmarks of Struve's career: his hittability. Just a few seconds into the fight de Lima landed a chopping right hand that dropped Struve to the canvas, though he didn't seem too rocked from it.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Just that opening sequence highlighted another negative aspect of his game: his inability to effectively use his reach. Struve is the tallest fighter in UFC history and I believe his reach is second only to Jon Jones', yet with only a few exceptions, opponents are generally able to get inside on him to grapple or strike. His size seems to often work against him, where it not only makes him a bit slow on his feet, but he's just a lot more target to hit. He attempted to lean out of the way of that right hand, but because of his height he was basically at de Lima's head level.
From there de Lima settled on top, and we saw the bottom game of Struve, which has diminished over the years. His guard was passed fairly easily and seemed stagnant compared to how active it had been earlier in his UFC run. Despite being mounted to end a round he surely lost 10-8, he immediately turned things around in the second. After closing the distance with another right and and getting a body lock on Struve, the two reversed positions a couple times before Struve was able to trip de Lima to the ground, and from there his size worked to his advantage. With de Lima appearing a little spent following the opening round, Struve basically just stepped into half guard, searched for an arm-triangle, and eventually got it. After the fight, he announced that it may be the last time we see him in the cage. I would never want to dictate what anyone should do with their career, but personally I think it'd be a good call. He's looked diminished for years now, no thanks to a heart condition that had already put his career in jeopardy once before. A good win like this may be the best note he can go out on these days. We could even consider it a throwback since he did it all with grappling; in fact he didn't land a single significant strike through the bout.
Oleksiejczuk roasts Villante's ribs and puts him down
Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Gian Villante by KO via strikes (1:34, R1)
Villante has (frustratingly) garnered a reputation for being able to take a pretty ungodly amount of head trauma before being put away, but Oleksiejczuk found a quick shortcut south of there when he shut Villante's system down with a thunderous left hook to the body. You could see the range of emotions across Villante's face in the replay: at first unaffected, then nonplussed, then a grimace of excruciating pain. When you take a shot like that it almost doesn't matter what your mind is willing to endure; your body is having none of it. All Villante could do was take a seat, cover up, and hope he doesn't take more damage before he was saved. Seeing as how both of these guys are prone to taking punishment, I thought we'd get at least two rounds of action, but apparently Oleksiejczuk had better things to do and found the finish.
This continues Villante's up-and-down UFC career (though it breaks his split decision streak), as well as the disappointment he's yielded thus far as a fighter. It's crazy today to imagine that when they were starting off, Villante was projected to go further in MMA than his BFF Chris Weidman. Oleksiejczuk is essentially 0-2 in the UFC and has shown that he can not only take punishment and persist to take over fights, but he can also dish out some damage.
Carmouche spoils Pudilova's return home
#6 Liz Carmouche def. Lucie Pudilova by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
And she made sure to make it as frustrating to watch as she could. This one was the designated "stinker of the night," and it was on an account of not a ton really happening through the fight. Pudilova definitely tried though; she was the aggressor throughout, and constantly tried to draw out a striking, but Carmouche stayed on her bike mostly avoiding exchanges. Pudilova did little to adjust to this, mostly chasing after Carmouche and throwing at air rather than seeing to cut her off so that she'd have little choice but to engage. When Pudilova would successfully close the distance successfully, Carmouche landed a takedown, and though she did little in top control for most of the fight she maintained control for a decent amount of time. In the opening round Carmouche really failed to do much but land a takedown and slow things down against the fence, though Pudilova was able to open her up with elbows pretty good. The other two rounds mostly followed suit, but honestly it was a relatively close fight. It was a typical damage vs control affair, with Pudilova outlanding Carmouche pretty much everywhere the fight took place by a decent margin, but Carmouche exhibiting more control on the ground.
I hated this fight the minute I found out it was booked. If you're the UFC making your debut in The Czech Republic, why would you 1) give the only Czech fighter anything but a favorable match up, and 2) give them an opponent who people rarely look great and/or produce memorable fights against even in victory? Pudilova is an out-and-out action fighter; why give her someone who is awkward on the feet and seeks to avoid it, then uses wrestling to work a conservativ top game? It makes no sense if you want to make the bset impression on a new crowd. Hell, did the UFC even try to re-sign Karlos Vemola for this event? He's been on a tear since he left the UFC, going 15-1 since being released. I just think it's a misstep if you're entering a new venue. Pudilova wanted at the very least to put on an enjoyable fight in her home country, and she was basically set up to fail in that regard.
Yan is the first fighter at bantamweight to actually look good against Dodson
#14 Petr Yan def. #9 John Dodson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Dodson has consistently shown throughout his career that he's elusive, durable, and just a tough nut to crack in general. Win or lose, his fights tend to be close and competitive, and even when he loses his opponents rarely ever look good. For all his vaunted knockout power and lightning-quick athleticism (and despite the insistence of UFC talking heads), Dodson is not an action fighter at all. He typically sticks to the outside and throws a lot of feints to draw out big counters. If he's opponents don't bite (and since everyone knows how fast he is, they're wary about biting), he usually ends up waiting for the perfect shot to materialize and becoming frustratingly inactive. If you try to pressure him to draw out counters, good luck; it's hard enough just keeping him still, much less trying to do it long enough to land clean shots.
Yan managed to do all of this. It's reasonable to worry a bit about Yan's style since he favors pressuring opponents with a high guard and practically daring them to swing at it so he can counter; it was really the only bit of trepidation I had in breaking this one down, and Dodson was able to crack him pretty good in an exchange and actually put him down briefly in round two.
However, other than that Yan just had an answer for just about every trick Dodson uses disincentivize opponents. He mentioned that he never looked up to Dodson and that he's just another fighter, and overall it looked like he wasn't worried about anything Dodson could do to him. Normally it does appear that Dodson's opponents are cognizant of the fact that he has power and that he's incredibly quick, and it affects their approach to him, causing them to fight him much more carefully. Yan walked him down relentlessly, used frequent stance switches to cut Dodson off at the pass when he tried to move laterally, and actually looked to have the quicker hands, or at least he was quicker to the draw in exchanges a lot of times. He showed no respect for Dodson's power and did a fantastic job taking away Dodson's range, which is both his most dangerous weapon because it allows him to explode to close distance, and a major tool he uses to control the pace of fights and exchange on his own terms. It actually lead to the rare sight of Dodson appearing a bit fatigued down the stretch.
To his credit, Dodson did strike pretty well off the break, landing several solid punches throughout when the fighters would separate. However, he was essentially dominated in the fight, particularly in the third round where he threw very few shots, hardly connected with any of them, and meanwhile ate several flush shots from Yan. His durability held up and he wore some hard punches very well. It seems Dodson's abilities are beginning to wane noticeably, but all credit has to go to Yan for just fighting Dodson the right way and taking away his best weapons. I think he relies on his chin and guard a bit much at times, but his boxing continues to be slick and effective, and his overall game has progressed to the point where he has been able to fight the type of fight he wants to. Bantamweight has become quite a fun division, and I'm excited to see how far Yan can go. Dodson on the other hand should probably consider going back to 125 lbs if he can still make the weight. He was one of the very best there, but his size, the power differential, and his style of fighting are clearly holding him back at bantamweight. The bane of his existence, Demetrious Johnson (the last man to really look good against Dodson), is no longer in the UFC so I think it makes sense for him to attempt another run in the division if he can.
I know this segment is a bit more bloated than usual, but can I take we take a second to talk about Dodson's hair? What is this
Okay, this is pretty cool because Bob Ross...but still.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wished this knee landed juuust enough to shave his head.
Dodson's hairline is not handling that afro well, nor did his soul glo when he rocked the Jheri curl leading up to this fight, and it definitely wasn't working when he pulled it back in a ponytail during the fight, looking like he wanted to sell me some bootleg DVDs and Ray Bans out of the trunk of his car (not that my arm couldn't be twisted into checking out the merchandise). What happened to his usual close-cropped look? This afro makes his already small head look tiny. Combine that with the fact that he does look noticeably softer compared to his flyweight self, and it's just a 1-2 punch that just...isn't a good look.
Ankalaev cruises against Abreu
Magomed Ankalaev def. Klidson De Abreu by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
After his last second submission loss to Paul Craig (which, let's be honest, was pretty fluky), Ankalaev perhaps had some proving to do in the eyes of many when it came to his submission defense. Against a solid grappler in Abreu he quelled any thoughts that submissions are a hole in his game. The striking was fairly close early in the fight, and Abreu even landed a nice right hook that appeared to briefly wobble Ankalaev. However, soon after an uppercut dropped Abreu and badly broke his nose, and it was mostly downhill for Abreu from there.
Yikes! How does your ear smell?
Ankalaev would control most of the action for the rest of the fight, and built up a comfortable enough lead to coast for much of the third round and slow things down against the fence. It wasn't nearly as entertaining or rousing as his quick destruction of Marcin Prachnio, but Ankalaev still went along way in erasing his unfortunate debut, and he continues to be someone to watch at light heavyweight, which as mentioned is becoming more and more intriguing.
Dwight Grant def. Carlo Pedersoli by KO via strikes (4:59, R1)
The featured prelim was a fun one-round fight that highlighted Grant as a potentially interesting prospect at welterweight. The striking was fairly even in what was essentially a full round of fighting, and Pedersoli did a nice job of targeting the body when Grant kept him away with his long punches. Pedersoli tried several times to take Grant down, and though he was successful once, Grant displayed a great sprawl even when Pedersoli's level changes were solid. He did tend to dip his head off his the side a lot, and although Perdersoli threw a lot of head kicks throughout the contest, they were never positioned to exploit it. Grant would often counter the head kicks with inside leg kicks on his southpaw opponent, but the one time he didn't won him the fight. As the round drew to a close, Pedersoli faked a level change and came up top with a high kick that was countered by a huge right hand that dropped him on his face. He tried to get back to his feet to recover, but Grant was all over him and briefly removed him from consciousness with just one second left to go in the round. After the fight Grant said worked to lure Pedersoli into throwing high kicks so he could counter them, and that worked like a charm.
I think that's worth a slow-mo replay. Look at that mouthpiece!
I've developed a healthy amount of skepticism about Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series alumni, but Grant trains at a great camp in American Kickboxing Academy, he has impressive physical tools, and he might just be someone to look out for in the division's future.
Chris Fishgold def. Daniel Teymur by submission via rear naked choke (1:10, R2)
Fishgold is still a whirling dervish of offense that opens himself up to gassing out from constantly pressuring and pursuing the finish, but he's fun to watch and more often than not it works for him. He had a rough UFC debut due to his gung-ho style, but this time it worked out well for him. The striking in the first round was pretty much identical in terms of stats, with Fishgold landing 14 of 28 significant strikes and Teymur landing 14 of 26. Surprisingly though, it was the striker Teymur who landed the majority of his strikes on the ground and Fishgold who got the better of the action on the feet. However, the grappling was essentially all Fishgold. He struggled to keep Teymur down but frequently established favorable positions, passed to full mount late in the round, and locked in a tight armbar shortly before the horn in a pretty clear-cut round that ended up being scored a 10-8 due to an immediate point deduction due to Teymur blatantly grabbing the fence and avoiding a takedown.
The fight wouldn't last much longer. Fishgold wasted little time taking the fight to the ground with a double leg, settling into half guard, passing to mount, and eventually finding a rear-naked choke to end the fight. I don't see a particularly high ceiling for Fishgold, but he's sure as hell fun to watch.
Gillian Robertson def. Veronica Macedo by submission via rear naked choke (3:27, R2)
In what was probably a must-win fight Macedo falls to 0-3 in the UFC, and just like in her other two losses she showed some positive qualities but is just perhaps too raw and unseasoned to be in the UFC at this point. I mean she was mauled in her debut by Ashlee Evans Smith, who as I mentioned last week, isn't a particularly high bar to clear in the division. She's fairly athletic and is quick and dexterous when kicking with either leg, but she tends to just throw attacks out with no process. On the ground she leaves herself wide open defensively in transitions. Robertson is just the type of aggressive grappler to take advantage of that. The opening round was very much back-and-forth, and much like Carmouche and Struve later on in the night, she favored grappling heavily over striking, and as a result was outstruck by a pretty large margin. She evened things out with consistent control, reversals, and guard passes to dominant positions.
Macedo showed that she was definitely the better striker of the two, but her inexperience seemed to show through because she was pretty eager to engage in grappling exchanges. The end came when Macedo successfully swept to top position and found herself defending an armbar. She was able to escape but Robertson managed to use the attempt to sweep to top position, achieve full mount, and in as Macedo tried to scramble back to her feet Robertson took her back and quickly locked in a rear-naked choke for the tap. You have to figure figure Macedo will be released after this, and she probably should be; but then again she's a looker so I could see the UFC giving her another shot.
Damir Hadzovic def. Marco Polo Reyes by TKO via strikes (2:03, R2)
This was probably Hadzovic's best performance to date after showing a pretty limited tool set up until now. He had rarely ever sought to mix wrestling into his game, and that made all the difference in this fight. On the feet they were pretty evenly matched with both men getting their licks in, but when Hadzovic changed levels and double legged Reyes to the canvas there seemed to be a shift in momentum. In round two he quickly got a hold of Reyes, dragged him to the ground with a body lock takedown, worked his way to mount, and flattened Reyes out once he gave up his back before pounding away for the finish. Reyes had quietly amassed a surprisingly decent UFC record, and is a solid win for Hadzovic, who might just be finally putting it together in the cage.
Ismail Naurdiev def. Michel Prazeres by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
This was the most unexpected result of the night for me. I was somewhat surprised that Prazeres lost (and annoyed because of course it happened when I finally decided to pick him in a non-gimme fight), but most of the surprise came from how he lost. His normally potent takedowns were largely rebuffed by Naurdiev who stuffed 10 of his 13 attempts; and even when we was able to get the fight to the ground, Naurdiev was usually able to sweep and exhibit a strong top game that Prazeres had a lot of trouble dealting with. On the feet Naurdiev had a similarly clear advantage. He rendered Prazeres gun shy everywhere the fight went, and I just really wasn't expecting that to happen. I honestly wasn't too familiar with Naurdiev prior to the fight, but after this performance he's got my full attention.
Carlos Diego Ferreira def. Rustam Khabilov by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
I saw Khabilov favored comfortably by a lot of people, and I didn't really understand why. Since impressively winning his first two UFC fights via suplex, he's largely been inconsistent in his performances, and although he came into this fight on a six-fight win streak, his previous fight was a decision he didn't deserve over Kajan Johnson (and he arguably lost his fight before that against Desmond Green as well), who on paper he should've beaten soundly. Even through that win streak he'd shown to be someone who just doesn't do much during fights if you can avoid his wrestling, and his performances seem to be getting worse and worse with each fight. Ferreira on the other hand had come into the fight on the strength of three-straight wins that were all strong performances that showed he was formiddable everywhere. Khabilov just seems utterly flustered with volume since he doesn't throw a ton of it unless forced to, and Ferreira really brought that out in spades. He wasn't very accurate, but he forced Khabilov to work constantly, and since Khabilov rarely shows any urgency in fights anyway, racking up points against him early is just smart gameplanning because he struggles to turn it up late. It was a clear-cut decision for Ferreira, who continues to roll and get better, while Khabilov really looks to have stalled out a bit despite having a pretty solid UFC record.
Damir Ismagulov def. Joel Alvarez by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
I won't lie; I was barely there for the opening bout on the card. One thing that did stand out was Ismagulov largely won the fight on the feet and with liberal use of body shots without attempting a single takedown. It was unexpected after his wrestling-heavy UFC debut. Then again I guess I shouldn't be too surprised since Alvarez is largely a grappler. Alvarez hung in there, but the fight looked to be essentially all Ismagulov for an easy 30-27.
And with that, UFC Fight Night Prague is in the books! As mentioned it was a pretty solid day of fights, even if the meat of them wasn't incredibly remarkable. Not a bad appetizer for next week's card, which is the real main course. I'll see you all next week for UFC 235: Jones vs Smith. Until then, sado out!