Coming off of a real tomato can of a card at UFC 230, fight fans around the world were ready for the octagon door to shut in Toronto, Canada for a stacked event featuring not one, but a pair of championship bouts. This is a fantastic time, all-around, to be a fan of mixed martial arts, particularly in the UFC as every division has something to peak fans interests (especially now that they’re doing away with the miserable flyweight division – feel free to @PGBL_ with your angry responses to this; I’m prepared to die on this hill). With the likes of Jon Jones, Nate Diaz and Brock Lesnar soon making their returns, the addition of Ben Askren to spice up the welterweights and dominant champions like Khabib and Cormier (must be somethin’ in the water at ol’ A.K.A.), Dana White and co. were ready for UFC 231 to begin a great few months of fights… and it surely did not disappoint.
(Editor’s note: L had no liquid fight accompaniment for this event – completely stone-cold sober. So, please strap in for a completely rational and level-headed review)
Thiago Santos def. Jimi Manuwa (KO/TKO – Round 2)
This fight went exactly as you would expect a fight to go for a man that tattooed a medieval hammer on his chest. Santos came out throwing absolute nukes in the direction of the then 17-4 Manuwa. After an initial flurry, Manuwa more than held his own, clearly showing he was up for a war, and ensuring fans that this fight would not even sniff the final horn. Santos likely won the first round, but that proved irrelevant in the second, when Thiago connected with this absolute monstrosity:
It’s crazy to think that most of us will live 70-80 years on this planet and will never know what it’s like to get hit that hard. I am one of those people. Unfortunately, for Jimi, he is not. This was an excellent, brutal and incredibly fun start to the show.
Hakeem Dawodu def. Kyle Bochniak (Decision)
It has to be a miserable feeling for a fighter to come into the fight with a game plan, only to quickly realize that your opponent was more than prepared for this plan. It has to be even more demoralizing when you have a game plan, execute it as you intended and it does nothing. Kyle Bochniak had a clear plan from the opening bell to kick the quicks right off Hakeem Dawodu’s legs – and he was connecting. The only problem for Bochniak, is that this accomplished nothing. Dawodu wore these kicks like Bochniak was a straw-weight, and it was clear “Mean Hakeem” was going to control this one. He did, putting on a slow-burning, technical masterpiece, picking apart the over-matched Bochniak. The official decision also raised a lot of eyebrows as one judge gave the nod to Bochniak, 29-28. Dawodu and Joe Rogan both didn’t like this too much, and neither did I. Let’s leave the absurd scorecards to boxing, please.
Gunnar Nelson def. Alex Oliveira (Submission – Round 2)
I’m trying to think of the best way to summarize this fight for you guys. Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs? Kind of like that, but featuring a Brazilian and an Icelander (Would’ve made for a hell of a match-up on the World Cup pitch last summer). Honestly, I had never watched an Alex Oliveira fight before, and a few things stuck out right away. He hit Nelson in the back of the head (like a cheater), then blatantly grabbed the fence to prevent a take down (like a cheater). He also, is not named Donald Cerrone, but is nicknamed “Cowboy” (like a poser). So needless, to say, Oliveira did not make a solid impression on me as a fight fan. And boy oh boy, was he busted open. A crimson mask for the ages. I was glad his face looked like that scene from Blade. But, actually, this was not easy to watch as Nelson connected on a sadistic elbow, quickly followed into a back mount and a rear choke. Surely, this would have been called quickly after, had cheater-man not tapped. An excellent return for Gunnar Nelson, indeed.
Valentina Shevchenko def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (Decision)
I fan-boyed over this one, and I’m not too proud to admit it. I love Joanna. I love everything about her. I love the way she fights, I love the way she looks, I love the way she talks. I am #TeamJoanna through and through. However… HOWEVER… she looked about two weight classes below Valentina in that octagon. Granted, Joanna was wearing sweatpants but it’s absolute bananaland that Joanna outweighed “The Bullet” by a half pound on Friday at the weigh-ins. Jedrzejczyk was her lightning quick self from the outset, but wasn’t connecting with any of her strikes. Midway through the first, Shevchenko performed a brutal take down that echoed through the arena, and it was clear that #TeamJoanna may have a problem on their hands. The first three rounds were controlled (not dominated, as some people have said), by Valentina. Surely winning the first three, she still hadn’t inflicted a ton of damage on her Polish foe, but her take downs and Joanna’s inaccuracy with her striking meant that Shevchenko surely had a strong lead. Joanna took round 4, with some nice take down defense and nice few flurries of strikes, as Valentina began to gas. She regained her poise, however, winning round 5 and getting the unanimous decision. Hats off to the new champion in the women’s flyweight division (but please hurry back, Jo-Jo).
Main Event: Max Holloway def. Brian Ortega (KO/TKO – Round 4)
In our Maaaiiiinnnnnn Eeeeeeeevent of the Evening, we saw the Blessed one take on Brain “T-City” Ortega, for Holloway’s featherweight strap. Do you guys know when Holloway’s last loss was? If you said over five years and twelve fights ago, against the one and only Conor Mcgregor, then you would be correct. Holloway is quickly becoming a popular choice for featherweight G.O.A.T., but actually came into this scrap with Ortega as the underdog, possibly due to his
injury illness bad weight cut that kept him off of the July card (also set against Ortega). This was a classic MMA styles clash, as the excellent striker, Holloway, was going up against a Gracie black-belt in Ortega. Holloway controlled most of this fight however, as his striking was absolutely on point. It was interesting how little Ortega seemed to try and get Holloway to the ground, where he would have the clear advantage. The handful of times he was able to take Holloway down, the Blessed one was able to get back up with relative ease. I’m interested to listen to some opinions, hopefully including Ortega’s himself, about what went wrong with the jiu-jitsu side of things. On the feet, Ortega was able to get a few licks in on the champion, but Hollway ultimately wailed on Ortega in the third and fourth. But Ortega would not go down. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy take that many strong shots to the chin in this sport and not hit the canvas.
Ortega’s toughness was on full display as he was declared a TKO loser by the doctors after his eye swelled shut, to the point of dangerously low visibility. In other words, Ortega’s body gave in before he did – and that takes championship level toughness. I’m hoping we get a rematch between these two, as they are clearly two of the best in the world, and put on a great, great, great main event.
A truly great night of fights, and as I mentioned above, it’s only going to get better over the next few months. Let’s strap in ladies and gentlemen, as UFC 232 returns to Vegas on the 29th of this month. I’ll be back on the 30th with a full recap of how Alexander Gustafsson kicked Jon Jones’ head into the upper deck. Until then, this is MMA L, signing off.