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UFC Fight Night 94 in Retrospect

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On paper, the UFC’s first venture to Hildago, Texas wasn’t exactly one to set the fans alight with anticipation.

With 24 fighters scheduled on the card, 18 of those 24 fighters were coming into Saturday night off of a loss. It wasn’t a card filled with much star-power either, but in terms of an excitement factor, this was an event that delivered some high-quality MMA. No fighter wants to go on a losing streak, especially in the shark tank of the UFC, so fighters came into Saturday looking to push the pace and made sure that they brought their A-game to UFC Fight Night 94, possibly no more so than in main event winner Michael Johnson.

Finding himself on a two-fight skid since beating Edson Barboza in February last year, Johnson was given no favours by being pitted against the high-flying Dustin Poirier heading into his very first UFC main event spot. Since Poirier’s return to 155 lbs, ‘The Diamond’ has put on some remarkable performances against the likes of Joseph Duffy and Bobby Green and looked to be on a collision course with someone from the division’s top five.

To Johnson’s testament, however, even with the back-to-back losses to Beneil Dariush and Nate Diaz, Johnson was still an ever-present in the lightweight divisions top 10 and displayed just why he was unmoved from that elite bracket against Poirier.

Throughout his UFC career, Johnson has shown strong fundamentals and an aptitude for fighting on the front foot.Possessing a stinging jab, a lengthy one-two and heavy leg kicks; Johnson has all the tools to make use of his athletic gifts in terms of speed and reach and used them to great effect in the first round of his last fight against Nate Diaz.

It had been expected that Poirier would be able to counter Johnson with his heavy hooks in this bout as he had against Bobby Green but Johnson had other ideas and his own counter-striking stylings were the decisive factor and were employed to devastating effect. Keeping a well-managed distance to retain his skill set, Johnson would start out peppering jabs and kicks towards Poirier and did so at a frenetic pace. That high work rate acted as a constant disturbance to Poirier’s footwork and he could never settle in position to throw his heavy counter punches and as a result was forced to always be on the move.

Clearly frustrated, Poirier had the decision to make to either close the distance himself or hope for a misstep in Johnson’s measurement of space and catch him cold. With 90 seconds gone, Poirier stepped forward with a one-two which raised the hands of Johnson in defence. From there, Poirier uncorked a massive uppercut hoping to get under the guard of the Blackzillians fighter but in his overcommitment to the punch, he was caught flush with a massive counter right hook to the chin and a left over the top.

The fight acted as a staunch reminder of the fine margins of error that come with the fight game and Poirier will now be left to climb the toughest division in the sport once again. For Michael Johnson, it was a much-needed win to remain in the picture and while he may not be gifted a title shot despite his pleas on the mic, he has certainly catapulted himself back into the upper echelons of the lightweight division.

In the co-main event, Derek Brunson continued his remarkable run at middleweight with his fourth consecutive first round finish over the enigmatic Uriah Hall. Much ado had been made over Hall’s bizarre UFC career heading into this bout with the talk yet again being over which iteration of the former Ultimate Fighter contestant we would see. Would it be the Hall who had blasted Gegard Mousasi with a spinning back kick or would it be the Uriah Hall who looks gun shy and hesitant in his attacks?

Truthfully, those questions weren’t fully answered with the short nature of the bout but the same habits that have gotten Hall into trouble in the past did re-occur and Derek Brunson made him pay the consequences.

By applying pressure and backing Hall up, Brunson removed the room needed for Hall’s kicking game and entered into the clinch early. Hall, to his credit, found a way out fairly sharpish and threw out a push kick in the hopes to get the fight into his wheelhouse. Brunson again came forward however and Hall was given little room to move or circle back into the middle of the Octagon. With Hall cornered, Brunson feinted the overhand left and Hall’s body reacted by moving out towards the faked punch with his hands down. Brunson quickly followed up on the feint and unleashed the left straight onto Hall’s exposed chin and dropped ‘Primetime’ to the mat.

Questions were raised as to the legitimacy of the stoppage as Herb Dean stepped in after some attempted ground and pound which on second viewing missed their mark but it appeared to be a matter of time before Brunson landed another conclusive blow. Elsewhere, wily veteran Evan Dunham put in a trademark performance against the short notice replacement Rick Glenn which consisted of all the staples of Dunham’s incredibly well-rounded game.

On the feet, Dunham landed at will and is one of the too few fighters who moves his head off the centre line when throwing combinations. Glenn had real trouble with Dunham stringing his strikes together (which almost exclusively finished with the left straight) and was totally evident in the stats as Dunham landed 144 significant strikes to Glenn’s 58 with 91% of Dunham’s strikes landing to the head.

For as sharp on the feet and dominating on the mat as he is, however, Dunham perhaps shines best in the clinch as he teed off with some thunderous knees and elbows when in close. In the third round, the disparity between the fighters on the night truly began to shine through though as Dunham continually found his mark. Dunham landed 85 of his significant strikes in that final stanza and it begs the question why there aren’t more corner stoppages in MMA?

Glenn was purely too tough for his own good and it comes down to a fighter’s corner to look after their fighters when the fight is getting too far away from their grasp. Glenn will undoubtedly make a return to the Octagon and perhaps will continue to fight at featherweight where he won WSOF’s 145 lbs title but stepping in on short notice against Evan Dunham is a mighty ask for any fighter, never mind one making their UFC debut.

All in all, UFC Fight Night 94 was an excellent fight card and you knew that this card would continue the streak of the ‘unappealing’ cards putting on the most exciting fights as soon as Chas Skelly ran out with a flying kick at the top of the show.


For the latest MMA news, live event coverage and more follow @mmalatestnws on Twitter.

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Interviews

UFC 219’s Jimmie Rivera to TJ Dillashaw “Defend Your Belt or Vacate.”

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest had the chance to talk to #4 ranked UFC bantamweight Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera ahead of his fight at UFC 219 against John Lineker.

Rivera (21-1) extended his unbeaten run to twenty when he defeated Thomas Almeida at UFC Long Island in July. Originally scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, we began by asking Rivera how the opponent change had affected his preparation for UFC 219.

The only thing that’s changed is the game plan, everything else stays the same. Cruz is more of an irritating fight because he just doesn’t stop moving, but with Lineker, he’s going to stay in the pocket and bang, and I love that.

Recently, Rivera posted a video to his Twitter account of him sparring with the recently crowned bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He told us about the context of this video, and how the sparring went down between them.

It was 3 or 4 years back. I think TJ had just lost to (John) Dodson on TUF. My teammate Louis Gaudinot was actually fighting Tim Elliott at the time, and we were in Milwaukee so I got to train with (Urijah) Faber and Dillashaw.

I just sent it to TJ to say, don’t forget what happened. I was getting the best of him, and I don’t really brag about it. But he wants to leave the weight class and fight DJ for the money fight, and I want to fight for the belt, so it’s defend your belt or vacate.

After briefly referencing the potential superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw, I asked Rivera about his thoughts on the somewhat flawed UFC rankings system, and title fights being put together purely for entertainment value.

It sucks. When I become champ I won’t be like a TJ or McGregor, I’m going to be like Demetrious Johnson and defend my belt against people coming up, it’s the right thing to do. If you want to win the belt and leave the division straight away, it’s kind of bullshit.

Rivera concluded by telling me that although he isn’t looking past Lineker at 219, “the only fight that makes sense after this one, is fighting TJ for the belt.”

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Announcement

Mark Hunt Returns to Fight Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221

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UFC 221 in Perth has officially added a another Australian to the main card. Joining Robert Whittaker is the knockout legend Mark Hunt.

The Daily Telegraph first reported that Hunt will be stepping into the octagon to face #9 Curtis Blaydes. Some weren’t sure if we would ever see Hunt fight again after he was pulled from the main event in UFC Fight Night 21 against Marcin Tybura. The UFC removed him due to “medical concerns” while Hunt was stating he was perfectly fine.

After getting evaluated and cleared to fight by Australian and American doctors, it looks like his time has come to return.  Hunt’s last fight was back in June when he derailed the Derrick Lewis hype train with a 4th round TKO win.

Hunt had been adamant about calling out #3 ranked heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and trying to get that rematch booked, labelling Werdum a “chicken shit” and a “coward.”

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes who has an 8-1 record, is coming off a TKO victory due to doctor stoppage at UFC 217 in November. Since losing to now title challenger Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, Blaydes has rattled off three straight wins over Alexey Oleynik, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Cody East.

With all this momentum from the win streak, Blaydes looks to capitalize and win the biggest fight of his career against Hunt.

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Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira Officially Booked for Belem, Brazil card

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The wait is over. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) will make her highly anticipated flyweight debut when the UFC returns to Brazil. She will face Priscila Cachoeira (8-0) on the February 3rd card scheduled for Belem, Brazil. Luciana Andrade was the first to report the match-up last week. On Tuesday, the UFC posted an article which stated the bout had been set.

Now that the flyweight tournament is over and the inaugural champion has her crown, many women shall migrate from the strawweight and bantamweight ranks in search of a more suitable weight class. The division is so infantile means a lot moving parts in the rankings. Yet, only women who fought at one hundred and twenty-five lbs. are ranked. Such practices muddy the title picture for the time being. Essentially ruling out the idea of Montano vs. Shevchenko for the first defense of the belt, illogical. An idea that floated around the internet until today’s confirmation of the newest female flyweight match-up. The TUF 26 winner, Nicco Montano called it, “kinda silly”, earlier this week while on The MMA Hour. Montano believes her first title defense, as it stands, should pit her against the original finalist of the flyweight tournament, Sijara Eubanks. Although Eubanks withdrew from the title fight, she is still ranked as the #1 contender in the division.

Shevchenko explained her desire for the flyweight belt on The MMA Hour, a week earlier than Montano, “For me it’s number one, to fight for the title… It doesn’t matter for me, if I have to have one fight before it, okay I will do it… my main goal is to be the champion… It doesn’t matter I move from one thirty-five to one twenty-five. My goal is still the same, to be the champion”. The Russian fighter is coming off an unsuccessful title shot in the bantamweight division against the current reigning champ, Amanda Nunes. The bout went to a decision after close five rounds, Nunes ultimately defeated Shevchenko via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).

Her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, is not only new to the UFCs female flyweight division but the promotion’s roster as well. Cachoeira originally was scheduled to make her promotional debut against veteran Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 26. The Brazilian fighter withdrew from the bout due to visa issues. As a professional, she is undefeated with four knockouts in her eight fights.

UFC Belem is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018. The card will feature Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm in the heavyweight division. It will also have Thiago Santos taking on Anthony Smith in the middleweight division.

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