I know not everyone enjoys the early UFC cards, but I find them to be delightful. Wake up, get settled on the couch with breakfast, and take in several hours of face-punching viewing pleasure. Given there are times when I’m up in the wee hours finishing out articles like this, it’s an even greater bonus. However, what truly makes the early weekend cards awesome is when the action delivers the way UFC Copenhagen did. There were fights that were better than others, but there wasn’t a single one that felt like it dragged. There were several brutal KO’s. There were emotion-filled contests. Even freakish submissions, thanks again to the one and only Ovince Saint Preux. While it won’t compete for any Card of the Year awards, UFC Copenhagen delivered the goods. At the top, Jared Cannonier delivered an emphatic finish with heavy GnP on Jack Hermansson off an uppercut, effectively announcing his arrival as a true contender at middleweight. For a card that appeared to have little import on the surface, it sure as hell felt eventful.
Jared Cannonier: Let’s say this from the jump: Cannonier is one scary dude. This is the second time he walked into hostile territory and overthrew the hometown favorite and did so without blinking. Did you see the look on his face after the referee stopped the contest? Damn. I don’t know if there is anything this dude is scared of. Cannonier recognized what Hermansson was going to do and was ready for it. He fought off the takedowns. He checked some of the low kicks. And most importantly, he imposed his will once Hermansson’s confidence began to show cracks. Cannonier has suffered past defeats, but it seems he has taken lessons from those to shore up his weaknesses. In the process, he doesn’t seem to crack mentally himself… ever. He’s not getting a title shot with this win, but he could end up in a title eliminator. I don’t think there were very many of us who saw this coming when he cut to middleweight.
Mark O. Madsen: There’s no doubt Madsen’s debut was impressive. He blew through Danilo Belluardo like he wasn’t there. However, he was given Belluardo for the express purpose of Madsen securing an impressive victory in front of his fellow countrymen. Let’s not get too excited about Madsen beating up one someone who has no business being in a UFC cage. I’m not saying Madsen doesn’t have a bright future. I’m saying we should remain temperate until we see what he can do against a legit opponent. Nonetheless, Madsen did what he was supposed to do. We can’t ask for more than that.
Gilbert Burns: For the second time in a row, Burns steps in on short notice on a European card to secure a win at welterweight. I think it’s safe to say he’s officially fighting at 170 at this point. It’s not like he’s done it against subpar competition either. Remember, just a few years ago, some thought Gunnar Nelson was going to be a title contender by this time. While Nelson hasn’t progressed that far, he’s still a quality opponent and Burns executed a smart strategy. Attacking the leg that Nelson always leaves out there in his karate stance, mixing in some takedowns, and being more active with his hands was brilliant. Did I mention the flying knee that landed flush in the second? That was a thing of beauty too.
Ion Cutelaba: Not trying to brag, but I had a hunch Cutelaba would prove to be a bad stylistic matchup for Khalil Rountree. I was proven right as Cutelaba stayed in the face of Rountree, taking him down multiple times and making it difficult for Rountree to launch any of his range attacks before finishing with brutal ground strikes. Cutelaba’s aggressive approach won’t work against everyone, but it worked out perfectly here.
Nicolas Dalby: Dalby owes his victory to referee Rebin Saber, but it’s not like Dalby told Saber to stand them up despite Oliveira being busy on the ground. Regardless, Dalby took advantage of the opportunities presented to him – which is exactly what a fighter is supposed to do – which allowed him to outwork Oliveira over the final two minutes of the fight and walk away with an upset victory. It was a special moment for a man who was down and out a few years ago, struggling with alcoholism and depression. Regardless of the legitimacy of the win, it’s the type of feel-good story you can never get enough of.
John Phillips: I got a feeling his association with Conor McGregor had something to do with Phillips getting a fourth opportunity after going 0-fer-3, but the hard-hitting Welshman made the most of it. Within seconds, he met Alen Amedovski in the middle of the cage and they threw down. Both landed some clean shots, but it was Phillips chin that held up. He swarmed Amedovski after he went down and picked up a badly needed win in just 14 seconds.
Makhmud Muradov: There were certainly points to criticize with Muradov’s performance – enough with the head shaking, buddy – but there was far more to be impressed with. Coming in on short notice, Muradov took the fight to Alessio Di Chirico, landing more volume and throwing heavy leather against a solid UFC vet. Some may point out Muradov flagged down the stretch, but those same people should also be aware that Muradov took the contest on short notice. Represented by Floye Mayweather, it’s worth seeing where Muradov goes from here simply because of that fact. Against Di Chirico, he gave us even more reason to pay attention.
Ismail Naurdiev: If you want to know how to rebound from a deflating loss, ask Naurdiev. He executed that to perfection, trucking over an always tough Siyar Bahadurzada, making it look easy in the process. Early on, he was the one applying the pressure on Siyar, a bit of a surprise given the longtime veteran’s tendency to wade forward. Naurdiev’s rapid firing of his kicks and punches threw off Siyar and he never recovered. Throw in a few well-timed takedowns and it’s hard to find fault with the Austrian Wonderboy’s performance. Once again, there is some hype in his wagon.
Giga Chikadze: A mistake in the reading of the scores put a hell of a scare into Chikadze – and the rest of us – but this were eventually sorted out and Chikadze was rightfully declared the winner over Brandon Davis. The former professional kickboxer showed he’s been working on his ground game, scoring a nice reversal on Davis in the first to steal it from the UFC vet. After a strong second round, he faded in the final round, but it didn’t matter as he’d done enough to seal up the win. If he continues to progress on the ground, he’ll be a fun action-fighting addition to featherweight.
Lina Lansberg: I had stated on Twitter before Lansberg clashed with Macy Chiasson that Lansberg was tough. I still didn’t give her enough credit in that department. She ate everything Chiasson threw at her in the first round only to come storming back in the next two rounds. She didn’t deal a lot of damage to Chiasson, expending most of her energy simply controlling the massive prospect. Nonetheless, it was enough to secure the biggest upset on the card, derailing the TUF champion’s momentum. No one is about to mistake Lansberg for a title contender, but she looks like the type of scrappy gatekeeper the division badly needs.
Marc Diakiese: It appears safe to say Diakiese’s rebirth is for real. The talented young Englishman took a very methodical approach to his contest with Lando Vannata, picking apart his flashy counterpart piece by piece. He started by taking out his base with low kicks to the calf, moved to attempted takedowns and working in the clinch, before finally controlling Vannata on the ground once he got him there. I never expected this type of maturity from Diakiese after his three-fight skid, but he’s remade himself. Glad to see it.
Jack Shore: While I expected the former Cage Warriors champion to open his UFC career with a victory, I didn’t expect complete domination of Nohelin Hernandez. It wasn’t just mat control either, an aspect that didn’t surprise. He outstruck his American counterpart, an area where Hernandez was expected to have the advantage. Part of the domination can be attributed to how flat Hernandez looked. Regardless, the Welshman looks like he could be yet another exciting addition at bantamweight.
Debutants: There wasn’t a single fighter who made their debut who came up short in Copenhagen. Shore, Chikadze, Muradov, and Madsen were all successful. That number looks even better if you want to count Dalby’s return to the organization. Sure, it wasn’t a debut, but it was a return. Either way, those who were previously outsiders made their presences known.
Jack Hermansson: As a caveat, I don’t think this is the highest Hermansson is going to climb. He’s hit some roadblocks before, learned from them, and come back stronger. I see no reason why he won’t rebound from this loss when it seems he could have won with some adjustments. That said, this loss hurts a lot. He had a lot of momentum on his side that won’t be easy to get back now that he’s cracked the top ten. He seemed to shoot himself in the foot when he insisted on going to the ground, only for Cannonier to stifle those attempts. I don’t know if it was Cannonier’s low kicks that thwarted him – they were brutal – but Hermansson wanted nothing to do with Cannonier on the feet even though there were signs he could win that battle. Nonetheless, like I said, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t rebound from this loss.
Danilo Belluardo: Everyone knew Belluardo was a lamb being led to a slaughter. Thus, he shouldn’t get crapped on too much for his loss to Madsen. Nonetheless, it has to sting like hell for him to go down the way he did, scoring no significant offense and getting thrashed in just over a minute. For his own good, I’m hoping the UFC cuts him loose and lets the youngster try and improve on the regional scene. That would be the best thing for him.
Gunnar Nelson: I think what frustrates me with Nelson is there is never any change in his approach. I get that it works against most of the division. But Nelson has clearly hit a ceiling and I’ve seen no adjustments to try and bust through. His karate stance still invites opponents to chew up his leg. He still doesn’t produce much volume. He can still be bullied by more physical opponents. Nothing was different in his loss to Burns. There is still plenty of wins out there for Nelson, but he’s going to be on the fringes of the rankings for a while yet unless he makes some adjustments.
Khalil Rountree: Even as disastrous as the outcome was for Rountree, I still saw enough improvement in Rountree’s ability to get back up following a takedown to have me believe Rountree is still getting better. Aside from that… yeah, it was terrible. Rountree didn’t have the grappling to reverse Cutelaba’s momentum and ended up getting bulldozed. I doubt Rountree will ever be a contender – much to the disappointment of many – but is being an action-fighting KO artist really that bad of a fate?
Ovince Saint Preux: At first glance, I felt like OSP fell into another win via Von Flue choke – or should I say, the Von Preux? Upon further review, my colleague Zane Simon was totally right. OSP allowed Oleksiejczuk to wear himself out early battling against OSP’s massive frame. Had Oleksiejczuk stuck to the boxing he may have been okay. Wrestling with OSP screwed him over and OSP did a fantastic job setting up the Von Preux. That’s a submission a fighter gives to their opponent. This time, OSP took it, actually throwing Oleksiejczuk’s arm above his head to help him find the sub. I’m still low on OSP’s future as he did look like crap in the opening round – I gave Oleksiejczuk a 10-8 – but he found a way to pull out the win yet again.
Alen Amedovski: Well, I guess he lived up to his reputation as a slugger. It’s too bad he’s the one who went down when he collided with Phillips. The hope here is the UFC doesn’t punish Amedovski for fighting the way they hoped he would. It wouldn’t be surprising if they did as his debut against Krzysztof Jotko was terrible to watch. Regardless, things couldn’t have gone worse for Amedovski.
Siyar Bahadurzada: Siyar’s performance against Naurdiev was more reminiscent of his injury plagued stretch early in his UFC run. I can’t confirm Siyar was limited in any way coming into the contest, but he didn’t look good at all. Compared to Naurdiev, Siyar was moving through molasses. It could even just be age and mileage catching up to Siyar. He’s 35 and has been in this game since he was a teenager. It’ll be hard for me to pick Siyar moving forward without further explanation.
Brandon Davis: Davis was going in this column regardless of whether the correction to the scorecards was made. He lost that fight to Chikadze and nothing was going to change my mind. I know what I saw. Davis was lazy with his entries and his positioning on the ground. I don’t know if that’s a habit of his or if he didn’t have any respect for Chikadze, but it isn’t excusable either way. I’ll never question Davis’ heart or endurance, but his fight IQ and preparation continue to be major issues.
Macy Chiasson: While I do believe this loss will benefit Chiasson in the long run, it certainly stings right now. Chiasson, as she always does, came out aggressive in hopes of overwhelming Lansberg. Lansberg not only survived, she still had enough in the tank to fight back after a round. Chiasson pretty much exhausted herself and was unable to fight off the pressure of Lansberg. Chiasson is young and she should learn a lot from this loss – most importantly, the value of conserving energy – but this still feels like a contest she should have won.
Lando Vannata: I almost didn’t want to put Vannata here. Vannata didn’t do anything stupid to put himself in a bad position. He was looking to utilize a fundamental attack with a bit of flash mixed in there, which is the right approach. He was just physically overwhelmed by the athletic freak that is Diakiese. Aside from a flash KO, I didn’t see a route to victory for Vannata so long as Diakiese fought intelligently. He did just that and Vannata couldn’t hang with him. The UFC brass still has a liking for Vannata, so expect him to come back with a more favorable matchup.
Nohelin Hernandez: I liked what I saw out of Hernandez in his UFC debut against Marlon Vera. There wasn’t a damn thing I liked this time around against Shore. He was tentative, refusing to let his fists go out of fear of the takedown. In the process, he did NOTHING. He may not be comfortable with his new camp, so there’s still hope. Regardless, he can’t come out like that again, whether it’s in the UFC or on the regionals.
Rebin Saber: I had to look up his name, but Saber’s name could end up floating around quite a bit in the wake of the terrible job he did in the Dalby-Oliveira contest. Not only did he stand up the fight at a terrible time, he let Oliveira call a timeout off an eye poke. I’m not saying Oliveira wasn’t poked in the eye. The replay seemed to show he was. But Saber clearly didn’t see it and let Oliveira dictate the time. A ref needs to call things as he sees it and Saber didn’t. What may be a positive for him; it’s doubtful we’ll hear his name on the UFC scene again.
Michal Oleksiejczuk: I know many will disagree with me given Oleksiejczuk dropped the ball, but he looked like a million bucks before that point. His body work was highly impressive, forcing OSP to retreat most of the opening round. Most slept on Oleksiejczuk when he first entered the UFC – myself included – but he has proven his frantic pace and boxing are difficult for most to deal with. Even in the loss, by belief in what Oleksiejczuk can do moving forward grew. He’ll come back stronger… and hopefully with an idea of what to do when he falls on his back.
Alex Oliveira: Legal issues aside, I can’t call Oliveira a loser given he was on his way to a win before that terrible standup took place. I’m not saying it was a good performance for him as he faded badly in the second. However, he did get a takedown early in the third and was staying busy enough in half guard that the referee had no good reason to stand up the contest. Had they stayed on the ground, Oliveira was on his way to a win. Oliveira did what he needed to pick up a win. It’s too bad for him the referee saw fit to take it away.
Alessio Di Chirico: Though I agreed with the decision to give Muradov the win, I could have seen the judges going in favor of Di Chirico. He landed some heavy counters in rounds one and two that could have potentially stolen each of those rounds. It was a far more spirited performance than he had against Kevin Holland, enough so that I’m willing to say Di Chirico deserves his roster spot, something I wasn’t sure of heading into this contest. Here’s hoping he can continue to improve.