After three weeks without a UFC card, fans were treated to a pretty entertaining night of fights from Lincoln, Nebraska. The main event had Justin Gaethje, so it had to be violent, but unlike Gaethje’s last several bouts, this one did not involve him absorbing a billion head shots. Oh no no no no no. Tonight it was Gaethje delivering the boom, as he clattered James Vick with a monstrous right hand to score a knockout win in just 87 seconds. What a phenomenal way to get back on track after consecutive defeats. As for Vick, hopes of a title shot took a major setback. He was wrecked by Beneil Dariush two years ago, and in his first main event, against a guy he called the “Homer Simpson of MMA” and often trashed throughout the lead-up to this fight, “The Texecutioner” became “The Texecuted.”
I did say that Gaethje had to show something different, regardless of result, for me to believe he can make a serious title run. A one-punch destruction still leaves some unanswered questions, but it’s nevertheless something different, an effective way to decrease head strikes absorbed, and it’s clearly a winning formula!
More thoughts on Saturday’s event:
- Who does Gaethje fight next? I don’t know. I’m not the matchmaker. If it were up to me, I’d do Gaethje vs. Kevin Lee, then just sit there with a grin on my face for a really long time. However, the UFC seems to have different ideas for Lee.
- I thought Andre Fili did enough to beat Michael Johnson, but I’m not too mad about the split decision going against him. Fili had little offense in the final round and had his opportunity to choke out “The Menace” in round 2, only to fail to capitalize. Johnson possibly saved his spot on the UFC roster with this win, so good for him. Not one to rewatch, though.
- At last, Cortney Casey gets a split decision in her favor! She’d been on the wrong end in her previous two fights, but against Angela Hill, the veteran strawweight eked out the win. I gave it to Casey 29-28 but can easily see Hill getting the nod. It was close and competitive throughout, and given what was at stake for Casey, she needed this in the worst way.
- Rather predictably and sadly, Jake Ellenberger got crushed by Bryan Barberena, but this knockout defeat led to Ellenberger to announce his retirement in front of his home fans. He was a fun, dangerous welterweight in his prime, but he really tailed off after the Rory MacDonald loss in 2013, and it’s been depressing seeing him decline so sharply. I wish all the best to “The Juggernaut” in retirement. If you want to remember Ellenberger in happier times, watch his debut vs. Carlos Condit, or his KO of Jake Shields, or his destruction of Mike Pyle.
- Deiveson Figueiredo is a PROBLEM for the UFC flyweight division. He has a punishing top game, serious strength, and very creative striking. John Moraga rarely gets completely demolished like that, and after dropping Figueiredo in the opening round, the Brazilian took over in round 2 and picked up the TKO win. Four straight wins, a “Tito Ortiz gravedigger” celebration, and an official announcement that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the division.
- Middleweight prospect Eryk Anders was far from convincing for much of his fight with heavy underdog Tim Williams, but he ended proceedings in tremendous fashion with a perfectly-timed head kick as Williams was getting off the round in the final minute of round 3. A legal strike, a vicious KO, and I guess for Anders, “a win is a win.” He has a lot to work on, and he even admitted he felt sluggish in the early stages.
- James Krause’s move to welterweight paid off brilliantly. He comfortably outstruck Warlley Alves, stuffed the takedowns, then put him away with a well-placed knee up the middle, followed by a combination of punches against the fence. A good standing stoppage by referee Kevin MacDonald, as Alves was totally out on his feet. Krause has won five straight, and this was his most impressive win of the lot.
- Wow! Cory Sandhagen must have special joints or something, as I thought his arm was gone a minute into his fight with Iuri Alcantara. He survived the armbar, hammerfists that busted his face open, then spent the rest of an amazing first-round beating the hell out of the Brazilian. The referee apparently was not satisfied with the amount of punishment delivered, so this saw a round 2, and Sandhagen became the first man to ever stop Alcantara with strikes. This should’ve never seen a round 2, bad job by the ref (who was apparently suspended for the rest of the night) and Alcantara’s corner, but take nothing away from Sandhagen. What toughness and skill to turn that bad start around, and the Colorado-based bantamweight is now 2-0 in the UFC.
- Andrew Sanchez picked up his first win since December 2016, gutting out a unanimous decision over fellow middleweight Markus Perez. It was a weirdly paced, grueling contest in which both men had their moments, but I thought Sanchez just did enough to edge it. Perez sure was trying to get the spinning elbow KO that he’d predicted, and while he landed at least once, the KO didn’t materialize.
- Welterweight prospect Mickey Gall bounced back from his first MMA loss by quickly taking down George Sullivan, followed by submitting him with a rear-naked choke. A nice win for Gall, as it only took 69 seconds to get Sullivan out of there.
- If you bet on Joanne Calderwood to win by submission… I want to see evidence. No one could’ve seen the Scotswoman tapping out Kalindra Faria by triangle-armbar in the dying seconds of round one, which she was losing up to that point. This marked a return to flyweight for Calderwood, and her first-ever submission victory was a beauty that hopefully gets her career back on track.
- Nebraska’s own Drew Dober, unable to compete in a 165-pound weight class as desired, returned to lightweight and whooped Guam’s Jon Tuck. The one-sided shutout decision puts Dober on a three-fight winning streak, and he looks so much better than early in his UFC career.
- Bantamweight Rani Yahya promised to make his late mother proud with a win at UFC Lincoln, as the submission specialist made Luke Sanders literally yell out “tap tap tap!” to a heel hook just 90 seconds into the fight. Yahya has quietly won seven of his last eight (although the quality of opposition means his callout of TJ Dillashaw is extremely unrealistic), and remains as dangerous as ever to deal with on the ground.