From The Clinch: UFC 70: Nations Collide

From The Clinch: UFC 70: Nations Collide

–Coming to you live (sort of) from the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England.

–Your hosts, as always, are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Cheick Kongo vs. Assuerio Silva: Kongo shows up in ridiculously good shape; between the longer hair and thicker midsection, Silva looks like he’s had some quality vacation time between the Vera fight and tonight. Both men are coming off losses, but Silva needs a win here if he expects to continue fighting in the UFC.

Round 1: Kongo comes out right away and zips a jab and cross right into Silva’s chin; Silva, in turn, shoots in for a takedown, but Kongo defends well to start and gets free. Silva tries again, though, and takes Kongo to the mat, but Kongo ties up Silva effectively and eventually gets back to his feet. From his feet, Kongo fires out another pair of big punches, but finds himself flat on his back again after another Silva takedown. Fighting for position, Silva moves into side control and drops the occasional elbow, but Kongo rolls him over, gets top position, and starts working through his guard as the round ends.

Not the best round, but you can see a pattern developing here where Kongo is clearly the aggressor on his feet but doesn’t seem to have much of a clue on the ground.

Round 2: Right from the start, Kongo opens up on Silva–essentially a stationary target– with nasty left hooks, straight right crosses, and overhand rights, but Silva won’t go down. After about 30 seconds of taking fire, Silva shoots in for a desperation takedown, but Kongo sprawls out of it. Still, Silva hangs on and manages to get Kongo to the ground, then gets dominant position. From there, he hangs out in Kongo’s guard for what seems like an eternity, seemingly satisfied to maintain position but not to throw punches or advance. As everyone in the room and the arena are at the point where they’re audibly begging Mario Yamasaki to restart the fight, he calls time to check some loose tape on Silva’s glove. Mercifully, we get a restart, but Silva deflates the room by immediately taking Kongo down again. He moves from a variety of positions on the ground (half-guard, side control) but isn’t throwing punches or looking to apply submissions, and we end up here as the round comes to a close.

Silva keeps getting Kongo to the ground with minimal effort, but seems to have no idea what to do once he gets down there. When he’s on his feet, all he’s doing is getting punched in the face, so I guess that anything’s an improvement on that.

Round 3: Kongo comes out throwing high and low kicks, but Silva blocks all of them, so Kongo switches back to bouncing punches off Silva’s skull, which he’s much better at. Again, Kongo lands some very solid punches, but as soon as Silva seems to be in real trouble, he surges forward, scoops Kongo up by both legs, and gets a massive Hughes-esque slam right in the middle of the ring. Again, you’d think that Silva would be able to capitalize on such a big move, but Kongo ties him up and he doesn’t show much inclination to get free. Mario restarts them on their feet, which immediately goes poorly for Silva, as Kongo goes back to snapping his head back with crosses and other straight punches. Silva pulls Kongo into a clinch and tries to take him down, but Kongo falls on top of him and climbs into his guard. From there, he pounds away, trying to end the fight with punches, but the horn sounds to end the fight and Kongo rightfully wins the decision.

The Verdict: Apparently, Assuerio Silva is Brazilian for ‘Jake O’Brien,’ as this fight clearly mimicked the O’Brien-Heath Herring fight a few months ago. Silva kept getting dominant position in some fairly compromising spots, but either wasn’t interested in throwing punches or applying submissions or just didn’t know how to. Kongo, on the other hand, looked terrific on his feet but spent way too much time on his back. I can see why some people think that he’s a legitimate prospect, but he desperately needs to work on his takedown and ground defense to succeed in a division full of expert grapplers.

Terry Etim vs. Matt Grice: Here’s a battle of unbeaten lightweights—Grice used to wrestle for the University of Oklahoma, while Etim is from Liverpool, so while he’s hardly local, he’s clearly the crowd favorite tonight. I should note that Grice has a huge shoulder/bicep tattoo that’s still pink, which either means that he chose hot pink as a color or that he got the tat so recently that his skin is still irritated. Either way, it’s not so smart.

Round 1: Etim comes out firing, landing a big right hook and trying a flying knee, which Grice blocks; Grice, in turn, takes Etim to the mat, climbs into his guard, and starts unloading with head and body punches, scoring with almost every shot. Etim is still moving and defending, though, so Herb Dean allows the fight to continue; finally, after about 150 seconds of punishment, Etim gets free and manages to get back to his feet. From there, he lands a couple of quick punches and grabs a standing guillotine: he cranks away for quite a while, and Grice just barely manages to get his head free but is basically out on his feet now, meekly hanging on to one of Etim’s legs for dear life. Etim drops a few hammer fists onto Grice’s head, then reapplies the guillotine, leans back into guard, and cranks away until Mario Yamasaki stops the fight as Grice loses consciousness.

The Verdict: Yet another ringing endorsement for the lightweight division’s revival, this fight was essentially non-stop action, which was the perfect tonic for the audience after the plodding Kongo-Silva fight. You can’t help but feel a little badly for Grice, who dominated the majority of the fight only to get choked out at the end; on the other hand, Etim acquitted himself well after taking a pretty healthy beating early on.

Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic: Bisping knocked out Eric Schaefer in at UFC 66 in December, while Elvis is coming off a couple of submission wins in smaller promotions. Bisping literally runs down to ringside to Blur’s “Song 2,” which leads everyone in the room to joke that he’s trying to make it inside the octagon before the two-minute song is over.

Round 1: Both fighters trade punches and kicks to start, then Bisping catches an Elvis kick and literally shoves him to the ground. Bisping gets on top of Elvis and starts punching him in the face with his long arms; Elvis almost gets an armbar, but Bisping changes position into Elvis’s half-guard and keeps pummeling him. Bisping opens up three or four big cuts on Elvis’s face and continues to blast him without any response until the horn sounds to end the round.

Not much dispute over who won that round, really, and most of us are halfway expecting Mario to stop the fight based on Elvis’s cuts, but we move on to round 2 instead.

Round 2: Bisping starts out where he ended in the last round, landing a few punches and a couple of crisp kicks to the ribs, but Elvis almost rewrites the script when he pulls Bisping’s head down and knees him square in the jaw, knocking him down. He dives on top of Bisping and almost immediately straightens his arm into a kimura, but Bisping won’t tap, so Elvis moves to north-south position and then takes Bisping’s back. He looks for a rear naked choke, but Bisping simply rolls over on top of Elvis, spins so that he’s in Elvis’s guard, and pounds away until Mario stops the fight.

The Verdict: Everything was going so well for Bisping right up until he ate that knee in the second round, and after that, he could have been submitted or pounded out by a more well-rounded fighter. I like Bisping, but after watching him get outwrestled by Eric Schaefer and almost get submitted by Sinosic, I’m still not ready to pronounce him as heir apparent.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Fabricio Werdum: In his last fight, Arlovski knocked out Marcio Cruz at UFC 66, while Werdum’s making his UFC debut after a two-year stint in PRIDE.

Round 1: Arlovski scores immediately with a sharp right cross, but Werdum grabs the back of Arlovski’s head and smashes him in the face with a few punches, so Arlovski shoves him away. Both fighters trade, and Arlovski knocks Werdum down with a big right hook, but won’t follow Werdum to the ground for fear of getting submitted (Werdum serves as Cro Cop’s jiu-jitsu and ground guru), so he kicks away at Werdum’s legs until Werdum gets up. Once he gets back to his feet, Werdum charges at Arlovski, backing him up with four nasty hooks to his head, so Arlovski clinches him along the fence. After a brief clinch, both fighters go back to circling: Werdum tries a Superman punch but Arlovski counters with a quick uppercut, knocking him down. Again, Arlovski wants no part of a ground fight, so he backs away again. Both men go back to circling until the end of the round.

An interesting opening round with a fairly good amount of action, as Arlovski shows his usual power while Werdum’s standup looks roughly a hundred times better than advertised.

Round 2: Both men circle to start and Arlovski sprawls out of a Werdum takedown attempt; Werdum catches an Arlovski kick but Arlovski manages to shove Werdum away. Both men go into a stalemate of sorts, circling and very occasionally throwing strikes. To the delight of no one except Joe Rogan, Arlovski starts throwing leg kicks, swelling up Werdum’s left leg; Werdum scores with a nice little four-punch volley, but that’s about it until the last ten seconds of the round, when both men get in close and start trying to land haymakers until the horn.

If the entire round had gone the way of the last ten seconds, this would be a lot more entertaining. To that end, Herb Dean calls the fighters together before the start of the third and gives them a little lecture about fighting instead of retreating.

Round 3: Arlovski opens with a leg kick, but Werdum counters with a jab/cross condo, and that’s about it for the entire round. I wish that I was kidding here, but I’m not. The crowd boos lustily at certain points throughout the round, and rightfully so. Arlovski wins the decision by reputation, although the knockdowns in the first round didn’t hurt.

The Verdict: Ever since the second Sylvia fight, Arlvoski’s Achilles heel has always been his fear of another flash knockout. Against a non-striker like Marcio Cruz, he seemed to feel free to wade in and do damage, but I think that Werdum’s improved standup scared him off a little in the first round. Arlovski took more than a few shots and obviously kept his distance after Werdum caught him.

It’s pretty rare when someone beats a fighter of Werdum’s caliber and somehow manages to lose career momentum, but that’s the case here. Until Arlovski can get past the mental hurdle that his KO loss at UFC 59 has become, he’s not going to reach his full potential. And with the UFC heavyweight division quickly filling up with bonafide contenders, Arlovski’s going to need to be at the top of his game to get another shot at the title.

Gabriel ‘Napao’ Gonzaga vs. Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic: Cro Cop’s coming off his dominant UFC debut against Eddie Sanchez at UFC 67, while Gonzaga walked through Carmelo Marrero for an easy submission win at UFC 66. Conventional wisdom has Cro Cop as the heavy favorite here, though Gonzaga’s a step up in opposition from Sanchez.

Round 1: Both fighters come out and circle, as Gonzaga throws out a few jabs to put Cro Cop on the defensive. Cro Cop rips off a left kick to Gonzaga’s ribs, but Gonzaga catches it and puts Cro Cop on his back. Gonzaga climbs into the Croatian’s guard and starts firing punches through his guard: essentially taking a page from Randy Couture’s playbook, he walks Cro Cop over to the fence and starts blasting him from close range with elbows. He keeps repositioning and smashing Cro Cop in the head and body, and then, as inexplicably as anything, Herb Dean decides to stand both fighters up. Everyone in the room is up in arms, since Gonzaga was having his way with Cro Cop on the ground.

On the restart, both fighters circle and then Gonzaga makes history: with Cro Cop creeping closer, Gonzaga snaps off an enormous right head kick that connects perfectly, as Gonzaga’s shin cracks right on top of Cro Cop’s ear, instantly knocking him out. Cro Cop’s body goes slack so quickly that one of his feet gets trapped as he falls and his ankle rotates almost 180 degrees in a sick turn.

On the replay, we see that Cro Cop saw the kick coming but put his arms down to block a rib kick; only in the last split-second did he realize that Gonzaga was aiming for his head, and his face in that split-second is a mixture of horror and anticipation.

The Verdict: This easily ranks as the biggest upset of the year (in a year with some insane upsets) and possibly one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Not to take anything away from Gonzaga–whom Randy had actually picked to win the fight–but no one (and I mean no one) had any idea that he would dominate the 2006 PRIDE Grand Prix champ like that. And it’s not like it was a lucky shot, either: Gonzaga was dominating the fight before nearly kicking Cro Cop’s head off.

What’s next for Gonzaga? The title shot that was supposed to be Cro Cop’s.

As for Filipovic, he’s in uncertain territory: with three fights left on his UFC contract, he’ll need at least two more wins for a title shot, unless he destroys his next opponent (hopefully Arlovski) and Gonzaga pulls yet another career-making upset over Couture. Otherwise, he’s in the unenviable position of trying to angle for a title fight in his last contracted fight, which I’m not sure that Dana White’s willing to cooperate on.

The Final Verdict: Like UFC 67, this card didn’t exactly start off with a bang, as the plodding Silva/Kongo fight killed an extremely lively crowd. Luckily, that snoozefest was followed up by the ultra-exciting Grice-Etim and Bisping-Sinosic fights, and frankly, the main event didn’t disappoint, either (unless you’re a huge Cro Cop fan). While UFC 70 doesn’t quite measure up to the high standards of last year’s fantastic cards, it was certainly entertaining, and hey, we didn’t have to pay a dime for it. If you can catch a replay, do so, if only to get a chance to see one of the upsets of the decade.