The UFC’s international adventures continue in Singapore, a country so far on the other side of the world that the UFC had to cater to their timezone and force us poor North Americans to get up at 8AM (or 5:30AM for the hardcore fans). Those that got up really early or simply watched the prelims at their leisure on Fight Pass were in for a treat.
This is another one of those cards where the hungry fighters off the main card outshone their higher profile brethren. Do yourself a favor and check out the Li Jingliang vs. Frank Camacho fight to see what I mean. But there’s still a lot to talk about regarding the main card, so let’s get down to it.
Same gameplan, different results
For the past year and a half people have watched Holly Holm struggle and lose three in a row, wondering why she was having so much trouble putting everything together. This was following her massive head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey that turned her overnight into the second best known female fighter on the roster. But if you tracked her UFC career before that fateful night in Melbourne, you'd know she suffered from the same tentative fighting style that we saw afterwards during her slump. She just managed to edge those fights on the scorecard.
Saturday night in Singapore was more of the same Holly, it just ended with a different result. Up until a question mark kick that fooled Correia to block down low then caught her hard in the face up high, their main event fight was an atrocious affair. The most significant moment? Referee Marc Goddard warning both fighters for timidity, saying "I respect the gameplan and what you're trying to do, but you have to make something happen, okay?"
Not something you see during a fight of the night performance #MMA #UFC pic.twitter.com/ZucIv5EawT— Ryan Harkness (@Ryan_Harkness) June 18, 2017
Fortunately in the third round we got a big highlight finish and that largely erased a lot of the bad vibe building up in the 8000 strong Singapore Indoor Stadium crowd. But what came before certainly doesn't build up much confidence that Holly holm is "back" or deserving of another title shot.
Rather, it just confirms what we've known about her since she arrived in the UFC: she's got a cannon of a leg, but struggles to use it or her many other weapons if her opponent isn't blindly rushing in to attack her. In that way, Correia was supposed to be the perfect fighter to face her, but even Bethe knew what's up with Holm and refused to play her game. That doesn't bode well for Holly’s future, or our chances of seeing more backflips in the cage down the line.
Speaking of fights that don't bode well for the future of a fighter's career, Andrei Arlovski lost his relative gimme of a fight against Marcin Tybura, a fighter that sat down in the #13 spot in the heavyweight rankings. I don't want to paint former M-1 champ Tybura as a bum by any means, but up until this point Arlovski's four fight losing streak featured the best of the best at heavyweight. No shame in losing to men like Miocic, Overeem, Barnett, and Ngannou. Losing four in a row certainly isn't a good look, but still.
In this decision loss to Tybura, we lose that ability to explain away Arlovski's skid. And it's not just on paper, either. Watching the fight was a frustrating affair because Andrei clearly had a massive striking advantage on the feet but squandered nearly every opportunity to exploit it by clinching up against the cage with Tybura. For his part, Tybura took full advantage of his ground abilities, putting Arlovski down on the mat for the majorities of round 1 and 3 to take a not close at all decision over the former UFC heavyweight champ.
STRONG end of round for @AndreiArlovski!!#UFCSingapore pic.twitter.com/HYRDJaiErZ— UFC_Asia (@UFC_Asia) June 17, 2017
While the new WME-IMG owned UFC seems more interested in cutting vast swathes of prelim fighters from its rosters than meticulously weeding out familiar names on a losing streak, I have to wonder what's next for Andrei after this uninspired loss. Will the UFC keep him simply based on his pedigree and his ability to fill the upper regions of far flung Fight Night cards? Or will he be released into the wild where other declining heavyweights like Bigfoot Silva continue to fight (and decline further)? I don't know which option sounds worse.
Grounded in doubt
MMA these days seems to be going through a little crisis with its rules. Recent changes make sticking your hands out with fingers extended a foul, and we occasionally hear referees warning fighters about it ... not that it ever results in a point deduction even after someone's cornea gets penetrated. And when it comes to grounded opponents, we now have two different sets of rules and very few people who seem to understand which are in play at any given location, or what they may be.
In the Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tarec Saffiedine fight, we saw the confusion surrounding downed opponents continue as dos Anjos got away with hitting Saffiedine twice while he was clearly grounded with a knee on the mat. The ref should have called it, but didn't for some reason. But can we blame him? It took the UFC announcers a while to come to the conclusion that the knees were illegal too, despite them being blatantly so on their face. What the hell is going on? The only thing I can think to explain it is we're currently so wrapped up on whether a hand is touching the ground and what that means that everyone completely overlooked the much more simple status of Tarec's knee.
It's all a sign that grounded fighter rules have become dangerously convoluted. You can only expect so much out of fighters in the cage as they pummel each other, and it has become clear over the past few months that the current standards have everyone in a perpetual state of confusion. Are we in a region where one finger touching the mat is grounded? Or is it two palms down on the ground? If a fighter's body gets jerked up just enough so the palms aren't flat before a massive knee to the undefended face is delivered, is that legal now? Are all illegal knees accidental unless malice is shown? Every event adds another wrinkle to the rules and none of this is making the fighters safer. In a lot of instances it just results in them not protecting their heads before a knee that may or may not be called in any meaningful way smashes into it.
The only silver lining here is the dos Anjos vs. Saffiedine wasn't stopped and waved off entirely as we've seen a few times now with other grounded opponent SNAFUs. But somewhere in the process of these new rules and the partial implementation, things have gone very wrong.