Top-to-bottom, UFC 229 was an amazing night of competitive fights. Taking place from inside T-Mobile in Las Vegas, Nevada, the sport’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, returned opposite Lightweight kingpin, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Also in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event was the third Lightweight great, Tony Ferguson, squaring off with a former champion in Anthony Pettis.
Miraculously, all four amazing Lightweights made it to fight night ... and I am eternally grateful.
Lightweight is Murky as Ever
During the actual fight, Nurmagomedov treated McGregor like any other opponent. He worked for the takedown, ground him into the mat, and went to work as his foe fatigued. At one point, Nurmagomedov did stand and jab at McGregor while catching his breathe, a decision thought by many to be certain death opposite the knockout artist. Instead, the exchanges were fairly even, and Nurmagomedov went right back to work in the next round.
Only one man was dropped by punches in last night’s main event, and it was not the Russian.
The aftermath was the opposite of standard Khabib. The usually reserved athlete ran out of the cage to fight a corner man, and a massive brawl broke out that took more than a couple minutes to contain. To my knowledge, it’s the worst post-fight scrap in UFC history, and it happened on the sport’s showcase night.
I don’t yet know what the outcome of all the drama will be. Somehow, I foresee the UFC using it to shaft Tony Ferguson and award McGregor another title shot. I really hope I’m wrong though, as “El Cucuy” vs. “The Eagle” has to happen.
The Weird King Retains
Tony Ferguson did get dropped by Anthony Pettis in a wild and entertaining fight, and detractors will use that against him when arguing who’s the best Lightweight in the world. Ultimately though, Ferguson gets dropped or hurt somewhat often — but it doesn’t matter until someone can actually stop him and prevent his rally.
“El Cucuy” did beautiful work once Pettis was trapped along the fence. He chased Pettis into that position with low kicks and front snap kicks, keeping Pettis on his back foot and jamming up his power kicks. Once Pettis accepted his position along the fence, Ferguson kept up the same two attacks but added in lots of jabs, body shots, and nasty elbows.
Pettis has a serious chin, and he was forced to rely on it.
The ending sadly was not satisfying. Pettis admitted to his coach that his hand was broken, and Duke Roufus made the correct call in stopping the contest. If it were a close fight or Pettis was winning, I could see sending him back out for five more minutes. However, Pettis was only going to get abused further, and without a right hand, it’s hard to imagine him winning via comeback knockout.
Pettis’ performed well, but UFC 229 was not his night. Instead, Ferguson extends his win streak to 11 in the sport’s most talent-rich division.
A Clash of Slow-Moving Titans
Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov was the perfect example of a Derrick Lewis fight. Almost immediately, he looked tired. Moments later, Volkov stunned him with shots and a body kick, sapping whatever energy Lewis had. Volkov had his way with “Black Beast” for most of the opening round, although Lewis did manage to gain top position briefly at the end of the round.
After the first, Volkov was completely willing to coast. Lewis was throwing quite literally nothing, which allowed Volkov to pick his shot with the occasional jab and snap kick. Every once in a while, Volkov would flurry and nearly finish his foe, but the stoppage never materialized.
The first round was fantastic. The second was awful. The third was going the same direction as the second, with Volkov landing occasionally and Lewis doing nothing. As a result, Lewis did have the chance to build up some energy and try the occasional haymaker. He struck out repeatedly, the fight dragged on, and then Volkov attempted to step into a knee and left his chin wide open.
An overhand landed flush, and Volkov fell to the mat. With less than 20 seconds remaining, Lewis hammered his skull into the canvas and sent him to sleep. Lewis won less than 30 seconds of this fight, but his shots were thunderous. For Volkov, the major mistake was playing with his food and not really pushing to finish Lewis at any point. He gave Lewis the full 15 minutes to land one punch, and it eventually happened.
- Dominick Reyes got a little tired in one of his few fights that moved passed the opening round. However, his technique was on point the entire bout, as he easily picked apart Ovince Saint Preux. Reyes does his best work with the Southpaw double threat: kicking high or to the body and pairing those kicks with a sharp cross. Saint Preux tried to eliminate that by switching stance, but the result was that Reyes drilled his body when opposite stance and lead leg when in the same stance. In addition, Reyes does a great job of playing with distance, feinting and shuffling forward before actually throwing. The Light Heavyweight prospect battered his foe, capping off an amazing showing with what was essentially a final second knockout ... even if it’s officially called a decision.
- Joe Rogan spent the entire fight talking about how sharp Jalin Turner’s rangy striking worked, and to his credit, the newcomer did look composed. However, Vicente Luque was walking him down and landing harder counter shots all the while. The end came when Turner attempted a spinning elbow and ate a couple right hands following the spin that sent him to the mat. Turner was still aware and defending, but Luque found an opening to drop some thudding shots that ended the contest.
The 26-year-old “Silent Assassin” has now won seven of his last eight bouts, and each victory has been a stoppage.
- The FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” card featured a pair of consecutive ground-and-pound stoppages. In the first, Scott Holtzman picked apart Alan Patrick, landing counter right hands repeatedly. Despite reportedly breaking both hands, Holtzman made his way into the mount, framed the face, and dropped a trio of concussion-inducing elbows (watch highlights). Immediately after, Aspen Ladd proved herself the real deal opposite Evinger, who dove in for an ugly takedown and paid for it. Ladd quickly moved to back mount, where she showed very strong hips in flattening Evinger out and trapping her in a terrible position.
- Nik Lentz brought the second head kick of the night in just the second fight. For the opening five minutes, Lentz dropped, rocked and battered Gray Maynard the entire time. Realistically, his corner would’ve been wise to throw in the towel, but instead Maynard went out a second time, fought competitively for about a minute, and then suffered another brutal knockout loss. Lentz’s kickboxing is crafty and under-appreciated, but hopefully this high kick helps separate him from the pack.
- In his Welterweight debut, Tony Martin shined with a well-rounded performance. He’s struggled in the past opposite grinding wrestlers, so on paper Ryan LaFlare seemed like a bad match up for the jiu-jitsu ace. Instead, Martin’s counter right hand connected over-and-over, and Martin’s first head kick attempt of the night scored him a third-round knockout win. It was a perfect example of the double threat when Southpaw and Orthodox fighters square off, as Martin’s cross landed so frequently that LaFlare slipped right into the high kick.
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