Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) journeyed to Beijing, China, last night (Nov. 24, 2018) for UFC Fight Night 141. In the main- and co-main events, four of the world’s top Heavyweights threw down, including a rematch with high divisional relevance. Elsewhere on the card, some of China’s best prospects fought to make their country proud. If you’re reading this, you most likely did not stay up in the late night/early morning to watch this event. A wise choice, but luckily, I suffered for you, so let’s break down the most interesting fights and techniques of what turned out to be a very entertaining night of fights.
Ngannou Is Unique!
It was understandable why Ngannou was written off by so many ahead of this fight. He’s performed poorly in his last two fights, whereas Blaydes has been the picture of consistency. Where was Ngannou’s head at? Where was his improvement? These were legitimate questions ahead of last night’s main event.
Then, Ngannou landed a single right hand and sent Blaydes to the floor in 44 seconds (watch it).
This short fight didn’t answer every question, but it did show that Ngannou is not just going to washout of the top five without a fight. He’s still an insane physical talent and young for the division — it’s almost certain he’ll capture the belt at some point in the next five years if he simply competes consistently. He’s that type of talented, and many of us who predicted a Blaydes victory forgot a bit too quickly.
A New Era of The Reem?
A new form of Overeem emerged last night, as the veteran shed his “Econoreem” skin to become something a bit different. Rather than dance around the outside and time his foe coming in, Overeem kept a tight defense stance and looked for openings to clinch. From that range, Overeem worked hard knees until the opening for a takedown arose, at which point he threw Pavlovich to the mat. On top, Overeem was precise with his ground strikes, waiting for an opening to unload and end the contest in the first round.
I like this new development for Overeem. At distance, his focus was on defense (important!) and kicking, something he’s great at. Once in the clinch, very few Heavyweights — if any! — can compete with Overeem from that range. His knees are devastating and his takedowns crafty, and it’s generally much more difficult to generate knockout power from that distance unless you can throw knees like Overeem.
In truth, most Heavyweights cannot wrestle well for more than a couple minutes. Overeem definitely can, even if that’s not his longtime approach to fighting. This is a very safe strategy for Overeem against much of the division, although it will be interesting to see how he deals with a wrestler he’s unable to toss.
Chinese MMA is No Joke
There’s a lot more detail in the additional thoughts section regarding specific fights and performances, but on the whole, China’s athletes did fantastic last night. Most telling, all three women won their fights — a pair of finishes and a dominant decision. I don’t know enough about Chinese culture to explain why it is, but there’s a very clear trend that each of those women were superior strikers than the average female fighter from another country.
Specifically, Zhang Lei looks like she’s ready for the Strawweight title mix right now. I mentioned Song Yadong as China’s best hope for a championship earlier in the week, and the prospect did score a victory in impressive fashion. That said, after watching Lei destroy Jessica Aguilar like she wasn’t even there, Yadong has a true rival to that position.
Last night was extremely promising for Chinese MMA, and the new UFC facility (details) will help tremendously. Expect the MMA landscape to change in the new few years.
- Li Jingliang defeats David Zawada via knockout: Jingliang is a completely different fighter when he relaxes. In the first, he was tense and trying to throw for the kill — a combination that saw Jingliang get dropped and largely picked apart. By the second, however, Jingliang settled into the fight. First, his head movement improved dramatically. Before long, his sense of distance dialed in. Adding to this momentum shift was the continually landing low kicks, which were very effective in limiting Zawada’s offense and general movement. Then, out of nowhere, a random side kick to the midsection ended the fight! Regardless, this really was a clear example of how important the mental game is in MMA.
- Zhang Lei defeats Jessica Aguilar via armbar: Lei absolutely mauled a veteran for her 18th straight victory. Lei is a physical specimen at 115 pounds, demonstrated as she slammed Aguilar to the mat and advanced into the mount quickly. Aguilar was already bleeding heavily from an elbow, but that didn’t stop Lei from locking in a triangle. Once in the triangle? Even more elbows from the Chinese athlete, who switched to an armbar to secure to the tapout. Considering Lei is best known for her kickboxing, this was an incredible showing, one that should shoot her into the top 10 and see her square off with a contender next. Perhaps the most impressive performance of the night!
- Liu Pingyuan defeats Martin Day via split-decision: This was a really great showing from a pair of Bantamweight prospects. Day’s kickboxing was nasty, as he maintained range with spinning kicks and snap kicks. Whenever Pingyuan closed that distance, Day shredded his mid-section by doubling up on body hooks. Pingyuan, meanwhile, did a great job of countering kicks: both by chopping out the base leg and countering with his right hand. Pingyuan actually broke his right hand in the second, but that didn’t stop him from rallying back in the third to score a knockdown and steal the fight back from Day, who seemed in complete control at that point.
- Kevin Holland defeats John Phillips via rear-naked choke: Holland is a funky, funky dude. Early on, he picked apart his brawling foe, digging a dozen or so kicks into his belly and forcing him on the defensive. Phillips is technically mediocre, but the man is tough, and he tried to turn things around with some power shots in the second. Finally, Holland remembered his jiu-jitsu brown belt in the third round, easily taking his foe down and submitting him. Holland still has to improve his cage positioning, but his creative offense — which included a mix of snap kicks and kick-punch combos — makes him one to watch.
- Louis Smolka defeats Su Mudaerji via armbar: Smolka returned to the Octagon to score a relatively easy finish, and his top game remains quite dangerous. The rest of his attack, though? Smolka pressured well enough but his wrestling was plain sloppy, as Smolka shot high-crotch singles from far out and basically dove his face into the mat. Nevertheless, his grappling and scrambling were so superior that it didn’t cause him too much grief.
For complete UFC Beijing results and coverage click here.