Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) journeyed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin last night (Dec. 15, 2018) for UFC on FOX 31. For the final event on FOX all these years after Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez to win the Heavyweight title, we wound up with a fun but entirely average main card. Luckily, there were still some great performances and techniques on display throughout the night, so let’s take a look!
Iaquinta Exceeds Expectations, Lee underperforms
Iaquinta fought to the absolute best of his abilities last night. He was creative — those single leg feints into strikes! — and violent, showcasing his clubbing right hand repeatedly across the five rounds. In addition, despite absorbing some seriously hard blows and getting trapped underneath Lee in bad positions a couple times, Iaquinta continued to push forward late in the fight as the fresher man.
“Raging Al” trusted in his right hand, and it won him the fight.
At the same time, I’m still fairly baffled by Lee’s performance. Why in the world did Lee shoot for takedowns so infrequently? Each time he shot early in the fight, he threw Iaquinta to his back with ease and found great success. Was it ego? A bad weight cut? An injury or fear of fatigue? It would be one thing if Iaquinta denied the early shots then busted him up, but Iaquinta didn’t stop a takedown until the fifth round. He also didn’t need to, as Lee was content to stand up and get whacked for long periods at a time.
I don’t intend for this to read as taking credit away from Iaquinta: this is an incredible win for the New Yorker, and he deserves another major fight next. It was just a really odd showing from Lee, one that really kills his current momentum and position.
Barboza’s Still Got It
Edson Barboza entered his match with Dan Hooker as a slight underdog largely due to the momentum of each man. The Brazilian had been savagely mauled by the division’s two best top control wrestlers, whereas Hooker entered following an undefeated run at Lightweight, stopping all four of his previous opponents.
There’s a difference between Khabib and Lee and the rest of the division though. Finally back in the cage against something other than an elite wrestler, Barboza reminded the fighting world that his kicks are almost in a league of their own. Immediately, Barboza dug to the inside of the Southpaw’s leg, starting the damaging work that would continue into the third round.
Early on, Hooker was landing too. He worked the left cross and cross-kick well, and he tried to answer Barboza’s low kick with punches. The initial exchanges were close, but the low kicks added up quickly. By the end of the round, Barboza’s counter shots were landing far more often as Hooker slowed from the damage.
That didn’t stop Hooker from trying to make something happen, full on forcing a brawl and briefly gaining top position. Once Barboza got back up, though, it was a true beating: Barboza hammered the inside leg, landed dozens of power shots to the skull, and whacked away at the liver as well.
Ultimately, it was those liver shots that finally added up and ended things in the third. Hooker is inhumanly tough, but no man alive can eat five spinning back kicks, a half dozen switch kicks, AND a bunch of left hooks all to the same target. It was gorgeous violence from Barboza, who is still lightning quick and devastating with his kicks.
Future title holder? Probably not. A must-watch Lightweight? Forever.
- Rob Font defeats Sergio Pettis via decision: Pettis wins fights by controlling the jab. Unfortunately, jabbing at a longer, bigger man who is also committing to the jab is difficult. When said bigger man is snapping your head back repeatedly with his own jab and also throwing a higher volume of combinations, it’s nearly impossible to control the fight via the jab. Font took the fight to Pettis from the first bell, bloodying his nose and swelling his eye with his jab. It was a well-rounded performance from the Boston native, who also targeted the body well and scored a few takedowns to really seal the deal.
- Charles Oliveira defeats Jim Miller via submission: Oliveira earned his revenge in emphatic fashion. There’s nothing to break down here, as Oliveira circled and kicked for 30 seconds or so, stopped screwing around and grabbed a body lock, slammed Miller, then choked him out. Miller tried to defend hands valiantly, but Oliveira was on his back the second the two hit the mat, and “do Bronx” is devastating from that position.
- Drakkar Klose defeats Bobby Green via decision: Like the fight before it, this was an excellent, back-and-forth war that pitted different styles against each other. Klose played his part well, the rough-and-tumble prospect trying to make things ugly and scrap. Green filled his role even better, looking every bit the slick veteran as he stung Klose with jabs and crosses, slipped tons of strikes, and even landed the only takedowns of the fight. Unfortunately, judges cannot tell who wins close rounds, so Green’s victory was stolen from him.
- Joaquim Silva defeats Jared Gordon via KO: What a tremendous battle of volume and calmness opposite physicality and aggression. Gordon hurt Silva repeatedly in the first by throwing quick shots, picking at him with hard kicks, and maintaining an absurd pace. Silva could not keep up with his foe’s volume or constant takedown attempts, but his more classic approach to kickboxing occasionally paid off when a massive, full power right hand or left hook connected and stunned his opponent. The opening round was absolute madness, but Gordon respected Silva’s power after learning about it the hard way, causing him to switch to a more wrestling focused approach in the second. The fight remained great though: the two still exchanged plenty, and Silva nearly landed a Suloev Stretch submission before round two ended! Gordon entered the third with an injured knee as a result, forcing him to stand in the pocket and exchange. It didn’t end well for him, as Silva committed to body work, wore him down, and knocked him out to complete a tremendous comeback win.
- Jack Hermansson defeats Gerald Meerschaert via submission: When Hermansson wins, he does so in stellar fashion. He threw his foe to the mat early, and once on top, put together a fairly compelling argument for his self-proclaimed status as the best top game in Middleweight. Luke Rockhold may have something to say about that, but it doesn’t take away from Hermansson’s work last night: he sliced through the guard, stepped into mount repeatedly, and Hermansson looked quite like Rockhold in his ability to apply immense hip pressure and flatten his opponent. He battered Meerschaert continually across the opening round, eventually snatching up an arm-across guillotine choke as Meerschaert attempted to shake him off back mount.
- Mike Rodriguez defeats Adam Milstead via TKO: Rodriguez looked like a killer last night. The Southpaw has a very clean, crisp cross, one that scored him an early knockdown in the opening exchanges. However, once the two settled down a bit more, it was Rodriguez’s commitment to body shots and a variety of kicks that earned him the victory. Using both his lead and back leg, Rodriguez threw stabbing snap kicks that kept Milstead backing up, enabling Rodriguez to follow up with aggressive punches. The end came in the form of a big left knee to the liver, which folded Milstead brutally. I write about the Southpaw double threat every damn time I recap an event because it’s so prevalent, and this was another beautiful example of the benefits of fighting leftie.
- Juan Adams defeats Chris de la Rocha via TKO: Adams is a large human, a big former wrestler still young in his MMA career. Was his cardio or technique impeccable? Far from it. However, Adams has plenty of time to grow, threw some nice straight punches, and did overcome some adversity from a tough opponent. Give it a few years and check back in on Adams — I expect he’ll be doing quite well.
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