Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its presence known to Atlanta, Ga., last night (Sat., April 13, 2019) for UFC 236. For the first time in many weeks, there was actually a weekend without Octagon action leading up to last night’s fights, but UFC 236 more than made up for that missed action. The card was filled with talent top-to-bottom, and the two headlining title fights were guaranteed to be high-action affairs.
Let’s take a look at the best techniques and performances of the night!
The Power of Poirier
Dustin Poirier is one of the most technically improved strikers in UFC.
Over the last couple years, Poirier has settled down from natural puncher into composed boxer, and it was all tested last night. Holloway put pressure on Poirier, countered him, tried to drown him in volume. He tested his defense for vulnerabilities and reactions for mistakes. Poirier had an answer for Holloway every time, consistently landing the harder blows for the majority of five rounds.
Poirier’s natural gifts did have a major role in his victory. The size and power in his punches were clearly more significant than Holloway’s own probing strikes. Each time Poirier landed a crushing hook to the jaw of the Hawaiian, there was a noticeable impact despite Holloway’s incredible chin and attempts to ignore the shots. Range was important, too — Poirier’s jab would land clean directly after Holloway came up short with a combination simply because his arms were a couple inches longer.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Poirier’s upset victory was the fact that he utilized kicks better than Holloway. From the first bell, Poirier was following his wide left hook with a chopping low kick and slamming Holloway’s chest with front kicks. A knee in the fourth round opened a massive cut to Holloway’s visage. Meanwhile, Holloway only really ended a few punching combinations with the right kick. which was a strategy he really needed to use more often and expand upon.
Poirier matched his foe’s composure under fire but exceeded him in both firepower and diversity of technique, proving himself the better man in an amazing title fight.
The mid-tier of the Middleweight division is famous for its lackluster fights. Slow, strange, and uneventful bouts that never seem to end. The reputation is deserved, but the elite of the division have really spoiled us with absolutely stellar displays of combats in recent fights. It seemed impossible, but Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum put on a back-and-forth war that was every bit the quality of the two title bouts between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero.
Adesanya’s game has a ton of flair, and some of it worked well against Gastelum, most notably a spinning elbow that rocked his foe in the second round. Throughout the momentum shifts and violence though, it was the fundamentals that saw Adesanya pull ahead. Most importantly, Adesanya’s right round kick gave him something to build from after a terrible opening five minutes.
In the second, Adesanya’s right kick began slamming into the mid-section and lead leg. Suddenly, Gastelum couldn’t pressure so freely, spending more time getting stabbed at by Adesanya’s rangy strikes. That kick bought Adesanya time to read Gastelum’s offense and plan — it won him the fight.
Given some time, Adesanya quickly found his range and began nailing Gastelum with right hands, which did a majority of Adesanya’s damage. It was a very interesting dynamic, as Gastelum would start working his way back into the fight when Adesanya began to rely more on his cross and less on the kick. As soon as Adesanya took note and went back to chopping into Gastelum, that cross would land easily once more.
Beyond the fun technical notes, it was really a brilliant display of heart and will from each man. Both men were hurt early. Adesanya’s face was puffy and bloody by the third. By the championship rounds, each man was exhausted. Yet the fourth and fifth saw each fighter surge forward and dig deep into their toolbox, pulling off spectacular techniques with everything on the line.
Khalil Rountree is not the first mixed martial artist to train Muay Thai in Thailand. It’s never a bad idea to go to the masters to improve, but rarely have we ever seen such a dramatic case of instant improvement.
Rountree walked into the center of the Octagon with the bouncing lead leg of a Thai boxer half his size. Anders began the fight with a look of confusion at his opponent’s completely new stance, but he learned the consequences quickly as Rountree’s right leg bounced up into his inner thigh. I’ve often heard this quick inside low kick referred to by Muay Thai coaches as the “invisible kick,” and Rountree demonstrated the concept well: Anders never saw the kick coming until the shin was digging into his muscle.
After the first round, Anders’ movement was severely limited, and Rountree ran him into seriously hard counter punches that could have stopped the bout numerous times. Beyond his round kicks and counters, Rountree’s offensive combinations looked better than ever, as he paired kicks behind punches and punished his foe even further.
Rountree has always been one to watch, but this was the best performance of his career.
- Nikita Krylov defeats Ovince Saint Preux via second-round rear naked choke: I love watching Krylov compete. The Ukranian shoots himself in the foot with remarkable consistency, but it’s really part of his charm. Early on, I was concerned — why was Krylov fishing so heavily for the guillotine choke when “OSP” countered that exact technique to finish him with a Von Flue choke five years ago?!? Apparently, Krylov knew best, as his guillotine and takedown defense saw Saint Preux exhaust the gas tank early by spamming mostly unsuccessful takedown attempts. Any time there was space, Krylov largely dominated, tying together kicks very well before turning the tables with a big takedown of his own in the second. “OSP” was gassed, and his attempts to scramble only created an opening for the submission finish.
- Alexandre Pantoja defeats Wilson Reis via first-round technical knockout (highlights): In a fight between jiu-jitsu black belts, Pantoja’s kickboxing made the difference. Generally, Pantoja is a willingly brawler, one who likes to sling hooks and low kicks from inside the pocket. Against a man with an excellent blast double, however, Pantoja was a bit more mobile and rangy. After landing his right body kick a few times on the shorter Southpaw, Pantoja exploded into a cross that caught Reis clean, sending him to the mat in a heap.
- Khalid Taha defeats Boston Salmon via first-round technical knockout (highlights): Though Salmon came in with strong boxing credentials and more hype behind him, a cross-hook combo from Taha ended the fight in just 25 seconds. It’s a rough loss for Salmon, who’s been waiting to make his UFC debut for nearly two years.
- Brandon Davis defeats Randy Costa via second-round rear naked choke (highlights): If you missed the opening bout of the night, it’s definitely worth watching. Davis and Costa both flung long combinations at each other, with Costa landing lots of power punches to the face while Davis mixed his targets up a bit more often. The two took turns stunning each other, but ultimately a hard knee from Davis created an opportunity for the rear naked choke. On the whole, Davis’ more diverse and generally longer combinations shifted the odds in his favor, as he did a lot of damage when he managed to put Costa on the defensive.
For complete UFC 236: “Holloway vs. Poirier 2” results and play-by-play, click HERE!