Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its presence known to Sunrise, Florida, last night (Sat., April 27, 2019) for UFC on ESPN+ 8. An injury to Yoel Romero disrupted the original main event, but fans were still treated to a solid night of combat sports, headlined by Ronaldo Souza vs. Jack Hermansson. Also on the card, Florida’s favorite son, Mike Perry, returned to the cage, and there was some real talent mixed throughout the event.
Let’s take a look at the best techniques and performances of the night.
The Joker Emerges
I’ll be fully honest, I thought this was an absolutely terrible style match up for Hermansson.
Prior to this fight, the Swede had shown active-but-awkward kickboxing, strong wrestling, and a dominant top game. How was that skill set supposed to work against a more composed, powerful striker who also happened to be one of the best grapplers alive?
There’s not a simple answer, but perhaps the most important single factor was Hermansson’s improved kickboxing. This is absolutely the best he’s ever performed on the feet. Hermansson set up his kicks better than previous fights, controlled range with a more active and effective jab, and, most impressively, landed counter shots serious enough to hurt “Jacare” and force his respect.
The counter shots were a remarkable improvement on their own. Just a couple fights ago, Hermansson was covering up tight and fading away whenever an opponent put a real combination on him. Against a ferocious puncher in Souza, Hermansson kept his eyes wide and picked his shots, which really changed the fight.
Also impressive was the new contender’s conditioning. Hermansson threw an absolutely ridiculous amount of strikes, an amount I don’t think any other Middleweight could match. Even with Souza hammering away at his liver, Hermansson maintained his output deep into the championship rounds.
As sad as I am to see Souza slide down the ranks, it is exciting to have another new 185-pound contender.
Yet Another Bantamweight Contender
Last night, unranked 135-pounder Cory Sandhagen improved his UFC record to 4-0, beating No. 8-ranked contender John Lineker in a fantastic bout. The two traded some serious shots across 15 minutes, but Sandhagen’s craft, length, and volume scored him the hard-fought win.
Sandhagen’s creative switch-hitting has drawn comparisons to Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw, which is not unfair to any parties involved, but the Dillashaw comparison is more accurate. Against Lineker, Sandhagen copied some aspects of Dillashaw’s game plan — including a second-round switch step outside trip shot that was directly from the former champion’s fight with “Hands of Stone” — but there are unique aspects to Sandhagen as well.
In particular, Sandhagen’s commitment to body work separates him from other switch hitters. Sandhagen’s left hook off the jab into the mid-section was especially punishing; that’s a Max Holloway classic. Additionally, Sandhagen did a great job of slamming home the left kick from Southpaw, further attacking the liver and slowing those powerful punches.
While none of the comparisons are perfect — Sandhagen is definitely his own fighter — being compared to a trio of champions isn’t a bad look for the new contender either.
- Greg Hardy defeats Dmitry Smolyakov via first-round knockout: This is the performance the UFC was hoping for when it signed Hardy. Smolyakov is a truly bad fighter, but Hardy’s hips and general explosiveness were still impressive. The full-sized Heavyweight stalked his wrestler foe around the cage and calmly fired strikes around the guard until his opponent hit the canvas. Like it or not, Hardy may actually develop into a decent Heavyweight (which is a low bar).
- Mike Perry defeats Alex Oliveira via unanimous decision: Perry is a work in progress — and perhaps he always will be — but he brilliantly made use of all his tools last night. Oliveira came out guns blazing and landed some killer shots as a result, but Perry waited until he calmed down and really gave him no safe space to fight. In the clinch, Perry’s knees and elbows on the break were incredibly powerful, and Oliveira’s wrestling was not working either. In the pocket, Oliveira wanted no part of Perry’s overhand and left hook combo. Without any of those distances to safely work from, Oliveira was forced to attack almost exclusively from the edge of his range, either kicking or rushing in with a long cross. Some of those kicks and crosses landed, but Perry is an accurate counter puncher despite his wildness. All Perry’s power punches added up, making Oliveira more and more hesitant and shifting the decision to the “Platinum” corner.
- Glover Teixeira defeats Ion Cutelaba via second-round rear naked choke: What an absolute war! Cutelaba showed no respect for Teixeira’s vaunted knockout power, bouncing towards the veteran with tremendous quickness and landing serious power punches. Teixeira spent a majority of the first-round weathering that storm, which included a nasty spinning back fist that dropped the Brazilian. Towards the end of the first and later in the second, however, fatigue began to slow Cutelaba’s frantic bouncing and fast hands. Suddenly, Teixeira’s own overhand and left hook began to land, though Cutelaba showed an impressively strong chin to absorb the blows unbothered. The fight was still very much up in the air when a slip sent Cutelaba to the mat, allowing his black belt foe to gain top position. From there, experience and jiu-jitsu won out, as Teixeira quickly advanced into mount and locked up the choke when Cutelaba turned away from his punches.
- Takashi Sato defeats Ben Saunders via second-round knockout: Some would argue that speed is the worst thing to lose as an athlete, but in combat sports, durability has a strong case as well. Unfortunately for Ben Saunders, he is a primary example of losing durability. “Killa B” did so much correctly last night: establishing a strong lead jab/lead hook, chopping the leg, and latching onto his favorite double-collar tie whenever the opportunity presented itself. He largely picked apart Sato for the entirety of the fight. However, Sato seemed aware he only needed to land one seriously hard shot to end the fight, and that’s precisely what happened. In the second, a parry into a crisp left cross crashed into Saunders’ chin, and the veteran simply could not recover.
- Carla Esparza defeats Virna Jandiroba via unanimous decision: This was a fun style clash for grappling fans, pitting Esparza’s wrestling and Jandiroba’s Judo/jiu-jitsu. Both women landed a number of takedowns, and the difference maker proved to be Esparza’s superior bottom grappling. Jandiroba was too content to work from her back, sacrificing costly minutes of top control to the former champion. Jandiroba managed to do some good work from there, including a couple sweeps, but Esparza was far more determined to stand up quickly when placed on her back. Esparza, meanwhile, jammed her foe’s head into the mat and worked the stand the second she touched the mat, and it paid off across three rounds of competitive grappling.
- Gilbert Burns defeats Mike Davis via second-round rear naked choke: Burns has really come into his own as a fighter in recent years. Early in his UFC career, Burns was plenty tough and had great jiu-jitsu, but he never really looked comfortable inside the Octagon. Against Davis, however, Burns was ready for anything. He traded well with the knockout artist, kicking out his lead leg and landing some heavy right hands. At the same time, he didn’t forget his strengths either, mixing in some powerful takedowns and punishing Davis from top position. After a couple tries, Burns was able to secure full back mount, and a couple more minutes of hand-fighting produced the strangle.
- Jim Miller defeats Jason Gonzalez via first-round rear naked choke: Jim Miller’s recent record isn’t pretty on paper, but the veteran has only lost to pretty high-quality contenders. Against a more appropriate challenge in Gonzalez, it looked like 2011 in the cage! Miller moved well, ate some shots with no problem, landed a big left hand, and then timed a takedown smartly to force Gonzalez to the mat. Once there, Miller took the back in the ensuing scramble and locked up the choke quickly. It was classic Jim Miller, the type of performance that promises at least a couple more years of the veteran plying his craft inside the Octagon.
For complete UFC on ESPN+ 8 ‘Souza vs. Hermansson’ results and play-by-play, click HERE!