After a trio of events in Jacksonville, UFC made its presence known to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada last night (Sat., May 30, 2020) for UFC on ESPN 9. In the main event, Tyron Woodley looked to return from a long layoff and re-enter the title picture by disposing of upstart contender Gilbert Burns. The rest of the card provided some solid action as well, featuring a heap of “Contender Series” veterans.
Let’s take a closer look at the best performances and techniques of the night:
The main event at UFC on ESPN 9 was not competitive.
Woodley became champion largely by landing heavy right hands and convincing opponents to fight at his pace. He’s tremendously dangerous on the counter and lead, able to knock an opponent senseless with a single punch. There’s a reason Woodley won the belt.
Burns showed zero respect for any of that. He immediately stepped into the pocket with his guard high and traded right hands. Burns connected directly on the chin, stunning his foe and setting out an excellent beginning path for domination (highlights).
That initial exchange proved a great symbol of the entire fight. Woodley is quick and powerful in the pocket — Burns did it better. Woodley can blast through a mean double? Burns timed his level changes with incredible accuracy. Burns simply took the initiative and did everything better.
A new Welterweight contender has arrived.
A New Light Heavyweight Prospect
Jamahal Hill ran right through Klidson Abreu (watch it).
Hill has shown potential in past UFC and “Contender Series” bouts. However, his inexperience has also proven a vulnerability, and the offensive striker has yet to show off a refined defensive wrestling game. Against his toughest opponent yet, Hill didn’t really need one.
Hill was landing early, and he built from it immediately. After Hill landed, he noticed his foe ducking away from punches. Hill capitalized perfectly, latching onto the clinch and following up his punches with knees.
It worked every time, until a knee to the mid-section sent Abreu to the mat.
Calf Kicks Are No Joke!
Chris Gutierrez absolutely dominated Vince Morales last night (watch it).
Morales is a solid Bantamweight, a sharper boxer who has given prospects like Song Yadong and Aiemann Zahabi trouble in his short UFC career. However, Gutierrez completely nullified him with largely a single weapon: the calf kick. From the first bell, he was chopping at Morales ankle, leaving his foe limping a bit within the opening minute.
From that point forward, Morales was hardly a threat. Gutierrez was able to play around, feinting and kicking whatever target appeared available. He continued to return to the low kicks, breaking down the calf of both legs when his foe switched stances! By the end, Morales would get hit by a low kick then cling to the fence to stay standing.
It was an excellent performance from Gutierrez, but also an important note for any fighters watching: calf kicks are serious business, and it only takes a few to change the fight. Don’t wait too long before addressing that problem!
- Roosevelt Roberts defeats Brok Weaver via second-round rear naked choke (HIGHLIGHTS): Roberts proved himself the more skilled man last night in pretty much all areas. His punches at range were snappy and straighter, allowing him to score the better shots. Plus, it helped set up his takedowns, which pushed control further in his favor. Once on the mat, Roberts was constantly looking for chokes before finally locking in his hold in the second.
- Mackenzie Dern submits Hannah Cifers via first-round kneebar (HIGHLIGHTS): Dern is still definitely a work in progress, but last night was progress! Her hands looked a bit sharper, and she was more effective with her clinch wrestling. Cifers was still in the lead, but it only took a single takedown from Dern — and mistake from Cifers to engage on the mat — for Dern to roll up onto a kneebar and force the finish.
- Brandon Royval defeats Tim Elliott via second-round arm triangle choke (HIGHLIGHTS): Tim Elliott won a majority of this exciting grappling match, but he did so at a cost. Elliott refused to establish top position, forcing a constant scramble and endless amount of takedown attempts. Elliott was the one pushing the pace and expending energy, but Royval was staying active with lower effort submission attempts. By the second round, Elliott was pretty spent, leaving him with little energy left to defend from his foe’s offense.
- Casey Kenney defeats Louis Smolka via first-round guillotine (HIGHLIGHTS): Kenney is sharp! The Bantamweight prospect may be a bit undersized at 135 pounds, but when faced with a fellow former Flyweight, his skills really shined. On the feet, Kenney kicked Smolka’s leg way out of place. Smolka was firing at the mid-section, but Kenney returned fire with quick combinations and counters. One such counter right hook wobbled Smolka ... and it was a wrap shortly afterward.