Last night (Sat., July 29, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ventured forth to Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah for UFC 291. Earlier this month, UFC 290 set the bar tremendously high for a pay-per-view event, shattering all expectations from top-to-bottom. UFC 291 arguably had more star power, but it remained to be seen if lightning could strike first in the form of another perfect event. Fortunately, it fully lived up to the hype, delivering nothing but exciting fights and quality finishes.
Let’s take a look at UFC 291’s standout performances and techniques:
Gaethje Cracks The Code
Justin Gaethje put on the best performance of his career to score his revenge over Dustin Poirier. From the first bell, Gaethje was moving well, shifting directions and showing feints at range. He really went to work with the low kick, but contrary to the first fight and his usual M.O., Gaethje was using the lead leg switch step low kick to dig into Poirier’s lead thigh.
Gaethje gave Poirier a ton to think about. Each time he feinted with his right shoulder, that could be a set up for the aforementioned switch low kick, an actual right hand, or a true power right kick to any target. Surely, Poirier was expected more inside right low kicks — that’s how Gaethje torched his inner thigh last time. Instead, Gaethje kept taking his right leg high, and it came very close to landing clean each and every time ... until it did! A cross-high kick slept Poirier, the same setup Leon Edwards used to dethrone last time UFC visited Salt Lake City (watch highlights).
From my perspective, Poirier only really took control of the exchanges in the minute or so after Gaethje was blinded by a punch or poke. Outside of that time period Gaethje was squinting, he was consistently the sharper and faster man. I did like Poirier’s read with the left body/head kick — he wasn’t far off from landing the same kill shot on his opponent.
With these two, it’ll always be a coin flip fight. Last night, however, Gaethje was absolutely on point and would not be denied.
Age And Altitude Return Blachowicz To 2017
Remember back in the day, when Blachowicz would win the first round every time, get tired, and then lose the decision? Fixing that conditioning flaw brought him to the title, but it returned last night. Altitude can be partially blamed, but a wrestling-heavy game plan is always going to be a major ask at age 40.
That said ... Blachowicz was PERFECT for about seven minutes! It was really lovely to watch him wrestle Pereira, then use the threat of that wrestling to sting him with punches, then return to the wrestling. Sadly, Blachowicz gassed in the process, and then all of Pereira’s thudding jabs and heavy calf kicks started feeling really painful.
Likely, a title shot is next for Pereira. He’ll probably be fighting Jiri Prochazka, which means he’ll have a real shot at picking up a second title. However, if for some reason he ends up in the cage with a real Light Heavyweight wrestler in his prime, even someone like Nikita Krylov ... It’s not going to go well for him!
New Mythic MMA Beast: Lewis With Abs!
Derrick Lewis steamrolled Marcos Rogerio de Lima. He leapt at the Brazilian with a huge flying knee that sent him to the floor, then landed in top position. There’s arguably no worse position to be in all of MMA than trapped beneath “The Black Beast,” absorbing his massive haymakers with the added benefit of gravity. De Lima scrambled a bit, but this one was already a wrap, and the finish materialized quickly.
Once again, he stands alone as the UFC knockout king.
El Cucuy’s Last Stand
Tony Ferguson showed up to this fight in shape. He pushed a hard pace from first bell to the 10-second clapper, which is roughly the moment that Ferguson went to sleep from a well-played Bobby Green arm triangle choke. Sadly, his speed and reaction times remain shot, even if Ferguson could probably set an impressive 10k time on the track.
It was also really noticeable how much more limited Ferguson’s overall game is nowadays. The kicks and elbows that tore through the Lightweight division are largely gone, and his submission game has lost several steps as well. He basically boxed with Green — the best aspect of King’s game — or laid on his back, absorbing huge hammerfists.
Ferguson is still made of iron, but the damage built up and Green choked him out late. I’m not sure if Ferguson gets another opportunity, but he’s going to struggle against anyone except the absolute bottom tier of the division.
Holland Rises, Chiesa’s Welterweight Success Evaporates
Kevin Holland just proved his Welterweight potential.
Sure, he lost for the first time at 170-pounds recently, but Stephen Thompson is a special case at Welterweight. Furthermore, Holland fought stupidly and broke his hand early. He didn’t set himself up for success in that fight, and it was still one of the best fights of the year!
At 30 years of age, Holland may have put on the best performance of his career. He bullied Michael Chiesa, but he did it with a real patience. He slammed home powerful punches to the body then clipped him up high, leaving Chiesa hurt pretty much immediately. From that point forward, Holland picked his shots with knees and punches, forcing bad shots from the wrestler. It’s a lot easier to defend takedowns when staying in good position the whole while!
Like Luque and Masvidal before him, Holland locked up the counter d’arce choke and finished it off. He’ll be ranked early next week, and breaking into the Top 10 looks reasonable.
As for Chiesa, he looked like a man entering falling a long layoff, unable to get his timing or see shots coming. He came really close on a couple takedown attempts, but his inability to fully finish the shot cost him badly. Perhaps if one of those trips buys him a couple minutes of wrestling, he warms up into the fight and finds more success.
Instead, he’s just lost his third straight fight — a rough turn of fortunes for a man who immediately burst into the Welterweight title picture upon joining the division.
Bonfim Keeps The Ball Rolling
Gabriel Bonfim smoked Trevin Giles. He swarmed him with hard shots, stunned him, then countered a takedown attempt with a brutal arm-in guillotine, squeezing the life from Giles in just over a minute. We didn’t learn much new about the undefeated Brazilian, but he once again proved that his game works at the UFC level.
He’s an exciting prospect at 170 pounds, perhaps one of Brazil’s best. Giles may not be a contender, but he’s a tough and well-rounded veteran that still couldn’t offer much against the larger Bonfim brother.
If Ya Ain’t Cheatin’, Ya Ain’t Tryin’
Priscila Cachoeira cheats all the time. For a more full list of examples and recap of her loss to Miranda Maverick, read my full article HERE!
- Roman Kopylov defeats Claudio Ribeiro via second-round knockout: This was a banger! Kopylov was the far cleaner technician, taking center control early and teeing off pretty often when Ribeiro’s back hit the fence. However, the Brazilian did storm back with a flurry of wild, powerful punches that rocked Kopylov near the end of the first. The end came in the form of an excellent high kick, direct to the jaw and set up by a jab feint. After a difficult start (0-2) to his UFC career, the Russian striker has won three straight fights via knockout!
- Jake Matthews defeats Darrius Flowers via second-round rear naked choke: Matthews is a real hit-or-miss fighter, capable of looking like a world-beater or warm body depending on the evening. Well, he looked great here! Flowers brought a lot of pressure into his UFC debut, but Matthews kept his head moving and fired good counters. As soon as he was given a little space to breath, Matthews started tearing up the body with punches and snap kicks, methodically breaking his opponent down. When Flowers tried to shoot desperately in the second, Matthews easily wrapped up the choke.
- Uros Medic defeats Matthew Semelsberger via third-round knockout: Medic is a gamer! The Lightweight scrapper jumped up a division for this one, and early on, Semelsberger’s speed and power was simply too much. Medic was knocked down multiple times, but his more complex kickboxing and heavy body kicks slowly evened the field. By the third, he was really starting to tee off on Semelsberger, who was feeling the liver kicks and altitude alike. Then, a counter combo stunned Semelsberger, and a spinning backfist floored him. The stoppage was way too soon for my liking, but it didn’t sully a great performance from “The Doctor,” who improves to 4-1 in UFC.
For complete UFC 291: “Poirier vs. Gaethje 2” results and play-by-play, click HERE.