Last night (Sat., Aug. 19, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ventured forth to TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts for UFC 292. Two titles were on the line, as Aljamain Sterling looked to settle some bad blood with Sean O’Malley then hop up to Featherweight, while Zhang Weili hunted for the first defense of her Strawweight belt opposite Amanda Lemos. Other intriguing notes from the card included the return off Chris Weidman from a lengthy injury layoff and the continued rise of Ian Garry, who was trying to prove himself a Top 10 Welterweight.
Let’s take a look at UFC 292’s standout performances and techniques:
Welcome To The Suga Show
Sean O’Malley exceeded expectations last night. He’s always been a fighter with that special IT factor, the ability to perform and excel under high pressure scenarios. His talent and toughness have been on display. Yet, it’s really impossible to have any confidence in a fighter going against a wrestler the level of Aljamain Sterling having never seen him fight even a particularly decent wrestler (beyond Petr Yan, who sort of counts but is also a kickboxer who took O’Malley down six times).
At any rate, O’Malley fought perfectly. Every time his coach Tim Welch opens his mouth my ears bleed, but those two and the rest of his camp must know something about fighting, because they game planned Sterling to a tee. O’Malley’s movement and composure in refusing to overcommit was essential. He never gave Sterling an opening to shoot, forcing “Funkmaster” to play the stand up game.
Sterling never looked comfortable on the feet. He landed some kicks, but did he land a single punch outside of the clinch? That’s a testament to O’Malley’s incredibly active feints. O’Malley’s footwork bought him the time to start feinting and confusing Sterling’s mind and his reactions.
Now, feints and footworks are essential to O’Malley’s game, but they don’t win fights alone. “Suga” had to do some work at distance without exposing his hips in the process, otherwise Sterling could just kick him in the leg and stay ahead on points. To that end, O’Malley’s lightning fast jab made several appearances in the first round. They were the most significant lands of the first on my scorecard, snapping Sterling’s head back.
Really though, it all comes back to the front kick, an O’Malley special. It’s the perfect anti-wrestler weapon: nearly impossible to catch, punishes bent posture, and maintains distance. Sterling’s habit of standing square to facilitate stand shifts makes him especially vulnerable.
Early in the second, O’Malley stuck Sterling with a long front kick and reset his stance. Sterling tried to counter by pushing forward, but O’Malley already knew the range as a result of that front kick. He knew Sterling would come up short with just a small pull backwards, and he unleashed his own right hand as Sterling fell into range. A perfect pull counter capped off a masterful showing and created a new championship reign.
The Suga Show is going to be a whole lot of fun.
Zhang Weili, A Near To Perfect Fighter?
It’s not fair to the Strawweight division that Weili has quickly become an incredible wrestler.
She used to be a raw grappler, a natural talent relying on athleticism. Her second defeat at the hands of Rose Namajunas convinced her a changed was necessary, and she took to takedowns like a fish to water. If not for her exceptional wrestling skills, maybe Amanda Lemos and her sharp counter punching actually give “Magnum” a real run for her money.
That wasn’t going to happen in 2023. Weili immediately set the tone with a takedown, showcasing brutal top pressure, guard passing, and constant ground strikes. The finish never materialized, but Weili was constantly working and doing damage. She set a Strawweight strikes record all over Lemos’ face!
She’s just so good. The two opponents that could be next for her are great fighters, but she’s such a well-rounded threat that it’s difficult to see them finding success. Can Tatiana Suarez strike with Weili? Can Yan Xiaonan wrestle with her? Neither seems likely, but someone is going to have to rise to the challenge.
The Future Dominates
Ian Garry beat the crap out of Neil Magny, and he made it look easy. From the first bell, Garry was destroying his opponent’s base, chopping up that lead leg. Before long, Magny could hardly stand, leaving him wildly vulnerable to Garry’s combination punching and sharpshooting.
For a full recap of Garry’s performance and growth, check out my full article HERE!
It’s A Wrap
Chris Weidman showed inhuman toughness last night against Brad Tavares, but that’s about it. Early on, he looked gun shy against the Hawaiian, leading to several hard combination lands. By the time Weidman was warmed up, his lead leg was already dealing with a ton of damage. That’s not the previously injured leg, but one has to imagine between the recently broken leg and the kicked-to-shit leg, Weidman was having a difficult time generating much power.
Credit to Weidman for surviving to the bell, but it’s time for some self-reflection. Talking about title shots at 39 years of age given his recent results just wasn’t realistic, and hopefully, this Tavares outcome helps Weidman come to that conclusion as well. Maybe he fights again, but it may be difficult for Weidman to compete with anything less than the intention to be the best.
You could be forgiven for being unaware that Gregory Rodrigues is a high-level jiu-jitsu player. Six fights into his UFC career, he’s presented himself as a brawler and earned a home in the hearts of fans as one of the most exciting men in the game.
A brutal knockout loss last time out forced the Brazilian to remember his roots. Fortunately, the outcome was still vicious! Rodrigues did not simply smother Denis Tiuliulin from top position. No, “Robocop” advanced into mount quickly and applied heavy hip pressure, pinning Tiuliulin beneath him.
Tiuliulin couldn’t move. He was helpless beneath Rodrigues, who loaded up and landed just a handful of elbows to brutally separate Tiuliulin from his senses. Was one of the elbows questionable in regards to the back of the head? Absolutely, but Tiuliulin also turned into the strike a bit, which muddies the waters a bit.
Bottom line: a tremendous win for “Robocop.”
Brawls Decide TUF Champions
I’ll admit I haven’t watched a season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) since like 2014, but fortunately, the nature of this recent veterans vs. prospects season meant that I knew all four athletes involved in the finale fights well. Better yet, they all delivered with great fights!
Cody Gibson vs. Brad Katona set the all-time strikes record for a Bantamweight fight, which is incredible for a three round contest! Gibson was intent on pressuring, walking his opponent down with his hands by his hips and chin tucked. In the first, this strategy paid off, as he stung Katona repeatedly with right hands, combinations, and collar-tie uppercuts.
Katona, however, was in the fight. He was jabbing and countering from his back foot, matching his foe’s volume pretty well. He also targeted the body, which proved pivotal in breaking Gibson down. “The Renegade” never allowed his pace to drop, but his body was no longer functioning at 100% by the second. Katona started to pull ahead, Gibson battled back, then a huge connection late sealed the decision for Katona, making him the first-ever two-time TUF champion.
Immediately afterward, Kurt Holobaugh and Austin Hubbard threw down. Initially, it was Hubbard succeeding, timing Holobaugh’s advances with right hand counters and takedowns. He struggled to keep Holobaugh down though, and it didn’t take long for the veteran to find his timing.
Before long, he was dinging Hubbard with right hands, often off the double jab. His pressure and accurate power punches started to really damage Hubbard, prompting a desperation takedown that saw him reversed into mount. Then, Holobaugh pulled off one of the cleanest jiu-jitsu sequences I’ve seen in quite some time.
As Hubbard kicked off the fence, Holobaugh latched onto his arm and went belly down. The finish wasn’t there, so Holobaugh hooked his foe’s leg and turned him over. Rather than continue pursuing the armbar, he let Hubbard spin into top position ... directly into a triangle. The triangle is much more secure than the armbar, and it was almost immediately locked in very deep.
The tap came shortly after that lovely display of transitional jiu-jitsu.
- Karine Silva defeats Maryna Moroz via first-round guillotine: The first fight of the night ended in the first round! Silva landed some good shots in this one and then gained top position, but a guillotine attempt saw her reversed. That should have been the end, but Moroz hung around for too long without actually freeing her head! Addressing hands is the number one answer to just about every front choke, and Moroz paid the price for her delay.
For complete UFC 292: ‘Sterling vs. O’Malley’ results and play-by-play, click HERE!