Note - We’re handling analysis a little differently tonight. Tim Burke is doing the preliminary card analysis, while Mookie Alexander is handling the main card analysis. Enjoy.
All hail Henry “Triple C” Cejudo. Olympic champion, UFC flyweight champion, and now UFC bantamweight champion.
Marlon Moraes was kicking Cejudo to pieces for the first seven or so minutes of their UFC 238 main event title bout. Cejudo had no answers for the leg kicks and was producing scant offense. Then everything changed dramatically. Cejudo was drilling Moraes with big right hands, a series of knees in the clinch, and Moraes looked to be hurt and fading. Henry didn’t just weather the storm, he became the storm. Moraes wilted badly entering round three and Cejudo was firing away brutal shots both on the feet and on the ground. With seconds left in the third, Cejudo dropped down elbows, punches, and hammerfists on an exhausted and spent Brazilian to get the TKO stoppage.
You can dislike his antics and corny personality/act all you want, this man can fight. He is tough as hell, skilled as hell, and dug deep when it mattered most to stop — not just beat, stop — one of bantamweight’s longtime best fighters. Cejudo is well on his way to being an all-time great in MMA, and adding in his wrestling accomplishments, he’s already an all-time great in combat sports. Much respect to him for a tremendous win, although I sure as shit don’t want to see him fight Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber as he called out. One thing that’s probably not happening is him going back down to 125 to defend his belt, especially since he already has eyes on giving it a shot at 145.
In the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko predictably beat Jessica Eye to defend her women’s flyweight title. What I don’t think anyone saw coming was a KO of the Year contender. Early in round two, Shevchenko whacked Eye with a vicious head kick that sent Jessica into unconsciousness for a worryingly lengthy period of time. It took her a few minutes to get up, at which point she admitted to the medical staff that she has no recollection of what happened. Eye may have been the #1 contender in a recently formed division, but this was a brutal mismatch on paper and it played out as such. Jessica was already having a hard time with the body kicks, and as Daniel Cormier observed, that set up the fight-ending head kick.
Shevchenko is way too good for this current crop of 125ers. What odds do you seriously give Katlyn Chookagian, who is most likely next for her? Probably not much higher than Jessica Eye, who wasn’t competitive for even thirty seconds of the 5:26 it actually lasted.
More thoughts below:
- Man, Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone ruled. It’s a damn shame it ended in such bizarre fashion. The tide was undoubtedly turning in Ferguson’s favor when round two ended, and then Cerrone ate a clean punch after the horn sounded. Both of Cerrone’s eyes were already swollen at this point, with his nose busted up from so many jabs. Then things took a terrible turn when Cerrone blew his nose, and that made his right eye balloon terribly. Fight over for obvious reasons. The TKO call was correct, seeing as Dan Miragliotta already gave Ferguson a “hard warning” when the late punch happened, and Cerrone blowing his nose is his own fault — he acknowledged this in the post-fight interview. It was a terrific contest that was as high-level as expected, the disappointment was the anticlimactic ending. Tough break for Cerrone and certainly there’s controversy over the late strike, but applause to both men for putting on a show and then some.
- Ferguson better get his damn title shot now. I don’t know what more he has to do. He ought to storm the UFC offices if Conor McGregor bypasses him at the front of the line. A dozen straight wins is more than enough.
- Jimmie Rivera fought well against Petr Yan, but the Russian bantamweight had the two biggest moments of the entire contest. He floored Rivera with a hard left at the end of round one, then dropped Jimmie again towards the end of the second frame. That’s how dangerous Yan is, and it propelled him to victory despite eating vicious leg kicks and getting touched up by a few Rivera power shots to the head. This was a gutsy win by Yan and while the next title shot surely belongs to Aljamain Sterling, Yan is not too far behind.
- Blagoi Ivanov dropped Tai Tuivasa early, nearly choked him out in round two, and just largely outworked his fellow jiggly heavyweight towards a unanimous decision win. Tuivasa had his moments, hurting Ivanov in that second-round and battering Blagoi’s legs, but there was no question as to which fighter deserved the nod.
- Still Tim here. Tuivasa came out to Bryan Adams! Yes!
- Tatiana Suarez actually showed that she was human against Nina Ansaroff. After dominating the first two rounds with her wrestling but never really getting going with her ground and pound, Ansaroff stood her up in round three. Suarez could not take her down, and Ansaroff pieced her up on the feet. Suarez won a decision, and she deserves a title shot. But that will open up a lot of questions about Suarez and her all-round skills.
- Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz put on a hell of a show. I’ve never seen Sterling strike with such urgency thus far in his career, and that was the kind of performance that will really get the UFC behind him. He didn’t have to wrestle to win. He outstruck a great striker, dug deep to overcome what must be a sore lead leg, and looked creative and hungry in there. Excellent performance. I don’t know if he gets the next title shot, but he’s right in the mix.
- Alexa Grasso put up by far the best performance of her career in taking apart Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The scorecards will say 30-27, but the fight was never even close and could have been wider. I’m a homer for Kowalkiewicz because she’s by far my favorite fighter in her division, but I didn’t like the announce team deciding to attack her “lack of skills” to explain what was happening in there. First, it does a disservice to Grasso and how much she has improved. But more than that - if KK is so unskilled, why did this never really come up in commentary at all in her first nine UFC fights? It seems like something more narrative-driven than anything. Sure Grasso smoked her, but she can’t even compete at a high level now? They made her sound like an awful fighter that just has heart, and that’s pretty lame to me.
- Calvin Kattar has some deadly hands. After some good body work against Ricardo Lamas, he was getting The Bully to bite on his feints. That set up the finishing sequence where he feinted, landed a left hook, and then absolutely destroyed Lamas with a right that put him own for good and ended the fight. Give Kattar a top guy. He deserves it.
- Xianman Yan and Angela Hill got the crowd back into it following the bad fight below. Hll almost finished Yan in the first with a triangle. Yan took the second with some solid striking. I thought the third was quite close with Yan racking up volume while Hill racked up damage. I gave the fight to Overkill. All three judges gave it to Yan. Oh well.
- Darren Stewart vs. Bevon Lewis was beyond awful. Tons of clinching, very few strikes thrown and landed. Stewart won. Next.
- I figured Eddie Wineland’s irregular fighting schedule and long career was going to catch up with him tonight against the hard-hitting Grigory Popov. I was wrong. Wineland looked as good as ever, cracking Popov with his vaunted right hook over and over. Popov fought well and has a future at 135 in the UFC but Wineland was just too much for him tonight, and those rights eventually put Popov down for good in the second round.
- In the opener, Katlyn Chookagian and Joanne Calderwood put on a decent scrap that was perhaps a little closer than the scorecards made it appear. The first and third rounds were close, but Chookagian took the second and probably took the third to earn a justified victory. She deserves a title shot next.