I'll start with the quick summary for those that don't want to read the entire thing. You know Ngannou's iconic KO of Overeem, where he nearly uppercutted the Reem's head right off his shoulders? You know Holloway's rematch with Aldo where he flawlessly dismantled and brutalized the former champion for three rounds before finishing him? What if I told you neither of those won a POTN bonus, because that's how good the rest of the card was? That's what happened at UFC 218. Not only that, but it was a historic card, one where multiple future champions' and title challengers' paths crossed on the same night. In total, this card featured 6 current, former or future champions, and 3 additional title challengers competing at various stages in their careers. Read below for a more detailed log of my experience witnessing this event that kind of flew under a lot of people's radars.
I've attended only two MMA events in person: Strikeforce Tate vs Rousey in Columbus back in 2012, and UFC 218 in Detroit in 2017. In retrospect, the Strikeforce event was a bigger deal than it felt at the time. Rousey won her first major title which springboarded her to becoming a superstar (even if I hated having to see it happen). Misaki sprung an upset over Daley and then retired, Jacare got a submission win, Kaufman and Davis put on a war, and for a brief moment Ryan Couture's career looked like it might have a chance to mirror his famous dad's (lol). However the entire thing felt...underwhelming. The entire card only had 9 fights, the main card only had 4, and there were quite a few stinkers. Scott Smith looked like he didn't want to fight anymore, offering little resistance in a quick submission loss to Sayers (who would never win another MMA bout again). Thomson was coming off a series of injuries and played it safe by grinding out a boring decision over Noons who couldn't stop the takedown (Thomson called his own performance "shit" in the post-fight interview and apologized for winning in such fashion).
The reason I'm summarizing the Strikeforce card is to provide context for the UFC event, more than 5 years later. In short, my expectations weren't especially high. It didn't help that my most recent PPV purchase was UFC 213, which was also kind of underwhelming. But UFC 218 would be their first event in SE Michigan in over 7 years, the previous one being UFC 123 back in 2010. And it would be happening at the brand new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, which was also the new home of the Red Wings and Pistons. I had attended home games for those teams at Joe Louis Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills respectively, but not yet at the new arena, so I was pretty excited to check the place out. Who knows which genius came up with the idea to schedule a Detroit event in December, but oh well, there weren't many opportunities around here to watch the UFC in person, so I wasn't going to miss this one.
On paper, the card looked good. Holloway was originally supposed to defend his recently won FW title against Edgar, but then Edgar dropped out and was replaced by Aldo in a title rematch. No problem, this would be my chance to see the legend Aldo fight in person. The rest of the card had good potential: Alvarez had recently lost his title to McGregor and was looking to bounce back, Overeem was on a 2-fight winning streak and looking to challenge Stipe again with a win, Cejudo was also looking to get another crack at DJ if he could get a win here. Like every card, there were also a bunch of fights on the prelims between fighters that I didn't know a lot about.
Obviously, the card far surpassed all expectations or I wouldn't be writing this post about it years later. The opening fight between HW prospects Willis and Crowder set the tone: a brutal early knockout while the arena was still mostly empty. Next up was an undefeated prospect (albeit a relatively old one at age 28) named Dominick Reyes who was 1-0 in the promotion, taking on MMA journeyman Jeremy Kimball. Reyes made easy work of Kimball which didn't seem like a huge deal at the time, but in hindsight this was just the start of a mighty impressive run that would continue with wins over Cannonier, OSP, Oezdemir and Weidman en route to giving Jon Jones arguably the most serious challenge for the LHW title. The Reyes fight was followed by a WW bout between Alhassan and Homasi which finished with a devastating uppercut by Alhassan that knocked his opponent out cold before hitting the canvas. Homasi remained motionless for minutes on the canvas as medical staff worked on him. Seriously check it out if you haven't. It would have easily have won POTN on most cards, but has been pretty much forgotten even by many who watched it happen because of what came next on the same card. The early prelims were capped off with Michigan's own Amanda Cooper delighting the hometown fans by beating down Angela Magana for the second-round TKO in what would be the latter's final UFC bout. As BE reported at the time, it also featured a wardrobe malfunction that caught the attention of the crowd.
Four fights, four finishes and I was already feeling like I got my money's worth. Could the FS1 prelims keep it up? Well, the streak of fight finishes ended with the next fight as Herrig-Casey went the distance. It was a fun scrap that was competitive, and ended in one of those 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 split decisions. An amusing moment came in the third round as both fighters flipped each other off in the middle of the round, channeling their inner Diazes.
The next fight featured another Michigan fighter Drakkar Klose, who proudly pointed to his tattoo of his home state's outline during the intros...and then proceeded to get out-classed by the better striker in David Teymur. Although a technically impressive display by Teymur, it was the least exciting match of the card so far. Could the next one between WW veterans Yancy Medeiros and Alex Oliveira pick up the pace? My god, if you don't know about this fight you really need to watch it in its entirety, but for now just check out other pro fighters' reactions to it. Being in the arena obviously I had no idea what the broadcast team were saying about it, but during the post-fight interview Rogan was clearly more pumped up than he had been in a long, long time. This is a fight that is criminally underrated on every "best fight of all time" list, because neither fighter was ever championship level. But I'm glad I was there to witness it in person.
The final prelim fight involved another guy named Oliveira, you might know him as Do Bronx or the current UFC LW champion. Interestingly, both Charles and Alex Oliveira came into this card with recent stoppage wins over former Bellator champion and noted UFC bust Will Brooks. Charles Oliveira was taking on Paul Felder, and this is another fight that you really need to watch in its entirety to understand the flow of the fight. Oliveira got some beautiful takedowns and started hunting for submissions as you might expect from the UFC's all-time submission record holder. However Felder showed a tenacious submission defense, repeatedly getting himself out of bad spots and landing hard ground-and-pound when the opportunities came. Eventually the strain of grappling and eating elbows took its toll and Felder walked away with a well-earned TKO win. Chucky bounced back with a submission over Guida in his next fight, the start of a 9-fight winning streak that is still active today. Looking back, it's wild that I was there to witness his last loss, when many in the MMA world wrote him off as ever being a serious title challenger.
There was a lengthy break at this point as they waited for the main card to begin (lots of finishes on the prelims means the card was ahead of schedule for once). The main card opened with Torres vs Waterson in a fun, fast-paced action fight between ranked strawweights (as is typical for that weight class). Waterson put up a good effort but Torres was too physical and got the UD win, solidifying herself as a top contender. Unfortunately for Torres she would then lose her next 4 fights against Andrade, Joanna, Weili and Rodriguez - but that level of competition shows just how high in the rankings she was at the time.
At this point there was a buzz in the building because the stands were finally full and Alvarez-Gaethje was next, a fight that many expected to deliver the best action of the night. As mentioned earlier Alvarez was coming off losing his title to McGregor and a no-contest in his first fight with Poirier, while Gaethje was undefeated and coming off his back-and-forth thriller with Michael Johnson. They had also coached the latest TUF season (regrettably the one that made Nicco Montano a champion), both guys were in the LW title picture, and both had a reputation for aggressive violence. However, I don't think even the Just Bleed crowd was expecting what actually happened. My words couldn't possibly do justice to the fight, but in simplified terms: for most of the 3 rounds Gaethje did his Gaethje thing, landing a million leg kicks while happily eating a comparable number of strikes in response, until his opponent inevitably went down from the punishment as they always do. Like all of Gaethje's previous opponents, Alvarez's lead leg turned bright red from the damage to the point where he struggled to stand. Unlike those opponents however, Alvarez found a way to not just hurt Gaethje, but finish him off with a brutal knee to the head as Gaethje faceplanted in the middle of the octagon. The finish was glorious to watch in person: from the upper deck I saw Alvarez throw his hands up in celebration, then realize the ref hadn't stepped in yet, and land more strikes on the ground before it was officially stopped.
In that moment I thought: okay might as well end the card here, no way anything could top that for the highlight reel. Then Ngannou-Overeem happened. Well, not quite. First there was Cejudo vs Sergio Pettis which at the time felt like sort of an irrelevant title eliminator if there ever was one. Cejudo grinded out a deserved but unspectacular decision win, earning a rematch with Mighty Mouse where he would get outclassed once again like Benavidez and Dodson, right? Unless you haven't paid attention to the lighter weight classes at all, you know how history would actually play out: Cejudo would spring the upset to end DJ's legendary title reign, then knock out Dillashaw to deny his attempt to become double-champ, then move up in weight to become double-champ himself, and capped it off with a title defense and retirement. And it kind of all started with that win over Pettis that everyone kind of just forgot about.
Okay, on to Ngannou-Overeem. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you've probably all seen this one.
Overeem lay motionless for more than 5 minutes. People sitting around me were screaming that Overeem was dead. Eventually he managed to wake up, and even stood in the cage smiling and talking to people before walking out by himself. Ngannou went on to face Stipe the very next month and while it didn't go his way, we all know how things turned out afterwards.
Okay, now finally the main event. After all the craziness that had already happened there was no way the main event could surpass all of that, and it didn't. Nevertheless, it was still a great performance from Holloway that firmly established him as the top FW in the sport and a top p4p level fighter. On the negative side it was sad to see Aldo fight back the best he could but ultimately offer only limited resistance before going down. Unlike the first fight where he was getting the better of the early exchanges before being overwhelmed, this time it felt like just a matter of time before he was finished. He didn't manage to win the first round, and it got worse from there. In fact, it felt like watching the end of Aldo as a great fighter - to the extent that I was actually surprised he came back to win his next two fights. Folks started clearing out of the arena pretty early, some before the fight even ended. By the time Rogan was in the cage interviewing Holloway, there were a lot of empty seats in my section and throughout.
I was amazed. This card was nothing like the Strikeforce card I had been to. I barely even remember walking the 15 minutes to my car through downtown Detroit (because I was too cheap to park at the arena). Actually, I think I spent that time reading what others had to say about the card on BE and Reddit, which I couldn't do because AT&T doesn't get a signal inside the arena (although T-Mobile does, as I could tell from people sitting near me). It turned out that in an unusual move the UFC awarded two FOTN bonuses (to Alvarez-Gaethje and Medeiros-Alex Oliveira), and no POTN bonuses. Which seems to be very little payout for the amount of damage dished out. I'm sure the good folks at Henry Ford and other local hospitals had a busy night.
If you enjoyed reading this, I encourage you to watch all the fights from the card and to check BE's own play by play.