39-year-old Stephen Thompson turned back the clock and put on a show, surviving an early scare and putting a really high pace against Kevin Holland to headline UFC Orlando.
Holland willingly played Thompson’s game, as he kept pushing forward and ran into a lot of shots from the Karate expert. He had a distinct power edge, hurting Thompson even with the few clean shots he landed, but for the most part, he was just eating big shots and getting picked apart.
Holland had multiple chances to engage on the ground, where he has a huge advantage, but he repeatedly let Wonderboy up. The crowd enjoyed the slugfest, but it wasn’t the smartest move as it only opened him up for more punishment. By the time Holland wanted to actually go to the ground, it was way too late as he was already too battered and beaten up to complete takedowns.
Respect should also go to Holland’s corner for mercifully throwing in the towel at the end of the fourth round, which for whatever reason is still a rare thing seen in mixed martial arts. Holland has heart and an insane chin, but he took an intense amount of damage in that fight. The punishment was already worrying, but it could’ve been a lot worse if it continued to the fifth round.
In the co-main event, Rafael dos Anjos showed his veteran savvy by refusing to play Bryan Barberena’s game, taking him down twice and instantly showing that he had a massive advantage on the ground. Once he got the back, he cranked on that neck and face and got the tap.
Impressive win for the former lightweight champion, who is still taking names at 38, while also holding the record for longest time spent fighting inside the Octagon. RDA made it look easy, and he also cut a nice promo to call out Conor McGregor, saying he still has a few months to clean his system of PEDs.
UFC Orlando was a good night for two long term UFC stars that are pushing 40.
- After five straight decisions to end the prelims, the main card was particularly brutal with all seven bouts ending by stoppage. It’ll be hard to choose who to give $50,000 to, and this card is another example why there should be finish bonuses and set rules, instead of ones based on a UFC executive’s whim.
- In a card full of wild finishes, Roman Dolidze stood out as he pulled off some slick and rarely seen grappling in his bout with Jack Hermansson. He transitioned from an armbar to an inverted triangle, before switching to a calf crusher where he was able to use it to flatten him out and land brutal shots to a defenseless Hermansson. That was probably the first time I’ve seen a calf crusher ground and pound finish, and even more impressive was Dolidze not only did it against a longtime contender and talented grappler, but also on short notice. What a way to take advantage of an opportunity when Derek Brunson pulled out, and to now enter the top 10.
- Matheus Nicolau looked sharp, showcasing his improved striking as he repeatedly dropped Matt Schnell to eventually get a finish.
- Sergei Pavlovich and Tai Tuivasa slugged it out as expected, but it was the Russian fighter that landed first and landed often. He dropped Tuivasa multiple times, hurting him early and swarming him to get a finish in under a minute. Tuivasa showed some heart, but the flurry was too much and Pavlovich extended his impressive KO streak to five.
- Phil Rowe and Niko Price put on a wild back and forth affair, with the third round alone already making for a bonus worthy affair. Both men got close to being finished in the final round, and at one point it looked like the always durable Price was going to make another comeback. Rowe recovered though and turned the tables again to win by TKO in his home town.