UFC 189 Co-Main Event & Undercard Preview

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Given the relentless hype for the main event, it’s been easy to forget that there is actually an undercard to UFC 189 on Saturday but that undercard would probably be amongst the best PPV cards of the year even if both Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes suddenly got injured.

The co-main event itself is a fight worthy of headlining any MMA card as Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1NC) looks to make the first defence of his UFC Welterweight title against Rory MacDonald (18-2).

Robbie Lawler’s career would make an excellent movie trilogy, all the way from the youthful prodigy through his journeyman years in the wilderness to his triumphant UFC return and title victory.

6-1 since returning to the UFC and dropping back down to Welterweight, Lawler seems to have reached a point in his career where natural talents, coaching, experience and a maturity have moulded him into a complete martial artist where his always dangerous striking is fully in accord with his grappling game, cardio and mentality.

By contrast, Rory MacDonald has seemed like the heir apparent to the welterweight throne for years. A protégé of former champion Georges St-Pierre, it seemed that MacDonald was always the new big thing at 170lbs even as losses to elite fighters Carlos Condit (losing to a late KO after dominating the fight for three rounds) and Lawler (via split decision) checked his progress towards the seemingly inevitable title shot.

Nonetheless, MacDonald rebounded from both losses by becoming a more dangerous, more complete martial artists and in the five years since first tasting defeat in that fight against Condit.

Now, one of the sports most beloved and skilled veterans faces off with one of the preeminent examples of a modern, well rounded, cerebral and above all, professional MMA fighter with the belt on the line. What more could you ask for?

Well, a promoter would ask for one of them to be a bit mouthier and turn a credible sporting contest into a bit more of a media sensation, but a certain Irishman seems to have pegged the market in that field. In any case, for true fans of mixed martial arts as a sport, this is as credible a title matchwith as compelling a sporting narrative as any you are likely to find.

The main card is filled out with a few excellent fights, all of which could be expected to headline a Fight Pass card in their own right. Firstly, a featherweight contest between two guys who are no stranger to ‘of the night’ bonuses and had been on the outer edge of title contention before some recent losses in the shape of Dennis Bermudez (14-4) and Jeremy Stephens (23-11). A win for either man really places them back in the mix.

Next we have two rising welterweight prospects who met defeat in their last bout against experienced opposition as the exciting Brandon Thatch (11-2) meets smooth Icelander, Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) looking to recover from losses to Benson Henderson and Rick Story respectively. Both are highly regarded by UFC brass, the media and the fans so the winner here could find themselves a win or two from a title shot.

Opening the main card, Brad Pickett (24-10) returns to 135lbs following a disappointing 1-3 run at Flyweight and is rewarded with the dubious honour of facing undefeated prospect Thomas Almeida (18-0). Pickett would be the biggest scalp of Almedia’s career to date, while a win over the impressive youngster would immediately rehabilitate Pickett to his former spot in the top ten of the bantamweight rankings.

The preliminary card also has it’s share of great fights as ‘Immortal’ Matt Brown (19-13) faces the surging Tim Means (24-6-1) and with a hefty 28 knockout wins between them I don’t think anyone is expecting a dull fight…

We’ve also got former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred (17-2-1) looking to impress after a lukewarm start to his UFC career when he faces the ever-game veteran John Howard (22-11) and Neil Seery (15-10)continues his UFC fairytale against Louis Smolka (8-1) knowing that a win would likely place him in title contention given the shallow waters in the flyweight division.

For once this is a card which actually seems worth staying up late for so let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: UFC FN Abu Dhabi Edition

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You know the drill…

The Good:

Friday Night Fights! A better end to a heinous work week, I have yet to find. The fact that it also aired at a nice civilised time (for us in Scotland, anyway) really helped.

Back and forth action all night was a theme, with compelling action from Jim Alers & Alan Omer, Ryan LaFlare & John Howard and Clay Guida & Tatsuya Kawajiri more than making up for not providing a finish with some great competition.

In fact, all three of those bouts were an advert for why grappling is not boring and is an important part of MMA that shouldn’t be traded away just to satisfy the urges of folks who are only interested in knockouts, blood and finishes. Excellent work guys.

To countermand the decisions, there were impressive knockout victories for Thales Leites, Ramsey Nijem and Roy Nelson who all raised their stock considerably with decisive victories that will have improved their rankings and highlight reels in equal measure. Expect some very tasty matchups for these three next.

The EMEA broadcast team of John Gooden, Dan Hardy and Andy Friedlander all performed well with Hardy a natural in the colour commentator role, Gooden as reliable as he ever was and Friedlander much smoother and more confident than in London. Again, excellent work.

The Bad:

It’s never nice to see a match called off in the first round due to injury, especially when it’s from a foul but the decision to rule the headbutt between Rani Yahya and Jonny Bedford accidental was a good one.

The Ugly:

I’m sure I speak for all men when I say that I have no desire to ever see Ryan LaFlare’s (admittedly accidental) knee to John Howard’s nuts ever again. It was probably the most solid, impactful and empathically brutal strike to the man jewels I have ever seen.

The fact that Howard not only continued the fight, but damn near took the decision after absorbing that blow has only raised my already considerable respect for him. Howard is a warrior beyond compare. I would have just died, and been grateful that the pain went away.

Our Bonus Award Winners

Fight of the Night

On a great night of fights, this was a tough call but it has to go to Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri for an excellent display, which despite the 30-27 nature of Guida’s victory, all the rounds were close and Kawajiri was several times very close with submissions.  That is an example of an exciting grappling based match.

Performance of the Night #1

Thales Leites for the utter dominance he showed in securing his first TKO victory in almost nine years. A top ten fight awaits.

Performance of the Night #2

I like to spread the bonuses around, so where I might have selected Clay Guida here, I’m going to give credit to Ramsey Nijem for overcoming a super tough Beniel Dariush in such concussive and bloody fashion. This was Nijem’s best UFC performance to date and I’d also like to credit him for putting himself forward as a positive ambassador for those of middle eastern heritage in a distinctly American promotion. That was a brave call to make so respect to Ramsey for that.

Finish of the Night

Roy Nelson for utterly starching Big Nog with his trademark overhand right, complete with Mark Hunt-esque walk away. Stunning in every sense. Nelson vs. Hunt would be a match I’d pay to see now…

All in all, this was a cracking event, easily one of the UFC’s best so far this year. More like this please…

MAIN
• Roy Nelson def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 3:37
• Clay Guida def. Tatsuya Kawajiri via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
• Ryan LaFlare def. John Howard via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
• Ramsey Nijem def. Beneil Dariush via TKO (strikes) – Round 1, 4:20

PRELIMINARY
• Jared Rosholt def. Daniel Omielanczuk via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
• Thales Leites def. Trevor Smith via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 0:45
• Jim Alers def. Alan Omer via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
• Johnny Bedford vs. Rani Yahya declared no-contest (accidental head-butt) – Round 1, 0:39