Whenever the UFC goes overseas, the events feature less familiar names, but lately, that hasn’t meant a lack of excitement. In fact, the truth is that these smaller international shows have turned into a breeding ground for entertaining fights between lesser known fighters and a tremendous platform for breakout performances.
Saturday’s fight card at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden was no different.
Despite losing the biggest name on the card (Alexander Gustafsson) from the main event less than a week prior to fight night, the event this past weekend proved to be an exciting collection of contests. Even though the main event lost a marquee name and ended up being a one-sided, technical display from Gegard Mousasi, the remainder of the action was better than expected, and produced the following breakthrough performances.
It’s not often that the winning fighter from the co-main event -- and a former Ultimate Fighter winner at that -- lands on this list, but Pearson’s trajectory over the last 18 months make him a candidate to lead off this collective of competitors.
Pearson dominated Ryan Couture on Saturday, taking the time to find his range and measure his shots before pouncing as soon as he had the second-generation fighter in trouble. It was the second consecutive win for “The Real Deal,” who looks much more comfortable now that he’s returned to the lightweight division.
After a brief two-fight detour to the featherweight ranks, Pearson quietly returned to the 155-pound weight class as the coach of Team England on The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes last year opposite George Sotiropoulos. He earned a stoppage win over his fellow coach in December on a card that went largely unnoticed, but his effort on Saturday will certainly garner attention.
He’s a very crisp, technical striker, and has shown very good finishing instincts in the past. Pearson was making a move up the ladder before losing to Edson Barboza and departing for featherweight. Now he’s got momentum pushing him up the ladder again, and his TUF past and penchant for entertaining scraps should propel him to another high profile opportunity next time out.
The other former Ultimate Fighter winner on the card is our second breakthrough fighter.
During his victorious run on Season 14 of the long-running reality TV competition, Brandao showed a tantalizing combination of ferocity and technique, steamrolling through the featherweight side of the tournament. He opened his post-TUF tenure in the UFC with a loss, however, running on fumes over the final two rounds of his fight with Darren Elkins, causing many to question whether he would reach his full potential.
That loss doesn’t look so bad now that Elkins has kept winning and climbing the rankings, and it appears to have been the wake-up call Brandao needed. He was measured and patient on Saturday, putting Pablo Garza on his back and showing tremendous jiu-jitsu en route to earning a first-round submission win.
Where he used to go 100 km/hr for as long as he could and hope his opponents couldn’t keep up, Brandao instead picked his spots against the significantly taller Garza, got inside, and then swiftly connected on an arm triangle choke to get the win.
Very early in his fight with Robbie Peralta, Corassani bounced around the cage on the balls of his feet, offering feints at his heavy-handed opponent. At one point, he took three quick steps and connected with a sharp right leg kick, looking a lot like a bearded, heavily tattooed version of Frankie Edgar.
It was clear on Saturday that the effort Corassani has been putting in with Edgar’s boxing coach Mark Henry and the rest of the “Iron Army” is paying dividends, as the Swedish featherweight who now calls New York City home put together his most complete performance to date to emerge with an upset win over Peralta.
Corassani fell back into his old habits as the fight wore on, getting into a few dangerous exchanges with his powerful opponent, and having to find his balance on rubber legs a time or two for his troubles. But he landed with heavy shots of his own throughout, and showed much better conditioning and IQ in this contest than he did last time out.
He’s now 2-0 since coming off Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, and looks like he’s trending upwards. Though his upside is somewhat limited by his age (30) and the depth of talent at the top of the division, Corassani should continue to improve the more he works with his current team, and can be counted on to deliver exciting contests every time he steps into the cage.
Add Amagov’s name to the list of Strikeforce crossovers to deliver impressive performances in their UFC debuts. The bearded Chechen was in complete control from the opening moments of his match-up with fellow Strikeforce alum Chris Spang on Saturday, dominating the action in every facet of the fight en route to a clean sweep of the scorecards.
Amagov showed off a wide assortment of unorthodox strikes, including one combination of spinning kicks that looked as if it were taken from a karate demonstration. Perhaps the most impressive of his offers were the series of headkicks he launched at Spang in the third while he had his hands cinched around the Swede’s waist.
The 26-year-old UFC neophyte was largely success during his days at middleweight in Strikeforce, save for a loss to Robbie Lawler when he was rushed up the depleted ranks too quickly. Down at welterweight now, he appears to still have the firepower he showed earlier in his career, and didn’t seem to have any real issues with the weight cut.
Welterweight is exceptionally deep, but this was a good showing for Amagov, and he has the potential to make a little noise in the lower third of the division in the second half of the year.
McGregor’s exploits under the Cage Warriors banner -- where he won titles in two different weight classes – and his loud, boisterous personality garnered him a great deal of hype and attention heading into his UFC debut on Saturday. It’s a position where we’re seen numerous fighters falter in the past, but not the explosive Irish standout.
McGregor exceeded expectations in his debut, needing just 67 seconds to stop Marcus Brimage, who entered the bout on a three-fight winning streak in the UFC. The SBG Ireland product looked poised and confident from the outset, slipping punches and offering from unexpected angles, catching Brimage with a lunging uppercut that stunned proved to be the beginning of the end.
The charismatic featherweight dropped Brimage shortly thereafter and pounced, finishing things before the crowd had a chance to settle, showing that he has the substance to back up his swagger.
McGregor is the type of fighter -- energetic and engaging outside of the cage, dangerous and exciting inside the cage -- who could become a major star. Expect a strong push and a steady diet of winnable fights for McGregor in the next year, starting with an appearance in Boston when the UFC returns to “Beantown” in July.