And the streak continues.
Renan Barao scored a successful defence of his interim UFC bantamweight title in the main event Saturday night in England, forcing Michael McDonald to tap to a tight arm triangle midway through the fourth round, pushing his unbeaten streak to 31 consecutive contests in the process.
A fairly close fight heading into the championship rounds, the bout looked to be up for grabs early in the fourth. McDonald was landing with more power throughout, but Barao had a significant edge in volume, and showed deft skills on the ground to grab the finishing choke the instant he saw the opening.
McDonald looked for a hip toss, but Barao countered and took his back. As McDonald attempted to turn to his back, the Brazilian quickly sunk in the submission, tightening his squeeze, forcing McDonald to tap.
All that remains in the bantamweight division for Barao is a showdown with injured champion Dominick Cruz. Unless the 145-pound ranks receives an unexpected influx of high-profile talent, the 25-year-old Nova Uniao product is likely to wait for a title unification bout with Cruz when “The Dominator” returns from his extended injury hiatus later this year.
Just the second career loss for McDonald, the 22-year-old standout had his moments in his first championship fight in the UFC. With a balanced approach in the cage and plenty of very good years still ahead of him, don’t expect this to be the last time we see “Mayday” fighting for a title inside the Octagon.
Everyone expected the featherweight battle between Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier to be a fast-paced, back-and-forth affair, and the two 145-pound contenders delivered.
Swanson used his superior speed to pick at Poirier in space, connecting with some heavy shots in each of the first two rounds, while Poirier looked to counter and pursue takedowns. Though he was able to drag Swanson to the ground in each frame, Poirier wasn’t able to find much offence on the canvas.
In the third, Poirier found his striking range early, putting together several good combinations to stagger Swanson. Just when it looked like “The Diamond” was going to turn it one and control the frame, Swanson countered, timing a takedown perfectly, and regaining control of the fight when the two hit the ground, riding out the majority of the round in dominant positions.
Swanson swept the scorecards to earn his fourth consecutive victory, while Poirier put forth a solid effort overall, especially given that he took the fight on short notice. It will be interesting to see what the UFC decides to go with Swanson from here, as he’s worked his way into contention, but already has loss to champion Jose Aldo, and top contenders Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas on his resume.
Jimi Manuwa’s unbeaten streak continued, but this one did not end as a result of his violent striking. The doctors called a stop to the contest between the first and second round as Diabate complained about pain in his lower left leg.
Manuwa controlled the action in the first, landing with strikes when he could without putting himself in jeopardy, and putting Diabate on his back with quick takedowns at various points. Hopefully this doesn’t prove to be the anticlimactic end of the line for the 39-year-old Diabate, who admitted during fight week that motivation was becoming a problem and retirement had crossed his mind.
Welterweight prospect Gunnar Nelson continued his climb up the rankings with a solid performance against Jorge Santiago. The young Icelandic grappler showed more of his striking game this time around, and controlled the action on the canvas at times as well, taking advantage of the few opportunities Santiago gave him to earn his second consecutive win in the UFC.
Santiago pressed forward with urgency in the third, but Nelson was able to weather the storm and land some forceful uppercuts of his own, showing a precise striking game to accompany his outstanding prowess on the mat. Now 11-0-1 in his career, Nelson showed Saturday why many believe he has a very bright future inside the cage.
Light heavyweights Ryan Jimmo and James Te-Huna put on an incredibly entertaining back-and-forth affair for the British fans in attendance and those watching at home.
The Canadian Jimmo dropped Te-Huna early the first with a perfectly timed headkick, and spent the remainder of the round battering the big New Zealander. In the second, it was a complete reversal, as Te-Huna took Jimmo to the ground, and controlled the action on the canvas, dropping heavy hands on the former MFC champion throughout.
Te-Huna continued to control in the third, taking Jimmo to the ground with two minutes left, and never allowing the Canadian to get back to his feet before the final horn sounded. Despite nearly getting finished in the first, Te-Huna earned a unanimous nod from the judges, with scores of 29-27, 29-28, and 29-28, ending Jimmo’s lengthy winning streak, and extending his own run of success to four straight.
Matthew Riddle wisely played to his strengths against Che Mills, eschewing his penchant for wild slugfests in favour of his wrestling to earn a dominant victory in Saturday’s main card opener.
The former Ultimate Fighter contest, who has had every one of his professional fights inside the Octagon, drew boos from the crowd when he was introduced and throughout the bout for not engaging the British striker in a brawl, but it was a very sound tactical choice. Mills had little to offer off his back, and could not maintain the pace Riddle put forward.
Although one of the judges somehow scored the bout for Mills, Riddle got the nod from each of the other two officials, pushing his record to 8-3 overall, while Mills falls to 15-6 in his career.
TUF: Brazil alum Renee Forte had a very impressive showing in his UFC lightweight debut, dominating local favourite Terry Etim. The Team Nogueira fighter edged out the first round as the more active of the two, and turned up the intensity in the second, staggering Etim with a big right hand, nearly finding a finish.
Etim endured, but continued to be on the backpedal, as Forte closed the distance, nullifying the Liverpool-based fighters long reach. After dropping his UFC debut last October to Sergio Moraes, the Brazilian moves to 8-2 overall with his first win in the Octagon.
Most fighters try to avoid going to the ground with Paul Sass, but veteran lightweight Danny Castillo spent nearly the full 15 minutes controlling the British submission specialist on the canvas.
The Team Alpha Male member avoided and defended every submission attempt Sass put forward, dropping heavy ground-and-pound in fits and starts throughout the first and second before controlling position over the final round. Sass never stopped hunting, but it was clear Castillo was the better, stronger, more well-rounded man in the cage on Saturday at Wembley Arena. The judges saw it that way as well, awarding “Last Call” a unanimous decision victory to push his record to 15-5 overall, and 5-2 in the UFC.
After dropping a narrow split decision in his first official UFC appearance, TUF 15 fan favourite Andy Ogle collected his first win in the Octagon on Saturday, handing one-time title contender Josh Grispi his fourth consecutive defeat.
Grispi actually controlled the majority of the first from his back, threatening with a triangle choke, forcing Ogle to defend for much of the frame. “The Little Axe” defended well, and eventually worked his way out of danger, and in the second and third, the birthday boy imposed his will on Grispi, dominating the action on the ground, coming away with a 29-28 sweep of the scorecards.
In what can only be described as a beautifully ugly brawl, Tom (Kong) Watson earned his first UFC victory with a second round stoppage over Stanislav (Stucky) Nedkov. The British middleweight controlled the majority of the first round from the Thai clinch, landing knees to the body and short elbows in tight, but Nedkov turned it around late in the frame, nearly putting Watson away with a huge furry.
Nedkov looked to keep the momentum going in the second, scoring a couple quick dump takedowns, but Watson was able to quickly work his way back to his feet. As the Bulgarian wrestler tired, the charismatic Brit cranked it up. Watson returned to the Thai clinch, and opened up on Nedkov, battering him along the fence before dropping him with a knee to the midsection.
Following his win, Watson called out anyone using testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), calling the controversial treatment an “epidemic” to a round of applause, and a great deal of praise on social media platforms.
Vaughan Lee and Motonobu Tezuka played to their strengths, engaging in a grinding grappling battle. The Japanese fighter, who debuted with a short notice loss to Alex Caceres last November in Macau, pressed the action in the second and third, forcing Lee to defend takedown attempts, and fend off a chain on leg lock attempts in the middle round.
But the British bantamweight did a very good job of shutting down Tezuka’s takedown attempts, and peppered with strikes from in the clinch along the cage throughout, out-landing his foe considerably over the 15-minute affair en route to earning a clean sweep of the scorecards to secure the 13th win of his career.
The event kicked off with grapplers Ulysses Gomez and Phil Harris engaging in a lackluster kickboxing battle that went to the cards. Gomez landed a plethora of leg kicks throughout, but Harris did a good job to press the action, and stuff several takedown attempts. With no major swing points in the three-round affair, the judges correctly rewarded Harris’ boxing and aggression, awarding the Brit a unanimous decision win to level his record at 1-1 in the UFC.