Who Were The Big Winners From Scotiabank Arena in Toronto?
The most anticipated featherweight title bout since arguably Mcgregor vs Aldo, Max Holloway vs Brian Ortega didn't disappoint. After some scary health-related issues cancelled their last scheduled fight, it was reassuring to see Holloway looking championship form in the early-going, easily landing his overhand right on Ortega and successfully defending against Ortega's two takedown attempts. The left and the right continued to land in the second for Holloway, bloodying the face of Ortega, who still managed to throw some strong combos of his own through the mess. By the third round, T-City had found his range and unloaded a flurry of strikes on the champ, although the champ still was able to slip his takedown and continue to find homes for his jabs. Holloway's masterful boxing was the story of round four, as he teed off on Ortega's increasingly battered head. It's a testament to Ortega's notoriously strong chin that he made it out of the round, but the doctors couldn't let the fight continue with the such severe blood loss. The fight is called before the fifth round resumes. Holloway continues his reign as champ and Ortega his first professional loss. Little doubt these two will meet again one day.
With the vacant women's flyweight belt up for grabs, it's hard to argue there was a more compelling matchup to determine the next queen of the division. They had met three times before in Muay Thai championships, with Shevchenko coming out on top in all three instances. Fast forward to their MMA title bout, and it was again Valentina that had Joanna's number. Pairing two of the best strikers in women's MMA was among the multitude of reasons this fight was so richly anticipated, and neither fighter disappointed, with Jedrzejczyk pressing forward with kicks and overhand throws, and Shevchenko's sharp counterpunching combos. The tipping point, however, was what happened on the ground. The first and fourth rounds showed good clinch control from Shevchenko, and her takedown in round two led to Jedrzejczyk eating some elbows and a knee to the head. By the fifth round, Jedrzejczyk wore signs of fatigue, and while her striking was still sharp, Shevchecnko's combos and kicks were clearly taking their toll. Scrapping wildly until the final bell, the two immediately embraced, knowing they had left everything in the Octagon. Shevchenko finally hoists the women's flyweight strap over her shoulder following an exceptional performance.
Gunnar Nelson's return to the Octagon after long, injury-ridden layoff wasn't the easiest fight of his life, but he'll take it. Alex Oliveira used Nelson's penchant for ground fighting against him in the first, firing off shots while Nelson was on his back and opening a cut on the Icelander. In the second round, however, Nelson's black belt in BJJ was on full display as he went to work on Cowboy. Working into top position, Nelson hit him with some brutal elbows that opened up the Brazilian, and when Cowboy gave up his back, Nelson moved in for his trademark submission finish. With the win, Gunnar Nelson ties Chris Lytle for most submission wins in UFC welterweight history with six.
Hot up-and-comers Hakeem Dawodu and Kyle Bochniak kept the show rolling with a standup battle, both moving briskly and looking for openings to unleash their trademark weapons. Although known for putting on a show, smart fighting by both men kept the fireworks to short bursts in favor of cerebral, clinical striking, mostly in the center of the Octagon. Bochniak scored a takedown in the third, briefly giving him an edge in control. But when the battle went back to its feet, his bloodied face was clearly wearing more damage then his opponent. A true stand-and-bang affair, the judges gave the nod to Dawodu, his second win in a row.
Making a Herculean fifth walk to the Octagon in a calendar year, Thiago Santos didn't look the slightest bit worse for the wear. Nearly taking Jimi Manuwa's head off at the opening bell, it was clear he was coming for the finish. Veteran Manuwa didn't make it easy, and the two took turns throughout the first round wobbling the other with frenetic combinations. By the time the first round concluded, it was a safe bet that the battle wouldn't be going the full 15 minutes. In fact, Santos needed only another 41 seconds to finish the job, charging at his opponent and firing off a left hook combo that put the Brit to sleep. A thrilling 5 minutes and 41 seconds of MMA, and a huge statement win for Santos.
Nina Ansaroff was looking to make a big jump up in the strawweight conversation by knocking off perennial contender Claudia Gadelha, and she did exactly that. Her skills as a striker were on display when the fight stayed standing and she could wield her size advantage. The ground, however, is Gadelha's bread and butter, and when the fight went there, the classic striker vs grappler battled ensued. Ansaroff's left jab was particularly effective, however, and the fight stayed on its feet long enough for employ it repeatedly. Ansaroff scores her fourth win in a row, tying Tatiana Suarez for the longest active UFC win streak in the strawweight division.
“I feel great. I honestly thought I’d be defending a lot more takedowns. I slipped on the second one and couldn’t keep myself up but I was good after that. The rest of the fight was what I strategized. Keeping my range, finding her and fighting my fight. She’s the #3 strawweight right now so the victory means a lot but I don’t need to mention any names. Give me someone else who is supposed to be better than me.”
Olivier Aubin-Mercier received a hero's welcome for the walkout in his native Canada, but it was Gilbert Burns who made the most of their rescheduled match. Controlling from the ground in the first round and nearly pulling off a TKO finish, Burns showed he was equally adept at striking in the second. A kick to The Canadian Gangster's midsection had such force that it left a definitive footprint; toes and all. Considering the damage he was taking, Aubin-Mercier's toughness was exemplary as he looked for a kill-shot in the third round. But when the fight went back to the mat, it was all Burns again, controlling and pounding from every angle and sealing the victory.
“I knew this was a good matchup for me when I called for the fight and everything went according to plan. I am stronger, I have more power in my hands, I’m more dangerous on the ground. I wanted a chance to show what I can do because I truly believe I am in the best in the world at this weight. I was surprised by his durability. I had him in a choke and then transitioned to the armbar but he hung in there. He’s a really tough guy and I have a lot of respect for him. It feels good to be back in the win column. Now, I want to keep showcasing my skills. I will be ready to fight again in February or March so anybody who wants to fight, I’ll sign that contract and let’s go.”
Two flyweights looking to make their respective cases to be the next in line for a title shot Katlyn Chookagian vs Jessica Eye was an intense, scrappy affair from the opening bell. Both fighters stayed extremely active, with Eye stalking forward from the center and Chookagian largely countering from the outside. With these distinct styles, both fighters landed successfully, but had to eat some punches in return. The fight didn't hit the mat until the third round when Chookagian got the better of an Eye takedown against the fence before returning to the back and forth standup that characterized the rest of fight. True to the equal efforts of both flyweights, the fight ends in a close split decision.
“There was no worry for me when I heard that it was a split decision. Somehow all of my fights end up being split decisions but I knew I had done enough to win. All she was really landing was that sidekick and I knew I had done much more. I attribute my success this year to finally being at my natural weight class. I know I am strong and fast but being at the right weight has helped a ton. My coaches have taught me patience also. I’m a big girl now and I have to listen to what they say and listening has been paying off. Title shot is next – or, it better be next! Joanna, Valentina, I’m coming!”
Elias Theodorou kept Canada's win streak alive with a spirited effort on the FS1 prelims. Former college football star Eryk Anders spent much of the first round looking confounded and trying to figure out the speedier Elias Theodorou, who landed some intense shots as he worked from the perimeter. Once Anders figured out how to cut off the Octagon, however, then the tables began to turn. Anders owned the second round, landing his cannon-like jab at will and knocking The Spartan to the mat. Theodorou switched and worked from the middle of the Octagon in what felt like a largely even third round where both fighters took turns getting points. No surprise that this one was a split decision, and the Canadian got the nod from the judges.
“I knew it was a close fight so you always wonder how the judges scored it when you here a split decision but I felt like I had done enough to win. I knew he won the second round but I felt like I’d done enough in the third to get the victory. Like Joe Rogan said, I am a very tough fighter to plan for. I attribute that to being an amateur skateboarder in my youth and the balance and ability to shift direction comes from that too. Overall, I still look at myself as a very young fighter so I always just want to push myself and find ways to develop. What I want next is to continue that journey and learn more about myself as a fighter – and stay true to that. From there, I will just continue to push myself to the top!”
Canada's first win of the evening came from Winnipeg's own Brad Katona. The always-tough Matt Lopez came into the bout particularly hungry after dropping his last two contests. Lopez set the tone early with some swift right hands to the head of the John Kavanaugh student, and thwarted his attempted takedown. Lopez continually closed the distance and fired off some stiff combinations. While Katona countered gamely, Lopez seemed unfazed by Katona's arsenal in the first round. After slipping out of a takedown in the second round, Katona seemed to find a new gear, landing some strong jabs and kicks while Lopez began to get visibly winded. Katona's new tempo continued into the third, out-pointing Lopez and nearly executing the rear naked choke as time expired. With the win, Katona remains undefeated as a professional.
“There is only one word to describe how I’m feeling: amazing. To be back here in Canada fighting for the Canadian fans and giving them our first victory of the night is a very special thing. I was away for a while for The Ultimate Fighter and nothing is like fighting at home in Canada. We knew that Matthew is a very tough guy and he’s known for having power but I felt like I could handle whatever he came with as long as I stayed smart. I was able to control the pace of the fight and it felt really good knowing that I was the faster guy. I think that made a big difference. Overall, I’m very happy with the performance and I wish I had prepared some thoughts ahead of time on who should be next. However, the main thing for me is to just be ready for anyone the UFC wants me to fight.”
Another Canadian who had his homecoming spoiled, Chad Laprise came out quick, putting intense pressure on Dhiego Lima and marching him down. Lima stayed focused, however, and laid one perfectly timed left uppercut on Laprise's chin less than two minutes into the first round. The knockout gets Lima back in the win column after dropping his previous two.
“I thought the fight went exactly to plan. My coaches told me to just believe in my hands and believe in the power they hold so it’s beautiful to get the first round knockout tonight. A lot of people doubt me. They only remember the struggles I had so going out there and doing something like that is an amazing feeling. I want to prove that I’ve grown as a fighter and I’m not the same Diego Lima that people think they know. Sean Shelby, UFC, Dana White, I hope you enjoyed the fight tonight and I look forward to doing that again when I get back out there.”
One of Canada's top-ranked lightweights, Kyle Nelson stepped on super-short notice to keep Diego Ferreira's return to the Octagon on schedule. Nelson looked strong when the fight was on its feet, catching Ferreira with some well-timed right hands, but on the mat, Ferreira dominated, exhausting Nelson until he had no answer for the fists raining down on him from the top position. Ferreira wins his third in a row, spoiling Nelson's UFC debut.
“This was an interesting experience. We changed opponents, like, three times so we just had to stay sharp and find a way for me to implement my game plan. [Nelson] is a tough guy and came prepared so he caught me with a body shot and had a good first round but I knew that my preparation would come into play as the fight went on and that’s what I did. I was able to start taking over in the second round and we got the finish. My goal is to stay active and keep climbing the rankings. Luckily, we got the job done quickly tonight so I won’t have to wait very long to turn around. I want the matchmakers to know I’m here and ready to fight anytime, anywhere!”
Part of the next generation of talent at light heavyweight, Clark and Rakic kicked off the festivities with an aggressive, forward-marching battle. Clark seemed to have a chance to put it away early in the first with a brutal series of controversial knees to the head against the fence. But Rakic caught Clark with a spinning backfist shortly afterwards, sending Clark to the canvas where he was finished with some vicious ground and pound. Rakic remains undefeated in the UFC with the win, and has the second longest win streak in the division with three.
“I feel like we started the show very well. I predicted this. I predicted that I would knock him out but I thought the fight would last a little longer. I had been predicting a second round knockout after I wore him down a bit. I thought I would catch him with an uppercut. However, it’s never a bad thing to end the fight in the first so I am very happy. I am undefeated in the UFC and have won 10 straight fights. I think I am one of the best in the world and I proved that tonight. I hope for a Top 15 opponent when I return to the Octagon but I understand that this sport is all about climbing so I will be ready to face whoever the UFC thinks should be next for me.”