Every Monday, the Combat Press staff gathers its thoughts on the previous weekend’s fights and fight news. This feature isn’t a recap and it isn’t an editorial, but rather a bit of both worlds. We’ll scour the best from the combat-sports landscape and deliver it, with some commentary, right here. Let’s get started…
It was an incredibly busy weekend in the MMA world, beginning with the Invicta Fighting Championships 26 card on Friday and extending to a Saturday that featured events from ONE Championship, Bellator and the UFC.
Invicta still has the best two flyweights in the world, and only a move to the UFC by current Invicta flyweight champ Jennifer Maia will sort out whether Nicco Montaño can lay claim to the real 125-pound women’s throne. Montaño might have survived a gauntlet on The Ultimate Fighter 26, but Maia defended her title on Friday with a unanimous verdict over Polish phenom Aga Niedźwiedź. It was a close fight, but Maia got the job done. Montaño survived a bracket that included former Invicta champ Barb Honchak and top contender Roxanne Modafferi, but Maia now has wins over Niedźwiedź, Modafferi and Vanessa Porto. Can we please get these two women together in the cage soon?
Outside of the Invicta title fight, Mackenzie Dern took her next step with a submission finish of Kaline Medeiros, Janaisa Morandin and Virna Jindiroba continued to prove their worthiness as future UFC contenders in the strawweight division, and the aforementioned Porto added another flyweight win to continue to cement her own status as one of the top 125ers in the world. Meanwhile, Invicta introduced 18-year-old Kay Hansen to the professional ranks.
UFC Fight Night 123 capped off the weekend by firmly establishing a new player in the featherweight title mix. Brian Ortega submitted longtime contender Cub Swanson via a standing guillotine choke in the second round of their scheduled five-round main event. Ortega remains undefeated, even after six UFC appearances. While his UFC career got off to a disappointing start when his Octagon debut was ruled a no-contest for Ortega’s use of a banned substance, he has overcome that controversial start by winning five fights. His competition isn’t too shabby either: Thiago Tavares, Diego Brandão, Clay Guida, Renato Carneiro and now Swanson. The case is already being made for a showdown between Ortega and current UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway. Given Ortega’s resume, it’ll be difficult for the UFC to deny Ortega a crack at the gold.
The UFC Fight Night 123 card in Fresno, Calif., also delivered impressive showings from Gabriel Benitez, who edged Jason Knight in the evening’s co-headliner, and Marlon Moraes, who ended his slow UFC start by destroying Aljamain Sterling in just 67 seconds. Moraes, the former World Series of Fighting bantamweight titleholder, had fought to two split decisions — one win and one loss — since entering the Octagon, but his knockout of Sterling puts him back on track as a 135-pounder to fear. Benitez, meanwhile, has struggled to find consistency inside the UFC, so his decision nod definitely knocks his opponent, Knight, down a few pegs.
In addition to Ortega, there were several other fighters who emerged from UFC Fight Night 123 with their spotless records intact. Eryk Anders is perfect through 10 fights, and he handed Markus Perez the first loss of the Brazilian’s pro career. Benito Lopez and Trevin Giles also maintained unblemished marks. Lopez decisioned Albert Morales, and Giles scored a third-round finish of Antônio Braga Neto.
Bellator continued its attempt to conquer the international MMA scene by traveling to Italy for an event that was split between MMA and kickboxing. On the MMA side, Bellator middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho had no trouble putting away UFC veteran Alessio Sakara, whose title shot was largely a result of the event’s setting in Sakara’s native Italy. Elsewhere on the card, Alejandra Lara might have placed herself into the women’s flyweight title mix with a convincing submission win over Lena Ovchynnikova.
The weekend’s biggest surprise came at ONE Championship: Warriors of the World, where top male strawweight Yoshitaka Naito was knocked off his perch as the ONE 115-pound champion. Brazilian Alex Silva outworked Naito for five rounds to take the decision nod. The 33-year-old Naito had been perfect through 12 fights prior to his loss this weekend.
Alonzo Menifield continued to live up to the hype and yet again displayed his powerful striking in a second-round destruction of Otavio Lacerda at Legacy Fighting Alliance 28. Menifield is perfect through five pro fights, with all of his victories coming by way of stoppage. He’s appeared under the Bellator, Resurrection Fighting Alliance and LFA banners, and he even scored one victory on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. It would be shocking if Menifield doesn’t land in the UFC or Bellator very soon.
In 2016, Takasuke Kume captured the lightweight King of Pancrase crown with a first-round technical knockout of UFC veteran Kazuki Tokudome. On Sunday, at Pancrase 292, Kume needed even less time to finish Tokudome by knockout and defend his title. The 32-year-old Kume has had a few stumbles in his career, but he’s at the top of his game right now.
GLORY Kickboxing hosted its biggest event of the year from Rotterdam.
GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven put a stamp on the four-fight GLORY: Redemption pay-per-view card with a fifth-round knockout of Jamal Ben Saddik. Verhoeven was in trouble during the first round, but the world’s best heavyweight kickboxer survived and continued his reign of dominance. He delivered on his promise to finish Ben Saddik in the fifth round with an absolutely brutal series of punches that left Ben Saddik folded over on the ropes.
Knockouts were the theme of the card throughout the night. Top featherweight contender Petchpanomrung Kiatmookao scored a destructive “Knockout of the Year” candidate over former Shootboxing S-Cup champion Zakaria Zouggary with a brilliantly timed head kick. Former top-10 light heavyweight Danyo Ilunga joined in on the stoppage festivities when he put Michael Duut away with just over 30 seconds to go in the final round of their rematch of last year’s “Fight of the Year” contender. Rounding out the pay-per-view portion, Bailey Sugden impressed with a unanimous-decision victory over Chenglong Zhang.
GLORY middleweight titleholder Alex Pereira earned his revenge over the last man to beat him, Yousri Belgaroui. Pereira hurt Belgaroui badly in the second round, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. However, it didn’t take long for him to finish the show in the third. He stunned Belgaroui with punches and opened a massive cut over Belgaroui’s right eye that halted the bout.
Alim Nabiyev scored the biggest win of his career when he took out former GLORY welterweight champ Nieky Holzken over the course of three rounds. The 23-year-old prospect was quietly making strides towards the upper echelon in the division. With this win, it’s clear he has already arrived.
Heavyweights D’Angelo Marshall and Anderson “Braddock” Silva picked up key wins against Ismael Londt and Brian Douwes, respectively. Marshall was knocked down in the second round and on his way to losing in the third round until he stunned Londt with a kick and didn’t let him off the hook. He landed the dramatic knockdown with less than a minute to go to cement his win. Silva looked consistent with his boxing in a clear three-round decision over short-notice replacement Douwes.
Elsewhere on the GLORY card, Stoyen Koprivlenski won the lightweight contender tournament with victories over Maykol Yurk and Tyjani Beztati.
The GLORY promotion also announced a multi-fight contract with K-1 heavyweight superstar Badr Hari, who will make his return to the ring on March 21, 2018.
Krush.83 took place on Saturday, Dec. 9 from the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan. In the night’s headliner, KANA regained her Krush women’s 50-kilogram title with a victory over Mellony Geugjes, who had handed KANA her lone career loss.
Emi Matsushita edged Comachi by majority decision to take home the Krush women’s 45-kilogram title, former top-10 featherweight Yasuomi Soda returned to the win column against Hiroki Nakamura, and K-1 vet Leona Pettas knocked out Yoshiki Harada.
Bellator Kickboxing 8 from Florence, Italy, featured American stars Raymond Daniels, Joe Schilling and Kevin Ross. Daniels earned a decision win over Giannis Boukis, Schilling edged former top-10 middleweight Filip Verlinden, and Ross lost a split decision to Hamza Imane. Also, John Wayne Parr and Gabriel Varga took home wins against Piergiulo Paoucci and Roberto Gheorghita.
No Mas! The highly anticipated showdown between two of the world’s greatest boxers, Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, ended abruptly and, frankly, without much of a contest. Rigondeaux retired on his stool after the sixth round, citing a hand injury, but it seemed he was mentally broken and quit after Lomachenko outclassed him. Lomachenko continued to impress with his footwork as he danced around Rigondeaux, giving the Cuban boxer no target to hit.
The win for Lomachenko gives him a compelling case to be crowned the pound-for-pound king of boxing. The debate between whether it’s him or Terence Crawford will keep fans talking as we enter a new year.
Boxing didn’t just spoil us with a Lomachenko fight. It also gave us an “Upset of the Year” favorite, as Minnesota native Caleb Truax went to James DeGale’s home turf and surprised the Brit. Truax was brought in as a warm body. The whole focus as the fight approached was on DeGale’s return and how we would see a new, upgraded version of the super middleweight. What we saw instead was Truax constantly pressuring DeGale, delivering heavy shots as DeGale was backed up in a corner, and walking out a champ. Truax is a true underdog story. He joined the sport with the motivation to pay off his student loans. He’s done that and more. Now, he’s the new IBF super middleweight champion.
Miguel Roman defeated Orlando Salido on HBO. After the bout, Salido announced his retirement. Salido, who is the only man to have defeated the aforementioned Lomachenko, was a warrior of the game, but age and the wear and tear of over 60 pro fights finally caught up to him.
It sadly wouldn’t be a month of boxing without a robbery on the scorecards. Tevin Farmer was the victim this time. He lost a unanimous decision to Kenichi Ogawa, who became the new IBF super featherweight champ. Hopefully a rematch is in order, as Ogawa was clearly beaten through 12 rounds.