Every week, 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…
If there was any doubt that Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino is the most dominant women’s fighter of all time, simply watch her methodical destruction of former bantamweight champion Holly Holm at UFC 219. While many lauded Holm’s boxing prowess entering the match-up, it was Cyborg’s patient, yet constant attack that was the story of the fight. The Brazilian outstruck Holm in every single round, forcing Holm’s face to swell badly from the repeated right hands. Holm showcased her toughness, going the full five rounds with the champion, but the fight was never close. Fans of Ronda Rousey should be thankful that Cyborg never got locked in a cage with her.
Holm sure has a knack for posting solid performances against seemingly invincible opponents, though. The former pro-boxing champion and her camp composed the perfect game plan to defeat the aforementioned Rousey, and they didn’t do half bad against Cyborg either. Cyborg did end up taking the nod on the scorecards, but Holm never backed down. If there’s one thing Holm has demonstrated, it’s that the key to hanging with an untouchable like Rousey or Cyborg is to not let them psychologically defeat you before the fight. Holm hasn’t been intimidated by these larger-than-life opponents, even if she can’t always beat them.
UFC 219 also provided a showcase for a number of other fighters.
Khabib Nurmagomedov completely dominated Edson Barboza and made a strong case for inclusion in the pound-for-pound top 10, even if he only stands as the No. 3 lightweight in the world right now.
Neil Magny also delivered quite the convincing showing in his decision victory over former UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Magny now holds wins over Condit, Johny Hendricks, Hector Lombard, Kelvin Gastelum and Erick Silva. If his only recent losses had been to Rafael dos Anjos and Demian Maia, Magny would be a no-brainer as a real title threat. However, his loss to Lorenz Larkin in 2016 does raise some questions. Was it a fluke, or does Magny still have too many holes in his game? His performance against Condit might suggest Magny is indeed bringing everything together.
Carla Esparza quieted the hype surrounding Cynthia Calvillo. Outside of a loss to Randa Markos, Esparza’s only other Octagon defeat came at the hands of Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a failed attempt to defend her strawweight crown. Esparza, like Magny, appears to have improved since her last loss, and she does hold wins over reigning champion Rose Namajunas and title contender Tecia Torres (in exhibition action). Esparza might only need one more win to land a title shot.
The UFC 219 prelims weren’t as deep as some other UFC pay-per-view lineups, but there is one fighter particularly deserving of a mention here. That man is rising flyweight Matheus Nicolau. The Brazilian didn’t just claim a unanimous nod over fellow fringe top-10 fighter Louis Smolka, but he did so with ridiculously lopsided scores across the board. The 24-year-old’s only official pro loss came against UFC veteran Pedro Nobre in 2012, and he lost an exhibition fight to Dileno Lopes on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4. However, he’s now added back-to-back wins over John Moraga and the aforementioned Smolka. His next fight should come against a top-10 opponent.
Who’s been the biggest UFC free-agent loss? Rory MacDonald? Ryan Bader? Phil Davis? How about Kyoji Horiguchi? The Japanese fighter sure made his case at Rizin Fighting Federation’s two-night New Year’s spectacular, where he won three fights to take the league’s 2017 bantamweight grand prix crown. Horiguchi, who competed as a flyweight while under UFC contract, finished Gabriel Oliveira via strikes in the first round to advance to the second night of the event. He then submitted Manel Kape and scored a second-round knockout of Shintaro Ishiwatari to cap off the tourney. The UFC really needs to bring Horiguchi back into the fold, preferably at flyweight.
There were plenty of other notable moments from the Rizin event, including Kanna Asakura’s victory over Rena Kubota to claim the super atomweight tournament crown, but let’s take a second to recognize another impressive showing from a true veteran of the sport, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Yes, Cro Cop’s 62-second demolition of Tsuyoshi Kosaka is hardly the same as a victory over a prime top-20 fighter, but it moves the Croatian to an eight-fight winning streak that includes victories over former Strikeforce champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Olympic medalist judoka Satoshi Ishii (twice), UFC veteran Gabriel Gonzaga and formerly undefeated up-and-comers Baruto Kaito and Amir Aliakbari. The 43-year-old Cro Cop is on fire.
The Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix 2017: Final Round also featured a one-night, four-man kickboxing tournament that included 19-year-old Japanese kickboxing phenom Tenshin Nasukawa. Nasukawa reigned supreme once again and picked up two brilliant knockout victories to move his professional kickboxing career to 23 wins and 19 knockouts. Nasukawa landed a flying switch knee in the second round that floored Yuta “Cat” Hamamoto and moved Nasukawa into the finals against amateur-boxer-turned-MMA-fighter Yamato Fujita, who Nasukawa beat under MMA rules earlier this year. Fujita had made his way to the finals with a destructive left hook that put away King of Pancrase strawweight champion Mitsuhisa Sunabe in both fighters’ kickboxing debuts. Nasukawa didn’t waste any time, stopping Fujita with three knockdowns in the first round to win the tournament.
Hinata Watanabe earned a shot at the K-1 70-kilogram title with a majority-decision victory over Yu Hirono at the K-1 World Grand Prix ~Survival Wars~ 2017 on Dec. 27. Watanabe is now scheduled to meet the current champion and top-10 lightweight Chingiz Allazov at the K-1 Festa on March 21. It’s just one of seven title fights scheduled for the blockbuster fight card.
It was a quiet end to the boxing year, with most promotions and fighters having the last few weeks off. However, Japan delivered with two of the sport’s greats getting in one last fight in 2017. Top-10 pound-for-pound boxer Naoya Inoue successfully defended his WBO world super flyweight title at the Bunka Gym in Kanagawa. Inoue was his usual dominant self, delivering vicious body shots and stopping his opponent, Yoann Boyeaux, in round three. This was the last fight for Inoue at super flyweight, as he has decided to move on to bantamweight, where bigger fights should await. The co-main of the evening saw fellow Japanese star Ken Shiro also dominate with a fourth-round stoppage over Gilberto Pedroza. With the win, Shiro improves to 11-0 while retaining his WBC world light flyweight title.