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…
The UFC’s trip to Belem, Para, Brazil, on Saturday showcased not only one of the most talented female athletes on the planet in Valentina Shevchenko, but also some of the worst parts of the sport of MMA.
First, there was referee Mario Yamasaki, a longtime veteran of the cage whose officiating skills seem to be declining faster by the day. Yamasaki let Shevchenko’s opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, take one of the worst beatings in recent memory. MMA media actually debated whether the first round was a 10-7 round before an even more dominant second round. The final strike stats according to Fightmetric were 230-3 in favor of Shevchenko, but at no point did Yamasaki step in to save the Brazilian fighter from the one-sided assault. Had Cachoeira not tapped out to a rear-naked choke late in the second stanza, who knows how much more damage she would have absorbed.
Sadly, it’s not Yamasaki who should be taking the most heat for what transpired in the Shevchenko-Cachoeira bout. It should be the UFC matchmaking duo of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard who are the recipients of the wrath of MMA fans and media. Shevchenko arguably defeated current UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in the pair’s match-up at UFC 215 and has a UFC resume that includes wins over Holly Holm, Sarah Kaufman and Julianna Peña. Couple that with her extensive background in Muay Thai — she has a record of 56-2 in kickboxing — that includes three victories over former UFC titleholder Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and it’s easy to see why many feel Shevchenko is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. No one should have been surprised that her skills would translate to the flyweight division, a more natural weight class for her. So, why was she matched up against Cachoeira, a fighter who had never competed in the Octagon?
There’s only one answer: incompetence. Yes, Cachoeira entered the fight undefeated with eight wins on the Brazilian regional circuit, but only four of those wins came over opponents with winning records. And only two of her opponents had more than 10 fights on their record. Putting her in the cage against someone of Shevchenko’s caliber is simply irresponsible. Shevchenko has over 80 combined fights on her resume (including boxing and kickboxing), so Cachoeira was outgunned the moment she stepped into the cage. She served the purpose of a warm body for Shevchenko to destroy. If this is the level of effort that fans can expect from Shelby and Maynard going forward, then Saturday’s ugly beatdown is not going to be anomaly.
The main event of the UFC Fight Night 125 card demonstrated that Lyoto Machida’s not completely done yet. The Brazilian has been losing a lot of his fights lately, but he was able to squeak out a split decision over rising middleweight Eryk Anders. The 39-year-old Machida is just 2-4 over his last six fights, but the losses came against top-10 fighters Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson. Machida might not be able to hang with the elite anymore, but he’s no pushover or easy stepping stone for up-and-comers either.
The UFC card in Brazil also delivered some resume-strengthening performances for lesser-known names. Flyweight Deiveson Figuieredo, women’s strawweight Polyana Viana, lightweights Alan Patrick and Michel Prazeres, bantamweight Douglas Andrade and welterweight Sergio Moraes won their respective bouts to further bolster their records. None of these fighters are in the top-tier of their division yet, but their performances on Saturday moved them one step closer.
Guess there’s a reason Travis Wiuff isn’t normally headlining fight cards in this decade. The longtime MMA staple lasted just 23 seconds in the main event of CES 48. His opponent, Greg Rebello, scored the quick knockout finish and claimed the vacant CES heavyweight belt. Wiuff had not fought in nearly a year and a half, and he was awarded a title fight for a promotion where he had never previously competed. It seems like he was merely cannon fodder for the CES star Rebello.
The flyweight King of Pancrase championship showdown between titleholder Senzo Ikeda and his 22-year-old challenger Yuya Wakamatsu was without a doubt one of the best fights so far in 2018. When the lights went out in Brazil on UFC Fight Night 125, the action was just getting started at the first Pancrase event of the year with a flyweight headliner in the mold of Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald from UFC 189. The champion worked his jab and movement to angle off and attack his younger foe. However, Wakamatsu didn’t take a step back in the first four rounds of the fight. Wakamatsu scored a knockdown with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth frame and was nearly crowned the new champion. However, Ikeda somehow survived the round and kicked off the final stanza with an absolutely relentless onslaught of knees and elbows that had Wakamatsu fighting for his life against the cage. After 22 terrific minutes of action, Ikeda retained the belt in the first defense of his title in a performance worthy of a future UFC call.
Yodsanklai Fairtex picked up his 27th victory in a row upon his return from a brief retirement last year. The Muay Thai legend clearly took the three-round decision from former top-10 kickboxer Enriko Kehl at Wu Lin Feng on Saturday, Feb. 3. Yodsanklai will likely re-enter the Combat Press kickboxing rankings. However, the lightweight division was busy with action this weekend.
There was unfortunate news before the Wu Lin Feng event when it was reported Yohan Lidon was removed from his much-anticipated bout with Lion Fight champion Regian Eersel due to an illness. Hopefully the promotion looks to rebook this high-level welterweight contest.
Speaking of division positioning, China’s Tie Yinghua continued his ascent up the featherweight rankings with one of the biggest victories of his career against GLORY champ Gabriel Varga at Glory of Heroes in Chengdu, China. Yinghua has already won three fights in 2018, including the Glory of Heroes 67-kilogram tournament with victories over Mohammed Hendouf and Iquezang Kor.Rungthanakeat.
Two of the best kickboxers in the world met in the finals of the Kunlun Fight 64-man 70-kilogram tournament. Superbon Banchamek earned his place in the final with a relaxed performance against Sergii Kuliaba early in the night. Marat Grigorian had to battle back and forth with 2014 tourney winner Dzianis Zuev in a early contender for “Fight of the Year” in order to earn his spot.
The final came to a quick and violent end. Grigorian pressed Superbon from the early going and his relentless aggression was too much for the 2016 Kunlun Fight tournament champion. Grigorian landed a three-piece combination that flatlined Superbon and crowned Grigorian as the 2017 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram world champion.
A former K-1 champion and GLORY title challenger, Grigorian has been waiting for the opportunity to push himself to the top of the division. There is only one man that stands in his way now, and that’s the current GLORY world champ and 2015 Kunlun Fight tournament champion Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, the best pound-for-pound kickboxer in the sport. In their three previous fights, Grigorian has yet to defeat Sitthichai, but all three fights were incredibly close. A fourth battle for the GLORY lightweight title seems appropriate if Sitthichai can get past Chris Baya later this month at GLORY 50.
One of the world’s most popular kickboxers, Buakaw Banchamek, continued his reign of recent dominant performances with a first-round knockout of Nayanesh Ayman at Kunlun Fight 69. There is still hope that Buakaw will compete in a marquee match-up against the upper echelon of the division, but the roadblocks that have kept the fight against Yodsanklai Fairtex from happening in the past are still in place. It’s a fight the fans have been demanding for over a decade, and it’s time to make it happen.
There was controversy in the finals of the 100-kilogram tournament final. Iraj Azizpour was crowned the tournament champion following an extra-round majority decision. Three of the five judges leaned in his favor. There is an argument that his opponent, top-10 heavyweight Roman Kryklia, won two of the first three rounds, but the judges were watching a different fight. Azizpour knocked out his Chinese opponent Asihati in the semifinals, while Kryklia had a much tougher outing against WGP Kickboxing champ Felipe Micheletti. The promotion should consider holding a rematch at a later date.
The World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semifinals were amazing 12-round battles, with the second happening on Saturday, Feb. 3, between IBF world champ Murat Gassiev and WBA titleholder Yunier Dorticos. The incredible fight ended in the 12th and final round when Gassiev stunned Dorticos to become the first man to defeat the previously unbeaten Cuban boxer. Gassiev wouldn’t relent in his attack to find the finish, eventually knocking out Dorticos through the ropes.
Murat Gassiev stops Yunier Dorticos in the 12th round of a fantastic fight. The WBSS cruiserweight semifinals were incredible. pic.twitter.com/GD6iAScG8l
The event featured some incredible back-and-forth affairs, but the most shocking was 9-to-1 underdog Hurricane Futa’s perfect counter left hook that dropped local favorite Vage Sarukhanyan in the seventh round.
Top-ranked super middleweight Gilberto Ramirez defended his WBO world title with a sixth-round knockout of Habib Ahmed on ESPN from Corpus Christi, Texas. What’s next for the super middleweight king? Will Ramirez meet the winner of the WBA and IBO title-unification bout between George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr., which takes place in two weeks?
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