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…
Fedor Emelianenko returned in a winning effort at Bellator 198. The Russian legend destroyed former UFC champion Frank Mir in just 48 seconds. It’s clear Emelianenko is diminished physically, but a lot of the problems he has had in recent years do not involve physical decline. Rather, it’s his approach of fighting in a manner that doesn’t take advantage of his biggest assets — experience, all-around skill, quickness and explosive power. When you are declining physically, you can’t take as many chances or be as obvious. You don’t have the durability that allows you the freedom and aggression or stripped-down approach.
To continue to win, Emelianenko is going to have to use his clinch skills, footwork, counterpunching, throws, trips and body-lock takedowns. This is when he was at his best in his prime, and it is what he is going to have to fall back on to navigate the limitations that age, as well as wear and tear, have placed on him physically. Emelianenko showed flashes of this in his short-lived outing with Mir, and the results were tremendous. If he wants to continue to win, he will have to continue moving in this direction, reinstalling the layers, nuance and subtlety to a game that had recently become stunningly inefficient in its simplicity.
If Mir had a chin, he would be the greatest heavyweight of all time. He has a balanced striking game — not elite, but enough to engage on multiple fronts. He is a serviceable wrestler who is good enough to get takedowns in spots. His grappling, especially as a finisher, is at an elite level for a mixed martial artist. Yet, he has never had a great chin. His ability to recover from shots is even worse, and this has been his Achilles’ heel in his prime and has become even more so as he has aged. Mir’s chin once again betrayed him against Emelianenko, as he fell in the first round to a counterpunch knockout.
Gerald Harris was in a tough spot against Rafael Lovato Jr. Harris stepped in as a late replacement for the injured John Salter. It was a short-notice fight against a streaking opponent who happened to have one of the best all-around ground games in the promotion. For all intents and purposes, Harris accounted himself well. However, he made one mistake: he engaged in a prolonged ground exchange early while still dry and while his opponent was still fresh. He got caught. Lovato was able to finish Harris in just 71 seconds of their Bellator 198 bout by way of an armbar. At a later stage of the fight, Harris might have been able to squirm out of the hold, or maybe Lovato’s transition would be a half second off. Instead, Harris chose to engage on the ground early and paid a heavy price.
Sam Sicilia followed suit. Unlike Harris, Sicilia had a full camp and wasn’t previously retired. Yet, much like Harris, Sicilia made the wrong decision and paid dearly for it against Emmanuel Sanchez. Sicilia’s loss was much more the result of poor cage IQ and awareness, because nothing in his fight history says he should or could survive in a ground exchange of note. He allowed his opponent to almost completely secure position before he even attempted to fight. Maybe a grappler of a better skill set or pedigree could get away with that, but a better grappler wouldn’t put himself in that spot. Sicilia was given yet another loss and provided us with a reminder as to why he is no longer with the UFC.
How is Jeff Hughes still the Legacy Fighting Alliance heavyweight champion? This isn’t a question about any sort of controversy in the cage — Hughes pretty clearly handled Maurice Greene at LFA 38 — but rather about the history that Hughes brings to the cage. The 29-year-old lost three fights at the amateur level and ended up as the victim of a finish against Dan Spohn in his one pro defeat. He captured the title from a 42-year-old Richard Odoms, which wasn’t too big of a surprise, but his ability to get past Maurice Greene, a bigger foe with some decent ground skills and kickboxing acumen, is a little more unexpected. Hughes is turning out to be better than his resume would suggest.
Tatsumitsu Wada turned in the expected result in his defense of the Deep flyweight title at the promotion’s Deep 83 Impact event. Wada outworked his 17-year-old challenger, the previously undefeated Makoto Takahashi, to earn the decision and retain his crown.
One of the world’s most popular Muay Thai fighters, Buakaw Banchamek, returned to the win column against short-notice replacement Luis Passos at All Star Fight 3. Buakaw was expected to face GLORY veteran and 2018 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram qualification tournament winner Niclas Larsen, who had to bow out of the bout due to a staph infection. Buakaw’s last outing ended in a close decision loss against Enfusion 70-kilogram champion Jonay Risco, but Buakaw was able to rebound and is already scheduled to face another Kunlun Fight final 16 qualifier, Australia’s Victor Nagbe, on May 21 at All Star Fight 4.
Elsewhere on the card, 2018 Kunlun Fight final 16 qualifier Yohann Drai took out former Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram tournament runner-up Jomthong Chuwattana, and Thailand’s Petchtanong Banchamek bested Ukrainian Sergei Kuliaba.
Rajadamnern stadium champion Youssef Boughanem finished Payakdam Extra Cole Film in the third round to defend his Phoenix middleweight strap and win the IBF 72.5-kilogram world title at Phoenix FC 7. Boughanem pushed his unbeaten streak to 26 fights, and he now has knockout victories in his last five fights. The Belgian-born Boughanem has compiled a resume over the past three years to warrant being called the best farang currently competing in Thailand.
2017 Kunlun Fight 61.5-kilogram tournament winner Seksan Or Kwangmuang added another title to his mantle with a victory over familiar foe Rodlek Jaotalaytong for the WBC Muay Thai 140-pound world title. The two have fought five times in the past two years. Seksan came out on top three of the five times, including in their last two bouts. Seksan is scheduled to compete in the 2018 Kunlun Fight 61.5-kilogram tournament at Kunlun Fight 74 on May 13. He is an exciting competitor who will likely be the favorite heading into the stacked tournament field, which also features former K-1 champion Taiga, top Chinese prospect Lin Qiangbang and streaking Spaniard Daniel Puertas Gallardo, who has won 11 straight fights.
Daniel Jacobs had an impressive performance against Maciej Sulecki. Jacobs showcased excellent defensive awareness and techniques, as well as world-class counter skills in the pocket. What he didn’t show was a commitment to the jab or a consistent workrate. This won’t hinder him against the majority of middleweights, but it could make fights tougher than they have to be. Against the elite, the lack of a jab and the more obvious offensive sets will come at a price, as it did against Gennady Golovkin.
Jarrell Miller is a big-bodied fighter with a big-time personality. He has star quality and, most importantly, he can fight. Miller is capable of building a big-time heavyweight fight due to his energy, presence and quick wit. The question is whether he can win a high-profile heavyweight bout. He showed footwork, shot selection and volume, but he lacked great power, consistent defense or elite athleticism against Johann Duhaupas last weekend. Miller is gonna be able to beat most guys in the division, but when matched with the better-skilled, more physically gifted and physically dominating fighters, this might not be the case. His showing on Saturday night was not convincing enough to suggest he is destined for greatness as a heavyweight. We need to see more.
Isaac Dogboe completed his journey by winning a title against Jessie Magdaleno. Dogboe has an empowering and interesting backstory that makes for an excellent selling point moving forward. In terms of boxing, the biggest thing to take from this fight is Dogboe’s commitment to the body. In boxing — much as it is in MMA — body work is underutilized, undervalued and underappreciated. So many fighters lose important fights — star-making fights and world championships — because they refuse to commit to the body. Dogboe wasn’t gonna be one of these men. He took Magdaleno’s energy, commitment and ability to continue with a vicious assault to the body. Hopefully he can continue in this manner and reinvigorate the art of body-punching.