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…
On Friday, Combat Press writer Jaewon Paik pointed out the importance of the UFC Fight Night 128 headliner and suggested that it would be Kevin Lee’s true arrival as a top lightweight. Well, Lee lived up to Paik’s prediction with a stoppage of Edson Barboza in the fifth round. Lee is now 17-3, and those losses have come to Al Iaquinta, Leonardo Santos and Tony Ferguson. Not too shabby. Meanwhile, Lee added the win over Barboza to a resume that already includes victories over Michel Prazeres, Jake Matthews, Francisco Trinaldo and Mike Chiesa.
While Cub Swanson is an elite talent with elite offensive abilities, he has never been a truly elite fighter. To be an elite fighter, you have to be able to defeat elite opposition. A glance up and down Swanson’s record is enough to reveal that he doesn’t beat the elites. Following the UFC Fight Night 128 co-headliner, Swanson has now lost twice to Frankie Edgar. He has also dropped fights to Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes, Max Holloway, Brian Ortega, Jens Pulver and José Aldo. Swanson hasn’t beaten an elite guy in his entire career. Instead, he has lost to them decisively, often by stoppage or submission. His reputation is built on his ability to defeat or dominate everyone other than top-tier fighters. Swanson is good — maybe even very good — but he isn’t now and never has been elite.
The aforementioned Barboza fits into this category as well. He has shown to be clearly above the second- and third-tier fighters in the world, but he hasn’t ever defeated a member of the lightweight elite fighter. The Brazilian has been competitive with them and willing to fight them at the drop of a hat. However, he has been thoroughly dominated by every top-level fighter he has met. They have exposed the holes in his all-around game and spotlighted the limitations of his superficial striking arsenal.
Chase Sherman did some things wrong that cost him a win on Saturday night in his heavyweight scrap with Justin Willis. He allowed himself to get emotionally invested in the fight, which led to him not fighting the right fight. He gave up his length and height edges by marching into the pocket against Willis. As a result, Sherman was rocked and dropped repeatedly. Sherman also stands tall in the pocket, essentially serving himself up for punching leads and counters. He doesn’t move his head either, which only makes his upright stance in the pocket more of a liability. Finally, he didn’t use his long weapons, whether it’s a jab, front kick or leg kicks. It doesn’t matter if Sherman has the height and length when he refuses to use it. Stefan Struve should know all about this.
If Sherman was actually following a game plan, then his corner and camp did him wrong. They gave Willis the easiest path to victory possible by having Sherman eschew physical and technical advantages to fight the dumbest fight possible.
After more than two years of ups and downs as a featherweight, Dan Hooker moved weight divisions to become a lightweight in 2017. On top of showing more energy, durability and activity since the shift in weight, Hooker has slowly demonstrated a more multi-layered set of skills, poise, versatility and IQ. He went from an underachieving prospect at 145 pounds to a legitimate (fringe) contender at lightweight. Hopefully, he gets the fight with Paul Felder or maybe Justin Gaethje. Hooker has earned a shot at a big name and an opportunity to make his own mark on the big stage.
UFC Fight Night 128 definitely provided former World Series of Fighting two-division champ Dave Branch with a chance to make a course correction after a disappointing first two fights inside the Octagon. Branch looked flat in a split-decision win over Krzysztof Jotko at UFC 211 last year and then dropped a fight to Luke Rockhold. Branch’s first-round finish of Thiago Santos could be a sign that he’s finally comfortable on the big stage.
Corey Anderson has now beaten Patrick Cummins, who beat Gian Villante, who beat Anderson. These are the UFC’s light heavyweight fringe contenders — a group of guys who can’t set themselves apart and make the leap into the true title mix.
The biggest disappointment of UFC Fight Night 128? It has to be the scrapped fight between Leslie Smith and Aspen Ladd. It’s a shame Ladd couldn’t hit the mark for this one.
Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon lived up to his moniker at ONE Championship: Heroes of Honor. The Filipino fighter stopped opponent Andrew Leone with ground-and-pound strikes in round two of their main-event affair. Further down the card, Marat Gafurov continued his winning ways with a first-round submission of Emilio Urrutia. The league’s former featherweight champ is back on track.
Former Olympic wrestler Maikel Pérez is now a Legacy Fighting Alliance titleholder. The flyweight combatant pummeled Sid Bice to score the second-round finish. The Cuban fighter does have a loss on his record, but it came in his LFA debut against a very tough Adam Martinez. Pérez has UFC potential.
ONE Championship’s event also marked the organization’s debut of kickboxing and Muay Thai fights. Already one of the top MMA promotions in Asia, ONE made the smartest move in its seven-year existence when it decided to start promoting Muay Thai and kickboxing bouts. Asia — especially southeast Asia — features many striking-based martial arts, including Muay Thai, Sanda, Lethwei, Kun Khmer and Wushu. It’s an absolute no-brainer that the promotion should promote multiple combat sports, much like Kunlun Fight, one of the top Chinese promotions.
ONE brought in kickboxing legend Giorgio Petrosyan and former Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadium champion Nong-O Gaiyanghadao for separate bouts.
Petrosyan looked to be on another level against former two-division Lion Fight champ Jo Nattawut, who just couldn’t quite deal with Petrosyan’s sharp boxing, control of distance, and beautiful technical abilities. Petrosyan’s incredible record of 87 wins and just two losses in 92 fights is one of the best in kickboxing in the past two decades. The supremely skilled southpaw will fight K-1 super welterweight champion Chingiz Allazov in July in a battle of two of the best kickboxers in the world today.
Meanwhile, Nong-O put on a clinical destruction of current top-10 kickboxer Fabio Pinca, perhaps one of the best Muay Thai fighters ever produced from France. Pinca couldn’t keep up with the former stadium champion, who looked absolutely brilliant.
Lion Fight women’s lightweight champion Antonina Shevchenko defended her belt with a unanimous-decision victory against Australia’s Claire Baxter at Lion Fight 42 in Mashantucket, Conn. The multiple-time IFMA Muay Thai champ carries her momentum from her dominant kickboxing and Muay Thai careers into the second season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series this summer. She is undefeated in her fledgling MMA career with three victories, including a win over top-10 kickboxer Anissa Haddaoui.
ACB Kickboxing 15 featured a number of victorious top fighters. Former GLORY middleweight champ Artem Levin edged top-five light heavyweight Igor Bugaenko by decision, Ukrainian Muay Thai heavyweight Tsotne Rogava defeated GLORY veteran Jhonata Diniz, former top-10 lightweight Dzhabar Askerov beat Ergali Urbulatov, and top welterweight Alexander Stetsurenko bested GLORY and Kunlun Fight veteran Jonatan Oliveira.
Top-10 bantamweight Gonnapar Weerasakreck took the 63-kilogram title from Daizo Sasaki with a one-sided decision victory at Krush.87 in Tokyo. Gonnapar defeated K-1 titleholder Koya Urabe during the opening round of the 62.5-kilogram championship tournament in 2017. Will he get another opportunity to take out Urabe, who was recently crowned champ after a knockout victory over former titleholder Wei Rui at K’Festa.1? It seems like the best fight to make in the division, but it likely won’t take place until later this year after Urabe takes on GLORY alum Arthur “Black Dragon” Sorsor at a K-1 event in June.
Elsewhere on the Krush.87 card, K-1 vet Pettas Leona edged top prospect Yuna Saikyo, who is the younger brother of the current Krush 57.5-kilogram champion Haruma Saikyo, and Takaya Ogura stopped Kazuki Okawa in round two of their encounter.
At EM Legend 30 in China, GLORY vet Anvar Boynazarov defeated Chinese fighters Pan Jiayun and Meng Guodong to win a one-night, four-man 65-kilogram tournament. Boynazarov ended his three-fight skid, which oddly enough followed the biggest win of his career, a brutal knockout of the aforementioned Pinca in a massive upset at GLORY 47. We’ll have to wait to see if GLORY brings the Uzbekistani fighter back in the future, but Boynazarov is well traveled and will likely find opportunities to compete in China or Thailand if GLORY doesn’t feature him again.
Showtime Boxing delivered with a three-fight main card on Saturday evening. The show was headlined by the always colorful personality of Adrien Broner, who faced off against Jessie Vargas at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The two men engaged in a battle that went to the judges’ scorecards. Vargas controlled the fight in the early rounds, working a jab and taking advantage of Broner’s inactivity inside the pocket. Between rounds, Broner’s new trainer, the well-respected Kevin Cunningham, implored Broner to start working.
After a few rounds, Broner responded to Cunningham’s pleas. He started firing off combinations and pressed the action, a good sight to see for those who have always wanted to watch the talented young boxer throw more punches and be a little less defensive. By the time the championship rounds came, Broner seemed to have taken a lead on the scorecards, while Vargas was visibly fatigued. Alas, Broner took his foot off the pedal and let Vargas steal rounds. In the end, the judges scored the fight a majority draw, while Combat Press scored the fight 115-113 for Vargas.
In what seemed to be a theme for the night, yet another colorful personality was inside the ring. Jermall Charlo, who has turned into a must-listen when he speaks, backed up his talk and knocked out Hugo Centeno Jr. in the second round. Centeno bit off more than he could chew and got confident in firing off combinations. For his efforts, Centeno was countered by Charlo and ended up on his back, unable to answer the 10 count. With the win, Charlo creeps into the conversation as one of the middleweight contenders who could give Gennady Golovkin a run for his money. Charlo wants that fight, too.
Last, but not least, Gervonta Davis had quite a night. Davis knocked out Jesus Cuellar in the third round with a body shot to capture the WBA junior lightweight title. The young fighter from Baltimore worked to the body quite often, mixing in a crisp uppercut with power that should put the entire junior lightweight division on notice. At only 23 years old, Davis is the present and future of the division.
Elsewhere, ESPN kicked off its new streaming service with a boxing card that featured the return of Amir Khan. Khan wasted no time in knocking out his opponent, Phil Lo Greco, in less than a minute. Khan is one of the more polarizing figures in the sport, but he had been on a lengthy layoff following a knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez in May 2016. A match-up with Kell Brook could be next for Khan.
Carl Frampton bested Nonito Donaire in an exciting 12-rounder in which Donaire flashed a bit of what used to make him one of the best fighters in the featherweight division. However, it wasn’t enough for the Filipino fighter. The Irishman had youth on his side and came out the better when the two exchanged. Frampton has only suffered one loss — a majority decision loss to Leo Santa Cruz — in his professional career. He will have to wait to get revenge on Santa Cruz if that’s what he wants, as Santa Cruz has a June match-up slated with Abner Mares.
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