The UFC 264 card provided us with two really good women’s fights. One bout went the distance, with Jennifer Maia taking a decision from Jessica Eye. The other contest featured an exciting finish, as Irene Aldana stopped Yana Kunitskaya.
In the preview for this weekend’s action, I also talked about the Combate Global bout between Isis Verbeek and Caroline Gallardo. However, due to reasons beyond my control, I was unable to watch the fight and can’t seem to locate video of it yet. Verbeek took a unanimous decision over Gallardo, but I apologize for not having a review of that one.
One-round fights don’t usually provide a whole lot to talk about, but this one, in which Aldana defeated Kunitskaya via TKO, did.
Kunitskaya came out really aggressive. Surprisingly so, in fact. She was coming forward and trying to march down one of the best boxers in the division. She was having success, too. Kunitskaya mixed in some very nice leg kicks with a very good punching attack. My guess is that this surprised Aldana, because Aldana seemed to retreat a bit and had trouble getting off any really good shots at first. I love seeing major improvement from a fighter, and we were seeing that here in the striking game of Kunitskaya.
The fight briefly moved into a clinch, where Kunitskaya was also able to control. This clinch, while brief, was interesting. I would have loved to have seen Kunitskaya hold on to it for longer, because she had momentum on her side and had it in a place where she had the biggest advantage. She could have done some damage and really begun to mentally hurt Aldana. When you hurt Aldana, she needs to hurt you back. She’s not going to let an opponent get one up on her. This is not to say Aldana didn’t land some nice shots of her own, but Kunitskaya was clearly winning till that point.
If Kunitskaya had kept that clinch longer and done some damage, then she could have had Aldana really frustrated by taking away her ability to give back what she took. In addition, Kunitskaya would have kept her where she didn’t want to be, thereby adding to the frustration. Even while not doing damage, those situations can really do damage of a non-physical variety.
Let me give you an example of this based on my own experience. In my second pro fight, my opponent seemed very happy to engage in the clinch and ground battle with me. She would try to get takedowns, but I didn’t have any problem with that. I knew I had the advantage there. It would go down, she would be on top, and I would reverse it and end up on top. That happened in the second round at one point, and I could just feel the frustration coming from her. She was a tough girl and a skilled fighter, but that frustration grew to the point where I knew I had the fight. This can happen to anyone.
So, after they separated, Kunitskaya began doing something you can’t do against someone like Aldana. When she came forward, she advanced with her hands low. You best believe Aldana noticed this. Aldana then began landing and taking over.
I loved what Aldana started doing there. She was allowing Kunitskaya to come forward and be first, because she knew she could counter and land on Kunitskaya as a result of those low hands. Aldana had all the confidence she needed and had the fight going how she wanted. Eventually, she connected with a big one and dropped Kunitskaya.
Both ladies did the right things here. Kunitskaya was trying to defend the right way, and Aldana was being smart and trying to throw strikes instead of dropping down into the guard and letting Kunitskaya use it as a chance at recovery. Aldana eventually poured it on, and the ref stopped it.
What’s next for Aldana? Maybe the winner between Aspen Ladd and Macy Chiasson, especially if the victor is Ladd.
I’ll point out when I am dead-on accurate, but I’ll also admit when I am dead wrong. This fight went nothing like I expected it to go. That’s not a bad thing, though, because it was a very enjoyable fight. It ended with Maia taking the decision.
Now, the one place I was right was in thinking that Eye would try to make it a boxing match. However, I expected more in-and-out movement from her. I expected her to be the one moving, but it was the opposite. Eye was coming forward and landing some good punches as Maia looked to counter and circle away.
I really liked how well Eye cut off the cage. She knew where she wanted Maia to be, and she made sure she kept the Brazilian there for the most part. Maia was still able to move a bit, though. If Eye perhaps mixed in some kicks — a point very nicely brought up on commentary by Daniel Cormier — she really could have limited the movement of Maia and kept her in even more of a box.
The only time Eye really got tagged was when she would look to get away from a Maia punch. She would move back, but she kept her hands low. This was when Maia would land the really hard punches. I loved what Maia was doing here on the feet. She was countering well, and she landed some leg strikes as well including a beautiful knee as she broke off of a clinch.
Eye ended a very close first round with a takedown that sealed the round for her in my eyes.
The second frame featured beautiful work from Maia. There are a few things she did here that I really liked. She wasn’t just looking to counter anymore. She did throw counters, but she also took the lead at times. When she went first, it was with different things — sometimes jabs, sometimes crosses, and sometimes kicks. After the first round, she had Eye thinking she was going to just circle away. Eye didn’t seem to expect Maia to go first and didn’t seem to know how to react to it. Maia also knew Eye was going to come forward and stuffed something right in her face. Eye would come forward and walk right into a straight punch. You could definitely notice on Eye’s face that she was having trouble adjusting to what Maia was doing.
Also, I have to think Eye was surprised that Maia was doing nothing to get the fight to the ground at this point. Maia, everyone knew, would have her biggest advantage on the ground. Eye had to be expecting attempts to get it there by this point, but Maia did nothing of the sort. She did not even attempt or feint at a shot. Why would she? Maia was having a great round on the feet, so why do something else?
A terrible cut opened up on the forehead of Eye in the second frame as well. Here is the thing with cuts like that. Can they hurt? Sure. However, the real problem with them is usually more psychological. If it widens or gets worse, then you can maybe feel the skin tearing a bit. You worry about blood getting in your eyes. You worry how the blood looks to the judges. You worry it’s bad enough that they might stop the fight. This can all work to create an urgency and change how you are fighting. That all being said, Eye handled the cut well.
So, with Maia clearly getting the second round, we moved on to the final frame. The third stanza was a nice little mix of what we saw in rounds one and two. Eye had success coming forward. She now seemed to respect the striking of Maia more, and therefore her defense was a bit better. Maia again landed some good counters and also was first at times as well.
Once again, it was surprising that Maia did not make any attempt to get the fight to the ground. She felt confident that she was in the lead, but she didn’t look to take it down and seal the win. But again, she was having success on the feet. Did she really need to take it down?
Eye continued to put pressure on Maia. Her forward movement was not at all expected, but it was a great strategy. It put Maia on the defensive and made trying to shoot in a harder puzzle to solve and maybe took the takedown out of Maia’s mind.
I scored the third round for Eye and had her as the winner, with a 29-28 score. While round two was a clear Maia round, rounds one and three were extremely close. I have zero issue with someone giving one or both of those frames to Maia. The decision in Maia’s favor was a perfectly acceptable outcome.
What’s next for Maia? Maybe a rematch with Katlyn Chookagian. Chookagian took a decision from the Brazilian in 2019, but their positioning in the rankings makes this a potential fight.