Fight Notes: UFC On ESPN 8
The third installment in the UFC's run 3 events stageded in Jacksonville, Florida. UFC On ESPN 8 included a mix of fights / fighters initially planned for other cards, but none of that really matters — most UFC bouts are low-or-no stakes affairs. The main event carried added weight, featuring Walt Harris in his first fight since his step-daughter, Aniah Blanchard, was murdered in 2019. The broadcast featured a lot of time devoted to covering Blanchard and her unfortunate end, and it was really awkward — a depressing contrast to the event. I can understand lending some context to Walt Harris' travails leading into the event, but I felt the presentation was excessive.
During the broadcast, the UFC announced the induction of Kevin Randleman into the UFC Hall Of Fame. They aired a really good video package, celebrating the life and accomplishments of a true legend of the sport. It's hard to believe it's already been 4 years since he died. The highlight of him spiking Fedor on his head will live on forever. It's good to see the UFC keeping the past alive, at least where Frank Shamrock isn't involved.
Song Yadong and Marlon Vera lived up to their billing, giving us a 3-round war. Yadong got the better of Vera in the first, after a short feeling-out process where they exchanged leg kicks and threw mostly single strikes. Yadong seemed to have Vera's range figured out, and was lighting him up with punches by the end of the first. In the second, Vera adjusted and mounted a comeback in the second half of the round. Both guys were smashing each other with hard shots. I had it tied going into the third, and Vera turned things up a notch, securing a bodylock takedown, and briefly fighting Yadong from guard. The final round was a back-and-forth slugfest, with far less defence than before, as each fighter landed big punches on an endless series of exchanges. I had Vera winning 29-28, in a serious Fight Of The Night contender. The judges were, somehow, unnanimous for Song Yadong.
Eryk Anders and Krzysztof Jotko gave us 3 rounds of sloppy brawling, and a lot of clinching. Anders spent a lot of time failing to take Jotko down while holding him against the cage. Conversely, Jotko landed punches at a much higher percentage even if he visually looked to be 'losing' the fight. Anders' sloppy grinding wasn't enough to win the fight, and the judges unanimously gave it to Jotko. Not a great fight, a typical middleweight expenditure of 15 minutes. At this point, I don't know if Eryk Anders is just a bad middleweight or if his heavy schedule has burned him out.
Edson Barboza made a statement in his drop down to featherweight, dropping Dan Ige and cracking him with his trademarked hard leg-kicks. The second round evened things up a little, as Ige began landing more as time wore on, damaging Barboza's right eye in the process. Still, Barboza able to take Ige down and finish the round throwing ground-and-pound. The fight was likely tied going into the last round, but there was a decent chance that Edson stole it by dominating the last minute-plus. The third was another close round as well, although Ige was the one who closed out the frame with top position after securing a takedown. Barboza looked good, though, landing more leg-kicks and some beautiful body punches and kicks. I had Barboza winning 29-28, only giving Ige the final round. The judges were split, awarding the win to Ige.
The co-main event was a close fight, and a lot more engaging that it looked on paper. Claudia Gadelha showed improved boxing and better cardio in her first fight in a year, while Angela Hill also looked as good as ever. The first round was easily Gadelha's, as she took Hill down, controlled the position, and outlanded her in the stand-up. The second round was a different story, as Hill scored a big knockdown, dominated the clinch battles and landed a lot more punches than in the first. The third was very close, but Hill seemed to be getting the striking exchanges, although there was no definitive moment like a knockdown. THe judges were split and gave it to Gadelha, adding to the list of decisions I have not agreed with.
The heavyweight main event was depressing, although not for the typical reasons an MMA fight would be considered a downer. Walt Harris ended up getting obliterated by Alistair Overeem, after a flash of initial success that, if we're being honest, would have finished Overeem any other time. Somehow, minutes away from turning 40 years old, Alistair Overeem showed a durability and awareness under fire that has never been desmontrated before. After getting back to his feet, Overeem managed to drag Harris to the mat and take his back. Harris' success from he first part of the fight completely slipped away when Overeem cracked him with a head-kick, right-hook combo that dropped him. Harris was too exhausted to do anything but turtle up, and Dan Margliotta waved the fight off after giving him every opportunity to try and escape. Classic Alistair Overeem trolling: refusing to be knocked out the one time everyone wanted him to lose. Tough break for Harris, hopefully he can rebound once things settle down.
- Alistair Overeem def. Walt Harris by TKO (punches) @ 3:00 of Round 2
- Claudia Gadelha def. Angela Hill by Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Dan Ige def. Edson Barboza by Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Krzysztof Jotko def. Eryuk Anders by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Song Yadong def. Marlon Vera by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
The first televised prelim was a textbook Darren Elkins fight, minus the part where he wins. The veteran featherweight, as per usual, absorbed a lot of damage, bled all over the case — and his opponent — but ultimately came up short. Nate Landwehr was able to outstrike Elkins, who looked as slow as ever, and pieced him up over all 3 rounds. While Elkins' head was initially opened up with a clash of heads, he still took a lot of strikes to the head. Landwehr got a little brash, showboating and cutting an obnoxiously awkward post-fight promo. A good win for the newcomer, but Elkins has been a shell of himself for a while now and this fight was no exception.
Our second showcase fight of the night, Giga Chikadze put a striking clinic on Irwin Rivera for 3 rounds. Chikadze landed virtually at will, stunning Rivera with knees, kicks and hard, precision punches, but was never able to put him away. Rivera toughed it out to hear the scorecards, but it was a sweep for the Georgian striker who then spent his post-fight interview Dana White's ass to an embarrassing degree.
Kevin Holland won in less-than a minute, depriving us of the opportunity to hear him talk trash and possibly see him find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead, he finished Anthony Hernandez with a combination that included a standing elbow to the head, a knee to the midsection and then a right cross. An easy night's work for Holland, who then issued an interesting call-out to Mickey Gall.
The featured prelim was tough to watch. Matt Brown made a not-so-great return to the cage, and ended up getting sparked out by Miguel Baeza in just a little over 1 round. Brown looked decent for the first half of round 1, stunning Baeza but unable to swarm and finish the job. Baeza was able to gather his bearings and dropped Brown after eating a hard 3-hit combo himself, and nearly finished the fight with ground-and-pound right there. Brown survived the flurry, moved to the cage and got to his feet before the round ended. Unfortunatey, Brown didn't have enough time to recover, and Baeza picked up where he left off and starched Brown with a single hard shot. It's tough seeing the old vets go out like this, even if it's not a surprise; as a long-time fan of Matt Brown, that was rough.
- Miguel Baeza def. Matt Brown by KO (punch) @ 0:18 of Round 2
- Kevin Holland def. Anthony Hernandez by TKO (strikes) @ 0:39 of Round 1
- Giga Chikadze def. Irwin Rivera by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
- Nate Landwehr def. Darren Elkins by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
The opening bout was a showcase for Rodrigo Nascimento, who spent the first round getting the better of a strictly stand-up battle. Don'Tale Mayes avoided the ground game until the second round, when Nascimento quickly turned in a takedown into back control and, finally, a rear-naked choke. I'm always happy when random heayweights don't take up much time.
Cortney Casey made a successful move up to flyweight and handed Mara Romero Borella a quick submission loss. After a brief feeling-out process on the feet, he fight went to the ground where Borella made the ill-advised decision to fight in Casey's guard. Borella got caught in an armbar, failed to defend and verbally tapped with a very audible scream. I'm not sure if this move to flyweight is permnent for Casey — and I don't think she truly knows either — but she looked very good.
- Cortney Casey def. Mara Romero Borella by Submission (armbar) @ 3:36 of Round 1
- Rodrigo Nascimento def. Don'Tale Mayes by Submission (rear-naked choke) @ 2:05 of Round 2
The fights on this card all lived up to expectations, and the only complaint I have about this event was the excessive mention of Aniah Blanchard's murder. It felt overdone, and exploitative. Harris losing after a brief flash of success made the build-up feel anti-climatic. That being said, everything else was great; a fun fight card to conclude a rapid-fire series of events. A solid B+ show.
Lastly, I am glad these shows have been fun to watch, albeit with some reservations, but I still don't think they should have happened. We won't know for another week or so if anyone was exposed to COVID-19, and hopefully that is not the case. I would much prefer a misguided "I told you so" than stories about a fighter of UFC broadcast team member getting sick, or worse. I am still of the belief that this situation needs to be further studied before protocols for MMA fights can even be considered sufficient.
Published: May 17th, 2020.