31 January 2017

UFC on Fox 23


As with every other topic on this beloved planet, I've not written about the fights in a while. If memory serves me correctly, there was a half-finished article about Anderson Silva being an annoying showboat, in his phase of clowning dudes who he felt beneath him. For five rounds. Without knocking them out. You tell 'em, Anderson! Anyway, that was at last a decade ago, and he went on to be better than ever, then lose two calamitous title fights to Chris "Default Setting on Create-a-Character" Weidman, snap his leg in two, and come back in a hilarious scrap with everyone's favourite crafty veteran, Nick Diaz, only for both to fail drugs tests. Not long ago, then.

Every time a massive fight card came along (and let's face it - I've hibernated for the rises and falls of GSP, Lesnar, Rousey and the genesis of Conor MacGregor. But it's all good. I've returned in time for... *checks info* err, UFC on Fox 23! Right? Right. 

So, what do we have here. Main event was Valentina Shevchenko, who I assume is no relation to Andriy (she was born in Kyrgyzstan rather than Ukraine) facing off against Julianna Peña. Julianna Peña, I have to say, was a bit of a dick in the pre-fight promotion. I don't know if she was trying to channel Conor Mac, hates Valentina or just wanted to rouse some enthusiasm in the card, but she was rather arrogantly telling us in detail exactly how - and how brutally - she was going to beat up Shevchenko. If you're a UFC vet like me, you'll remember the most amusing time someone predicted such a win. Yeah, drink that in for a moment. 

While this wasn't as amusing, Shevchenko made Peña eat her words by tapping her out to a second round arm bar. What made this more satisfying was the perception among many that Shevchenko was merely a kickboxer, and if the wrestler Peña would be able to take the Kyrgyz down, she'd use her superior grappling skills to earn either a ground and pound stoppage or a submission of her own. 

Not only did Shevchenko win in the grappling, but she also got the better of the takedowns, earning some smooth trips in the clinch. At the times Peña managed to get top position, her striking was neutralised and she only succeeded in passing her arm to her opponent, who quite gladly hyperextended it. 

That led to an awkward post-fight confrontation where Sheva started out addressing current champ Amanda Nunes (wearing quite the most unfortunate hairdo - pictured) with respect, but soon degenerated into wince-inducing second-language trash talk. 

Also hapless on this night was hometown boy (this show was held in Denver, where he grew up) Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. I like Cerrone: he seems like a sound bloke, he likes to fight regularly, and he gets up to all kinds of adrenaline-fuelled extreme sports in his spare time. He's also a lightweight who has been enjoying a lot of success at welter, having recently beaten such stalwarts as Rick "Horror" Story and Matt "Matt Brown" Brown.  

Until this past weekend, that is. Jorge Masvidal has also been making a name for himself in the welterweight class, though perhaps Ross Pearson and Jake Ellenberger aren't quite as impressive mounted heads on one's wall as Story and Brown. 

Maybe with this in mind, Masdival set about really doing a number on Cerrone. While "Cowboy" usually likes to take the centre of the Octagon and dictate the pace, Masvidal took him out of his comfort zone by peppering him with combos, walking him down and generally being a tad quicker to the punch. Saved by the bell in the first round after being floored and swarmed, Cerrone made his exit quite early in the second, after Masvidal followed another knockdown with some pretty brutal body work. Well done Jorge. 

I suppose I had better mention my favourite heavyweight mixed martial artist ever: Andrei Arlovski. This eastern European wasn't quite as fortunate as Shevchenko, as he got quite quickly despatched by the younger, bigger Francis Ngannou, from Cameroon. Andrei apparently said he wouldn't have picked Ngannou to have a scrap with, were it up to him, and you can see why. Arlovski tends to do well when opponents try to match his finesse; if he can stick and move, he has enough cumulative power to get the win. However, his chin isn't the best, so if he gets clocked by a quick-punching banger, he won't really be able to deal with it. 

And so it was in Denver. Ngannou gets a big scalp in his search for the title, and Arlovski's future is somewhat in doubt, aged 37 and having come out on the wrong end of his last four tilts. Andrei had a nice comeback in 2014-15, after everyone had written him off, so he's shown veteran presence. Maybe now is the time he'll finally hang up the fang-shaped gum-shield. 

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