Where do we even begin with the past two big events in the octagon of the Mixed Martial Arts world leader? Jessica Andrade’s knockout of ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas to dethrone her reign over the Women’s Strawweight Division to become the new champion? How about Henry ‘The Messenger’ Cejudo’s phenomenal comeback over ‘Magic’ Marlon Moraes to earn his Double Champ status in the Flyweight and Bantamweight divisions? It has truly been an erratic and unpredictable month of UFC action; not to mention the shaking up of the Lightweight division with Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson’s anticlimactic TKO victory over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, and Alex Volkanovski’s jump to the Number 1 Contender position in the Featherweight division with a unanimous decision victory over José Aldo.
The much anticipated UFC 237 saw a Brazilian takeover in the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, with the Fight of the Night being awarded to the epic war between then Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas and ‘Bate Estaca’ (Pile Driver) Jessica Andrade, who demonstrated her superb strength with a vicious slam knockout to claim the Strawweight belt much to the delight of the Brazilian fans, who all together had enjoyed a torrid evening full of disappointment, with Andrade being one of only four Brazilians to taste victory on the night.
Brazil has always been notorious for showcasing undoubtedly the most hostile fans in MMA. Their unwelcoming spirit to any competitor from outside Brazil was exemplified best in Jared Cannonier’s victory over Anderson Silva in the frustrating co-main event. A leg kick from Cannonier to the knee of Silva ended the fight in unfortunate fashion in the first round, much to the displeasure of the Brazilian fans, who proceeded to boo Cannonier throughout his post-fight interview.
However, the match-up between Australia’s Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski and the hometown hero José Aldo did not disappoint. With the crowd expecting the -145 betting favourite José Aldo to pull off a victory that would put him back in title contention, Volkanovski came into the cage relaxed and confident. ‘The Great’ Volkanovski quickly demonstrated why he is considered the Number 1 contender, dominating Aldo for all three rounds with leg kicks and strikes, earning himself a unanimous decision victory, extending his fight win streak to sixteen, and his record in MMA to 19-1-0. This leaves Volkanovski waiting to face the winner of Max Holloway versus Frankie Edgar at UFC 240, whilst José Aldo drops down the rankings to Number 3 in the division, potentially opening up a window for a fight with Number 2 ranked Brian Ortega.
The main event of UFC 237 saw ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas take on Jessica ‘Bate Estaca’ Andrade in a title showdown for the Women’s Strawweight Title. With Namajunas returning to the Octagon for the first time in over a year after recovering from neck surgery, many expected her not to perform to the same level as her incredible two previous victories over former Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. However, it appeared that Rose was as sharp as ever in the first round, completely out-striking and dominating Andrade for the first five minutes. An attempted but unsuccessful arm-bar submission from Namajunas exemplified the narrative of the first round, with the victory appearing to be merely a formality and an inevitability for the American. Nevertheless, with the backing of her hometown fans, Andrade showed her endurance and determination coming out in the second round pressing Namajunas up to the fence and working for the clinch in order to utilise her far superior strength. Once Andrade secured the clinch, she was able to perform a High Crotch Slam, living up to her nickname ‘Pile Driver’, dumping Namajunas onto the canvas and gaining the KO victory. Andrade’s knockout of Namajunas was only the fourth ever slam KO performed in a UFC title fight, and the first slam KO since Matt Hughes defeated Carlos Newton at UFC 34 in 2001.
After the fight, Namajunas cast doubt over her future in the organisation, hinting at a potential retirement due to the strain it was placing on her life and relationship with husband and coach Pat Barry. All MMA fans hope that this won’t be the end of ‘Thug’ Rose’s career.
For Andrade, she will now wait to see whether a rematch with Namajunas is the next step or whether she will face the likes of undefeated contender Tatiana Suarez, who holds massive potential and has been likened to current Men’s Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov due to her superior wrestling ability.
The prelims saw wins for rising stars such as Tatiana Suarez, Aljamain Sterling and Calvin Kattar. Sterling, who is currently ranked third in the bantamweight division, defeated Pedro Munhoz via unanimous decision, with Munhoz riding high after his KO win over former champion Cody Garbrandt. Sterling controlled the fight with ease, utilising his striking and unique style to win the fight 30-27 on all score cards. This should set Sterling up for a shot at the title, unless Moraes is granted a rematch with Cejudo, in which case it is likely Sterling will face Number 2 ranked Raphael Assuncao.
Calvin Kattar showcased exactly why MMA fans are so excited about him with a beautiful first round knockout of Ricardo Lamas. A clean lead left hook followed by a precise and brutal straight right hand ended the fight and catapulted Kattar within touching distance of the top ten of the division. There is certainly a lot on the horizon for the 31 year old.
Tatiana Suarez displayed her talent despite a late rally from opponent Nina Ansaroff to earn a unanimous decision victory and set herself up for a potential title shot against champion Jessica Andrade. Suarez showed persistence and perseverance to secure a takedown early in the first, and proceeded to demonstrate superb top control during the 15 minutes to secure the victory, despite Ansaroff showing great heart in the third round with a great striking game on the feet, winning her the round albeit in vain.
The main card began with a heavyweight slugfest between Australia’s Tai Tuivasa and Bulgaria’s Blagoy Ivanov. Ivanov took the fight via unanimous decision. The Bulgarian dropped ‘Bam Bam’ Tuivasa in the first with a fantastic combination and would have won the fight via guillotine choke in the second had the bell not sounded. Despite huge shots from ‘Bam Bam’ threatening throughout the third round, Ivanov saw off Tuivasa to earn the victory with a confident performance that could see him potentially enter the top ten in the Heavyweight division.
Petr Yan continued to show why he should be taken seriously at Bantamweight as he defeated Jimmie Rivera, dropping him twice, once in the first and then again in the second round. Rivera rallied to muster the performance he needed in the third round, however the knockdowns gifted Yan two 10-8 rounds, so only a stoppage would have given Rivera the victory. Despite landing shots on Yan in the final round, it was ineffectual as Yan claimed the unanimous decision victory.
The aptly titled People’s Main Event saw two savages in Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson and Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone go to war at Lightweight. The opening round saw the two men stand and trade shots in the centre of the octagon, with Ferguson edging the round by outlanding Cowboy with significant strikes to the head and body. Ferguson’s endurance and pressure fighting style began to pay dividends in the second round, with Cerrone appearing to be slowly broken down by the accuracy of Ferguson’s punches and kicks. The end of the fight came shortly after the bell to end round 2, after Ferguson landed a late blow on Cowboy. Cerrone’s right eye was swollen shut. In an effort to clear the swelling he blew his nose, however, this only worsened the swelling and caused the doctor to call off the fight, awarding Ferguson the TKO victory. Whilst the fight did not end the way many had wished, it was in my opinion a correct decision for the bout to be ended despite protests from Cerrone. Ferguson was visibly upset by the way the fight ended, evidently disappointed in himself for landing the late strike. However, in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Cerrone insisted that his injury was not a result of the strike. An anticlimactic ending but without a doubt one of the most entertaining fights of the night. ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson proved that he deserves a shot against the Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov by defeating Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone to confirm his position as the man to take on the winner of Khabib versus Dustin Poirier at UFC 242.
The co-main and main event did not hold such disappointment. Here we saw Valentina ‘Bullet’ Shevchenko cement her status as one of the most terrifying female competitors in MMA after defending her Flyweight title in style. Number 1 contender Jessica ‘Evil’ Eye was Shevchenko’s opponent in the Kyrgyzstani’s first defence of the title. Shevchenko showed exactly why she is one of the most devastating and feared fighters in women’s MMA, finishing the fight with a right head-kick that left Eye unconscious and twitching on the canvas for several minutes. In my opinion, Shevchenko has truly reached her peak, and produced one of the scariest KO’s in all of MMA history.
Henry Cejudo has arguably experienced the most meteoric rise in success in recent times. This success was furthered by his performance in the main event of UFC 238 at the United Centre in Chicago against Marlon Moraes. Cejudo looked to make history by becoming the first fighter to win an Olympic gold medal and be a 2 division UFC champion. In his way was Brazilian Marlon Moraes, who had been on a 4 fight win streak, finishing the likes of Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao prior to his title shot. With the vacant bantamweight title up for grabs, both men were plenty fired up in the build up, trading trash talk since the bout was announced. Having beaten TJ Dillashaw in his last fight, Cejudo leapt at the opportunity to become Champ Champ once Dillashaw vacated the title due to him testing positive for EPO in his fight with Cejudo.
The first round saw Moraes take the early initiative, peppering Cejudo with hard leg kicks and strikes, easily winning the round. Moraes was on track to make the fight a one-sided contest, however Cejudo had other plans. ‘The Messenger’ came out in round 2 throwing hard right hands that effectively halted Moraes’ progress and Cejudo was also able to land some hard knees in the clinch, awarding him the second round. The third round showed just how determined and driven Cejudo was to become a double champion. Gaining top position on the ground, Cejudo landed devastating elbows and hammer fists on the visibly broken Moraes, which led to the referee stepping in and ending the fight as Cejudo became the 4th UFC fighter to hold belts in multiple divisions, following in the footsteps of the likes of Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes.
This victory undoubtedly puts Cejudo in the conversation for the pound for pound best fighter at this moment in time. Certainly, the likes of Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov cannot be discounted due to the number of title defences from Jones and Khabib’s phenomenal 27-0 record. However, as Cejudo is the only athlete to have an Olympic gold medal on his resume, he has to, in my opinion, be included within the top 3 or at least the top 5 pound for pound greats.
Next up on the calendar is perhaps the most anticipated card of the year. On July 6th in Las Vegas, UFC 239 sees Jon Jones look to defend his Light Heavyweight title against Thiago Santos, on a card that contains the likes of Amanda Nunes, Ben Askren, Jorge Masvidal, Luke Rockhold and many more. This card promises to be explosive and I believe it will be one of the best events of 2019.
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