UFC 234 – A Main Card Review

There’s no sugar coating this one. This card wasn’t great. I’d like to call it the elephant in the room but quite frankly everybody and their dog was talking about it. I mean it wasn’t an amazing card to begin with, yes the main and co-main seemed strong, but were they really that strong? Or were they just interesting fights? The intrigue in the main event was does Gastelum have the hands necessary to damage Whittaker enough that he could either get the stoppage, or cause enough damage on the feet that he could utilise his wrestling and get some decent ground work going. Obviously, this was a huge possibility, Kelvin has knocked down close to everyone he’s been in the cage with and he hasn’t been fighting bums. We’re talking Bisping, Souza, Belfort, tough legit fighters. Maybe those worms have given him enhanced powers. We don’t know. On the other hand, Whittaker could be the most underrated champion in the UFC. He has it all. Top tier striker, great wrestling, good on the ground and he conducts himself well as a respectful champion to boot. Building on that, his brawls with Romero make the Battle of Berlin and Stalingrad seem like children’s tea parties in comparison. So, there was some intrigue there. The safe bet was an early Whittaker KO, but regardless, with hours to go it fell through and we lost our main event, which was also the only 5 rounder. Now I think the real elephant in the room is, without a title match this show is a glorified fight night. That’s right. We were all thinking it. Don’t get me wrong, Adesanya and Silva was an interesting match up with potential passing of the torch connotations, and it’s great material for an entire separate article. We even wrote that entire separate article (check the articles page, shockingly). But despite the shameless plug, we had two elite strikers fighting 3 rounds in the main event which was, let’s face it, pretty lacklustre. I mean the fight was good (more of that to follow later in the review) but was it enough to make this a good card worth watching? Don’t worry, you don’t have to read this entire article to find out. Not really. Part of me felt guilty not staying up until 3am to watch this bad boy, but upon my watching the next day, and realising my personal highlight was watching Cerrone down a pint of lager out of his cowboy boot, I regretted absolutely nothing. And still don’t. The only saving grace from this card were the incredible Australian fans. They were overcharged as it is, had to travel for days in some cases, lost their main event, yet were still in full voice. Still cheering and chanting every fight, still showing every single participant the respect they deserved, and overall made a poor card quite a fun watch at times. Even though there wasn’t much top tier, elite action, there were still some fun fights that might be worth a watch on a rainy afternoon sometime in the future. Without further ado, here’s our UFC 234 main card review.

Jimmy Crute vs Sam Alvey

Well it wouldn’t be a UFC event without some top tier controversy to kick off the show. Following the dropping of the main event, everything else really needed to go without a hitch and regardless of how you see this one, it really kicked off with a bang. Aussie’s own Jimmy Crute was coming into this with a perfect 9-0 record ready to extend it to double figures and make his mark in the UFC. From what I’ve seen of him, he seems to have some good hands. Heavy, accurate shots and seemed energised right out of the gate. Opposite him was veteran Sam Alvey who’s claim to fame is training with Dan Henderson at Team Quest. A fine camp indeed, and Hendo needs no introduction, he is to this day one of the hardest men to ever live and I’m convinced a Louisville slugger would snap in two upon trying to cause him any form of damage. So, he’s got an amazing trainer. Anyway, it didn’t take long for the expectation of a Henderson like performance to shatter into pieces, along with several of Alvey’s cheek bones. A crisp, short right hand from Crute had Alvey crash to the canvas looking dazed, prime for a finish. Unfortunately, like most of our fathers, he walked away much too soon. The referee didn’t step in meaning an embarrassed Crute had to turn around and go back on the offensive. Alvey was still dazed, and despite catching a head kick and securing the trip, he was easily reversed, and it did not take long for Crute to start raining down blows from back side mount. Alvey gave the referee the thumbs up as he was getting pummelled by right hands, but it was unconvincing, and the referee jumped in to stop the fight. Alvey felt hard done by, and the same referee had given him an early stoppage in the past so he was not happy to say the least. He can protest until the cows come home, but it goes down in the books as a Crute TKO. In normal time, I’m confident in calling the stoppage and I think almost everyone at the Combat Hub was in agreement. Early stoppages are hot right now, so it’s easy to blame the ref when you feel like the fight shouldn’t have ended, but the fact of the matter is he had the health of the fighter in mind, and honestly another 30 seconds could have left Alvey seriously hurt. Despite this, not much more to say on this one, quick fight, impressed by Crute, the right hand and finish is worth checking out.

Montana De La Rosa vs Nadia Kassem

Now this is a fight that stood out for me, not because it was a particularly good or close fight, purely because of how impressed I was by De La Rosa. There’s a decent little crop of flyweights at the minute, so when another one shows their face it’s always very exciting. Kassem was the Australian native here and it wasn’t long before she was on her back in front of her home fans. Within seconds of the first round, a flush combination and good wrestling from De La Rosa had Kassem flat on her back, and honestly the rest of the round pretty much stayed there. De La Rosa showcased some good top game, getting some nice ground and pound and going for a few crafty submission attempts and if it wasn’t for Kassem’s flexibility, which the commentary team didn’t let you forget, she could have succumbed to a finish at several points in this round. The second round was much the same, good striking from De La Rosa lead her to some sweet submission transitions on the ground which ended up with her securing a armbar/triangle submission from mount. Very impressive stuff, very impressive BJJ. One of the standout performances of the night definitely, but I couldn’t help but notice how average Kassem looked. She had the opportunity to perform well in front of her home fans but just gave nothing. She looked tired and didn’t give much in the way of offense. As a young prospect herself (both fighters are 23) she still has a very long time to go back to the proverbial drawing board and learn from this. Similarly, De La Rosa can keep building on her already impressive repertoire. Is Shevchenko sitting at home worried? Absolutely not, but both of these women have a long way to go and I’m excited to see how both of their journeys pan out

Rani Yahya vs Ricky Simon

Fight of the night for me. Honestly it was a really good performance from both men, and was the only fight on the card I actually felt deserved a rewatch for the sake of this article. For those uninitiated, Yahya is a veteran whose been around the bantam/feather/lightweight scene for years. An elite level BJJ practitioner with decent hands to go along with it, he’s a worthy adversary for any of the lighter guys coming through the ranks. And thankfully we had one, in Ricky Simon and his… interesting hair which I believe gives him magical takedown defence powers. It’s the only reason I could think he could maintain such a ridiculous style, and it would make sense considering how amazing his defence was over this 3 round contest. Simon really impressed me, teeing off on Yahya early on with heavy right hands and some super crips uppercuts to the body which left Yahya weazing. Out of all of Yahya’s takedown attempts he got a staggering 0 (and there were a lot). Simon was the clear victor of the first round, picking his shots well, constantly landing his brick right hand, securing a knock down in the process with a nice combination, and landing a few takedowns of his own. Throughout the fight, he did well to get the takedown then back away from the BJJ master who was constantly inviting him into his guard. The second round was much closer, with Rani hurting Simon a couple of times with flush combinations. His experience showed, and he punished Simon when he overstretched and didn’t properly gauge his reach. Despite this, Simon still got the better of the stand up exchanges, got a few takedowns, and made Yahya’s takedown attempts look beyond amateur. He did well to enter the guard for the last 20 seconds or so and secure some nice ground and pound without giving Rani the time required to set up his Ju Jitsu. The last round was nearly a carbon copy of the first, with some nice exchanges but Simon just always being quicker to the punch, boxing out Yahya and cruising to a UD victory. A great show of respect from both men after the fight and the fans were amazing during this bout. Simon is now 3-0 in the UFC and 15-1 in all. Bantamweight is very stacked right now, so to see another contender climbing the ranks is exciting. He still has a long way to go though. He needed to pump out that jab a lot more when going forward, cut off the cage and set up his shots instead of relying on his right hand. His head movement also needs work, Yahya isn’t a bad striker by any means, but he was getting hit way too much, and against the top brass at 135 that is very dangerous. Overall, I was very impressed and look forward to seeing him either visit a barber or fight again soon. Whichever comes first.

Lando Vannata vs Marcos Rosa Mariano

I don’t have much to say about this fight. It was just ridiculous. As you can probably tell, this hasn’t been a great card already. I mean don’t get me wrong, Crute was okay, De La Rosa was good, and the Yahya vs Simon fight was decent too but if this had been a prelim card, I’d have thought, meh, not bad. But it wasn’t. This is the main card. And this is your co-main event. Jesus. You may remember Vannata from that one highlight reel spinning heel kick knockout the production team played 7 times a second during the build to this fight, and you may remember Mariano from that guy on a Brazilian street corner selling sandwiches who looks kinda like Anderson Silva. I honestly have no idea where they found this guy, but he was not ready for the UFC. Now I’m not in the business of slagging these competitors off, I can garuntee that this man is more talented than I’ll ever be athletically, and the balls it takes to step into that octagon is monumental, but the skill gap here was outrageous. Vannata took the fight to the ground early and that was pretty much it, he started seriously whaling on Mariano. Dirty elbows, hammer fists, hooks, and Mariano just looked so lost and out of his depth on his back. Uncoordinated and just overall unimpressive. At the end of the round, Vannata literally just casually turned into north south after realising he probably just could whenever he wanted too, and to be fair to him showed some great technique in clamping the head and sinking in a tight kimura. Bit of a late stoppage from the referee who was out of position but overall, I’m glad it was over when it was. Like previously stated, if this was a prelim, maybe it wouldn’t have been that bad but it was the co-main for christ sake. I’m not sure if they were just hoping for another Vannata highlight reel finish to spice things up, but regardless, it’s in the books, and I would definitely give this one a miss.

Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva

Here it is. The big’un. I wish some kind of deal could have been struck to extend this to 5 rounds because honestly it needed them. It was a good fight, with good spells, and a good showing of elite striking from both men. I’d break this down round by round, but it just all kinda merged into one. The standard of skill in this fight was so above the rest of the card it was unreal, and I really got excited watching this. Silva is rightfully one of my favourite fighters of all time, and to see him act like the Silva of old with taunting, low guards, dodging kicks matrix style and throwing nice punches was a joy to behold, and I stood up in delight a couple of times hoping for a huge ridiculous knockout out of nowhere. Adesanya was there trying to showboat as well, but lets face it, it paled in comparison to the nostalgia of seeing Silva in there doing what he does best, and to be fair to him he was going blow for blow with Israel a lot of the time, catching Adesanya with his lead right hand on several occasions, chasing him down and throwing some nice shots and being a whisker away from landing a devastating flying knee. The only disappointing aspect of this fight was both men decided to forgo more combinations and instead went for the one big knockout blow. Overall, Adesanya cruised to a victory here. Getting the better of the exchanges in every round, and just keeping more busy by throwing and landing much more strikes. I’d have liked to have seen more courage though, going in for more combinations, trusting his own abilities and going for the finish, but I understand why you don’t want to rush in against probably the sport’s best ever striker. Regardless, Adesanya landed some nice punches, Silva’s signature low guard worked against him in that aspect and on several occasions Israel was able to land a string of 2 or 3 shots that left Silva’s right eye so black Liam Neeson threatened to murder it. Although Silva performed well, I think we all wanted to see a bit more from Adesanya, a bit of tenacity. But he never looked in danger of losing this fight. An incredible show of respect from both men after the fight and I can’t reiterate enough how amazing the fans were. Despite a shitty card, the main event was actually pretty good, an elusive striking chess match with some nice exchanges, and maybe it was worth buying the ticket just to see Silva before he retires. And at least we got to see the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, Kelvin Gastelum, at ringside. What an incredible, charismatic champion he is and a well deserved one to boot. Let’s hope he has a long and prosperous reign, and someone finds Cejudo a replacement belt as I don’t see him managing to ever convince Kelvin to give it back.

Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya, left, reacts after defeating Brazil’s Anderson Silva during their middleweight bout at the UFC 234 event in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

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