Although there wasn’t a UFC card on this weekend, as MMA fans we were still treated to some good action. We had ONE FC showcase an interesting card full of talent, we had the likes of Romero, Masvidal and Pettis compete in charity competition and of course, we had the huge Bellator card, 222. The main talking points this weekend are clearly centred around Bellator which has raised questions such as is Aaron Pico’s career over before it started? How is Chael Sonnen’s head still attached to his body? Has Eduardo Dantas woken up yet? Amongst many, many more. We’ve been quiet on the articles as of late at Combat Hub for a variety of reasons. As Brits, we’ll blame the weather. Excited to get back into in, we thought this weekend of a UFCless card to be our best bet. We can’t just jump back in with both feet. Like a teenage boy and his girlfriend on a house party sofa, we’re gonna have to ease our way in to make this as painless as possible for the both of us. Here’s our winners and losers.
Two huge title fights were billed for Bellator on Friday. After Henry Cejudo made history last weekend by doing the impossible, becoming a two-weight world champion whilst simultaneously having the world wish he had any redeeming qualities outside of the cage that make us not want to cringe until our faces fall off. Ironically, Marlon’s face looked like it almost did fall off after those knees. (And yes, I know he has a gold fucking medal, stop fucking saying it, it’s not fucking funny). Anyway, due to this, all eyes were on who many consider to be the best bantamweight in MMA today, Kyoji Horiguchi who was looking to make history himself by becoming a multi promotion champion in a rematch against Darrion Caldwell. The two squared off a few months back in Japan where Kyoji dominated the fray and sealed in a tight guillotine for the W. This affair was a bit different, Caldwell was making use of the caged environment, utilising his wrestling and taking the early rounds with good, tactical wrestling and nice ground and pound. Horiguchi, however, started reversing takedowns, sweeping when he was on his back, and landing some nice ground and pound of his own. In the final round Caldwell was getting takedowns but doing absolutely nothing with them, making MMA fans worldwide scream at their TV, “please stand them up ref, please oh God, what’s it gonna take to stand them up? Will they actually have to kiss? I would rather watch Cejudo polish his gold with a diamond cloth than this” (which I’m sure he has done before). Luckily for Kyoji, he was very active off his back, hitting some nice elbows, making transitions and submission attempts to easily win the majority of the rounds. Caldwell looked tired and one dimensional, and Horiguchi looked like an incredible, well rounded mixed martial artist. Is he the best bantamweight in the world? I’m not sure. King Henry the Cringe is a better wrestler than Caldwell, with better cardio, a better skillset, and knows how to punish a grounded opponent. Am I saying he beats Horiguchi? No, but I’m not confident in saying he loses either. I honestly couldn’t tell, all I hope is that we see that fight somewhere down the line.
It was a great night at the office for the Dragon as he made short work of journeyman Chael Sonnen. I could talk about Lyoto forever, I love this guy. Back when he defeated Rashad Evans for the LHW strap all those years ago I was convinced he was going to reign for a long, long time. His hybrid karate stance and obscure timing didn’t just confuse opponents, it caused crippling damage and exasperated Machida’s other great characteristics, his excellent technique and use of range. His UFC career had its fair share of ups and downs, and I think it was right to try something else for a while, to recapture some gold in a different promotion. His first Bellator outing was close, but he was the victor and made a great account of himself against a former champion, and he continued that momentum going into the Sonnen fight. Chael came at him with constant pressure, didn’t let up and tried to use his wrestling to neutralise Lyoto’s great striking. Chael was too one dimensional however, as he was trying to pressure and push Machida back, he didn’t set anything up, he didn’t change direction or use feints and angles, and his pressing seemed rather amateurish. Due to this, Lyoto was able to create angles, side step and catch Chael coming in. He managed to time Chael’s shoots to a T to the point where he hit not one, but two, yes two, clean flying knees as he came in. The fact that Chael still has a head is a miracle, as after that first flying knee hit he stiffened up like a popped ironing board and looked out before he hit the floor. He bravely managed to recover, however a second flying knee connected, and after the follow up ground and pound referee Todd Anderson had seen enough. A great, emphatic statement win for Machida. What next for the Dragon? A road to the title makes sense, he already holds a win over Bader who has improved greatly, so I think that’s a matchup we’d all like to see.
Another UFC alumni who had a good outing this weekend and makes up our second title fight is Rory MacDonald. After his last lacklustre performance where he drew against veteran Jon Fitch, many were wondering whether Rory still had it in him, especially after his post-match interview where his talk of Christianity not only bored us to tears, but drove us to tears when he suggested he might be looking at retirement. He seems, however, to have remembered all the millions of people God has killed over the years and realised it was cool, or maybe he was watching Romero matches and realised God needs soldiers, because when he came out on Friday night he looked like a different man. He looked focused, determined and seemed to have his edge back he didn’t have on his last showing. Standing across the cage from him was someone from this unknown family who apparently have some kind of tie to the MMA world. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen many Neiman fights, but I’ve heard good things and he’s undefeated, plus it’s hard to find a Gracie who can’t fight. However, Rory just did what Rory does best, wrestled the absolute life out of him. Rory’s really great at tactical wrestling, using his environment well and figuring out his opponents timing so that his takedowns find a home, and once you’re on the ground, he stays busy. He stays busy, Caldwell. He doesn’t just lay on you and expect to win. Because he’s a champion, Caldwell, for fuck sake. Excuse the digression, it was a comfortable win for Rory who is making his mark as one of the top 170 lbsers in MMA today. He’s got the Lima fight up soon which will undoubtedly be his toughest test yet, and I for one cannot wait to see how that pans out. The winner has got to be in the conversation of world’s best welterweight.
Okay so I allured to this in the previous paragraph but God almighty what the shit was Caldwell doing. Now I like Caldwell, I’m a Caldwell fan, I think he’s got some great wrestling, a great look, he’s marketable, and has been with Bellator the majority of his career with excellent wins over the likes of Joe Taimanglo and Leandro Higo and has even fought at featherweight, but I have no idea what this weekend was about. I haven’t seen somebody clamber on top and awkwardly do nothing since my prom night. Horiguchi bested him in the ring in Japan, now was his chance to do the same to him in the cage in America, but he looked gassed, he looked lost and he looked completely outclassed. Losing to Horiguchi isn’t a bad thing, but when you couple in how good he did in the opening rounds it begs the question (hope I’ve used that right), why didn’t he keep that up? He has all the tools. Does he not have the gas tank? The fight IQ? I just don’t know. He made a bad showing of himself, and he had Bellator’s reputation on the line which quite frankly, took a hit, nearly as bad as Chael’s chin. How would you feel if you went to a foreign country to beat someone up, ended up tapping out, came back to your own country to do the same, only to get embarrassed again? Sounds like Britain’s immigration policy, not a Bellator world champion. What next for Caldwell? I’m not sure. A few months off at least. Hopefully, there could be a lighter weight tournament on the horizon, which could be an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways for an excellent wrestler with a great base for success.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with what a damn shame, for someone that has so much potential. Prospecting in MMA is an incredibly difficult thing. The sport is still insanely young, and trying to spot a young, upcoming talent before they’ve barely had a fight is like a USADA agent trying to think of a convincing reason why Jones is still allowed to fight, it’s incredibly difficult. In Boxing, we have hundreds of years of history, we have models to go by, we can give prospects 10, 20, sometimes 30 fights with completely different boxers who will test them in different ways before they’re ready for the big time. It works, and it gives these young boxers a chance to really hone and refine their skills. Pico is an incredible talent, tremendous wrestler with fists like cinder blocks, and we wrote about his last fight showing shades of Cody Garbrandt, hurting your opponent and getting overzealous, rushing in for the stoppage against a more experienced fighter who sees an opening and puts you flat on your back. I get that Pico wants big fights, and he’s pressured into doing it, but he’s facing guys with 20+ rounds of MMA experience and it honestly isn’t right. He needs to be building his portfolio and given a chance to develop these skills. He didn’t fight bad against Borics, but again the more experienced man saw an opening off a takedown attempt, and these are the holes that would be filled with 5 more low level fights. Why is Valeria Loureda fighting Hooters waitresses while Aaron Pico is fighting killers? Regardless, this isn’t the end of the road for Pico. He has all the potential in the world, he just needs the easier fights to build himself up. We know Bellator has them. How many times do you see someone 0-3 on the prelims? More than you should? Exactly. Let Pico fight one of them for God’s sake, even have TJ bring a friend from the meat plant, or some shit.
Well here it is, the end of the road. Not gonna write a lot about the American Gangster here as his retirement has pretty much said what needs to be said. It was a bad showing. He looked tired, he was pressing forward with no real plan, he had no angles, he made no adjustments and the best man won. I’ve been thinking Chael needs to hang it up for a while now and am glad he finally has. I know, MMA retirements can be a lot like a Jon Jones drug suspension, last for little bit but then they come back and everyone completely forgets why they were gone in the first place. I just hope he actually does stay retired this time, as he is a great analyst, has great YouTube/podcast presence and has changed MMA in the way of promoting fights. Not to mention, if he’s not competing, he can dope like it’s the height of Pride, until he has the heart of a lion and the chest of a silverback. Mostly, I Just can’t wait to see the Anderson Silva trilogy with Golden Boy promotions in 10 years’ time.