It was a weekend of big shows all around, as we saw the biggest event of Ring of Honor wrestling close the show with a bang, the final cards of the year for Bellator MMA and HBO Boxing and a UFC on FOX show featuring a main event between two former champions.
Friday, December 15, 2017
Bellator 191—Metro Radio Arena—Newcastle, England (Spike TV)
The final Bellator card of the year was a bit of a disappointment, as the main event saw former UFC bantamweight title challenger Michael McDonald decision Frenchman Peter Ligier in his Bellator MMA debut. It wasn’t the best of nights for McDonald, who came in three pounds over weight and put on a mostly lackluster performance.
McDonald (18-4, 1-0 Bellator) did control most of the fight, using solid fence work and some well-timed takedowns to control the fight. Ligier (8-2-1, 0-1 Winnipeg) had some success when they were at space striking, but McDonald gave him little chance to get that done. As this was McDonald’s first fight since being starched by John Lineker in one round eighteen months ago, you can forgive McDonald a little bit for this performance, but he’s probably nowhere near ready for a shot at new Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell.
It was a much better Bellator debut for former UFC strawweight title challenger Valerie Letourneau, who put in good work in a unanimous decision victory over TUF 23 competitor Kate Jackson. Letourneau (9-6, 1-0 Bellator), fighting at flyweight for only the second time and coming off a year-long layoff, took some time to get going by the end of the first round, she had found her range and outlanded Jackson. Jackson (9-3, 1-1 Bellator) did manage to take “Trouble” down, but Letourneau immediately started going for submissions and nearly locked in both a triangle choke and then an armbar, but Jackson managed to slip out both times.
Letourneau rolled with it and stuck the task and spent the third-round nailing Jackson with repeated counter right hands, walking away with the decision victory. The fight ended a three-fight losing streak for Letourneau and given experience and profile, she would make sense as a challenger for new Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.
The most impressive performance of the night probably belonged to welterweight Mohammed Yahya, built as Bellator’s first fighter from the United Arab Emirates, Yahya (5-1, 1-0 Bellator) overcame a rough early first round, as Ash Griffiths (4-5, 0-1 Bellator) took Yahya down and controlled for a bit, but when Yahya locked to stand up, Griffiths dived for a serious guillotine, but Yahya was able to escape, and when the time was right, began delivering some serious GNP. Griffiths was able to get to his feet, but Yahya took him back down and pounded him out for the victory at 3:26 of Round 1.
Ring of Honor Final Battle 2017—Hammerstein Ballroom—New York, New York (PPV)
Ring of Honor closed what has been maybe the best year in the company’s twelve years history with a bang, as Dalton Castle defeated Cody Rhodes to become the new Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Champion, in front of a sold-out crowd in New York City.
It was a hell of a match, as they did throughout the night, ROH used effective pyro and time to make the entrances feel special, and thus the whole night feel special. It was a classic back and forth match with both men showcasing their best. The match had several huge spots. At one point, Cody, sporting a new white blond look, powerbombed Castle through a table on the floor. Cody was insistent on dealing out more punishment, but the Boys intervened, but then Cody’s wife, Brandi Rhodes, took them out with a dive off the top, which lead to ref Todd Sinclair throwing them all out.
Then later there was a ref bump and Castle had Cody tapping out, but the ref didn’t see it. But the fix wasn’t in, as Castle was able to kick out off the Cross Rhodes and hit his own finisher, the Bang-A-Rang, for the victory. It was a bit of surprise that Cody dropped the title, but if he was going to drop it to one guy, Castle was the right one.
Castle wasn’t the only new champion, as Silas Young outlasted Punishment Martinez, Shane Taylor, and former champion Kenny King an elimination match to win the Ring of Honor World Television title. It’s a huge thing for Young, who is winning his first title even though he has wrestled on and off for the promotion for ten years.
Ring of Honor Tag Team Champions The Motor City Machine Guns, who showed heelish tendencies throughout the match, barely escaped with their belts against the Best Friends, Trent and Chuck Taylor. The Best Friends seemed to carry most of the action, but Sabin was able to catch Trent in a jackknife cradle and escape with the win. The Ring of Honor Six Man Champs, The Young Bucks and Adam Page retained over the CMLL trio of Flip Gordon, Dragon Lee, and Titan, after an incredible triple team Spike Air Raid Crash/Meltzer Drive combo that just has to be seen to believed, but they were jumped afterwards by the Addiction-Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian, now joined by California veteran Scorpio Sky.
Two matches that did not disappoint were Matt Taven getting the upset over British high-flyer Will Ospreay, and Jay Lethal using a low blow to neutralize ‘The Villain’, Marty Scrull, who used some fun Eddie Guerrero tactics during the course of the match. And what looked to be his swan song Bully Ray and longtime friend Tommy Dreamer fell to the Briscoe Brothers in a violent New York Street Fight.
Overall, this may be as good of as show as ROH has ever done and they are set to do some big things in 2018…. I think.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
UFC Winnipeg—Bell MTS Place—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (FOX/FS1/UFC Fight Pass)
The fans in the land of Jericho certainly had a lot to cheer about this night, as the last big FOX card and the first UFC show in the city in four years certainly delivered, with big knockouts, Canadian victories, and one hell of a main event.
Rafael Dos Anjos closed out a massive 2017, decisioning former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler over five hard-fought rounds. Dos Anjos (28-9, 17-7 UFC) used his speed and diverse attack both inside and outside to befuddle the bigger, strong, and bigger hitting Lawler. RDA was kicking Robbie’s leg for the first round on, and in the second, it really got nasty when Dos Anjos hurt Lawler with a big left hand that drove Lawler into the face and UNLOADED with over twenty punches to the head and body. Some landed, but Lawler blocked and slipped many and fired back with some big left hands, making it one crazy round.
The third-round saw Dos Anjos finally take Lawler down, and bust him up with elbows. In the fourth, Dos Anjos went back to the leg, and also was able to unleash his full Muay Thai arsenal, hurting Lawler with knees to the body and elbows to the head. Given how much RDA was hitting the former champ, there was a case for not letting Lawler out for the fifth, but the fight continued. Lawler has sunk many an opponent in the championship rounds before, but the former lightweight champ was having none of it. The scores were 50-45, three times, and they were the right scores.
Dana White had said that the winner of this fight would get the next shot at champion Tyrone Woodley, but Woodley’s injured shoulder could put a damper on this. Number one ranked Stephen Thompson called out RDA, who came in ranked fourth, and that could be intriguing fight as well. But with his 3-0 2017 and this win over second ranked Lawler, Dos Anjos has more than earned a title shot.
The co-main saw a shocking knockout as Josh Emmett, who stepped in on short notice, knocked third ranked featherweight Ricardo Lamas in the first round with a sick counter left hook. The knockout was somewhat disconcerting, not just because of its violent nature, but because Emmett (14-1, 4-1 UFC) missed weight by three and a half pounds. Emmett is a career lightweight, so it feels like its much on the UFC as it is him for selecting him, but its hard to give Emmett the credit he might otherwise deserve. Lamas (18-6, 8-4 UFC) was put in a terrible spot, and paid the price for it.
The one man fans tuned into see did not disappoint as tenth ranked welterweight Santiago Ponzinibbio outlasted Mike Perry over three rounds. This one wasn’t supposed to go to the judges, but both men showed great heart and great chins in this battle. Perry (11-2, 4-2 UFC) took the first round with a solid, diverse attack and pretty good head movement, but a combination of solid calf kicks and good boxing carried Ponzinibbio (26-3, 8-2 UFC) through a rough second round where his face was covered in the crimson masked. He seemed to have more in the tank going into the third and also scored some crucial takedowns, where forced Perry to carry his weight before he escaped. The win moves Ponzinibbio up the ladder but probably does little to hurt Perry, who has emerged as a cult hero because of his insane personality and fighting style.
The main card opener was a bit of shocker, as Glover Teixeira took down and beat up Misha Cirkunov in less than a round. Teixeira (27-6, 10-4 UFC), who was coming off a tough five round battle against Alexander Gustaffson, was getting out-dueled on the feet by the younger Cirkunov on the feet, but then Teixeira took Cirkunov (13-4, 4-2 UFC) down and nearly choked him out with the RNC, but when he couldn’t get Teixeria switched to the mount and pounded him until Misha gave up his back, where Teixeira flattened him out and finished him at 2:45 of the first round. It was smashing win for Teixeira and gets him right back in the middle of the thin light heavyweight title picture.
The prelims were full of knockouts and winning Canadians, as Chad Lap rise (13-2, 5-2 UFC) and Nordine Taleb (14-4, 5-2 UFC) both scored first round knockout wins over Galore Bofando (5-3, 1-1 UFC) and Danny Roberts (14-4, 3-2 UFC) respectively, while John Makdessi (15-6, 8-6 UFC) and Jordan Mein (30-12, 4-4 UFC) scored unanimous decisions over Abel Trujillo (15-8 1 NC, 6-4 I NC UFC) and Erick Silva (19-9, 6-8 UFC). Italian middleweight Alessio Di Chirico (11-2, 2-2 UFC) scored probably the knockout of the night, kneeing Oluwale Bamgbose (6-4, 1-4 UFC) into oblivion.
The real star made here was Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series product Julian Marquez (7-1, 2-0 UFC), who tore the house down with Brit Darren Stewart (7-3 1 NC, 0-3 1 NC) UFC) in the Fight of the Night. The two big middleweights tore into each other with hard shots in a close first round. Stewart rocked Marquez repeatedly with right hands, but Marquez kept coming. It was more of that in the second, and with Marquez getting the better with a diverse attack that included some sick front elbows, forced Stewart into a bad shot, and Marquez caught Stewart in a front choke and tapped him out. Marquez then challenged UFC welterweight champion Tyrone Woodley, not to a fight, but to a beard-off! It was certainly the most unique thing I’ve seen in a post-fight interview. Marquez has to do it now at thirty-seven years old, but he has star potential.
HBO World Championship Boxing—Belle Centre—Montreal, Quebec, Canada (HBO)
David Lemieux shat the bed.
The big puncher from Montreal was on a three-fight winning streak, including his March knockout of the year against Curtis Stevens, and had the home crowd at Belle Centre behind him. But for twelve rounds he chased Sanders, not cutting off the ring or doing the right things to set up his big punched, but jus swinging around.
The reigning WBO middleweight champion, Billie Joe Saunders is nothing if he isn’t consistent. He boxed well for all twelve rounds, consistently using his solid right jab and hitting Lemieux with a straight left hand whenever he wanted. He avoided most of Lemieux’s big shots, including looking into the crowd to see where the punch went in the fifth, a quality moment of showboating. The scores were 120-108, 117-111, and 118-110, and probably shouldn’t be that close.
It sucks having to give BJS credit, as he has consistently priced himself out of big fights and avoided top opposition, but he was excellent here. Immediately most of boxing Twitter figured out that the fight to make was Saunders versus former WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs, but who knows given Saunders history. Boxing isn’t exactly known for doing what makes sense.
In the co-main, Ireland’s Gary O’Sullivan, who has a handlebar mustache, knocked out Antoine Douglas of the United States in the seventh round of a tough middleweight fight. It is something of an upset as O’Sullivan, who has a handlebar mustache, was seen as a bit of also ran thanks to losses to Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr. Douglas (22-2-1, 16 KOs) was seen as the bigger prospect and was showing it early, landing consistent combinations. But O’Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs), who has a handlebar mustache, wore Douglas down with his pressure throughout the fight and was landing solid right hands throughout the fight. Finally, in the seventh, O’Sullivan hurt him with a left hook and followed up with flurry and the ref stopped the bout at 1:03 of the seventh. Did I mention that O’Sullivan has a handlebar mustache?
Sunday, December 17, 2017
WWE Clash of the Champions—TD Banknorth Garden—Boston, Massachusetts (WWE Network)
AJ Styles, Charlotte Flair and The Usos all walked away from Boston with their titles in a show that has been met with a mixed reaction from most of the WWE Universe, but that I personally enjoyed. There was good, solid storytelling through most of the show, the tag teams stole the show (as usual) and we got the right result in the main event.
Styles overcame Jinder Mahal in what was probably Mahal best match this year. Mahal hit his Colass finisher, but Styles was able to kick out and later lock on the Calf Crusher, forcing Mahal to submit in the middle of the ring. Charlotte also won by submission in Lumberjack match, which featured plenty of action on the outside of the ring, and featured an almost Cash-In from Carmella, which was interrupted by the Riott Squad. In the end, Charlotte was able to reverse a Sharpshooter attempt into the Figure Eight for the win.
The Usos overcame three other teams-The New Day, Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, and Rusev and Aiden English to retain. The MVP of the match, and maybe the whole show, was Gable, who turned the ring into Suplex City, including throwing the 300-pound Big E. Gable, a former US Olympian, can be a big star for the company.
The only title to change hands was the United States title, which saw Dolph Ziggler overcome Bobby Roode and champion Baron Corbin to win the belt. It was a hot match with an uber hot crowd to start the show. Roode had Ziggler beat with the Glorious DDT at one point, but Corbin pulled him off the pin and laid him out. When Corbin went for the End of Days in the ring, Ziggler came out of nowhere with the Zig Zag on Corbin for the win. Great finish.
And the much ballyhooed tag team co-main event did not disappoint, as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn kept their jobs against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. The two-referee angle between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan played to perfection. They refed different sides of the ring, had the right amount of arguments, and let the match flow. In the end, Sami had Orton rolled up and Shane counted to two, but held his hand up rather than count the three. While Daniel yelled at him, and everyone was distracted, Sami rolled Orton up again and Daniel made the fast three count. The plot thickens!!!
Also This Weekend: A forgotten FS1 boxing card on Friday night produced one of the best fights of the year, as junior welterweights John Molina Jr (30-7, 23 KOs) and Ivan Redkach (20-4-1, 16 KOs) had one of the best fights of the year, a slugfest that saw them both go down before Molina knocked Redkach out with a flurry ending a sick uppercut in the fourth. It’s well worth going out of your way to see.