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Combat Sports Weekend Recap for 12/8-10—Part 1: Invicta FC 26, UFC Fresno, Glory 49 & more

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This weekend was a monster for combat sports, with both MMA and boxing cards going head to head on Saturday night, the return of Evolve, and the final Invicta show of the year. In addition, the premier kickboxing organization in the world had their biggest show in the year and combat sports fans everywhere are thankful for DVR’s and on demand replays.

Alright. Let’s try to sort through all of this!

Friday — October 8, 2017

MMA

Invicta FC 26 — Scottish Rites Temple — Kansas City, Missouri (UFC Fight Pass)

Jennifer Maia (15-4, 4-2 Invicta) returned from a thirteen-month layoff and came back from some rough early rounds to retain her title for the second time, beating undefeated Polish Judoka Aga Niedzwiedz (11-1, 2-1 Invicta) by unanimous decision. The scores of 49-46 across the board do not reflect how close this fight was and the effort Maia had to put in the championship rounds to retain her title.

Late in the first round, Niedzwiedz caught a kick from Maia and dropped her with a hard-right hand, following up with some huge GNP, but Maia managed to keep moving and survive the round. Aga dropped Maia again with hard left jab at the beginning of the second, but Maia managed to survive again and put the challenger against the fence, she was able to keep her and grind away for most of the rest of the round. Niedzwiedz rallied back in the third, including taking Maia down with a beautiful power double and controlling her on the mat for a while, but the fourth round marked a definite swing for the champion.

The championship rounds proved to be all Maia. She continued to do good work along the fence, but she was also landing more at space, especially with a hard-left jab. Niedzwiedz tried hard to get the fight back to the mat, but Maia stuffed every takedown in these rounds. It seemed like a very close fight, but that turned out not to be the case. Maia doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but she does almost everything well and has championship conditioning. Despite new flyweight champions in both the UFC and Bellator, Maia very well still may be the best female flyweight in the world.

The rest of this night, much like the TUF 26 finale the week before, was defined by one word  — ARMBAR! Four of the other seven contests ended with armbars, but none were more than impressive then the one pulled off Mackenzie Dern (5-0, 1-0 Invicta), who topped off a surprisingly dominant performance by tapping out former Invicta title challenger Kaline Medeiros (8-6, 2-2 Invicta) with a beautiful armbar from the mount with just fifteen seconds left in the fight.

Dern showed much improved striking, hurting Medeiros several times in the first round with looping overhand rights. Other than a few takedowns from she chose to not to try to follow-up on, Medeiros had nothing for Dern. The former multiple time BBJ world champion was unable to get the fight till the ground until last ninety seconds of the second round, when Dern turned her own failed takedown attempt into a leglock, which she used to sweep into half guard, then turned into the mount, where she pounded Medeiros with GNP for the rest of the round. The fight stayed on the feet until late in the third, when Dern scored another takedown. She went quickly from side control to mount, then took her time to break Medeiros’s defense, and then used strikes to get Medeiros to raise her arms up, and then Dern took it home.

Best prospect in WMMA indeed.

We saw another beautiful armbar from the mount earlier in the night, when undefeated Brazilian Virna Jandiroba (12-0, 1-0 Invicta) submitted Invicta veteran Amy Montenegro (8-3, 2-2 Invicta) at 2:50 of round One. Jandiroba was making her Invicta and United States debut and a BJJ Black Belt who stated she wants to be the Damian Maia of WMMA. She ran through Montenegro here. Crazy scrambles initiated the other two armbar victories, with former atomweight title challenger Amber Brown needing only fifty seconds to submit a BJJ Black Belt, Tessa Simpson, and in the opening bout, Kay Hansen needed just 1:23 to submit Emilee Prince. Hansen is only eighteen years old.

Also on this card, Vanessa Porto (19-8, 4-4 Invicta) ended a tough losing streak, knocking out Milana Dudieva (11-7, 0-2 Invicta) with a jab to the liver in Round Three. Strawweight Janiasa Morandin (10-1, 1-1 Invicta) destroyed the nose of Kinberly Novaes (9-4, 0-1 Invicta), but Novaes showed great heart and hung in for the whole fifteen minutes, but Morandin walked away with a solid decision win. Karina Rodriguez (7-2, 2-0 Invicta) notched her third win in the row, looking excellent in decisioning Christina Ferea (1-2 Invicta).

Saturday December 9, 2017

Boxing

Showtime Championship Boxing — ExGal Arena, London, England (Showtime YouTube/Facebook.Com)

Showtime’s YouTube and Facebook pages broadcast a double-header from London, England that wasn’t available on their main channel, an innovation that their competitors on HBO have yet to embrace. But it turned out to be better than expected move, as a lot of people got to see when of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history.

Caleb Truax’s reputation was that of a journeyman. He’s a good, solid professional from Minnesota who has beaten some other good, solid pros, but he will always come up short on the biggest stages. He fought Daniel Jacobs for his middleweight belt in and was dominated before being stopped in the 12th Round, and then a year later was wiped out in one round by former champion Anthony Dirrell. So when he was announced as the opponent for Degale, fighting for the first time in eleventh months and coming off an injury, many, including me, scoffed. Even as a get well win coming off a tough draw against Badou Jack in January, this was a joke.

No one is laughing now.

Truax defeated Degale by majority decision to become the new IBF super middleweight champion. One judge had it even at 114-114, while the others had it 115-112 and 116-112 for the Minnesotan. It is well deserved decision for Truax, who despite all the doubts and fighting in London, stuck to the task and got the job done-and somehow got the damn decision.

I didn’t pay a single bit of attention to the first four rounds, although going back and watching you see Degale moving well, using his right jab to set up combinations to the head and body. In the third round, you did see Truax start to cut the ring off better and trap Degale against the ropes, nailing him with right hands up top and the occasional shot to the body.

But then I heard a loud groan from the crowd in Round 5 and it was Truax cracking Degale with an overhand right, after he had already landed a straight right and a solid uppercut. Truax stayed on for the entire round, pounding him to the head and the body, cracking him several times with big right hands. It was a clear 10-8 round, and Truax didn’t stop there.

Through Rounds 6 through 10, Truax stayed on Degale, repeatedly pushing him against the ropes and unloading to the head and the body, sometimes hitting glove, but more often that not finding the target. Degale would shove the challenger off occasionally and land some shots to the body, but it wasn’t enough to keep Truax off him. The former champion was coming off a right shoulder injury and maybe just couldn’t fire the jab needed to keep Truax off round after round. Whatever the reason, the Minnesotan took all those rounds, including launching an excellent rally in the tenth, stunning Degale with a series of short uppercuts.

In the 11th and 12th, with Truax possibly tiring, Degale finally managed to get moving and probably landed enough to take the final two stanzas. But Truax had done enough to win the title. I myself had it 115-112 in his favor.

Of course, the bigger shock than how well Truax performed was that he got credit for it. Plenty of American fighters have gotten robbed in Europe and Degale has gotten a few gifts even in America. With this win, Truax becomes only the eighth American to win a world title from a British fighter on UK Soil, joining the likes of Carlos Palomino, Marvin Hagler, Oliver McCall, Terrance Crawford, and Errol Spence.

Kickboxing

Glory Redemption/Glory 49 — Rotterdamn Ahoy — Rotterdam, The Netherlands (UFC Fight Pass/UFC PPV)

Rico Verhoeven made sure this event lived up to its name.

The Glory Heavyweight Champion knocked out his larger rival Jamal Ben Saddik in the fifth round to retain his title. It was an easy fight for kickboxing’s biggest star, as Ben Saddik hurt him with a right hand early in the fight and dropped the champion with a leg sweep, but Verhoeven recovered and slowly worked his way back into the fight.

By the fifth round, the champ was in firm control and Rico nailed Ben Saddik with a left head kick. Rico jumped on him and nailed him with several rights, forcing a standing eight count. Verhoeven then went in for the kill, and an uppercut followed by a right hand dropped Ben Saddik and the ref called it off. This is Rico’s ninth win a row and he has on the run of his career. You have to wonder if there’s anything left for him in Glory or kickboxing all together, or if the siren’s song of MMA will call his name…

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

MMA

UFC Fresno — Save Mart Center — Fresno, California (UFC Fight Pass/FS1)

Welcome to the big time, Brian Ortega.

Ortega (12-0, 5-0 UFC), the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and former RFA champion, pulled the upset, submitting Cub Swanson with a hellish guillotine at 3;23 of Round 2. It turned out to be an excellent battle between the two California featherweights, living up the expectations of a great fight that built to a fever pitch by the time fight night arrived. It was awarded Fight of the Night, the third in a row for both men, closing out to what turned out to be an interesting night of fights in the California valley.

Swanson (25-8, 10-4 UFC) fought well in the first round, landing hard shots to the body, and finding plenty of holes in Ortega’s unorthodox striking style. The man known as T-City did catch Cub in a tight D’Arce choke at the end of the round, but Swanson managed to survive it and get to the second round. The two went blow for blow through the second, and just as it looked like the fourth ranked Swanson was getting the advantage, the sixth ranked Ortega shot and got close, and somehow Cub’s head got underneath his arm and Ortega jumped into a guillotine. Cub tried like hell to fight it off, but a midair readjustment of the hands by Ortega and Swanson was tapping frantically.

This is a huge win for Ortega, his fifth in the UFC, all of which have come by stoppage. His five-finish streak is second in all the UFC, to only a guy named Francis Ngannou. If Ricardo Lamas wins next week, a fight between him and Ortega would make for a crucial number one contenders match, with the winner getting the winner of the inevitable Max Holloway-Frankie Edgar fight. For Swanson, this was the last fight of his UFC contract, and I don’t think anyone would want to see him leave the organization. Let’s all hope that Dana White pays up.

The co-main saw fifteenth ranked featherweight Jason Knight (20-4, 4-3 UFC) have absolutely nothing for the unheralded Gabriel Benítez (20-6, 3-2 UFC), who basically did whatever he wanted in route to a unanimous decision victory. Knight however, did bite Benítez’s finger in the first round when trying a takedown, an action that should get him fined and suspended. Third from the top, a battle of top ranked bantamweights ended with a bang, with Marlon Moraes (20-5-1, 2-1 UFC) knocking out Aljamain Sterling (14-3, 6-3 UFC) with a knee during a switch kick attempt in just 67 seconds.

There was some suspect judging that marred this card for sure. The prelims kicked off with veteran Frankie Saenz (12-5, 4-3 UFC) getting the decision of Georgian Merab Dvalishvili (7-3, 0-1 UFC), even though Merab took him down and held him down more times than you could count. The prelim feature bout so Liz Carmouche (11-3, 3-4 UFC) dropped a split decision to Alexis Davis (19-7, 6-2 UFC), even though she had caused a ghastly hematoma over Davis right eye. The main card then opened with tough LA fighter Albert Morales (7-3-1, 1-3-1 UFC) getting hosed for at the least the second time in his UFC career, losing a decision to flashy Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series product Benito Lopez (9-0, 1-0 UFC), who did a lot of flashy shit, but got pretty well outworked.

Another DWTNCS product, Alex Perez (19-4, 2-0 UFC), made a smashing debut, submitting Filipino Carlos John de Tomas (6-2, 2-2 UFC) in the second round with a sick Anaconda Choke. And Texan Trevin Giles (11-0, 2-0 UFC) made in two for two in the UFC, knocking out Brazilian Antonio Braga Neto (9-3, 1-2 UFC) in the third round, and starting a series of “WOOs” that persisted throughout the night. It was like an Indy wrestling show — without the Too Sweets of course.

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