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Combat Sports Weekend Recap: UFC Shanghai & HBO Boxing

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As most of America was busy braving the crowds of Black Friday, eating leftover turkey and ham, and surviving whatever is happening in the NFL this weekend, it was a short, but explosive weekend in combat sports. UFC fans in America had to wake up damn early if they wanted to catch this weeks’ card (although the English fans loved it, as I understand), while HBO Boxing began their four-week run in dramatic fashion.

Saturday — November 25, 2017

UFC Shanghai — Mercedes Benz Arena — Shanghai, China (UFC Fight Pass)

Kelvin Gastelum is a bad dude.

Amid the huge story of former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping coming back on two weeks’ notice just three weeks after losing his title to Georges St. Pierre, many forgot what a huge opportunity this would be for Gastelum. The Mexican-American has been widely criticized for his failure to control his weight and inability to make the 170-welterweight limit, but he is a forced to be reckoned with no matter what division he fights in. He proved this once and for all this Saturday in Shanghai, when he knocked out the former champion Bisping with a single straight left hand.

It had been even first round leading up to that point, with Bisping (30-9, 20-9 UFC) showing little evidence of having been in such a fight just three weeks ago. Gastelum (14-3-1, 1 NC, 9-3 1 NC UFC) immediately started to force his way in, looking for hard shots, while Bisping tried his best to control the pace and keep his distance. It had been a pretty even battle up until Gastelum came in, avoided a Bisping right, and drilled him with a left hand. A little window dressing GNP later and ref Marc Goddard stopped the fight at 2:29 of Round 1.

Gastelum moves to 4-1 in the middleweight division and is bound to move up from his number nine position in the division after drilling the number two fighter in the division. He called out interim champion Robert Whitaker, but if anyone deserves a shot at the title, it’s probably Luke Rockhold. But I wouldn’t be mad if Gastelum got that fight.

As for Bisping, it will probably be a good rest for him before he comes back for one final fight next year. Dan Hardy suggested Lyoto Machida would be a good final opponent for “The Count” and I tend to agree.

Elsewhere on the card, it was a banner night for the Chinese fighters, who went 5-0 on this card, including two wins on the main card. Featherweight Guan Wang (17-1, 1-0 UFC) looked excellent in dropping UFC veteran Alex Caceres (13-11, 8-9 UFC) several times in route to a unanimous decision, and Li Jiangling (14-4, 6-2 UFC), perhaps the UFC’s most celebrated Chinese fighter, moved his win streak to four, blasting out American Zak Ottow (15-5, 2-2 UFC) in less than a round.

The biggest upset on the card may have come in the main card opener, when “The Dominican Nightmare” Alex Garcia (15-4, 5-3 UFC) choked out Muslim Salikhov (13-2, 0-1 UFC) by second round rear naked choke. Salikhov is heavily hyped former kickboxer from Dagestan who was making his UFC debut. The prelims were closed out by an excellent encore performance by Zabit Magomedshapirov (14-1, 2-0 UFC), who choked out debuting Sheymon Moraes (9-2, 0-1 UFC) in the third round. Moraes was a WSOF veteran who looked really good in spots, but the Dagestan born, Jersey trained fighter was just too much for him, taking him down to the ground and dominating him, before finishing him with a sick looking D’Arce choke in the third. Learn the name Zabit Magomedshapirov. I would not be surprised if he is fighting for a world championship within two years.

HBO World Championship Boxing — The Theatre at Madison Square Garden — New York, New York

Vyachaeslav Sharbranskyy gets hit with right hands.

I had two chances to bring it up leading into this fight. After all, it was right hands that Sullivan Barrera nailed Shabranskyy with when he took the Ukrainian’s undefeated record with last December. During everyone wondering how Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev would respond following his knockout loss to Andre Ward in June, it might have been smart of me to remember this fact…

It turns out that the rumors of Kovalev’s demise had been greatly exaggerated, as boxing fans were treated to a vintage Krusher Kovalev ass kicking, as he dropped Shabranskyy three times in route to winning the vacant WBO light heavyweight title. The win puts Kovalev (31-2-1, 28 KOs) back in business to make some big fights in the suddenly very exciting 175-pound weight class.

Working for the first time with Russian trainer Abror Turnsonpulatov, Kovalev looked in visibly better physical condition and was quickly beating the taller Shabranskyy to the jab. About two minutes into the first round, Kovalev dropped the Ukrainian prospect with a perfect straight right hand. The right hand started a combination that dropped Shabranskyy a second time, but he managed to survive the round. Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs) tried to come out more aggressive in the second, but the Krusher was beating him to the jab again and peppering him with rights, and dropped him for a third time with a minute to go in the second. Ref Harvey Dock let Shabranskyy up, but Kovalev was on him, putting the left hook behind the right hand and Dock finally rescued Shabranskyy at 2;36 of Round 2.

Kovalev is sitting pretty after this win, the most well-known fighter in the division that is suddenly full of exciting young contenders. With this Krusher leading the way, the light heavyweight division to could field some tremendous matchups over the next few years.

Two of those young contenders who on display in the co-feature as Cuban Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) beat the Dominican Republic’s Felix Valera (13-2, 11 KOs) over twelve rounds. The fight got off to a roaring start, with Valera dropping Barrera with a left hook in the first, but Barrera coming back to drop Valera with a combination as the round ended. Barrera was cut over the eye in the second round, but gradually used his better boxing skills and harder punches to control the fight. Valera showed his frustration by repeatedly hitting Barrera in the balls, which made this fight very frustrating to watch. Valera lost three points for low blows, and Barrera lost a point for retaliating late in the fight as well. In the end, Barrera took the wide unanimous decision victory.

The card opened with a flat-out robbery, as former WBA 130 lbs champ Jason Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs) dominated former three division champion Yuriokis Gamboa (28-2, 17 KOs), controlling most of the fight, dropping him with a right hand in the seventh round, and despite all of that, and losing a point for holding in the 10th round, Gamboa won by majority decision! The scores were 96-92 and 95-93 for Gamboa, with the other judge seeing it 94-94. This is easily one of the worst decisions of the year, and it has been a year full of bad ones.

Also This Weekend: The WWE presented Starrcade, a special House Show presented in the old home of the Dusty Rhodes creation — Greensboro, North Carolina. It was reportedly the best crowd WWE had done in that city for a house show in years and featured appearances from Ric Flair, Arn Anderson (who gave Dolph Ziggler his trademark Spinebuster), and the Rock N Roll Express. The highlight of the show was Goldust coming out in his classic gimmick of “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes, complete with the vintage theme song. While this show was inexplicably not shown on the WWE Network, clips of it all over WWE’s social media and are well worth going out of your way to see.

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