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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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Wilder v Fury II: Can ‘heart and determination’ conquer raw power?

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It’s long been one of the great debates in sport – the relationship between technical aptitude and self-belief. Are the greatest sportspeople blessed with an inherent talent that guarantees success, or is it the determination and will-to-win that drives them that extra mile? Can sheer resolve and strength of character get the better of mechanical, tried-and-tested excellence?

This is one of the main topics of conversation ahead of the highly-anticipated rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. The English fighter is the slight favourite in the latest Wilder vs Fury odds, and has been vocal recently in saying that his self-will has the power to overcome an opponent whose record of 42 wins and 41 knockouts is frightening. 

“Statistics don’t lie, he is a much bigger puncher than me, a one-punch knockout artist,” Fury said. “The thing is, I don’t believe anybody can match my heart and determination. I will put my iron will on Deontay Wilder and we will see.”

While even the most uninformed boxing fan recognises Wilder’s superior punching power over Fury, it seemed strange for the Gypsy King, normally so brash and headstrong, to make such a concession – that his opponent is a better puncher. But this is the new Fury – the considered, mature Fury, if such a thing exists. There have been no Batman costumes or karaoke performances in his news conferences ahead of this fight, instead it has been all business with the repeated assertion that he will knock Wilder out in round two. 

Perhaps Wilder’s victory over Luis Ortíz in December will have given Fury more cause for concern than he may have felt initially. While the Cuban dominated Wilder for most of the fight, the WBC heavyweight champion showed exactly why he boasts such a formidable record. After almost seven rounds of tough boxing from Ortíz, one swift right hand from the knockout king left the Cuban sprawled on the canvas. For Fury, his intention will be to dominate proceedings, to use his footwork to get Wilder moving and losing energy. But that threat of a sudden light-extinguishing blow means the Gypsy King will have no margin for losing focus. 

Wilder vs Fury is the ultimate showcase of technical excellence against spirited mentality. Wilder has honed a gift for punching, the like of which boxing has never seen. There is no answer to the irresistible brutality of Wilder’s swing and hit – a crunching cannonball of a right hand that shatters all before it. 

Fury’s hope lies in his belief in his personal journey rather than the physical prowess he embodies. He believes that defeating Wilder is the inevitable next step on his voyage from the depths of depression and self-loathing to a glorious return to boxing’s title-winners. The determination that has driven his recovery continues to give him the belief that he will beat every opponent before him, and Wilder is simply the next man in the way.

On its own you would say that such determination would not be enough against an opponent of Wilder’s class, but such a conclusion would be ignoring the exemplary technical qualities Fury himself possesses. He is as nimble a heavyweight boxer as any in history, light on his feet, able to switch between stances at the drop of the hat, and while his punching power might not be on the same level as Wilder, it has been enough to land him 20 career knockouts. 

On February 22nd we will find out if Wilder is simply a step too far for Fury’s remarkable recovery to his former champion status. Will raw power overcome the singular focus and graft that have defined the Englishman’s return to contention? For those who have risen as Fury has, it takes a lot to knock them down again. 

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Andrade Coasts, Paul Shines, and Titles change hands in Miami

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DAZN hosted a rare Thursday Night card in a makeshift arena at the Gardens in Miami Beach, as the gang at Matchroom Sports hoped to capitalize on thousands of people coming into town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV between the Chiefs and the 49ers.

Most of the hype surrounded the “battle” between YouTubers Jake Paul of the United States and England’s AnEsonGib, and it turned out to be a showcase for the bigger and longer Paul, who painted Gib with repeated left jabs which set up the big right hands that dropped Gib three times in the first round and led referee Chris Young to stop the fight just 2:18 into the first round. It was the pro debut for both rivals, and whatever you want to say about it, the Sugar Shane Mosely trained Paul looked good.

The “main event” saw Demetrious Andrade drop Irishman Luke Keeler twice in the first two rounds and then coast for six rounds before finally stepping on the gas and blasting Keeler with repeated big shots in the ninth, forcing veteran referee Telis Assimenios to stop the fight at 2:59 of Round 9. It was Andrade’s third defense of his title and just another blowout of a fighter that it was below his talent level. It should have lasted three rounds. Instead, the game Irishman hit Andrade quite a bit and allowed to survive till the late rounds. Andrade called out the almost equally frustrating Billie Joe Saunders, the WBO 168 titleholder. They deserve each other.

But before the fluff at the end, boxing fans were treated two quality title fights. The main card of the show opened with an excellent technical battle that saw 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist Murodjon Akhmadaliev lift the WBA/IBF junior featherweight (122 pounds) from reigning champion Danny Roman by twelve round split decision in just his eighth professional fight.

The fight was very close from round one, as Akhmadaliev came out swinging with big left hands from the southpaw positions. The super technical Roman (27-3-1,10 KOs), fighting out of Los Angeles, attacked the body from Round One and looked to time the young Uzbek with good counter punches. The early rounds were good for Roman, who was more accurate and faster with his punches. Akhmadaliev came back in rounds five and six, only for Roman to crank up his pace in rounds seven and eight.

Many thought the late rounds would belong to the more experienced pro Roman, but Akhmadaliev (8-0, 7 KOs) turned that theory on his head, digging down in the late rounds, continuing throwing hard lefts to the head and body. Throughout the fight, the Uzbek commonly referred to as MJ closed rounds strong, and this was especially in the case in these late rounds. Roman did his best to come back with a strong Round 12 and both men let their hands go in the last twenty-seconds, landing some of their best punches of the fight.

In the end, one judge had it 115-113 for Roman, but the other two had it 115-113 for Akhmadaliev, giving the Uzbek the title in a fight that could have gone either way. Fightbooth actually had it a draw, 114-114. With so many close rounds, a rematch makes sense for both, especially in California, where both men are based. Much was made of how Danny Roman did not have to take this fight against such a ballyhooed prospect, but chose to be a great champion. The result was an excellent fight and a rivalry that we can hope is not over.

The second main card bout saw Joseph Diaz Jr, a 2012 Olympian from the United States, notch a dominant performance to lift the IBF junior lightweight (130 pound) title from Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer in the culmination of a bitter rivalry between the two men that goes back to last May, when the two had a confrontation at the Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs fight in Las Vegas.

Diaz was aggressive from Round One, pushing Farmer on the inside and unloading with loads of punches. The second round saw the fighters clash heads, leaving Diaz with a GNARLY cut over his left eyelid, which look to put the fight in jeopardy. Yet Diaz stuck to his task, staying on Farmer and being the busier and more accurate fighter.

Farmer is normally one of the most defensively elusive fighters you will ever see, but in this fight, he chose to languish on the inside, allowing Diaz to have his way on the inside and hit him pretty much as he choose. Farmer claimed to hurt his right hand in the first round, and many believe the same clash of heads that opened the big cut on Diaz’ eye compromised Farmer. The announce team, especially Sergio Mora, made all the excuses for Farmer, but whatever the reason, Farmer fought the wrong fight against Diaz.

Diaz built a big lead with his accurate flurries of punches and somehow, his cut-man managed to keep that eye closed. Farmer may have stolen some late rounds but at the end of the result was clear. The scorecards were 117-111 and 115-113, twice, all of Joseph Diaz Jr. Those last two were wayyy too close.

The win is the culmination of a long journey for Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs), who has been built throughout his career by Golden Boy Promotions for this moment. He was thoroughly outclassed in his first title fight two years ago by Gary Russell Jr and couldn’t make weight for his second title opportunity a few months later. But after a mental health break and some changes, Diaz is finally a world champion. It was a sad end of a title reign for Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs), who defended his belt four times in fourteen months and saw an eight year unbeaten streak come to an end.

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Rosario shocks Williams, Seizes titles in Philly

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On a night where the UFC and Conor McGregor took center stage in the combat sports world, Jeison Rosario pulled off an absolute shocker in Philadelphia.

The twenty-four-year-old junior middleweight from the Dominican Republican was seen as a pretty good prospect turned fringe contender and was on a modest six fight winning streak against fairly good opposition. But he was supposed to be simply an opponent for WBA/IBF junior middleweight champion Julian “J-Rock” Williams, who seized the titles from previously undefeated champ Jarrett Hurd last year and was making his first title defense in his hometown of Philadelphia. Williams supposed to beat Rosario and move onto a big fight later this year, either a rematch against Hurd or a unification fight with WBC 154 pound champ Jermell Charlo.

But Rosario upset that apple card last night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, knocking out Williams in the fifth round of their title fight on a Premier Boxing Champions show broadcasted on big Fox. The +800 underdog, who looked considerably bigger than the reigning champion, showed himself to be an excellent puncher, throwing to both the head and body, and turned one of boxing’s deepest divisions on its head.

Williams came out strong in the first, boxing behind his jab and looking to land his trademark right hand. Rosario responded by upping the pressure in the second and started to get to Williams body. Then with twenty-five seconds left in the round, Rosario changed the fight with a right hand that stopped Williams in his tracks, and seconds later, the champion pawed his eye, revealing the blood that the punch had drawn, and Rosario jumped on him, landing several combinations before the bell.

The Philadelphia fighter did his best to right the ship in the third round, including landing several crunching right hands in the last minute, but Rosario was making it his fight in the fourth round, forcing power punching exchanges and taking away Williams’ excellent jab. Even though Williams was landing slightly more punches, it was clear Rosario had seized the tone of the fight.

The Dominican seized much more in the fifth as a minute into the round, he hurt Williams with a series of monster left hooks. Williams backed into the ropes and Rosario unleashed a two fisted attack that had Williams holding for dear life and seemingly looking for a double leg, sending him slipping to the canvas. Williams rose from his feet, and Rosario was right on him, and a killer right uppercut followed by a big left hook led referee Benji Estevez to stop the fight at 1:37 of Round 5.

The Philly crowd responded with anger, throwing trash into the ring and a riot seemed to be brewing for a moment before order was restored. Philly may be the town of upsets, but they do not like to see their guys lose.

Williams stated after the fight that he had a rematch clause and given how exciting this fight was there is no reason not to have it. As for Rosario, who moved to 20-1-1 and scored his fourteenth knockout, he is now The Man in one of boxing’s better divisions right now, and with size and power, he is a real forced to be reckoned with.

Philadelphia be damned.

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