There was a lot of MMA action on Saturday night with several spectacular finishes. The disparaged UFC 180 starred on this night with four fantastic finishes that have future title implications; Leslie Smith and Jessica Eye recreated a scene out of Reservoir Dogs and Fabricio Werdum stunned the MMA world with a surprising comeback over Mark Hunt. The submissions also shined on this night as Ricardo Lamas solidified his spot as a top featherweight title contender with his win over Dennis Bermudez and Kelvin Gastelum continued to grow with a submission win over Jake Ellenberger.
These were the four finishes that stood out for me on a night filled with fights. Here I will analyze why I think each one is special and what it means for the future of the fighters. So sit back and enjoy some beautiful violence from UFC 180.
Werdum’s beautiful knee of doom does beautiful Wer-damage
On a night when Tito Ortiz (39 years old) and Stephen Bonnar (37 years old) struggled to generate interest in their main event fight by using professional wrestling tactics, Hunt (40 years old) and Werdum (37 years old) had the MMA world buzzing at the prospect of their title fight. They were both nice and respectful to each other before the fight and because of their popularity and their skill sets they did not need to generate interest. Also, Hunt’s story had fans worldwide tuning in to see the possibility of him becoming the UFC heavyweight champion. He came very close to fulfilling that dream.
They started out feeling each other out. At just under a minute into the fight Hunt came forward behind a lead left hook that grazed Werdum and got him backing up. Hunt followed staying in his stance for another half-step and brought the big righthand over clipping Werdum. It was enough to send him down but he was not seriously hurt and Hunt let him get up.
Suddenly Werdum understood the magic of Mark Hunt. He has a unique ability to close distance quickly while staying balanced and in position to land the right strike. All of it coming more quickly than you think is possible for someone his size. Despite having to cut 40 lbs to make the heavyweight limit, Hunt moves with the grace of a dancer. That is all backed up by the speed and power of his hands, again, surprising for a heavyweight.
As the round unfolded Hunt was controlling the standup action and just before the halfway point of the first it was Hunt who scored the first takedown. He landed right in Werdum’s super-guard and Joe Rogan proceed to let us know that Hunt was in serious danger. It seemed like Hunt would have better luck taking on a pack of grizzlies than surviving Werdum’s guard but somehow he did for a minute and a half. Then Hunt let Werdum back up and he closed out the round with a couple more nice strikes and avoided Werdum’s.
It was a masterful performance and it was Werdum who was searching for an opening of any kind. Hunt dominated the standup and then easily defended Werdum’s submissions and landed several solid scoring strikes as well on the ground. The thought of Hunt wearing the belt was looking very real.
They started the second cautiously like they did the first one after a couple of exchanges during which neither landed solidly Werdum went with a body kick. He did a lot of damage against Travis Browne with them. Hunt read it perfectly. He countered with the right hand. It landed before the kick and sent Werdum down again.
After he stood up he narrowly avoided a fight ending right hand from Hunt. Werdum had been reduced to throwing single strikes at a time. He landed a jab but nothing followed it. Then he missed with a head kick, avoided a combo from and tried a spinning head kick. Hunt caught/blocked it and sent Werdum down again.
Again Werdum threw a low kick to the leg but that was it. He seemed too concerned with Hunt’s counters to stand in front of him long enough to throw more than one strike at a time. The fight was taking place at Hunt’s pace and he was controlling the distance and space of the fight as well.
When Werdum shot for a takedown from long-range at the 2:51 mark it looked like desperation. Hunt’s fans were already beginning to celebrate what seemed like a sure victory from him. Then just a few moments later Werdum dropped his head and shoulders down faking another takedown. Hunt bit and ducked forward to stuff it the shot. Instead on going down Werdum launched himself upward and his knee collided perfectly with Hunt’s forward falling face.
The impact was audible and Hunt crashed down. Werdum pounced and fifteen strikes later in was over. Werdum could now add finishing Mark Hunt via strikes to his list of legendary accomplishments. Hunt fought an almost perfect fight. He made one mistake and bit on the fake.
Now we reset the Werdum versus Cain fight for the title. That was already an interesting fight and this win for Werdum increases the interest for it. With Cain coming off of two injuries and a long layoff he will face a tough challenge in the very dangerous Werdum.
You ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s?
Mr. Blonde removing the cop’s ear is one of the seminal moments in Reservoir Dogs. Even though there are many great moments in that movie, that one sticks with you. It is a visceral one and to this day just the opening notes of Stuck in The Middle With You conjures up images of that scene.
It is the same for Jessica Eye and Leslie Smith. They will forever be known and linked by Eye almost removing Smith’s ear in this fight. I thought that Cat Zingano was the only real current threat to Ronda Rousey. What I saw from Eye in this fight convinced me that she is a legitimate contender to Rousey.
It was more than just the beautiful boxing and striking. There was a look in her eye for this fight that was similar to Rousey’s and Zingano’s in their fights. It was easily Eye’s best performance in the UFC. She is the toughest to pair up next. One interesting fight for the fans would be one with Holly Holm. It would feature some exceptional standup action.
This one had a lot of it as Eye came out sharp and fast. The only feeling out process for her was the feeling of her fists landing on Smith’s face. She started out landing crisp combos and continued with them throughout the short fight. Not only was her offense on pointe but Eye also was ready defensively.
One of Smith’s best strikes is her head kick from in close. She is able to land the kick from a much tighter range than most fighters. It is also can be an effective weapon against someone with great head movement like Eye. One of the keys for Smith and this kick is that it comes within a combination.
It was barely a minute into the fight when Eye threw an almost slapping jab and righthand. Smith counter with a righthand of her own that got Eye ducking towards Smith’s rising left leg. Eye was ready for it and caught the kick. If she is a little slow with her recognition and read of the kick or her reactions and the kick would have landed cleanly. Instead it was harmless.
Eye’s striking and movement was laser like precise in this fight. It almost took Smith’s ear off like a laser. It started with this punch to the ear.
It caused a geyser like spurt of blood to shoot forth from Smith’s ear. Eye flowed from that right into this combination. Smith survived the rest of the first round but needed to find a way to make up the speed difference.
Instead of Smith finding answers it was Eye finding her left ear. It was clearly a target for her and she hit it continuously in the short second round before referee Herb Dean stepped it to check the ear. One close look was all that was needed to see that she was in danger of losing the ear. The doctor and referee did the right thing and stopped the fight despite Smith’s protestations to the contrary.
Smith showed her warrior spirit but the loss of her ear was not worth her continuing to fight. Eye fought a beautiful fight. One of the best of her career. For the 6:38 that it lasted it was an exciting fight. One that created images that will forever be with us fans. For me it will be the predatory glee in the way Eye attacked the ear and Smith pleading in Spanish to let her fight.
Kelvin Gastelum is not so quietly becoming a contender
This was a statement win for the former last pick on TUF 17, the youngest fighter on the show that season and eventual winner. Now with this impressive finish of Ellenberger and Gastelum finds himself inside the top ten. With a couple more wins like this one and the improbable winner of TUF 17 could find himself wearing the welterweight belt in the future.
At only 23 years old Gastelum is still years away from his prime and continues to get better with each fight. In this one he used all the elements of the sport. First we saw some nice striking on his feet. In this sequence he lands the little leap-in left, uses good head movement to avoid Ellenberger’s strikes and then ties him up.
Next we saw him use his wrestling to get the takedown.
A little perspective on the takedown. It was only the second time in Ellenberger’s UFC career that he has been taken down. The last time was in his UFC debut against Carlos Condit. Ellenberger has faced some of the best in the division and stopped their takedowns. We see that Gastelum is able to get this one from his timing and quickness. He ducks under the strike and quickly locks his hands together and takes Ellenberger down to the ground.
We saw his quickness later in the final scramble that lead to him getting the choke.
Ellenberger got the takedown but Gastelum scrambled out of it and quickly got to Ellenberger’s back. From there he did not waste time trying to secure a choke. Instead he used some strikes and when Ellenberger defended those then Gastelum quickly snaked his arm under the neck and locked in the choke.
Finishing Ellenberger so efficiently is easily Gastelum’s most impressive win. Look for him to get matched up with someone like Condit, Matt Brown or Tyron Woodley for his next fight. Do not be surprised if Gastelum is challenging for the title at this time next year. With each fight he has continued to grow while winning. 2015 should be an exciting for him and his fans.
Ricardo looks marvelous
Of all of Lamas’ wins in the UFC this one had the most WOW factor behind it. When he submitted Cub Swanson it seemed like the submission happened in part because Swanson was too relaxed against him. In Lamas’ win over Erik Koch it was a back and forth fight until Koch made one mistake. Lamas pounced on it and finished him off on the ground.
Now it was not so much that Lamas was only getting lucky, it just made it hard to gauge him. Was he a tough fighter with a solid all-around game that took advantage of his opponents mistakes? Or was he capable of imposing his will on the fight and just taking it?
After his loss to Aldo it looked like he would probably not get a shot anytime soon. Lamas showed that he was tough in that fight but Aldo was in control of that fight expect for a minute or so in the last round. By that point the fight was over and Aldo seemed like he was cruising.
Lamas followed that up with a less than inspiring UD win over Hacran Dias. With the featherweight division being so deep it was hard to see Lamas finding a pathway back to the title. Unless he went out and stopped Dennis Bermudez in the first round.
It was expected that this was going to be a grueling three round war. Both fighters are strong grapplers who are also powerful strikers. They spent sometime along the cage in a clinch with neither fighter able to gain an advantage. Then they were some nice low kicks to the leg from Bermudez that were the best strikes of the round. They also lead to his demise as he went for another kick Lamas read it perfectly and counter with a little quick side kick.
The kick was not powerful but showed the importance of timing and accuracy. Lamas catches Bermudez as his leg is coming up. Bermudez is off-balance and the kick sends him to the ground. Once it goes there Lamas finishing instinct showed through as he quickly looked up the choke and got the tap.
Now he is right back in the title talk. Sure, he will have to win another fight or two but you can see him challenging again for the belt very soon with a couple more wins like this one. After the fight Chad Mendes called him out and that sounds like one helluva fight to me.
From Werdum knee of doom, and Eye’s near removal of Smith’s ear, to Lamas’ and Gastelum’s impressive submissions these were my favorite finishes from UFC 180. I hope you enjoyed them.
cover image via UFC
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