UFC Fight Night: Jimmie Rivera Shines, Chris Weidman Earns Enormous Victory

by Jason Howard Kelly

Chase Sherman vs. Damian Grabowski

Chase Sherman went from being 0-3 in the UFC, and facing a potential cut from the roster, to becoming a social media sensation and fan favorite after his win at UFC 211 several months ago. He faced off against Damian Grabowski, a veteran heavyweight whom hadn’t fought in the UFC since the previous July.

Sherman had a strong first round, showing off his superior speed and movement and tagging Grabowski several times up against the fence. Towards the end of the round it looked like Sherman was closing in on a potential TKO, but Grabowski was saved by the bell before Sherman could finish his work.

The remaining two rounds of the fight can certainly be described as a letdown, as both fighters appeared to run out of gas, and the striking exchanges became more sloppy and less effective. Sherman still had the advantage as he avoided any serious damage from Grabowski while managing to mix in some striking combinations of his own.

Sherman easily outscored Grabowski despite not being able to finish him at any point. Grabowski just looked too slow and somewhat intimidated by Sherman’s fluid movement and level changes.

Winner: Chase Sherman by unanimous decision

 

Ryan LaFlare vs. Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira

Ryan LaFlare was the first of the New York natives to make his walk to the octagon for this card in Long Island tonight. LaFlare is the #14 ranked welterweight in the UFC and he is the unofficial king of wins by decision. LaFlare likes to wrestle and grind his opponents for three rounds rather than try to finish any of them. Alex Oliveira is the exact opposite. Oliveira has knockout power, and also won his last fight against Tim Means by submission. A win over LaFlare would do big things for Oliveira in moving up the ranks in the welterweight division.

The first round was all Ryan LaFlare, as he landed a nice sweeping takedown on Oliveira and began to do work on the ground. Although Oliveira attempted to sink in an armbar LaFlare defended nicely and slowly moved his way into side control. However, the round ended with LaFlare unable to lock in any significant submission offense.

UFC commentator Brian Stann noted between rounds that he felt Oliveira was, “too relaxed” and was maybe, “having too much fun” in the octagon. Well, Stann was quickly silenced in round two when Oliveira caught LaFlare shooting in on him and landed a vicious left hook that immediately dropped LaFlare and knocked him out. Oliveira did exactly what he wanted to do. He lured LaFlare in and picked his spot, and with his knockout power there was no way LaFlare was getting back up from a strike like that.

Winner: Alex Oliveira by knockout

 

Rafael Natal vs. Eryk Anders

This match-up features one of the UFC’s best veterans in Rafael Natal taking on a man making his UFC debut, Eryk Anders. Natal is looking to correct a two-fight losing streak against the newcomer. Anders, meanwhile, is making his UFC debut after working his way through the amateur ranks and holding an impressive 8-0-0 MMA record. Anders also played linebacker for the Alabama Crimson Tide, the most prestigious college football program in the country. There is no doubting the sheer athleticism of Anders.

The writing was on the wall within the first minute of this fight. Anders started landing heavy shots early against Natal, who looked completely incapable of defending properly. Anders hit Natal so hard that Natal darted across the octagon and slammed headfirst into the cage as he was desperately trying to avoid the strikes of Anders. The end came shortly after as Anders landed a heavy left hand to a panicking Natal and knocked him out.

This was an incredibly impressive debut for Eryk Anders. Rafael Natal is one of the most skilled UFC veterans in the business and Anders knocked him out seemingly with ease. For Natal it was yet another case of atrocious defense against a superior striker. It’s the reason why he lost against Tim Boetsch last November, and it came back to haunt him against Anders.

Winner: Eryk Anders by knockout

 

Lyman Good vs. Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos

Another New York native, Lyman Good, is looking to get back on the right track after being out of action since 2015 due to a suspension for violating USADA’s anti-doping policy. Good’s last fight ended in an impressive knockout of Andrew Craig and, despite the suspension, he remains one of the UFC’s more exciting young talents in the welterweight division. Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos is quickly becoming a fan favorite in the UFC after his Fight of the Night performance last year against Omari Akhmedov. He then followed that up with another win last October over Keita Nakamura. Dos Santos is a high-motor offensive fighter, but Lyman Good is definitely his toughest test yet.

Both fighters had a decent first round. Dos Santos immediately attempted a takedown on Good, but Good did a nice job of defending and getting back into his comfort zone. At one point Good caught a kick from Dos Santos and took him down, but couldn’t hold him on the ground for very long. Good landed some nice knees and counter strikes, but nothing significant.

Lyman Good showed off his chin in round two. Dos Santos managed to land some stiff shots, including a nasty knee right to the jaw of Good. However, Good just shook them off and continued to move forward. Good also did a better job of establishing an offensive rhythm in this round as he tagged Dos Santos with numerous knees to the body as well as some decent right hooks.

Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos came out motivated in round three, as he finally established a good jab and started countering Good’s forward movement. Any time Good attempted to form a combination he was countered by either a stiff jab or a well-placed kick from Dos Santos. Both fighters ended the round swinging away to try and score any additional points they could.

Dos Santos would pick up the win by split decision, and I do not envy the judges for having to score that fight. Both fighters made a concerted effort to create offense, and at times it was near impossible to tell who had the advantage. In the end Dos Santos was able to sway the judges with his performance in the third round. He was clearly the more energized and productive fighter in that round.

Winner: Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos by split decision

 

Jimmie Rivera vs. Thomas Almeida

The main card kicked off with an exciting bantamweight fight between the #4 ranked bantamweight, Jimmie Rivera, and the #9 ranked Thomas Almeida. To say that Jimmie Rivera is on a hot streak is an understatement as he has won his last 19 fights, including a win over UFC Hall of Fame Uriah Faber. Rivera is sniffing a title shot at 135 lbs, but getting through Thomas Almeida is no picnic. Almeida has won four of his last five fights with his only loss coming in May of last year against the current bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt. Almeida is a knockout artist in the truest sense as he’s won fourteen of his last fifteen fights by knockout.

Jimmie Rivera had a great first round, timing Almeida’s offense perfectly and countering with strong rights and lefts. Rivera managed to drop Almeida a few times in this round and looked to be doing more significant damage. Almeida landed a few decent jabs towards the end of the round, but it was clear that Rivera took the first round with superior striking.

Thomas Almeida became the aggressor in round two, throwing more high kicks and diversifying his offense after dropping the first round to Rivera. Rivera still got his shots in, but Almeida showed off his accuracy in this round as he landed crisp, clean shots to the head of Jimmie Rivera. A few times Almeida caused Rivera to stumble from left hands to the head.

The third round started with a convincing takedown from Jimmie Rivera on Thomas Almeida. Almeida did a nice job creating a scramble and getting back to his feet, but not before eating several hard knees from Rivera on the way up. Almeida was able to mix in a few decent shots throughout the round, but Rivera gained the advantage with a second takedown later in the round. Rivera also avoided any serious damage from Almeida throughout the remainder of the round.

The two knockdowns in the first round combined with the takedown efficiency in the third round was enough to secure the victory for Jimmie Rivera. Thomas Almeida was unable to mount any significant offense against Rivera other than a few well-timed punches. Rivera should be right in line for a title shot, with Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw (hopefully) fighting for the bantamweight title later this year. Rivera also called out Dominik Cruz, who was doing color commentary, for a potential fight in November at Madison Square Garden. That would be one hell of a #1 contenders match…

Winner: Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision

 

Patrick Cummins vs. Gian Villante

Patrick Cummins comes into this fight as the #12 ranked light heavyweight in the UFC. He is probably remembered most for his partnership-turned-feud with current UFC light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Since his loss to Cormier he has gone 4-3 in his last seven fights, including a win over Jan Blachowicz in April of this year. Cummins is an incredibly skilled grappler and has exceptional cardio. Gian Villante is a powerhouse who has ten wins by knockout. He earned Fight of the Night honors last December for his victory over Saparbek Safarov. Villante will want to keep the fight standing, but he has shown the ability to grapple with the best of them when he needs to.

Villante got started early in round one, quickly landing a big right hand to the face of Cummins which rocked him badly. Cummins was able to recover and began shooting for takedowns. Although he never took Villante all the way down to the ground he did manage to push him up against the fence and put him in the clinch. Midway through the round Cummins was opened up by an unintentional headbutt from Villante. Luckily, veteran referee John McCarthy handled the situation properly, allowing Cummins to gather himself and recover before resuming the fight.

In the second round the superior gas tank of Patrick Cummins took over. Villante was already starting to look fatigued and Cummins took advantage by mixing in some striking combinations of his own. Villante spent most of the round dodging Cummins as he came forward with striking combinations. While Cummins didn’t land anything overly damaging he still did a nice job turning the tide of the fight in his favor.

Patrick Cummins’ cardio served him well in the third round, as well. Villante was absolutely spent and seemed to have very little power left in any of his strikes. Cummins smartly picked his spots and landed good shots to the head and, perhaps more importantly, to the body of the fatigued Gian Villante. Cummins also pushed Villante back up against the cage and continued to wear him down. He managed to do all of this, by the way, with essentially just one eye as his right eye had completely closed up due to the damage he took from Villante earlier in the fight.

Patrick Cummins certainly looked worse for wear at the end of the fight, with a growing hematoma on his right eye, a deep cut on his forehead, and caked in his own blood. Yet Cummins was the one who persevered and he earned a split decision victory over the dangerous Gian Villante.

Winner: Patrick Cummins by split decision

 

Dennis Bermudez vs. Darren Elkins

The co-main event featured two of the best featherweights in the UFC in Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez and Darren “The Damage” Elkins. Bermudez comes in having won nine of his last twelve fights, although he lost his last fight this past February against the returning “Korean Zombie”, Chan Sung Jung. Bermudez is another fighter who possesses impressive cardio and who likes to take his opponents down and finish them on the ground, often times by ground-and-pound. Bermudez also specializes in the guillotine choke, having won three fights with that submission. Darren Elkins, much like Bermudez, is a great wrestler with a strong ground-and-pound game. He has won four in a row and is starting to emerge as a serious contender in the featherweight division. He doesn’t quite have the striking that Bermudez has, but he does have one heck of a chin, and his endurance is right there with that of Dennis Bermudez

Bermudez opened up round one with some incredibly heavy leg kicks to the lead leg of Darren Elkins. Elkins countered this game plan by shooting on Bermudez and attempting to take him down, which he eventually did. Elkins showed off some impressive grappling and wrestling against an incredibly skilled wrestler in his own right in Dennis Bermudez. Bermudez was able to shake Elkins off of him and land a few strikes on the break, but ultimately nothing too damaging.

Round two was an impressive display of wrestling from both fighters, as both Bermudez and Elkins were able to secure takedowns in this round. Elkins seemed to do a  slightly better job of landing strikes from within the clinch, but ultimately this fight was incredibly hard to score through two rounds. It is quite possible that the fighters were tied 19-19 at this point.

Dennis Bermudez made a big adjustment for round three, giving himself more space against Elkins and establishing his jab. Bermudez was able to land precision strikes from distance which prevented Elkins from wrapping him up in the clinch again. Elkins attempted to counter-strike, but Bermudez had his timing down and did a nice job evading damage. This was, without doubt, the most convincing round by either fighter throughout this fight, and it was in the favor of Bermudez.

Surprisingly, however, that third round was not enough as Darren Elkins earned the win by split decision. The judges, presumably, viewed the takedowns and control in the clinch as more of an advantage for Elkins throughout the fight.

Winner: Darren Elkins by split decision

 

Chris Weidman vs. Kelvin Gastelum

The main event is an exciting fight between one of the UFC’s biggest stars, Chris Weidman, and one of its fastest rising stars, Kelvin Gastelum. Weidman is looking to reverse his fortune after dropping the middleweight championship to Luke Rockhold back in 2015, and then losing his next two fights after that to Gegard Mousasi and Yoel Romero. Despite his recent run of bad luck there is no doubt that Weidman is still one of the UFC’s top talents. A win over Gastelum could begin his ascent back into the middleweight championship landscape. Kelvin Gastelum has found success since moving up to the middleweight division and is looking to stake his claim as a top contender for the championship. Gastelum is coming off an upsetting turn of events as his win in March of this year against Vitor Belfort was later overturned due to Gastelum testing positive for THC. Gastelum was subsequently suspended for 90 days after that. Gastelum could be on the verge of breaking out as a big star in the middleweight division. However, he has to make weight, stay healthy, stay clean, and prove that he can beat the likes of Chris Weidman before that can happen.

Weidman started round one by utilizing the seven inch reach advantage he had over Gastelum, keeping him on the outside and establishing his jab. Weidman then followed this with a beautifully timed single-leg takedown on Gastelum. Although Gastelum was able to use his strength to stand up Weidman did a nice job of keeping the pressure on him and eventually forcing Gastelum back to the ground. Weidman then locked in a kimura attempt that seemed to be pretty deep. Gastelum, however, was once again able to stand up and avoid the submission. In the final ten seconds of the round Gastelum rocked Weidman with an overhand left that dropped Weidman against the fence. Weidman held onto Gastelum’s leg for dear life as the round came to an end and he was saved by the bell.

Weidman once again went back to his wrestling in round two as he was able to secure another hard-earned takedown on Kelvin Gastelum. Despite Gastelum constantly fighting his hands and finding ways back to his feet Weidman persevered and continued to drag Gastelum back to the ground. Eventually Weidman ended up in full mount on Gastelum and attempted to work from the top. Gastelum defended incredibly well from the bottom, not allowing Weidman to establish any ground-and-pound or submission offense.

Weidman opened up the third round with an impressive boxing display against Gastelum, tagging him from distance with some good right and left jabs. Shortly thereafter he resumed his aggressive takedown offense and secured two more of them against Gastelum. Gastelum continued to resist, but Weidman stuck with his game plan and kept Gastelum on the ground. As Gastelum attempted to roll out of trouble Weidman rolled with him, flattened him out, and locked in an arm triangle. Gastelum struggled to fight his way out of the hold but it was to no avail. He eventually tapped out, giving Chris Weidman an enormous submission victory.

This win does a lot of things for both fighters. For Gastelum it proves as a learning experience for a man who has never faced a wrestler as skilled as Chris Weidman. He can take what he learned from this fight back to training camp and come back stronger next time around. For Chris Weidman this victory dispels all of the, “have we seen the last of Chris Weidman” talk that was following him into this bout. Weidman looked extremely impressive against a top contender in his division. It’s tough to proclaim him all the way back after just one fight, but this victory is no minor accomplishment, and should propel Weidman back into contender ship for the middleweight belt. Weidman finished his night by calling out, “that British bum” Michael Bisping, the current middleweight champion. He still has quite a ways to go before he earns another title shot, but Chris Weidman has certainly put the middleweight division on notice. He is far from done.

Winner: Chris Weidman by submission

 

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