Every week, we’ll release a new MMA mix tape entitled “The Remix” that looks back at not only the biggest stories of the last seven days, but some of the ones that aren’t getting enough attention too, with some weekly awards and a prospect to watch going forward added in for good measure.
Bellator’s Big Weekend
Bellator MMA went to Hawaii with back-to-back shows on Friday and Saturday night at the Neil S. Blaidsell Arena and had itself a weekend to remember.
Friday evening, Michael Chandler won the lightweight title for a third time, avenging his earlier loss to Brent Primus in a fight where the defending champion outperformed expectations and showed he’s a legitimate talent in the 155-pound weight class. The following night, hometown star Ilima-Lei Macfarlane delivered a “chicken skin” moment as promised, beginning with her powerful walkout and capped by her third-round submission win over Valerie Letourneau to successfully defend her flyweight title.
Along the way, the company delivered a pair of quality events to an underserviced group of rabid fight fans, with young standouts Tywan Claxton and A.J. McKee collecting impressive victories, Neiman Gracie advancing in the Welterweight Grand Prix and Lyoto Machida likely establishing himself as next in line to challenge for the middleweight title by edging out former titleholder Rafael Carvalho.
This was a massive win for Bellator MMA, especially with Saturday’s homecoming for Macfarlance going as well as possible, and an example of what the promotion does best.
Bellator MMA made an excellent decision to bring these shows to Hawaii and delivered a pair of quality events, with Macfarlane’s title defense standing as the perfect way to close out the weekend. The organization deserves nothing but praise and to have this moment to itself.
If the company is going to continue closing the gap on the UFC and making itself a major player in the free agent market, these are the kinds of events it needs to continue to deliver and fighters such as Macfarlane, Chandler, Patricio Freire and the young rising stars in the company need to regularly command prime real estate and get a major promotional push.
The End of an Era
Saturday’s UFC event in Milwaukee marked the final event in the organization’s partnership with FOX.
While the annual shows on “Big FOX” never managed to draw the massive numbers that turned in for the first fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez in November 2011 and the audience numbers for the various FS1 prelims and live events fluctuated, the platform played host to a number of memorable performances and served as a launch pad to greater exposure for several top stars in the UFC today, including current champions Robert Whittaker, Valentina Shevchenko and Max Holloway.
Heralded as a game-changing deal when it was signed and started with a heavyweight championship special event before the actual contractually-mandated action kicked off, it’s going to take time to really determine the impact having the UFC on FOX and its subsidiaries had on the promotion and the overall popularity of the sport.
Instant analysis and immediate reflection may prompt feelings of disappointment and that their deal failed to yield the kind of groundbreaking numbers that turned talented fighters into superstars, but it was Conor McGregor’s breakthrough performance in Boston on FS1 that kicked off his year-long chase of Jose Aldo and the featherweight title, just as key victories on the two networks elevated the profile of fighters like Rose Namajunas, Brian Ortega and Dustin Poirier.
Over time, we’ll figure out the lasting legacy of this deal, but for now, it’s time to bid FOX goodbye and look forward to the shift to ESPN in 2019.
Every Division Needs an Edson Barboza
Most of the time when we’re talking about divisions, we fixate on the champions, the top contenders and the athletes carrying the most momentum, skipping over the veteran talents entrenched in the middle of the rankings who have been in there with a host of standouts and already proven themselves.
In the UFC lightweight division, it means we skip over guys like Edson Barboza.
Heading into Saturday’s co-main event pairing with Dan Hooker, the Brazilian striking ace had dropped back-to-back contests and ended his working relationship with the Iron Army crew in New Jersey in favor of a move back to Florida and training at American Top Team. Coupled with Hooker’s four-fight winning streak — all of which had come by stoppage — it resulted in Barboza entering as the underdog.
What we saw Saturday night is that there is a reason “Junior” has been a fixture in the Top 10 for so long, as he brutalized the 28-year-old New Zealander, eventually finishing him with a crushing shot to the body midway through the third round. He was faster, more polished and more effective from the jump, battering Hooker at all levels with a myriad of kicks, countering with force and effectiveness.
Barboza might not make it to a title fight in his career — the division has too many talented wrestlers who are smart enough to sell out and avoid striking with him — but he is an essential cog in the construction of the weight class.
Every division has its own version of Barboza and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
Fight of the Weekend: Joaquim Silva vs. Jared Gordon at UFC Milwaukee
This one got more entertaining with each passing second, with Gordon taking an early lead, only to escape a late submission attempt at the end the second and have Silva pour it on in the third to get the impressive stoppage win:
the man has a family, Joaquim Silva… pic.twitter.com/DDo0TIAfAX
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) December 16, 2018
These are the types of fights that often get dismissed when fight cards are being dissected, but if you knew anything about Gordon or Silva, you knew this had the potential to be an absolute slobberknocker and these two delivered.
If not for this one, I probably would have tipped my hat to Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee, who put on a fun fight in the main event of Saturday’s event in Milwaukee. Iaquinta showed that he’s very much a factor in the lightweight division, while Lee showed he still has some maturing to do as a fighter, coming in a little too relaxed and sure of himself against the Serra-Longo Fight Team member.
While it wasn’t a wild brawl that generated a ton of oohs and ahs, sometimes you have to show love to the quality fights at the highest levels and this is one of those fights that deserves that kind of shout out.
Submission of the Weekend: Kay Hansen submits Sharon Jacobson at Invicta FC 33
Jacobson was less than 30 seconds away from a unanimous decision victory on Saturday when she went for a throw on Hansen, only to have things go terribly wrong:
WOW!!! Kay Hansen gets the armbar out of nowhere to get the W at the end of the 3rd round! #InvictaFC33 pic.twitter.com/bHw0OFQkLS
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) December 16, 2018
As soon as Hansen’s face hits the canvas, she’s attacking the arm, which Jacobson left out there just a little too carelessly after failing to execute the throw effectively. Almost immediately, Hansen locks up the arm, secures the tap and steals the victory.
This is one of those performances that reminds fighters and fans that anything can legitimately happen and that nothing is certain, even when there are less than 30 seconds left in a lopsided contest.
You have to give Hansen credit — she took this fight on short notice after losing to Erin Blanchfield last month and kicked in the door when opportunity knocked. It’s a tough break for Jacobson, but also a reminder that sometimes, it’s okay to just keep things simple when you’ve got the fight in the bag.
Knockout of the Weekend: Edson Barboza def. Dan Hooker at UFC Milwaukee
Yes, it should have been stopped earlier, because — as you’ll hear Daniel Cormier say on the clip below — Dan Hooker is too tough for his own good and wasn’t going to stop coming forward.
Yes, this finish is as much about the accumulation of damage over two-and-a-half rounds as it was the last blow of the contest, but the fight-ending blow is still pretty darn gnarly.
Barboza vs Hooker was an ALL OUT WAR. Nothing but respect for both guys ? pic.twitter.com/P8SKGdtSQD
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) December 16, 2018
Hooker is an outstanding action fighter on his way up the ranks at lightweight, but Barboza outclassed him from the beginning and this body work to finish things was devastating.
Prospect to Watch after this Weekend: Alesha Zappitella
The 23-year-old atomweight, who goes by the nickname “Half Pint” because she stands under five-feet tall, picked up a unanimous decision win over the durable and dangerous Amber Brown on Saturday at Invicta FC 33.
Based out of the Scorpion Fighting System team in Ypsilanti, Michigan that helped get Amanda Bobby Cooper to the UFC, the unbeaten wrestler outworked Brown on the canvas to win her second consecutive appearance in the Invicta cage and push her unbeaten streak to six overall.
Standing juxtaposed next to towering featherweight Megan Anderson in the cage after the bout, Zappitella lobbied for a chance to fight for the atomweight title next time out.
While a bout with reigning champ Jinh Yu Frey, who retained her title in a championship rematch against Minna Grusander in Saturday’s main event, might be biting off a bit too much at the moment, she’s certainly on her way up the rankings and one to watch going forward.