FMIA: UFC Fight Night 183 – Despite Major COVID Setbacks, 2020 Ends with Wonderboy Putting on a Show, Jose Aldo and “Showtime” Winning Big and Rob Font Making “Magic” Sleep

FMIA: UFC Fight Night 183 – Despite Major COVID Setbacks, 2020 Ends with Wonderboy Putting on a Show, Jose Aldo and “Showtime” Winning Big and Rob Font Making “Magic” Sleep

Fight Morning in America

The last major UFC event of 2020 is in the books and in a year that will go down sports-wise as a catastrophe, the world of MMA has won big. The UFC alone has put on 456 fights over the course of 41 events as they head into the Christmas/New Year’s break, and the entire organization ought to be applauded for their resilience and ingenuity in getting the sport back up and running. In an interview with BT Sport, UFC boss Dana White said that $200 million wouldn’t have been paid out to fighters had the UFC closed up shop like some of the other major professional sports leagues. Wow. We’ll have more about this later in the column.

As for the fight card of the week, UFC Fight Night 183 held at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, COVID eviscerated the lineup time and again affecting the main event and prelims alike. While injuries and personal reasons have long been the scourge of fight promoters, they have nothing on the global pandemic known as COVID-19. This card still turned out to be stacked and in total, 9 fights were either canceled, rebooked or had fighters pulled and replaced due to COVID-19 positive tests/injuries or undisclosed reasons. The fights affected for UFC Fight Night 183 were:

  • Main Event: Leon Edwards vs. Khamzat Chimaev pulled after both Chimaev and Edwards tested positive for COVID-19 (Chimaev has recovered, Edwards still recovering).
  • Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady cancelled due to a broken nose for Brady; rebooked Muhammad vs. Dhiego Lima, also cancelled due to Muhammad testing positive for COVID-19
  • Matt Schnell vs. Tyson Nam cancelled due to issues with Schnell’s weight cut and deemed medically unable to compete.
  • Deron Winn vs. Antônio Braga Neto cancelled after Neto pulled out for undisclosed reasons and replaced by Antonio Arroyo (fight at catchweight of 194 lbs.).
  • Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Karl Roberson canceled for the second time due to Roberson’s COVID-19 positive result (first fight scheduled for previous week’s UFC 256 card)
  • Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape rescheduled for early 2021 due to COVID-19 positive for Pantoja
  • Misha Cirkunov vs. Ryan Spann pulled due to injury to Cirkunov
  • Rick Glenn vs. Carlton Minus rebooked after Glenn pulled out for undisclosed reasons. Minus takes on Christos Giagos instead at catchweight of 160 lbs.
  • Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez pulled due to Zahabi testing positive for COVID-19

In spite of all those issues, the main card and prelims were still packed full of great fights as the final event of the year left fighters clamoring to get one more scrap in before the end of the year. Spectacular performances on the prelims from Jimmy Flick and Taila Santos raised their respective stars, while Anthony Pettis showed it was still “Showtime.” On the main card, Greg Hardy lit up Marcin Tybura like a Hannukah candle in the first round while he had his lights quickly extinguished once the fight hit the ground in the second. Rob Font seized the opportunity to turn the lights out on “Magic” Marlon Moraes with the KO of the Night. Two unique talents in Michel Pereira and “Khaos” Kalinn Williams had a chance to show their worth, Jose Aldo showed he still has plenty of fight left in him and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson put on a striking clinic against a talented Geoff Neal.

Wonderboy and the welterweights: A tale for 2021:

It isn’t a case of misplaced hubris that Stephen Thompson still goes by the moniker “Wonderboy.” The 37-year-old former karate champion from South Carolina still has the looks of an 18-year-old yet he fights like the seasoned veteran that he is. At one point in his career, he had 62 consecutive wins in karate, kickboxing and MMA combined. In the buildup to his main event fight against Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal, he said he feels like he is in his twenties and after the fight, well it appears he fights like it as well.

Make no mistake – this is a man who’s been in the UFC since 2012 when he debuted against Daniel Stittgen at UFC 143. Since then, he’s recorded wins against big names such as Robert Whittaker, Jake Ellenberger, former champions Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald, Jorge Masvidal and Vicente Luque. In a fight for the welterweight title, he achieved a majority draw against a prime Tyron Woodley.

The “NMF” aka Nice Mofo, has expressed his displeasure at fighting ranked opponents below his #5 status according to the UFC rankings. He has overcome Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque in his previous two matches and save an Anthony Pettis “Showtime” superman punch off the cage, he’d be on a 3-0 tear. It must be said that he made his return after over a year out of the fight game, as injury and surgery kept Wonderboy on the sidelines. The fight against Luque took place on the same night Jorge Masvidal won the “BMF” title against Nathan Diaz.

After his fight, the NMF called out the BMF Masvidal for a fight in 2021, something that the latter fighter has expressed his desire for a rematch previously on an episode of the “Helwani Show.”  While that is a fun fight, it would be better in our eyes to see some clarity at the top of the 170 lbs. division first. Champion Kamaru Usman faces Gilbert Burns in February and Colby Covington and Leon Edwards are still out there, wondering when their next fights will be. Edwards has been MIA for a year-plus and his recent fight with rising star Khamzat Chimaev was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests. Imagine Colby Covington, playing the role of the villain, vs. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, the nicest guy in MMA. That is a great storyline. We are stilling holding out for Masvidal against the winner of Usman/Burns, with a real camp under normal conditions, vs. the thrown together UFC event on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in which Masvidal had to cut enormous weight in only a few days.

In any case, what’s next for Wonderboy remains to be seen and his Fight of the Night with Geoff Neal was a joy to watch. Whether it’s the NMF vs. the BMF, or another top-tier welterweight, we are ready for 2021 as much as he is.

1. Take a bow Jimmy Flick. That’s how you make an entrance, head-kick to flying triangle combo on your UFC debut.

2. Gillian Robertson needs to develop Plan B. After watching her fight against Taila Santos and watching her take dozens of nasty elbows to the face, two things are clear – first, that she is a world-class grappler at 125 lbs., and secondly, that when you are getting stifled in the grapple and the subs aren’t working, make some adjustments and go for something other than an armbar. When your opponent can defend adeptly, you got to make some moves quick or else your face will be a crimson as your hair.

3. Anthony Pettis has still got it. 33 years of age and “Showtime” wasted no time brandishing an array of low kicks followed by high kicks that kept Alex Morono guessing. Much-improved grappling was the key to success for Pettis and it looked like Morono certainly wasn’t expecting that. He certainly wasn’t expecting the right low kick-spinning wheel kick combo at the end of the 3rd period that left him with wobbly legs and sealed the unanimous decision victory for the veteran Pettis.

4. Greg Hardy, in his 3rd fight of the year, weighed in at 266 lbs. and his lack of conditioning ultimately betrayed the tremendous progress he has made since he started training MMA several years ago. The former professional football player’s striking has vastly improved. In the first round, the body shots he was firing landed hard on Tybura and echoed throughout the empty Apex. Counter combos, fast and powerful (and accurate) punching – it took Hardy about 2 and a half minutes to earn the Pole’s respect. With a bloodied his nose sustained from half a dozen hard strikes, Tybura knew he had to switch up his strategy against the Dana White’s Contender Series alum. He was much better in the second stanza, going first more often and gaining a takedown as Hardy faded from fatigue. He was able to mount and unleash ground-and-pound on Hardy until the referee stepped in to stop the fight. The win gives Tybura his 4th win in a row and solidifies his place in the top 10 of the heavyweight division.

5. Rob Font is a scary dude. Marlon Moraes controlled most of the first round… until he didn’t. The New England Cartel representative rode out the early adversity from “Magic” to knock Moraes down and out. Lightning-quick jabs hurt Moraes and an uppercut essentially finished the fight right on the feet. The toughness of his opponent kept the match going until the referee had seen enough of Font’s ground-and-pound. The win leaves Font with 3 wins in a row and a sure place in the top 10 of the bantamweight division.

6. That was a wild and erratic scrap between Michel Pereira and Kalinn “Khaos” Williams. Pereira played this fight as straight as he could and put together a good performance, sans backflips and audacious kicks/stunts. He utilized the split decision win to immediately call out Anthony Pettis. Michel Pereira vs. Anthony Pettis? Yes please!

7. Jose Aldo is back and ready for war. After three losses in a row to Alexander Volkanovski, Marlon Moraes and Petr Yan, Aldo needed this win over Marlon “Chito” Vera to not just stay on the UFC roster, but to turn the tables on what has been a tough two-year run. Aldo is only 34-years old and has already had a 9-year run without a loss (2006-2015) until he fell to Conor McGregor at UFC 194 in December of 2015. Counting that fateful night, Aldo has fought nine times, losing six times.

Volume up and close your eyes – that is a dope beat. Also, I’d like that as my ringtone. As for the fight, Aldo landed huge body shots and peppered the younger Vera with leg kicks throughout the three-round affair. He was all over Chito in the third round, gaining control of the back and locking in the body triangle. He backpacked Vera even when he stood up and walked around the cage. By constantly attacking the neck, Aldo sealed the third round and won a very professional fight 2-1 against the up-and-comer from Ecuador. The “King of Rio” is now fully at home at 135 lbs. TJ Dillashaw callout? Another big-time fight for Aldo in 2021.

8. Stephen Wonderboy Thompson and Geoff Neal facing off in the last UFC bout of the year was fitting. These two gentlemen showed tremendous respect (maybe too much?) and class throughout their five-round affair. Near the end of first round, an accidental clash of heads split both Wonderboy and Neal open, setting the stage for a bloody contest.  Wonderboy outclassed Neal the entire way, landing kicks to body, to the head, punch combos from every direction, etc. Thompson ending up landing 171 significant strikes throughout the five rounds compared to Neal’s 85. Neal had several bursts of offense and his best work came with Wonderboy against the cage. At the beginning of the 5th round, Wonderboy clearly had a hurt right leg. Swelling aside, it didn’t seem to impair his movement too greatly. In the end, we had the fight 5 rounds to 0 for Wonderboy.

9. Dana White’s “so-and-so doesn’t want to fight” shtick is my least favorite of his shticks. When a fighter doesn’t agree to the compensation the UFC is offering, or talks have stalled for whatever reason, White pulls out the “this person doesn’t want to fight, and whoever doesn’t want to fight doesn’t have to fight” card. Off the top of my head, I can think of him playing it against Dustin Poirier when negotiations to fight Tony Ferguson were going nowhere, on Cris “Cyborg” Santos against Amanda Nunes, Robert Whittaker against Israel Adesanya, on Leon Edwards, Jorge Masvidal, and now Rose Namajunas in regard to fighting strawweight champion Zhang Weili. He has played this hand so many times in the past, and all it seems to do is enrage the fans and fighters at this point. No one believes that a professional fighter doesn’t want to fight for a belt. If a top draw is asking for top money, or a main/co-main eventer wants extra compensation, that is not a declaration of not wanting to fight for a belt, it’s a declaration of wanting to be paid a fair share of their contribution to the event.

Don’t get me wrong – I get the negotiation technique – but Dana hates it when fighters take disputes public so, at the minimum, don’t do it yourself. White holds all the cards in these negotiations as a promoter/CEO – if a fighter doesn’t agree to the terms offered, he can withhold the bout or give the bout to another, perhaps less deserving fighter. This isn’t a knock on Carla Esparza (who is rumored to have been offered the fight in Rose’s stead) by the way – she is on a four-fight winning streak and owns a victory over Rose – it just explains how White does business when he doesn’t get an immediate yes from a big name.

10. Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar on February 6th is a great fight. Sandhagen is coming off a second-round TKO over Marlon Moraes and Edgar defeated Pedro Munhoz in his 135 lbs. debut. Slotting into the co-main event spot just underneath Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov, the fight adds some luster and star power to a card otherwise void of big names (save Michael Johnson vs. Clay Guida).

KO of the Week:

Rob Font shutting off the lights on Marlon Moraes with several nasty jabs followed up by an uppercut. The fight was over and it felt like a late stoppage, however it must be noted that Marlon Moraes is unbelievably tough to keep trying to get up and grapple.

Submission of the Week I:

Jimmy Flick with the head kick to flying triangle choke. Not a bad UFC debut for the fighter who turned pro at only 19 years of age.

Submission of the Week II:

Jose Perez stole the show at CFFC91 with a banana split submission against Jacob Dorman. I’m wincing in pain just watching it. This was the most painful submission I’ve seen since Eddie Bravo’s electric chair against Royler Gracie at Metamoris 3

Performance of the Week:

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson against Geoff Neal took Fight of the Night honors as it does here. A pure clinic of professionalism and endurance combined with pinpoint striking and excellent game planning. Wonderboy is back among the elite and a big 2021 is lined up for the South Carolina native.

Coach (es) of the Week:

Anthony Pettis and Stephen Thompson had the best game plans of the week, far and above any of the others in action on Saturday night. Duke Roufus and the Roufusport team deserve all the accolades for Pettis’ improvement in the ground game. Stephen Thompson’s father, Ray Thompson, has been instrumental to his son’s success. A former professional kickboxer, the elder Thomas has a wealth of knowledge and experience, which he put to good use on his son’s return to the Octagon after over a year out.

Turkey of the Week:

Greg Hardy’s cardio team. With a full gas tank, Hardy bullied Marcin Tybura around the Octagon, landing heavy shots and showing an incredible range of weapons and improvements for a guy who only made his MMA debut two and a half years ago. The second period was a different story, where a clearly gassed Hardy was taken down immediately and the fight essentially over then. He needs to lose 20 lbs. and get that cardio up.

FMIA: Quotes of the Week

I. “Most certainly I’d tried MMA back in the day; but it was no where around.  The guys in this sport practice like mad men. That’s what I admire most about the sport,” – George Foreman, former two-time heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist, when asked if he would have trained MMA back in the ‘70s.

II. “I respect my father and what he has done for me, not only as a martial artist but as a man… That has a lot to do with our relationship remaining so strong, me understanding that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Once you start getting a big head and thinking you have it all figured out and not listening to your coaches, that’s when things start going downhill,” – Stephen Thompson speaking about the special relationship he has with his father/coach, as told to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports. Check out the entire piece here.

III. “If I decide forget it, we’re not gonna go, we’re just gonna sit this thing out like all these other businesses did, you’re talking… almost $200 million that wouldn’t have been paid to fighters, and the list goes on and on,” Dana White on BT Sport. I’ve always been of the opinion, and 100% behind the UFC’s decision to get fights back on as soon as possible – once it was clear that young people, especially young athletes in peak physical condition, were at the lowest possible risk of significant illness from Covid-19.

I. Marlon Moraes made his UFC debut at UFC 212 in June of 2017. In his 9 fights, he has fought:

Raphael Assuncao x2, John Dodson, Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, Henry Cejudo, Jose Aldo, Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font

For an overall record of 5-4

II. Marcin Tybura landed 18 significant ground strikes on Greg Hardy, all during the finishing sequence in Round 2. In Hardy’s previous seven UFC bouts, his opponents landed a combined three significant ground strikes against him. Coincidentally, all three of those were landed by Allen Crowder in a disqualification victory over Hardy in the former Dallas Cowboys star’s Octagon debut.

“Cringe Ass Henry” Cejudo, ladies and gentlemen. Maybe time to get back in the cage, huh Henry?

I believe this is why the internet was invented. Who doesn’t love a good Valentina “The Bullet” Shevchenko update?

1. I think Conor McGregor is one fascinating individual. He rags-to-riches story is incredible, his globe-spinning tours promoting fights with Floyd Mayweather and touting his Proper Irish Whiskey brand were something to see, his daftness and recklessness attacking a bus and throwing trolleys through the windows, the list goes on. Then McGregor, in the midst of a global pandemic, saves the SBG Portarlington gym in County Laois, Ireland, from Covid-19-related closure. The gym, an affiliate of McGregor’s hometown SBG Ireland in Dublin, was due to go under because of financial stress and “Mystic Mac” stepped up big time. Good on him.

2. I think there are plenty of fun and exciting fights to go around at Bellator in their middleweight/light heavyweight/heavyweight divisions. Take a look at some of the big names below:

  • The new guys: Corey Anderson, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Yoel Romero
  • The champions: Ryan Bader (heavyweight champion), Vadim Nemkov (light heavyweight champion), Gegard Mousasi (middleweight champion, may move up to light heavyweight)
  • Top contenders: Lyoto Machida, Phil Davis, Rafael Lovato Jr., Cheick Kongo, Vitaly Minakov

My point here is that Bellator and Scott Coker shouldn’t be too quick to jump the gun on a Rumble/Romero fight. There are so many possible matchups to these three weight classes that they can afford to take their time and do a slow buildup. Anderson/Nemkov for the belt (Anderson signed first of the three newcomers), Bader and Rumble at heavyweight for the strap and Romero at middleweight or 205 lbs. against Mousasi would all be big draws and exciting fights.

3. I think Taila Santos has some big fights in her future in the women’s flyweight division. With unanimous decision wins over Molly McCann and Gillian Robertson, she moves to 17-1 and a top-15 ranking.

4. I think Michael Bisping destroys Jake Paul in a boxing match. I don’t think he should do it, however. I’d prefer to see a guy who’s targeting the boxing heavyweights, one Mr. Greg Hardy, fight one or both of the Paul brothers. I’d buy the PPV to see that.

5. I think with Yair Rodriguez suspended and Brian Ortega’s massive win over the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung still fresh in everyone’s mind, I don’t disagree with Dana White saying that Ortega should be the next one up to fight incumbent Alex Volkanovski for the featherweight belt. And I’d like to see the winner of Max Holloway/Calvin Kattar fight the winner. I’m up for Volkanovski vs. Holloway III. Well, Holloway or Henry Cejudo

6. I think if Anthony Pettis wants another run at 155 lbs., I’m in. In a stacked lightweight division, there are plenty of fun fights brewing and “Showtime” showed tonight against a very game Alex Morono that he still has plenty left at 33 years of age. His ground game is much improved and he still landed a pair of head kicks, the spinning wheel kick at the end of round 3 sealed the win and left his opponent on wobbly knees.

7. I think Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping are a wonderful commentating duo. Breaking down in detail Marcin Tybura’s takedown of Greg Hardy, the wrist control and technique the Pole employed in walking Hardy towards his back to establish the dominant position was very succinct and timed perfectly with the action in the Octagon.

8. I think Greg Hardy is close to becoming a problem at heavyweight – he just needs some serious conditioning and a drop of about 20 lbs. Fellow heavyweight Derrick Lewis has looked great with his new focus on cardio and Hardy could use the same regimen. Hardy dominated the first round against a top-15 heavyweight in Tybura before he gassed out in the second period, was taken down and smashed into a stoppage. He has held his own against Alexander Volkov and has won tough matchups against Yorgan de Castro and Maurice Green. Keep in mind – Hardy has only been fighting since June of 2018. In two and a half years, he has made tremendous progress. He has been discussing a turn into boxing recently, so let’s see if he has the commitment and fortitude to really work hard and make a significant mark in MMA.

9. I think I couldn’t be happier to see Jose Aldo win to probably stick around in the UFC. With the rash of cuts coming out of the UFC of established stars, Aldo who had lost six of nine coming into this fight with Chito Vera, and a loss could have sent him packing from the Las Vegas-based promotion. Instead, he wins a professional fight and calls out TJ Dillashaw. Now that’s a fight we want to see in 2021.

10. I think some other things about this week:

a. Close win for my Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game against a tough Northwestern Team. Our defense showed up and played tough, bending but not breaking. Trey Serman saved the offense and Justin Fields with a school-record 331 yards and 2 touchdowns.

b. My final four for the NCAA football playoffs: Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Cincinnati. Yes, Cincinnati is a homer pick, however the Bearcats are undefeated and the other two contenders for the fourth spot, Notre Dame and Texas A&M have already lost to Clemson and Alabama, respectively – and by big margins.

c. Canelo Alvarez dominating Callum Smith to win the WBA, WBC and The Ring magazine super middleweight titles was not unexpected and good for boxing. Canelo is one of the few big names outside of the heavyweights in boxing that is currently active. 30 years of age, 57 pro fights, what’s next? Either a trilogy with Gennadiy Golovkin or attempting to unify all the belts in the division (Billy Joe Saunders has the WBO belt, Caleb Plant the IBF belt).

d. Russell Westbrook seems like a great teammate

e. Arsenal are a shambles (because of the players, not Mikel Arteta), Liverpool winning 7-0 against Crystal Palace is a real statement of intent on the league, Leicester City beating Tottenham is a surprising result given Spurs’ recent form. If none of this makes any sense to you, then you are probably reading this article from somewhere in the USA.

Arianny Celeste and Luciana Andrade in the festive spirit.

I. 2020, what a year right?

II. You know what the real money fight is, me!?

“Before I left Brazil for the fight, my wife told me she had a dream where I took the back and finished the fight. I tried to finish him,” Jose Aldo speaking about his wife’s premonitions at the post-fight press conference.

FMIA: UFC Fight Night 183 – Despite Major COVID Setbacks, 2020 Ends with Wonderboy Putting on a Show, Jose Aldo and “Showtime” Winning Big and Rob Font Making “Magic” Sleep

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