Best Matches Seen September 2017
UFC Fight Night 116 9/16/17
Urijah Hall vs. Krzysztof Jotko R2 2:35. Hall would rank highly among the fighters with the most talent who manage to get the least results from it. Granted, he was in the best division in the UFC before Bisping took over & avoided everyone withing a decade of their prime & Gegard Mousasi figured if he hadn't got a title shot in 6 years despite being champ in Strikeforce & Dream & beating guys who like Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, & Chris Weidman who received multiple title shots, it wasn't likely to happen in the not particularly merit based system the promotion was increasingly operating under. This looked like another fight where I felt Hall should win, but he was just watching & waiting rather than making something happen. Jotko was very patient early, he knew Hall wasn't going to be too aggressive so he just faked & feinted for a couple minutes, backing Hall into the cage but rarely actually throwing. When Jotko finally unleashed, he rocked Hall with a lead right uppercut & then just went to town on him. I thought Jotko could have got the stoppage if he stuck with standup even 15 seconds longer because Hall simply wasn't responding. Don't get me wrong, Jotko landed some bombs on the ground, but he wasn't flurrying, and unless you are able to bounce the opponents head off the canvas or something, the ref is going to allow the guy on the bottom to take a steady stream of shots as long as they've still moving a little & pretending to defend themselves. Jotko put too much effort into securing his positions on the ground, and Hall was able to stand with Jotko still holding a body lock. Jotko dragged him down, but Hall turned his back on the way down so Jotko couldn't quite choke him but was instead able to mount & pummel him some more until Hall took advantage of Jotko's sloppiness & literally just pushed him off with his left arm & stood. I mean, this was the kind of escape you'd just roll your eyes at if someone did it in pro wrestling, but somehow it actually worked. Hall just stood with his back on the cage, but he knew the lead uppercut was coming, and was able to defend that & land one big overhand left. The mauling surely earned Jotko a 10-8 first round, & Hall's left eye wasn't in good shape, which didn't bode well given Jotko was favoring right hand leads. Jotko wasn't using his feints as much in round 2, seemingly having tired himself out failing to finish. I don't know how much he did or didn't have left, but this was a big mistake because he had Hall out of his game in the 1st, but now Hall was able to hold his ground & have room to work rather than being backed into the cage where he couldn't use his length or movement. Hall began to press forward because Jotko wasn't active enough, and when he finally unloaded with a right hook over Jotko's lazy jab, he dropped him & flurried on the ground for the finish. Jotko will surely have a lot of regrets about not managing to finish Hall in the 1st, but man, this is the kind of win we've always been waiting for from Hall. It's a match he should by all rights have lost that he hung around long enough to land his one crushing blow to end the fight. Really great comeback! Good match.
Gregor Gillespie vs. Jason Gonzalez R2 2:11. A really fan friendly fight. Gonzalez's strategy was basically to just stay in the pocket & throw high kicks & uppercuts. He was overmatched on the ground, but succeeded to make it a fire fight whenever he was able to stay on his feet. Gillespie was just the far more well rounded fighter & was always a step ahead of Gonzalez, but the match was pretty close in standup because both just exchanged bombs until Gillsepie would find the opening to close the distance for the takedown. Gonzalez was either taken down or rocked on the break every time Gillespie tried to wrestle, but he did a good job of getting back up quickly in the 1st before he was pummeled by too much ground & pound. Gillespie had early success closing the distance when Gonzalez tried to follow with an uppercut, as although Gonzalez defended the takedown, Gillespie dropped him & bloodied his nose with a short elbow on the break then was able to take the top. Gonzalez hurt Gillespie late in the 1st with an uppercut, but they were so sweaty Gillespie slipped right through his attempt to follow with an anaconda choke (Gonzalez locking only the neck rather than securing an arm also didn't help). The first round was fantastic, but Gonzalez was taken down early in the 2nd after landing a big left hook, and this time Gillespie was able to lock Gonzalez down in his mount. Gonzalez fought off the arm triangle for a while, but Gullespie eventually opened it up with his punches. Good match.
Bellator 172 2/18/17: Veta Arteaga vs. Brooke Mayo R3 4:04. An entertaining fight both in standup & on the ground. Mayo made an excellent impression in her debut match. She had the length & was able to use her kicks to keep Arteaga from getting her boxing going. This was her best strategy, as Arteaga doesn't close the distance on her own, when she pushes forward it's generally to counter an attack that Mayo has already come in on. Mayo should have been able to pick her apart at distance all night, or at worst force Arteaga out of her comfort zone & make her take the chances rushing in when Mayo was ready for her. Mayo is more of a grappler though, and kept looking for that area she's most comfortable with. She was able to get takedowns in each round & threaten with submissions. Her best series was the takedown against the cage in the 1st round when Arteaga immediately turned her back for some reason, although she ultimately failed to choke her Veta & started getting beat up when her armbar (& then triangle) failed. This was sort of the story of the fight, Mayo would come forward because she wanted the takedown, and would take unnecessary damage because of that. Once Mayo got the takedown, she'd create opportunities to finish, but while she undoubtedly gets a lot of victories off her back in grappling or in the gym, it's a lot different when people are allowed to punch you in the face as hard as they can. The first round was close (I'd give it to Mayo but Jimmy gave it to Veta) with Mayo getting credit for her attempts to finish & general aggressiveness, but Arteaga had her moments, and her ground strikes were the most damaging aspect. The second round was more clearly Mayo's because Arteaga wasn't able to get much damage in when Mayo was on her back going for the triangle. Arteaga landed some good punches to Mayo's left eye in the 3rd. Late in the round, it started to swell really horribly above the eye. This had the look of an orbital injury so the doctor immediately stopped the fight despite there being less than a minute left & Mayo pleading with him & anyone who would listen "I can see" "I can see" about a hundred times. It was a awful way to lose a fight that I think she should have won (I'd say would, but a simple coin toss would favor the real winner about as often a generic blind mouse & about 50% more than clueless Cecil Peoples or corrupt Adalaide Byrd & given Mayo was probably going to lose round 3 there were certainly no guarantees). I don't think it was a bad stoppage because how many times has Josh Koscheck tried to fight since GSP injured his orbital, and every time it's obvious that it's still a major issue all these years later, but it does add insult to injury in cases such as this where it turns out to just be a really bad bruise. Good match.
Battlarts 2/25/07: Fujita "Jr" Hayato & Katsumi Usuda vs. Munenori Sawa & Yuta Yoshikawa 15:50. Hayato & Sawa got a chance to work out some of their ideas & escalate the tensions between them, setting up their tremendous singles match later in the year. The initial striking combo burst was nowhere near the level we'd see in their 7/21/07 match as they hadn't quite figured out how to both endlessly throw striking combos without the awkwardness of handling hitting each other at the same time. However, it was cool that Yoshikawa blitzed Usuda at the same time, repeatedly kicking him to & on the floor. Yoshikawa is an inexperienced Ishikawa trainee who, while not standout, worked his ass off in every match this year & performed well about the level of a 2nd year fighter, much less one who only managed a couple dozen matches because he didn't have a regularly running how promotion. As much as I enjoyed the few Battlarts shows that have surfaced from this year, it's truly a shame he's in such a small promotion because he's much too talented to just be a part timer with little upward mobility. You could see he was so eager to do everything that Hayato & Sawa were doing, and Hayato's opening sequence with him wound up being a variation of how he started with Sawa, with shorter & less effective striking but quick & heated mat exchanges. Yoshikawa was predictably the whipping boy, but made some nice counters & threw solid kicks. Outside of maybe Yoshikawa, this wasn't anyone's best effort or stiffest work, but Fujita can always be counted on to incite the opposition to pull a more spirited performance out of them, and here everyone was at least solid & there was no combo that wasn't outputting quality action both in standup & on the mat. Sawa was riling Hayato up here too, cheapshotting him with a kick to the back when he ran the ropes to attack Yoshikawa, and catching his revenge kick & turning it into a Dragon screw. Sawa is tremendously explosive & really a great athlete in general. He seems to generate really easy momentum & force just by being so fast & springy. There was a time when everyone & their mother was doing the shining wizard, but Sawa is still the only person who actually managed to make it look consistently impressive. He has such great body control that he seems to be flinging his whole body through the air in a reckless manner to get the kind of momentum you'd get from a flying knee in MMA even though the shining wizard is a vertical move, but he's really accurate with it & it has major impact (he does seem to go a little harder when he knows he's missing). Sawa did a great job of chaining his kicks & submissions, including a cool spot where he missed a high kick, but kept twisting & came back with an enzuigiri. He was really good in this match, and every other Battlarts match. He's not as good a wrestler as Hayato, but he's the best Battlarts has right now, & there are a lot of reasons he was in the best match on every show, particularly skill, drive, & athleticism. ***1/2
Battlarts 15th Anniversary Yuki 7/21/07
Kyosuke Sasaki vs. Yuta Yoshikawa 11:15. The more experienced Sasaki, a veteran of RINGS who followed Kiyoshi Tamura to U-STYLE & had a rather unsuccessful MMA career spanning DEEP, Pancrase, & even PRIDE, didn't wholy respect his young shooter wannabe upstart opponent. He patted Yoshikawa on the head when he broke on the ropes like he was a little boy, jawed with him, stuck his tongue out & laughed when he started winning the leg lock battle. Yoshikawa was going to force Sasaki to treat him as an equal, so this quickly degenerated into a match where two fighters who didn't like each other simply refused to ever back down from one another. The action was really intense as they just exchanged until one of them escalated then exchanged some more. They exchanged snapmares & kicks to the downed opponent, slaps, punches, really any kind of stiff strike. It was all really nasty, high impact stuff, & it was quickly getting to the point where you started to worry someone was going to take it too far & accidentally hurt the opponent as this match was notable & memorable for the punishment they were inflicting on one another. When one fighter was going, it was thrilling, but too often they were just standing around taking turns nailing each other. There was a great near finish where Yoshikawa finally countered one of Sasaki's punches, turning it into a flying armbar but Sasaki was too close to the ropes. Sasaki regained control stopping Yoshikawa's belly to belly suplex with a headbutt & scored knockdowns with high kicks leading to KO'ing him with a punch. ***1/2
Munenori Sawa vs. Fujita "Jr" Hayato 8:17. Absolutely fantastic short match! My general thought on a match under 10 minutes is "moving on...", it's just too little time to build the match & tell a story, but it makes sense in a shoot environment, & this is perhaps the best 8 minute match I've ever seen. Fujita was the pound for pound king of violence at this point, & BATTLARTS was the perfect venue for him, getting him out of the lucha & flying based junior matches & in with an opponent who was happy, or rather insane enough, to allow him to throw everything he had into every shot. They poured every ounce of energy & brutality into the time they had, and it was just electric while it lasted. That wasn't long, but the match was so ridiculously high impact it was mercyful for both when it ended. Even though they were faking it to some extent, I still think they probably did more damage to one another than a fighter would take in most striking based MMA matches where someone didn't suffer a serious injury. They started off as if shot out of a cannon with perhaps the greatest striking sequence I've ever seen in a pro wrestling match, both men simultaneously throwing 35 seconds of full speed, full power slap & kick combos until Fujita finally dropped Sawa with a high kick. I can't even put into words just how awesome it was to see neither fighter standing like a dolt waiting for the other to go all Pat Benatar on them. There was nowhere to go from there but down, but the match remained innovative & never disappointed, as it continued to employ the aggressive real fight mentality of attacking until your opponent answered rather than the should be outdated pro wrestling model of just taking turns watching & waiting. Instead of Fujita doing a single middle kick, he hit 5 before Sawa finally countered with his (or rather Muto's by way of Fujinami & Liger) Dragon screw. The mat work was also impressive, as they employed fairly realistic positions &, as with the standup, were flowing & chaining the attacks together. This eventually did devolve into one Kobashi/Kensuke battle of machismo exchange to supposedly prove who could withstand the most punishment, but they did mix up the shots & sometimes have someone get multiple shots in. Sawa's lip & perhaps nose were busted open hardway from Fujita's ruthless slaps, but unfortunately for Fujita, they aren't the proper defense for the figure 4, and Sawa was able to withstand yet another barrage long enough to get the submission. I loath the use of the figure 4 in more or less a shoot setting, and have never forgiven Muto for forcing Takada to cry uncle to that primitive fakery, but I have to admit the obsolete submission actually didn't take away any of the intensity. In fact, the scenes of Fujita confidently willing himself to sit up while in the leg lock to throw yet another series of hard as he could slaps until the pain was too much & he had to tap while he was down was actually one of the more intense finishes you'll ever see. This would have been an amazing effort for a Budokan main event, much less putting their bodies through all this for 100 people. I don't know if you can have a great pro wrestling match in 8 minutes, but if not, this is about as close as one can come. ****1/4
Yuki Ishikawa 15th Anniversary Match: Alexander Otsuka & Yuki Ishikawa vs. Daisuke Ikeda & Manabu Hara 19:32. Hara set the tone blasting Ishikawa with a high kick to start the match, and there was no letting up from anyone. While it was impossible to follow Sawa/Hayato, they delivered a very stiff contest with solid matwork that was more in the vein of PWFG (other than being a tag) than what was presented during the initial run of Battlarts. I really liked Hara here because he's a more energetic & explosive striker than the others, who are more in the heavyweight style of just relying on the brute force of a single shot. Otsuka would eat a flurry from Hara & then just maul him with one big blow or tackle. Though Ishikawa's anniversary was being celebrated, Hara & Otsuka were the featured performers. Ishikawa was paired with Ikeda, his top rival who he delivered the most memorable matches in the companies initial run against, but Ikeda has been somewhat disappointing this go around because while it's obvious the talent is still there, NOAH taught him not to go too hard or care too much. I'm also not a fan of Ikeda's insistence on exchanging punches with Ishikawa, while it's logical if you're supposed to be shooting & they look amazing compared to WWE whiffing, it really doesn't work when you aren't wearing gloves to keep from breaking your hands, and just winds up being the unimpressive part of a match that's otherwise mainly good because they are able to hit each other so hard with the rest of the strikes. Everyone was good, but Hara really felt like the best because he was dynamic & just had that spark to everything he did that the others don't possess. The match was consistently quality, but it just kind of was what it was throughout, without many highs or lows, rather than something that really built up or took off. ***1/4
UFC Fight Night 115 9/2/17: Alexander Volkov vs. Stefan Struve R3 3:30. At 6'7", Volkov obviously isn't used to being at a considerable height & reach advantage, but I was still surprised that Struve decided to just kickbox with Volkov. Struve isn't really a Semmy Schilt type of range/points fighter where the length matters, his big damage is closing the distance & connecting with the uppercut or knee, both on display in the 1st, but that also negates his reach & leaves him open for Volkov's counter. Volkov is the much cleaner, more accurate striker, and by far the harder hitter. You could see that Struve was having trouble when Volkov really connected, and there's no shame in that, Volkov has finished half his fights in the 1st round for a reason, but that's all the more reason you'd expect Struve, a guy who has won 17 of 28 via submission, to think harder about the ground. Nonetheless, Struve mixing it up with Volkov made for a more exciting fight. Struve kept a really high pace, & was putting a lot of pressure on Volkov with his volume as well as repeatedly gouging him with his Jones/Gustafsson range measuring shenanigans. Volkov didn't have much volume in the first, he was calm & patient, landing a few big shots, but generally waiting for Struve to make a mistake. Struve cut him with a jumping knee late in the 1st, but Volkov countered with a bodylock trip then flurried with punches until the bell. Struve had a good 2nd round, as he was able to maintain his pace & high output while Volkov was stuck breathing through his mouth because his nose was broken. Again, the round was close enough, & Volkov finished big, coming forward with the body punch then landing the big overhand rights as Struve tried to back out of the pocket. Volkov did a much better job of holding his ground or coming forward in the 3rd. He was just waiting too much early in this fight & allowing Struve to dictate. Volkov wasn't headhunting. He did a really good job of starting his combos with either a a left to the liver or a powerful low kick to set up coming high. Volkov never took over the fight per se & the finish wasn't one big shot. Mainly Struve just got caught against the cage, so when Volkov stunned him he couldn't use his typical tactic of leaning/backing away & another big uppercut was all it took. Good match.
KSW 14 9/18/10, KSW Lightweight Tournament Opening Round: Danny van Bergen vs. Artur Sowinski 3R. There's nothing more exciting than a fight where whenever you think one guy is winning, the other guy makes a great move to regain the advantage & potentially finish the fight. Fast-paced contests where both fighters are always trying to win the match no matter what position they find themselves in is what got me interested in "shoot" fighting back in the day. They are all too rare these days because almost everyone plays it safe & is content to lock things down & grind it out, but van Bergen vs. Sowinski never stagnated. It was instead mostly a great attacking submission grappling exhibition with the 2nd round, in particular, being so full of scrambles & submission attempts it was reminiscent of the height of the Kiyoshi Tamura & Volk Han era of worked RINGS. I loved the win as fast as you can mentality these lightweights brought to the tournament. Neither were successful, but the pace was the same as when they are only fighting once a night. Most importantly, they were gutsy & believed in themselves, which meant they took chances because they believe in their ability to achieve the reward rather than fearing what might happen if they didn't succeed. They were willing to give up position for the opportunity to finish because they weren't worried about being on their back. The action never stagnated because their back was an offensive position, and they could also create a scramble to try to get off it. Sowinski initially seemed to be the better kickboxer despite van Bergen being a product of Mike's Gym, using his length to try to keep van Bergen off him, but not being very successful as Van Bergen would take him down sooner rather than later. In the 3rd round, when Sowinski was a little slower, van Bergen really had a big edge in the standup to the point that Sowinski was fine with diving to his back, but regardless there was as much back & forth action on the ground as on their feet. Sowinski has a really strong submission game off his back, but van Bergen is seemingly a higher level ground fighter than most of the guys Sowinski taps in camp, and especially his tough ground & pound was making it difficult for Sowinski to succeed, particularly punishing Sowinski for his space making tactics to set up the submissions attempts. The first round was mostly van Bergen beating Sowinski up for his efforts to be offensive off his back, but Sowinski created a ton of chaos in the 2nd, and there were some super exciting exchanges & finishing attempts. Sowinski couldn't quite sweep van Bergen early in the 2nd, but was able to get an armbar attempt after the scramble. Van Bergan pulled his arm free, & was finally able to get side control in the scramble. Van Bergen mounted, but Sowinski used the overhook to immediately side swept him into guard. This time it was van Bergen trying the armbar off his back, but Sowinski sat back into an ankle lock. Van Bergen pulled his leg out & regained top control with a guard pass punch. Van Bergen mounted again, this time quickly transitioning into an armbar that he momentarily had under his armpit, but Sowinski got on his knees & kept angling until he took the top. Sowinski had visions of his own ground & pound, but van Bergen scissored the arm & turned into another armbar. Sowinski did just enough in the 2nd to send it to the 3:00 overtime. Sowinski was tiring late in the 2nd, and perhaps due to that, Van Bergen blitzed him to start the 3rd with big overhand rights. Sowinski retreated to his back, and again as soon as van Bergen mounted, Sowinski was able to sweep. Van Bergen tried to go right into an armbar, but Sowinski defended. Van Bergen was able to regain the top with a 2nd armbar attempt though. Van Bergen rocked Sowinski with a big right cross lead, but Sowinski was able to land a right straight just before his legs gave out. Sowinski no longer had the energy to buck van Bergen off him, so van Bergen was able to seal the decision finishing with a series of punches from mount. Great match.
Invicta 25 8/31/17: Livia Renata Souza vs. Janaisa Morandin 3R. The small Tachi Palace cage doesn't really allow fighters to use their movement very well, and just encourages takedowns & clinches because it's seemingly 2 steps from the center to the border octagon & then another 2 steps to the fence. I would have liked to have seen this fight inside the regular 30 square foot cage, as the standup was intriguing with Morandin being the better boxer, but Souza having much better footwork & kicks that she soon decided it wasn't worth trying to use even to set up her takedown. That being said, this was ultimately a very intriguing striker vs. grappler contest, with both looking good in their own areas, but Morandin also having enough defense on the ground to keep things moving. The pace was the most impressive aspect, just constant attacking whether they were on their feet or on the ground. Souza was constantly improving position on the mat & putting a beating on Morandin with her punches, while Morandin did a nice job of initiating scrambles & threating with submissions off her back to keep Souza from just beating on her. Souza was able to adjust better. I was particularly impressed with Souza sneaking behind Morandin after a failed koshi guruma & dragging her down with something of a jumping rear mount pull, switching to full mount as soon as they hit the canvas. After the 1st, Souza saw what was working & pretty much just looked for the takedown, withstanding Morandin's blitz & waiting until she was prone to duck into the takedown or at least in between combos to go after the legs. Morandin is a good striker, but she needs to work on getting out of the pocket so she can do her damage again & again rather than landing a couple nice combos then getting deposited on her back. Morandin had a pretty good 2nd round though, aided by a bogus almost immediate standup by Jason McCoy, as when Souza took Morandin down after that Morandin was able to throw up a triangle that wasn't threatening as a submission but allowed her to land a nice series of elbows. As Morandin was the aggressor in standup, backing Souza all round, and landing elbows when Souza was trying for a double leg as well as after she took her down, I'd say she evened the fight up. The third round was similar to the 1st, with Morandin starting strong in standup then getting controlled on the ground. Souza got it into her domain quicker though, so it was the easiest round to score. It would have been nice to see Souza fight for the title as was originally planned, but Morandin was a good replacement for Jodie Esquibel, looking good at her new weight class (she was actually the bigger despite moving up from atomweight, but that's because Souza doesn't cut weight). Souza won a unanimous decision 30-27, 29-28, 29-28. Good match.