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.
This weekend was one of those stretches that no matter what you were looking for or are interested in the most, you could find it taking place somewhere, as both the UFC and Bellator MMA offered solid shows, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship returned with its biggest event to date and Glory delivered a quality kickboxing show that featured a blistering finish from welterweight champ Cedric Doumbe.
How good was the finish? So good that even me, a guy who doesn’t follow kickboxing at all, had to make sure to track down the footage because the smart kickboxing fans I follow were all raving about it and for good reason:
Pretty sweet, right?
Anyway, there was a bunch to take in this weekend and several elements to unpack now that the dust has settled, so let’s get down to it.
“The Korean Zombie” is still a contender
Prior to the start of Saturday’s UFC event in Greenville, South Carolina, I wondered aloud on Twitter if headliner Chan Sung Jung was as good as the vast majority of people hold him out to be.
It’s not that I don’t think the South Korean fan favorite is talented, it’s just after only a couple appearances since returning from his mandatory military service and given the depth and overall quality of the division, I thought maybe people were holding onto his win over Dustin Poirier from seven years ago and penchant for always being in entertaining fights a little too tightly and inflating his standing in the 145-pound ranks a little too much as a result.
Jung just felt to me like a terrific example of a guy who got the benefit of the doubt at all times because he’s fun to watch and whose every result was viewed in glowing terms. The toughness he showed in a lopsided loss to Jose Aldo, blistering Dennis Bermudez and going shot-for-shot with Yair Rodriguez were all offered back to me as examples of his excellence, when all that sounds like to me is a guy who got beaten up by the champ, sparked a Top 15 fixture who never climbed higher than No. 9 (and that might be generous) and lost a fun back-and-forth battle to a prospect I’m still not really completely sold on.
I was ready to watch his main event bout with Renato Moicano and have a ‘See – he’s good, but he’s not Top 5 in the division good’ and then “The Korean Zombie” went out, slipped a lazy jab and cracked Moicano with a beautiful counter, leading to a 58-second victory.
Clearly, I was wrong.
Jung is very much a contender and while the loss to Rodriguez pulls at that position a little, it’s also one of those situations where if they ran it back 100 times, I’d take the 32-year-old veteran 100 times and pray that Rodriguez doesn’t hit that absurd up-elbow in the final second again.
Featherweight is the most compelling and competitive division in the UFC right now and Saturday’s finale only helped prove that to be a fact.
Moicano had only lost once in his entire career prior to this year and that was to former title challenger Brian Ortega, who has also only lost once in his career, and now he’s suffered back-to-back stoppage defeats to veteran standouts who are still very much in the thick of the chase. Jung’s win puts him right in the middle of things in the title picture and makes him a very attractive, albeit dangerous, dance partner for guys like Zabit Magomedsharipov or Calvin Kattar, who are looking to continue climbing the divisional ladder.
Rafael Lovato Jr. is the most intriguing fighter in the sport right now
Rafael Lovato Jr. became the new Bellator MMA middleweight champion over the weekend, collecting a hard-fought, well-earned majority decision win over Gegard Mousasi in the main event of Bellator London.
It was the 35-year-old American’s 10th professional fight; it was No. 54 for Mousasi.
The self-proclaimed “greatest American Brazilian jiu jitsu competitor ever” instantly becomes the most intriguing fighter in the sport because things like this aren’t supposed to happen. You don’t get 35-year-olds beating decorated veterans in their 10th pro appearance and – and I say this with complete reverence for the art – there aren’t exactly a host of BJJ players lording over divisions these days.
But the thing with Lovato Jr. is that he’s not your traditional BJJ player because his wrestling is excellent and allows him to initiate takedowns and get the fight to the ground with greater ease and frequency than many of his contemporaries.
I tend to make the Demian Maia comparison a lot for fighters like this, but it’s because Maia drilled a ton of wrestling and it made him that much more difficult to contend with once he hit the UFC and even then, it’s not a fair comp because Lovato Jr. has better striking than the former welterweight and middleweight title challenger.
On top of all that, the close nature of the fight – it was deadlocked at two rounds each heading into the fifth, with Mousasi carrying all the momentum – which means we’re probably going to get an immediate rematch and so Lovato Jr. will get a chance to prove to skeptics and doubters that his victory wasn’t a fluke, his skills are legit and he’s very much in the conversation as one of the top middleweights on the planet.
Can someone please explain the fascination with bare-knuckle boxing to me?
The biggest fight of the weekend didn’t take place in the Octagon or at SSE Arena in London; it took place in Tampa, FL. under the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship banner and featured a guy who went 2-5 in the UFC in a “grudge match” against a 38-year-old former boxer who has spent the last two years talking trash about the other guy’s best friend.
And people ate it up.
The BKFC event headlined by Artem Lobov and Paulie Malignaggi garnered more coverage, attention and social media traction than the UFC show in Greenville and Bellator’s fight card in London and I’m at a loss for how that happens.
Why does a spectacle like this between a sub-.500 MA fighter and a guy who has been trying way too hard to stay in the news the last two years captivate the combat sport audience in a way that really good fight cards cannot?
How does an event that is made up of UFC washouts and dudes you’ve never heard of generate more buzz than a Bellator middleweight title fight between one of the best fighters in the division over the last decade and an undefeated challenger?
I don’t get it.
I mean, I understand the ‘this fight is going to generate traffic, so we want in on it’ nature of covering the event, but why in the hell does a fight between Lobov and Malignaggi move the needle as much as it did?
If the answer is simply that it’s a weird spectacle featuring a beloved cult figure (Lobov) and a somewhat annoying guy that people wouldn’t mind seeing get punched in the face (Malignaggi), so be it.
I kind of just want to hear someone articulate why an event like this becomes a zeitgeisty moment in the MMA world and cards stacked with actual quality emerging talents can’t sniff one-tenth of the attention and interest this carnival sideshow drew on Saturday.
It doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but maybe I’m just out of touch.
Fight of the Weekend: Rafael Lovato Jr. vs. Gegard Mousasi at Bellator London
I’ve talked about this fight a bit already, so I’ll keep it relatively brief and simply say this fight featured a lot of what you hope for in a championship main event at the highest levels. It wasn’t quite Israel Adesanya-Kelvin Gastelum, but it was pretty outstanding nonetheless and easily the best fight of the weekend.
The thing that made it so compelling is the ebb and flow of the action.
Lovato Jr. started fast and had everyone wondering if he had caught Mousasi off guard and let them know the challenger wasn’t just going to get steamrolled, and then the champion rallied back, putting the American on the deck and claiming the momentum for himself heading into the final round.
Just when it felt like the more experienced Mousasi would maintain the upper hand, Lovato Jr. came out, controlled the final round and claimed the title.
This was just a terrific fight and one that I hope they run back later this year.
Submission of the Weekend: Cooper Gibson vs. Ricky Palacios at Combate 40
While this was certainly an authoritative arm-triangle choke, I honestly picked this finish because while I’m not quite ready to declare Gibson the top prospect to watch after this weekend, he does deserve a shout out in my books.
The 29-year-old is now 10-2 overall and on a three-fight winning streak, but the really interesting pieces of that are that (a) his last loss came against Bellator contender Henry Corrales, and (b) that fight was followed by a four-year-and-five-month layoff that ended in January 2018.
Going the distance with Corrales is a solid feather in Gibson’s cap and beating Palacios is a good regional win, which makes him someone that could pop back up in Bellator in the near future.
Add Gibson to the ever-growing list of names to remember and check in on down the line.
Knockout of the Weekend: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Allen Crowder at UFC Greenville
Nine seconds is all it took for Rozenstruik to register his second UFC victory, as he sat Crowder down with a stiff jab to the chin and then followed it up by sweeping his legs aside and turning off the lights with a clean right hand to the dome.
Pop. Sweep. Boom. Done.
The 31-year-old heavyweight from Suriname is now 2-0 in the Octagon and 8-0 overall after transitioning to MMA from kickboxing.
Given the constant need for fresh names in the heavyweight ranks and his obvious power, don’t be surprised if “Bigi Boy” gets an expedited move up the divisional ladder and a chance to test himself against an established foe in the next couple months.
Prospect to Watch after this Weekend: Luis Pena
This has more to do with the assortment of tools and pieces Pena has to work with than his performance against Matt Wiman on Saturday, although he did look very good against the returning veteran.
At six-foot-three, the 25-year-old could be a handful for fighters in the lightweight division if he learns how to really maximize his reach and use his size effectively. He could very easily develop into a Neil Magny type in the 155-pound weight class and before you scoff at the comparison, tell me what’s wrong with being a fixture in the Top 10 who uses smooth boxing, a long reach and good footwork to win fights?
Pena has a wrestling background that helps him deal with opponents who are looking to take him down and nullify his reach and working with the crew at AKA is a good place for him to gain knowledge and log hours in the gym, learning from the various champions and contenders on the team.
He showed in the fight with Wiman that he has some solid weapons at his disposal and if he can continue making steady progress, “Violent Bob Ross” could become much more than just a fan favorite with a great nickname and memorable hair.