Sunday, 16 September 2007

UFC 64: Unstoppable on Bravo - TV Review

For the third time in a row, we take another trip into the world of mixed martial arts, with two title matches in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 64th pay-per-view, Unstoppable, shown on a twenty-four hour delay here in Britain. Our hosts for the evening are Mike Goldberg and hall of famer Randy Couture.

The show begins with action in the lightweight division between Spencer Fisher and Dan Lauzon, the younger brother of Joe Lauzon, who scored an upset victory of Jens Pulver last month. Although he took the fight at short notice, Lauzon looked good in the early exchanges, opening up a cut on Fisher’s forehead early on, and unloading with some good shots early on, and for a while it looked like the youngster might get the win. But Fisher came back strongly, and came back well, knocking him down with a couple of lefts before the referee called an end to the fight in the final seconds of the first round.

We move up a few divisions to the heavyweights next, as Cheick Kongo goes up against Carmelo Merrero, making his UFC debut. The first round began with Kongo getting a couple of shots off, but Merrero fought back quickly with a take-down, and despite a couple of attempts to escape, Merrero controlled the entire round with some excellent grappling.

The second round saw some more great action, as he took Kongo down early on. However, Kongo soon applied a guillotine choke, which Merrero had trouble getting out of. When the referee stood the fighters up twice before the end of the round, Merrero took Kongo down twice more.

Kongo upped his game a little in the final round, trying to get a submission on a couple of occasions, but once again Merrero did a good job of stifling Kongo’s stand-up game. Merrero’s tactics were enough to get him a split decision from the judges. A good effort for the debutant.

On to welterweight action, as Jon Fitch faces Kuniyoshi Hironaka. The first round was very interesting, and saw Hironaka spend a great deal of time trying to synch in a triangle. Fitch eventually broke free and unleashed with the ground and pound, before getting onto Hironaka’s back and trying to synch in a rear naked choke. However, time was against him as the first round came to an end.

And it was the same in the second. Fitch scored with a great looking kick before slamming Hironaka down and getting the battle of the grappling exchanges until the action slowed down a little. After the ref stood the fighters up, Fitch again took Hironaka down, which resulted in some more great grappling, with the round ending as Fitch unloaded with some good looking elbows on the ground.

Fitch again proved impressive in the third, with good kicks and some good combinations before taking Hironaka down again. Although he showed a couple of good moves, Fitch was clearly the winner, and the judges thought so to, as they awarded the fight to Fitch with a unanimous decision.

Then it’s time for the first title fight of the evening, the match to fill the vacant UFC Lightweight crown, as Kenny Florian faces Sean Sherk. The first round was very much a back and forth affair. Sherk took Florian down early, but Florian tried to synch in a guillotine from the side mount position. Sherk escaped, and almost applied a triangle. Both fighters showed good wrestling skills throughout the round.

The second began quickly, Florian snapping off a couple of quick kicks and Sherk taking him down again, but a couple of razor sharp elbows opened up a cut on Sherk’s head, which brought the attention of the doctors to both men as Florian got some of Sherk’s blood in his eye. When the fight resumed, it was again back and forth, first Sherk had the full guard, but then Florian escaped to get the full guard himself before they returned to the upright position, with the second round a lot more even than the first.

The corner men had trouble stopping the bleeding on Sherk’s wound between rounds, so when he emerged for the third he was already a bloody mess as he took Florian down early. Sherk controlled the majority of the round with his grappling skills, and it was only when the referee stood the fighters up did Florian get in any offence of note, a couple of kicks as the round came to an end.

Florian went into the fourth round of a fight for the first time, but only managed to evade Sherk’s takedown attempt once before he was taken down again. Sherk was again dominate, and no matter what he did, Florian didn’t have any answer to Sherk’s onslaught until the referee stood the fighters up again in the final thirty seconds of the round.

The fifth and final round saw Sherk take Florian down yet again. Florian managed an armbar attempt, but Sherk kept up his attack until the referee stood the fighters up, which gave Florian some home, but after a couple of kicks, Sherk took him down. But this time it worked in Florian’s favour as he applied a guillotine choke. Sherk was able to escape from this, and managed to lift Florian into the air before slamming him down to the mat. Florian managed to escape from the mount, and again went for the guillotine, but it didn’t amount to much as the round came to an end. The crowd gave both men a standing ovation, and rightfully so, as Sherk won the fight and the vacant title with the unanimous judge’s decision.

Main event time, as Anderson Silva challenges Rich Franklin for the UFC Middleweight title. Silva looked great in this one. The bout started slowly with the fighters circling each other, but when Silva used a muay thai clinch on Franklin, grabbing hold of Franklin around the back of his neck, Franklin looked confused and unable to respond to Anderson’s attack as he delivered knee after knee after knee to both his body and his face, breaking his nose. Franklin was definitely in trouble, and the referee made the right decision in standing in to stop the onslaught, awarding the fight and middleweight title via technical knock-out. A highly impressive victory here.

In conclusion - the Ultimate Fighting Championship continues to improve, and this show was a perfect example of that. While Franklin/Silva was a good bout, Florian/Sherk was a thing of beauty, with Sean Sherk putting on one of the best performances I’ve seen in the octagon this year. Special mention must go to Jon Fitch as well, who looked great in his fight with Hironaka. Congratulations to Dana White and UFC for putting on another great show.