Tuesday, 18 November 2008

UFC 91: Couture v Lesnar on Setanta Sports - TV Review

It’s being touted as the biggest fight in UFC history, as former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar faces the challenge of the returning Randy Couture, with the World Heavyweight title on the line. That is what’s in store as I take a look at UFC 91: Couture v Lesnar, shown live here in Britain on Setanta Sports, with Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg handling the commentary side of things.

The show begins in the middleweight division, with Nate Quarry and Demian Maia. A quick one to start with. Maia went for a shoot early, which didn’t quite come off at first, but it wasn’t long before the Brazilian was in the mount position. Quarry then rolled over, allowing Maia to take his back. Quarry did his best to stop Maia applying the choke, but it wasn’t long before the rear naked choke was synched in, with Quarry tapping instantly. A very good performance from the Brazilian here.

Then it’s up to the big boys, as former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga faces Josh Hendricks in the heavyweight division. Things began quickly as both men tried for a clinch. Gonzaga then took things down to the mat briefly, before the clinch attempts continued. Gonzaga then connected with a couple of good knees in the clinch, before a big right hand sent Hendricks crashing to the mat. He followed this up with one punch as Hendricks was on his side before the referee stepped in. A powerful display from the Brazilian native, taking only sixty-one seconds to despatch the debutant.

The third fight saw welterweights Matt Brown and Ryan Thomas in action. Round one saw Thomas connect with a couple of kicks, with Brown responding with a couple of good shots that staggered Thomas a little. A bit of grappling followed, until the fight went down to the ground with Thomas on top, delivering a few good blows of his own. A clinch up against the cage followed as both fighters jockeyed for position, until Thomas took the fight to the ground again, and again, it didn’t stay there for long. Back on their feet, Thomas’ under hooks meant that he was pulling him around like a rag doll, and a short time later he scored with another take down, taking the guard position. Brown quickly went for a triangle choke, which ultimately went nowhere, before he went for an armbar, which went the same way as the triangle. Thomas then got back into Brown’s half-guard, but Brown was far from a passive fighter here, looking to stay as much on the offensive as he was on the defensive, so much so that it wasn’t long before he took Thomas’ guard. This was beginning to look like a great back-and-forth battle as after a few seconds on their feet Thomas took it back down to the mat, with Brown going for another triangle as the round came to an end.

Round two, and Thomas soon went for a take down which Brown easily avoided, although he was successful at the second attempt. Immediately, Brown went for the armbar, with Thomas trying to break out by lifting Thomas up and slamming him twice. But that didn’t work, and it wasn’t long before Brown had the armbar synched in completely, forcing Thomas to tap out instantly. A good old fashioned back-and-forth battle here, with two very good performances.

More welterweight action followed, with Dustin Hazelett taking on Tamdan McCrory. The fight began with McCrory swinging away early on with a good combination, with Hazelett replying with a big kick that sent McCrory down briefly. The action then slowed down a little, until a Hazelett connected with a big right that had McCrory on the back foot. The action then slowed down a little again, until McCrory grabbed a leg and they went down to the mat, and began working for alma platas and arm bars, which led to Hazelett trapping McCrory’s arm, and a short time later, Hazelett twisted a little, and McCrory tapped. A very interesting fight, with some quiet moments, but a good example of submission fighting at the end.

Then it’s down to the lightweights, with Jeremy Stephens facing Rafael Dos Anjos. Round one began with the feeling out process, with both fighters trying to gauge the distance with kicks and punches. Dos Anjos was the first to try for the take down, which Stephens was easily able to defend against, before the fighters got into a clinch up against the cage, with Stephens determined to keep the fight upright, and Dos Anjos determined to take the fight down. Dos Anjos soon got the take down he wanted, taking Stephens’ back before taking the guard. Stephens’ plan was obvious as he kept trying to push himself up against the cage, before he decided to try for a guillotine which went nowhere. Dos Anjos then kept transitioning from side guard to north/south, and back to side guard, before getting into the half guard. Stephens then managed to escape and get into his opponent’s guard, but it wasn’t long before Dos Anjos locked in the alma plata, taking Stephen’s back as the round came to an end.

Round two, and the feeling out process began again, with Stephens determined to keep the fight upright, connecting with some good right hands, kicks and knees. But Dos Anjos was a match for him at times, before going for another take down, moving his man up against the fence before slamming him down. Stephens was holding on to an arm, but not for long, as Dos Anjos soon took Stephens’ back and synched the hooks in, before switching to a body triangle, going for the rear naked choke. But Stephens was able to escape, and almost went straight into a Dos Anjos armbar before getting into his opponent’s guard, and going for the ground and pound. Dos Anjos continued to try and work as Stephens broke off his attack to connect with a few blows.

Round three, and after both fighters tested the water a little, Stephens connected with a right uppercut that knocked Dos Anjos down. He then went in for the kill, got in another couple of shots, before the referee stepped in and called a halt to the proceedings. To say that this was a good fight would be an understatement.

Main event time #1, with Kenny Florian facing Joe Stevenson in the lightweight division. It began with both fighters connecting to get things going, before Florian scored with a big knee. But Stevenson constantly had Florian on the back foot until he grabbed a leg and got the take down, with Florian getting back up immediately. Stevenson continued with his take down attempt, with the attempted slam ending up with Florian on his backside. Kenflo would eventually work his was loose, returning to the centre of the cage. But once again Florian was on the back foot most of the time, with Stevenson continually going forward, until Florian got a take down of his own, taking Stevenson’s guard. Both guys worked well, until Florian got the mount, unleashed with the ground and pound, and then took Stevenson’s back, synching in the rear naked choke. Stevenson resisted for a few seconds, before the inevitable tap out. A good little fight here, and another example of how good Florian is getting as he earned a title shot against B.J. Penn.

Main event time #2, with Brock Lesnar challenging Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight title in what many are labelling as the biggest MMA fight of the year. Round one, and the clinch began early, with Lesnar getting in quickly with a couple of good knees. The following clinch up against the cage saw both men jockeying for position, before they returned to the centre of the cage when Couture connected with a strong right. After a few shots were exchanged, Lesnar then went for a take down, defended well by the champion, until Lesnar was able to slam him down and get into the half guard. Couture soon got out, and after grabbing one leg almost took Lesnar’s back, before the former wrestler escaped and got into the champion’s half guard again, connecting with a some heavy blows along the way. But once again it wasn’t long before Couture was able to get up again and engage in another clinch against the cage, trying to get a take down of his own as the round came to an end.

Round two saw both fighters swinging, with a Lesnar elbow rocking Couture slightly, before another clinch against the cage, connecting with a knee to the mid-section. Lesnar soon powered his way out and connected with a knee of his own before they started trading blows in the middle again, with a cut opening up above Lesnar’s right eye. Couture then returned to the clinch against the cage as he attempted to wear Lesnar down so he could attempt the take down. But as this went nowhere, they returned to the middle of the cage, where Lesnar connected with a right hand to the temple that knocked the champion down. Lesnar went in for the kill, unleashing the ground and pound, and with Couture offering no defence to this onslaught, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight, meaning that the UFC had a new heavyweight champion in the former of former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar. A very good performance from Lesnar, who once again proved his doubters wrong against the legend that is Randy Couture.

So with a load of time to spare, it’s on to some of the undercard stuff, beginning with lightweight action between Jorge Gurgel and Aaron Riley. Round one saw the fighters trading early as they moved around the cage, and a few moments later Riley caught Gurgel with an inadvertent low kick. After a brief rest period the fight re-started with both fighters swinging again, both of them connecting with good shots. This was basically how the fight went on for the next few moments, both fighters getting off good combinations for the rest of the round.

Round two, and the fighters continued where they’d left off in the previous round. Each fighter had their moment, with Riley intent on turning the fight into an all-out brawl, and Gurgel failing to rise to the bait. But as time went on Riley began to get the upper hand, and when the fight went to the ground Riley tried for the ground and pound, while Gurgel would later favour the up-kick. It wasn’t long before Gurgel got back to his feet, and the fight returned to type. Gurgel looked a little unsteady on his feet after Riley’s ground and pound, and began to walk right into Riley’s trap by brawling with him. But as the round came to an end Gurgel scored with a take down.

Round three began with the fighters trading offence again, trading kicks and blows as each man looked for an opening, with Riley once again looking the more accomplished fighter, especially as he stunned Gurgel with a head kick that left his opponent staggered. Gurgel countered with a clinch up against the cage, which Riley answered with a couple of knees. Gurgel was now visibly slowing as Riley continued to connect with some good blows. A few moments later Gurgel slipped, and Riley again went for the ground and pound in the guard. Gurgel was able to get back to his feet, but his immediate take down attempts failed, with the second resulting in a brief clinch against the cage. Gurgel’s third attempted take down saw Riley almost take his back, and the fight ended with Riley scoring with a high head kick. So with the fight going the distance, it was down to the judges to decide the outcome as they gave the unanimous decision to Riley, and rightfully so.

Another lightweight fight followed, with Alvin Robinson facing Mark Bocek. The first round saw the fighters swinging early, with Bocek going for a clinch and Robinson pulling guard to take the fight to the mat. Both fighters worked well as they looked for an opening, with Bocek transitioning well, but failing to take Robinson’s back, giving the guard to his opponent. But as Robinson tried to get to his feet, Bocek’s feet took him back down again. Bocek then worked the most, attempting to control Robinson and he laid in the knees and the elbows, before trying to go for the mount from side control, eventually settling for the guard. Robinson now seemed very much on the defensive as Bocek was able to transition at will, moving to north south and going for an arm triangle choke, with Robinson only surviving because the round came to an end.

Round two began in the same way as the first, before Robinson went for the take down, with Bocek defending by flipping him over and putting Robinson on his back, taking his guard and quickly moving to side control, where he continued with the tactics he’d used in the last round. Bocek then went for a guillotine from the mount, before returning to north/south and going for another arm triangle choke. This didn’t work, so Bocek re-took side control, soon moving back to full mount, then taking Robinson’s back, synching in the body lock, and unleashing with countless blows, constantly looking for the rear naked choke. But then, for the first time in the round, Robinson went on the offence, and although Bocek went for an alma plata, Robinson took Bocek’s back. It didn’t last long though as Bocek ended the round in the half guard.

Round three, and it wasn’t long before Bocek slammed Robinson again, taking the guard. It was obvious by now that Bocek was simply out-classing Robinson as Bocek was able to transition at will. Robinson tried to escape, but Bocek was soon able to re-exert control. Bocek soon went for an arm triangle, but Robinson was able to escape. Bocek soon took Robinson’s back and unleashed with the ground and pound, and although Robinson was able to flip back round, the ground and pound continued. Mere seconds later Bocek regained control of Robinson’s back, and after synching in the rear naked choke, Robinson had no choice but to tap. By far the most technical fight of the evening with Bocek putting in an outstanding performance.

In conclusion - I know I say this each and every time, but this was a hell of a card. There wasn’t one bad fight here, and even though Brock Lesnar’s victory of Randy Couture was probably the most dramatic fight of the night, by far the best fight of the night was Mark Bocek’s victory over Alvin Robinson, a great example of mixed martial arts action at it’s finest, and one of the most technical fights I’ve ever seen.

But now all UFC fans will be looking forward to next month, with the second part of the heavyweight title jigsaw being put into place.