Monday, 29 December 2008

UFC 92: Ultimate 2008 on Setanta Sports - TV Review

It’s the final pay-per-view of the year, when the second piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is currently the UFC Heavyweight Championship is put into place, as Antonio Nogueira defends his interim title against Frank Muir, while Forrest Griffin defends his Light-Heavyweight title against Rashad Evans at UFC 92: Ultimate 2008, shown live here in Britain on Setanta Sports.

The show begins with an all European fight in the heavyweight division, with France’s Cheick Kongo facing Britain’s own Mustapha Al Turk. The fight began with a quick exchange which saw Al Turk slip slightly. A few seconds later Kongo caught a kick, and a right sent Al Turk down to the ground, although the Brit didn’t stay there long, getting back up to his feet and immediately trying for the take down. Kongo defended with everything he had, connecting with a couple of good knees in the process, and showing how much his take down defence has improved. With Al Turk’s tactics going nowhere, Kongo reversed things a little, controlling a clinch up against the cage, until an inadvertent knee to the groin caught Kongo unawares. The Frenchman took the offered rest period, although he still looked in some discomfort when the fight re-started. It wasn’t long before Al Turk went for a take down again, grabbing hold of Kongo’s leg against the cage, but once again Kongo’s defence was sound, and he was able to reverse with a clinch. Then came the second low blow of the round, and this time it was Kongo who connected with a low knee, making this writer (and probably quite a few others) wonder if the Frenchman was trying to get a bit of payback. Once again the fight was stopped to allow Al Turk to rest, with the ref giving both fighters a stern warning before the fight was re-started. When it did, Kongo was like a house afire. A combination rocked Al Turk, and as the Brit fell to the mat, Kongo went in for the kill, connecting with fists and elbows, opening up a cut. At first Al Turk defended himself, but it wasn’t along before that defence was breached, and as Kongo’s attack went unanswered, the referee stepped in to stop the onslaught, awarding the fight to Kongo as he sent out a statement to the two heavyweight champions. This was a great performance from Kongo, who has really improved since his early days in the UFC, and by now he must be one of the top contenders in the heavyweight division.

Then it’s down a division to the light-heavyweights, and one that I was really looking forward to, as Rampage Jackson faced Wanderlei Silva. This one began with Jackson stalking Silva, before both fighters got off a couple of combinations, with Silva getting in a kick for good measure. Both fighters appeared cautious as the seconds ticked away, as they tested the waters with occasional jabs. In truth, apart from this nothing much happened for the next few moments, until Jackson caught a Silva kick which quickly went nowhere. Then, the explosion. Silva went for a combination, Jackson connected with a left to the chin, and Silva fell like the proverbial sack of spuds. Jackson went in for the kill, but Silva was probably out before he hit the ground, so the referee had no choice but to stop the fight. A pretty slow fight here, until the final few seconds when it suddenly came to life with Jackson’s knockout punch.

Back up to the heavyweights next with some filler material, with Dan Evensen taking on Pat Barry. The fight began with Evensen rushing in quickly, with a brief clinch which was broken up. Evensen then tried for another lock-up, only to be thrown down by Barry. This seemed to be Evensen’s tactics all the time, and the third time he went for a lock-up he succeeded in getting a clinch up against the cage, but as nothing happened, the referee pulled them apart. Exchanges of kicks and punches followed, with Berry scoring with some big leg kicks before the fight went to the ground with Berry on top. Seconds later Berry got out of the guard, and again connected with a big leg kick that sent Evensen staggering away towards the cage, unable to continue because of a knee injury, with the referee awarding the victory to Barry. An impressive performance from Barry on his UFC debut, with Evensen unlucky here.

Middleweight action followed, with CB Dollaway going up against Mike Massenzio. The fight began with the feeling out process before a clinch up against the cage, which didn’t last long. Dollaway then went for a wild looking kick, before trying a looping combination. But then a left hook from Massenzio rocked Dollaway, before he locked in a guillotine choke which Dollaway was able to escape from, moving into Massenzio’s guard. Massenzio then went for a triangle choke, and again, Dollaway was able to escape, taking side control before moving to the guard, soon transitioning into the full mount, and then taking Messenzio’s back. Dollaway rained down with a torrent of blows, and with Messenzio offering nothing in return, the referee called a halt to proceedings, much to the chagrin of the loser as Dollaway got the TKO win. A very interesting fight this, showing how a fight can tip from one way to the other in a matter of seconds.

More filler material next, with Matt Hamill facing Reese Andy at light heavyweight. Round one began with attempted clinches and attempted punches which ultimately went nowhere, before Hamill caught Reese’s leg. Hamill couldn’t do anything with it though, so both fighters went back to exchanging kicks and blows. Moments later Andy got off a good combination, including a sweet looking uppercut. This was pretty much how the fight went for the next few moments, with neither fighter able to gain any sort of advantage, although Andy was able to open up a cut underneath Hamill’s right eye, and it didn’t really make for enthralling viewing as the round came to an end.

Round two saw Hamill quickly take the centre of the octagon as both fighters continued with their tactics from the previous round, with Hamill scoring with more and more shots. Andy went for a take down a couple of times but Hamill just brushed him off. Hamill then connected with a knee to Andy’s face which staggered him a little, before he scored again with a vicious body shot. Hamill was certainly doing a lot more in this round, and as he went in for the kill Andy went down to his knees as Hamill went in for the kill. Hamill soon got into the mount and pounded away on Andy, who offered nothing in return, forcing the referee to stop the fight. This was a mixed bag for me. The first round offered very little in the form of entertainment, while Hamill clearly took the instructions of his corner to heart in between rounds to get the job done and to get the TKO win.

Main event time #1, with Antonio Nogueira defending the Interim Heavyweight title against former champion Frank Mir. Round one, and this began quickly, Muir going for a head kick early on, before rocking Nogueira a few seconds later with a jab, following it up with some more shots before taking the Brazilian down to the mat. A few Mir blows followed, before the former champion let Nogueira stand up. Mir looked in top form with his punches and kicks, and although Nogueira was keeping him on the back foot, it was Mir who looked in control, and moments later Mir sent Nogueira down with a left, following the champion down so he could rain in a few blows, before standing up again, realising that he couldn’t finish the fight there. Nogueira followed Mir back up a few seconds later. As the round entered it’s final minute, Mir still looked in control, and the blows that Nogueira landed didn’t seem to phase Mir in the slightest, and in the final seconds a Mir combination knocked the champion on his backside once again.

Round two, and Mir continued in the same vein. No matter what Nogueira did, it just didn’t seem to worry Mir, and after almost two minutes of the round, Mir connected with another left that knocked Nogueira down. Mir followed up, with the referee stopping the fight seconds later, giving Mir the Interim title in what was a tremendous performance. This was, by far, the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, doing something that no other fighter has ever done - finish the minotaur.

Main event time #2, the battle of the Ultimate Fighters, with Forrest Griffin defending the Light Heavyweight Championship against Rashad Evans. Round one began with the usual feeling out process, both men testing the waters with a couple of jabs, before Griffin got off a couple of good kicks. The next few moments saw both fighters have their moments, both connecting with jabs and kicks, and it was hard to separate the fighters, to tell who was getting the upper hand, and this was how the rest of the round went, it was that even.

Round two continued where round one had left off, although an Evans slip got people wondering for a second or two. Both fighters continued to score with good jabs and kicks, with Evans now showing his speed, although he wasn’t quick enough to avoid a Griffin right hand that staggered him. Griffin then upped his game for the next few seconds, and Evans did well to survive. The next few moments were somewhat quiet as the fight returned to type, with Griffin taking control as time went on. Then Evans scored with a big right as he worked his way back in, and as the round came to an end Griffin scored with an excellent combination.

Round three, and the fighters continued with their chosen tactics, with Griffin getting the batter of the combinations, until Evans caught a kick and pushed Griffin down to the ground, going for the kill with the hammer fists before taking Griffin’s guard. The champion clearly looked stunned, and it wasn’t long before Evans resumed his onslaught. Griffin couldn’t handle this assault, and it wasn’t long before he was tapping out, giving Evans the TKO win and the Light Heavyweight title in what was another great fight, and given how this one went, I wouldn’t be surprised if these two go at it again.

Time for more filler material, with Antoni Hardonk facing Mike Wessel in the heavyweight division. Round one saw both fighters trading quickly, before Hardonk went down to the ground with Wessel in the guard. Hardonk soon went for an armbar, which Wessel was able to escape from. Both fighters then got back to their feet and engaged in a clinch up against the cage, both fighters connecting with the obligatory knees before they split up. Wessel then connected with a couple of good shots, before Hardonk scored with a couple of knees from a muay thai clinch which staggered Wessel. Hardonk followed up with three clean blows, before going back to the muay thai clinch. Wessel responded by grabbing Hardonk’s leg, soon scoring with a very messy looking take down, taking Hardonk’s guard. Nothing much happened for a few moments, until Wessel connected with a few blows and Hardonk tried for another armbar as the round came to an end.

Round two saw Wessel take Hardonk down with a clinch, with Hardonk again going for an armbar. Moments later Hardonk worked his way out, taking Wessel’s back, connecting with a few blows as Wessel was flattened out, face down on the mat. Hardonk then gave up Wessel’s back, preferring the mount before taking his back again, again raining down with blows to the side of Wessel’s head. By this time the UFC debutant looked exhausted and had nothing to give, forcing the referee to step in and stop the fight. A good performance from Hardonk here, getting the TKO win in his third octagon fight.

In conclusion - this was a good way for the UFC to end it’s pay-per-view year. Apart from the first round of the Hamill/Andy fight, this was a very good card, with Kongo and Jackson getting some good victories in their respective divisions, and Frank Mir showing that he’s finally overcome his personal demons to get back on top of the heap again, with only Brock Lesnar standing in his way. And kudos to Rashad Evans as well, once again showing that the Ultimate Fighter series is a great proving ground for stars of the future. So in all a good show, crowning off a very good year for Dana White and his band of merry man. Here’s to an exciting 2009.