Monday, 19 January 2009

UFC 93: Franklin v Henderson on Setanta Sports - TV Review

It’s the fight that we’ve been wanting for ages, as former middleweight king Rich Franklin finally meets former Pride two weight king Dan Henderson. There’s also the return of a hall of famer as the Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its Irish debut with UFC 93: Franklin v Stephenson, shown live this past Saturday night on Setanta Sports here in Britain. The usual suspects are handling commentary duties for this one, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

The action begins in the welterweight division, with the Irish Hand Grenade himself, Marcus Davis, achieving his dream of fighting in Dublin against Chris Lytle. Round one began with the crowd singing and the usual feeling out process, before Lytle caught Davis with a wide right that staggered Davis, causing the Dublin crowd to fall silent. It wasn’t long before both the crowd and Davis regained their composure as both guys rolled off a few good shots and counters. About two minutes in, Davis connected with a good left, and as the round progressed it became obvious that Davis had clearly shaken off Lytle’s early onslaught, especially as he began to pepper Lytle’s right side with kicks, reddening the skin around the ribs. Both men went to the ground briefly, but both men preferred the upright game as the round came to an end, with Davis having sustained a cut on his left cheek.

Round two began with both fighters again preferring the stand-up game. A few seconds in Lytle went looking for the knockout, but Davis was wise to his attack. After another brief foray to the ground, Davis connected with a wicked looking knee from a muay thai clinch. Lytle was able to keep up with Davis, wading in and swinging wide, the opposite to what Davis was doing. Despite the lack of any ground work this was turning out to be one of those fights you just couldn’t keep yours eyes off, as both men traded punches and counter punches, kicks and counter kicks, but as time passed by it was becoming obvious that Davis’ knees and kicks to the mid-section were having their desired effect on Lytle.

Round three, and after a great show of sportsmanship from both fighters, it was back to normal. Lytle continued with his chosen game plan, but as with the previous rounds Davis seemed to have a counter for everything that Lytle was doing. Davis continued to target Lytle’s mid-section, and Lights Out seemed to be favouring the right side of his body, given the way that he was hanging his arm. Davis clearly had Lytle’s number, and in the last ten seconds Davis connected with a blow that sent Lytle down.

So with the fight going the three round distance, it went down to the judges, with Davis getting the well earned split decision. This was a great way to start the show, a terrific display from Davis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his current streak puts him in line for a title shot later this year.

Up to the middleweight division for the next fight, with the much heralded Denis Kang making his UFC debut against Alan Belcher. Round one, and Kang came out quickly, looking to take the battle to his opponent. Some good combinations followed as Kang got the better of Belcher, and he soon scored with the first takedown of the fight. Belcher had him tied up at first, but Kang was soon able to free himself so he could transition to half guard and then side control. The debutant looked to be in excellent shape as he seemed to transition at will before he stood back up and connected with some more good shots as Belcher followed him to his feet. Kang soon scored with a second takedown, although Belcher had the under hooks sunk in. But like the first takedown Kang was able to free himself, and once again asserted control of the fight. It wasn’t long before Kang went for a kimura, an attempt which was ultimately unsuccessful. The round ended with Kang in complete control.

Round two, and Kang once again went looking to assert his control. A brief flurry of blows was followed by a clinch against the cage, before Kang once again showed how good his striking was. A minute or so later Kang took the fight to the ground again. Belcher tried to fight back, but Kang countered by transitioning into half guard, although Belcher was doing a good job of trying to tie up his legs as he slowly began to work his way back into the fight. However, it wasn’t long before the referee stood both fighters up due to inactivity. Slowly but surely Belcher seemed to be working Kang out. And then it came. As Kang went for a takedown, Belcher countered with a guillotine, and seconds later Kang was tapping. To say that I was surprised by the manner of Belcher’s victory would be an understatement. It seemed as if Kang just had to hang in for the remainder of the second and the final round, and the victory was his. A good victory for Belcher here.

The middleweight action continued with the evergreen Jeremy Horn facing Rousimar Palhares. Round one began with the feeling out process, with things going to the ground about forty seconds in. Palhares soon took Horn’s back, and he pounded away as he looked for the rear naked choke. But when that didn’t work, Palhares took Horn’s guard, soon transitioning to half guard, taking his back once again, before going back to the half guard. Palhares appeared to be in complete control, even though Horn had his moments, and was able to get back to his feet, only for the Brazilian to take him back down immediately. Once again it wasn’t long before Palhares took Horn’s back, coming down with the hammer fists, but once again Horn’s defence worked well again. Palhares once again asserted his control though as he went for Horn’s leg, looking for a knee bar. The round ended with Palhares once again taking Horn’s back, raining down with a torrent of blows.

Round two, and Palhares once again took control, showing tremendous strength as he lifted Horn up and slammed him down to the mat. Once again the Brazilian took Horn’s back, and all the veteran could do was try and defend himself as Palhares connected. Horn tried to get back to his feet, but Palhares kept control, until Horn finally got into the half guard before getting the mount and attempting an arm triangle. The Brazilian managed to escape though, and seconds later both fighters were back on their feet. Horn seemed to have a second wind as Palhares looked visibly tired. Palhares went for a takedown, which Horn was able to defend against. However, Palhares was successful with a second attempt as he took the guard, although Horn tried to counter with a triangle. As the seconds ticked away Palhares managed to escape.

Round three, and once again Palhares showed how strong he was as he took Horn down with a back suplex, and once again Horn showed some good defensive work, although once again he couldn’t stop Palhares taking his back. They returned to their feet briefly, only for Palhares to take the fight back down seconds later, again asserting his control. Then, nothing much happened for a few seconds, until Horn went for a triangle which Palhares easily escaped from. Horn again showed some good defensive work, although the Brazilian was now looking even more fatigued as he was basically just hanging on in the guard position. With nothing happening, the referee stood both fighters up, and as the fight entered it’s final minute, Palhares faked a takedown, Horn fell for it, and Palhares again took control on the ground as the fight came to an end.

The unanimous decision went in favour of Palhares, and rightfully so. Although Horn showed some great defensive work, Palhares clearly had the upper hand in what was a very good performance.

The next fight saw action in the welterweight division, with Tom Egan taking on John Hathaway, although the television audience didn’t see the first minute of the fight as the good people at Setanta came back late from a commercial break. This was strictly filler material though, as Hathaway was in complete control throughout, with the referee stopping the fight in the final thirty seconds of the first round following some ground and pound work. A truly dominating performance for Hathaway against the hometown boy, making me wonder why Egan bothered turning up in the first place.

Main event time #1, with the returning Mark Coleman taking on Shogun Rua in the light heavyweight division. Round one, and the action began quickly. Shogun began with a big kick, with Coleman countering with a takedown. The veteran took control immediately, although Shogun countered with a knee bat attempt. They stood back up briefly, before Coleman took the fight back down seconds later. Rua once again went for another submission, this time a triangle, before the Brazilian took control himself, taking Coleman down and going into half guard. Coleman tried to work his way out, but Rua was always in control. Things were a little more even when they were back on their feet though, but Rua once again regained control of the fight as Coleman began to look tired. The transitions were thick and fast though as each man took control of the other’s back, before a left/right combination hurt the Hammer and saw him fall to the mat, grabbing hold of Rua’s legs as he went down. The round ended with both fighters trading jabs.

Round two, and Coleman looked out of it as the round began, while Shogun looked as fresh as a daisy. Rua got the better of the opening exchanges, although Coleman was able to counter with a takedown. But as the Hammer was unable to follow up, Rua got back to his feet. Coleman soon got control on the ground again, but again Rua was able to work his way out so he could take the fight back upright. Coleman’s hands were low as Rua was able to take shots at him. It was starting to get painful to watch as Rua kept control. Coleman began to score with a couple of takedowns though, using this as a way to take a breather, but Rua soon began to synch in an alma plata. However, the Brazilian preferred the ground and pound instead of finishing Coleman with the submission.

Round three, and by now both fighters looked exhausted. A Coleman body shot rocked Rua a little. A clinch against the cage seemed to go on forever until they went down to the mat with Coleman on top. Despite looking knackered Coleman seemed to be getting the upper hand with the ground and pound. Moments later Rua went for a knee bar, with Coleman moving out to take Rua’s back. All Shogun could do was cover up as Coleman connected with some weary looking blows. It took a while, but eventually Shogun regained control, earning himself a warning as he connected with a knee to Coleman’s head while the Hammer was still on the ground, although replays showed that the knee connected to the body. With the fight entering the final thirty seconds, Rua began to tee off against Coleman, with the referee stepping in to stop the fight as Coleman slumped to the mat, with the Hammer complaining bitterly about the manner of his defeat. If truth be known this wasn’t exactly an inspiring fight. There were some good moments early on, but as time went on it became plainly obvious that both men hadn’t fought in a while. This won’t go down as a classic.

Main event time #2, further action in the light heavyweight division with Rich Franklin facing Dan Henderson, with the winner coaching Team USA against Team UK in the next series of The Ultimate Fighter. Round one, and Henderson was the first one to strike with a low leg kick. Franklin came back in kind, with Henderson coming back with a hard right that staggered Franklin. Both men went to the ground immediately, with Henderson on top. Franklin did a good job in tying Henderson up briefly, although he was able to work his way out so he could dish out the ground and pound, taking Franklin’s back and connecting with a couple of knees as the Ace one struggled to get back to his feet. Eventually Franklin was able to escape, and things began to look a bit more even as both fighters unloaded with some good shots. It was great to watch as both men put together some good combinations, although an accidental clash of heads opened up a couple of cuts on Franklin’s forehead.

Round two began in the same way that round one ended, punch for punch, counter for counter, which made for great viewing as both fighters looked to tee off against each other. The first clinch came halfway through the round, with Henderson getting the first takedown. The ground game proved to be just as riveting as the stand-up game, as both fighters tried to take control of the fight. While Henderson’s offensive work was good, Franklin’s defensive work was more than a match for it, and that’s pretty much how things went for the remainder of the round.

Round three continued in the same way, again. Henderson scored with the takedown nearly a minute into the round, with both fighters showing some good work, with Franklin soon working his way back to the dominant position and looking for the ground and pound. Henderson managed to get back to his feet, engaging in a clinching war up against the cage. When this went nowhere they went back to trading blows. Moments later they went for another clinch, with Franklin able to connect with a few knees to the body. Back in the middle of the cage Henderson went for a head kick but slipped, and seconds later he inadvertently poked Franklin’s right eye. A brief rest period followed before the final thirty seconds or so of the fight, which ended with both men looking to cement their victory.

So once again the judges were called upon to render a decision, with Henderson getting the split decision in what proved to be a great main event, and a worthy advertisement for the sport.

In conclusion - the first UFC show of the year proved to be a very good one. Coleman/Rua aside, the fights varied from good to great, with Franklin/Henderson proving to be worthy of it’s main event status, and topping off a night of great performances, and with a Dan Henderson/Michael Bisping fight to look forward to now things look great for the upcoming year in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, especially with the big welterweight title match coming up in a few weeks.