Monday, 23 February 2009

UFC 95: Sanchez v Stevenson on Setanta Sports - TV Review

They’re back! Having visited this side of the pond during their trip to Dublin last month, the Ultimate Fighting Championship have returned to London, with lightweights topping the bill at the O2 Arena in London at UFC 95: Sanchez v Stevenson, shown live here in Britain on Setanta Sports.

The show begins with action from the welterweight division, with Josh Koscheck taking on Paulo Thiago. The fight began with the usual feeling out process, broken when both went for rights. In the early parts of the round Koscheck seemed the more confident with the strikes, although Thiago got off a couple of good kicks. An overhand right from Koscheck rocked the Brazilian a little as he looked to cement of dominance in the stand-up game. But just as Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were heavily criticising Thiago’s striking abilities, a right uppercut sent Koscheck crashing to the ground, with the referee stepping in immediately as the former Ultimate Fighter contestant lay dazed. Koscheck came round seconds later, and complained about the decision, but you couldn’t take away Thiago’s great shot, even though to many it probably looked like a lucky punch.

Then it was up a division to the middleweights, with Demian Maia and Chael Sonnen. Things began quickly in this one. Maia was soon on his back following a kick from Sonnen, but he was soon back on his feet trading with his opponent. Maia soon went for the shoot, and after Sonnen sprawled to defend, Maia pulled guard. The battle on the mat soon began, with both men jockeying for position. Moments later they were back on their feet, and after trading more blows, Maia scored with an excellent takedown, and seconds later he synched in a triangle choke that Sonnen had no hope of escaping from, tapping almost immediately. You know, although this didn’t last long, this was a great little fight, an example of grappling at it’s best, with Maia putting in a dominating performance. Nice stuff.

Time for filler material from the heavyweight division, with Junior Dos Santos facing Stefan Struve. Not really much to say about this one, with Junior dominating the near seven footer with strikes and combinations, with the referee stopping this one less than a minute into the fight.

Normal service was resumed with Nate Marquardt taking on Wilson Gouveia in the middleweight division. Round one saw both fighters begin cautiously, testing the waters with kicks and combinations. This was how the fight played out for the first couple of minutes or so, with both men having their moments. As the round progressed Gouveia seemed to get the upper hand with his kicks and strikes, with Marquardt almost constantly on the back foot. Then, with a minute to go, Marquardt went for the take down, which Gouveia countered with a one-armed guillotine, eventually clasping his hand together. This didn’t stop Marquardt escaping though, and the round ended with Marquardt going for the ground and pound from top position.

Round two, and things began in the same way as the previous round. As before, both fighters had their moments, until Marquardt managed to connect with a couple of knees to the head before getting a body lock up against the cage. This didn’t last long as the fighters returned to the middle of the ring, where Gouveia rocked Marquardt a little, only for Marquardt to take his back while standing, applying a rear naked choke. This went nowhere, and both men ended up on the mat, with Marquardt in the guard position. Gouveia kept a hold of Marquardt’s right arm, but that didn’t stop the American from delivering blows with his left, as well as a few well-aimed shoulders. As the round entered it’s final minute, both fighters got to their feet, and Marquardt attempted a standing guillotine, which he soon let go of when he realised it wouldn’t get him anywhere. In the final thirty seconds of the round both men began trading, with Marquardt getting the upper hand with a couple of knees to the head which wobbled Gouveia, who clearly looked stunned as the round came to an end.

Round three, and Gouveia was the first to connect, with Marquardt coming back with a couple of good kicks. Gouveia was soon on the front foot as he sent Marquardt backwards with a couple of good shots. After a few more exchanges, Marquardt was able to get a body lock on Gouveia from behind, soon moving to the front, and then the side. Seconds later they were back in the middle of the cage, and while Gouveia began to look visibly tired, Marquardt connected with a flying knee that opened Gouveia up. As the blood poured and Gouveia slumped down against the cage, Marquardt went in for the kill, with the referee stepping in to stop the fight, Marquardt getting the TKO victory. A very good performance from Marquardt here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another shot at Anderson Silva sometime in the future.

More filler material, with fellow Brit Terry Etim facing Brian Cobb in the lightweight division. Round one saw the usual feeling out process, with Etim easily defending Cobb’s shoot attempts. It wasn’t long before Etim connected with a stinging kick to Cobb’s leg. Etim left himself open a little with a further kick, which Cobb caught and used it to go to the ground. Once there both men began to grapple for position, with Cobb in the guard, and Etim trapping his arm. But with little else happening the referee stood the fighters up, and Etim began to get the upper hand in the stand-up game, especially with the kicks. Cobb’s defence was to take Etim down again, with Etim trapping his left arm again, and Cobb delivering blow after blow to Etim’s ribs. But with not much else happening, the referee stood them up again, where Etim once again showed his superior stand-up game. After rocking Cobb with a few kicks, Etim scored with a take down of his own, but couldn’t achieve much as it was near to the end of the round.

Round two only lasted ten seconds. Etim attacked with a low kick that staggered Cobb, and finished him off with a high kick to the head that sent him down. Etim went in for the kill, but the referee spared Cobb more damage but calling a halt to the fight as Etim went for the ground and pound. This was a very good and dominating performance from the Brit.

Back to regular programming with welterweight action, and another Brit, Dan Hardy against Rory Markham. A quick one here. Hardy connected first with a kick, with Markham coming back with a quick combination. Just a minute into the fight though, and Markham was already bleeding from the nose, and seconds later, a left hand from Hardy sent Markham crashing down. The referee quickly stepped in, awarding the knockout win to Hardy. Explosive stuff, and, of course, another good display from another fellow Brit.

More filler material, with Sweden’s Per Eklund taking on Evan Dunham in the lightweight division. The beginning of the fight saw Dunham move quickly, a left hand staggering Eklund, with Dunham following up with a guillotine attempt on the ground. Eklund was soon able to escape, and after some excellent grappling, the Swede went on the offensive, powering Dunham back down to the mat, and going for an arm bar before both fighters got back up. Both men began to trade blows and kicks, and it wasn’t long before Dunham connected with a hard left that sent Eklund down. A few ground and pound shots later, and the referee stepped in, giving Dunham the quick and impressive TKO victory. A short, but very enjoyable fight. Nice stuff.

Main event time, more action from the lightweight division with Joe Stevenson taking on Diego Sanchez. Round one began with the usual feeling out process, until Sanchez failed with a take down attempt, and Stevenson countered with a couple of good shots. Sanchez came back with a knee followed by a quick combination, with Stevenson coming back with some more good shots, and this was how things played out for the next few moments, with each fighter having their moments of success. It was a pattern that was followed for the remainder of the round, and it made for good viewing.

Round two began where round one had left off. Sanchez soon rocked Stevenson, and it wasn’t long before they were down on the mat, with Sanchez rolling off a couple of submission attempts before Stevenson scrambled to his feet. Then it was back to the original plan, but this time Sanchez looked as if he was getting the upper hand, with Sanchez using different strikes while Stevenson preferred boxing. Seconds later Stevenson attempted a standing guillotine against the cage, which Sanchez countered by slamming him down to the ground. Both men soon returned to the stand-up game, and their original plans. Once again it looked as if Sanchez was on top, able to beat Stevenson to the punch. It wasn’t all Sanchez though, with Stevenson showing some good boxing skills as he began to counter Sanchez later on in the round, which ended with Sanchez reasserting his authority.

Round three saw Sanchez begin with a quick combination. Once again Stevenson seemed to prefer the pure boxing tactic, not using any kicks, and not going for any take downs, a plan that seemed to play right into Sanchez’s hands. Stevenson’s attack seemed very one dimensional against Sanchez’s eight point attack. Some showboating from Stevenson half way through the round got the desired cheers from the crowd, but it didn’t change his game plan as Sanchez maintained his dominance. In the final minute Sanchez went for a take down, and Stevenson took his back briefly, but they soon returned to the stand-up game, and once again Sanchez looked to be the more successful striker, with both men trading blows as the round came to an end.

So with the fight going the three round distance, it went down to the judges. Their decision - unanimous in the favour of Sanchez, and rightfully so. Stevenson was just too one dimensional in his attack, with Sanchez more versatile in his attack.

Filler material for the rest of the broadcast, beginning with Britain’s own Paul Kelly against Troy Mandaloniz in the welterweight division. Round one saw both men trading quickly. Kelly was knocked down briefly, but soon got back up, only to be taken down immediately by Mandaloniz. They didn’t stay down long as they engaged in a clinching battle, before going back to trading blows for a few seconds, before going back to the clinch. Nothing much happened there, so the referee broke them up, and after a blow from Mandaloniz they engaged in another clinch. They soon began trading again at a very quick pace, with Kelly connecting with a body shot that clearly winded Mandaloniz. Kelly soon has his opponent on the back foot and up against the cage before taking him down with a single leg sweep, taking the guard position. Kelly went to work with the ground and pound, and it wasn’t long before Kelly’s elbows opened up a cut above Mandaloniz’s eye. Mandaloniz tried for a submission briefly, but the rest of the round was all Kelly.

Round two, and the cut above Mandaloniz’s left eye was a nasty one. This didn’t stop him beginning the round with a couple of good shots, before Kelly took the fight to the ground, opening up a cut under Mandaloniz’s right eye with the ground and pound. Kelly didn’t look impressed when the referee stood the fighters up, but he soon continued his attack, until Mandaloniz used a single leg sweep to take Kelly down and move into the guard, soon taking the full mount before taking Kelly’s back. He soon went for the rear naked choke, but Kelly was able to move around and take the guard so he could deliver the ground and pound once again, the elbows his preferred choice of weapon most of the time. But when it looked like Mandaloniz was out of it, he went for an arm bar, only for Kelly to slip out and take the guard again, going back to the ground and pound. Mandaloniz looked exhausted as Kelly went to work, but he managed to survive to the end of the round.

Round three, and Mandaloniz’s face looked a mess, while Kelly looked as fresh as a daisy. Things went at a slower pace here, but Kelly continued to gain the advantage in the exchanges, with Mandaloniz sustaining another cut on his nose. Moments later, after blocking Kelly’s take down, Mandaloniz scored with a take down of his own, and went for an arm bar which lasted for only a few seconds. This gave Kelly the chance to get back into the guard, and once again he went for the elbows that had caused so much damage in the previous rounds. As the fight entered it’s final minute, the referee stood the fighters up, and Mandaloniz showed another burst of energy as he took Kelly down again. But with the fight in it’s final seconds, there wasn’t really much he could do as the round and the fight came to an end.

The judge’s decision - unanimous in favour of Kelly, and given the nature of his display, it was pretty obvious that he was going to get the victory, and a definite improvement over his last fight.

The final fight of the show saw heavyweight action, with another Brit, Neil Grove, taking on Mike Ciesnolevicz. This was another quick one. It soon went down to the ground, with Grove taking half guard. Grove began to move out, and went for a ankle lock. Mike countered with a heel hook, and as someone who is currently suffering from a sore knee, I winced when Grove’s knee popped and he tapped immediately. All I can say about this one is ouch!

In conclusion - well, there may not have been any major title fights on this card, but once again the UFC gave the British fans a good show. Once again there wasn’t a disappointing fight here, with the fight of the night definitely going to the Sanchez/Stevenson combination. It certainly will be interesting to see how far Sanchez, the original Ultimate Fighter, can go in the lightweight division.

And now we’ve got a big fight to look forward to - Jackson v Jardine on March 7th. Should be a belter!

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