The Sunday Aftermath

Namajunas Esparza

Twenty three UFC fights in total went down over two nights this weekend as the octagon visited the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada and the Talking Stick Resort in Phoenix, Arizona.

Daly Stars

One of the first fights of the whole weekend saw the very first Irish-woman fight in the UFC as Aisling Daly took on fellow TUF housemate Alex Chambers. Unfortunately for Daly, she missed the 115 lbs mark at Thursday’s weigh in and looked frail both on the scale and entering the cage on Friday night. Nevertheless, Daly started brilliantly as she landed a nice combination of hands and legs before pushing Chambers against the fence to land more damage. The Australian’s one successful attacking move came after that as she took the Dubliner to the ground but it backfired as Daly caught her in an armbar which she did well to escape. It wasn’t for long, though. After getting back to the feet Daly clinched again and felled Chambers with a wonderful trip before landing a series of ground and pound to soften her up. With just thirty seconds remaining in the opening round Daly again attacked the arm but this time Chambers couldn’t survive and was forced to tap – giving Daly the victory and the record of being the very first strawweight in the UFC to win via submission. It was a ultra impressive display from Daly who apologised for missing the weight after and proclaimed that her career inside the Octagon will really get going in her next outing. Strawweights, take note.

Daly’s win was one of a number of dominant victories for the cast of TUF 20 on the night. The inexperienced Angel Hill was the first to get the win and was quickly followed by Tecia Torres who easily dispatched the social media jester Angela Magana over the distance. After that, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood, Heather Clark, Felice Herrig and Jessica Penne all picked up nice wins. Then the men took centre stage. Yancy Medeiros was first up as he guillotined Joe Proctor after knocking him down with a spinning back kick to the body. That fight was followed by Daron Cruickshank and KJ Noons unfortunately going to a no-contest when Cruickshank was on the receiving end of a poke to the eye in the second round while Jeremy Stephens lost the unanimous decision to Charles Oliveira in the co-main event.

A Champion Is Crowned

The main event, though, was the one they all came to see as the inaugural UFC female strawweight belt was up for grabs as team Pettis’ Carla Esparza took on Team Melendez star student Rose Namajunas. It was an aggressive start from Namajunas as she took the centre of the cage and landed a stiff straight right hand between two head kicks. Esparza immediately dove for the takedown and got it but Rose got back to her feet quickly – a sequence which was repeated again within seconds. Namajunas continued to attack with wild stepping kicks which were defended well by ‘The Cookie Monster’. Esparza got another couple of takedowns late in the opening period but was left with no time to inflict damage.

A side kick to the face was Namajunas’ opening strike of the second round as she continued to push the pace. Esparza, though, was unrelenting with her wrestling and got some control on the ground before allowing it to get back standing as Rose attacked with submissions. By the time Esparza got her second takedown of the round Namajunas looked a lot more tired which allowed the former Invicta champion to unleash some severe ground and pound. When the round ended, Esparza had her opponent mounted and in chronic trouble.

Within ten seconds of the third round Namajunas was on her back again as Esparza took complete control of the fight. The number 1 seed quickly transitioned to the mount before slipping in the hooks and taking the back. Namajunas looked increasingly tired as Esparza turned her over and controlled with her frame with the body triangle. From there it was only a matter of time. Namajunas tried to isolate a hand but Esparza quickly got it free and sunk in the rear naked choke – forcing Namajunas to tap. Esparza not only becomes TUF and strawweight champion but she also joins Ronda Rousey as only the second woman in the history of the UFC to hold a championship belt.

Dos Anjos Downs Diaz

Saturday night’s action was more top heavy with a prolonged undercard as the UFC returned to Fox television in the states. On that undercard though there were impressive wins for Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in his UFC debut, former flyweight title challenger John Moraga and, most impressively,  strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczk who won a split decision over Claudia Gadelha in what might just be the best women’s fight in the history of the UFC. In doing that, the Polish muay-thai stylist probably puts herself in line for the first shot at Carla Esparza’s aforementioned newly attained strap.

The main card, though, was where all the big ones were located as one lightweight fight was contained within three heavyweight bouts. The first of those heavyweight bouts saw Matt Mitrione take the biggest scalp of career when he landed a picture perfect knockout left hook to the dome of Brazilian veteran Gabriel Gonzaga. Then, Dutch countrymen threw down as former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem took on 7ft giant Stefan Struve. It was Overeem who dominated all of the going as he stayed out of Struve’s reach before securing a huge takedown midway through the opening round. From there Struve couldn’t get anything going and took an increasing amount of damage as time went on. With a minute left in the round Overeem had Struve stuck against the fence before upping the output of ground and pound which forced referee John McCarthy to step in and stop the fight.

While the co-main event was expected to be an evenly run encounter, the return of former title challenger Nathan Diaz against #3 ranked lightweight Rafael Dos Anjos proved to be a one-sided beatdown. The Brazilian started the fight at a ferocious pace as he pummeled the right leg of Diaz with kicks before taking him down later in the round to inflict more damage from the guard. The second period was a carbon copy of the first except more dominant and damaging in favour of RDA with kicks reddening the thigh of the younger Stockton son. By the time the final round kicked in, Diaz could barely plant on the badly wounded right leg and was a sitting duck for Dos Anjos who took it to the ground and had his way with Diaz until the judges gave him the much deserved unanimous decision. From here Dos Anjos could very well get a title shot but for Diaz, it’s back to the drawing board.

Dos Santos Stays The Distance

The main event, between former UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos and up-and-coming Stipe Miocic, was undoubtedly the most high quality match-up of the weekend on paper and proved to be a rip-roaring 25 minute battle of wills. As he always does, Dos Santos threw hard early and stunned his opponent with a straight right hand. Miocic immediately went for the takedown but was unsuccessful with a number of attempts, although he did inflict some damage in the transitions. As the round went on, Miocic grew in confidence on the feet and landed three big right hands which were answered by the same from Dos Santos with a few left hooks added as the breathless maiden period ended. Miocic again came up short with his wrestling in the second as the JDS takedown defence was solid. The left hook was constantly on point from Dos Santos but he wasn’t putting the right hand together with it which allowed Miocic to counter with some big right hands of his own in a extremely even fight. As the round progressed and the fists were flying, Dos Santos began to look increasingly tired and was finally taken to the mat just before the bell.

Miocic looked extremely confident in the third and got his second takedown of fight which Dos Santos reversed well to get back to his feet. At this point both men were gasping for air but Dos Santos seemed more at ease and dropped Miocic with a short left hand which the American quickly recovered from to see out the round. The left hook was, again, the go-to shot for Dos Santos as the championship rounds got underway. Miocic, though, was wise to it and slipped under the shot to get the takedown which he couldn’t hold. From there, the round turned into a closely fought slow motion boxing match as both men loaded up their energy and released it through their right fists with neither man really getting the better of it until Dos Santos produced a wonderful trip late in the period.

With the fight a hard one to call the final round was all important. Dos Santos landed first with a rapid combination before relentlessly jabbing the body of his opponent which seemed to wear out the already exhausted American even more. Dos Santos was by far the fresher man as the round progressed and delivered three hurtful right hands which Miocic ate and, somehow, replied to with efforts of his own. In the last minute of the twenty five both men left it all in the cage as Stipe struck with the right hand and Dos Santos landed the left on the hooter. It was a majestic display of effort, output and skill from both men but in the end only one could take the decision and it went unanimously to the former champion Junior Dos Santos who puts himself on the road back to the title after losing out last time to champion Cain Velasquez. For Miocic, despite losing, it was a coming of age and proof that he is well capable of mixing it with the best the UFC has to offer.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma