Thursday, 20 March 2014

UFC 171 Hendricks vs Lawler on BT Sport - TV Review

It was out with the old and in with the new as the UFC sought to crown a king of the welterweights at UFC 171, shown live in the early hours of this past Sunday morning on BT Sport here in Britain.

As always we begin with the preliminaries and the welterweight encounter between Sean Spencer and Alex Garcia.

If the powers that be were looking for a great fight to start the show then they certainly got it with this encounter. As the old saying goes these guys left it in there after three hard fought rounds.

Garcia tried to impose his will on the game by taking the fight to the ground in the first round, but the only problem was that Spencer managed to get back to his feet every time this happened.

So with hardly any ground work to speak of, this fight will probably be remembered for the striking, particularly in the second round. It was the kind of back and forth action fans love, with Spencer rocking Garcia, Garcia returning in kind, and rocking his man again later in the fight.

By the time the third round started both fighters, especially Garcia, began to show signs of fatigue. The striking was still crisp though, although Spencer appeared to injured his left leg when his kick landed on Garcia's knee. He still managed to put up a good fight, and he still managed to work his way out after another Garcia takedown, but he was clearly hampered by the injury.

So with the fight going the distance the judges were called upon for the first time during the broadcast, and they couldn't agree as Garcia took the split decision.

Then it was down to featherweight as Dennis Bermudez faced Jimy Hettes.

This fight proved to be just as good as the opener. Early on Bermudez had a great deal of success with his takedowns, and there were times when it looked like he was throwing his man around the cage like the proverbial rag doll.

Hettes had his moments, but throughout the fight he was clearly a long way behind Bermudez in most departments. This was never more evident in the second when Bermudez connected with a right to the body and a left to the head that sent Hettes' gum shield flying. As Hettes slumped to the canvas Bermudez went in for the kill but couldn't quite get the finish.

That finish came in the third round. Hettes was clearly struggling in the striking exchanges, and when Bermudez put him down again it only seemed like a matter of time, and when Bermudez connected with a right knee to the head and Hettes fell to the ground again that was it, the referee quickly stepped in to give Bermudez the TKO win.

The women's bantamweight encounter saw Raquel Pennington taking on Jessica Andrade.

This proved to be a great three rounder, and another example of why the women fighters are a great addition to the UFC roster.

These two gave us a sign of what was to come in the first round when Pennington went for a standing guillotine and Andrade showed us some nice judo when she threw her woman down to the mat a couple of times, although she almost fell prey to Pennington's armbar at one point.

The striking wasn't too bad either. Andrade did a good job of closing the distance on her taller opponent, while Pennington used her height and reach advantage to good effect.

It wasn't until the fight reached it's latter stages that Pennington found success with the takedown, and as the seconds ticked down she went for another standing guillotine, and when Andrade managed to free herself from that particular hold she went for a guillotine of her own. However, by then the clock was against them.

Which meant more work for the judges, and once again they couldn't agree as Andrade took the split decision.

It was back to welterweight for the final preliminary fight as Kelvin Gastelum went up against Rick Story.

The prelims certainly signed off in style with this one. As soon as the fight began Gastelum took control, and his stinging right jab opened up a nasty cut on Story's left cheek in the first minute.

From there Gastelum went on to control the remainder of the round. Every part of his striking game looked great, from his movement to his angles to the striking itself, and Story just didn't have any answer to these tactics.

Gastelum continued his good work into the second round, and although it looked like it would be more of the same Story began to slowly work his way back into the fight, eventually dropping his man and following him down for a ground and pound barrage. But as the old saying goes Gastelum was saved by the bell, or the hooter in the UFC's case.

With the fight now looking it could go either way both men had some success with their striking in third, particularly Story with his body shots, and when Gastelum scored with the first takedown of the fight Story managed to take his back a few minutes later. Gastelum eventually managed to regain control when me moved to top position before getting back to his feet, and the fight ended with both guys swinging for the fences.

Which meant more work for the judges, and they continued with their disagreeing way as Gastelum took the split decision.

The main show began in the light heavyweight division as Ovince Saint Preux took on Nikita Krylov.

The quickie of the night gave me something I've never seen before. After Krylov began the action with a few well-placed kicks OSP scored with the takedown and immediately took side control as Krylov held on to his neck.

But as the man from Ukraine continued to hold onto his man's neck OSP worked into a position where he could apply a Von Flue choke, where he put his shoulder under his man's chin and clasped his hands together for more pressure, and when the referee saw that Krylov had passed out he stopped the action to give OSP the 89 second submission win.

More welterweight action followed as Jake Shields went up against Hector Lombard.

Now this was interesting. Lombard enjoyed an excellent first round, tagging Shields on numerous occasions and opening up a cut near his left eye, and while his striking looked great his takedowns looked even better as he threw Shields down to the ground.

However, the dominating Lombard looked like a different fighter for the next two rounds. Although the takedowns were still there it was as if the tank was starting to get low, and he was doing just enough to get through the fight.

Shields, meanwhile, showed some sound defensive work on the ground when he tied Lombard up, but it wasn't until the final few seconds of the fight when he actually did anything of note when he went for a guillotine choke. Time was against him by then, although it looked like Lombard was about to escape when the fight came to an end.

Which meant yet more for the judges. No surprises here as Lombard took the unanimous decision.

Then it was down to the lightweight division as Diego Sanchez faced Myles Jury.

This was the story of the brawler versus the technician, and the technician got the better of the exchanges on this occasion, because for three rounds we saw how heart doesn't exactly get you the top prize.

Sanchez seemed to use the same tactics over and over again, move forward and swing for the fences. He's had some success with this in the past, but against Jury it failed time and time again. Jury showed some great skills as he avoided the majority of Sanchez's onslaughts, bloodied him and picked him apart.

It was an excellent performance from Jury. His tactics were spot on, mainly because he could often see Sanchez's attack coming from a mile away.

The ground work you could say was split down the middle. Jury scored with some nice takedowns, but Sanchez went for a couple of submissions, including a guillotine as the fight came to an end.

Which, of course, meant the judges were called upon again as Jury took the unanimous decision.

The co-main event featured yet more welterweight action as Carlos Condit faced Tyron Woodley.

Woodley began his stint in the cage with a couple of big rights that rocked Condit immediately, and for the next couple of minutes his striking looked top notch.

However, after an extensive clinch against the fence Condit began to work his way back into the fight, and although Woodley scored with a couple of impressive takedowns Condit always looked in control from his back, and as the first came to an end Woodley was already slowing down.

Condit continued his comeback as soon as the second began, but as soon as Woodley scored with another takedown he winced in pain and began to grab his right knee. A brief moment on the ground followed before the referee stood the fighters up, and when Woodley connected with a kick to Condit's left knee Condit's right knee buckled as he collapsed to the mat. The referee waved the fight immediately to give Woodley the TKO win.

The main event saw Johny Hendricks taking on Robbie Lawler for the vacant Welterweight title.

The story of this fight was quite a simple one. For almost twenty five minutes you had two guys within striking distance of each other, almost in each other's pockets, delivering blow and counter blow to become the king of a division that was suddenly blown wide open by the retirement of it's long-time champion. And you know what? It was pretty damn entertaining.

Hendricks' performance in the first two rounds was spot on. Although Lawler got in some good combinations Hendricks always looked a couple of steps ahead of him, particularly in the kick department, as was evidenced by the swelling on Lawler's shin.

When the third round began it was Lawler's turn to take the upper hand. A big left rocked Hendricks, and although he was in quite a bit of trouble and was beginning to show the scars of battle he kept himself in the fight as Lawler dominated until the final seconds of the fourth when Hendricks scored with the first takedown of the fight.

By the time the final round had started Hendricks had caught his second wind, and after rolling off combination after combination he slowed Lawler down considerably. Lawler was starting to look like a beaten man, and when Hendricks took him to the ground again he looked up at the clock and shook his head. It was as if he realised that Hendricks was taking the fight away from him as the Big Rig did enough to keep his man on the ground as the fight came to an end.

So after all of that great action it went down to the judges as Hendricks took the unanimous decision.

In conclusion - I had considered giving this show a miss, mainly because several appointments I'd had over the past few days meant that I'd be able to watch it all in one go.

But you what? I was glad that I gave this thing a look-see, because from top to bottom it was filled with great action. Okay, we didn't get to see that big marquee knockout that fans are always looking for, but the fight quality was top notch throughout, especially in the main event.

As for my fight of the night no-prize the powers that be gave their vote to Hendricks and Lawler, and that's where my vote's going as well. Although it seems a little strange not seeing a certain French-Canadian on top of the welterweight hill he certainly has a worth successor in Johny Hendricks, and if you didn't feel one pang of emotion when he was announced as the winner you're either a heartless so and so or a native of the planet Vulcan.

So with all of that out of the way there's just one more thing to do, and that's to give UFC 171 the big thumbs up.