NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state of the UFC’s light heavyweight division is one that is wide-open, with a handful of hungry contenders looking to make their move into title contention. The main event tilt at Fight Night 73 between Glover Teixeira and Ovince Saint Preux featured two staples in that particular collective, in a fight where solidifying a place in the heated championship picture of the 205-pound fold was at stake.
Where Teixeira once rode a tremendous wave of momentum built by a five-fight winning streak to earn a shot at the light heavyweight strap, the heavy-handed Brazilian has experienced different results as of late.
A lopsided defeat against former 205-pound king Jon Jones, followed by a lackluster showing against Phil Davis, served to dull the hype that surrounded the former title challenger just a short time ago. Teixeira came into his bout against OSP determined to bring his two-fight skid to a halt and keep his elite-level status intact.
While his opponent came into Nashville on Saturday night looking to shed the pressure of a losing streak, Saint Preux entered the Octagon on a different trajectory.
The former University of Tennessee football player turned mixed martial artist had won all but one of his showings under the UFC banner prior to Fight Night 73, including back-to-back knockout victories over tough competition. Yet, the one thing Saint Preux’s resume lacked was a win over a big-name opponent, and he came into the Bridgestone Arena looking to make his next step up the ranks a big one.
On the flip side, a loss at the hands of the John Hackleman product would stall his passage into the division’s upper ranks for the foreseeable future.
Circumstances of that caliber will amplify the intensity of any fight inside the cage, and it was Teixeira who got the job done on Saturday night. The Brazilian veteran played to his greatest strength as he forced Saint Preux to work off his back while he utilized top control from a variety of positions. Teixeira continued his efforts on the ground for the majority of the first two rounds before he left a valiant Saint Preux sleeping on the canvas via a rear-naked choke.
While it wasn’t Teixeira’s cleanest performance of his career, he showed the type of grit and skill set that could give anyone in the light heavyweight division fits. Let’s take a look at the good, bad and strange from Fight Night 73.
Teixeira’s place in the light heavyweight divisional hierarchy may not be any more clear following his victory over Ovince Saint Preux at Fight Night 73, but his performance certainly proved he’s still a force to be reckoned with inside the Octagon.
The veteran powerhouse weathered some early adversity as he bounced back from getting wobbled by OSP in the opening round and found his groove in the rigors of the grind. The former title challenger was able to put the former Tennessee football player on his back at will throughout the fight, battering on Saint Preux early and often throughout the contest.
While Teixeira has shown a tendency to throw game plans out the window and engage in shootouts in the past, The Pit representative remained diligent and on task as he continued to attack on the ground.
The constant grind eventually zapped Saint Preux’s energy, and Teixeira put the finishing touches on a solid performance as he locked on the fight-ending submission. Following his win, Teixeira officially declared he’s back to his old form, and his showing in Nashville certainly supports that notion.
He will remain a major player in the light heavyweight fold and will be paying close attention to how his peers in the divisional title hunt fare over the next few months.
*** Fights at the highest level of competition are won by the slightest of margins, and when those margins are determined by cageside judges, it’s anyone’s game.
Two of the lightweight division’s surging talents came front and center with this reality at Fight Night 73 as Beneil Dariush and Michael Johnson went the distance in a hard-fought striking battle. While The Menace appeared to have the edge in the early going, the Kings MMA representative found his groove in the fight’s final round and stunted Johnson’s movement by pumping his jab in the Blackzilian’s face relentlessly.
When the final bell sounded, it was clear Dariush had done enough to steal the final frame, but it seemed as if it would be too little too late for the Rafael Cordeiro-trained fighter. Then again, MMA judging is a slippery slope, and Dariush emerged victorious via a split decision. Johnson lost his mind, the crowd let their disdain fly and Dariush picked up his fifth consecutive victory in official but “I don’t know about all that” fashion.
*** A coveted top-10 ranking is what Derek Brunson is after, and the surging middleweight will move closer to that goal after his Nashville performance.
The North Carolina native pounded a dazed Sam Alvey from pillar to post as he attempted to put away the resilient veteran. Once Brunson had his opponent rocked, the Jackson-Winkeljohn product kept his foot on the gas until the referee stepped in to call off the beating. Alvey argued with Mario Yamasaki regarding the stoppage, but Brunson was already busy celebrating his third straight victory in the 185-pound division.
*** Amanda Nunes picked up the biggest victory of her career as she put away former women’s bantamweight title challenger Sara McMann in the first round of their bout at Fight Night 73.
The Lioness is well-known for her aggression, and she employed plenty of it in her assault on the former Olympic wrestler, as she pressed the action on McMann from the opening bell. When McMann was unable to get her to the mat, Nunes stung her with a clean shot on the feet and then finished the fight on the canvas with a rear-naked choke.
*** The flyweight division officially has a new threat emerging in Albuquerque native Ray Borg. The Tazmexican Devil picked up his third consecutive victory inside the Octagon as he outworked and outclassed Geane Herrera en route to earning the unanimous-decision victory on the judges’ scorecards.
Borg’s victory makes him successful in all but one of his showings under the UFC banner since hitting the sport’s biggest stage last year. With each outing the 22-year-old’s all-around game gets stronger, and Borg used his post-fight interview to commit to a future run at the flyweight strap.
While a thin roster could certainly force Borg up the divisional ladder quicker than he’d like, the FitNHB representative is certainly a fighter worth keeping an eye in the 125-pound collective.
*** Learning to let go of what others expect of him has proven to be a big step for Uriah Hall. After a few early stumbles out of the gates in the UFC pulled the bulk of the spotlight off him, the middleweight striker has shown marked improvements in his ability to thrive in the heat of battle.
While a questionable split-decision loss in his most recent outing against Rafael Natal stunted his momentum a bit, Prime Time jumped back on track in a big way by drubbing Oluwale Bamgbose on Saturday night in Nashville.
The Ultimate Fighter alum did exactly what he was supposed to by finishing the short-notice replacement in quick fashion as he earned the lightning-fast TKO stoppage in the first. And while defeating Bamgbose won’t catapult Hall up the divisional ladder, the win will allow him to taken another all important step in personal progression.
*** It was a debut one year in the making, but Scotty Holtzman made the most of his first showing inside the Octagon at Fight Night 73. Hot Sauce used the pop provided by a solid collection of his home state supporters inside the Bridgestone Arena to fuel his toe-to-toe brawl with Anthony Christodoulou.
Rapid-fire exchanges filled the first two rounds. The action was more of the same going into the the final frame until Holtzman locked on the fight-ending rear-naked choke to secure his first victory in definitive fashion under the UFC banner. The Province‘s E. Spencer Kyte credited Holzman with “blistering” his opponent:
*** Another Tennessee fighter looking to make good at Fight Night 73 was Franklin native Dustin Ortiz.
The Duke Roufus-trained fighter was eager to get back into the win column after suffering a setback in his most previous outing. He came into his scrap with Willie Gates determined to ignite another run toward the top of the flyweight fold. And while Gates was able to land a couple crisp shots early, it wasn’t enough to thwart Ortiz’s superior grappling.
The 26-year-old grinder pounded Gates at every turn on the canvas until the referee stepped in to stop the pummeling midway through the final round. With the win and the overall lack of depth in the flyweight division, Ortiz will undoubtedly draw another of the 125-pound division’s best in his next outing. Bleacher Report MMA was impressed with Ortiz’s performance:
It wasn’t all too long ago Sara McMann was being touted as the woman who would bring Ronda Rousey’s dominance in the women’s bantamweight division to an end.
The Maryland native had the Olympic credentials and her silver medal in freestyle wrestling was a step above the bronze Rowdy won in judo. McMann also had a flawless 7-0 record to her credit—one she built by flexing her superior wrestling skills all over her competition. Eventually the time came for the inevitable matchup to go down. McMann stepped into the Octagon at UFC 170 ready to fulfill a destiny she’d not quite asked for, but that the UFC promotional machine built for her.
McMann signaled to the referee she was ready to go. Then 1:06 later it was all over as the hype was crushed with a Rousey knee landed flush on her liver.
She would pop back to her feet the instant her body recovered from the shock of her liver briefly shutting down and would question the stoppage in the immediate aftermath, but McMann’s first official loss as a professional was already in the books. And while being defeated by Rousey isn’t anything to hang your head about because everyone loses to the pound-for-pound phenom, what was unclear following her first setback was how she would recover going forward in her career.
The way the fight with Rousey ended created a situation where McMann could have easily vaulted back into a rematch with another big victory, but a questionable split-decision win over Lauren Murphy in her next fight took that option off the table. Therefore she would have to beat someone formidable in her next outing, and that opponent was slated to be the perennial best-of-the-rest Miesha Tate at UFC 183 in January.
Tate was the key to another title opportunity and another shot at Rousey, but Cupcake outworked the workhorse that night to take the unanimous-decision victory. Suddenly the sheen surrounding McMann had all but vanished, and the focus shifted from her being a future title contender to her being an elite talent in the women’s 135-pound picture. Her bout against Amanda Nunes at Fight Night 73 was supposed to erase that doubt, but instead it only served to speed up her downfall as The Lioness first dropped then choked the 34-year-old into submission.
While Nunes celebrated the biggest victory of her career, McMann wore the face of someone who didn’t quite know what happened. Sure, she understood the mechanics of how defeat found her once again, but for someone so unaccustomed to losing, the familiar feeling of something once foreign was taking hold. There’s no doubt McMann will face up to that sting in the aftermath of Nashville, but there’s no telling what action she’ll take to stop her backslide.
That said, Beneil Dariush beat Michael Johnson via split decision, and Sam Alvey simply doesn’t know what to think about that.
While the competitors inside the cage ultimately dictate the action on fight night, the crowd is responsible for setting the atmosphere. In places like Brazil and Ireland it’s a guarantee fans will show up as soon as the doors open and maintain the fervor until the final hand is raised, but consistent passion isn’t a common trait when it comes to audiences stateside.
Even in the bigger markets ,such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, crowd enthusiasm can be hit or miss, and that is why when a smaller market like Nashville brings the noise, it stands out so much. Four years had passed since the Octagon last rolled through “Music City,” and that absence was apparently felt based on how lively the fighting faithful in attendance were on Saturday night.
Granted, the action kicked off with Knoxville native Scotty Holtzman throwing wild flurries of elbows, feet and fists, but there’s a good chance fans at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday would have been rowdy from the jump regardless.
Midway through the opening bout on the card, it sounded as if the facility was pumping out crowd noise behind press row as every strike that landed came with a roar of approval. A quick pivot verified the “hoots and hollers” were of human origin, and that sound quickly became a regular piece of the fight-night soundtrack in Nashville.
The level of noise coming from a relatively small gathering inside the Bridgestone Arena was impressive, and the fact there was very little name recognition up and down the lineup is another accomplishment. It shows that fans in Nashville just want to see some fisticuffs on a Saturday night, and the UFC would be wise to throw them a little of what the want on a more frequent basis.
Now onto some strangeness inside the Octagon.
Tom Watson came into his fight with Chris Camozzi facing a must-win situation in order to keep his place on the UFC’s middleweight roster. Camozzi ‘s circumstances were the same.
What transpired was by all means a fight, but it’s the type of fight it was that became the problem. No doubt both Watson and Camozzi are hard-nosed guys with heart for days, but rather than the action-packed, three-round ruckus it could have been, the actual tilt was light on the chaos.
There was blood and a few low blows, complete with a point deduction handed out, but the fight started, stopped and finished without really seeming like anything happened. And while that’s strange perhaps it’s always been happening or never happened at all? Maybe the top Leonardo DiCaprio spun is still spinning, and Watson and Camozzi are actually fighting in St. Elsewhere‘s snow-globe parking lot?
That last line may be a bit dated, but these are the deep questions evoked after watching whatever Jared Rosholt vs. Timothy Johnson was.
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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