UFC 244 Review
In one of the most stacked and anticipated events, the UFC landed at the world-renown Madison Square Garden Arena in New York City, headlined by a 5-round welterweight bout between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.
Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker (light heavyweight bout)
Corey Anderson spectacularly stopped Johnny Walker in the first round in a monumental upset. There was a ton of hype coming behind 27 year-old Walker and even talk of him fighting light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones next year, but Corey had other plans. After a tentative start, the fight exploded into life when he landed an overhand right to the temple and followed up with two more vicious hooks that put the Brazilian on the seat of his trunks. He continued the assault with hard ground and pound strikes. Just when it looked like Walker had recovered, the American once again went on the front foot landing another hard flurry of strikes that left Walker on extremely shaky legs and Anderson picked his shots, dropping the Brazilian again. Anderson remained composed and teed off on Walker, and when he landed a hard straight right hand that left Walker bloodied and dazed against the cage and on the verge of being dropped yet again, the referee was forced to intervene and wave off the contest. Corey then proceeded to get in the face of Walker, immediately after the stoppage as emotions threatened to boil over. With that win, 30 year-old Corey Anderson moved to 13-4, whilst we have to wonder what could be next for Johnny Walker. He had publicly set his sights high and talked the talk but ultimately come up short in his first major test, and is now 17-4.
Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie (lightweight bout)
Kevin Lee made his return to the lightweight division by spectacularly knocking out the previously undefeated Gregor Gillespie. The 32-year-old Long Island native Gillespie was coming off of 5 consecutive finishes, whilst Kevin Lee was coming off back-to-back defeats and looking to get his career back-on-track. Both fighters traded jabs early on, in a calculated and cautious start and they both showed signs of damage. Lee was cut above his right eye from a stiff Gillespie jab but then the 27 year-old Motown Phenom landed a perfect right hand followed by a left high kick that left Gillespie unconscious mid way through the opening round. Lee had a lot of questions to answer with this being his first fighter under new trainer Firas Zahabi and the TriStar team, but he made an impressive statement to improve to 18-5, whilst The Gift is beaten for the first time in 14 contests, and is now 13-1.
Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov (heavyweight bout)
In a battle of top 10 ranked heavyweights, former title challenger put on an impressive display against Derrick Lewis met Blagoy Ivanov in a barn burner of an encounter that he managed to in by split decision. The 33 year-old American started the fight by circling looking for a signature big punch but was taken down by the Bulgarian after a lapse of concentration. The sambo practitioner briefly caught Lewis in a kimaru but the black beast was able to scramble away. Most of the action was against the cage, with Lewis sporadically bursting from the clinch to throw overhand punches and uppercuts, as is his feared brawling tendency. In the second round, the Texas native landed ferocious punches and knees that wobbled Ivanov, but was tripped to the mat. and caught in a keylock. It looked to be sunk in tight, but again Lewis managed to scramble away. Both men traded bombs, with Lewis landing significant strikes causing cuts over both of the Bulgarian's eyes. The third round was the most slow-paced as fatigue hit both men. Lewis stalked Ivanov, but was sometimes caught against the cage. Both fighters traded for the fences up until the final horn and Lewis was given the nod on the scorecards 30-27, 28-29 and 29-28. Lewis is now to 22-7 and will be looking for another title shot, coming up short against Daniel Cormier last time out. Whilst Ivanov tasted defeat for only the third time in his career, leaving his record standing at 18-3.
Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque (welterweight bout)
The former two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson put on a technical masterclass as he tried to climb back into contention against Vicente Luque, who was coming off a 6 fight win streak, including a victory last time out against Mike Perry in a brutal encounter at UFC Uruguay. Both fighters started cautiously, throwing kicks to the calves and thighs to try and create an opening. Wonderboy kept that traditional Karate stance and landed nice jabs from the back foot but Luque briefly stunned Thompson as he began to time him with counter punches. Wonderboy cut Luque above his left eye after an exchange in the pocket with a left hand down the pipe. Thompson continued to be elusive and switch stance regularly behind his low hands and snappy jab. The man from South Carolina landed a well timed spinning back kick that scored a flash knockdown and Wonderboy wobbled him with a check left hook as Luque struggled to work out the range. Thompson landed several wheel kicks to the head of Luque and picked his shots carefully and cautiously, being incredibly accurate and patiently. He continuously snapped the head of Luque back with jabs and straight right hands. In the final round, he dropped Luque twice with well timed kicks and almost ended the fight, swarming all over the 27 year-old Brazilian and landing shots from all angles. Wonderboy landed several clinical high kicks backed up with crisp punches that stunned Luque several times late on, leaving his face a swollen, bloody mask by the end of the contest. The judges gave him the verdict unanimously, scoring it 30-26,30-26,29-27 in his favour. The 36 Year-old improves to 15-4-1 with the victory and classily embraced his 27 year-old advisory at the end of the fight, who now holds a record of 17-7-1
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Darren Till (middleweight bout)
In one of the most interesting matchups for quite a while, the former welterweight title challenger Darren Till made his middleweight debut against the incredibly tough and durable Kelvin Gastelum, as both men attempted to showcase why they deserve the next title shot. The 26 year-old from England was coming off back-to-back defeats at Welterweight and was hoping that an easier weight cut could be beneficial for him, as many people advised him to make the jump from 170lbs to 185, Whilst the 28 year-old American was second best last-time out in an incredibly brutal 5-round war against current belt holder Israel Adesanya and is campaigning for a rematch. The fight started extremely cautiously, A slow pace where most of the action was in a clinch, as they exchanged positions back and forth against the cage wall. The best action was right at the end of the round where Till timed a one-two through Kelvin's guard. They showed respect for each others skillset but the sharp low-kick by the Liverpudlian was the major weapon in the fight and Till frustrated the very limited attacks of Gastelum, resulting in a chorus of boos from the MSG Crowd. In the third round, Till started the better, catching a kick and stuffing a takedown attempt from the Arizona native. However, Gastelum landed a spinning elbow in what was his best strike, before landing a takedown in the last minute of he fight. Gastelum seemed to struggle with the Physicality of Till, and what resulted was a lacklustre and anti-climactic contest. The judges scored the fight 30-27,27-30 & 29-28 for Darren Till who got the split decision victory over the #4 ranked Gastelum, and improves to 18-3-1, whilst it is another step back for Kelvin who is now 15-5.
Jorge Masvidal 34-13 vs. 20-11 Nate Diaz (welterweight main-event)
In one of the most anticipated contests in a long time, two of the most charismatic fighters and toughest men around met in the octagon as contenders for the welterweight title. Jorge Masvidal became a household name this year and was coming off of back-to-back brutal knockout victories, including a 5-second flying knee of Ben Askren, whilst Nate Diaz returned from a 3-year layoff to beat Anthony Pettis and return right where he left off. The contest was billed for the title of 'baddest motherfucker in the game' and although originally dividing opinions down the middle, a belt was especially made for the winner. Diaz applied pressure early on, but was caught with an elbow inside the opening minute. Diaz was wobbled and dropped with a flurry of punches and a head kick, causing a bad cut over his right eyebrow. Masvidal tried to finish the fight with ground and pound but Nate was able to recover. Diaz then threw a couple of shots that momentarily buzzed Gamebred but the dirty boxing and elbows from the clinch up against the cage was the big factor in that round. Masvidal's striking was on point and his sniper-like punches hurt Diaz once more in the second round, with Nate being forced down after a body kick. A flurry of punches and knees hurt Diaz against the cage in the later stages of the round, as Gamebred scored a takedown and secured a lot of control from top position. even though Diaz attempted a leg lock towards the end of the round. It was all one-way traffic as Masvidal's body kicks stopped any Diaz offence. The fight was stopped in the third and fourth rounds, as the doctor stopped the contest due to cuts. Masvidal continues his momentum and improves to 35-13, whilst Diaz is now 20-12, but both men have promised to run it back and go to war all over again after the highly controversial ending.