FightWatch- UFC: Strickland vs. Imavov (15/01/2023)
By Mick Robson
As much as I enjoy the UFC, I find it hard to get hyped for upcoming fights/cards these days, because in recent years it seems inevitable that they'll fall apart due to illness/injury. Such is the case for the first UFC card of 2023, originally scheduled to be headlined by Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nassourdine Imavov. A week before the show, though, Gastelum withdrew from the fight, citing a mouth injury.
Being a Fight Night at the UFC Apex training facility, the card was already light on star power, and Gastelum was perhaps the only fighter a "casual" fan may know. So we needed someone with a little name value and notoriety to step up, and we got it with Sean Strickland- who main evented the last Fight Night of 2022 with a narrow split decision loss to Jarrod Cannonier- didn't review that one because time and energy was very limited during the silly season. Due to the short notice nature of this fight, the middleweight contenders are set to throw down at 205 pounds in a 5 rounder.
Side note, purely from a fan enjoyment perspective, I wish UFC would stop running events at the Apex. It was a useful venue to have during the pandemic, but as in pro wrestling, the crowd adds a lot to the atmosphere, and the relatively muted Apex, with a handful of fans- or Mark Zuckerberg and his friends that one time- doesn't quite cut it.
Let's do this!
Fight 1: (125) Charles Johnson def. Jimmy Flick via TKO (elbows and punches) at 4:33 of R1
Thoughts: Johnson just overwhelmed Flick with precision striking. Flick, who previously shined with a flying triangle submission in his official Octagon debut, just couldn't get that offense going against Johnson, who blasted him with ground and pound until he was bloodied, forcing the ref to wave it off. Very impressive performance by Johnson to kick things off at the Apex.
Fight 2: (145) Daniel Argueta def. Nick Aguirre via unanimous decision (30-27 X 3)
Thoughts: Argueta was a beast in this one, taking Aguirre down in the opening seconds and slamming him into the fence in the process. Despite Aguirre's best attempts to scramble and defend himself, Argueta was relentless, mixing in heavy striking with the takedowns, and landing heavy shots on the floor once he had his man down. Aguirre gave a commendable effort, but this was domination, which was reflected in the scorecards.
Fight 3: (125) Allan Nascimento def. Carlos Hernandez via submission at 3:16 (hell yeah) of R1
Thoughts: This was grappling excellence. The entire fight was just a battle of taking the back and working for the rear naked choke. A few minutes in, and Nascimento found it. Near flawless performance, and it's back to the drawing board for Hernandez.
Fight 4: (155) Mateusz Rebecki def. Nick Fiore via UD (30-26, 30-27 X 2)
Thoughts: Rebecki did nothing but throw bombs in R1. His look and fighting style reminds me a bit of Dennis Siver. After so much output in the first 5 mins, he was quite gassed in R2, but switched his gameplan to a grappling-based approach, and was able to close out the rounds with takedowns, top control and ground and pound. Convincing performance, even if the excitement dropped along with the gas tank.
Fight 5: (185) Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Claudio Ribeiro via KO (punches) at 0:28 of R2
Thoughts: Competitive battle between the debuting Ribeiro and Alhassan. Ribeiro fires off some snapping leg kicks and a right hand upstairs that rocks Alhassan, forcing the powerful striker to adopt a grappling approach in R1. Early in R2 is a different story, where Alhassan times the leg kick and hits a counter hook, wobbling Ribeiro, and a follow up flurry sees the devastating knockout materialise. Great adjustment by Alhassan, and Riberio absolutely showed potential in his own right.
Fight 6: (135) Javid Basharat def. Mateus Mendonca via UD (30-27 X 2, 29-28)
Thoughts: Dominick Cruz nailed it on commentary in the 3rd round- Basharat was just "a touch sharper, a step ahead through much of this fight". Mendonca had his moments, with a kneebar attempt at the end of R2, and a great scramble almost into a triangle in R3. Great mixing of the martial arts throughout, with striking and grappling flowing together on both sides.
Fight 1: Umar Nurmagomedov def. Raoni Barcelos via KO (body kick and punch) at 4:40 of R1
Thoughts: Nurmagomedov is known for his grappling, but he put on a striking clinic in this one! Sharp kicks early before switching it up with the hands, and a powerful combo of punches sows up a Knockout of the Night bonus (and KO of the year... so far).
Fight 2: (135) Raquel Pennington def. Ketlen Vieira via split decision (29-28 X 2, 28-29)
Thoughts: Both women had their moments for sure, hence the split decision on the scorecard, but I feel like the right one got the nod. Pennington was constantly aggressive, negating the size and strength of Vieira just by constantly being in her face landing combinations. Vieira gave near as good as she got, landing some hard combinations of her own in the 3rd round. Vieira did try to clinch Pennington against the fence to secure the round, but Pennington kept throwing punches and elbows even as Vieira had standing back control. A gritty performance from "Rocky".
Fight 3: (185) Roman Kopylov def. Punahele Soriano via TKO (body kick and punches) at 3:19 of R2
Thoughts: Referee Kerry Hatley with a nice line as this fight started- "make sure your hard work pays off". And in that vein, this was one of the more exciting fights on this card. Soriano was aggressive and only throwing with bad intentions, while Kopylov was precise in picking him apart with the jab. Soriano was getting tired early with his output, but still managed to throw heat. In R2, Kopylov changed it up with some brutal body kicks, and although Soriano showed heart and tried to fight through, Kopylov just kept attacking the body and following up with punches until the ref waved it off. Fun fight.
Fight 4: (145) Dan Ige def. Damon Jackson via KO (punch) at 4:13 of R2
Thoughts: Love a good walk-off KO! Ige showed his power in the first few seconds of the fight by dropping an advancing Jackson momentarily. Besides a brief pause in the action when Ige's glove scratched Jackson's eye, this had a constant pace with Ige mainly as the aggressor. R2 saw Jackson get busted open bad with a punch, and soon after it was a counter left hook that ended the fight in dramatic fashion. Dan '50K" Ige living up to his nickname! Ige was one of the other few names on the card that casual fans may know, and he justified his co-main placement with this one.
Main Event: (205) Sean Strickland def. Nassordine Imavov via UD (49-46 X 2, 48-47)
Thoughts: Outstanding performance from Sean Strickland, even more so when you consider the short notice. He made Imavov fight in the proverbial phone booth, and although Imavov was game, he seems uncomfortable. Strickland upped the aggression considerably following his split loss to Cannonier, leaving no question here as his constant pressure and output had him visibly ahead, which was acknowledged by Imavov's corner as well. Entertaining scrap!
The post-fight interview saw Strickland criticise the judging in the Cannonier fight (need to go back and watch that fight/card), claiming that he won and only had to have this fight because of bad judging. He thanks UFC brass for the large paycheck in taking the fight on short notice, and finally shouts out the late great Stephan Bonnar, who sadly passed away recently at the far too young age of 45.
This card didn't pass this Wiki test- the prelims featured almost exclusively fighters without a Wiki page, with only Alhassan having a page, and on the main card, Kopylov doesn't have one. The Wiki test is a go-to measure of "star power" for me when looking at UFC cards on paper, but star power doesn't always equal entertainment, and even though this card didn't have big names or massive, marquee fights, it delivered for the most part in the cage.
Fights To Watch: Strickland vs. Imavov, Ige vs. Jackson, Kopylov vs. Soriano, Vieira vs. Pennington.
If you've got a little extra time on your hands, can't go wrong with the Nurmagomedov and Alhassan fights either. Nothing outwardly bad on this show, but nothing that will be in Fight of the Year contention either.
Until next time, take care.