UFC 292 Review (20/08/2023)
By Mick Robson
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The UFC as a brand has captured the general public's attention for many years now. Closely tied to pro wrestling in a number of ways- as much as some MMA diehards loathe to admit it- the "boom period" of the UFC, many would argue, came at the launch of their reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, in 2005. The show that preceded it on Spike TV? WWE Monday Night Raw.
For your writer, my first exposure to UFC, and the sport of MMA, also came about due to pro wrestling crossover. The event was UFC 40, headlined by young light heavyweight superstar Tito Ortiz, against veteran and former WWE star, Ken Shamrock. Shamrock took a hellacious beating at the hands of his younger adversary, but the pro wrestling adjacent spectacle of UFC 40- complete with a giant stage and lots of pyro- captured the interest of 12 year old Mick. A few years later, Brock Lesnar would intensify my interest going from WWE to UFC (with a little stop in at New Japan Pro Wrestling).
So why the history lesson? Mostly to give a little background on my fandom- I'm not someone recently jumping on the UFC bandwagon. Also, the pro wrestling links. And also to point out- the UFC's success often didn't come off the back on one singular draw. The business began to boom coming out of TUF, where Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar put on a classic fight. But neither Griffin nor Bonnar became major box office draws. Yet, the sport grew massively as a whole, perhaps appealing to a teen/young adult male demographic that had "grown out of" pro wrestling.
That said, UFC has fared better in their meteoric rise over the last 15 or so years when they have had a fighter catch fire and become a superstar. Early on, it was Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Then along came Brock. Conor McGregor. Ronda Rousey. UFC was on a rocket ship anyway, relative to the first decade or so of the organisation's existence, but those names all drew big business. Now, in 2023, UFC are looking for that next game-changing superstar to boost themselves further.
Enter Sean O'Malley. "Suga" Sean entered the UFC through the Dana White's Contender Series show. He was a colourful personality, both figuratively and literally with his brash attitude, colourful hair and tattoos, almost looking like a rapper jumping into the Octagon. But beyond all that sizzle, O'Malley had steak, being a very talented striker with knockout power. And hey, anyone that can make Snoop Dogg lose his mind on commentary has got to be someone to watch.
O'Malley quickly rose through the ranks at bantamweight, and at UFC 292, finds himself challenging Aljamain Sterling for the 135lb championship. Can he cash in on the hype, or is he another Sage Northcutt or Paige VanZant- a marketable young star that folds against elite competition? We're about to find out.
Elsewhere on the card, the women's strawweight title is on the line as Zhang Weili defends against Amanda Lemos. Irish up and comer Ian Garry looks to have a Conor-esque ascent as he fights Neil Magny, and in the featured prelim, Chris Weidman returns from a horrific leg injury to fight fellow vet Brad Tavares.
Let's do this!
Fight Pass Prelims
Fight 1: (W-125) Karine Silva def. Maryna Moroz via submission (guillotine choke) at 4:59 of R1
Thoughts: What a round! Both ladies threw with bad intentions once they found their range, and Silva got the better of it, dropping Moroz with a hook. With a second to go, Silva had a guillotine snatched in tight, and Moroz goes to tap city.
Fight 2: (W-125) Natalia Silva def. Andrea Lee via unanimous decision (30-27 X 3)
Thoughts: Striking excellence by Natalia Silva, bloodying up the face of Andrea Lee. She used kicks to great effect, to the head, body and legs, and even had a nice moment with a front teep that put Lee on her ass. Also, credit to the Brazilian for doing her best with English in the post-fight interview!
Fight 3: (185) Andre Petroski def. Gerald Meerschaert via split decision (28-29, 29-28 X 2)
Thoughts: Petroski tries to do what Khamzat Chimaev did to GM3 in the early going, swinging for the fences looking for a quick KO. He doesn't have the same success as Khamzat did though. He does score a knockdown in the waning seconds of R2, but Meerschaert holds on. R3 is interesting, as GM3 gets an early takedown, later Petroski gets top position, and the last 30 seconds or so becomes Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, with Meerschaert causing more damage. It depends how you view R1, which was very close, and I can see both sides. Fun fight.
Fight 1: (135) Brad Katona def. Cody Gibson via UD (29-28 X 2, 30-27)
Thoughts: This was the bantamweight final for TUF: McGregor vs Chandler. Crazy pace in this, with Katona being faster, and Gibson appearing to land with more power. The gas tank stayed longer for Katona though, so he was able to hit more often and harder. Credit to Gibson who kept coming forward, but just didn't have the same pop. The third round gave way to an absolute war, and right as I write that, Jon Anik says the same thing. An instant classic of a fight.
Fight 2: (155) Kurt Holobaugh def. Austin Hubbard via submission (triangle choke) at 2:39 of R2
Thoughts: TUF Lightweight Final. I didn't watch this season, but after the representation of the finals fights on this card, I'm regretting that slightly. Hubbard really controlled a lot of this fight with his takedowns and ground and pound, but once Holobough got a dominant position, it was jujitsu wizardry. First, he looked for the RNC, Hubbard fights it off, so he goes to the armbar, Hubbard rolls through, so Holobough switches to the triangle and that's all she wrote. Beautiful chaining of submissions. Somewhere, Charles Oliveira is shedding a tear of pride. This fight wasn't a war like the other TUF final, but it's about as slick a finishing sequence as you're going to see!
Fight 3: (185) Gregory Rodrigues def. Denis Tiuliulin via KO (elbows) at 1:43 of R1
Thoughts: Another great finishing sequence, but this one was the first real action of the fight, Rodrigues landed a nasty slam-like takedown, worked his way to mount, and threw down a couple of menacing elbows that put Tiuliulin to sleep. A basically flawless, violent performance.
Fight 4: (185) Brad Tavares def. Chris Weidman via UD (30-27 X 3)
Thoughts: Weidman had heart, but Tavares showed no mercy attacking his surgically repaired leg. He kept pushing forward, but he was clearly compromised and outclassed with both the injury and the extended time out of the cage. In the post-fight presser, Dana White said, "I love you, Chris, but please retire".
Fight 1: (135) Marlon Vera def. Pedro Munhoz via UD (30-27 X 2, 29-28)
Thoughts: Sharp striking battle between two top ten bantamweights. Munhoz has the early success with greater activity and a number of leg kicks (leading to Rogan and co. referencing the previous Weidman fight). Chito Vera picks up his own activity to outshine Munhoz consistently and bust up his face with a clean jab down the stretch.
Fight 2: (135) Mario Bautista def. Da'Mon Blackshear via UD (29-28 X 2, 30-27)
Thoughts: Here we have two unranked bantamweights, but Bautista was originally set to fight former champion Cody Garbrandt until an injury to Cody stopped that. Blackshear- who fought 7 days prior- was a different style, and did well with his grappling, taking down Bautista and controlling him for periods of time, as well as acquitting himself well in the striking. Because of this, the 30-27 score by one judge was highly questionable. Blackshear did fade down the stretch, and it was increased activity, plus his own takedowns in the third, that helped secure Bautista the win. Good win and a decent fight on both sides. I'd be up for seeing Bautista vs. Garbrandt re-booked if Garbrandt's not out for too long.
Fight 3: (170) Ian Garry def. Neil Magny via UD (30-26 X 2, 30-24)
Thoughts: The first leg kick Garry threw dropped Magny, and that was pretty much the story of the fight. Magny's leg was shot immediately, and he was dropped and hurt on multiple occasions. Referee Keith Peterson looked close to calling the fight near the end of R2, but Magny offered up just enough movement and defense to stay in there. He offered absolutely zero in the way of offense though, and Garry almost ended it late in the 3rd. Incredibly dominant performance, and lots of bad blood as they trash talked and Garry flippped him off after the fight. Not sure the cause of the heat but it added a little flavour to a very one-sided performance. Impressive stuff.
Fight 4: UFC Women's Strawweight Championship- Zhang Weili def. Amanda Lemos via UD (50-43, 50-44, 49-45)
Thoughts: Even more one-sided than the previous fight. Zhang set the record for the largest strike differential in women's UFC history (288-21). Lemos had heart though, surprising the champ with a D'Arce from the bottom that came close. The rest of the fight was Weili out-striking and out-grappling Lemos across the board, punctuated with a huge knockdown and near finish in R5. Lemos never stopped trying, swinging for the fences and even looking for a guillotine choke with seconds to go. Massive showcase for Zhang, and although the underdog winning would be a great story, Zhang wasn't reading that book.
Main Event: UFC Bantamweight Championship- Sean O'Malley def. Aljamain Sterling (c) via TKO (punches) at 0:51 of R2
Thoughts: O'Malley came out to Lupe Fiasco's "Superstar"- "if you are what you say you are, a superstar...", and his superstardom was cemented here. The first round was fairly uneventful, with Aljo edging it with a flurry in the clinch. For all the comparisons between McGregor and O'Malley over the years... Suga Sean played into it with his finish, a fade-away right hook on a charging Aljo, reminiscent of Conor taking out Aldo back in the day with the big left. The finish was slightly premature for my liking. It for sure looked like Sterling was on the way out, but in a championship fight, you want to give as much of a chance as you can. I feel like Neil Magny and Amanda Lemos both took worse beatings and got to stay in there. Still, I think the ref probably just saved Sterling from more of a beating, given how composed O'Malley was.
A lot of decisions on this card, but the fights weren't boring by any means. We had some live underdogs, with the favourites exhibiting their skills at the highest level. O'Malley called to face Chito Vera in Vegas in December, looking to avenge his one career loss... and I feel like that's a great next step. Also, curious to see Weili's next challenger, and Ian Garry rising up the ranks at welterweight- he called for Stephen Thompson, which would be a great piece of matchmaking in my opinion.
Quality show and now we turn our attention to Izzy vs. Strickland at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney- UFC 293!
Until next time, keep killing it as always!