UFC 293 Review (10/09/2023)
By Mick Robson
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Playing an eternal game of catch-up here on The Arena. We don't cover every UFC event, but we do make every attempt to cover the major ones, and a PPV event taking place in Australia certainly fits the bill. UFC 293 was the first time the Octagon graced Sydney in 6 years, so we have a UFC-starved crowd craving some action from the best MMA fighters from Oceania and beyond.
The last time UFC was in Sydney, yours truly was in attendance. It was UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Tybura. The most memorable thing wasn't the heavyweight main event, it was actually a debuting heavyweight on the prelims. Tai Tuivasa made his UFC debut with a flying knee KO of Rashad Coulter. The other prevailing memory was that I bet a $50 multi on 8 fights on the card. I kept squeaking by with split decision wins, so I got cold feet at fight 7 and pulled it out- still $1500 up. And Jessy Rose Clark came through in the 8th fight, which gave me another $50. If I had held out, it would have been a payout of $2500. Yay gambling! But gamble responsibly, kids.
This time around, the exorbitant prices for UFC 293 stopped me from going. TECHNICALLY I could have afforded it, but I couldn't justify a $1500 price tag for halfway up Qudos Bank Arena when $170 got me second row at that Fight Night in the same building 6 years ago. So I stayed at home and enjoyed the action from the comfort of my lounge.
Another issue leading into UFC 293 was the lack of major names or fights on the card. Since the show sold out 15 mins after going on sale, without a fight announced, UFC didn't need to load the card. With a month to go until the show, they finally announced the main event- middleweight champion Israel Adesanya defending against #5 ranked Sean Strickland. The original plan was for Izzy to fight Sydney's Rob Whittaker in a trilogy match, but Dricus du Plessis TKOed him in July and put that dream away. DDP couldn't turn around and fight that soon either, so after a bit of dragging their feet, Strickland finally got the nod.
So not a card loaded with star power. But with plenty of Aus/NZ fighters representing on this card, it's sure to be an all-action affair, boosted by the crowd.
Let's do this!
Fight Pass Prelims
Fight 1: (170) Kevin Jousset def. Kiefer Crosbie via submission (rear naked choke) at 4:49 of R1
Thoughts: We had a French fella representing City Kickboxing, and an Irish fella who of course has ties to Conor McGregor. Crosbie seemed explosive early, but Jousset was able to quickly get the better of things once it got to the ground. Fun 1 rounder with a finish just before the horn, exciting way to get things started early Sunday morning in Sydney.
Fight 2: Catchweight (149.75) Gabriel Miranda def. Shane Young via submission (rear naked choke) at 0:59 of R1
Thoughts: Fun note- Shane Young was on the last Sydney Fight Night. On that show, he took Alexander Volkanovski to a somewhat competitive decision. No such performance in the return here though- he missed weight by a good margin, and got subbed in super quick fashion. Even though Young dyed his hair blond for this one, he was no Super Saiyan.
Fight 3: (170) Charlie Radtke def."Blood Diamond" Mike Mathetha via unanimous decision (29-27 X 3)
Thoughts: This was an extremely boring fight. Blood Diamond has improved his grappling and takedown defense significantly. Rather than getting taken down and mauled, he was able to keep Radtke at a stalemate, and even cracked him on the feet in the early going. Maybe it was that threat of a KO, or maybe it was just bull-headed adherence to the plan even when it wasn't really working out. It did stifle Diamond enough to get the W, but Radtke had an arena full of people booing his tactics. He called everyone booing him a homophobic slur, leading to Daniel Cormier cutting the post-fight interview super short. He did issue an apology on social media after the show which felt like a heavily prepared statement.
Fight 1: (155) Nasrat Haqparast def. Landon Quinones via unanimous decision (30-27 X3)
Thoughts: The scorecards and scoring do not accurately reflect how fun this fight was. Haqparast, who I've long regarded as a mini-Kelvin Gastelum, stood out in his own right with sharper striking than we've ever seen from him, continually attacking head, body, legs. Quinones showed off his own toughness and kept fighting back, but ultimately it was the pace and constant aggression that gave Haqparast the nod over the 15 minutes.
Fight 2: (155) Jamie Mullarkey def. John Makdessi via UD (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: This might need another watch, but from memory writing this a couple of days after the fact, I had Mulllarkey winning R1, while Makdessi picked up the attack to take R2 and R3 as the more technical and accurate striker. Certainly entertaining and action-packed either way though.
Fight 3: (145) Chepe Mariscal def. Jack Jenkins via TKO (arm injury) at 3:19 of R2
Thoughts: Jenkins seemed like someone the UFC higher-ups were really getting behind. A younger, powerful prospect, it seemed like this was a showcase for him. Unfortunately, Mariscal had other ideas, taking the fight to Jenkins. It ended awkwardly in a grappling exchange as Jenkins posted on a wizzer attempt, and his elbow went the opposite way. Nasty. Jenkins did have some early success in the fight with some powerful kicks before the anticlimatic end. Hard to say whether to re-book this or not. I suppose it depends how long Jenkins is out for. Deflating moment for the Sydney crowd here.
Fight 4: (205) Carlos Ulberg def. Jung Da-Un via submission (rear naked choke) at 4:49 of R3
Thoughts: Always love to see this. A fighter who was comfortably ahead in the fight, going for it and getting a late finish. Ulberg's striking was his best weapon throughout the fight, as it has been throughout his UFC career, but he showed a new wrinkle in his game, working towards the RNC on the ground for the first submission win of his career. Fun fight, with Da-Un staying well in the fight until the final sequence. Ulberg seemed ahead though, and the crowd was behind him, chanting his name in the cadence of "Goldberg" which popped my fellow pro wrestling nerd DC on commentary.
Fight 1: (205) Tyson Pedro def. Anton Turkalj via KO (punches) at 2:12 of R1
Thoughts: Explosive way to start off the main card, and a much needed bounce back win for Pedro, who had an uninspired performance earlier this year, losing a decision in Perth. No judges needed here as Tyson came through with the hands in quick fashion. Turkalj didn't offer a lot in the fight, but I like that he has the nickname/gimmick of "The Pleasure Man", which Pedro had fun with in the post-show press conference.
Fight 2: (265) Justin Tafa def. Austen Lane via KO (punches) at 1:22 of R1
Thoughts: The hits keep coming in Sydney! This was a fight re-booked after Lane ended Tafa's night with an eye poke, and we almost get a repeat after an early finger/eyeball connection here. It only seems to fire up Tafa though, who looks briefly for the Mark Hunt esque walk away KO after dropping Lane, then realised that wasn't happening, so pounces for some brutal ground and pound. I'm not sold on Tafa as a well-rounded fighter, but there's always a place for rough, tough dudes with knockout power, especially in the heavyweight division.
Fight 3: (125) Manel Kape def. Felipe dos Santos via UD (30-27, 29-28 X 2)
Thoughts: Dos Santos was a late replacement against the #10 ranked Kape, who was originally set to fight New Zealand's Kai Kara-France. Dos Santos was upset-minded, going at Kape with continued aggression. Although he did enough to take a round on two judges' scorecard, Kape turned up the pressure and finished the fight strong. He gave dos Santos credit in the post-fight interview, calling him a "tough kid" then correcting himself and saying that he's a man. Unfortunately, the performance and nice words of sportsmanship were slightly overshadowed by Kape dropping the non-fuck F word, just as Radtke did earlier. We can't expect all cage fighters to be squeaky clean role models, but that kind of language did cause an uproar- mostly on Twitter/X.
Fight 4: (265) Alexander Volkov def. Tai Tuivasa via submission (Ezekiel choke) at 4:37 of R2
Thoughts: Tuivasa's Achilles heel has always been his grappling. But again, this is the heavyweight division, and that gap in skills doesn't mean as much when you've got dynamite in your fists. Tuivasa came in ranked #6, but the #7 ranked Volkov took control once it got to the ground. It was encouraging to see Tuivasa display much better technical defense than he had previously, but it felt like only a matter of time. Volkov pulled out a unique trick with an Ezekiel choke from top mount- we've seen Aleksei Oleinik use that submission, but often from bottom position. Looks even more brutal pressing down. Sad day for Tuivasa fans, but he had his moments on the feet, coming close with those bombs and chewing up the lead leg with some devastating kicks. Combine the striking with continual improvement in his grappling, and I'm sure Tuivasa will be back stronger.
Main Event: UFC Middleweight Championship- Sean Strickland def. Israel Adesanya via UD (49-46 X 3)
Thoughts: Yep, the last-minute, "only giving him a shot because we have to" challenger pulled off the upset. You gotta love MMA. Strickland cracked Izzy towards the end of the first round, and man. Mark Goddard let Adesanya eat about 26 hooks to the face in that sequence. He gave the thumbs up and survived, but seemed more mentally rattled than anything. Strickland spent the rest of the fight walking Adesanya down, jabbing at him and putting him against the cage, landing more significant strikes than anyone else in the UFC. The last 30 seconds of the fight, where Strickland realised he had the thing won, was a sight to behold.
As I write this review a few days after the show, I still don't know what to make of that main event. It's one thing for the underdog to win and land that one big shot to finish the fight- Chris Weidman, Holly Holm etc. But Strickland had Adesanya's number from start to finish. The round that Izzy won was more because Strickland took his foot off the gas, rather than Adesanya doing anything special. Huge result for the often controversial Strickland.
The rest of the show delivered. Some big finishes, some fun fights. Shame the Jack Jenkins hype train is derailed for a minute, but if that, and maybe the Tuivasa loss, are the biggest disappointments of the show, it's a good time. Still not worth $1500 a ticket though.
Before we wrap up, a quick shoutout to Laura Sanko, who made her PPV debut on commentary on UFC 293. She had some noticeable early nerves, but really added to the broadcast, very witty and insightful. Seen some misogynistic comments going "why is a woman commentating MMA?" Well, she's a trained fighter with a winning record, and old mate with the extra chins... I don't think has those credentials.
Until next time, keep killing it as always!