UFC 297 Review (21/01/2024)
By Mick Robson
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After a month off by the MMA leader, the UFC returns with a bang in Toronto! For the first time in just over 5 years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship heads to Drake's hometown, where the rapper will surely lose an eye-watering amount of money betting on fights.
I actually started to write an article for the Fight Night which was the true UFC return since mid-December, but personal matters got in the way, so we go big on PPV instead!
In reality, it's not the most stacked card the UFC have put on. The main event sees Sean Strickland, who had an explosion in popularity since upsetting Israel Adesanya in Sydney last year, defending his newly-won title against proud South African Dricus du Plessis. These two got in a brawl during UFC 296 last month, which I doubt the validity of, but nonetheless, they clash for UFC gold here.
In the co-main, we deal with the women's bantamweight division in the aftermath of Amanda Nunes' retirement. She dominated the division- and also held UFC featherweight gold, but there was never a true women's featherweight division anyway. It was basically a vehicle to get Cris Cyborg UFC fights until Nunes caved her head in. Here at 297, it's long-time contender Raquel Pennington facing the younger upstart Mayra Bueno Silva, who earned submissions in 3 of her last 4 victories- although the most recent against Holly Holm was overturned due to Silva failing a drug test.
But yeah, UFC seem to be saving their big fighters and fights for the next couple of cards which are more loaded, as well as UFC 300 in April which has lofty expectations from fans and critics. For my part, I saw UFC 297 as a nice way to end the MMA drought over the holiday season, and also test the quality of the Kayo streaming service- as of 2024 we can no longer order PPVs via UFC Fight Pass. Heard a lot of negative things about Kayo's streaming quality so we'll see how we go.
Let's do this!
Fight Pass Early Prelims
Fight 1: (Catchweight- 127.5) Jimmy Flick def. Malcolm Gordon via submission (arm triangle choke) at 1:17 of R2
Thoughts: The hallmarks of the flyweight division are speed and action- never a dull moment when the 125ers go at it, endless cardio. Gordon (who missed weight) came out blazing, getting Flick to the floor and being relentless with the ground and pound. He goes for a gullotine to end the round, but Flick shows he's still there, turning it into a Von Flue choke to end R1. R2, Gordon comes out swinging and stuns Flick, but overcommits and winds up on his back in an arm triangle choke! Amazing comeback after the insane amount of pressure Gordon put Flick under. Great fight to kick us off here!
Fight 2: (W-135) Jasmine Jasudavicius def. Priscila Cachoeira via submission (anaconda choke) at 4:21 of R3
Thoughts: This was the most one-sided beatdown I've seen in a women's UFC fight. It set a record for the biggest strike differential. R1 was a huge takedown, mount and relentless ground and pound. R2 was a knockdown, mount and relentless ground and pound. R3, Cachoeira somehow landed a few punches, until she got too eager, taken down, ground and pounded, then submitted. Absolutely incredible performance, which earned a well-deserved Performance of the Night bonus.
Fight 3: (170) Sam Patterson def Yohan Lainesse via submission (rear naked choke) at 2:03 of R1
Thoughts: After the prolonged one-sided beating of the previous fight, a quick finish was welcome here. They both looked to find the striking range, there was a brief scramble, and Patterson locked in the RNC. Nothing else to it, but a great finish by Patterson.
ESPN Prelims (Kayo)
Fight 1: (W-115)- Gillian Robertson def. Polyana Viana via TKO (punches) at 3:12 of R2
Thoughts: Robertson got a very favourable reaction from her home country crowd, as Jon Anik notes this is only the second time in her professional career that she's fought in Canada. Robertson has a strong submission game, and when she got to the ground, she advanced her position with relative ease. An arm triangle and armbar attempt follows, but Viana survives the round. The second round sees Robertson get back on top without too much trouble, and although Robertson does look for a couple of submission opportunities, she instead opts to rain down strikes until the ref is forced to wave it off. Highly impressive, energetic performance by Robertson. Earned her a POTN bonus.
Fight 2: (Catchweight- 139.75) Ramon Taveras def. Serhiy Sidey via split decision (28-29, 29-28 X 2)
Thoughts: This was a rematch of a Dana White's Contender Series fight, and these boys put on a show! Constantly swinging at each other, constantly rocking each other, blood everywhere, it was a true spectacle. When all was said and done, this could have been argued as the most exciting fight on the card and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. Unfortunately, Taveras missed weight, making him ineligible for a FOTN bonus.
Fight 3: (145) Sean Woodson def. Charles Jourdain via SD (28-29, 29-28 X 2)
Thoughts: Woodson is a 6'3" featherweight with a ridiculous reach advantage, but he did a poor job using it, as Jourdain frequently got on the inside and applied pressure. His lanky frame did prevent Jourdain from scoring takedowns, but he didn't offer a whole lot offensively apart from a last second Hail Mary guillotine. There was initial confusion over who was declared the winner- I lean towards thinking it was a bad call. Okay fight, but it's definitely frustrating seeing a guy like Woodson not utilising his physical gifts to the fullest.
Fight 4: (135) Garrett Armfield def. Brad Katona via unanimous decision (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: I'm going to be honest, my attention waned a lot during this fight. Just quite dull and eventful, no big exciting moments, nothing resembling a finish, little urgency from either fighters. Katona got in a couple of low blows, channeling his inner Ric Flair (inadvertently), but overall, nothing to write home about.
Happy to report that Kayo streamed the prelims without incident. I could have still watched these fights on Fight Pass- also on Foxtel I believe as well- but I felt it was a good opportunity to test the stream out.
Main PPV Card
Fight 1: (145) Movsar Evloev def. Arnold Allen via UD (29-28 X 3)
Thoughts: Strong opening round where Allen avoided the takedown and landed some nice strikes on the undefeated Evloev. Right at the end of the round, Evloev managed to get Allen to the mat, and although he was game and trying for the rest of the fight, that was basically the story- defending takedowns, getting up, getting put down again, getting up and so on. Slight controversy over whether some mid-match knees were legal, which drew some blood from the Russian, but he otherwise seemed in no trouble throughout the fight's duration. Not the most exciting fight you'll ever seen, and the winning streak continues in blanketing fashion for Evloev.
Fight 2: (185) Chris Curtis def. Marc-Andre Barriault via SD (30-27 X 2, 28-29)
Thoughts: The first two rounds of this was like Ngannou vs. Lewis- two guys seemingly scared to engage. Curtis, usually a fan favourite, seemed puzzled by the boos from the Toronto crowd as R2 ended, but after some words from his coaches, woke up in R3, delivered a mostly fun final stretch where they stood in the pocket and dirty boxed, saving what otherwise would have been a dud of a fight. Points to Curtis for coming out to Edge's WWE theme (or Copeland's AEW theme, if you will).
Fight 3: (170) Neil Magny def. Mike Malott via TKO (punches) at 4:45 of R3
Thoughts: Malott was touted as a strong finisher, and his record proved it. But in Magny, it was a step up in competition, and when he couldn't get Magny out of there after two strong rounds, he ran out of gas, and with literal seconds to go in the fight, Magny got on top and made the incredible comeback with ground and pound until the ref was forced to step in. Malott was guaranteed the win if he made it to the final horn, but hey, that's MMA. It ain't over til it's over.
Fight 4: UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship- Raquel Pennington def. Mayra Bueno Silva via UD (49-46 X 2, 49-45)
Thoughts: After this fight, the belt and division should retire with Nunes. Seriously. I like Pennington, and I was rooting for the career underdog to pull off the win, but her fight IQ was awful. Her coaches and the commentary team were calling for her to stay at striking range, as she seemed to hurt Bueno Silva with relative ease in that realm, but she kept clinching up and grappling every time she hurt the Brazilian. Luckily for "Rocky", Bueno Silva isn't a championship-level fighter, fading MASSIVELY in the championship rounds. She spent the last 30 seconds of the fight laying on her back, calling on Pennington to enter her guard, because she was too tired to get up and do anything else. Awful fight. One of the worst championship fights I've seen in a long time.
Main Event: UFC Middleweight Championship- Dricus du Plessis def. Sean Strickland (c) via SD (47-48, 48-47 X 2)
Thoughts: This was an absolute war. Earned a deserved FOTN, but I don't know if it saved the quality of this decidedly below-average PPV. Strickland started well, busting du Plessis up with his jab, but du Plessis got stronger and more active as the fight went on. A lot of controversy around the scoring. It might need a second watch for me, but it seems like the right person won in a very close fight. Strickland started well and finished well with a great flurry in the final minute of R5, but in between it seemed like du Plessis was pushing the pace more, causing damage- Strickland got bloodied up badly in the championship rounds when it was thought du Plessis would fade cardio-wise- and du Plessis also mixed in takedowns with a good amount of success. Fun fight, but as is the case in most close fights these days, the quality of the fight was overshadowed by people fervently calling "robbery!" I would like to see them run this back, it's a great stylistic match-up.
So, I kinda want my money back from Kayo. Not because of the stream quality- it played just fine for me- but those fights were not worth $60. The main event was great, and the prospect of du Plessis enticing back Israel Adesanya- who was very quick to respond to the post-fight callout on Instagram- is very appealing. UFC 300 main event?
Always a bit weird when the prelims- particularly the Fight Pass early prelims- outperform the main PPV fights. That was the case here, and it's why I'll always advocate for turning up for the early fights, whether on TV or in person. Some amazing finishes and a couple of barnburners. I might watch Pennington vs. Bueno Silva again the next time I have trouble sleeping.
But next, we look forward to UFC 298, headlined by Alexander Volkanovski defending his featherweight title against Ilia Topuria, with fellow Aussie Robert Whittaker in the co-main against Paulo Costa.
Until next time, take care.