On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned for its latest Fight Night event, UFC Orlando.
December is here, Christmas is approaching, and what’s more traditionally festive than blood, punches, chokes, and knockouts? Okay, quite a lot of things, but there’s never a bad month for fights.
This past weekend, the sport’s premier promotion kicked off its three-card December schedule at the Amway Center with one of the most stacked UFC Fight Night cards of the year, featuring top contenders, former title challengers, and blossoming prospects.
It’s what Saint Nicholas would have wanted…
The question is, did the likes of Stephen Thompson, Rafael dos Anjos, Tai Tuivasa, Matt Schnell, Jack Hermansson, and Niko Price open this month’s year-end proceedings with a memorable night of action? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Orlando.
Positive – A Strawweight Prospect Thrives Again
Okay, let’s go ahead and mark down Yazmin Jauregui as the latest addition to the “must-watch” portion of the UFC’s roster…
At UFC San Diego this past August, Jauregui announced her arrival on MMA’s biggest stage in a barnburner with fellow newcomer Iasmin Lucindo. And if there was any doubt about the Mexican, who emerged victorious on debut via unanimous decision, boasting immense promise, there certainly shouldn’t be following Saturday night.
Given her last outing, Jauregui’s sophomore appearance was always likely to open the UFC Orlando card with fireworks. Initially, those came from opponent Istela Nunes, who looked to meet fire with fire by throwing down from the start. But while the Brazilian secured an early knockdown, she quickly became on the receiving end of the bout’s damaging strikes.
In round two, having closed out the opener with a knockdown of her own, Jauregui began to unload on the feet, sending Nunes back to the canvas with a clean right hand. From there, a prolonged period of ground-and-pound brought proceedings to a close.
The strawweight division has long been the most exciting and talent-filled weight class on the UFC’s women’s roster. With 23-year-old Jauregui fighting through adversity for an emphatic second win in the Octagon, the future at 115 pounds looks bright.
Positive – A Debut To Remember
What one 23-year-old can do, another 23-year-old can do better…
While Jauregui successfully made a positive second impression to the UFC fanbase, Francis Marshall had the chance to make his first a fight later. Suffice to say, he showed the full extent of his sizeable potential — and then some.
“Fire” Marshall (bravo), who earned a decision victory on DWCS earlier this year, branded his debut against Marcelo Rojo as a classic striker vs. grappler battle ahead of UFC Orlando. Well, maybe he should give his striking game more credit, as he managed to sleep the ‘striker’ with it on Saturday night.
Though he did use his superior ground game to secure the opening round, Marshall secured a debut victory by sending Rojo to the shadow realm. If there’s a place beyond that, the Argentine went there, too…
The beginning of the end came from a right hand in the clinch, which sent Rojo to the mat with a look that seemingly said, “I don’t know where the hell I am.” Perhaps before he’d worked out, he was in a fight, Marshall launched a truly brutal series of ground-and-pound shots to leave “Pitbull” unconscious.
Undefeated at 7-0, aged 23, and with as impactful a debut as humanely possible, Marshall is one to watch at featherweight.
Negative – The Same Old Story
Honestly, grabbing the fence has become a legitimate form of grappling defense.
It feels like a point against an event every week, and to be frank, it pretty much has been. At UFC Orlando, one of the sport’s most prominent and blatant recurring issues was on full display, as fence-grabbing went unpunished all night.
The main culprit this week was referee Larry Folsom. While he drew laughs with his interesting description of the low blow Francis Marshall was subjected to, the opposite came when Marcelo Rojo ignored a vocal warning for previously grabbing the fence, with his punishment for re-offending being a fat nothing.
But it was later in the prelims when it really got out of hand, with Scott Holtzman likely approaching double figures when it came to seeking an advantage through fence-grabbing. Once again, the question begs, what does it take for a point to be docked?
Thankfully, Clay Guida was still able to take the retiring Holtzman down, and the fouls didn’t affect the result. But ultimately, that doesn’t change the fact that the third man in the cage didn’t do anything to stop that potentially becoming an issue.
On the topic of some rough officiating at UFC Orlando, it’s worth mentioning Dan Miragliotta’s glaring error during Jonathan Pearce’s victory over Darren Elkins.
After stopping the bout with “JSP” in top position in order to have the doctor check on a cut opened up on Elkin’s forehead, Miragliotta re-started the action back on the feet, only realizing his mistake after hearing the cries of Eddie Cha in the Fight Ready corner.
Essentially, Pearce ended up being punished for doing damage with ground-and-pound by having a dominant position taken away. Good stuff.
Positive – Orlando’s Own Thrills
If there’s a perfect way to open a seven-fight main card, Phil Rowe and Niko Price came close to finding it at UFC Orlando.
The pair of welterweights entertained through two rounds before delivering one of the most entertaining frames of the year in the third, with “The Hybrid” appearing to give himself a chance of an almighty comeback with a late flurry.
Unfortunately for Price, who was figuring in his first fight for over a year, “The Fresh Prince” wasn’t about to let victory slip from his grasp, especially not in front of his fellow Orlandonians.
With that, Rowe capitalized on Price’s fatigue by coming about as close to sleeping him as has appeared possible during his UFC tenure. While “The Hybrid” remained standing up until the stoppage, it was clear that he wasn’t all there.
Nothing gets a crowd going like an athlete fighting out of the event’s host city notching a win.
Negative – Not A Fun Watch
While Eryk Anders performed well at UFC Orlando, his TKO victory over Kyle Daukaus crossed the line of comfortable viewing.
This past June, Daukaus suffered a truly brutal knockout at the hands of Roman Dolidze at UFC Austin. The finish resulted in some serious damage, with “The D’Arce Knight” requiring surgery to repair some facial fractures.
With that in mind, a return just six months later raised some eyebrows. It’s safe to say that they’re still raised following the conclusion of Saturday’s event, where Daukaus was firmly beaten.
Essentially, everything Anders connected drew a response, and that included multiple knockdowns. A tough to-watch headbutt also didn’t help, with Daukaus’ reaction marking a worrying visual.
In the early goings of round two, it seemed clear where the fight was going, and the inevitability of more damage to a fighter whose chin was struggling to withstand any contact was somewhat uncomfortable.
Let’s perhaps add that one to the pile of evidence that towel throws need to become more normalized…
Positive – Innovation
There are many reasons why I’d brand mixed martial arts the greatest sport in the world, and one of them is the wide array of ways to win — not just in regards to the individual disciplines at play, but the variety of techniques in each one.
UFC Orlando’s wild offering came from Roman Dolidze, who secured his ascent into the middleweight top 10 in some style, making the most of his short-notice opportunity against Jack Hermansson with a slick, unique, and (insert any of about 347 superlatives available) second-round finish.
When the fight hit the ground in the second frame, the Georgian displayed non-stop offense, attempting a triangle choke, armbar, and leglock. In the end, Dolidze secured a truly miraculous transition, locking in a nasty calf slicer before turning “The Joker” over and gaining back control.
From there, Hermansson had no escape and simply ate ground-and-pound strikes until the referee intervention. Some way to enter contention…
Positive – A New Player In HW Contention
It’s so hard to mark a Tai Tuivasa loss down as a positive, but Sergei Pavlovich deserves all the credit for his display at UFC Orlando.
In recent times, “Bam Bam” has shown that if there’s anyone heavyweights can’t ‘swang and bang’ with, it’s him — or so it seemed. There may well be a new leader in that category in Russia’s Pavlovich.
While the Australian looks to throw down in a phone booth with wild, looping strikes, Pavlovich responds down the middle with scarily accurate power shots.
The 30-year-old has long been highly touted since leaving his Fight Nights Global title reign in the rear-view mirror and focusing on a career inside the Octagon. And since a debut loss to Alistair Overeem, Pavlovich has been steadily rising to the top.
While a three-year layoff stalled his surge, the Russian well and truly reminded the division of his presence with knockouts of Shamil Abdurakhimov and Derrick Lewis. Now, he’s closed out 2022 by putting the heavyweight king on notice with a decimation of Tuivasa.
The most frightening part? The first knockdown looked to come from a jab.
The absence of a shoey was devastating, of course. But for Tuivasa, his style and recent rise towards the top of the division means these kinds of losses don’t damage his stock much. After all, he’s content being the “shoey guy” rather than a title contender.
With that said, the arrival of a new contender in the title picture was one of UFC Orlando’s positives.
Positive – “Wonderboy”
Can we agree to just feed Stephen Thompson strikers until his retirement?
Off the back of two grappling-heavy defeats in 2021, the 39-year-old returned to the Octagon in the UFC Orlando headliner with a point to prove — that “Wonderboy” hasn’t lost a step.
And opposite a willing dance partner on the feet in Kevin Holland, Thompson did just that with a masterclass in mixed martial arts striking. En route to a corner stoppage in-between the fourth and fifth rounds, the welterweight veteran showed that his endless cardio, speed, and accuracy hasn’t left him, piecing “Trailblazer” up with bursts of punches and his usual display of crisp kicks.
Holland, for his part, gave as good as he got given in the early goings before an apparent hand injury hampered his offensive efforts.
Saturday’s headliner was a positive for numerous reasons, from the fact it was truly one of the best fights of the year to the chance to see “Wonderboy” back doing what he does best.
It’s a shame there’s so many grapplers above him in the rankings because Thompson against reigning champion Leon Edwards is a mouth-watering prospect. Perhaps we can compromise with “Wonderboy” vs. Jorge Masvidal 2?
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Orlando?