Five Takeaways From UFC Liverpool

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Stephen Thompson vs. Darren Till
Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson meets Darren Till in UFC Liverpool main event

MUCH DISCUSSED MAIN EVENT TURNS HEATED AFTER CONTROVERSIAL ENDING

One of the most anticipated Fight Night main events of all time already had more than enough conversation pieces swirling around it: Is it too much too soon for Till? What happens if Till beats “Wonderboy?” How big of a star would he become? Who will win the chess match between these two stand-up artists? And how will the welterweight division unfold at the conclusion of this big fight?

As if there wasn’t enough discussion surrounding this fight, weigh-in day would push the buzz aside to make way for worry, and the trepidation would not subside until the scale registered 187.3, shy of the 188 lbs. limit stipulated for Till in the new bout terms. Once the fight was officially a go hours prior to bell time, the initial hype could resume, even with some residual controversy.

The fight was not the fan-pleasing striking delight most were expecting, but it was a chess match and a technical battle of wits, a style that usually favors the karate veteran. The consensus of the MMA community appears to disagree with the final outcome, including experts and journalists far and wide, but as the saying goes, “Do not leave it in the hands of the judges.” And might I add, “definitely don’t leave it in the hands of the judges when you are in the building of the man who pretty much orchestrated and initiated the very event you are in, where seemingly the entire audience is behind him.” The judges are human, and it takes no in-depth analysis or Perry Mason argumentation to back up the claim that the hometown audience can influence the judges’ decision.

Having said that, any talk of a “robbery” is hyperbole at its finest. “Wonderboy” Thompson did not land double digit strikes in a single round and, in fact, was outlanded statistically by Till in three of the five rounds, though by a margin that can be counted on one hand in all but the fifth round. Couple that with the Octagon control and pressure of Till, it’s not a stretch to see the decision going to Till, let alone any particular round. This is not to say that Till definitely won or even to argue that he should have won, but simply to state that giving Till any round between 2-4 is not a robbery, and “Wonderboy” has himself and his lack of volume to blame as much if not more than any judge sitting cageside.

But if you really want to talk controversy, we’ll have plenty to discuss should Till either be ranked #1 or be granted a tittle shot after such a narrow victory on the heels of missing weight by over three pounds. Until then, it’s hard not to say words of praise for the 25-year old upstart for going the distance in a kickboxing chess match with the master, even if you do not agree with the official decision.

ONE MORE FOR THE GOOD GUY

One thing Alexander Hernandez taught us in his first-round thumping of Beneil Dariush at UFC 222 is to never write off the last-minute, debuting replacement fighter. The stage was certainly set for 27-year-old Craig White to follow Hernandez’s example, but the veteran Magny would pull the curtains on this script, shutting off White’s lights with a first-round knockout created by a hard knee to the head followed big shots from up top to put an exclamation on the finish. With this victory, Neil Magny has the third most wins in UFC welterweight history. And although this opening chapter in White’s UFC career came to an abrupt and morose end, this fight did provide us a feel-good story that transcended the sport of MMA. Prior to the fight, Magny committed to donating $15,000 of his purse to a diseased little girl he discovered on GoFundMe:

 

 

In an interview with UFC.com earlier this week, Magny provided more details on how he came to learn about this young girl in need:

“I started reading about this girl and her condition on her GoFundMe and I realized how much of a drastic situation her family are in. That’s what really inspired me to dig deep and make a bigger contribution than anything I’ve ever done in the past. I’ve always contributed to things I’ve felt some kind of way about in the past – a charity or whatever – but it was always something comfortable for me, like, ‘Oh, I’ll give a hundred bucks.’ But I’m in a position where I’m able to help this person out and I should do it. When I look at it, I’m grateful for the opportunity to fight and blessed to have the opportunity to fight, but this girl is literally fighting for her life and I felt really compelled to make a donation.”

Any unscripted story that ends with the good guy coming out on top with an even better cause behind him, it’s always a feel-good ending to embrace.

DARREN STEWART BELONGS HERE

Darren Stewart stepped into the cage Sunday a winless man in UFC competition. As the slight underdog heading into his bout against Eric Spicely, Stewart was projected by bookies to make his exit from the promotion with nothing but L’s to show for his tenure. The first round did not do much to foreshadow a different ending. Spicely, regarded as primarily a wrestler, was able to land the most meaningful strikes in the round: a lead straight and, in the tail end of the round, an uppercut followed by a right hook, while Stewart landed sporadic jabs.

All this would change in the second round when a hard jab by Stewart opened the door for a flurry that would earn him the second round TKO victory and likely buy him another UFC fight. And as he collapsed to his knees, openly weeping with the raw emotion that is the language of a true fighter, Stewart translated what ran though his mind, body, and soul in that moment, “I deserve to be here.” And after that second-round performance and the show of emotion that followed, you can expect “The Dentist” to be staying put for the time being.

KELLY’S UNLIKELY UFC RUN POSSIBLY COMES TO AN END

Dan Kelly said in the days leading into UFC Liverpool that should he lose again, it would be the last time we see the 40-year old judoka in the Octagon. It didn’t take long for Tom Breese to send Kelly into the retirement home, with a devastating uppercut capped off with a ground and pound finish to stomp out any possibility of another come-from-behind victory from Kelly. Kelly entered the fight as a major underdog once again, but Kelly’s entire UFC career has been about defying the odds. You’re not supposed to be making your UFC debut at 37 years of age. And he wasn’t supposed to win six of his first seven fights upon his arrival…the bookmakers would tell you as much. But following his first round KO defeat to Derek Brunson, it looked like time was beginning to run out on Kelly’s Cinderella story. Kelly would then lose to Elias Theodorou via unanimous decision last November in Sydney, Australia. But as someone who has been a fierce competitor for his entire adult life, certified by his four trips to the Olympics, Kelly was not in the UFC to take up space or collect a paycheck, but to win. And his mindset coming into Sunday was that if he could no longer do that, it would be time to walk away:

“If I lose another one, then I’m definitely done,” Kelly told MMAjunkie Thursday. “I changed things a lot this preparation, I did a lot more than I normally do, and we did everything that we possibly can to try to create that (winning situation).”

Unfortunately for Kelly, things did not go as planned Sunday. But if it’s any consolation to the grizzled judoka, his UFC career exceeded expectations.

ANOTHER TITLE CONTENDER FROM THE TUF HOUSE?

Gillian Robertson entered the Echo Arena on a two-fight win streak in what was her second UFC fight. Her opponent, Molly McCann, came into the fight with twofold pressure: not only was she making her UFC debut, but she was doing so in her hometown’s UFC debut! Add on to that the fact that she had missed weight the day before, McCann was hunted by a fleet of emotions heading into the Octagon.

Once the fight hit the mat in the first round as a result of a Robertson takedown, the tale of the fight began to unfold. Robertson looked one step ahead of McCann at every turn, as she was able to pass guard and mount with relative ease, and deliver much damage to McCann. Prior to the fight, McCann made assurances that she would not tap out in her hometown; and for better or worse, those words tested true.

With her first victory coming via armbar and now a technical submission over McCann, Robertson looks like a potential threat in the wide-open flyweight division. “The Savage” looked far beyond her 4-2 experience, which could be attributed to her stint on The Ultimate Fighter. Another female grappler who seemed to transform little experience into a big winning streak after spending time on TUF is Julianna Peña, who after beginning her MMA career at 4-2, would win four straight following her stint on the show. At only 23 years old, look for Robertson to continue to blossom alongside the developing flyweight division.

What are your takeaways from the UFC’s debut in Liverpool?