Fans inside Honda Center were numerous and vocal during the preliminary action on a historic card. Despite two submissions and a matchup of heavyweight knockout kings, it was an all-out scrap between two under-the-radar featherweight wrestlers, Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice, that electrified the crowd.
Brendan Schaub vs. Lavar Johnson
Heavyweight Lavar Johnson has his first fight ever go to the judges’ scorecards; unfortunately, he spent the bulk of those 15 minutes underneath the equally massive Brendan Schaub. Schaub earned an easy 30-27 win but no fans inside the Honda Center that had earlier been on its feet for a featherweight scrap.
Schaub – who lost his last two fights by KO and was facing a fellow lights-out artist — took things to the mat about 20 seconds in. As Johnson worked to his feet from half-guard, Schaub locked in a modified anaconda. Though his hands were secured, his legs were free, and Johnson spun around, punching with his free hand as the two spun in an absurd-looking quarter-ton of fighter. Eventually Johnson got free and stood as Schaub tried to take his back. But after a quick clinch, Johnson got a trip takedown of his own and punched away from top position. Schaub used a kneebar to sweep, stood, and got a takedown of his own to end the round.
Schaub raced to close the distance against the dangerous Johnson again in the second, and though Johnson threw body shots from clinch, Schaub quickly took him down again and recovered in half-guard until a referee standup. Johnson winged uppercuts, Schaub closed the distance and went back to the mat. This time Schaub managed to advance from guard to half-guard, but that was about all of note and the crowd voiced its displeasure at the bell.
Schaub’s record now stands at 10-3 while Johnson slips to 17-7.
Michael Chiesa vs. Anton Kuivanen
TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa won his second UFC fight and his second by submission with a second-round rear-naked choke over Finland’s Anton Kuivanen.
The first round was mainly a range-testing mission between the lightweights, with first Chiesa and then Kuivanen pressing the action. The taller Chiesa worked his jab and Kuivanen powered into a center-of-cage clinch, but the real action came with under a minute left, when Chiesa caught a flying Kuivanen knee and turned it into a takedown. Kuivanen then scrambled through mount and back to his feet before another flash trip takedown by Chiesa.
Chiesa dove for a single-leg early in the second, and Kuivanen defended over the course of a prolonged struggle against the fence. With Kuivanen cornered, Chiesa worked his way behind him, climbed the fence and sank his hooks in for a takedown. Kuivanen fended off the first two rear-naked choke attempts, but the third one was good and he was forced to tap at 2:29.
The win keeps Chiesa’s record perfect at 9-0; Kuivanen departs 17-6. “Before we came out we said the only round he can win is the first,” said Chiesa. “We knew he’d go for the KO early and then we’d take over in the second and that’s what happened. Everyone has a ‘go-to’ move and I’m just good at taking backs.”
Schaub ate a punch and dove for a single leg but again got the takedown. This time he stayed in guard until the referee standup. On the feet, Johnson charged so hard with his right hand that when he missed, he flung himself down, and Schaub pounced, briefly getting mount and trying an arm-triangle choke before landing back to half guard. Schaub backed off and dove with a punch, then tried for another anaconda, but Johnson whiled away the remaining minute on the bottom.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice
In a crowd-pleasing featherweight show of striking, stamina and steel chins, TUF 14 runner-up Dennis Bermudez scored his third Octagon win via razor-thin split decision over fellow college wrestler Matt Grice in a thrilling frontrunner for Fight of the Night.
Grice, who wrestled for the University of Oklahoma, started the fight by hunting for a takedown, Bermudez generally defended and threatened with guillotines. Add in the fact that Grice’s one completed takedown ended with Bermudez in mount, raining down punches, and it was enough to shut down that gameplan. It turned out to be the athletes’ striking that provided the bout’s biggest drama – and while it was Bermudez who connected first, the impending explosion was first suggested in the round-one left hook that dropped Bermudez flat on his face.
Bermudez was the aggressor throughout the later rounds and landed right hands particularly well, but Grice’s punches had power. The third round was one of the most entertaining in memory, as Bermudez surged forward, backing Grice against the fence. He dropped Grice with an uppercut, then followed to the ground with blows from half-guard, applying heavy cross-face pressure while punching from the top. Somehow Grice made it back to his feet, as the crowd erupted halfway through the first. Bermudez then hurt him again – repeatedly – alternating between heavy punches that looked to have Grice out on his feet and knees to the body that would buckle him back down. But each time Grice seemed to be out, he would fight back with a kick, knee or takedown attempt, even as he held on to the fence to simply keep himself up at one point.
Bermudez got the judges’ nods with two scores of 29-28 and one 28-29; his record is now 11-3 while Grice slides to 15-5. “That was insane,” said Bermudez. “I had that battle inside me where I maybe could have quit but I won that battle and from there got back into the fight. I had him badly hurt but he just kept throwing big hooks as if I hadn’t spent the last thirty seconds beating on him. He’s crazy. It was an honor to fight that guy.” Grice returned the praise for his opponent: “I’ve got so much respect for Dennis as a person and a fighter after that. God blessed me with a hard head, but he blessed Dennis with a hard head, too.”
Sam Stout vs. Caros Fodor
Two lightweights with lightning-fast hand speed met in UFC 157’s first televised matchup, as Canadian veteran Sam Stout outpointed Strikeforce import Caros Fodor for a split-decision victory.
The takedown skills that Stout used to win last summer’s fight against Spencer Fisher were back at work in round one, and this time he got to show more of his ground technique as well. With Fodor coming forward and landing fast fists, Stout quickly looked to undo that danger by slowing things down against the fence. The two dueled against the links for much of the round with Stout on the inside. But a backward trip finally landed him in Fodor’s guard, and he gradually passed into half-guard and then mount. He threw a solid elbow from top, then pushed into S-mount and finished the round working for an armbar on Fodor.
For the next two rounds, the two alternated between brief exchanges on the feet and extended tie-ups on the fence. Stout generally applied pressure from the outside position, though Fodor did work valiantly (if in vain) there for a takedown in the final minutes of the fight. Bursts of dirty boxing featured elbows from Stout and knees from Fodor, but by and large it was a battle of attrition.
It was the boxing exchanges that won Stout the fight, as he seemed to accelerate throughout the fight. Both men clipped one another early on, but Stout’s combinations evolved throughout the fight and he scored repeatedly with body shots in addition to clean head shots.
Post-fight, both men said they believed they won rounds two and three. “I thought I won but it was close,” said Stout. “I’ve been training BJJ for 10 years but never show it and I wanted to show I’m a total MMA fighter.” Stout’s win – the 20th of his career (to 8 losses and one draw) – came via scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29. Fodor drops to 7-3.
Kenny Robertson vs. Brock Jardine
Kenny Robertson earned his first UFC win in three tries with an innovative first-round submission of Brock Jardine in the third of three welterweight prelims aired online.
The bout started with a quick trip to the mat and Robertson stuck in a guillotine. Robertson escaped, then speedily rolled from half guard to Jardine’s back with two hooks in. He sunk in a rear-naked choke twice as the two rolled and punched Jardine’s head when he didn’t have the choke. Then, with the two basically on their sides, Robertson riding high on Jardine’s back, Robertson reached through and pulled Jardine’s leg forward and straight. The pressure plus the stretch on the hamstring was enough to earn the tapout at 2:57.
“Sometime you gotta go with what you are handed,” said Robertson, who told Joe Rogan post-fight that he’d once torn someone’s hamstring with the unique move. “He was on top of me but didn’t have a great posture. I saw the opening, so I grabbed his leg and hyper-extended it, and he verbally submitted.” Robertson’s return to the win column moves him to 12-2, while Jardine drops to 9-3 in his sophomore UFC outing.
Jon Manley vs. Neil Magny
Jon Manley and Neil Magny, two lanky welterweights from season 16 of TUF, made their UFC debuts in Anaheim. Evenly matched on paper, it was Magny’s striking and takedown defense that outpointed Manley’s heavy wrestling in a three-round bout.
Manley looked to neutralize his opponent’s 80-inch reach by rushing in for a takedown and pinning Magny against the fence. He efforted for a takedown for a good three minutes straight, briefly getting things to the mat twice but unable to keep them there. Things finally returned to the feet in the center of the cage, where Magny scored with a couple of straights, then took his turn controlling the tie-up, moving things back to the fence. When Manley tried to return to his takedown attempts, Magny broke again.
Manley applied more of his Octagon pressure in the second, but Magny took more control, getting two takedowns of his own and reversing from Manley’s into side control. Magny was also successful on the feet, chasing Manley with straights when he finally got space and punishing him with strikes and elbows as Manley stood after one ground exchange.
Manley came closest to a finish in the second round, when he locked in an armbar on one of Magny’s long limbs. But Magny freed himself and went back to hailing punches from his postured-up position against the cage. Manley worked to his feet, and this time it was Magny who stayed heavy on the outside of a tie-up, throwing elbows and punches from a quasi-headlock top position. The ref broke up the clinch on the cage with under thirty seconds left, and Magny continued to rack up points and a final-second takedown to which Manley seemed resigned.
“The UFC jitters are for real,” said Magny. “My team had tried to warn me about getting nervous but nothing gets you ready for that. But as soon as I started hitting him, it was just another fight. He tried to press me up against the fence a lot but I got my striking going and that got me the win.” Now 8-2, Magny got that win with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28; Manley slips to 7-3.
Nah-Shon Burrell vs. Yuri Villefort
Nah-Shon Burrell missed the welterweight limit by five pounds in his promotional debut, but he made the most of his Octagon introduction, punishing fellow Strikeforce import Yuri Villefort en route to a unanimous decision win in an exciting event opener.
Villefort looked like he was going to make it a quick night, taking Burrell down and sinking in a rear-naked choke inside the first minute, but Burrell survived and hopped back up to his feet. The Brazilian tried to goad Burrell into his guard, but Burrell was having none of it. From then, the story was Burrell’s boxing – particularly his big left hand – doing more damage than Villefort’s leg kicks. Villefort was knocked down with under two minutes left, and Burrell pounced with ground and pound, but Villefort twisted with a dangerous-looking kneebar. Burrell rolled out of danger and then out of bottom position and back to his feet. Villefort rushed Burrell when he turned away to let Villefort stand, and Burrell spun back around, punishing Villefort with punches and an elbow against the fence.
The men stood for all of the second, Villefort’s main weapon being a leg kick and Burrell’s a left hand. Two nasty short right hands of Burrell’s also landed as he hunted for an uppercut KO, bloodying Villefort’s face. Villefort got some momentum in a close-quarters exchange after dazing Burrell with a high kick, scoring with elbows and punches. But it was Burrell who again outboxed his foe, varying his combinations and earning one knockdown.
In the third, Villefort answered Burrell’s left hand with a double-leg takedown. He tried to isolate an arm from Burrell’s back, but Burrell reversed and got back to his feet. Villefort got another takedown, this time positioning for a toehold as Burrell stood. He hung on to the sub attempt, which allowed Burrell to throw a dozen-plus left hands from top position, further bloodying Villefort’s face. Villefort eventually let go, and Burrell worked to his feet with Villefort in a headlock. Villefort shot one more time, but Burrell quickly stood and teed off on his bloodied opponent.
Judges’ scores were 30-27, 29-28 twice for 23-year-old Burrell, the seventh youngest fighter on the roster, who moves to 9-2 professionally. Villefort, the second-youngest fighter, at 21 years old now stands 6-2. “I took the fight at short notice and made mistakes cutting weight, but I was determined to get the win no matter what,” said Burrell. “He was close a couple of times with his submissions but I wasn’t going to lose this. I fought my ass off, man.”