MAFB: UFC on ESPN 30 Review
Welcome back to the newly rejuvenated series of Morning After the Fight Before! A bumper card filled with ranking-relevant battles, there was somehow space for the TUF finals. Huge congratulations are extended to both Bryan Battle and Ricky Turcios who secured their respective Middleweight and Bantamweight TUF contracts. Another TUF prospect, Andre Petroski, effectively secured himself a contract lower down the card – putting away Michael Gillmore in the third round. Oh yeah, Smilin’ Sam Alvey brought the heat once again. Backing himself onto the cage, wilding hooks and refusing to fight off the front-foot, just how did the UFC’s lapdog fail to win over the scorecards?
Catch up on the preview and predictions for UFC on ESPN 30 if you haven’t already, and have a good old laugh at our expense.
More interested in number crunching? Find out how each fighter ranked on the Pintsized Interest scale this weekend on MAFB Math: UFC on ESPN 30.
Daniel Rodriguez vs Kevin Lee
Rodriguez def. Lee // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
To return after an 18-month layoff is difficult enough for any fighter. For Kevin Lee, who toughed it through two ACL reconstructions, it created far more challenging circumstances. Daniel Rodriguez may not have the flashiest name at Welterweight, but the 170lbr is a tough ask for anyone in the division. Aside from a very dubious decision loss to Nicolas Dalby, Rodriguez has been otherwise perfect in the UFC – constantly refining his natural power and accuracy into technical boxing approaches.
Lee struggled to impose his will at the higher weight class. While there was a wishful belief that Lee had naturally grown into Welterweight during his hiatus, he was visibly the smaller man in the octagon. Aside from a couple of well-timed takedowns, Lee failed to bully Rodriguez in the clinch and as a result, was forced into a technical kickboxing affair. Rodriguez’s frequent inside leg kicks prevented Lee from sitting into his powerful jab, while Rodriguez also timed Lee’s flurries with hard counter straights and check hooks.
Kevin Lee Analysis and Future
A tough night back at the office for the Motown Phenom. It is a head-scratcher when it transpires that the Detroit native is just twenty-eight years old. A litany of injuries and a ping-pong record will do that to any fighter. Lee never looked out of his depth on Saturday night, more so physically out-gunned. A move back down to Lightweight is a must if he wishes to pursue UFC gold – regardless of his claims that he would struggle to ever make 155lbs again. Critics will argue that Lee has fallen in love with his hands over recent years, yet his wrestling was nullified largely by Rodriguez’s size.
A fight with Thiago Moises or Drew Dober at Lightweight would suit Lee perfectly. Both opponents are coming off of losses while hanging around the brink of the top-15 to justify Lee’s emergence back in the numbered column.
Daniel Rodriguez Analysis and Future
Despite fearing for Daniel Rodriguez’s lack of speed in every match-up, his laser-sharp accuracy and timing often rise to the occasion. As soon as Rodriguez begins to build combinations off his inside leg kicks, he will become a menace. Many times in the third round, an exhausted Lee was thrown out of his stance with a chop to the legs. Rodriguez wasn’t quick enough to react to several clean openings, but perhaps he was limiting risk in a fight he was cruising. A worrying lack of activity off his back will have the wrestlers at 170lbs salivating, but there is still time to sharpen his craft.
This is going to sound weird, but a win over the victor of Nick Diaz/Robbie Lawler would be a wonderful match-up. All three men are happy enough to keep it standing, and is a favourable piece of match-making for all three depending on your POV.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Alessio Di Chirico
Alhassan def. Di Chirico // KO (head kick) Round 1 0:17
Okay, I had to squeeze in a quick rundown for this one. The fight, if you can call it that, is best viewed in a GIF format. Rather than an exceptional battle taking place or new stylistic developments emerging, Alhassan’s KO victory is important with regards to his place in the UFC. Sitting on a three-fight slide, including a lights-out KO loss to Khaos Williams in thirty seconds, Alhassan had never faced adversity to this degree before in his career. The mystical methods of the UFC suits are difficult to predict, but a fourth consecutive loss would surely have had Alhassan packing his bags. You only need to look at Darren Stewart, who fell to an 0-3-1 record on Saturday and was promptly released despite arguably beating hot prospect, Kevin Holland, last year.
Di Chirico may represent a fighter who has failed to make a mark in the UFC since winning the TUF finale back in 2018, yet fans had every reason to believe it was the best version of the Italian facing Alhassan. Following a highlight reel stoppage of Joaquin Buckley, a fighter no stranger to aesthetic finishes, Di Chirico looked a fighter reborn. Utilising various front kicks and teep kicks, Di Chirico uses his length exceptionally well against shorter fighters and frustrates from a comfortable distance. Most analysts, myself included, expected a mentally shot Alhassan to struggle to get inside Di Chirico’s range to land his nuclear power. How wrong we were.
Catching a loose body kick from Di Chirico, Alhassan span the Italian and carved up the space. In under ten seconds, Di Chirico had backed himself to the cage. Undoubtedly sensing danger, Di Chirico attempted to fake an exit to the left, yet was caught by a huge Alhassan head kick in the process. One-shot, one KO. Huge shoutout to the exciting fighter not only snapping his slide but also stopping himself from ground and pounding a finished fighter.
Bryan Battle. Outclassed for most of his stint in TUF, and certainly the first round of the final against Gilbert Urbina, Battle somehow finds a way to win.
Gerald Meerschaert. Nut shots, eye pokes and a wicked recovery time, Meerschaert somehow ended with his hand raised against the dangerous Makhmud Muradov.
Surprise of the Night
Pat Sabatini def. Jamall Emmers // Submission (heel hook) Round 1 1:53. After being wobbled, Sabatini somehow recovered off his back and won a submission shoot-off between his heel hook and Emmers’ toehold.
Fight of the Night
Ricky Turcios def. Brady Hiestand // Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 29-28). In a fight that I felt Hiestand won, this was a worthy TUF final to feature on a UFC main card. An exhausting pace throughout the full fifteen minutes, there was a perfect mix of sloppy striking, power wrestling and flashy grappling to showcase the sport.
Finish of the Night
Alhassan def. Alessio Di Chirico // KO (head kick) Round 1 0:17. I mean… come on. A one-shot head kick knockout is pretty special.
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