This past weekend saw the UFC return to Halifax for its sophomore visit to the Maritimes, and while it initially seemed like the event may be jinxed due to the loss of the main event pairing of Junior Dos Santos versus Stefan Struve, it was far from it. While Junior Dos Santos would eventually be tapped to face the Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic at UFC 211 later this year, JDS would not be making the trip to Halifax for this Fight Night 105 card. Alas, that is the unpredictable nature of the fight game, as cards are subject to change at a moment’s notice (as another promotion discovered this past weekend), but all in all this weekend’s card went off with barely a hitch.
The enthusiastic and exuberant crowd of Haligonians was treated to a packed card that kicked off at about 7:30 with an opening bout that saw BC fighter (by way of NL) Ryan Janes facing off against MMA veteran Gerald “The Machine” Meerschaert. It was a fight that did not go the Canadian’s way, as the fight quickly found its way to the mat, and while Janes was able to escape Meerschaert’s initial triangle attempt, he wasn’t able to wrench his arm from The Machine’s grasp, and found himself tapping to a beautiful armbar. It was Meerschaert’s 19th submission victory (out of 34 total fights). As this was the sole Fight Pass match-up, it was time for the Preliminary card to get underway.
The preliminary card had a little bit of something for everyone, as we had a Woman’s Strawweight clash that featured Randa Markos taking on former Strawweight champion Carla Esparza. During their time in The Ultimate Fighter house, these ladies developed a strong dislike for each other and on Sunday night that tension was palpable. The tension between these two combatants was clear, and helped fuel this scrappy back and forth affair. Markos emerged the victor in a split-decision win. The opening fight on the Prelim card between Thiago Santos and Jack Marshman ended shortly after Santos landed a devastating head kick, which he followed up with some furious ground and pound before the ref ended the beating.
The preliminary card also bore witness to the debut of Aiemann Zahabi (brother of famed MMA coach Firas), who took on a very game Reginaldo Vieira, emerging victorious after a hard-fought fifteen minutes. Aiemann walked away with a unanimous decision in his debut bout. In the feature fight of the Prelim card, Canadian fighter Nordine Taleb took on the Argentinian Santiago Ponzinibbio. They waged a competitive battle for a long fifteen minutes, with both athletes emerging bloody and battle worn. In a split decision victory, the judges awarded the “W” to Ponzinibbio. It was an opening card that was entertaining and prepped the Haligoons for the main Fight Night card.
While the main event of the evening didn’t have immediate title implications, it could mark a defining moment for one fighter in Travis Browne, and could give his opponent Derrick Lewis a significant boost in the standings. The co-main event marked the middleweight debut for a former welterweight title contender. The Halifax crowd was fired up and ready to roar its support for Ship Cove, NL native Gavin “Guvn’r” Tucker (who now calls Halifax home) as he was making his UFC debut, facing a long -time UFC vet in Sam Sicilia. The card also featured former ECC middleweight champ Elias Theodorou, in addition to former Olympian Sara McMann who was facing a last-minute replacement in undefeated Gina Mazay (who forfeited 20% of her purse as she was unable to make weight). While It was a card rich in talent, it wasn’t a card that had many predictable outcomes.
The night saw the emergence of a title contender in the Heavyweight division with Derrick Lewis’ decimation of Travis “Hapa” Browne. The finish was somewhat controversial, as Mario Yamasaki failed to stop the fight when Browne stopped intelligently defending himself, which allowed Derrick Lewis to drop 3-4 more bombs on his downed opponent. Lewis was unapologetic at the post-fight presser, thanking Yamasaki for letting it go longer as “…I wanted to get all of my anger out on Travis’s face, ‘cause he hits on women…” (referring to past accusations made against Browne). This loss is the third in a row for Browne, and if the division were a bit more robust, could have meant the end of Browne’s UFC tenure, however I expect that we’ll see at least one more Travis Browne fight before a pink slip is handed down. The co-main lived up to its billing; as both Hendricks and Lombard waged a fifteen-minute war that felt more like a game of chess than a mixed martial arts clash. The fight ebbed and flowed, with the tide turning between Hendricks and Cuba’s own Hector Lombard. It was Bigg Rigg who showed that he has returned to form. In listening to his pre-fight interviews, you can tell he is happy to be fighting again and he explained that it has been quite some time since he “Flowed” in the octagon. After missing a couple of weight cuts, he doubts he will ever see 170lbs again; 175 is a possibility, but his body shuts down and prevents him from being able to drop down to make the Welterweight weight limit. A rejuvenated Hendricks is fun to watch and listen to, he is a fan’s fighter, he looked great Sunday night and I look forward to seeing him fight again.
While both the main and co-main events featured well known and established fighters, the roof of the Scotiabank Centre was blown off the moment that Gavin Tucker’s entrance music hit as he entered to the Dropkick Murphy’s rendition of “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya”. For a guy that was entering his tenth professional fight, and first within the UFC, he looked more like someone who was entering the octagon for their 30th fight. For the full fifteen minutes, Tucker outclassed Sam Sicilia with his fluid footwork, brash personality and a definite flair for the dramatic as he was calling his shots late in the third round and at one point played the role of Matador to Sam’s flummoxed Bull. It was a shining moment for the UFC newcomer, and the first of what will become a long and storied career.
The card also saw the humble and soft-spoken Elias Theodorou once again on the Halifax Fight Night card (Elias also fought on the UFC Fight Night 54 card back in 2014). He was in tough against Vitor Belfort’s protégé Cezar Ferreira, as the Brazilian has competed in MMA since 2007. It was a back and forth affair, that saw both fighters have moments in which they shined. Honestly, in watching the fight, there wasn’t a moment where one fighter dominated all three rounds and it could have gone either way. It was a fight that ultimately was awarded to the fighter with the “Best Hair in MMA” Elias “The Spartan” Theodorou. The opening two fights lasted a little more than one round combined, as Paul Felder stopped Alessandro Ricci with strikes late in Round 1, and Sara McMann locked in a vicious Arm-Triangle choke on the previously undefeated Gina Mazany to snap that streak soundly. After her match, Mazany was visibly disappointed and distraught over the loss, but McMann offered some kind words of support and advice to the younger competitor.
The close to 6-hour event seemed to be over in the blink of an eye, it was an exciting night of fights that thoroughly outperformed its appearance on paper. It offered a little bit of everything to everyone, there were knock outs, submissions, debuts, disappointments and even a guy trying to avoid soiling himself on national TV (if he is to be believed). Now we wait to see what the fallout from this card will be: who is Tucker’s next opponent, will Lewis get his much-desired time-off, is Travis Browne’s time in the Octagon drawing to a close? We will have to wait and see how it all shakes out, but hopefully the UFC will make its way back here sooner than later (and hopefully with GSP in tow).
UFC Weigh Ins (Sat. Feb 18th, 2017)