Photo: Getty Images vis ESPN
UFC fans on the state side of the Atlantic enjoyed a spot of afternoon delight Saturday, when UFC on Fuel 7 went down from London towne.
In the main event of the evening, bantamweight Renan Barao put his interim title on the line against hard-hitting young buck Michael McDonald. As always, though, there were ramifications across the card, even if this one was a bit dull by UFC standards.
How did the main-card fighters perform across the pond? Here are grades for each one.
Result: Matt Riddle def. Che Mills by split decision
Riddle did the right thing against Mills. He took Mills to the ground and pressured him for 15 minutes. The self-styled heel of the British was methodical and dominant. The split decision might have indicated a bit of home cooking for Mills, though thankfully the victory went to the clear victor.
Mills certainly wasn't putrid against Riddle. He passably defended himself early and avoided catastrophic damage.
But the English striker didn't have much of a counter for Riddle's takedowns and top control. Mills is a likable fighter, but like many Europeans, his ceiling will always be comparatively low as long as he's susceptible to this kind of ground control.
Division: Light heavyweight
Result: James Te-Huna def. Ryan Jimmo by unanimous decision
After an early barrage from Jimmo landed Te-Huna in serious trouble, Te-Huna clawed his way back, landing takedowns, leveraging top control and working strong ground-and-pound. Te-Huna demonstrated great resilience—and a skill set beyond his heavy hands—in wrestling this one out of the fire.
Ryan Jimmo scored the highlight of the bout in the first round when he slammed a high kick into the side of Te-Huna's head.
He was slowly, but surely, outdueled by a stud in James Te-Huna (and was that really all he could muster from his back?), but Jimmo still showed the UFC he's more than just a one-punch wonder.
Result: Gunnar Nelson def. Jorge Santiago by unanimous decision
For much of this fight, Nelson fought the way he looked: like someone had spiked his drink with Ambien for the six months leading up to the fight. But Rip Van Winkle shook the sleepies out long enough to put on an efficient performance that gained steam over time and put Santiago back in the deep freeze.
Santiago tried. He landed some substantial shots. But he was overwhelmed at the end.
Let's face it: he's not a UFC-caliber fighter. He has had great success in lesser promotions, however, and that's certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Division: Light heavyweight
Result: Jimi Manuwa def. Cyrille Diabate by TKO (retirement), Round 1
This technical knockout was about as technical as you can get. Diabate suffered a leg injury late in the first round, which seemed to have little to do with anything Manuwa did deliberately (it apparently happened during a takedown). So technically, it's a win for the up-and-coming Brit, but it wasn't what you'd call informative.
See previous slide. Diabate is 39 years old. He's an intelligent and well-respected veteran, but the injury was a strange one, and the extent of its severity—and his ability to rebound—remain to be seen.
Result: Cub Swanson def. Dustin Poirier by unanimous decision
Cub Swanson is ready for his closeup. Though the fight was a tight and competitive one, Swanson emerged at the final horn holding clear advantages on the feet and the ground. He was the better man Saturday, pure and simple, and has earned the right to face Ricardo Lamas or Chan Sung Jung for the right to face Jose Aldo.
I know it's a weird concept, but in my book, it would be really super neat-o to see a native featherweight get a chance at the belt one of these days.
The sky is no longer the limit for Dustin Poirier. At least for now. Another top opponent, another great effort, and in the end, another defeat.
After losing to the Korean Zombie last year and now to Swanson, it seems clear that the young phenom is not quite ready for the division's deepest waters.
Nevertheless, Poirier is an excellent fighter. He landed plenty of hard shots, scored takedowns and maintained aggression throughout all three rounds. He just might need to improve a bit (particularly in the wrestling department) before getting another date on the tail end of a main card.
Result: Renan Barao def. Michael McDonald by submission (triangle choke), Round 4
I thought Michael McDonald would pull the upset here. I thought wrong. Barao was brilliant Saturday in defending his interim title, mixing kicks and punches in fantastic bunches and scoring takedowns to keep the challenger dazed and confused. And when McDonald did land some of his trademark heavy leather, the champ was always able to rally and recover.
Give Barao's striking an assist in the victory, as McDonald's forced respect for the standup game allowed Barao to get McDonald horizontal, where he quickly transitioned to the triangle and clung on for the tap.
Sorry, Renan Barao. I'm never going to doubt you again. And that includes in your inevitable tangle with Dominick Cruz.
McDonald was as billed. Powerful. Tenacious. He stunned the champion more than once. At 22 years old, he showed remarkable composure under pressure, both during the fight and in the days leading up to it.
But it just wasn't enough. Like Poirier in the co-main event, McDonald is a young fighter with plenty of potential, but he's just not quite ready for the top level. Still, it seems like more a matter of when than of if for the young bantamweight.
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