This weekend was a real treat for fight fans. It was one of those brilliant Saturdays where the stars aligned (or promoters failed to consider each other) and there was a UFC card, a GLORY kickboxing card and a boxing card on the same night.
There were plenty of bad fights, of course. Michael Johnson refused to attack Melvin Guillard while the latter was on the fence for the entire match, and Brad Scott managed to land the most unnoticed groin strikes I've seen in a UFC match since Cheick Kongo, but with so many good fights this weekend, I don't even have to talk about those.
The three events heralded some fantastic finishes and, as is my job, I'm going to break down a couple of them with you now.
Gunnar Nelson Chokes Out Omari Akhmedov
Gunnar Nelson returned to the cage against the latest in a streak of scary Russian fighters to join the UFC, Omari Akhmedov. The two came out and circled the cage, with Nelson in his usual upright karate stance.
When Nelson looked as though he was ready to step in, Akhmedov swung a couple of long, wild bombs which narrowly missed the mark. The tension was incredible in the O2 Arena as Nelson looked for his way in, but was ever conscious of the possibility of getting starched.
Suddenly, Nelson was all up on his man. Showing beautifully the competition karate skill of getting across the floor as quickly as possible, Nelson was in like a bolt with a southpaw left straight on the nose, which bundled Akhmedov to the floor as Nelson immediately moved to mount. Whether it was a takedown or a knockdown as unclear (Nelson said afterward he wasn't sure, he thought he "punched him down"), but a stiff punch up the bracket acts as a wonderful lubricant to getting the fight to the floor regardless.
Punch and clutch is an expression I often use. It's something good boxers picked up on way back, but if you clinch immediately after throwing a power punch, all the repercussions of missing that power punch disappear. You will see Floyd Mayweather lead with left hooks or right straights, then immediately tie up in almost all of his fights.
If more quality grapplers can start doing it, they'll save themselves a lot of trouble with the old, predictable jab 'n' shoot.
What happened once the fight hit the ground was exactly what you would expect if you give a savvy Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert the mount just a minute into the round. Nelson didn't swing wild while Akhmedov grabbed around Nelson's waist and buried his head in Nelson's belly, as we so frequently see in MMA. Nelson maintained the mount, chilled out there, and every time the opportunity arose, he dropped a sharp elbow on Akhmedov's face. By three minutes in Akhmedov was bleeding all over the shop.
Toward the end of the round, Akhmedov managed to kick Nelson briefly back to guard. Nelson passed and moved to knee on belly, which is typically a position men like Marcelo Garcia use to encourage movement from the man on the bottom. As Akhmedov tried to turn into Nelson, Nelson snuck in the guillotine, fell to his back and finished. Again, a savvy move to wait until near the end of the round to attempt the submission.
If Nelson had attempted the same setup and submission from the two-minute mark, or when he first got the knee on belly briefly off the takedown, then failed to finish it, he would have been underneath his opponent for three more minutes. Leaving it to the last minute of the round meant that even if Akhmedov popped out of the guillotine, Nelson could survive the round without much damage on the bottom.
Canelo Alvarez beats Alfredo Angulo
Canelo Alvarez rebounded from his loss to Floyd Mayweather by doing away with Alfredo Angulo in the tenth round. Alvarez, while he has mainly beaten up old men, is one of the more creative offensive fighters in the world. Leading with right hooks into jabs, working the body and the head, and lifting Angulo into the path of his left hook repeatedly, Alvarez worked his man over.
The fight was called off when Angulo seemed unable to get away from punches which Alvarez was very clearly telegraphing well in advance and loading up on. The final punch was a powerful lead uppercut. Typically, the lead uppercut is used to raise the head in hopes of landing a nice rear straight, but against an opponent whose head is in front of his hips, it can be a terrifying power punch.
Here's the finish:
As much of a mess as boxing is nowadays, Canelo is an exciting fighter to watch.
Alexander Gustafsson Starches Jimi Manuwa
The main event of UFC London proved to be the best finish of the night. While the match was always something of a place holder to keep Alexander Gustafsson active while Jon Jones defends his title once more before a rematch, Jimi Manuwa was never a safe opponent. Manuwa hits hard, and he found the mark on Gustafsson a couple of times early.
What surprised me about this performance was Gustafsson's accuracy. Ordinarily, Gustafsson will throw four or five faked jabs to land a good low kick. Against Manuwa, the first jabs Gustafsson threw landed square on the nose of his British opponent.
After a round on the ground, where Gustafsson tested the idea that he could simply steamroll Manuwa on the ground, the fight remained on the feet in the second round. In the second round, however, Manuwa hit Gustafsson with a hard shot, and Gustafsson rose to the occasion. Here's how I reacted from ringside.
Gustafsson gets hit, gets into a fight, and ends Manuwa's night. Incredible and BRUTAL!— Bleacher Report MMA (@BR_MMA) March 8, 2014
Gustafsson moved in with a jab and his long right uppercut along the fence, but quickly got the double collar tie. While Manuwa was still thinking about swinging, Gustafsson snapped him down into a knee. A couple of uppercuts ushered Manuwa to the canvas, and a couple of nasty hammer fists sealed the deal.
The move from striking range to the double collar tie was a smart one by Gustafsson. He threatened the takedown, he negated Manuwa's striking power in the open and he exploited his height advantage by looking to land a standing knee to the head. Semmy Schilt would have been proud.
Gustafsson could have got this done at range—and he could have kept taking it back to the ground—but he got into a fight, and he got it done in the most entertaining fashion we could have hoped for. A great performance from the young Swede, who is arguably Europe's best active fighter.
Andy Ristie Falls to Davit Kiria
Those of you who regularly read my columns will know how highly I hold Andy Ristie. The Dutch-Surinamese kickboxer is one of the finest offensive minds in the game. His combinations are an incredible mix of unorthodox switch-hittery, muay thai marching and leg feints and Dutch style punching, while retracting the kicking leg.
Ristie's bizarre style allowed him to topple the greatest defensive fighter in the kickboxing game in Giorgio Petrosyan last year in a meeting of immovable object and irresistible force.
Clearly the best lightweight in the world, Ristie was defending his title for the first time at GLORY 14 on Saturday. His opponent, Davit Kiria, had other ideas.
The first four rounds were all Ristie. He hammered the karateka with body shots and knees in combination. Ristie lashed out like an octopus playing the drums, and Kiria looked in trouble when a left high knee caught him coming in and put him on the canvas.
In the fifth round, however, the Georgian's toughness paid off, as he caught Ristie with a left hook in close. Ristie was put down three times (perhaps one more time than necessary, as he didn't seem to know where he was after the second knockdown) and the bout was called off.
In his post fight interview, Kiria struggled to hold back the sobs of joy after winning a world title. The manner in which he pushed through and won it had many of us close to joining him, I am sure.