There are few things in MMA quite as intriguing as a good old-fashioned grudge match.
Over the course of the past two decades, fight fans have been treated to a collection of trash talk-heavy pairings where the line between genuine dislike and promotional hype have been blurred on more than one occasion. That said, there have been several matchups where the discontent between two fighters has been clearly legitimate, and the riff between Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy certainly falls into this particular category.
The two top-ranked middleweights have been going back and forth for quite some time as they've traded barbs on social media and interviews across the MMA landscape. While fighters picking a fight with the brash Brit is certainly nothing new, Kennedy was diligent in his efforts and eventually landed the tilt he was looking for. On Wednesday night at The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale, the two men finally stepped into the Octagon to settle their feud.
While the war of words had its heated moments, the fight itself varied where a pulse was concerned. Where Bisping is historically known to work off volume, he was hesitant to unload throughout the 25-minute affair. Whether that had to do with the long layoff due to his eye injury, or his inability to stop Kennedy's takedowns; "The Count" was fighting an uphill battle throughout the entire bout.
The Army Ranger was able to hold his own in the striking department where he landed a bevy of big shots and he was able to hold dominate position on Bisping when the fight hit the ground. That said, once things hit the canvas, the energy was zapped out of the fight as the majority of work Kennedy expended on the side of holding or improving position, rather than dishing out punishment.
When the final bell sounded, it was Kennedy who picked up the victory and the biggest win of his career on Wednesday night.
In addition to the battle at the top of the billing, the card in Quebec City saw some solid action up and down the line up. A savvy veteran picked up his third consecutive victory in the co-main event and a pair of rising Canadian talents earned their UFC contracts on the strength of impressive performances.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from the TUF Nations Finale.
Since his days in Strikeforce, Tim Kennedy has been looking to face the biggest names in the middleweight ranks and he drew the biggest opponent of his career—at least rankings wise—in Michael Bisping at the TUF Nations Finale.
The decorated war hero had won both of his showings under the UFC banner coming into Wednesday's main event, and he made it a perfect 3-0 by outworking the brash Brit throughout the 25-minute affair. Kennedy was able to find success in an area few have against Bisping as he kept "The Count" pinned to the mat after securing the takedown. He was also able to land big shots during the portions where the fight was kept standing and stunned the perennial contender on several occasions.
Yet, despite his efficient performance, Kennedy didn't send a huge message to his peers in the elite tier of the division. Make no mistake about it, beating Bisping is a huge accomplishment, but Kennedy appeared frustrated with his showing then went on to validate that notion in his post-fight interview with Jon Anik.
Nevertheless, the Army Ranger will advance up the rankings and will draw a fellow potential title contender in his next outing.
Resurgent veterans are all the rage these days in the UFC and Patrick Cote further solidified himself on that list with a victory over Kyle Noke in the co-main event of the TUF Nations Finale on Wednesday. While the Australian was able to score in the opening portions of every round with his striking, "The Predator" was able to weather those storms and take the fight to the canvas where he did the majority of his damage.
With the victory, Cote has now collected three consecutive wins, two of which have come in his new weight class at 170 pounds. With each fight the Canadian has looked in better shape and more impressive than the last showing, and is hanging tough in what is widely regarded as the deepest division on the UFC roster.
It is also worth noting that Cote's win makes it a clean sweep for Team Canada as it was an all-Canadian showing in the two final bouts of the tournament.
In the welterweight portion, Chad Laprise used his outstanding striking to keep Olivier Aubin-Mercier at bay and keep the fight standing for the majority of the 15-minute affair. When the final bell sounded it was Laprise who picked up the victory, kept his undefeated record intact and earned the six-figure contract with the UFC.
Things moved a bit quicker in the second half of the finals as Elias Theodorou put about as efficient a beating as humanly possible on Sheldon Westcott to win the middleweight tournament. The Toronto native weathered the early rush from Westcott to pepper his former housemate on the feet and batter him on the canvas. With the victory, Theodorou takes home the six-figure contract and will carry some momentum into the UFC with his impressive performance against Westcott.
The upper tier of the featherweight division has grown to be a highly competitive collective, and Dustin Poirier has carved out his position in the fold. Yet, with the rest of the major players in the mix all lined up for upcoming bouts, the American Top Team fighter sought out a fight to allow him to keep things rolling.
He squared off with Akira Corassani to kick off the main card at the TUF Nations Finale in what was undoubtedly a dangerous fight for Poirier to take. Despite a rough start where the underdog dropped him with a straight left, the "Diamond" rebounded in gritty fashion to pound out a stoppage victory in the second round to pick up his third consecutive win.
While the title picture at 145 pounds will take several months to clear up, the 25-year-old's stock has certainly gone up where potential opportunities are concerned. Poirier has proven to have a diverse skill set where he can finish the opposition both standing and on the mat. Although he's been turned back in his two biggest fights to date with Cub Swanson and Chan Sung Jung, all signs are pointing to the best being yet to come for Poirier in the featherweight division.
*** There is no room for error in the stacked lightweight division and K.J. Noons definitely needed to keep things rolling in his bout against Sam Stout. While the former Strikeforce champion recently put the brakes on a three-fight skid by defeating George Sotiropoulos back in October at UFC 166, he needed a win over Stout to keep his footing on the roster. He did just that when he planted a lightning bolt on Stout's chin and earned a highlight-reel worthy first-round knockout to close out the preliminary portion of the card.
*** Despite her former status as Strikeforce bantamweight champion, Sarah Kaufman's arrival in the UFC has been relatively quiet. She lost a controversial split decision to Jessica Eye in her debut, and was eager to regain her traction coming into the TUF Nations Finale on Wednesday. Although her original opponent pulled out with injury less than two weeks before the fight, Kaufman was all business on fight night, and she battered Leslie Smith for three rounds to pick up her first victory inside the Octagon.
*** There was a lot of hype surrounding Ryan Jimmo when he came to the UFC in early 2013. The "Real Deal" had notched 17 consecutive victories leading into his Octagon debut, then seemingly validated the buzz by scoring a seven-second knockout in his first showing under the UFC banner. While Jimmo would stumble in two of his next three showings, the Canadian brought things back to square in a big way by knocking out Sean O'Connell in the first round of their tilt. Jimmo unleashed a big right hand, O'Connell crumpled to the mat, and the Power MMA fighter broke out the robot for a post-fight celebration.
*** George Roop was looking to reinvigorate his career when he returned to the bantamweight division last year, and thus far, that decision has proved to be a fruitful one. While he was coming off a loss in his most recent showing, the TUF alum got things back on track by defeating Hawaiian Dustin Kimura via unanimous decision. With the win, Roop has now been successful in three of his four showings at 135-pounds and has looking solid in each of those performances.
*** The first three bouts on the Fight Pass portion of the prelims hardly moved the needle on the excitement meter, but Mark Bocek and Mike de la Torre changed in a big way. The two lightweights kept a heated and high-paced battle going throughout their 15 minutes inside the Octagon, with the Canadian veteran taking the victory via split decision. While de la Torre ultimately walked away with the loss on Wednesday, the MMA Lab product has nothing to hang his head about. He took a tough fight on short notice and gave Bocek all he could handle in Quebec City.
*** The ranks of the bantamweight division are still "fleshing out" so to speak, and rising prospect Mitch Gagnon has been on a mission to solidify himself as a major player in the 135-pound weight class. The talented young Canadian took another stride toward that goal on Wednesday as he defeated Timothy Gorman via a lopsided unanimous decision on the judges' scorecards. The win was his third consecutive victory inside the Octagon and will provided additional momentum for his rise up the bantamweight rankings.
*** Richard Walsh made the most of his post-TUF opportunity as he battered Chris Indich for three rounds to pick up his first official UFC victory. The Australian lived up to his "Filthy" nickname as he battered his former housemate with nasty elbows in the clinch to hold the advantage throughout the three-round tilt.
For the better part of the past decade, Sam Stout has been a staple of the lightweight division. Over that time, he's engaged in a handful of memorable squabbles and developed the reputation of being one of the most durable fighters at 155 pounds. That said, things have drastically shifted over the past five years in the lightweight ranks as it has become one of the most stacked collectives under the UFC banner.
Those conditions make every showing inside the Octagon matter, and "Hands of Stone" came into Quebec City in need of a win over K.J. Noons to keep his footing in the 155-pound ranks. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old slugger, the former Strikeforce champion was quicker to the draw and flattened Stout with a brutal right hand in the opening minute of the fight.
With the loss, Stout has now been on the business side of things in two of his last three showings and four of his last seven going back to January of 2012. While the UFC has shown favor in the past to fighters who consistently go out to scrap, the highly competitive nature of the division could create a scenario where Stout could be facing a release in the aftermath of his first-round starching against Noons.
After a rough run in the middleweight division, Kyle Noke made the drop down to welterweight looking to jump start a new chapter of his career. While he defeated Charlie Brenneman in his divisional debut, that fight took place in September of 2012 and any momentum he picked up in that win was lost to a lengthy layoff due to injury.
Noke's time away from the Octagon became extended when he took on coaching duties for TUF Nations and he really needed a victory over Patrick Cote to re-establish his traction in the welterweight ranks. Unfortunately for the Australian, "The Predator" edged him out on the scorecards and took the victory in the co-main event on Wednesday night.
While Noke's loss to Cote won't put him in any type of trouble with the UFC, the defeat will serve as a hefty setback for what he was hoping to make a triumphant return to the cage.
There is certainly nothing strange about a contested stoppage in mixed martial arts, but every once in a while, there will be an argument made so unnecessarily that it bears a mention in this column. Sean O'Connell took no shorts in making his UFC debut against a proven veteran like Ryan Jimmo, and his willingness to jump into deep waters should be commended.
That said, after the "Real Deal" dropped him to the canvas with a brutal right hand, then added a few more for good measure, O'Connell should have been appreciative for the referee stepping in to stop the fight. Yet, once Dan Miragliotta brought an official end to the contest, O'Connell attempted to contest the stoppage. Unfortunately for O'Connell, he had not regained his senses and returned to the canvas face-first.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with a fighter wanting to hang in there for as long as possible, a referee's primary responsibility is fighter's safety, and Miragliotta made the right call. On the other hand, Jimmo calling out to his nation of "Jimmo Maniacs" could be a suspect move.
Keeping with the theme of a referee's involvement in the aftermath of a stoppage, Philippe Chartier had to fend off a a guillotine attempt from Sam Stout following his knockout at the vicious right hand of K.J. Noons. After absorbing several huge shots, Chartier jumped in to stop the bout, but the Canadian veteran was still in limbo. He grabbed onto the official and attempted to secure the choke before he realized what was happening and was tended to by his corner.
While fighters taunting one another or slipping in some trash talk in between swat sessions is fairly common in MMA, we usually don't see athletes sending out personal messages to their friends and family mid-scuffle.
In the middle of drubbing Sheldon Westcott in the middleweight finals, Elias Theodorou paused for a brief moment, looked into the cage-side camera and sent a passionate "Hi mom," to his family back in Toronto. Where that particular sentiment is always endearing, it seemed curious to hear it float across the UFC broadcast on Wednesday.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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