The UFC's global push has been in full swing for the past few years, and the 2014 campaign promised to take those efforts to the next level. With multiple international installments of The Ultimate Fighter franchise already under the organization's belt through the first five months of the year, on Saturday the UFC rolled out its most ambitious move yet on the expansion front by putting on two separate cards at two different points of the globe.
In the first event, the Octagon made its first visit to the O2 World Arena for UFC Fight Night: Berlin. While the majority of the bouts on the lineup featured rising talent and fighters who were looking to establish some footing on the roster, the two showcase tilts were set to shake things up in the middleweight division.
The main event put the spotlight on two fighters who were looking to jump back into the title hunt at 185 pounds, as Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi stepped into the cage to handle their business in Berlin. Two years ago, "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" was on the verge of title contention before a series of injuries outside the cage and a pair of setbacks in crucial bouts pushed him to the edge of relevancy.
The Team Reign leader took a solid step toward rebuilding his momentum by defeating Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 last July, but a win over the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion would put his comeback on full charge.
Mousasi came into UFC Fight Night: Berlin with similar motivation. While "The Armenian Assassin" had an impressive promotional debut at UFC on Fuel TV 9 back in April of 2013, a drop down to 185 and a loss to Lyoto Machida in his last outing served to cool off the heat he had built. The former DREAM champion needed a victory over Munoz on Saturday to remain in the upper tier of the middleweight mix and keep his hopes of a title opportunity alive at 185.
The risk/reward was high for both men, and it was all Mousasi when the cage door closed. Munoz scored an early takedown, but Mousasi kept his composure and got back to his feet with ease. Once the action returned to the stand-up, the Netherlands-based fighter stalked the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler and consistently got the upper hand in the transitions. Munoz attempted to push through on a single-leg takedown later in the round, but Mousasi took his back and locked in a fight-ending rear-naked choke.
The victory puts the Dutch-Armenian fighter back into the win column and will keep him a major player in the hunt for the middleweight title.
The second half of the middleweight ruckus went down between CB Dollaway and Francis Carmont to determine who would close in on elite status at 185. "The Doberman" was riding a resurgence after winning three of his last four, including a dramatic upset victory in his last showing when he knocked out Cezar Ferreira in the first round in Brazil back in March.
While "Limitless" was coming off a loss in his most recent outing, that setback broke up an impressive 11-fight winning streak that allowed him to break through into the Top 10 of the middleweight division. A victory over Dollaway would re-establish him momentum, but the Arizona State University alum was determined to make sure he was the one who got his hand raised on Saturday night.
A solid left hook from Dollaway put the French-born fighter on the mat in the opening round, and Carmont was never able to make up the difference. Dollaway used his wrestling to grind out the unanimous-decision victory. With the win, the Power MMA-trained fighter will solidify himself in the Top 10 of the middleweight fold and put himself in a position where a future title shot could become a possibility.
In addition to the highlighted bouts on the card, there was plenty of solid action for the UFC's first event in Germany in more than three years.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night: Berlin.
Despite being recognized as one of the best fighters in the world outside of the UFC for years, Mousasi didn't have the smoothest transition when the opportunity did arise for him to fight inside the Octagon.
The 28-year-old Dutch-Armenian was successful in his promotional debut at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in April 2013, but a setback against Lyoto Machida in Mousasi's middleweight debut stunted his rise into the top echelon at 185. Yet, The Armenian Assassin had the opportunity to reignite the fire on his title hopes on Saturday when he squared off with Mark Munoz in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Berlin. A win would keep him relevant in the middleweight mix, but a loss would be devastating to his future title hopes.
Mousasi certainly rose to the challenge. Although he was taken down in the early going, he quickly regained his footing and took control of the fight. Mousasi outscrambled the Team Reign leader in every transition until he eventually locked in the rear-naked choke late in the first round.
With the victory, he picked up his first win as a middleweight and brought his UFC record to 2-1. While defeating Munoz won't catapult him to the front of the line at 185, it will guarantee his next showing will come against one of the fighters in the upper tier of the middleweight fold. In his post-fight interview with Dan Hardy, the Netherlands-based fighter clarified he wasn't calling anyone out but figured to see an opponent like Luke Rockhold or Tim Kennedy for his next showing.
There is a lot of expectation surrounding Mousasi—has been for years—and his win over Munoz shows he's starting to gain traction on the sport's biggest stage.
CB Dollaway is on some kind of run as of late. Whereas The Doberman was once figured to be a middle-tier competitor in the 185-pound division, he has shucked that status in a big way over the past two years.
The Ultimate Fighter alum has put together the most impressive run of his career with victories in four of his last five outings, including back-to-back wins in his two most recent showings. On Saturday the former Arizona State University wrestling standout outworked a tough opponent in Francis Carmont to secure the victory in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night: Berlin.
While the decision went to the judges' scorecards, Dollaway looked solid throughout. His ever-improving boxing skills shined through, and his rock-solid wrestling pedigree gave him an edge in the matchup. When his victory over the Tri-Star fighter is paired with his crushing first-round knockout of Cezar Ferreira back in March, it becomes clear that the Power MMA-trained fighter is poised to make a climb up the middleweight ladder.
Dollaway is looking to face the best fighters in his division, and his recent run of victories will make sure his next challenge comes from the upper tier of the weight class.
Making your UFC debut in front of your countrymen could create a ton of pressure, but Nick Hein rose to the occasion on Saturday. The German-born fighter outmuscled and battered Drew Dober to pick up the victory via unanimous decision in front of a lively crowd in Berlin.
Hein's power consistently knocked the Omaha, Nebraska, native off balance and allowed the judoka to get in and take the fight exactly where he wanted it. In his post-fight interview with Hardy, Hein called his win inside the Octagon as his own personal "moon landing," and he certainly looked impressive in the process of achieving his goal.
Another fighter who made the most of his first showing inside the Octagon was Niklas Backstrom, who submitted Tom Niinimaki in the first bout on the main card. Backstrom survived an early submission attempt from Niinimaki, only to turn things around and lock in a bulldog choke that ended "Stoneface's" 12-fight winning streak. While his performance inside the cage was lights out, emotion got the best of Backstrom after the fight as he wildly rambled through his interview with Hardy.
I like that Backstrom tried to rage away the emotions - crazied up for a minute to fight off the tears. #UFCBerlin— E. Spencer Kyte (@spencerkyte) May 31, 2014
While the team of John Gooden and Dan Hardy have done a solid job in the booth for the Fight Pass cards they have covered, "The Outlaw" has definitely blossomed in his new role. The former welterweight title challenger has found a new home calling the action cageside, and he added another outstanding chapter on Saturday.
Calling the action inside the Octagon can be a difficult job, but Hardy did a great job of detailing the fray and providing the right amount of personal experience to add to the situations at hand.
Anybody else enjoying the hell out of Dan Hardy's work as a color commentator so far? Because I am.— Ben Fowlkes (@benfowlkesMMA) May 31, 2014
Magnus Cedenblad took another step in the right direction when he defeated Krzysztof Jotko via guillotine choke in the second round of their bout on the preliminary portion of the card. The fight was a back-and-forth affair until the Swedish fighter took the action to the canvas and locked in the fight-ending submission. The victory is Cedenblad's second consecutive win inside the Octagon and makes him successful in two of his three showings in the UFC.
The bantamweight division needs as much top-tier talent as it can get, and Yuri Alcantara is making a case to be considered one of the best fighters in the 135-pound fold. The scrappy Brazilian notched another mark in the win column on Saturday as he destroyed Vaughan Lee in the first round of their bout on the preliminary portion of the card.
It took Alcantara just 25 seconds of work to flatten the Brit and pick up his second consecutive victory. He has now won three of his last four showings with his only setback coming in a highly competitive scrap with Urijah Faber at UFC Fight Night 26 last August.
Maximo Blanco needed a victory in the worst way coming into UFC Fight Night: Berlin. The Venezuela-born fighter had dropped three of his four showings inside the Octagon and needed to defeat Andy Ogle in order to keep his place on the UFC roster.
Blanco wasted zero time getting to work as he floored the scrappy Brit with a front face kick in the opening seconds of the bout and worked an efficient game plan throughout the rest of the 15-minute bout. When the cards were read, "Maxi" picked up the unanimous-decision victory and put the brakes on a two-fight skid.
Two heavyweights making their promotional debuts kicked things off in Berlin, as Ruslan Magomedov and Viktor Pesta stepped into the Octagon to sling heavy leather. While the Dagestani-born fighter landed big shots in the early goings, Pesta hung tough and attempted to push a hard pace throughout the three-round affair. That said, Magomedov was the more accurate of the two and solidified a successful first showing in the UFC by picking up the unanimous-decision victory.
In the lead-up to his bout with Mousasi, Munoz spoke publicly about wanting to get things back on track and reignite his run toward a middleweight title shot. Two years ago he was sitting as one of the major players in the division, but injuries and losses had set him back.
The Filipino Wrecking Machine had an opportunity to turn things around in a big way, but unfortunately for him, that's not how things shook out on Saturday night. While he started off the bout on a good note with a powerful slam and takedown, that was his lone high moment in the fight.
Mousasi quickly recovered from the slam and took the wheel as he outscrambled Munoz in every transition on the canvas. In an attempt to mount some kind of offense, Munoz attempted to drive through on a single-leg takedown, but Mousasi capitalized on the position and locked in a rear-naked choke.
With the loss, Munoz has now come out on the business end of things in back-to-back showings and has suffered setbacks in three of his last four outings. While the rough run won't cost him his job in the UFC, it has damaged his hopes of being a future title contender. It will be interesting to see which route the organization chooses to travel with the 36-year-old in the coming months.
For competitors coming off The Ultimate Fighter, keeping a long-term spot on the UFC roster can be a difficult achievement. While Andy Ogle has earned admiration from the organization's fanbase for his undersized frame and oversized heart, "The Little Axe" may have finally run out of real estate under the UFC banner.
The Sunderland-based fighter had dropped two consecutive showings—three of his last four—coming into his bout with Maximo Blanco and desperately needed a victory to keep his employment intact. That goal was nearly eclipsed in the opening moments of the bout as the Venezuela-born fighter planted a front face kick on Ogle's grill and put the Englishman on the canvas within the first 10 seconds of the fight. While he would recover and attempt to mount some offense of his own, Ogle's efforts weren't enough to get the job done, as he came out on the business end of a unanimous decision.
With the loss, Ogle has now been dealt setbacks in three straight outings and has a 1-4 UFC record. Those are grim numbers for any fighter on the roster and won't bode well for his immediate future on the biggest stage in MMA.
Social media can be a catty realm, and "MMA Twitter" can be especially so. That said, the Twitterverse on fight night is a good indicator of the entertainment value a fight provided. On the second bout of the main card at UFC Fight Night: Berlin, Luke Barnatt and Sean Spencer certainly underwhelmed as far as the MMA online community was concerned.
In what was supposed to be a scrap between two talented and touted prospects, a sluggish affair transpired instead. After an uneventful first round, "Big Slow" appeared to seize the momentum and take the final two rounds. Yet, in a surprising turn, two of the judges saw the action in Strickland's favor, as the Californian took the victory via split decision.
That was a terrible decision. @LukeBarnatt was coming forward and while I thought he lost the first (close) I thought he had 2 and 3 easily.— Joe Lauzon (@JoeLauzon) May 31, 2014
While complaining about MMA judging is the equivalent of running your head into the wall over and over again, the bout between Strickland and Barnatt was so lackluster it isn't quite worth arguing about.
Putting on two fight cards at different points of the globe must be chaotic business, and a few things appear to have fallen through the cracks for the UFC.
Whereas the floor of the Octagon is typically littered with sponsorship logos, the cage at the O2 World Arena was a blank gray canvas save for the organization's logo in the center. The UFC has been known to handle sponsorship deals differently on the international level, but the reason behind the lack of mat stickers in Berlin had nothing to do with business and everything to do with oversight.
According to UFC President Dana White, the canvas that was supposed to be sent to Berlin for the fights on Saturday was accidentally shipped to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the promotion's other Saturday card is being held.
The shipping error is a wrinkle that will have to be settled promptly as the UFC's doubleheader efforts are set to ramp up in the coming months. The organization will host two events on June 28 (Fight Night 43 in Auckland and Fight Night 44 in San Antonio), August 23 (Fight Night 48 in Macau and Fight Night 49 in Tulsa) and October 4 (Fight Night events in Halifax and Stockholm).
Two cards being held on the same day is worthy of a mention in the "strange" column, but mixing up the Octagon dressings for the two cards is awesomeness of the curious variety. Staying in that realm, writing this column typically puts a cap on my day, but with another card quickly approaching around the bend, there is more "GBS" on deck.
Two events on the same day. Two "Good, Bad and Strange" articles on the same day. A lot of chaos to handle, but at least our canvas here at Bleacher Report MMA made it to the right location at the right time.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.