UFC Fight Night 120: The Real Winners and Losers from Norfolk Fight Card
On Veterans Day weekend, the UFC made its way to Norfolk, Virginia, a city smack in the middle of one of the nation's largest military hubs.
The line snaked around the building at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, generally known as the home of Old Dominion University basketball. It was home to something very different Saturday night.
Fans could be forgiven for experiencing a hangover from UFC 217 and its three memorable title fights. But UFC Fight Night 120 brought plenty of promise in its own right. What it gave away in star power, it made up for in, shall we say, chemical volatility, with a large number of matchups having the raw ingredients you need to make MMA fireworks.
That started with the main event, where former lightweight champion and general striking wizard Anthony Pettis faced longtime contender and all-around terror Dustin Poirier. Oddsmakers had this as more or less a dead heat as the evening began.
In the co-main event, you had "technical brawler" Matt Brown and beloved berserker and all-purpose eccentric Diego Sanchez. There's no way that would ever not be entertaining.
So, how did it all shake out? As always, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers from UFC Fight Night 120.
For the literal-minded among us, full card results appear at the end.
Winner: Dustin Poirier
It had a bit of an anticlimactic ending, but even so, this was the best fight of the night.
Pettis took an early advantage, opening with kicks to Poirier's leg and body. But Poirier then seized momentum with an easy takedown—the old Pettis bugaboo arising again. He rallied, though, and there were violent exchanges throughout the end of the round, particularly in the closing seconds.
The story was much the same in the second, when ground sequences including some serious damage for both sides. Elbows from top position were particularly potent for Poirier. Things got so bloody the action was paused for several minutes so the wounds could be tended. The fight and the bleeding continued, with the grappling becoming a bit of a futile exercise.
Then, in the third, the action ended abruptly when Pettis suffered an apparent rib injury as the result of a Poirier body triangle. Poirier was fishing for a rear-naked choke, but instead the injury ended the bout in a TKO.
It was a terrific, action-packed fight and one that put Poirier in a favorable position in the packed lightweight division. Poirier certainly understands that. Speaking to broadcaster Jon Anik in the cage after the fight, Poirier called his shot. And it was a pretty ambitious call.
"I'm going to fight the winner of Justin Gaethje versus Eddie Alvarez, then fight for the title," Poirier said. That is one hell of a gauntlet. But if anyone can do it, it just might be Poirier.
Winner: Matt Brown
Matt Brown isn't officially retired yet, but it's definitely not far away, as he's openly pondered hanging them up after Saturday.
If his bout with Diego Sanchez was indeed his final fight, what a way to go out.
Sanchez was, not surprisingly, the early aggressor, going for takedowns that he couldn't quite complete. They exchanged on the feet for a bit with neither man taking a major advantage.
That is until Brown caught a Sanchez kick, forced Sanchez back toward the fence, measured him up and landed an overhand elbow right over the top that instantly sent Sanchez into darkness. Sanchez fell instantly to the ground, then rolled forward over himself. "Savage" is a word that is appropriate for the action that occurred.
Brown said he would take some time after this to consider retirement more closely, but if he was looking for a high note to go out on, sparking Diego Sanchez is about as good as it could get.
Meanwhile, Sanchez may be at a crossroads of his own. He has now lost two straight and three of his last four. All three losses came by knockout.
Loser: MMA Fashion
After three rounds of lukewarm striking action, Junior "Baby" Albini lost a decision to Andrei Arlovski.
But before that, everyone lost.
It is not publicly known why Albini wore shorts that looked, undeniably, like diapers. Just big, wrinkly, gray diapers. But his nickname is Baby. Was this a branding effort? If so, that might be even more disturbing than the notion that this was some wrongheaded attempt at comfort.
I mean, at the end of the day, the guy has every right to wear what he wants. But everyone else has every right to make fun of it. And they did. If he was going after publicity, then I guess it worked. All I know is, this is not what I'd want to be known for.
Winner: Raphael Assuncao
It wasn't the way Raphael Assuncao methodically punished Matthew Lopez with leg kicks, taking away his opponent's mobility and spreading a nasty purple bruise across Lopez's thigh.
It wasn't the jumping-knee, left-hook, right-hook combination that shut off the lights in Lopez land at the beginning of round three.
It was his behavior after that made the biggest impression.
As he began to bring down a hammerfist on Lopez's dome, Assuncao realized Lopez was out and pulled back at the last instant, even though the referee had not yet waved off the bout. Plenty of other fighters would have gone ahead and thrown the strike, and they wouldn't have been outside the rules to do so since the bout was still happening. But Assuncao did the right thing when he didn't have to. That's what respectability looks like.
Afterward, Assuncao spoke to Anik about "the trilogy," a reference to a rubber match with current bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. There are far worse matchups out there for Dillashaw than a guy who has beaten him once before. That is instant intrigue.
"There are a lot of new guys in the bantamweight division," he said afterward in a statement emailed to reporters. "Here I am, the veteran, making a statement and being humble. Let's see if I get a title shot. My only loss at bantamweight is to TJ Dillashaw. I have a win over him. Let's do the trilogy. The first fight was close. For the second fight, I fought him in my first fight after 16 months away. We fought and he beat me. Now, he's become the champion again. Now, I know his game and I can use different parts of my arsenal.”
Assuncao capped it off by thanking American veterans and Brazilian veterans in a final bit of magnanimity that put a bow on a great night for one of the sport's great guys. MMA needs great guys. So, good on you, Raphael.
Now that is how you do it.
Clay Guida has earned a reputation as a grinder. He dinged that reputation Saturday with one massive uppercut right down the pipe that took the starch out of Joe Lauzon's legs.
Even before the big shot, Lauzon looked sluggish, and he never regained his footing after it. Guida hammered away on the grounded Lauzon, until the referee finally—and far too late—halted the action and saved Lauzon from even more unnecessary damage.
It was a stirring win for the 35-year-old fan favorite, who reminded everyone afterward that this was the final fight on his current UFC contract. He then noted that he would like to finish his career under the UFC banner.
"If you want to see me in here for several more years," he said to Anik, "stand up and cheer."
The crowd lost its mind.
A 67-second knockout, then demonstrating your popularity with a reaction like that? Not a bad way to walk into your next contract negotiation. Leverage indeed.
Loser: Marlon Moraes
John Dodson and Marlon Moraes waged a close, back-and-forth battle for three rounds. Although there were a few ground sequences, most of the fight was waged on the feet, as expected.
There was no massive violence, though. Both men are dangerous strikers, and blood and stoppages are not uncommon in either case. And while each man landed plenty of stuff, there appeared to be a stalemate essentially born through skills canceling themselves out.
Perhaps the blows of greatest consequence occurred in the first round, when Moraes' shin made absolutely sickening contact with Dodson's cup. And when I say sickening, I mean sickening. Dodson was hurt so bad he had the dry heaves in the cage. Later in that round, Moraes landed an eye poke. The referee stopped the action to warn Dodson but did not take a point.
Based on the final scores, it might not have mattered. Two of the judges saw it as 30-27 for Moraes, while one had the same score for Dodson, meaning a point deduction would not have been enough to swing the bout. Regardless, when the verdict was read, the crowd erupted in boos, almost drowning out Moraes' impassioned plea to fight Jimmie Rivera next. Meanwhile, Dodson walked past press row with his hand raised in a gesture of victory.
For such a close fight—and one marred by foul play that went unpunished—the 30-27 scores in either direction are eye-opening. On the one hand, that's why you don't fight close fights or let judges make the decision. On the other hand, there was enough weirdness here to put an asterisk on the outcome. There could be a case for a rematch here, instead of Moraes' desired bout with Rivera. The contest certainly wasn't emphatic or compelling enough to allow Moraes to unilaterally call his next shot.
Winner: Super Sage
Sage Northcutt, the one we all know and love, is back.
After losing two of three, the fighting Ken Doll from Katy, Texas, started to feel the wrath of the haters. He was one-dimensional, they said. Although his striking was flashy, it wasn't necessarily the kind that could consistently win fights on its own. He was all style points, all marketing, all sizzle, no steak.
The criticism may have been in his mind when he headed to Team Alpha Male, a camp with a lot of wrestling in its DNA. Whatever they did certainly worked Saturday. Northcutt got back in the win column with a fun performance in front of an adoring crowd.
In the interest of full disclosure, Michel Quinones was pretty tailor-made as a Northcutt opponent. He had a defensive style that essentially allowed Northcutt to attack and counter at will. Northcutt stayed at a good distance and fired off head kicks while avoiding most of the low kicks that Quinones fired off. Northcutt had excellent command of each round, understanding what to do when and keeping a perfect pace. He even landed a few takedowns.
So, yes, the opponent was not selected to give Northcutt a major test. The UFC wants Northcutt to succeed. But Super Sage still has to play his part, and he did so very effectively in Norfolk.
As the crowd cheered, the relentlessly smiling and upbeat Northcutt gave a quick motivational speech to Anik in the cage after the fight.
“I just want to say real quick, whatever kind of problems you’ve been going through, maybe you're having a hard time at work, maybe you’re having a hard time with your family, whatever it might be, you can overcome that," Northcutt said. "You just have to keep your hope up."
How can anyone not like this guy? Northcutt and the UFC are betting on "you can't," and Saturday was a great step in that direction.
Loser: Sean Strickland
Middleweight Sean Strickland rode a heavy jab and solid wrestling to a unanimous-decision win over Court McGee.
So, why is he a loser? Because for a minute it seemed like those wacky judges might rob him of a clear win.
After the fight, Bruce Buffer announced that one judge scored the bout 30-27 for Strickland, with the other two scoring it 29-29, making it a majority draw. Compounding the strangeness were the long odds you'd need for two judges to separately decide that a round had ended in a 10-10 tie.
As he walked past press row, Strickland was visibly incredulous, believing as other observers believed: that a victory had turned to ashes in his mouth, courtesy of the ever-unreliable judges and athletic commission infrastructure.
A few minutes after the fight, however, it was announced that there had been a scoring error, and that Strickland had, in fact, earned the victory.
So, in the end he's a winner, but he had at the very least lost out on his moment of glory because of judging mistakes that had nothing to do with him. Every day's an adventure in MMA.
UFC Fight Night 120 Full Card Results
Dustin Poirier def. Anthony Pettis by TKO (injury), 2:08, Rd. 3
Matt Brown def. Diego Sanchez by KO, 3:44, Rd. 1
Andrei Arlovski def. Junior Albini by unanimous decision
Cezar Ferreira def. Nate Marquardt by split decision
Raphael Assuncao def. Matthew Lopez by KO, 1:50, Rd. 3
Clay Guida def. Joe Lauzon by TKO, 1:07, Rd. 1
Marlon Moraes def. John Dodson by split decision
Tatiana Suarez def. Viviane Pereira by unanimous decision
Sage Northcutt def. Michel Quinones by unanimous decision
Nina Ansaroff def. Angela Hill by unanimous decision
Sean Strickland def. Court McGee by unanimous decision
Jake Collier def. Marcel Fortuna by unanimous decision
Karl Roberson def. Darren Stewart by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:41, Rd. 1