The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 141 and Liddell vs. Ortiz
Saturday was a long day for MMA fans.
It started with UFC Fight Night 141, the company's first visit to Beijing, China. For fans on the East Coast of the United States, the first fight went off at 3:15 a.m. Considering the fact that many of said fans were nursing a turkey-and-shopping hangover, early viewership numbers for UFC Fight Pass were probably more bowling score than conventional data point.
But it didn't end there. Oh no. That evening, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions forayed into mixed martial arts when it staged a card topped by a trilogy bout between Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. That card ended at about 12:40 a.m. Sunday for those same East Coasters.
Did you miss some or all of this? Asked another way, are you a normal person? No matter who you are or where you're from, we got you.
We rose early for UFC Beijing, watching through the culminating bout between heavyweights Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. We stayed for Liddell-Ortiz 3, who were easily the biggest names to compete on either of Saturday's cards, regardless of the cringe factor precipitated by advancing years and attendant safety concerns. By the way, their combined age on fight night was 91. Let that sink in.
There was lots to observe and report on a strange and sprawling Saturday that featured more than 20 combined fights. As usual, the final stat lines do not reveal all. These are the real winners and losers from both events.
We'll do this chronologically—UFC Beijing first, followed by the Golden Boy card below. Full results for both cards bring up the rear.
Winner: Francis Ngannou
Just like that, Francis Ngannou is back in the heavyweight conversation.
It wasn't a banner year for the Cameroonian-Frenchman. First, Stipe Miocic smothered him into oblivion to turn back his bid to be the next big thing. Then in July, Ngannou, still feeling the after-effects of that beating, hesitated to pull the trigger in an all-time snoozer with Derrick Lewis.
This fight was important. Blaydes knows how to take and throw a punch, but more importantly he has the wrestling that has looked of late like Ngannou's Kryptonite.
Barely 30 seconds into the contest, Blaydes attempted to close the distance; Ngannou pounced. A massive right hook crashed across the top of Blaydes' head, turning his knees to jelly. Blaydes attempted desperation takedowns, but Ngannou was on him with punches and hammerfists. Referee Marc Goddard waved off the contest after 45 seconds. Blaydes protested, but it was easy to see he wasn't defending well.
Following the win, Ngannou stepped to the center of the Octagon and put a finger to his lips—presumably as a gesture to those who were less than impressed by his last two outings.
"2018 was a very hard year for me," he told broadcaster Dan Hardy. "I found myself. I had to settle what wasn't settled yet. I had to grow as a fighter. And by the end of the year, I think I have learned more in this year than I think in my whole career."
Asked to pinpoint future opponents, Ngannou made two wise selections in Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov. He also floated a rematch with Miocic: "I really didn't do well [in the first fight] and I really want to fix it." You have to respect that, and you have to tip your cap to Ngannou for getting back on the horse in Beijing.
Loser: Curtis Blaydes
Blaydes has some great wins, including most recently an electric knockout of Alistair Overeem. Before Saturday, he hadn't lost in two years, when he fell to the selfsame Ngannou. His six-fight unbeaten streak placed him in the top echelon of the division.
Despite the resume, Blaydes has a demonstrated tendency to engage with The Haters. His primary focus seems to be shutting up the doubters, proving the critics wrong, drawing strength from the non-believers and so forth.
There's nothing wrong with that. But sometimes that mindset, when left unchecked, can needlessly interfere with the tasks at hand.
There was Blaydes on fight week, putting the cart before the horse. First he got caught looking ahead when he called for Miocic or a title shot in his next fight—on the assumption he would run through Ngannou. A prediction soon followed: He would break the UFC takedown record against Ngannou. He tacked "doubt me if you want" to the end of the pledge, as if the entire object of the exercise was to chum the waters for criticism.
In retrospect, you have to wonder if these were self-inflicted distractions. Maybe not—a punch is a punch, after all—but maybe things like his takedown tally added an unneeded level of thinking. Don't forget he was moving inside when Ngannou uncorked the big right.
There is one silver lining, perhaps, in that Blaydes has a fairly obvious next opponent on the horizon. Derrick Lewis is also coming off a loss and is ranked near Blaydes. That's a pretty high-profile matchup that could headline any cable card.
It may not be the outcome Blaydes envisioned, but for now he'll have to make do with a lateral move.
Winner: Alistair Overeem
People assume the term "gatekeeper" is pejorative. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Case in point: Alistair Overeem. The longtime heavyweight contender is 38 years old and settled into a comfortable role as a measuring stick for the division's better fighters. Just look at his last seven contests, tracing back two years. The three fighters who defeated him were Ngannou, Blaydes and Miocic, who went on to win the title. Coming into Saturday, all three of those fighters are in the top four of the official UFC rankings. The four he defeated are substantially lower or out of the rankings altogether.
The model played out again for Sergey Pavlovich, the ballyhooed Russian prospect who made his UFC debut at this event—then fell to The Reem inside the first round.
Overeem hit an early takedown that caught Pavlovich by surprise. Working from inside his opponent's guard, The Reem landed one shot, then another. Momentum built, and soon the train was rolling full steam. Pavlovich turtled and Overeem had the ground-and-pound stoppage.
"The Reem is back," Overeem told Hardy after the fight. "We put in a lot of hard work. ...Boom!"
Well, there you go. Despite the loss, Pavlovich flashed the tool mainly responsible for getting him here. He has one-touch danger in his right hand, and it wobbled Overeem good in an early exchange. He'll be back. But his road now begins a lot lower down the ladder, thanks to the resistance he found at the upper gate.
If the goal of UFC Fight Night 141 was to make the Chinese faithful happy, mission accomplished.
China's native sons and daughters went 6-3 on the day. Yadong Song, Li Jingliang, Wu Yanan, Weili Zhang, Pingyuan Liu and Xiaonan Yan earned victories. Kenan Song, Su Mudaerji and Hu Yaozong fell short.
Two competitors stood out.
The first was Yadong Song, aka the Kung Fu Monkey, who advanced to 3-0 in the UFC bantamweight division with a decision over a game Vincent Morales. Song, who trains with Team Alpha Male in California, has a classic waterbug's game: quick enough to dive in and sting with a right hand or a kick, then dart back out of range. He even mixed in a couple of takedowns in the final round, seemingly just to show he could do it. It was a masterclass, and it would be a surprise not to see Song in the top 15 very soon.
The second was Jingliang, the hard-charging welterweight and reigning face of Chinese MMA, who earned a $50,000 performance bonus with a body-kick TKO of David Zawada. Jingliang found Zawada's chin with impunity Saturday, his hands so low they should have sewn pockets into his shorts just to complete the effect. Jingliang threw some shady shots after the second-round horn, but hey, protect yourself at all times, right? It ended with a sudden side kick to the solar plexus in the final minute of the contest.
Although Kenan Song lost on scorecards to Alex Morono, the high-output battle earned both men Fight of the Night honors.
Maybe after years of careful nurturing, the UFC is finally putting down roots in China. Then again, attendance at Beijing's Cadillac Arena, which holds 19,000, topped out at 10,302, per UFC data.
Rome wasn't built in a day. But it was probably built on days like this.
Loser: Chuck Liddell
It's hard to write this. Almost as hard as it was to watch that fight.
It didn't take long until Ortiz, 43, was doing that grave-digging dance. The favored Ortiz polished off a woefully ill-equipped Liddell, 48, in the first round.
Liddell looked every inch what he was. His movements were stiff to the point of being wobbly, not unlike a rocking chair. There was a kind of hitch in his punching motion, and the blows traveled so slowly it was hard to imagine them landing.
An Ortiz knockout quickly emerged as a near certainty. The moment he landed a clean right hand, Liddell—who lost his final three UFC bouts by knockout—was down and out.
Of course, Ortiz launched into the stratosphere, bellowing and slavering and dragging Liddell's imaginary corpse into the fresh grave like he had just gained actual revenge for the two losses Lidell handed him in 2004 and 2006. Sweet redemption, and so forth. Looks like Chuck and I were equals all along, right everybody? It was like watching Karl Malone beg his Los Angeles Lakers teammates to carry him out of Verizon Center after beating Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards on a Tuesday night in February.
Thus, it's hard to consider Ortiz a real winner here. Liddell is beyond cooked. The loss only reinforces the widespread calls for Liddell's original retirement (and concerns for his safety) that happened eight years ago. Eight years ago.
This is all coming from a fan of Chuck's going back to his 2002 destruction of Babalu Sobral. He was a sensation back in the day, a great champion in his prime, and he is a legend right here and now. Fights like this might be a nice payday, and they may satisfy some competitive urge. Fair enough, I guess. As long as there are people out there willing to give him money and a license to do so, as it seems there are, he has every right to take them. Just like I have every right to really, really hope he never does again. Again.
Winner: Deron Winn
Deron Winn cut through the age jokes in the evening's co-main event.
Don't trade them in for height jokes, though. The 5'7" Winn was a good deal shorter than his opponent, the 6'0" Tom Lawlor, and is pretty undersized for a light heavyweight in general. But he was a vicious opponent, throwing hard and imposing constant pressure on the UFC veteran.
If there was a breakout performer on the evening, it was surely the 29-year-old Missouri native, who moved to 4-0 after turning pro just last year. Training at the prestigious American Kickboxing Academy, it stands to reason we'll hear from Winn again.
Loser: The Paying Public
During fight-week promotion, Ortiz inadvertently entered himself into the "You Said It, Not Me" Hall of Fame.
Asked about pay-per-view buys for the event, Ortiz noted in a video interview with TSN's Aaron Bronester that he and Liddell "shouldn't even be in the business" if the event didn't draw at least 200,000 purchases.
It will be interesting to see what the ultimate data show (assuming they're revealed), but given the low level of buzz over the card, that may be a touch ambitious. If it is, should we really be surprised?
Good on Oscar De La Hoya for expanding his wildly successful Golden Boy Promotions beyond boxing and into MMA. If he keeps at it, I'm sure he'll grow into the role and perhaps assemble some great events some day. Saturday was not that day.
Yes, there were some recognizable names in the form of UFC veterans like Tom Lawlor, Gleison Tibau and Efrain Escudero, but these guys are past their primes. Maybe not to the extent of Liddell and Ortiz, but still. The other main-card bouts—and remember, most people paid $39.99 for this—didn't go much beyond what you'd see at a regional show.
There's no need to mince words here. No need to pretend this was something it wasn't. No need to take some kind of smarmy stand in the name of commerce or valor or manners.
If I hadn't had to do this for work, I wouldn't have plunked down the money. That would have been the right decision.
UFC Fight Night 141 and Liddell vs. Ortiz 3 Full Card Results
UFC Fight Night 141
Francis Ngannou def. Curtis Blaydes by TKO, 0:45, Rd. 1
Alistair Overeem def. Sergey Pavlovich by TKO, 4:21, Rd. 1
Yadong Song def. Vince Morales by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Li Jingliang def. David Zawada by TKO, 4:07, Rd. 3
Alex Morono def. Kenan Song by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Wu Yanan def. Lauren Mueller by submission (armbar), 4:00, Rd. 1
Rashad Coulter def. Hu Yaozong by unaninmous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Zhang Weili def. Jessica Aguilar by submission (armbar), 3:41, Rd. 1
Liu Pingyuan def. Martin Day by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Xiaonan Yan def. Syuri Kondo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Kevin Holland def. John Philips by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:05, Rd. 3
Louis Smolka def. Su Mudaerji by submission (armbar), 2:07, Rd. 2
Golden Boy MMA: Liddell vs. Ortiz 3
Tito Ortiz def. Chuck Liddell by KO, 4:24, Rd. 1
Deron Winn def. Tom Lawlor by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Gleison Tibau def. Efrain Escudero by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Ricky Palacios def. Walel Watson by KO, 3:56, Rd. 1
James Barnes def. Albert Morales by submission (armbar), 4:09, Rd. 3
Jay Silva def. Oscar Cota by submission (arm-triangle choke), 2:13, Rd. 3
Johnny Cisneros def. Dave Terel by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Fernando Garcia def. Joe Roye by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:48, Rd. 1
Franciso Estrada def. Jose Huerta by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:47, Rd. 2
Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report.