The UFC kicked off 2017 with it’s first fight night of the year coming from Phoenix on Sunday night. We’re gonna take a look back at the main card of the night which was headlined by the return of BJ Penn after a two and a half year absence. There was a bit of a negative feeling about this card as there wasn’t a lot of name recognition on the card and but was good for having a nice mixture of weight classes. We also got the announcement that Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw will be this seasons hosts of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption.
#8 John Moraga vs. #15 Sergio Pettis
This was a short notice fight for Moraga. Pettis was initially scheduled to fight the #4 ranked flyweight Jussier Formiga. Pettis was the youngest fighter of the night at 23 years old, but showed some good diversity in his abilities and great stand up as he was able to knock Moraga with a big right hand to finish up the first round. Moraga tried to use his grappling much more in the second round, but Pettis kept it very competitive. Pettis showed great composure and take down defense throughout the third round even taking Moraga down at the end of the third, something that we hadn’t seen a lot of in his previous fights. This one went to the judges score cards with Pettis taking the fight via unanimous decision and handing Moraga his first loss in his home town. Pettis looks like he’s really becoming a good all-around fighter who should be in the top 10 now. He called out Formiga at the end of the fight saying he’d like to fight him in March.
Court “The Crusher” McGee vs. Ben “Killa B” Saunders
Welterweight fight between two TUF alumni. Saunders had been on the regional fighting circuit recently and was fighting in his 30th fight. McGee (19-5) was 4-2 in his last 6 fights and came into the fight as a slight favorite. Saunders was really using his reach advantage especially with his kicks to keep McGee at range throughout the first round. McGee really increased the pressure in the start of the second round being able to get inside on Saunders but ate a bunch of kicks and knees as a result but was able to tie up Saunders against the cage and maintain control for a good chunk of time. For my money, Saunders looked winded as the third round got underway, but his left kicks to the body just kept landing. McGee landed a nice right about 2 minutes into the third that really put Saunders off his game for a while allowing McGee to score the first take down of the match. McGee played it smart following the take down and kept Saunders grounded.
Much like the first fight, this one went to the judges and all three scored it 29-28 surprisingly I have to say for Ben Saunders. Really surprised by that decision, especially after seeing how gassed Saunders was, he even apologized at the end of the fight. That’s fighting I guess. If I had to guess it was the body kicks by Saunders that won him rounds 1 and 2, because he definitely didn’t win round 3.
Joe Lauzon vs. Marcin “Machine” Held
The co-headline match featured two currently un-ranked lightweights. Lauzon came into the fight tied for most Fight Night bonuses as a slight favorite, while Held was looking to pick up his first win in the UFC. Lauzon had some vicious elbow strikes in the first 90 seconds of the fight and looked like he was about to put Held away before Held was able to get back to his feet and recover. Much like I predicted in my preview article this was very much a grappling match in the first round with both fighters showing their skills on the mat. Held had a lot of control in the first but didn’t make much of it. The second round started out much like the first with Held trying to keep Lauzon grounded but not getting a lot done. The second round was essentially just exchanging take downs. Lauzon spent most of the round on his back, but did have a good attempt at an arm bar. The third round started out as a bit of a surprise as both men seemingly wanted to keep it on their feet. Held scored a take down, but then got up and allowed Lauzon to get back to his feet as well. Really seemed like neither fighter felt all that confident going into the third. Third fight in a row to go to the judges. Lauzon took a split decision and said that he shouldn’t have won. Second fight in a row with very interesting scoring. Really don’t know how they’re scoring these things.
#10 Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez vs. BJ “The Prodigy” Penn
Rodriguez came into the night on a 5 fight winning streak in the UFC. BJ Penn hadn’t fought since July 2014. To say that Rodriguez was the favorite in this featherweight headliner would have been a bit of an understatement. Penn looked to close the distance in round one and ate a bunch of big kicks in the opening 3 minutes. It was all kicks for Rodriguez in the first as he changed up levels often going to the head, body and legs throughout the round. Round 2 was over as soon as it started. A jumping front kick from Rodriguez caught Penn right under the chin and sent him sprawling to the mat just four seconds into the round. From there, El Pantera jumped on Penn with a vicious ground and pound for 20 seconds before Big John stepped in and stopped the fight less than 30 seconds into the second round. Penn may have been upset with the stoppage but he took a lot of undefended shots on the ground 25 in total and it looked like a good stoppage to me. Rodriguez earns the TKO victory and improves his record to 11-1.
That’s it. What do you think? Did you watch?
Image courtesy of ufc.com