The final UFC show on Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’ turned out to be a memorable one.
We got a ton of fun fights up and down the card with a nice mix of finishes. The main event – while not as explosive as fans might’ve hoped – was a tremendous violent chess match. And even the stuff that was expected to be bad and/or sad wasn’t too bad at all.
Here are the best and worst moments from UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Till.
#1 Best: Whittaker bounces back, while Till shows that he belongs at the top of the UFC Middleweight division
It was hard to know exactly what to expect going into the main event of last night’s UFC show. There were big questions around both men, frankly.
Robert Whittaker had been knocked out badly in his previous fight, and he’d suffered from injuries and burnout in recent years that made it easy to question quite how much he had left. Darren Till, meanwhile, had won just one fight at 185lbs – a low-output affair against Kelvin Gastelum, who was seemingly exposed recently by Jack Hermansson.
Thankfully, both men gave their all last night and we were treated to an excellent main event. The fight ended up going the distance. And while Whittaker had his hand raised, a case could definitely be made for Till winning, too.
This wasn’t the crazy war some had hoped to see, although there was a ton of violence, with both men getting dropped. ‘The Gorilla’ started the first round stronger, catching Whittaker coming in with a hard left elbow to drop him. But ‘The Reaper’ came roaring back in the second, working his opponent over with low kicks before dropping him, too.
The final three rounds were all close to call. Whittaker was the more active fighter, but I felt like Till did more damage in the final two and probably should’ve been awarded the win. However, to see Whittaker get his hand raised wasn’t a surprise and certainly wasn’t a robbery.
Overall, the fight showed that not only does Whittaker still have a lot to offer at the top of the UFC’s Middleweight division, but that Till firmly belongs in the top 10, too. What more can you ask for really?
#1 Worst: The horrible refereeing job in the Trinaldo vs. Herbert fight
UFC president Dana White loves to refer to Herb Dean as the “best referee in MMA”. But judging by his performance last night it’s hard to agree with that sentiment.
The veteran official made a huge gaffe in the final prelim of the night, a fight between Francisco Trinaldo and Jai Herbert in the UFC Lightweight division. After a back-and-forth fight that Herbert was probably winning, Trinaldo landed a clubbing left hand early in the third round that connected to the top of his opponent’s head.
Herbert appeared to be unconscious upon impact and hit the ground, stiffened up like a corpse. Trinaldo – ever the sportsman – looked ready to stop fighting. But for reasons known only to him, Dean decided not to step in, instead forcing ‘Massaranduba’ to land a couple of thoroughly pointless follow-up shots.
Quite what Dean was thinking here, we’ll never know. It was obvious to everyone else – including commentators Dan Hardy and Paul Felder, who sounded furious – that Herbert was unconscious when he hit the ground. For a veteran UFC official to miss it was quite frankly ludicrous.
Sure, everyone’s entitled to make mistakes, including Herb Dean. But when you’re refereeing a sport that could mean a mistake gets someone badly hurt, you’ve got to be more on the ball than this, sorry.
#2 Best: Chimaev is a threat in the UFC Welterweight division
When Khamzat Chimaev smashed John Phillips in his UFC debut en route to a submission win, it was clear he was a prospect to watch. But nobody expected him to drop to 170lbs just 10 days later to claim his second UFC win – this time over debutant Rhys McKee.
McKee came in with a pretty solid reputation, but just seconds into the opening round it was clear that he wasn’t on Chimaev’s level. The Sweden-based Chechen landed a slam in the opening seconds and then proceeded to beat ‘Skeletor’ up like a schoolyard bully, with the ref finally calling a merciful halt to the fight just after three minutes.
It seems premature to say such a thing, but this was a showing reminiscent of current UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Where does Chimaev go from here? Well, up the ladder of course. ‘Borz’ is just 8-0 in MMA and so the UFC may want to take things slowly with him. However, he proved last night that there’s no point in putting him in with debutants. Perhaps a veteran like Niko Price, Anthony Rocco Martin, or Bryan Barberena would work.
Regardless, it’s clear that this guy is for real – and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in UFC title contention in the near future.
#2 Worst: Gustafsson’s move to Heavyweight goes badly
When Alexander Gustafsson appeared to be in good shape for his debut in the UFC Heavyweight division, I had high hopes for his chances last night.
Fabricio Werdum had looked seriously shopworn in his last fight – a loss to Alexei Oleinik. And so this was Gustafsson’s chance to show he belonged at the top of his new division.
In the end, though, things went horribly wrong for ‘The Mauler’. He looked confident in the early going and landed some decent strikes on Werdum, but the Brazilian was soon able to land a takedown. And from there, it was downhill for the Swede.
‘Vai Cavalo’ is arguably the most accomplished grappler in the history of the UFC’s Heavyweight division, and he showed why that’s the case last night. Gustafsson isn’t a bad grappler by any means but he was absolutely dummied, as Werdum simply sliced through his defenses to secure a first-round armbar.
Is there any shame in being tapped by a grappler like Werdum? Absolutely not, but the loss puts an end to any thought of a UFC title run for Gustafsson. Whether he continues now – or goes back into retirement – is an interesting question indeed.
#3 Best: Shogun and Nogueira put on a decent show
When the UFC announced a trilogy bout between legends Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for this show, I feared the worst. Both guys probably should’ve hung it up years ago – their original classic fight took place in 2005!
And I had genuine concern that this fight would be embarrassing for them and the UFC.
Thankfully, I was proven wrong. Sure, both men looked like shadows of their former selves, but overall, this was a perfectly acceptable – dare I say it fun – fight.
Early on it looked like Nogueira’s fight, as he continually landed strong punches to his longtime rival, hurting him on a couple of occasions. Shogun came back though, landing a number of good leg kicks and getting some takedowns for good measure, too.
I felt like Nogueira did enough to win, but the judges decided otherwise, handing Shogun his third victory over ‘Minotoro’.
Nogueira announced his retirement after the fight, and that’s definitely the right call to make. Maybe the UFC can find him an office job alongside his brother? As for Shogun, it looks like he’ll carry on, so the UFC should probably look to find him a favorable opponent next time out.
Will I want to rewatch this fight? Well, no. But it didn’t look like something like Shamrock vs. Gracie III or Ortiz vs. Liddell III, and for that, I’m happy.