Israel Adesanya Steals the Show at UFC 230

Jack Slack breaks down all the big moments from a great night with quality fights up and down the card.

|
Nov 5 2018, 4:10pm

For the downhearted, pessimistic fight fan, UFC 230 was exactly what the doctor ordered. The main event was largely a formality as Daniel Cormier met with no difficulty in manhandling Derrick Lewis and Lewis showed nothing new or clever or even made an attempt at some kind of Hail Mary play. But in spite of the shoddy main event, and succeeding the UFC 229 mega-fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC 230 excelled as an ensemble piece with quality fights up and down the card, a perfect cocktail of bloody brawls and slick science.

Elbows and Cuts

On the undercard Sheymon Moraes and Julio Arce fought a three round battle with both men forced to blink a generous splashing of Arce’s blood out of their eyes throughout. Moraes was able to thread his right hand down the center of the southpaw Arce’s guard whenever the latter jabbed. After being dropped in this way in the first round, Arce got the clinch and doggedly pursued the back, showing us something new in the UFC in the process. Struggling to drag Moraes hips off the fence in order expose his back, Arce stepped into the fence and climbed his left knee across behind Arce to advance his back take.

The fight became a good deal more frantic when a Moraes elbow threatened a cut stoppage. Moraes connected numerous elbows throughout the fight, but it was the least solid connection that produced a laceration which drenched both men with blood for the next ten minutes. Here is the paradox of elbow strikes: good connections can cause a knockout, but glancing ones often cause the most gnarly wounds.

Arce was knocked down a couple of times by that right straight down the inside of his jab, but when he hit the mat his guard was something unusual. Moraes is a very competent grappler and top player, but Arce wound up defending his head by repeatedly performing a small half-granby to bring his hips back in front of Moraes, putting himself on his shoulders in the process. Being stacked on your shoulders is usually a less than ideal situation, but Moraes seemed able to deflect a great many blows on his hamstrings and calves. In fact when Moraes got overeager dropping punches on this stacked posture in the first round, he was dragged into a reverse triangle choke attempt that bought Arce time to regain his composure.

Moraes won a close decision, but neither man came out looking bad. If Arce takes anything from this fight it should be that his jab is a little bit too easy to read: fully committed and rarely feinted.

The Jailbreak Escape

Any Jason Knight fight is a guarantee of a good scrap, but Jordan Rinaldi proved just a little too much for him. Knight didn’t seemed to lose largely due to his comfort on his back, locking himself to the mat as he attempted to play rubber guard instead of working to return to his feet. However Knight often did well re-establishing guard once Rinaldi had passed. Often Knight looked to perform what is called a jailbreak escape: inserting the far side foot as a butterfly hook and using it to drive the opponent back to behind both butterfly hooks. This can be done as B.J. Penn used it, using the legs alone to insert the hook, or with the aid of one of the arms as Knight did here.

Knight’s right hand reaches through underneath Rinaldi and inserts his left foot as a butterfly hook.

Eddie Bravo used this same escape in his famous grappling match with Royler Gracie—flowing directly from the escape into a butterfly guard sweep attempt and then a triangle choke which won him the match.

Knight’s attempt at the same escape in the second round was met with a counter. When a fighter passes the near side arm underneath his opponent (in this case Knights’ right arm) he also removes a block stopping his opponent from walking around him to north-south position. When Knight’s hand shot underneath Rinaldi to insert his hook, Rinaldi walked around to north-south and began working on a kimura attempt. When Knight attempted to turn to his knees, Rinaldi span to his back.

A Career Resurgence

The success story of the card was Jared Cannonier. This writer has had Cannonier saved away for a future “biggest what ifs of MMA” article, as the Alaskan continued to look sharp on the feet but gas out early against the big names he met. Cannonier gave Glover Teixeira hell on the feet in their bout, while working a full time job at the airport and lacking world class coaches and sparring partners. Now Cannonier, once a heavyweight, is at the MMA Lab in Arizona and has transformed himself into a middleweight.

Cannonier came in at short notice to fight Dave Branch, replacing Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, a smothering grappler. After shucking off Branch’s takedown attempts, the svelte Cannonier showed a new wrinkle to his game as he pursued Branch along the fence: throwing up a wheel kick to intercept Branch as he circled!

The end came as Branch failed on another takedown, becoming increasingly frustrated, and threw a right hand on the break. Cannonier’s own right hand landed considerably harder and Branch was quickly TKOed.

Cannonier’s cardio hasn’t always been sturdy and often a big cut to get down another weight class will leave a fighter with even less in the tank, yet Cannonier looked surprisingly fresh after shucking off Branch’s dogged takedown attempts. Hopefully Cannonier has found the right team and weightclass to start fighting up to his potential.

Weidman Vs. Jacare

Chris Weidman put in a typical Weidman performance as he started the fight by outclassing Souza with jabs and long right hands, then hung around more and more to be hit by the Brazilian’s big right hand and was finally stopped in the third round. Weidman’s jab looked brilliant through the early going, wherein he used a stuttering jab—pumping the arm half into extension, pausing, and then completing the extension off-rhythm—to perplex the rather rigid Jacare.

In the early going Weidman’s performance against Souza was quite similar to Robert Whittaker’s. Whittaker used the jab well and was constantly on the lookout for Jacare’s double leg and the counter right hand. Both Weidman and Whittaker would lead and then step out to their right or roll down behind their lead shoulder as Jacare returned.

Jacare proved a little smarter than usual though and after struggling with the jab for a while he began to push forward and get to the body with left hooks. As Jacare is often an almost exclusively right handed hitter this was something of a surprise.

The left hook to the body paired nicely with the right front snap kick to the body that Jacare has always liked, and gradually the wind left Weidman’s sails. By the end of the fight Weidman was standing flat footed with Jacare, trading, and soon ate a right hand that put him down for the TKO.

The Wonderful Mr. Adesanya

The most notable performance of the night came from Israel Adesanya who has emphatically established himself as one of the elite in the middleweight division. Derek Brunson is a sloppy and wild fighter technically, but a very strong wrestler and a knockout puncher as well, so this was easily the stiffest test of Adesanya’s career. Brunson came out with his trademark aggression, attempting to smother Adesanya along the fence, but with less of the all-out recklessness of his fights with Robert Whittaker or Sam Alvey. Adesanya didn’t get the chance to strike for most of the fight and instead had to fight off takedowns for several minutes, and he was almost flawless in doing it.

On one break from the clinch, Adesanya ran along the cage and rebounded off the fence with a knee as Brunson stepped in.This is something Adesanya used to do in his kickboxing career, and while we have only spoken about Adesanya in passing we did discuss his use of a rebounding knee to the midsection against Ryan Thomas in Glory.

But where Thomas caught a knee to the bread basket, Brunson was running face first for the takedown and took the brunt of the strike on the chin.

The beautiful striking science that is Adesanya’s main selling point was only on display for a few seconds against Brunson, but even then you got to see the classic Adesanya principles. A low-to-high question mark kick wobbled Brunson, and the finishing sequence showed Adesanya hiding his stance switches amid offensive and defense movements. This is how you surprise an opponent with the new looks of a change of stance—you make sure they don’t see the change until you’re ready to attack out of it.

Here Adesanya weaves from his southpaw stance to an orthodox one, cracks Brunson with a right straight, then switches again to land a long left hook from a southpaw stance. Any Adesanya match is full of stance switches which go largely unnoticed as he hides them so well in transition.

While Brunson is not a great scientific fighter, his raw skills have been enough to get him into the middleweight top ten before. Certainly as Adesanya meets savvier fighters, who aren’t such an open book regarding their intentions and can adapt throughout a fight, we will get a better read on his potential, but Brunson is an excellent name to have on any middleweight record.

Jack Slack wrote Notorious: The Life and Fights of Conor McGregor and hosts the Fights Gone By podcast.