With the UFC and Bellator running shows on back-to-back days, there’s plenty to digest from the latest in the MMA world. Whether it was Thiago Santos’ humdrum win over Johnny Walker or the latest uproar in the long, strange trip of Michael Page, what mattered most from another busy combat sports weekend? Let’s hit our five biggest takeaways.
1. Raise your hand if you thought we’d ever come away from a Johnny Walker fight snoozing from his passivity.
OK, now put those hands down, you scoundrels. Lying is unbecoming of you.
The line for Thiago Santos vs. Walker to last all the way to the judges’ scorecards had higher than 5-to-1 underdog odds on some sportsbooks, which tells you how surprising Saturday’s lackluster UFC main event really was. Gone was Walker’s flair for the dramatic. Absent were his dynamism and ability to explode in and out of the pocket in the most unpredictable of ways. Instead that towering 82-inch range stayed holstered for five sleepy rounds, and Walker’s new coach John Kavanagh was a late winner of the “Worst Advice of the Night” award when he informed Walker that he was ahead going into the fifth round of a bout that was universally scored even up to that point by both viewers and judges alike.
Kavanagh didn’t ask for urgency so Walker didn’t give him urgency, and then he lost. Funny how that works. It’s way, way too early to suggest that the move to SBG Ireland may have neutered the traits that made Walker so interesting and fun, but after Saturday night I’m not ruling out either. We’re watching you, Kavanagh. Don’t you dare ruin this lunatic ex-stripper.
Still, it’s hard to get too upset at Santos for doing exactly what he needed to do to finally shoot his hand out from the career quicksand he’d been sinking in until this weekend. Many either overlook or forget the hell he’s gone through to even get back to this point. It takes a driven athlete to overcome the three-year stretch “Marreta” has overcome. Santos’ pre-fight promises of savagery may not have come to fruition, but when you’re at the end of your UFC contract, as Santos revealed he is post-fight, sometimes a win is all you can ask for.
2. I know the Internet was all up in arms Friday night over the result of Bellator 267’s main event, but I actually didn’t mind the decision.
Michael Page clearly won Round 2 with his clean knockdown and Douglas Lima clearly won Round 3 with his top control. Round 1 was the only tossup and I tend to favor Page’s two minor moments on the feet over Lima sitting around in guard with Page locking up wrist control. Regardless, it was a close 29-28 fight either way and certainly not the second coming of Diego Sanchez vs. Ross Pearson that many made it out to be afterward.
(I swear, someday these bellyachers need to figure out what the actual meaning of a robbery is in combat sports. It’s not just any judges’ decision that you don’t agree with.)
At any rate, what left a much saltier taste in my mouth than the scorecards was the fact that a meaningful main event like Page vs. Lima 2 was only scheduled for three rounds in the first place. How is this still a thing?! The UFC moved to five-round main events in June 2011. That’s 10 years ago! Bellator obviously doesn’t need to copy the UFC’s every move, and Lord knows there are plenty of Bellator main events that no one wants to be five rounds, but why is this not a pick-and-choose type of scenario by now? It’s 2021. There are only so many matchups Bellator can throw together that generate genuine interest like Page vs. Lima 2 did. It sells the product short and makes the proceedings feel less important than they should when a special fight like Friday’s headliner is treated the same as any other.
If the most common refrain bouncing around social media after the conclusion of your big showcase is that it felt incomplete, that’s never a good sign.
Listen to the fans, Scott Coker. Pull the trigger on selective five-round main events.
3. Before we move on, major credit is in order for Michael Page.
After eight years of seemingly endless lateral steps in Bellator, “MVP” could’ve waltzed out of the SSE Arena on Friday night and slid straight into his first-ever title shot, leaving Douglas Lima out in the cold. Instead, he did something no fighter aside from Dustin Poirier ever does — he said no to the belt. The 34-year-old showman surprised us all over again by calling out Lima for a chance at satisfaction in a rubber match rather than going for gold.
The goal in combat sports is ultimately to make money and win titles, and the two often go hand in hand. There aren’t many fighters out there who’d willingly throw extra speed bumps in front of those goals right after the biggest win of their careers as Page did. I personally would’ve been interested to see how “MVP” approached his shot at undefeated Bellator champion Yaroslav Amosov, but if the Lima trilogy fight is what he prefers, hey, that’s plenty compelling for me. Respect to Page for reading the room Friday night and affording Lima an opportunity when he really didn’t have to. Let’s just make it five rounds this time, yes?
4. I fully support referee Dan Miragliotta’s decision to rule Saturday’s UFC Vegas 38 co-main event a no-contest, and applaud him for actually taking the time to watch replay and listen to Herb Dean’s cageside advice to get it right.
Kevin Holland was flash KO’d by his accidental clash of heads with Kyle Daukaus. That is indisputable. After that point Holland was on the kind of autopilot that leads fighters to try to double-leg referees after they’ve been out cold, and the fight ended less than 30 seconds later. If the result stood as a submission win for Daukaus, it’d almost be as if Holland was getting penalized for those fight-or-flight instincts, because otherwise it’d an easy no-contest had he stayed out cold for just a half-second longer. I hate to see fighters in that position penalized for a reaction outside of their control, so Miragliotta got it right.
It’s still a bummer because I was greatly looking forward to seeing how Holland’s time training in Hendrickistan impacted the holes in his game. The early returns appear somewhat promising, which is to be expected when a monster like Johny Hendricks is diving double-legs at your knees all day in the gym. But at least Holland and Daukaus seemingly agreed to an immediate rematch inside the cage, so maybe we’ll still get those answers sometime soon. In the end, all were able to make the best of a bad situation.
5. We’ve been hearing about Bethe Correia’s impending UFC retirement fight for so long that it was easy to miss that it snuck right onto Saturday’s preliminary card.
Correia was the biggest underdog on the UFC lineup, so it’s no shock that she got battered by a solid prospect like Karol Rosa for three rounds. But I’m still glad she finally got her moment of sendoff. Correia was never particularly fast nor athletic, but she was still tough as old boots and rarely was anyone’s easy out. Her pursuit of the “Four Horsewomen” early in her UFC days made for a surprisingly fun and creative gimmick, and its “Rocky 4”-esque culmination in Brazil at UFC 190 gifted Ronda Rousey the perfect setup against the perfect foil to transcend into true superstardom. (Even if, in retrospect, that 34-second knockout of Correia was probably the worst thing that ever happened to Rousey’s UFC run.)
The point is that Correia pieced together, for all intents and purposes, a career that many women of her generation in MMA would’ve envied. She may have overachieved considering her physical limits, but she still stuck around for eight years at the highest levels of the sport and was a reasonably memorable figure in an era where most fighters fall through the cracks of anonymity. MMA needed its Bethe Correias. I hope retirement treats her well.