Stephen Thompson, 39, turned back the clock and put on a show, surviving an early scare and setting a really high pace against Kevin Holland to lead UFC Orlando.
Holland willingly played Thompson’s game as he continued to push forward, encountering many shots from the karate expert. He had a definite power advantage, even injuring Thompson with the few clean shots he landed, but for the most part he just ate big shots and got picked apart.
Holland had several chances to engage on the ground where he has a huge advantage, but he repeatedly dropped Wonderboy. The crowd enjoyed the slugfest, but it wasn’t the smartest move as it only opened him up to more punishment. By the time Holland actually wanted to go down, it was way too late as he was already too battered and beaten up to complete takedowns.
Credit also goes to Holland’s Corner for graciously throwing in the towel at the end of the fourth round, which for whatever reason is still a rarity in mixed martial arts. Holland has heart and an insane chin, but he took a lot of damage in this fight. The punishment was already a concern, but it could have been a lot worse had it continued through the fifth round.
In the co-main event, Rafael dos Anjos proved his veteran skills by refusing to play Bryan Barberena’s game, tripping him twice and immediately showing he had a massive advantage on the ground. Once he had his back, he cranked onto his neck and face and got the cock.
Impressive victory for the former lightweight champion, who at 38 still bears names while also holding the record for longest time he has fought in the octagon. RDA made it look easy, and he also cut a nice promo to call Conor McGregor and say he still has a few months to rid his system of PEDs.
UFC Orlando was a good night for two longtime UFC stars who are heading towards 40.
- After five direct decisions to end the preliminary rounds, the main map was particularly brutal, with all seven fights ending in a stoppage. Deciding who to give $50,000 to will be difficult, and this card is another example of why there should be goal bonuses and set rules, rather than ones based on a UFC manager’s whim.
- In a map full of wild finishes, Roman Dolidze stood out as he pulled off some nifty and rarely seen encounters in his match with Jack Hermansson. He transitioned from an armbar to an inverted triangle before switching to a calf crusher, which he could use to flatten him and land brutal shots at a defenseless Hermansson. That was probably the first time I’ve seen a leg crusher being ground and hammered, and more impressively, Dolidze not only did it against a longtime competitor and talented grappler, but also on short notice. What a way to take an opportunity when Derek Brunson was out and now break into the top 10.
- Matheus Nicolau looked sharp and showed his improved shot as he repeatedly dropped Matt Schnell for an eventual finish.
- Sergei Pavlovich and Tai Tuivasa teeed off as expected, but it was the Russian fighter who landed first and landed often. He dropped Tuivasa multiple times, injuring him early and fanning him out for a goal in under a minute. Tuivasa showed some heart but the excitement was too much and Pavlovich extended his impressive KO streak to five.
- Phil Rowe and Niko Price delivered a wild back-and-forth affair, with the third round alone being a bonus-worthy affair. Both men were close to finishing in the last lap and at some point it looked like the ever-consistent Price was about to make another comeback. However, Rowe bounced back and turned the tables again to win by TKO in his hometown.