International Fight Week has come to an end, and it did so with a bang. UFC 226 went down live from the T-Mobile Arena with a stacked card. It all led up to the super fight of all super fights in the main event of the evening. The heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic put his title on the line against the light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Cormier entered the octagon with a chance to become just the second fighter to ever hold two belts simultaneously.
The co-main event also held a heavyweight battle between former title challenger, Francis Ngannou and top five heavyweight, Derrick Lewis. Unfortunately, that fight ended up being a snoozefest that absolutely nobody could have predicted as both fighters combined for less than thirty strikes landed. Joe Rogan even went as far to call it the most boring heavyweight fight he has ever seen.
Also on the main card, we saw a bloody battle between Mike Perry and Paul Felder. Perry would win that fight by split decision, the first decision victory of his career. As for Felder, he fought the majority of that fight with a broken arm as he showed the amount of heart he has. He will most likely go back down to lightweight as he took that fight a class up on short notice.
The two fights that opened up the main card were very impressive as well, but we’ll get into those later.
UFC 226 Standout Performances
The entire card was stacked with big names and very impressive fights as it’s now time to take a look at the five Standout Performances. In order for a fighter to make this list, their performance must stand out among their peers. This could be quick finishes, flashy knockouts, great submissions, dismantling an opponent, or providing an all-around exciting fight. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
#1: Daniel Cormier
Both these fighters last stepped into the octagon on the same night, at UFC 220 in January. Miocic was looking to break the record for consecutive title defences at heavyweight as he took on Francis Ngannou. Cormier was stepping into the cage for the first time since his no contest with Jon Jones at UFC 214, taking on Volkan Oezdemir.
Both fighters went in there and made easy work of their opponents. For the first time during his title reign, we saw Miocic really utilize his wrestling. He took Ngannou down a total of six times and out-landed his opponent 200-33. The fight went the distance and Miocic was awarded the unanimous decision win for his third straight title defence, breaking the heavyweight record.
But before Miocic stepped in the octagon, Cormier took on the dangerous Oezdemir. The fight stayed standing for the majority of the first with Oezdemir landing more shots. Cormier began to pick it up towards the end of the round as he connected with heavy punches until the horn sounded. In the second round, Cormier went to his wrestling as he took Oezdemir down quick. He pinned Oezdemir’s arm to the mat and began unleashing the ground and pound until the ref stopped the fight. Cormier was awarded the TKO victory for his third title defence.
Daniel Cormier, moving up in weight to take on the heavyweight champion, was looked at as the underdog in this matchup. Many believed that Stipe Miocic had become one of if not, the greatest heavyweight of all time. People believed that the size difference would be a factor as they believed Miocic may just be too big and too strong for DC. But DC weighed in heavier than Miocic and when DC was fighting at heavyweight earlier in his career, he was undefeated. He left the division as the second-ranked heavyweight in the world. The only chance a lot of people believed he had was to really use his wrestling to earn a victory.
One thing that impressed me was Cormier’s awareness to initiate the clinch when Miocic came in close. When Miocic moves in on a fighter, he’s looking to land combinations, and when he’s looking to land combinations, he’s looking to land his fight-ending signature overhand right. But when Miocic would move in, Cormier would move in closer to attempt to clinch to get out of harm’s way and begin a wrestling match.
Another thing clinch-related that Cormier was doing well had to do with hooks. When Cormier and Miocic first got locked up on the fence, Cormier allowed Miocic to hold the underhook. He did this because, like Dominick Cruz pointed out, it forces Miocic to hold onto him and start a wrestling match. Being a former Olympian wrestler, this favors Cormier immensely.
Cormier was also able to eat a lot of the punches that Miocic was landing. When Miocic would move in and land combinations, Cormier wouldn’t seem fazed at all. These are punches that knocked out Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, and Junior Dos Santos most recently. Cormier would just continue to fight without looking hurt at all.
As Cormier continued to eat shots, he also started putting together his own combinations. At some points, he would walk Miocic down and land a couple good punches at a time.
The most impressive part for Cormier though was the fight-ending sequence. After an unintentional eye poke, Cormier began to land more. As he landed more, he moved in and clinched with Miocic again. Once clinched, he had his left hand in the overhook position. From there, Cormier looped that hand underneath and connected with a perfect right hand that dropped Miocic. Cormier immediately bent down and unleashed the ground and pound before the referee stopped the fight. Daniel Cormier was the new heavyweight champion and just the second ‘Champ-Champ’!
#2: Khalil Rountree Jr.
Khalil Rountree Jr. def. Gokhan Saki via Knockout (Punches) at 1:36 of Round One
Khalil Rountree Jr. and Gokhan Saki were originally scheduled to fight in 2017 at UFC 219. However, Saki ended up blowing his knee out and had to withdraw from the contest, breaking the hearts of fans all over. But luckily for everybody, the UFC did what was best and rebooked the fight for International Fight Week.
Saki came into this fight coming off his successful UFC debut in September against Henrique de Silva at UFC Fight Night 117. He won the fight that night after an exciting back and forth brawl with a knockout. Before entering the UFC, Saki fought some of the best to ever do it in the kickboxing ring. He’s had fights with legends like Rico Verhoeven, Badr Hari, and Alistair Overeem. Many thought he could easily become a UFC champion within the next couple of years.
His opponent, Khalil Rountree, was coming off a fight at UFC 219 when he took on Michal Oleksiejczuk. He ended up losing the fight by unanimous decision, but the fight was made a no contest after Oleksiejczuk got caught for doping. Before that fight, Rountree was coming off of two straight knockout victories over Paul Craig and Daniel Jolly.
Before the fight, it was noticeable just how comfortable Rountree looked inside the octagon. He was going up against one of the greatest kickboxers of all time and he looked very calm. Not very many people gave Rountree a chance unless Saki grew tired and lost in the later rounds or by decision.
Rountree wasn’t rushing in and forcing his shots. He waited for Saki to move in and landed some good, hard shots when he found the openings. This fight lasted 96 seconds, so there wasn’t much that impressed me because it was so short. What stood out to me the most was how quickly Rountree got Saki out of there. The fight-ending sequence began as Rountree moved in and landed a straight punch that dropped Saki. He followed that up with ground and pound before the ref moved in to stop the fight. It was a dominant and very impressive showing from Rountree as he pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the night.
#3: Dan Hooker
Dan Hooker def. Gilbert Burns via Knockout (Punches) at 2:28 of Round One
After moving up to the lightweight division, Dan Hooker has looked phenomenal. His move back into the lightweight division began at UFC Fight Night 110 when he took on Ross Pearson. He won that night, knocking him out with a picture perfect knee in the second round. Since then, he won another two straight, finishing Marc Diakiese with a guillotine at UFC 219, and knocking out Jim Miller at UFC Fight Night 128.
But his opponent would be no easy test as Gilbert Burns came into this fight winning his last two straight, both by knockout. The first of those came at UFC Fight Night 116 when he knocked out Jason Saggo in the second round. The most recent came at UFC on Fox 29, when he knocked out Dan Moret in the second round as well.
Being just the second fight on the card, many believed this fight could have been the fight of the night. Both these guys throw down and when it was announced, many fans were excited to see it.
As soon as the fight began, Burns came out very quick, landing a lot of kicks. Hooker seemed very calm though as Burns pressured him. Shortly after the round started, Hooker ate a big right hand from Burns but kept calm as Burns came charging forward. Once he seemed to have recovered, Hooker began moving forward and attacking the lead leg of Burns.
As he continued to attack the legs, he started finding his rhythm with punches as he dropped Burns with a short right hand as he was backing up. He looked to get on top of Burns but decided to just let him stand up again.
Once Burns got back to his feet, he quickly looked to try and take Hooker down. Hooker defended the takedown well and even locked up a very quick submission but ended up letting it go. Once standing again, he forced Burns to get back up to his feet so Hooker could do some more damage.
Once the two fighters met in the middle again, Hooker began to pressure. He pressured forward and landed his signature right knee to the face of Burns as he backed him up towards the fence. With his opponents back to the fence, Hooker started landing again and quickly dropped Burns with a big left hand. At that point, it seemed like Burns was done. Hooker moved in and landed some ground and pound before the ref jumped in to stop it.
Hooker is now 4-0 in the lightweight division, with all those wins coming by stoppages. If that impressive performance doesn’t earn him a top ten opponent, then I don’t know what will.
#4: Paulo Costa
Paulo Costa def. Uriah Hall via TKO (Punches) at 2:38 of Round Two
These two fighters were originally scheduled to meet at UFC Fight Night 128. The fight never happened due to Paulo Costa suffering a bicep injury, causing him and Uriah Hall to be pulled from the event.
Costa entered the UFC undefeated at 8-0 and before this fight, he finished all three of his UFC fights by TKO. His debut came at UFC Fight Night 106 when he took on Garreth McLellan, finishing him in the first round. He then went on to win two fights by TKO in the second round against Oluwale Bamgbose and Johny Hendricks.
Hall entered the UFC as he made the finale of TUF 17 against upcoming middleweight title challenger, Kelvin Gastelum. He lost that fight by split decision and since then has gone 6-5. His most recent fight came against Krzysztof Jotko at UFC Fight Night 116 where he won by TKO in the second round.
In the first round, Costa was starting things off quickly. He was pressuring Hall and throwing power shots including a lot of hard kicks to the body. Throughout the round he continued going back to the kicks time and time again as he was finding a lot of success with them.
One thing that did not impress me about Costa though was his inability to defend the jab. Hall was finding a lot of success with the jab and Costa couldn’t find a way to defend it.
Aside from the jab defence, Costa didn’t show many other flaws except for the groin strikes as he just needs to get his strikes up. But another thing that really impressed me about Costa was how often he went to the body. I mentioned the kicks before but when he would close the distance and put together combinations, he always made sure to go to the body instead of head hunting.
In the second round, he continued to use the powerful body kicks as well as the body punches. While he still wasn’t doing a very good job with the jab defence, it didn’t matter once he put together the fight-ending sequence. He closed the distance and put together beautiful combinations that stunned Hall and he eventually ended the fight with a body shot that dropped Hall face first.
#5: Anthony Pettis
Anthony Pettis def. Michael Chiesa* via Submission (Triangle-Armbar) at 0:52 of Round Two
These two fighters had also been scheduled to fight before, but the injury plague struck once again. Former UFC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis and Michael Chiesa were scheduled to meet at UFC 223 earlier this year. Unfortunately, on media day, Conor McGregor made headlines for attacking a bus inside the Barclays Center. Shattered glass from the windows cut Chiesa and the commission ended up removing him from the fight as a result.
Chiesa’s last time in the octagon came in June of last year when he took on Kevin Lee. He lost that fight after a controversial stoppage by Mario Yamasaki after seeming to have gone unconscious due to a rear naked choke. Before that loss, Chiesa was on a three-fight winning streak as he looked to rise to the top of the division. But now his time in the division seems to be over. He announced he was done at lightweight after coming in overweight the day before at weigh-ins.
After Pettis lost the belt to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185, he seemed to have fallen off a bit. He had a short stint at featherweight where he won his debut there against Charles Oliveira at UFC on Fox 21. That earned him a shot at the interim featherweight title when he took on current featherweight champion, Max Holloway. He came in overweight and after losing by TKO in the third round, he moved back up to lightweight. Once back at lightweight, he’d go on to beat Jim Miller at UFC 213 and losing to Dustin Poirier at UFC Fight Night 120.
In the opening round, Chiesa looked for a takedown quickly and got one. But one thing that impressed me with Pettis was his work off his back. He was very comfortable on his back as he looked to set up submissions. He was also able to roll over and get on top of Chiesa at one point.
Pettis was offensive off his back through the entire round as his takedown defence wasn’t as good, but the offense made up for it. He threw a very good upkick as well off his back at one point too.
In the second round, he started to find a lot of success with his striking very early in the round. He stunned Chiesa with a right hand and then threw a jumping kick that just missed as Chiesa fell to the mat.
Once Chiesa fell to the mat, Pettis jumped on him and began to look for a guillotine. He let the guillotine go pretty soon after and then began attacking a triangle choke. Once he had the triangle locked up, he began attacking an arm too and eventually finished it by triangle armbar.
Next week, the UFC travels to Boise, Idaho for UFC Fight Night 133. In the main event, Junior Dos Santos returns from his suspension to face Blagoy Ivanov in a heavyweight clash. Plus, Sage Northcutt returns to the octagon as he takes on Zak Ottow. And, former featherweight title challenger, Chad Mendes returns from his suspension to take on Myles Jury. So join me next week as we look back on the UFC’s night in Boise to determine the five Standout Performances.