UFC on ESPN 2 just wrapped up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the event headliner, Justin Gaethje was scheduled to face the highly-dangerous Brazilian striker, Edson Barboza. As was expected, the fight did not disappoint. Join us as we break down the ins and outs of the main card, fight-by-fight.
Justin Gaethje vs Edson Barboza
As has been the case in the lead up to every Justin Gaethje fight, terms like ‘extreme violence’ flooded the narrative surrounding his bout with Edson Barboza. Though Gaethje’s toughness and fighting style is more comparable to that of Rocky Balboa, it was Barboza who came out to the beloved fictional characters theme music in Philadelphia. Barboza is widely considered to be the more seasoned striker of the two, but he has also had trouble against pressure fighters in the past. Gaethje is the epitome of a fighter who will walk through fire to land strikes on his opponents—a compelling match-up indeed.
For as long as it lasted, the fight was full of fireworks. Both men were able to fire off and land their well-known powerful leg kicks. Because of this, they will each assuredly have sore legs for the foreseeable future. If there were to be any complaint about how this battle played out, it would be that the entertainment ended early on. Justin Gaethje defeated Edson Barboza via first round knockout. For anybody who claimed Justin Gaethje could only be a big fish in a small pond, they were proven wrong in dramatic fashion. Justin Gaethje is far from done with his quest to silence the doubters and become the UFC lightweight champion.
David Branch vs Jack Hermansson
The co-main event would end quickly as Jack Hermansson faced former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champ-champ, David Branch. Branch was ranked number 11 in the world and many expected he would be a difficult test for Hermansson. The Swedish grappler passed this test with flying colors. He submitted the Renzo Gracie black belt in the first round via guillotine choke. Hermansson is now tied with Thiago Santos for the most finishes at middleweight since 2016. He also likely earned himself a spot in the UFC middleweight rankings.
David Branch is now 2-3 since moving over to the UFC from the WSOF. Having previous experience at the weight class, Branch may stand to benefit from moving up to light heavyweight. Multiple middleweights have chosen this path as of late and it has paid dividends for their careers. For example, Thiago Santos, who was knocked out by David Branch less than a year ago, is scheduled to face Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title. Branch will also be 38-years-old in September. It’s not unheard of for aging fighters to begin struggling with weight cutting. Now may be a good time for Branch to try his hand at cutting less.
Josh Emmett vs Michael Johnson
Fighting for the first time since his devastating knockout loss to Jeremy Stephens, Josh Emmett came back to remind the featherweight division just how dangerous he can be. He returned after experiencing a broken orbital, a broken cheek, and a fractured nose just over a year ago. Due to the damage sustained in his fight against Stephens, he currently has no feeling in the gums on the left side of his mouth. This sounds frustrating to say the least, but by now, he claims to have gotten used to it. After the forced layoff, Emmett was more so focused on getting back into the win-column.
Michael Johnson was looking to beat a ranked featherweight in his fourth fight since dropping to the new division. A win over the number-ten-ranked Emmett could boost him into the top fifteen, or maybe even the top ten. Michael Johnson was out-striking his opponent and looked to be up by two rounds going into the third. In fact, he looked better than he has in a long time. Unfortunately for Johnson, Emmett landed a blistering knockout punch. Upon impact, Johnson stiffened up and was out cold before he hit the ground. Michael Johnson is now 2-2 (if you include when he missed weight at 147) as a featherweight. Josh Emmett improves to 3-1 (If you include the time he missed weight at 148.5) since returning to featherweight.
Michelle Waterson vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Ranked number nine in the world, Michelle Waterson is pursuing a goal to become the first mother to win a UFC title. Beating the number-six-ranked Karolina Kowalkiewicz would be an important step towards achieving her goal. Kowalkiewicz was looking to get back on track after a knockout loss to the heavy-handed Jessica Andrade. Holding a win over the current strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas, a few victories could be all Kowalkiewicz needed to get a shot at the title.
While the first round was a competitive striking affair, the second round ended up on the ground at the hands of Michelle Waterson. Karolina Kowalkiewicz proved she was fiercely determined when she survived a painful-looking armbar attempt at the end of the second round. The third round quickly became a clinch battle where both women landed their own meaningful shots. Waterson would eventually get the fight back to the ground, but this time Kowalkiewicz was able to get back up. The rest of the fight would take place on the feet with Waterson appearing to be the fresher of the two fighters.
Michelle Waterson defeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision. She improves her current winning streak to three and will inevitably move up in the rankings. If not already, a win against a top five opponent could be all she needs before she’ll receive the opportunity to fight for gold.
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs Paul Craig
Undefeated at 6-0, Kennedy Nzechukwu won a UFC contract when he knocked out Dennis Bryant on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 2010 and is now pursuing his dream to become a UFC champion. His opponent, the often-entertaining Paul Craig was in desperate need of a win. He had lost three of his last four and would likely be fighting for his job against the powerful Nigerian.
Craig proved to be a perfect-level opponent for the developing Nzechukwu. The Scottish veteran relentlessly tried to get the less-experienced grappler onto the ground. Nzechukwu was seemingly ahead on the score cards until he lost a point due to an eye poke. The point-deduction came after Nzechukwu was warned previously for extending his fingers in exchanges. None of this mattered in the end as Paul Craig submitted Kennedy Nzechukwu via triangle choke in the third round. This will be a big learning experience for Kennedy Nzechukwu and a much-needed reprieve for Paul Craig’s UFC career.
Sodiq Yusuff vs Sheymon Moraes
Representing his home country of Nigeria, Sodiq Yusuff came into his fight against Sheymon Moraes as the -140 betting favorite. After winning a contract to compete in the UFC on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Yusuff debuted in the UFC with a first-round TKO victory over Suman Mokhtarian. Meanwhile, the WSOF veteran, Sheymon Moraes came in with a 2-1 UFC record. Highly touted featherweight prospect, Zabit Magomedsharipov handed Moraes his lone UFC loss via third round submission. At 11-2, his only loss outside of the UFC was against current UFC bantamweight number-one contender, Marlon Moraes. In other words, he would be a stiff test for Yusuff.
The first two rounds were highly competitive between the two featherweights. In fact, they were arguably 1-1 going into the third. Making a much-needed statement in the third round, Yusuff dropped Moraes with a right hand. He followed Moraes to the ground and tried to get the finish by landing ground strikes. Moraes survived the barrage and the decided victor would be left up to the judges. Sodiq Yusuff defeated Sheymon Moraes via unanimous decision. In his post-fight octagon interview, he called out Jiu-Jitsu phenom and recent UFC new comer, Kron Gracie. ‘Ice Cream Kron‘ recently made his UFC debut with a submission victory over Alex Caceres. A fight against Sodiq Yusuff sounds like it could be fun for everybody involved. Sign me up!
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