UFC Fight Night 53 & 54 Recap: Welterweight Division Gets Next Challenger

The UFC put together a summer marathon that began on August 16th and saw ten cards in eight consecutive weeks, capped off by a doubleheader in Stockholm and Halifax. After the Swedish card, it looked like the organization was going to leave us longing for more UFC over the next three weeks leading up to UFC 179. Things took a bit of a turn in the evening with the Halifax card which seemed to drag, despite the main card starting and finishing with nice performances. Rather than looking at each of the 23 bouts from Saturday, let’s just highlight the best performances. The final bout of the day was the most relevant in any title picture. Fans were intrigued by the matchup between Rory MacDonald (18-2) and Tarec Saffiedine (15-4), but also wary of the prospects of a prolonged, tepid striking battle between the two. Those fears proved fruitless, as even before MacDonald managed to score the third-round knockout the fight was solid. MacDonald is able to interrupt the offense of most opponents with his range, and even despite the kicking game of Saffiedine, that proved to be the case as well. Once MacDonald was able to take away the danger of the kicks, he proved the far superior boxer and eventually landed a hard left at the end of a three punch combination which dropped the Belgian. With this win, as well as victories over the #3, 7, and 8 ranked welterweights (all within the past 18 months), MacDonald is clearly ready for the UFC title shot he seemed destined for when he debuted as a 20-year-old back in 2010. As for Saffiedine, a bout with Mike Pyle — another fighter coming off a loss to a young Canadian — would be appropriate to determine who belongs in the top 15 discussion at 170.

Speaking of the top 15 at welterweight, Rick Story (18-8) should be making an appearance in those rankings after a surprisingly dominant and thorough victory over Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1). It was expected that Story would be competitive and perhaps take the first two rounds against Nelson. However it was surprising when the Icelandic fighter was the one to slow down late, with Story maintaining his pace and increasing his effectiveness in the latter rounds. Story’s patented body attack paid huge dividends in this fight, as he took the legs out from Nelson, and hampered the normal movement of the BJJ and karate practitioner. It was yet another solid performance from Story, who is now 11-6 in his UFC career, and solidly in the role of upper-level gatekeeper. I keep waiting for Ryan LaFlare to get a big fight, and I think Story would be a great test for him. Nelson struggled to get the fight to the ground against a solid wrestler in Story, so perhaps a bout with the rising Stephen Thompson would allow him to do so, and if not it would turn into an interesting striking battle between two fighters with somewhat similar styles.

In the bantamweight division, Raphael Assuncao (23-4) was largely able to avoid the takedowns and grappling of Bryan Caraway (19-7). On the feet he piled up leg kicks early and started to land with his hands and knees later in the bout en route to a unanimous decision victory. Assuncao’s defense wasn’t particularly sharp, which doesn’t bode well for him against either Dominick Cruz or TJ Dillashaw, but there’s no denying he’s one of the next fighters in line at 135. His gameplan is to wait for the winner of Cruz/Dillashaw, but with Renan Barao waiting in the wings for Dillashaw, and Cruz’ longstanding beef with Urijah Faber, I’m not sure that’s the best idea for a fighter nobody really has much interest in watching. Max Holloway (11-3) is still just 22 years old, and he’s now competed in the UFC ten times already. By comparison, Rory MacDonald had only fought five times in the UFC at that point. If Holloway can maintain his absurd activity, he could become one of the most active fighters in UFC history well before he even turns 30. It helps that he’s also ultra exciting and extremely good, something his dominant KO victory over Akira Corassani (12-5, 1 NC) reminded us of. Holloway’s only losses in MMA have come to the currently 5th, 7th, and 8th ranked featherweights in the UFC, with one of those being a short notice replacement and another being a very controversial decision. As long as he continues to develop his ground game, Holloway will give any 145er in the world fits. A good test of his grappling skills would be a fight with either Thiago Tavares or Dennis Siver. Instead of going fight-by-fight through the rest of the results, let’s run things down by division.

  • The only light heavyweight bout on either card saw Jan Blachowicz (18-3) shocked the Swedish faithful with a body kick TKO of Ilir Latifi. Latifi had been picking up a great deal of steam lately, but it looks like the UFC now has another fighter to prop up their eventual entry into Poland with.
  • Elias Theodorou (10-0), Magnus Cedenblad (13-4), and Krzysztof Jotko (15-1) all picked up decision victories in the middleweight division, with Jotko looking the most dominant of the three and being another fighter who can help in Polish expansion. Theodorou has a star quality which could make him very popular in Canada, but it’s tough for anyone to look good against Bruno Santos, so he gets a pass for not having the most impressive performance.
  • The welterweight division saw one of the most impressive knockouts of the entire year, as Albert Tumenov (14-2) couldn’t help but kick poor Mat Dwyer in the head repeatedly. After dropping Dwyer once with a head kick, Tumenov let him back up and put him almost completely out with a second. It was a scary performance by a fighter than nobody is going to be particularly willing to fight in the near future. Nico Musoke (13-3, 1 NC), Cathal Pendred (15-2-1), and Nordine Taleb (10-2) also picked up decisions in their bouts, but none of those fights warrants much attention.
  • The lightweight division was busy, as per usual. In Stockholm, Mairbek Taisumov (22-5) followed in the footsteps of his teammate and picked up a quick TKO over the debuting Marcin Bandel. In Halifax, Olivier Aubin-Mercier (5-1) showed some flash to his submission game, coaxing a second-round tap from Jake Lindsey. Strikers Chad Laprise (9-0), Daron Cruickshank (16-5), and Paul Felder (9-0) all showed they have a bit more to their game than just punches and kicks, as each earned decisions due in large part to their grappling.
  • The featherweight division saw three fights on the day, as Mike Wilkinson (9-1) contributed to the poor day for Swedish MMA, shocking everyone by knocking out Niklas Backstrom in just over a minute. Dennis Siver (22-9, 1 NC) used his grappling to earn a decision in Sweden. Earlier on the card, Zubaira Tukhugov (17-3) scored an impressive TKO over Ernest Chavez, starting a nice day for Russian fighters.
  • Bantamweight submission artists impressed in Halifax, as Mitch Gagnon (12-2) and Pedro Munhoz (12-1) fought a combined 2:45 to earn rear-naked choke and guillotine finishes, respectively.
  • The lone flyweight bout of the doubleheader saw Chris Kelades (8-1) get some of the biggest cheers of the day. The Nova Scotian local upset Paddy Holohan on just five days notice, outwrestling and outscrambling the Irishman to a decision.

The UFC will take a bit of a break, returning in three weeks for UFC 179, featuring the rematch between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes. There’s still plenty of MMA to keep fans and bettors busy between now and then however, as Bellator will have cards on the next two Fridays along with AXS TV promotions RFA and Legacy FC. WSOF 14 goes down next Saturday, and ONE FC has a card the following week as well. Stay tuned to MMAOddsBreaker.com for odds and analysis of all those cards.

Written by Brad Taschuk

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