With former WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder observing from the audience, the UFC concluded the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter and also staged a main event featuring Jamahal Hill and Thiago Santos. Both TUF fights displayed the raw talents of up-and-coming fighters who looked poised to make a name for themselves once they’ve officially signed their new contracts in the organization. For his part, Jamahal Hill put an exclamation point on what was overall a very entertaining evening of fights. There’s a lot to unpack here; without further ado, let’s get into it!
Santos vs. Hill
Round one between light heavyweight prospects Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill was a relatively uneventful affair. Santos attempted a high kick early in the round, but Hill’s ability to block the maneuver seemed to discourage him from trying it again. Neither man was able to inflict significant damage on the other; instead they flicked out jabs with the intent to land scoring blows while figuring out the other man’s strategy.
In the second round, Santos decided to execute level changes and go for takedowns. He was able to score one takedown within the first minute and a half of the round, but Hill fought to his feet quickly. Towards the end of the round, Hill landed a right jab that stunned Santos. If he had been given more time to execute after the connection, Hill may have been able to achieve a stoppage within the round. Outside of a takedown by Santos less than halfway through the round, round three was relatively uneventful.
Prior to tonight, Jamahal Hill had never been scheduled for a five-round fight in the UFC. At the beginning of round four, he set out to erase any doubts as to whether or not he had the conditioning to go more than three rounds. He landed a right hook that stunned Santos at the beginning of the round. Santos immediately began to retreat and Hill seized the moment, landing a barrage of punches that sent Santos to the mat and forced him to cover his head instead of fighting back. Referee Herb Dean was left with no choice but to stop the fight. It was a dramatic turn of events and an emphatic statement by Hill. With this win, Jamahal Hill has established himself as a serious contender in the light heavyweight division.
Luque vs. Neal
Prior to tonight’s matchup with Vicente Luque, welterweight challenger Geoff Neal stated that he was looking forward to facing the highest ranked opponent of his UFC tenure. He felt that an opponent of Luque’s caliber would serve as a great measuring stick for how well he stacked up against the elite fighters in the welterweight division. If tonight’s performance is any indication, Geoff Neal is ready to compete against the best fighters the organization has to offer.
Within the first minute-and-a-half of round one, Neal landed a left jab that left Luque visibly hurt. Luque never regained the strength in his legs after that initial blow and Neal was able to send him to the mat twice throughout the duration of the round. In round two, Neal was able to score a takedown, although Luque exhibited great resolve and did not stay on the mat for very long.
At the 3:30 marker of round three, Neal landed a big left hook that rocked Luque. He then followed up the initial blow with a secession of uppercuts that would make Clubber Lang proud. The momentum was too much for Luque to handle; he crumpled to the mat and the referee mercifully stopped the fight. It was an impressive performance by Neal on a day when the reigning welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, was in attendance. Usman has a fight scheduled in two weeks at UFC 278, but if he’s thinking ahead to his next opponent, Geoff Neal may have made a compelling case with tonight’s performance.
Usman vs. Pauga
Mohammed Usman has a physique that rivals Francis Ngannou for the most intimidating figure in the heavyweight division. At 32-years-old, it’s hard to imagine that he is just now making his way into the UFC. He was a collegiate football player whose aspirations of competing in the NFL did not come true. Luckily for him, he is still a gifted athlete and it appears that many men in the heavyweight division are about to learn that the hard way.
Zac Pauga attempted a high kick to start round one but was unable to connect. For the remainder of the round, he and Usman attempted to box but neither man was able to land a significant blow. Early in round two, Pauga slightly dropped his hands after attempting to land a body shot against his opponent. Usman saw the opening and landed a quick short left punch that did not even amount to a full-jab-extension. The power was enough to knock Pauga out cold upon immediate impact.
The scary thing about Usman’s power is that his opponent was unconscious upon impact and Usman had clearly not even given the punch everything he’s got. If Usman ever gets into a heated battled and has the opportunity to land a legitimate jab or a hook, there will be many more highlight reel level knockouts in his future. He is a powerfully built man and the rest of the heavyweight division has officially been put on notice; Mohammed Usman is a factor and a prospect worth keeping an eye on.
Walker vs. Miller
Leading up to their fight, women’s flyweight prospect Brogan Walker kept a serious gaze in Juliana Miller’s direction. However, it was Miller who was able to handle her business inside the octagon. Miller dominated rounds one and two with takedowns and ground control time. In round three, Miller scored another takedown and took advantage of Walker’s weakened stance by pummeling her with elbows. Eventually, Walker was unable to fight back and the fight was stopped. Miller was declared the winner and thus has earned a roster spot in the UFC. Walker was the more experienced fighter heading into the bout but Miller’s line that “you can’t measure heart,” ultimately proved to be true.
Sakai vs. Spivac
Heavyweight prospect Sergey Spivac executed a dominant performance against Augusto Sakai tonight. Spivac was able to score three takedowns in the first round and cause Sakai to look visibly worn down. Two more takedowns in the early moments of the second round seemed to exhaust Sakai altogether. Eventually, Spivac gained the dominant position and began to punish Sakai with repeated hammer fists. Seeing that Sakai was defenseless, the referee wisely stopped the fight.
McKinney vs. Gonzalez
Lightweight challenger Terrance McKinney opened the first minute of his fight against Erick Gonzalez with an emphatic high kick. Not long after, he scored a takedown; however, Gonzalez was able to quickly fight to his feet. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, fighting to a standing position did not stop McKinney from mounting his back and establishing a chokehold. The two men struggled for awhile, but McKinney eventually established a grip tight enough to force Gonzalez to tap out. McKinney is known for quick fights; twelve out of his thirteen career wins have come via first round stoppage. Tonight’s victory was a statement; Terrance McKinney wants to be recognized in the highly talented lightweight division.
Tonight’s victory by Jamahal Hill was his third consecutive triumph after suffering a setback last summer. He is beginning to look more an more like a true contender. The light heavyweight division is very talented, but Hill looks as if he has no fear; any man who steps inside the octagon with him is in for a serious fight.
There are serious questions as to whether or not Francis Ngannou will fight again or decide to retire. With that being said, the number one contender for the heavyweight belt should still be Cyril Gane. After Gane, it’s anybody’s guess who the best heavyweight in the UFC really is; there are several men who could lay claim to being elite within the division. Mohammed Usman is as serious an athlete as the heavyweight division has to offer. If he puts his mind to it, he could be a contender for the heavyweight belt within his next five or six fights. He is powerful and strong and his technique will only improve with time.
The UFC returns next week, when bantamweight stars Marlon Vera and Dominick Cruz meet in the main event of the evening. The event will be held in San Diego California; the venue should be packed and the atmosphere should be electric. As always, we’ll have all the latest updates about the outcomes of the fights, as well as in depth analysis, available right here at World in Sport!
Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.