Return of the Menace: How Michael Johnson Starched Dustin Poirier
UFC Fight Night 94: Poirier versus Johnson continued the constant march of UFC events which will continue until mid-october. The card was light on star power but had some decent performances and moments which made it well worth the time to tune in. While the main and co-main event ended mere moments after they began, others on the card provided the lengthier slogs as well as a couple of gasps and laughs.
Perhaps the most memorable performance of the night came from Derek Brunson and Uriah Hall. Hall has been a troublesome one for fans and pundits alike for years because he seems to have all the athletic potential in the world but gets himself into trouble with bad habits and ringcraft. This was more true than ever against Brunson. Hall came out and went on the offensive against the wrestler, running himself straight into a clinch off the bat.
The two broke after some time on the fence, Brunson feinted Hall back towards the fence again, feinted an over hand and then threw a legitimate overhand left as Hall circled into it. Hall was midway between circling with his hands down and trying to counter while doing so. It was the spitting image of the knockout loss to Chris Weidman all those years ago.
Hall's reliable dropping of hands as he retreats—even if the opponent keeps him in range—has made him a solid mark for a ring cutter who can heard him into long hook, and at this point it seems as though that is unlikely to change. A cracking performance from Brunson who scores his fifth victory and fourth TKO in a row.
In the main event Michael Johnson made excellent use of the inside low kick to keep Dustin Poirier from setting his feet to sling his characteristic heavy leather. Poirier kept lunging to reach Johnson with his left and Johnson showed the counter lead hook. Moments after the first time he showed this, he landed another and followed with a left hand, sending Poirier to the mat and scoring Johnson the TKO.
That is the duality of the power hand. A fighter must square up to throw it, presenting himself for counters. This is why 'closing the door' with the left hook or jab is so useful—it teaches a fighter to snap back into his bladed position behind his lead shoulder. Many boxers have had tremendous success hooking off of their opponent's rear hand and beating them back to their guard. Poirier's loose hands, low shoulders and use of a wide lead uppercut made him more susceptible to this counter than snapping back with a lead hook would have, but Johnson's timing was impeccable.
A couple of interesting occurrences from elsewhere on the card: Chas Skelly defeated the veteran Maximo Blanco in another lightning fast finish, showing astounding awareness amid complete chaos. A trade of jumping kicks sent Blanco scrambling, Skelly jumped on an arm-in guillotine that looked to be hopeless, but Skelly recognized the opportunity to switch to an anaconda choke.
Gabriel Benitez put on a cracking showing against Sam Sicilia, utilizing that classic southpaw double attack of the round kick and the left straight. Getting Sicilia's elbow clamped to his body with the body kick, Benitez pumped a double jab and sent a left straight bolting through Sicilia's guard to send the American to the mat.
Sicilia grabbed a hold of a single with his head on the outside and Benitez used the opportunity to secure a crucifix and summon Gary Goodridge with some savage elbows.
The two returned to the feet and Benitez demonstrated another nice low-low kick to the inside of Sicilia's shin, breaking his balance.
Another body kick came in and Sicilia shot in on Benitez's hips with his head down. Benitez snapped on the guillotine and rolled the high elbow over Sicilia's shoulder into the infamous Marcelotine. Sicilia quickly lost consciousness and Benitez was declared the victor.
Finally “Leleco” reminded us that the game of mixed martial arts allows all sorts into the upper echelons, and you can still get into the UFC—the world's premier fighting promotion—with a hideous grasp of striking. Leleco repeatedly led with his face as he threw long, palm down hooks at his opponent's body. Sometimes this went unpunished, but as the fight wore on and Leleco visibly gassed out, the counters came back at Leleco's unprotected face.
Leleco was so uncomfortable that he provided us with one of the funnier moments of the night, stepping on his opponent's foot while looking to step outside of it and falling over en route.
Of course Archie Moore used to do this deliberately to pin his opponent and prevent them from retreating, or even in an attempt to break his opponent's toes. Hitting a fighter while you are standing on his foot is a great way to nearly guarantee a knockdown, as James Toney here shows.
But Archie Moore or James Toney, Leleco ain't.
A decent night of fights, a fine continuation of Derek Brunson's excellence, and a return to the win column for Michael Johnson. Now we amble on with this parade of UFC cards to this weekend's Fight Night 95 and another strange Cyborg Justino match up against a 6-1 opponent in a division which the UFC does not actually have.
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