UFC 228 on Saturday in Dallas was an event for the ages, with exciting fights from top to bottom and fabulous showcases for young prospects and seasoned veterans alike. This edition of the Geek for Technique series focuses on what went down at the American Airlines Center.
It started with a bang, as Irene Aldana and Lucie Pudilova put on the “Fight of the Night” in a hotly contested confrontation. Pudilova pushed the pace, with Aldana looking to counter her aggression.
Despite some controversy, the judges thought Aldana’s counters were enough to give her the split decision, pushing her Ultimate Fighting Championship record to 2-2. Aldana was flustered with the pressure at first, but as the fight wore on, her jab started to find a home and stopped Pudilova in her tracks anytime she attempted to come forward.
Longtime UFC veteran Jim Miller took on the erratic Alex White and finished the fight in classic “A10” style, with a club-and-sub victory. Early in the first round, Miller caught White with a beautiful jab-straight to the body-lead hook combination and quickly took his back and locked up a rear-naked choke, his first since 2012. Many thought Miller was a shot fighter after going 4-6 in his previous 10 appearances, but he proved he still has some fight left in him at 35 years of age.
Two other fighters entered the cage in similar positions when Diego Sanchez took on Craig White. Just like Miller, many thought Sanchez was done after losing six of his previous nine fights, but the former title challenger proved he can still compete, even if he must rely on his grappling to do so. Although Sanchez was caught clean and dropped a few times, he still dominated on the ground for much of the fight and proved once again that he does not need to stand and trade to be successful.
Darren Stewart authored one of the best comebacks of the year against Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Charles Byrd. After getting picked apart in the first round, Stewart turned things around in the second and earned a technical knockout that started with a series of elbows against the cage. Many counted out Stewart before the fight even started due to his lackluster performances in the Octagon and his clear disadvantage on the ground. However, he effectively silenced his critics with this outing.
Geoff Neal violently finished Frank Camacho in perhaps the most impressive performance of the night. Neal looked fantastic from start to finish and dropped Camacho twice in the first round with a short right hand set up by an intelligent rage-finding jab. Neal did not show us anything we have not seen before, but his jab and right straight were landing with ease all fight and showed his prowess striking in the pocket.
Neal’s hands looked great, but it was a rear head kick that finished off things and resulted in a “Knockout of the Year” contender. Neal tapped Camacho’s lead hand and then pushed it down before throwing the kick to manipulate his defense. This is also known as the Dutch hand trap and is a fantastic way to set up any strikes aiming for the head. Neal is only 28 years old, already has three finishes inside the UFC and continues to improve and show new tricks in his game each time we see him.
Since losing to Marlon Moraes in December, Aljamain Sterling has looked better than ever, first with a lopsided win over Brett Johns and now with a spectacular submission against Cody Stamann. After nearly finishing a full nelson earlier in the fight, Sterling took Stamann’s back with ease and transitioned to an unorthodox “Suloev Stretch” kneebar. Sterling had his back, but wound up getting too high to fully retain his hooks when Stamann moved to the tripod position to try to shake him off. His escape attempt set him up for the kneebar, as Sterling reached behind him to grab the leg and secure the submission. Stamann made the correct move trying to tripod and escape from underneath, but Sterling’s deceptive grappling game proved too much for him overcome.
Tatiana Suarez completely outclassed former champion Carla Esparza and took home a TKO victory in the featured prelim. Everyone knew Suarez was an acute grappler who pushed an excruciating pace, but few expected such an overwhelming performance against a fellow grappler and former champion. Suarez controlled the fight from bell to bell, landing nine takedowns and executing 14 guard passes. She also out-landed Esparza 82-6 in significant strikes and looked like one of the premier grapplers in women’s MMA. The onetime Olympic hopeful, at 27, still has plenty of time to round out her game further and become a legitimate title contender at 115 pounds.