Though the previous week with UFC 208 proved that a lackluster looking card can produce lackluster results, Fight Night Halifax showed that a lackluster looking card can also produce some of the best action – and overall entertainment – that an MMA event can provide. Derrick Lewis stole the show with both his come-from-behind victory and his post-fight interview, but he shouldn’t be the only thing that we remember from this card. Gerald Meerschaert, Thiago Santos, Paul Felder, and Gavin Tucker all produced memorable performances as well in a night that easily exceeded expectations.
Here’s my thoughts on the UFC Halifax card, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Gerald Meerschaert defeated Ryan Janes via submission at 1:34 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Janes had shown plenty of defensive deficiencies, leading many to pick the longtime regional veteran Meerschaert to take advantage of those holes. Janes’ aggression appeared to be paying dividends early, landing some early strikes and scoring a takedown. Meerschaert threatened first with a triangle choke, but it was an armbar that he secured a short while later that produced the win as Janes didn’t take the threat of Meershaert’s submissions serious.
- Meerschaert: Meerschaert said it best in his post-fight interview: don’t go to the ground with him. Even though Janes has a tendency of leaving his chin out there – and Meerschaert did tag it – I thought his best chance at a win would be to stay on the feet. Instead he took the fight right where Meerschaert is at his best. Meerschaert’s triangle was a bit telegraphed, but the armbar was thrown up about as fast as any I can recall in recent memory. His veteran savvy and dangerous submissions mean he should end up hanging around as a dangerous test for young prospects for a while… provided he doesn’t go on a surprising run of his own.
- Janes: Janes losing isn’t exactly a surprise, but the way that he lost may be the worst thing that could have happened to him. Known as a submission fighter, getting tapped less than two minutes into a contest in which he was in control isn’t a good sign. The one positive I can throw out is that his takedown was executed with authority, indicating he’s been working on his wrestling. That’s overshadowed by his lack of intelligence shown here. He doesn’t seem to have addressed his defensive deficiencies either.
Thiago Santos defeated Jack Marshman via TKO at 2:21 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Even though Santos was a slight to moderate favorite, I recall seeing more pundits picking Marshman to walk out the victor based on his impressive debut over Magnus Cedenblad couple with what was thought to be a favorable stylistic contest for him. It damn near played out that way. Santos started out the contest with a surprising takedown, controlling a good chunk of the first round from the top. When Marshman did get back to his feet, he briefly dropped the Brazilian with a hard right to potentially steal the round. Though looking somewhat tentative the opening minutes of the second round, Santos landed a beautiful spinning wheel kick and followed with a few follow-up strikes for the highlight reel stoppage.
- Santos: That kick couldn’t have come at a better time as Santos looked like he was on his way to losing a decision if he wasn’t stopped before the time limit expired. The takedown and top control was a welcome addition, but he had a hard time consistently keeping the distance required to land his offense with regularity. Has the opposition figured him out? It’s a distinct possibility, but Santos did eventually find the space he needed to land the killshot, so perhaps we shouldn’t make such a big deal about it. In the end, he got the win in entertaining fashion and saved his job in the process.
- Marshman: Hard to see Marshman becoming a contender following this loss, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think he has a bright future. The Welshman backed up his claim that he is never in a boring fight, pressing the action to win the standup battle right up until the end. His defense still needs a lot of work, but I fear if he emphasizes that too much it will take away from what makes him successful. How about we start with takedown defense? Being taken down and controlled by Santos isn’t a good sign. Still, I expect Marshman to stick around for a long time as an action fighter.
- Expectations/Result: Given his status as brother of world-renowned MMA trainer Firas Zahabi, Aiemann was making his debut with a good amount of hype. The younger Zahabi almost gave the contest away, exercising the trademark patience of Tristar to an extreme, allowing Vieira to land far more strikes, primarily scoring with a barrage of leg kicks. What gave Zahabi the win was timely striking, hurting Vieira early in the first and late in the second. Zahabi started out round three strong as well, though Vieira flurried towards the end to make every round debatable. Overall, fun fight to watch with mixed results from both fighters.
- Zahabi: No surprise that Zahabi’s jab was his most prominent weapon. No surprise either that he was reluctant to push the pace. Zahabi may be most quintessential Tristar fighter that we’ve ever seen… and that is saying something. He looked good when he was pressing the action, so perhaps all he needs is more experience to become more comfortable being the aggressor. Even if he didn’t get the finish, he did show the ability to do so as he had Vieira on the ropes at multiple times. Again, perhaps all he needs is experience. Zahabi has been patient with his career thus far and is a bit old for a prospect at 29. It isn’t too big of a deal, but I do feel it will probably limit just how high he might be able to climb. Time will tell.
- Vieira: Vieira was upset at the decision, storming out of the cage when it was read. Not the best reaction from the veteran. I’m not saying that he didn’t have a case for the win, but it wasn’t any stronger than Zahabi’s and the fight was taking place in Canada. Can anyone say home cooking? Vieira did show that he isn’t quite done as he was aggressive and largely responsible for the contest being as entertaining as it was. He may have been able to take the decision if he possessed a bit more power. Given the recent roster cuts and that his fellow TUF Brazil 4 winner Glaico Franca already being cut, I struggle to see Vieira coming back for another contest.
- Expectations/Result: Markos had seemingly gone backwards since her surprising run on TUF 20, making it appear that her days as a live dog in the division were over. Couple her struggles with stopping takedowns with Esparza’s wrestling pedigree, it was hard to see her pulling off the upset. After a tentative beginning, Markos stole the first round at the end with a flurry of hammerfists following an Esparza takedown only for Esparza to even things out by securing a tight triangle arm choke to close the second that Markos was somehow able to survive. The third is the controversial round as Markos appeared to take the early advantage only for Esparza to land a takedown and vicious knee in the clinch that replays proved to be illegal. Nonetheless, most believed Esparza was the rightful winner only for the Canadian to take a split decision.
- Markos: Considering Markos’ other big career wins came in the TUF tournament as exhibition contests, this is easily the biggest win of Markos’ career. Whether she deserved it or not is a completely different argument, but there isn’t anything we can do about it now. Markos’ trademark aggression was coming in selective spurts, which paid off as she used a number of counters to catch Esparza as she came in for the attack in the final round. However, it also paid off when she attacked Esparza without abandon from the bottom to end the first round. Her takedown defense looked improved too. If she can continue to improve in those areas, Markos could become a fixture in the top ten for a very long time.
- Esparza: While I do think Esparza should have been the rightful winner, this contest also convinced me that Esparza will never come anywhere close to title that she once owned. Ever since Joanna Jedrzejczek took her belt and stole her soul, she doesn’t have the confidence in the cage that is needed to compete at the highest level. Granted, she looked better than she did against Juliana Lima, chaining her takedowns very effectively for the most part and showing better footwork on her boxing. But there was never any point where it looked like she wanted to be in the cage nor did she show any killer instinct. Kind of a shame as she should be smack in the middle of her prime.
- Expectations/Result: One of the more anticipated contests of the night, Ponzinibbio was a sizeable favorite due to his advantage in athleticism. It wasn’t necessarily the athleticism that gave the Argentine the win, but he did come out on top. Taleb took the first round with a series of jabs, only for Ponzinibbio to swing the tide in his favor with a similar attack the rest of the way. Ponzinibbio also dropped the durable French Canadian in the second half of the second round, but he likely would have coasted to an easy decision without that in a good-but-not-great contest.
- Ponzinibbio: About the only thing that Ponzinibbio could have done better following the first round was get the finish and he came very close to doing that. Ponzinibbio continues to show good patience and one of the most effective jabs in recent years. I would like to see him make better use of his leg kicks and he did next to nothing to defend Taleb’s leg kicks, but there is no denial that he deserves a step up in competition at this point. He’s won six of his last seven with every victory leaving zero room for debate. How can the UFC brass not give him a top opponent? Then again, this is the company that has let go of every young 205er with potential to turn into something special….
- Taleb: I figured Taleb’s ceiling was going to be hit soon and it looks like we’ve found it. That doesn’t mean Taleb looked bad. Hell, he made a pretty good argument to take the fight as he came at Ponzinibbio aggressively to end the third, giving many pause as to whether or not Ponzinibbio would get the nod from the judges that seemed to favor the Canadian competitors. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. At 35, I’m of the opinion that Taleb will begin to go downhill within his next few fights as he’s got more mileage under his belt than his amount of fights would indicate.
Paul Felder defeated Alessandro Ricci via TKO at 4:44 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Given Felder’s track record of fighting against more proven competition, it was hard to pick against him in this contest despite the similarities in styles. Ricci did come out strong, showing more aggression than he did in his UFC debut. Felder slowly began to turn the tide, looking like he would comfortably take the round. Towards the end of the round, Felder hit a beautiful counter elbow, busting Ricci’s nose in the process. Ricci backed away and Felder tracked him down to finish him with punches and a knee.
- Felder: That was a hell of an elbow, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time. Felder is one of the most creative strikers in the game right now and his counter elbow was a good example of that. He was sticking to the fundamentals before throwing that elbow, something that I’d like to see him continue to do given his tendency to throw a lot of flashy strikes. I won’t go so far as to say that he’ll be able to bust into the top ten until I see him utilize some wrestling consistently. I don’t think he’ll get the training he needs for that at Roufusport, but I like the early returns so far of his time spent there.
- Ricci: It’s hard not to feel for Ricci. A longtime veteran of the Canadian regional circuit, he finally gets his UFC chance after he has passed his physical prime. He did look better here than he did against Jeremy Kennedy, but the lightweight division is incredibly deep and the UFC has little motivation to keep a 34-year old without a single UFC win to his name on the downside of his career. He would have been much better off facing his original opponent Alvaro Herrera….
- Expectations/Result: McMann is a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling with her only career losses coming to current or former champions. Mazany was making her UFC debut against McMann after beating opponents with a combined 2-7 career record. What the hell did you think was going to happen? McMann took her down right away, did so again after Mazany got back up, and quickly found an arm-triangle choke for the win. It went just how we thought it would go.
- McMann: I get McMann wanting to stay active and pick up a paycheck as that is all this contest was. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to add another win to her winning streak, but no one should ever earn a title shot off of a win over Mazany. Fortunately, McMann knows that and has stated that she will need to take another fight if she hopes to get another title shot. Perhaps the UFC reschedules her against Liz Carmouche who was her original opponent before pulling out with injury. Considering Raquel Pennington is on the shelf due to shoulder surgery, that may be the only option that makes sense.
- Mazany: Mazany is fortunate that there is very little depth in the division as she wouldn’t have gotten the call to the UFC otherwise. However, I’ll be very surprised if she hangs around beyond one more fight. She is young enough that she could continue to improve and working at Xtreme Couture is a plus as well. Is it enough for her to make the major jump she needs to in order to pick up a win over legit competition? My early guess is no. Her only chance is if the UFC gives her a fellow divisional bottom feeder and even that won’t guarantee her success.
- Expectations/Result: My colleagues Connor Ruebusch and Zane Simon both declared this contest to be a stylistic nightmare for Theodorou, prompting them to pick Ferreira to score the minor upset and continue his improbable winning streak. Though I agreed with their assessment, I thought Theodorou’s wrestling would be the difference and get the Canadian a win. I was wrong… but not in regards to Theodorou winning. In a weird fight to judge, Ferreira largely dominated the ground game, scoring a few takedowns and making a few attempts to finish the fight with chokes. Theodorou countered with a huge advantage in the volume of his strikes from the outside, even if they did appear to be largely ineffective. No surprise the Canadian got a unanimous decision in a contest it felt weird to call either man a winner.
- Theodorou: Theodorou may be the prettiest man in all of MMA, but I’m about ready to jump off of the wagon at this point. His striking appears to have regressed if anything and he was unable to find much success with his own wrestling, an area that was supposed to be his biggest strength. Seriously, it’s hard for me to state what he did well to win that fight. I guess I’d have to say he fought intelligently, but that even feels like a bit of a stretch. I’ll grant to him that he isn’t that old as he turns 29 before the end of the month, but he has been a pro for about six years now. He should be close to the best version of himself we’ll see at this point. That’s not a good thing if he hopes to be a contender someday. As personable as Theodorou is, I really hope he starts showing a bit more.
- Ferreira: Considering Theodorou doesn’t seem to be a threat to put someone to sleep, I thought Ferreira may have been able to pull this one off had he shown more aggression on the feet. Yes, Ferreira is chinny. But do you really think Theodorou was going to knock anyone out? It’s hard to win a contest when you’re outstruck about 3-to-1 even if you actually look like you know what you’re doing in there. Then again, Ferreira did break his finger early in the contest which likely prevented him from throwin fisticuffs. Nonetheless, Ferreira did play to his own strengths and nearly scored the submission victory on two separate attempts. So it isn’t like he fought a horrible fight.
Gavin Tucker defeated Sam Sicilia via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Some of the reports coming out about the training methods of Team Sikjitsu have people jumping off of the wagon of anyone coming from there… including Sicilia. So even though Tucker hadn’t beaten anyone of note as he made his UFC debut, most were picking him to pick up the win. That proved to be a wise decision. Tucker used his movement and angles to pick apart Sicilia with kicks while avoiding any return damage. Despite his inexperience, Tucker ended up scoring the most lopsided victory on the entire card… at least in terms of those that went to decision.
- Tucker: Regardless of whether or not many were picking Tucker, no one expected him to look as awesome as he did over the course of 15 minutes. His movement was a sight to behold as he jumped in and out of range of Sicilia, doing so at such a speed that Sicilia was rarely able to land anything on him. I’m not going to go as far as to say that he is a future contender, but I can’t deny that he showed enough flashes for that to be a possibility moving forward. There are a few things that look to present a challenge for him moving forward. My column space is limited, so I’ll just point out his lack of size. Moving to bantamweight may be a reality in the future.
- Sicilia: It appears Sicilia’s UFC run will be ending with a whimper. He did basically nothing as he didn’t have the speed or technique to counter Tucker’s kick heavy attack. The popular narrative is that his training at Sikjitsu has limited his ability to grow as a striker. His inability to use footwork or angles would appear to back that up. Sicilia isn’t so old that he couldn’t find his way back into the UFC should he be released at the age of 31, but it seems highly unlikely he’ll be able to do so regardless of whether or not he has an entertaining style.
- Expectations/Result: Neither Hendricks nor Lombard have lived up to the high expectations that have been placed upon them following earlier career success. Still, most pundits were favoring Lombard as Hendrick’s power has seemingly dissipated. While Hendricks’ power didn’t exactly make a glorious return, he showed far more energy and movement than he has in years, putting together solid combinations while stuffing most of Lombard’s takedown attempts. Lombard did land some hard shots while seeming to take the first round as a tentative Hendricks started out slow. In the end, Hendricks did more in the eyes of the judges in a very close contest.
- Hendricks: While Hendricks’ lack of size at middleweight will likely put a definitive cap on his ceiling, he certainly looked better than he has in years. Hell, his enthusiasm was readily apparent in the the post-fight interview and the press conference. Hendricks genuinely looks rejuvenated. I saw many claiming Hendricks’ power didn’t translate over to middleweight, forgetting that he hasn’t finished a fight since November of 2012. Hendricks power may have evaporated as he struggled with the weight cut to welterweight for the last few years of his campaign there. It may reappear now that he is properly hydrated. It will be very interesting going forward how far Hendricks will go at his new home.
- Lombard: Lombard didn’t look bad. Hell, almost everyone besides two judges gave him the first round with the other two being close. The problem is that Lombard hasn’t picked up a single win in his last four contests. He hasn’t been losing to nobodies, but he was the definitive favorite in two of his losses and the other loss was a toss up contest against Neil Magny. He can’t be losing fights he is expected to win and expect the UFC to keep him around. What cost him was his lack of volume, a problem that has plagued him for years now as he is too dependent on his power to end the contest early. He has aged well as he didn’t look like your typical 39-year old in the cage, but I’d imagine the decline will start showing itself sooner rather than later.
Derrick Lewis defeated Travis Browne via KO at 3:12 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Very few pundits were picking Browne following a run of poor showings following his move to the Glendale Fight Club under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan. That played a bigger factor in most picking against Browne than Lewis’ five-fight win streak as Lewis had looked less than impressive in his last two wins. However, Browne spent this last camp working out of Black House and the results were readily apparent, looking the best that he had since beginning his work with Tarverdyan. Lewis was hurt in the mid-section on multiple occasions by Browne’s kicks, visibly holding and covering his belly. He eventually caught Browne with a counter right that dropped Ronda Rousey’s beau before the round was out, effectively swinging the momentum in his favor. Lewis hurt Browne again in the second, draining his gas tank looking for the finish. Fortunately, he got it after swinging for the finish for over a minute before a late stoppage from Mario Yamasaki.
- Lewis: I loved the physical toughness exhibited by Lewis, persevering after Browne found a target and attacked without abandon. Most would have faltered after being hurt by a behemoth such as Browne. Someway, somehow, Lewis survived and came back to get the win. Part of that has to do with the inhuman strength as Browne’s attacked slowed after being dropped in the first. There are clear holes that need to be addressed with Lewis, though I’m not going to state Lewis’ tendency to give up rounds as his style is best suited to his skill set. No, I’m talking about his head-hunting style. In the second round when he had Browne on the ropes against the cage, he never bothered to send a single punch to the body of Browne despite the fact Browne was covering his head and face effectively. It isn’t like Lewis doesn’t understand that body shots don’t hurt as his experience from earlier in the contest showed. Nonetheless, Lewis is well on his way to top of the division.
- Browne: Yes, Browne lost. But I haven’t been this excited about his potential moving forward in years. He had largely abandoned his vast variety of kicks since training with Tarverdyan, making him an unsure boxer with a wide base that largely left him a sitting duck. Against Lewis, he was mobile and landing a wide variety of kicks and coming pretty close to finishing off the streaking behemoth. However, I also worry that he could be permanently affected by the beating Lewis put on him after Yamasaki failed to stop the contest in a timely manner. Then again, I’d also say that he’d do more harm to his career if he continues to affiliate with Tarverdyan in any way. Browne isn’t finished, though I do believe it is safe to say that he’ll never come close to challenging for the title again.
Derrick Lewis delivers the greatest post-fight interview ever!
Did you really think I wouldn’t address Lewis’ post-fight comments? I don’t believe him for a bit when he said that Browne’s kicks didn’t hurt him, but I have heard many say that getting kicked in the liver makes you feel as though you need to drop a deuce. So him claiming he had to poop? I believe it. He continued the rhetoric of Browne being a domestic abuser (believe what you will, I’m not touching it), called out for Ronda Rousey’s ass, and claimed he needed a break after all of the training and sex he’d been getting. Damn. That’s pure entertainment.
It didn’t end there though. He was interviewed by the studio commentators and had a fake UFC belt on his shoulder claiming himself to be the interim champion. Potentially a jab at the new company executives, but it’s hard not to love it. He then admitted that he took the fight with Browne while drunk as he intended to take a break following his contest with Shamil Abdurakhimov. I kind of hope his agent catches him when he’s drunk again if we get this type of entertainment on a regular basis.
Yes, his interviews are unorthodox, but that is the beauty of them. The UFC will be stupid if they don’t put Lewis in positions to promote himself regardless of whether or not he fits their typical stererotype i.e. the likes of Paige Van Zant and Sage Northcutt. If they handle him right, they could very well have the next star that they are looking for. I’d love to see it.
Well, those are my collective thoughts. Until next time…
About the author