Two events. Two countries. Four important welterweights.
The UFC held cards in both Stockholm, Sweden and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on Saturday with a plethora of interesting fights dotting each card. Two big 170-pound bouts — Rory MacDonald vs. Tarec Saffiedine and Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story — were the respective headliners.
Somehow, we’ll attempt to narrow down the best moments from the day here.
We already knew Rory MacDonald could beat some of the best welterweights in the world by decision. Now, he has proven he can finish — and it should be enough to earn him a title shot. MacDonald didn’t just knock out any old fighter Saturday night in Halifax. He smoked Tarec Saffiedine, who had never been finished in his career up until this point. On paper, Saffiedine seemed to have a small advantage in stand up over MacDonald. That was certainly not the case.
It’s important to remember that MacDonald is still only 25 years old. He’s just entering the prime of his career and that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the 170-pound division. The argument could be made that this was the Canadian’s most impressive performance thus far. The question now is whether or not the UFC will want him to wait to fight for the title. Champion Johny Hendricks meets Robbie Lawler at UFC 181 on Dec. 6, so it probably won’t be until spring the belt gets defended again.
Story of the day
Rick Story (right) drops Gunnar Nelson in the fourth round.
Rick Story came in a pretty sizable underdog to Gunnar Nelson on Saturday in Sweden. It was supposed to be a showcase bout for Nelson, a chance to prove he can beat one of the more sturdy, durable fighters in the UFC’s welterweight division. Nelson was not able to do that. In fact, Story dominated him despite one judge scoring split decision, 48-47, for Nelson. Nelson’s stand-up game is still evolving and Story exploited that, keeping off his back and landing big punches throughout.
Story dropped Nelson in the fourth round and nearly finished. That was the most in trouble Nelson was in the bout, but it was clear Story was the better fighter. "The Horror" is one of the most underrated fighters in the 170-pound division and maybe a bad booking decision for Nelson. Story, after, all, has a win over current welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and lost a very close split decision to top prospect Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 171 in March. Story might be a gatekeeper, but he just slammed the gate shut on Nelson for now.
To the Max
Max Holloway (left) crushed Akira Corassani in Sweden on Saturday night.
Could this have been the breakout performance we’ve been waiting for from Max Holloway? The Hawaiian has fought 10 times in the UFC, so it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22 years old. Holloway’s first-round TKO of Akira Corassani on Saturday in Sweden was by far his most impressive performance. And his lone three career losses are against some tough competition: Conor McGregor, Dennis Bermudez and Dustin Poirier.
It’s certainly within reason that Holloway will only get better from here. His striking looked as sharp as it ever has against Corassani and Holloway’s chin continues to be an advantage. This is four wins in a row now for "Blessed" and it might be time to start considering ranking him in the UFC’s featherweight top 15, though it’s a pretty deep, crowded list.
Coulda been a contender
Remember when Raphael Assuncao was the No. 1 contender for the bantamweight title? That wasn’t too long ago and Assuncao really needed a huge win over Bryan Caraway on Saturday night in Halifax to remain in the conversation with Dominick Cruz and former champion Renan Barao ahead of him in the pecking order. Assuncao did just that, punishing Caraway standing up somewhat surprisingly in a unanimous decision victory.
Assuncao has now won seven straight fights, tying Dennis Bermudez with the longest winning streak of any non-champion in the UFC. But did he do enough to convince the brass that he should get the next title shot? Probably not. Cruz will definitely get the next chance against T.J. Dillashaw and Barao will need one more win to get a shot. Maybe Assuncao against Barao makes sense next.
Be like Mike
Mike Wilkinson (right) finished Nicklas Backstom with a vicious overhand right.
Mike Wilkinson had not fought in more than a year due to injuries and was thrown back into the Octagon against a top prospect in his home country. That didn’t seem to matter much to the Brit, who starched Nicklas Backstrom with an overhand right after getting hit with a head kick in the first round and won by knockout. It wasn’t a good day for Sweden on Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Stockholm and Wilkinson added to it with his 79-second finish against the guy people were talking about as the next Alexander Gustafsson.
It’s unclear if Wilkinson will be a force in the featherweight division, but the UFC can’t go wrong with successful, exciting fighters from England. Wilkinson, a veteran of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, was coming off a loss to Rony Jason in 2013. He’s back now and in a big way.