The last UFC Fight Night card for 2022 came from the Amway Arena in Orlando, home of the decrepit Orlando Magic.
It seemed almost appropriate as the setting was the perfect backdrop to spectacular action and unexpected results.
The card was stacked from top to bottom with intriguing fights, headlined by a pair of welterweight fights as the immortal Rafael Dos Anjos challenged Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson squared off against Kevin Holland.
Dos Anjos and Thompson came into the octagon with Father Time breathing down their necks and younger opponents fixing to punch their faces in, but they had other plans in a pair of sensation performances.
The ESPN+ show is over, and the fights are done, so let’s wrap it all up just in case you missed the action.
“Wonderboy” Returns With A Vengeance
After suffering back-to-back losses to Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad, not to mention looking inconsistent since failing to capture the welterweight title in 2017, Stephen Thompson knew that a loss against Kevin Holland would jeopardize his career.
What happened instead was that Thompson just reignited that flame in a scintillating war of attrition against one of the division’s most explosive strikers.
After Holland had him in trouble in the opening round, Thompson relied on his experience and grit to slowly break him down and have him in serious trouble as the fight entered the later rounds. Holland was taking a beating at the time when his corner decided he couldn’t go on due to a hand injury and pulled the plug to end the fight in the fourth round.
“My last two performances, I lost to grapplers,” said Thompson, who turns 40 in February. “I feel like I’m 25. I’m still in for the long haul and I’ve still got it.”
Thompson outlanded Holland in total strikes 145-102 and managed to avoid eating any shots on the canvas when Holland took him down. With the welterweight division in a current state of change, Thompson has emerged as a familiar face that should be seeing a higher-profile bout sooner than later.
New champion Leon Edwards is likely to rematch Kamaru Usman sometime next year, but Edwards is holding out hope he can get an optional defense before then. Based on the strength of Thompson’s performance here, no one would fault him for giving “Wonderboy” a shot at the title if Usman is unavailable in the months to come.
A Country For Old Men
Rafael Dos Anjos and Clay Guida have been around long enough that we’d expect them to retire any day now, but these two still have something left with their wins on the undercard.
Former Strikeforce champion Guida entered the octagon for his 60th fight and came out with a split-decision win over Scott Holtzman on the preliminary card. The 40-year-old managed to outland Holtzman and maintained ground control for five minutes as he showed that while nowhere near his best, he’s still serviceable.
On the main card, Dos Anjos showed that he’s still a force to be reckoned with in his bout with Barberena. Dos Anjos was coming off a loss against Rafael Fiziev in an excellent fight, moving up to welterweight to face the brawling Barberena.
Though Dos Anjos’ previous campaign at welterweight was far from successful, going 4-4 from 2016-2020, he used his superior grappling and veteran know-how to dominate the bout on the ground. Dos Anjos would take Barberena down four times and lock in a rear-naked choke in the second round to pick up the submission win.
While Dos Anjos remains ranked inside the top ten at lightweight, and with a myriad of fascinating bouts that he can be involved in, the 38-year-old veteran has his eye on making good on a missed opportunity.
Namely, a bout with Conor McGregor.
“He’s got a couple months to clean his body of all the shit he’s been taking,” dos Anjos said, pointing at McGregor’s massive muscle gain in recent months “then let’s do it.”
Gimmicky Tuivasa Takes Another Big Loss
Orlando fans were on their feet to give Tuivasa love, perhaps in hopes of catching a “Shooey” celebration of their own, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Tuivasa was trying to rebound from a KO loss to Ciryl Gane last September and maintain his high ranking at heavyweight, but Sergei Pavlovich clearly had other plans as he annihilated him in 54 seconds.
The fact that Tuivasa was ranked so high, to begin with, shows the lack of depth plaguing the division right now, but Pavlovich is the kind of monster that should be taking Tuivasa’s spot in getting major fights. In pro wrestling terms, Tuivasa is a mid-carder you put on the card to get a decent pop and get the crowd into it.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tuivasa ran into legitimate resistance as he made his way up the ranks, and he went on a three-fight skid that left many questioning his talent ceiling once he faced sterner opposition.
Now suffering his second KO loss in as many fights, it might be time to end the Tuivasa hype train. He’s a limited, albeit entertaining fighter who is not going to be more than what we saw last weekend.