The UFC came rolling into the SSE Arena in Belfast last Saturday night for a sold out Fight Night 99. Gegard Mousasi and Uriah Hall’s rematch from UFC Fight Night 75 headlined the event with adopted Irish fighter Artem Lobov and SBG prospect Charlie Ward also on the card.
Ward’s disappointing loss to fellow welterweight Abdul Razak Alhassan and loudmouthed lightweight Kevin Lee’s impressive submission victory over Magomed Mustafaev were the standout moments from a stacked nine fight preliminary card.
The main card began with Irish favourite and training partner of Conor McGregor, Artem Lobov taking on Japanese fighter Teruto Ishihara. Lobov, who was looking to build on his UFC 202 victory over Chris Avila, looked impressive throughout the fight.
The Russian Hammer was certainly the more aggressive of the two, frequently landing strikes and kicks as Ishihara looked to counter. There was a moment in the third round where Ishihara unleashed a huge left hand which dropped Lobov but as the Japanese fighter looked for the finish, Lobov was able to secure guard and regain control as the round ended.
Confident of his teammate’s victory, The Notorious One climbed into the octagon celebrate Lobov’s win, before the scorecards had even been read out. Mystic Mac however called it right again, as Lobov won by unanimous decision to a rapturous reception from the Belfast faithful.
After the fight Lobov told reporters how he felt about his performance against the Japanese fighter. “It certainly was one of my best performances” began Lobov, “I always feel you know that the higher level of opposition I face the better my performances get so I look forward to taking another step up and I hope I am going to have an even better performance then”.
Up next were the big lads, heavyweights Alexander Volkov and Timothy Johnson. Volkov who stands at 6 foot 7 is a former Bellator Heavyweight champion and was looking to make a big impression on his UFC debut Saturday night.
His opponent Johnson, the 14th ranked heavyweight in the division was out to spoil the Russian’s party. From the get go both guys came out swinging, tagging each other with big shots, which Volkov looked to be getting the better of until Johnson unleashed a huge uppercut sending “Drago” straight to the mat. The Russian kickboxer held on however as the round came to a close.
The second round was very tight with Volkov just edging the round and looking the more active fighter. The final round both men looked gassed out, Volkov opened with some good shots and generally controlled his opponent in the clinch. It was a close fight but, in the end, it was the Russian who picked up the victory by split decision.
The co-main event of the evening was a passing of the torch as such, as veteran English lightweight Ross Pearson took on Scotland’s Stevie Ray. Both fighters were going into the fight on a loss and this may have been the reasoning behind the cagey start.
They both kept distance but Ray managed to connect with a higher volume of kicks and finished the round strong after a big suplex like takedown. The second round was much of the same with Ray landing some nice kicks although in the last-minute of the round Pearson began to flurry landing some nice combinations on the Scotsman. This may not have been enough however and the veteran from Sunderland needed a big final round.
To be fair to Pearson he delivered landing big kicks and heavy body shots hurting his younger opponent. There was also a great moment in the final few seconds where Ray screamed at Pearson as if to say “Alright 10 seconds left let’s do this” and both men just threw down but unfortunately for them, this tactic did not yield the desired KO effect. Ray ended up winning the bout by split decision extending his professional record to 20 wins and 6 losses.
It was then time for the highlight of the night. The main event. Mousasi was going into this fight focused, having publicly stated that Hall’s victory over him in their first bout was a fluke.(catch those comments around the 6:06 minute mark of that press conference) Hall is a dangerous unpredictable fighter but had lost two fights since the Mousasi victory. The stakes were high for both.
The number 5 ranked middleweight, Mousasi was undoubtedly the favourite but as the bout began they looked even enough on the feet. At one-point Hall threw a huge spinning kick that connected with the Dutch fighter, but did not seem to cause him damage. Mousasi is one of the coolest costumers on the roster and stayed focused, landing a big takedown on Hall up against the cage. That was the beginning of the end for Prime Time, as Mousasi trapped one of his arms in half guard and began unloading.
Hall could not defend himself and the referee had no choice but to stop the fight with 4:37 gone in the first round. With this victory, Mousasi surely propels himself into the middleweight title picture, extending his winning streak to four in a row. As for his next fight Mousasi outlined Luke Rockhold as a potential name who interests him but that middleweight title shot is certainly still in his sights.
“To get the title shot? Maybe Luke Rockhold? It depends on UFC” Mousasi told the press after Saturday’s event. “If they give me top 10, top 15, top 2, I’ll take the fight, as long as they give me the next title shot”.