Recap: UFC Glasgow

UFC Fight Night 113 may not have meant a great deal to the rest of the world, but it meant the world to the 10,589 fans who gladly stayed glued to their seats for five-and-a-half hours in order to witness the twelve bouts that took place inside Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on Sunday night (July 16).

For them, this was the culmination of a two-year wait (the last time the UFC came to town it was July 18, 2015, and Michael Bisping, yet to be crowned UFC middleweight champion, was eking out a split-decision over Brazil’s Thales Leites in the main event). They had more of a vested interest in the fortunes of the event’s fighters this time, too, as no fewer than four Scottish fighters appeared on the card, alongside two from Wales, three from England and one from Ireland. The noise levels, as you can imagine, reflected this. The place was loud whenever a Brit fought – even the English were cheered – but the roof seemed perilously close to blowing off whenever a Scot got anywhere near the Octagon.

Here’s a breakdown of what happened, with some UFC-style awards to boot (disclaimer: there will be no $50,000 bonus for any recipient of said awards).

 


 

Buzzkill of the Night

 

We’ll get the painful stuff out the way first.

There were four Scots placed on the UFC Fight Night 113 card, in winnable bouts for the most part, but only one of them, Edinburgh’s Danny Henry, came away with a victory. The others fell short, two of them devastatingly so.

It was a bittersweet night for Joanne Calderwood, the only one of the four actually born in Glasgow, as she pushed undefeated strawweight prospect Cynthia Calvillo to the limit – scrubbing away some of her shine in the process – but, ultimately, found herself out-hustled and out-pointed after three rounds of action.

I felt it was the right result. For my liking, Calvillo used impressive lateral movement to befuddle Calderwood for the most part, scoring with well-placed single shots when the opportunity presented itself, and also produced the two standout moments of the fight in the form of submission attempts to end rounds one and three.

Not many in the arena, however, shared my view. The Scottish fans, in particular, booed their disgust at the verdict and even took to unfairly aiming this vitriol the way of Calvillo, never the type to back down from a slanging match. So loud were the boos, in fact, Calvillo’s post-fight interview was drowned out, and so bitter was the anger, both Calvillo and her coach, Justin Buchholz, found themselves snapping back as they left the Octagon. This didn’t reflect well on an otherwise fair and knowledgeable audience, but it probably had, in retrospect, been on the cards ever since Calderwood and Calvillo had a set-to at the weigh-in.

Chances are, by this time the Scottish fans were simply fed up. After all, Calderwood’s contentious loss to Calvillo followed hot on the heels of Stevie Ray being knocked out cold by a Paul Felder elbow and Paul Craig being knocked out cold by a Khalil Rountree uppercut.

Those two results, as you can appreciate, were anything but debatable. Defeats hard to stomach, they left thousands of Scottish fans hurt yet unable to do much about it. They couldn’t moan or complain. Their fury had to be contained. But then along came Cynthia Calvillo, spiky, plucky, street-smart, who just happened to beat Joanne Calderwood, the golden girl of Scottish MMA, and have the audacity to smile, raise her hands and want to talk about it. Not in Scotland, Cynthia. Not in Scotland.

 


 

Moment of the Night

 

Before the defeats, the disappointment and the eventual anger, there were some genuinely moving moments involving Scottish fighters. Stevie Ray’s Octagon walk to the sound of bagpipes playing ‘Amazing Grace’, for example, was inspired, as were the subsequent chants of ‘Stevie, Stevie, Stevie fucking Ray’ and the crowd’s rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’. Goosebump moments, for sure, the goodwill and support continued even when Ray had been knocked out and was sat on a stool familiarising himself with his location and the day of the week. The Scottish fans, it would seem, are many things, but fickle they ain’t.

On the subject of entrances, a special mention should also go to Joanne Calderwood, who entered the Octagon to the theme from Braveheart, a Scottish flag draped over her shoulders, and transitioned from meek, softly-spoken Joanne to focused, truculent and confrontational Jo-Jo in the blink of an eye. Her home fans, of course, lapped it up and greeted the transformation with a deafening roar.

 


 

Shock of the Night

 

Poor Gunnar Nelson. It really wasn’t supposed to be like his; not when coming off wins over Alan Jouban and Albert Tumenov; not when part of Team McGregor, that seemingly invincible group of fighting phenoms about to take over the world. But Santiago Ponzinibbio showed, once again, that one punch can change everything. When it lands, little else really matters. Prior form goes out the window. The coach in your corner is irrelevant. If a fighter catches their opponent on the sweet spot, the course of a fight can switch in an instant.

So it proved on Sunday night, as Nelson, settling into his bouncy, praying mantis style, copped a right hand that all of a sudden had him reeling, followed by a left hook that had him on his back and unconscious. Done and dusted at 1:22 of the first round, even Ponzinibbio looked surprised.

It was a bizarre sight to behold, Nelson being cold-cocked like that. For so long we have associated the poker-faced, ultra-composed welterweight from Iceland with fascinating grappling battles and methodical, economical striking, and come to appreciate the assuredness and smoothness of his work. Even when he loses, it’s because he has been out-wrestled or out-grappled – and that’s a rarity. So, to see him overwhelmed and wiped out by Ponzinibbio was a sight that took a moment to register and sink in. It required the replay – just to make sure.

This one, unlike previous defeats to Demian Maia and Rick Story, could be a bit tougher to swallow and forget, because with it went Nelson’s air of mystique and his boast of having never been knocked out, not to mention any immediate title aspirations.

 


 

Hero of the Night

 

Santiago Ponzinibbio certainly had a shout here, as did Danny Henry, Scotland’s man of the hour. But, given everything that came before it, America’s Paul Felder is, for me, the fighter most deserving of this honour. He deserves it less for a first-round knockout of Stevie Ray – impressive in its own right, granted – and more for a rousing victory speech, during which Felder impressively converted 10,000 furious Scots into fans when telling them his father passed away just before he started training for the Ray bout.

Naturally, the passing of his father stayed with Felder throughout camp and fight week. He could even be seen kissing a pendant around his neck moments after weighing in on the Saturday, presumably in some sort of dedication. It was with him on fight night, too, when he attacked a grounded Ray with a purpose and viciousness no doubt motivated by a desire to win in the name of the man who brought him into this world.

The crowd didn’t like that, of course. They booed him for beating their man. They berated him when he tried to talk afterwards. But Felder, cool as you like, took a moment to detail the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his seventeenth professional fight and then, in an instant, all was forgiven. Boos turned to cheers and Felder, doing it for Dad, was embraced as a hero by 10,000 Scots.

 


 

Image of the Night

 

It wasn’t just the Tartan Army who went home a little despondent on Sunday night. Men and women from Iceland had a tough time of it, too. There were plenty scattered behind press row and the lasting image of UFC Fight Night 133, for me at least, will be one of two Icelandic teenagers stood among the floor seats, their country’s flag draped over their shoulders, fifteen minutes after Gunnar Nelson, their hero, had been brutally knocked out by a Santiago Ponzinibbio in the main event.

They stood next to each other but said nothing. One of them had his head bowed. The other stared off into the middle distance. In fact, it was only when a security guard charged with the job of clearing out the venue told them to move on that the two teenagers sprung back to life and solemnly made their way towards the exit doors.

On a night like that you realise defeat is not only painful for a fighter, their immediate team and friends and family, but it’s also a hell of a kick in the gut for those who follow them around the world and proudly wear flags and paint their faces and roar and clap and stamp their feet whenever their hero, the man or woman emblazoned on their T-shirt, sets foot inside the Octagon.