STOCKHOLM, April 14 - By his own admission, Brian Stann “lost big” the last time he was in the Octagon. That was against Chael Sonnen, the middleweight division’s lead contender, and so no shame there. But Stann wants to occupy that top slot himself - and he took a big step towards it Saturday night in the UFC on FUEL TV main event against Alessio Sakara at Ericsson Globe Arena.
Sakara never really got into the fight. Coming off a long layoff, it took only a few quick exchanges for Stann to rock him. Sensing a quick finish, Stann piled it on and demonstrated some newly improved Muay Thai in the process, landing a clean knee to the head from the clinch. Sakara went to the floor shortly afterwards and Stann followed him down.
The Italian was able to regain his senses enough to stop the fight being halted there and then, but it wasn’t long before Stann worked free of Sakara’s grip and let his left hand go. Two short hooks were enough to knock Sakara out and Stann saw it before referee Marc Goddard did, ceasing his attack before the fight was officially stopped at 2:26 of the first round in a gesture of the kind of sportsmanship that the martial arts is renowned for. Watch Stann's emotional post-fight interview
BAHADURZADA vs. THIAGO
If it wasn’t for the extended period of circling at the start of the fight, Siyar Bahadurzada would probably be the new holder of the UFC’s fastest knockout record. He brought a serious striking pedigree into his fight with Paulo Thiago, who clearly respected his power as they circled and moved for a long time at the start of the round without wanting to be the first to open up.
Thiago made the first move, lunging forward with an overhand right when he thought Siyar was open. Next thing he was face down. Siyar had hit him with a left hook as he moved in and a short right on the way down, then stepped aside to let the Brazilian fall to the floor where he lay unconscious as the bout was immediately stopped at the 42 second mark.
It’s an auspicious debut for Siyar, who was born in Afghanistan but moved to the Netherlands with his family as a teenager. Having spent half his life training with some of the best kickboxers in the world, he has brought some serious firepower into the UFC with him.
Ironically, Paulo Thiago also made his UFC debut with a shock first round knockout over a more established favourite when he stopped Josh Koscheck in London, England at UFC 95. The MMA game works in mysterious ways sometimes.
SIVER vs. NUNES
When Dennis Siver dropped to featherweight, a match with Diego Nunes was something many fans wanted to see. The two have very similar styles, playing a rangy kickboxing game with a healthy smattering of unorthodox but effective techniques.
Siver is of course famed for his spinning back kick, but in this event he only got one off, and an unsuccessful effort at that. By contrast, Nunes was pulling them out of the bag with regularity; he threw a spinning heel kick to the head at least five times over the three rounds.
Nunes also employed the spinning backfist on more than one occasion but all it did, like the kicks, was show just how fast Siver is at featherweight. He ducked under them almost the second Nunes even thought about throwing them, which was very impressive considering the speed Nunes was throwing them.
It was clear early on that Siver wanted Nunes on the floor, but he wasn’t able to effect any takedowns, even when he had a solid bodylock in place. Nunes was able to shrug him off and stay in the striking game, where he was causing problems for the German.
It was when Nunes stayed in the pocket for more than a few seconds that he got in trouble himself, as Siver was able to land heavy counter shots. One left hand clearly rocked Nunes badly, but the Brazilian laughed it off and backpedaled until his head cleared.
The clinch provided highlights, as Nunes’ knee strikes were answered with wild hooks from Siver. It’s hard to say who won these exchanges, as Nunes’ blows were harder but much less in number than Siver’s hands. That extends to the fight as a whole - Siver won a unanimous 29-28 decision but there is a sizeable number of fans who think it should have gone Nunes’ way.
MAGUIRE vs. JOHNSON
Sometimes the crowd doesn’t appreciate the ground game, preferring a standing war to the intricacies of the jiu-jitsu game. But sometimes the ground fight can be just as exhilarating, particularly when it involves one or both fighters relentlessly hunting submissions and dominant positions.
This was one of those fights. John Maguire wanted the fight on the floor, where he is most comfortable, but DaMarques Johnson has a good ground game of his own, and so when Maguire hit a takedown early in the first, the fight was on.
Maguire quickly found himself caught in a very deep omoplata; as he worked to avoid the submission, Johnson turned it into a sweep attempt, looking to take top position. Caught in a double bind, Maguire had to work very carefully to avoid being submitted or forced into a bad position from which Johnson would find it easier to win the fight.
Eventually, Maguire broke free and then came a time for the jiu-jitsu connoisseurs as Maguire attempted to pass Johnson’s guard while Johnson employed all his technique to prevent him. The pass came inch by inch, from full guard to half guard and then to side control. Johnson fought it off every step of the way. When Maguire did pass, Johnson tried rolling to his knees so he could stand up, but Maguire was ready for that and he took Johnson’s back as the round ended.
Round two saw Maguire end up on his back early. He tried to triangle Johnson but nearly got his guard passed, so he returned to his feet. Johnson showed why Maguire preferred the fight on the floor by landing a solid head kick which Maguire purported to laugh off but clearly felt. Maguire worked hard to get hold of Johnson and get him back to the floor, but it nearly backfired - Johnson caught hold of a kimura.
It was a tricky situation but Magura not only escaped it, he turned it to his advantage. Johnson only had him in half-guard and so he was able to step one leg out, over Johnson’s head, and turn Johnson’s kimura effort into an armbar against him. Taken by surprise, Johnson had no choice but to tap at 4:40 of round two, marking a second UFC victory for gypsy jiu-jitsu. Watch Maguire's post-fight interview
PAGE vs. PICKETT
The huge right hand that Damacio Page threw at the start of his fight with Brad Pickett was a marker of just how intense it was going to be. For its full duration, the bout was a total war with no quarter asked or given, and all at the kind of ferocious pace that only bantamweights can provide.
Page’s big right didn’t land - Pickett ducked it and hit a takedown. But Page was quickly back to his feet and then he went all-out on Pickett, unleashing a fierce assault that mixed hands, shins and knees. Pickett was backed up - and sometimes lit up - but he was able to get back into the fight via a sneaky left uppercut that he scored with over and over. His left hook was also working well for him and they became key as he used them to counter Page’s offensive efforts, or open up his own.
The tremendous pace of the first round was always going to be difficult to maintain and it was Page who broke first. When Pickett came out, lifted him and slammed him at the start of the second, it seemed to take all the wind out of his sails. He got back to his feet but then got dropped with a hard right hand and Pickett came in for the finish. He was able to get Page’s back after a tussle on the floor, sinking his hooks in and then snaking an arm around Page’s neck for the fight-finishing rear naked choke at the 4:05 mark. In a marked contrast to Page’s obvious fatigue, Pickett ran across the cage then did a mid-air backflip. Watch Pickett's post-fight interview