Updated: Oct 14
In a fanless arena in Jacksonville, Florida the UFC made history Saturday night by putting on the first sporting event in America since the pandemic took over our lives in mid-March. In typical Dana White fashion, he was determined to be the first to hold center stage, and he was able to pull it off without the higher ups at Disney, or the state of Florida stepping in to halt the event. As much as Dana can be criticized for his motives, I have to give it to him for sticking to his beliefs and trudging through the headache that is putting on a sporting event during these times.
One massive headache was the fact that Jacare Souza and 2 of his cornermen ended up testing positive for Covid-19 about 24 hours prior to the event starting. He was obviously removed from the card, but the critics came out in droves, wondering why the event was still moving forward with the virus present. I guess we will find out which camp was correct in a few weeks: Dana and the UFC for moving forward with the event despite the virus in attendance, or the lockdown critics that believe everyone is going to die of this. It was surely an event to remember, and one that will go down in the history books.
UFC 249 also gave us Americans an opportunity to take a reprieve from the current pandemic and enjoy some live entertainment for the first time in months. I don't remember a more anticipated event for myself than this event on Saturday night. It was definitely strange to not see or hear fans in the stands, but that didn't stop the fighters from banging it out for 6+ hours in an emphatic return for MMA and American sports in general.
New England had 3 of its finest on display Saturday night, and although it turned out to be a losing night for the region (1-2), it still was a great showcase of the talent that we are grooming here in the region. Let's take a look how each of these New England fighters performed, and also touch upon some other interesting things that played out during the event.
Charles Rosa loses a grappling match to Bryce Mitchell
Peabody's Charles Rosa now trains out of ATT in Florida, but we still claim him as our own. Unfortunately Rosa ran into one of the best grapplers in the division in Bryce Mitchell. Both fighters are bjj blackbelts, but Mitchell's grappling is on another level, and it showed throughout the 3 round affair. Mitchell threatened Rosa with multiple Twister attempts - a submission that has only been pulled off two other times within the UFC's Octagon, one of those earned by Mitchell himself in his last fight.
Rosa ended up losing a unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-24) and for 2 judges to give 2 10-8 rounds and the 3rd give 3 10-8 rounds, you get the idea of how insane Mitchell's grappling is. I've judged over 1,200 MMA fights and I can count on one hand the number of times Ive given a 10-8 round that is predominantly a grappling exchange. Typically those fights end in a submission before I can hand in my 10-8 scorecard. This is a testament to how advanced Rosa is on the mat as well, as he was able to avoid Mitchell's numerous sub attempts and see the final bell.
Rosa ran into a buzzsaw Saturday night, and although he was dominated on the mat, he showed his true grit and heart by not succumbing to one of Mitchell's numerous submission attempts. "Boston Strong" will be back in Octagon again, and we'll be there to back him then as he looks to get back in the win column.
Yorgan De Castro loses a unanimous decision to Greg Hardy after injuring his foot
Fall River's Yorgan De Castro was in a rare position Saturday night; being on the main card of one of the UFC's biggest PPV events of all time in only his 2nd fight with the promotion. This was a HUGE opportunity for De Castro to put his flag in the ground and notify the UFC heavyweight division that there is a new threat to the crown. Unfortunately things did not go as planned for the Regiment Training Center product, as his movement slowed tremendously in the 2nd and 3rd rounds after injuring his right foot after throwing a low kick at the former NFL player/accused women beater's leg.
De Castro won the first round with some heavy leg kicks and a tactical approach towards the much taller Hardy. In the 2nd round De Castro through a right low-kick that barely clipped Hardy's lead leg as he pulled it out of the way. Right after the foot made contact with Hardy's leg, De Castro winced in pain and had trouble putting pressure on the foot. From that point on De Castro was not able to track the often moving Hardy, as he started to get out-pointed from the outside, as Hardy had a much longer reach than De Castro. With De Castro's lack of movement it only made Hardy's reach advantage more pronounced, and ultimately was the difference in the fight.
I was able to catch up with De Castro Monday morning and like a true professional, offered no excuses for his performance Saturday night against Hardy.
"No excuses. I lost. I’ll learn from it and I’ll be back better than ever. Maybe next time I’ll set my low kicks better (laughing)"
When asked about how his foot was doing De Castro said, "I’m about to get my X-ray today to find out what happen but I’m pretty sure I broke my foot in the middle of the second round. After that I couldn’t explode. I stopped kicking and I practically stop fighting."
It was frustrating to watch, as De Castro maybe through 5-10 strikes the entirety of the 2nd half of the fight. This obviously was a result of his lack of movement due to the foot injury. We would have loved to have seen De Castro display to the world what he's capable of, but unfortunately the injury had a big impact on this, so we'll have to wait for another day. Heal up Yorgan. You'll be back soon enough, and New England will have your back!
Calvin Kattar proves to the world that he is a legit contender at 145
New England's best chance for UFC gold rests in the hands of Methuen's Calvin Kattar, and he did not disappoint as he landed a right elbow from hell on the button and sent the ultra-experienced Jeremy Stephens crumbling to the mat. Kattar landed a few more elbows and punches on the ground before the fight was stopped.
In the first round Jeremy Stephens seemed to be getting the better of the standup, landing heavy punches, but taking shots of his own in the process. You could see Calvin studying his prey throughout the first round, and we all knew what was to come in rounds 2 and 3, as Calvin only gets better as the fight progresses. Regardless of Calvin's study session, I gave round 1 to Stephens 10-9.
In the 2nd round Calvin started throwing his hands with more aggression as his confidence grew with his 1st round study of Stephens in the books. In an exchange in the 2nd "The Boston Finisher" committed to a step-in elbow in the pocket, eating a right hook in the process, but the damage was done on Stephens. The elbow landed flush and marked the beginning of the end for Stephens, as Kattar followed him to the mat and landed a slicing left elbow that opened a huge gash on Stephens' forehead before referee Jason Herzog stepped in and ended the fight.
Mark my words: Calvin Kattar will be a World Champion within 18 months! In my opinion, Kattar has one of the highest Fight IQ's in the game, and he finds holes in his opponent's games as the fight progresses. He is built for 5 round fights, and when he finally is given a 5 round opportunity, we'll see the true talents of Calvin Kattar. Make sure that when you aren't rooting for Calvin on the national stage that you are supporting his New Hampshire based promotion Combat Zone.
"The Dominator" gets dominated, then accuses ref of smelling of "alcohol and cigarettes"
In the co-main event of the night Henry Cejudo was putting his 135 pound belt on the line against UFC analyst Dominick Cruz. It was a closely contested battle in the 1st round, but as the 2nd round came to a close, Cejudo landed a flush knee as Cruz shot in, sending Cruz careening to the mat and scrambling to gain his wits before Cejudo followed him to the mat with less than 10 seconds left in the round. Cruz took 11-12 unanswered blows to the head as he lay face down on the mat. Referee "No Nonsense" Keith Peterson stepped in to save Cruz from further damage as he stopped the fight with mere seconds left in the round. What happened from this point on is something that we've never seen on the national MMA scene.
Cruz immediately protested the stoppage, claiming he was making his way to his feet when Peterson stepped in and was completely fine. He may have started to make his way to his feet, but Peterson made the decision a half a second earlier to stop the fight as Cruz lay face down taking unanswered blows to the head. Was it an early stoppage? I don't think so. When a ref sees you face down on the mat taking punches, that's when refs are trained to step in and stop the fight and most importantly, protect the fighter from further damage.
Cruz made some pretty standard complaints in the cage during his 1st post fight interview with Joe Rogan:
“I mean I’m not happy with the stoppage obviously because I specifically asked the ref to let me go ‘til I was out and I was standing up. If I stayed on the floor, I get it. But I’m working my way up. I was definitely still aware of what was going on. Now I get there were unanswered shots, that’s part of a fight but if I’m standing up to my feet, I’m in the fight. If I’m staying on the floor and continually being chopped down, then I get it.
“But hats off to Henry, I’ve got no excuses. I shouldn’t have gotten caught with that knee the way that I got caught and that’s what put me in that position. But at the same time, I specifically asked the ref to make sure he let me take the shots I needed to and if I’m standing up on my way up, how do I have my balance? I’m getting up. So give me a fighting chance. This is for a world title. This isn’t some backyard fight.”
It does not matter that Cruz asked Peterson in the back to go unconscious before stopping the fight. That's not Peterson's job. Because one fighter asked to go unconscious and other fighters didn't doesn't mean that you can ref one fight differently than another. Every professional fight has the same criteria that would dictate a ref stopping a fight, and you can't ref one fight differently than another fight because one fighter asked to be rendered unconscious. That's just not how it works, and is a dangerous precedent to set if refs did work the way that Cruz requested Peterson to.
What really got the MMA community stirring is Cruz's second post-fight interview with the UFC's Megan Olivi, as he doubled down on his complaints of Peterson, but took it to another level as he personally attacked the long time UFC ref of "smelling of alcohol and cigarettes".
“You’re rocked. Sometimes you get hit. I’ve been in those positions many, many times though,” Cruz told Olivi. “I had seconds left in the round and I just think that sometimes I wish there was a way to keep these refs a little more responsible sometimes.
“The guy smelled like alcohol and cigarettes so who knows what he was doing?”
Cruz then doubled down on his claims saying the referee “definitely” smelled of alcohol and cigarettes.
“I wish they drug tested them,” Cruz said about the referees. “I know Herb Dean is good. He’s one of the best refs. Immediately when I saw that ref, I was like man is there a way to veto a ref and get a new one? I wonder that. As fighters do we have that choice? I wish we did.”
These are extremely slanderous accusations to throw at an official, and I would hope that Cruz would walk these words back today or tomorrow. As most of you know, I judged MMA for 10 years before turning my attention to this website. I've had the opportunity to work with Keith Peterson 3 or 4 times, and although I'm not "friends" with Keith, what I observed in those times I worked with him was a professional ref who took his job incredibly seriously, and wanted to do the right thing, inside and outside the cage. I can't speak for what went down with Keith on Saturday night, but from my experience, Keith is nothing but professional, and I couldn't see a situation where he'd be boozing before such a huge event like UFC 249.
I had the opportunity to talk to multiple officials who work for the UFC, and all of them had the same reaction to Cruz's accusations of Peterson drinking before the event: it's complete and utter bullshit, and Keith would never drink before reffing an event.
One was actually an official with Peterson at the event on Saturday, who was within feet of Peterson throughout the day and night, and this official emphatically defended Peterson, and said that Peterson did not smell of alcohol, had no opportunity to drink, and Cruz's claims were 100% BS. This is coming from a person who was within close proximity to Peterson throughout Saturday, and gains no benefit in defending Peterson in this situation.
Now let me just set the stage on what officials do before a UFC event. The officials basically hang out together during down time at the hotel. You're having breakfast and lunch together, and then you're all hopping on the UFC bus to head to the arena. You get there 2-3 hours before the fights start, meet with the commission, Marc Ratner from the UFC, and other officials involved with the event. You hang out in the back, and wait to meet with the individual fighters that you'll be overseeing during the event and making sure that they are on the same page with you about rules.
During this 5-6 hour time period before the event starts you are literally within feet of people - during meals, on the bus, hanging out in the back, meeting with the commission, meeting with fighters, and when sitting cage side waiting for your next assignment. Don't you think at least one person would have smelled something on Keith's breath if he was boozing? One person! Whether they are a fellow official, the commission, the UFC reps.....someone would have smelled something, and someone would have said something. This didn't happen. This only became an "issue" (a fabricated one at that) once Cruz lost and was looking for excuses. He was grasping at straws, and he grasped at one that was way out of line and incredibly unprofessional, especially coming from someone who is an analyst and highly involved with the UFC as an organization.
In any other sports league if an athlete made these type of comments, they would be fined and suspended within 48 hours. With 2 more events in Florida this week this is an opportunity for the Florida State Boxing Commission and its Executive Director, Patrick Cunningham, to step up and set a precedent that these types of comments are unacceptable and repercussions will follow. This is also an opportunity for the FSBC to put pressure on the UFC to suspend and fine Cruz for his comments. The UFC has been invited into Florida for 3 shows this week, and with 2 left to go (Wednesday and Saturday) the FSBC holds all the cards. They could demand that the UFC punish Cruz or they'll shut the shows down. Will that happen, probably unlikely, but it is the right thing to do if you are Patrick Cunningham.
Cruz's loose lips are far more reaching than hurting Keith Peterson's feelings and possibly getting him unassigned to the Wednesday and Saturday UFC events. These type of comments can impact a person's livelihood, family, and future in a sport that he has given so much to. If Cruz was a real man he would take his loss like a professional and admit that Cejudo was the better fighter Saturday night. If the Florida State Boxing Commission has any back bone they will publicly denounce Cruz's claims and put serious pressure on the UFC to at least suspend Cruz from fighting and commenting on their broadcasts. If the UFC wants to do the right thing, then they'll do just that; fine and suspend cruz, and force him to make a public apology to Peterson.
This is an opportunity for the FSBC and the UFC to do the right thing and protect these officials from unwarranted accusations coming from the stars of the sport who have a huge platform. Will they standup and do the right thing? I doubt it, but hopefully I'm eating my words soon. This needs to be acted upon before the UFC's event in Jacksonville on Wednesday, so time is of the essence. I urge all of you to email Patrick Cunningham of the Florida State Boxing Commission to pressure the UFC to make an example of Cruz, and set a precedent moving forward. His contact info is below.
FLORIDA STATE BOXING COMMISSION 2601 Blair Stone Rd TALLAHASSEE, FL 32399-1016 (850) 488-8500 (850) 922-2249 FAX (850)-661-6799 MOBILE
ATTN: PATRICK CUNNINGHAM, Executive Director
Timothy Shipman: Timothy.Shipman@myfloridalicense.com