By Elias Cepeda
(I have seen the future of Swedish MMA and it is pale, polite and packs a nasty uppercut)
No one really disappointed in the UFC’s first ever event in Sweden Saturday. Swedish headliner Alexander Gustafsson won an entertaining and technical stand-up striking battle against Thiago Silva. For his part, Silva was coming off of a one-year suspension from a failed drug test and was a late replacement for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira but found success in spots throughout the fight and never stopped pushing the pace and coming forward, no matter how much damage he took.
It’s always fun to see what crowds in new UFC territory are like and the Swedish fans proved to be a pleasing combination. Think the soccer chants of British and Brazilian fans with the polite appreciation of Japanese fans (but slightly louder). When one of their own won, they roared. When one of theirs lost, they applauded the victor for their honest effort. Old dad was on the scene last week and did a great job writing about Swedish attitudes.
As he wrote, Silva was initially one of the few people to get booed in Sweden. But that had more to do with his assumed steroid use than his nationality. And by the end of his strong-willed battle against Gustafsson, the Swedish fans cheered Silva for his aggression.
Gustafsson was well-prepared to deal with Silva’s “in your face” style. At the opening horn Silva rushed Gustafsson but the young Swede stayed clear of danger and used footwork to circle out. It was typical of how the fight would go. Though, both fighters each landed their share of bombs. Just a few seconds into the first round, Gustafsson took advantage of Silva rushing head first into him by countering with an uppercut that floored the Brazilian. Even though the lanky Swede used his long jab well throughout the fight to keep Silva at bay, the uppercut became his most reliable punch over the course of three rounds. And, just as he did in the first round after the uppercut, Silva responded to each big Gustafsson strike landed by gathering his wits and getting back in his face. When Gustafsson’s constant lateral movement didn’t keep him out of harm’s way, his solid chin kept him in the game. Silva landed more than a few big overhand rights that landed flush on the Swede’s chin. As the fight closed, Gustafsson seemed to know he was in the lead and tried to run out the clock. Silva, though visibly tired, finished strong in his trademark fashion (think his bout with Rashad Evans), landing hard roundhouse leg kicks and one last big overhand right.
It wasn’t enough, however, and Gustafsson won the unanimous decision (30-27, twice, and 29-28).
Gustafsson continues to climb the ranks at light heavyweight. Perhaps more importantly, he dealt with the spotlight remarkably well against an elite opponent. If he continues to win it seems likely we could see Gustafsson challenge for the belt in the next year. It’s unlikely that even a title fight will put him through the emotional grinder and place the amount of pressure that headlining his nation’s first ever UFC event did. He passed that test with flying colors, staying composed and sticking to a smart strategy. Gustafsson moved to 14-1 while Silva dipped to 14-3.
At this point I should probably be surprised at how good Brian Stann is at making other strikers fight his type of fight. And a Stann type of fight is one heavy on brawling with heavy shots being traded. Alessio Sakara could not withstand Stann’s onslaught in their co-main event and got knocked clean out early in the first round of their bout. Stann started the fight bobbing and weaving behind a type of peek-a-boo guard. When he had closed the distance, Stann unleased with heavy shots to the body and head in nice dirty boxing fashion. Sakara fell to his back and Stann finished with him stiff shots from inside his guard. One shot put Sakara out and another woke him up. The referee wisely recognized that the fight was over and stepped in. It seems like the only time Stann will lose is when he’s put against a grappler. As long as he gets paired with fellow sluggers, he should continue to impress. As it stands, his record is 12-4 and Sakara’s second consecutive loss moves him to 15-9.
Siyar Bahadurzada shocked everyone with a quick KO over Paulo Thiago just as Thiago did to Josh Koscheck a couple years ago. The Afghanistan-born Bahadurzada threw a wide left hook and a short right as Thiago waded in face-first seconds into the first round. The left hand missed but the right hand clipped Thiago right on the chin, knocking him out cold and dropping him face-first onto the mat. Bahadurzada moves to 21-4 while Thiago slides to 14-4.
Dennis Siver and Diego Nunes went after each other, mostly on the feet, for three rounds. The pair combined cautious rang-finding with dramatic spinning kick and fist attacks for about the first round and a half. Siver continues to look more confident in his grappling, as he attempted multiple takedowns, but was unable to finish them. His aggression and slight edge in accuracy ended up giving Siver the advantage on the scorecards and he won a unanimous decision. Siver improved his record to 20-8 and Nunes fell to 17-3.
In other main-card action, John Maguire beat DeMarques Johnson with an arm bar in the second round and Brad Pickett submitted Damacio Page with a rear naked choke in the second stanza of their fight. James Head also took out fan favorite Papy Abedi with a rear naked choke in the first round of their welterweight bout.
More results and an amazing photo gallery from UFC photographer Josh Hedges below
Preliminary fight results:
Cyrille Diabate defeats Tom DeBlass via majority decision
Francis Carmont defeats Magnus Cedenblad via rear naked choke at 1:42 of the second round
Reza Madadi submits Yoislandy Izquierdo with a guillotine choke at 1:28 of the second round
Simeon Thoresen beats Besam Yousef with a rear naked choke at 2:36 of the second round
Jason Young wins a unanimous decision over Eric Wisely