On Saturday night the UFC closed out the year with an exciting fight card full of game athletes with Thompson versus Neal. With one of the more action packed Fight Nights of the year, this card delivered some fun fights and showed fans a few things that will make 2021 interesting. Lets start with the opening fight and work our way up.
Marcin Tybura Defeats Greg Hardy by KO/TKO in Round Two
Heavyweights opened our main card on Thompson versus Neal. Tybura got hit a few times early, but once he got his footing in this fight, he took over. He was able to manage distance and eventually take the fight to the ground in the second round, where Hardy looked extremely uncomfortable. Hardy was gassed extremely quickly, similar to what we saw in his last fight. You can see the stand up game coming together for Hardy, but he really needs to clean up the rest. Tybura, meanwhile, is riding the Polish wave taking over the UFC. He joined the UFC in 2016 and, after going 4-5 in his first nine fights, he has now won four straight. A ranked opponent feels fair for Tybura next, maybe against someone like Walt Harris. Hardy, on the other hand, is hard to project a next fight for as we await the UFC roster clean out Dana promised.
Rob Font Defeats Marlon Morales by KO/TKO in Round One
New England cartel stand up! Rob Font looked amazing. Sure, he shook off some ring rust early, but he survived Moraes’ sprint out of the gate and scored a first round finish in the 135-pound division. Finishing hands at that weight can breed superstars, and Font certainly has that potential. Moraes, on the other hand, is Tom Petty style free falling. Getting knocked out two fights in a row is tough, and most people believe he really has lost his last four (myself included). I am not sure what is next for Moraes, who maybe needs to take some time and let his body and chin recover. Font, however, has some exciting potential fights ahead. His Dillashaw callout in a post-victory speech on Saturday feels as fair as any potential Dillashaw return fight. Ultimately, Font would be justified to ask for just about anybody ranked above him after his performance. Count me among those who will not be missing it.
Michel Pereira Defeats Khaos Williams by Unanimous Decision
Surprise of the night for me was that this fight went the distance. I am about to put myself firmly on the bandwagon that Pereira has championship potential. He has still demonstrated a willingness to be unconventional and explosive in ways that other fighters cannot anticipate, but his last two fights have shown a more measured professional with an iron chin. Instead of constant flips and antics, he appears to be graduating to a style that always has that explosive threat without having to empty the gas tank by constantly flipping. Khaos Williams did ultimately lose the fight, but this does not dent the excitement I feel for his future in MMA. While the loss was surely a setback for the young devastating striker, he will be back to his knockout ways in no time. Khaos will likely get a reset fight next, while Pereira looks to continue his rise. He asked for Showtime Pettis next, but as he announced his departure from the UFC, Pereira will have to look elsewhere. Maybe a veteran like Robbie Lawler, or another streaking fighter like Belal Muhammad, makes more sense for El Demolidor.
Jose Aldo Defeats Marlon Vera by Unanimous Decision
Aldo, the King of Rio, looked stellar in this fight against an extremely dangerous Chito Vera. This was a striking masterclass from one of the striking legends of the sport. While Vera did lose, his reputation as a dangerous man who is tough to finish was on full display. This man has never been finished. Read that again. In 24 professional fights, he has always either been the victor or lost a decision. That is “BANANAS”, Gwen Stefani. Aldo, meanwhile, is fresh off a title shot against Petr Yan where he was finished, so the water is a little murky for his next step. Like fellow bantamweight Font, he also wants a piece of Dillashaw, which does make sense as well; any top 8-10 ranked bantamweight has the right to ask for that fight, in my opinion.
Stephen Thompson Defeats Geoffrey Neal by Unanimous Decision
In the world of striking, Wonderboy Thompson is most definitely in the elite of the elite level. I cannot imagine how much more demoralizing it is to get out-struck by the nicest dude in the promotion. He does, after all, hold the NMF Belt (Nicest Male Fighter… is kind of the super kid version of what that stands for). Neal did not look awful, nor did he not show up. Rather, Wonderboy looked sensational. His control of distance, his comfort inside of striking range, his bouncy stance; all of these make Thompson an absolute joy to watch perform. Even in his knockout loss to Anthony Pettis, he looked phenomenal before he was caught by the octagon Superman punch. Wonderboy has the right to ask for a title shot, considering the fights he has been in for the UFC. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up for a title eliminator next. Neal, meanwhile, only took a minor step back, and likely faces another fringe top 15 guy in his next outing.
Overall, this card was an appropriate way to end a year full of great cards. The fighters delivered action-packed performances and the UFC got a little more interesting. May 2021 deliver us many fight nights as good as Thompson versus Neal and as many fighters as game as this card showcased.