mma / Columns

Wild Saturday Night for Rose Namajunas, BJ Penn, UFC, and Bellator

May 14, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett

Saturday was no night to be a mixed martial arts legend. It was time to become one and build a legacy.

The four legends we wrote about last week all came up short on varying levels. The build to a legend’s fight can create a fantasyland where you see visions of a fighter’s younger self possessing their aged body, but that fantasy dissipates as soon as the referee calls to start the bout.

BJ Penn fell to Clay Guida, a fighter he would have been a monumental favorite to beat if they had fought 10 years ago, when both were at their best. Rogerio Nogueira suffered a first-round knockout, his mileage visible with his every move. Jose Aldo looked every bit himself physically, but sat back waiting for the perfect opening that never came, a cousin of paralysis by analysis. He dropped a clear decision. Anderson Silva seems happiest just being in the cage nowadays (perhaps that’s why prior to Saturday, he hadn’t had a fight since 2013 that ended inside the distance), but unfortunately, he didn’t get much cage time on Saturday. A Jared Cannonier kick injured Silva’s leg late in the first round and closed out the fight.

And yet despite the tribulations the legends faced, Saturday night couldn’t be considered a depressing night by any stretch. Between the UFC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Bellator in Rosemont, Illinois, there were new champions, infinitely replayable finishes, and major victories for emerging contenders.

For legacy, the biggest win of the weekend was Patricio “Pitbull” Freire’s 61 second knockout win over Michael Chandler to take the Bellator lightweight title. Pitbull, who is currently in his second reign as Bellator featherweight champion, became Bellator’s second double champion with the victory. The 31-year-old, who has been with Bellator in the Fox Sports Net days, left no doubt that he is the best fighter in Bellator history. He has 17 wins against 4 losses, with the wins including three titles across two weight classes and two featherweight tournaments.

Freire’s next challenge will likely be Bellator’s upcoming 16-man featherweight grand prix. If the tournament follows the path of Bellator’s welterweight tournament, the title will be defended each round, which is a grueling task for Freire.

Another name sure to be involved in that tournament is A.J. McKee, who scored the biggest win of his career Saturday against former champion Pat Curran to improve to 14-0. McKee, who has fought the entirety of his professional career in the Bellator cage, has been brought along slowly. Saturday’s win over Curran makes McKee the top contender for Freire’s featherweight title, so they would make sense as first round opponents, but Bellator could separate them on different ends of the bracket.

The UFC had its own featherweight contender jump to the front of the title shot line. Alexander Volkanovski has steadily climbed the UFC ranks since his 2016 debut, and firmly grasped the top rung of the ladder with Saturday’s win over Jose Aldo. He brought the fight to the greatest featherweight of all-time, and after a close first round, pulled away to the point the result of the decision was not in doubt. The next UFC featherweight title contender comes down to Volkanovski and Frankie Edgar. Volkanovski certainly has recent results on his side. Edgar hasn’t fought in more than a year, and at 37 the older he gets the worse his chances against Max Holloway become. There will be no argument from me if the UFC decides to give Edgar one last title shot, but Volkanovski is certainly more deserving.

Like Volkanovski, Michael “Venom” Page was another burgeoning contender with a chance to prove himself against elite opposition on Saturday. After years of fighting underwhelming opposition, the unbeaten Page had advanced to the semifinals of Bellator’s welterweight tournament, ensuring his skills would be put to the test. Former two-time Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima did that and more.

Lima kept his cool in the face of Page’s famous showboating. Early in the second round of a scheduled five, Lima kicked an advancing Page’s lead leg out from under him. As Page looked to bounce back to his feet, Lima clipped him with an uppercut. It landed well enough to put Page out and make a highlight that will follow Lima for the rest of his career.

The UFC card answered with an all-time highlight of its own. Early on, the main event title fight between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade seemed like a blowout. Namajunas was handling Andrade with ease. Her punches were crisp and fast, bloodying the challenger within the first minute. Later, Namajunas landed a knee that knocked Andrade down. But Andrade remained in the fight.

At a couple of points in the first round, Andrade, a 115-pound wrecking ball, lifted Namajunas up for a slam. Certainly, neither slam was comfortable for Namajunas, but she absorbed them and kept attacking.

Andrade was doing a bit better in the second round, but was still fighting from behind. Midway through the round, she attacked for a takedown against the fence, while Namajunas attacked an arm for a kimura. Once again, Andrade scooped Namajunas up, but this time slammed her down on her neck. The impact knocked Namajunas out. Between the stakes and how the fight had been going, it will go down as one of the best slam knockouts in MMA history.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Dan Plunkett