Written by Ty Reynolds @MMAtylander
The month of March was filled with major MMA events with several big time contests decided during them. Out of those performances, here are MMA Mad’s Top 5 of the Month.
#5. Bellator 151- Darrion Caldwell def. Joe Warren via technical submission (rear-naked choke) RD 1, 3:23
Darrion Caldwell came into his bout with former 2-division champion Joe Warren with designs of showing that he had graduated from being a highly touted prospect to a legitimate contender in Bellator’s bantamweight division. He proved just that with what is now the signature performance of his young career.
After putting his grappling skills on display by easily taking down Warren, who is a world-class wrestler himself, in the opening seconds of the fight, Caldwell skillfully controlled his opponent on the mat before scoring with a massive suplex that dropped Warren on his head after he was able to only briefly make it to his feet. Once he had shown his dominance in the wrestling game, “The Wolf” latched onto a tight rear-naked choke and cranked away. Joe Warren was rendered unconscious from the hold only seconds later.
The victory was huge for Caldwell and moves his name near the top of the list of fighters ready to challenge for Bellator’s 135 lbs. title once Marcos Galvao and Eduardo Dantas finish their business this June at Bellator 156.
#4. CES MMA 33- Andre Soukhamthath def. Kody Nordby via KO (flying knee) RD 5, 1:35
Andre “The Asian Sensation” Soukhamthath is a bad, bad man. He proved as much by handling the tough Kody Nordby in CES MMA’s inaugural bantamweight title fight at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
Video via AXS TV Fights
After participating in a good amount of trash talk, the bad blood between the two fighters nearly spilled over during the weigh-ins the day before the bout and the contest did not disappoint. Soukhamthath used his notable Muay Thai skills to strafe Nordy early and often in the opening rounds of the fight, cutting him badly and forcing him to shoot often for low percentage single legs. Nordby often found himself trapped while clinging to Soukhamthath’s leg in desperate attempts to turn the tide in his favor, opening himself up to hard punches and elbows by refusing to release his grip.
By the championship rounds, Soukhamthath had drained Nordby almost completely, allowing him to go for the kill in the 5th. The Blackzillian representative and 12-time CES MMA veteran was able to launch a flying knee that honed straight in to Nordby’s chin and sent him crashing to the mat, asleep before he hit the canvas.
The knockout blow was nothing short of devastating and footage of the finish quickly spread throughout the MMA world. Soukhamthath then justifiably took the opportunity to call for his chance in the UFC, a request that will be hard for Joe Silva to ignore after a performance like that.
#3. WSOF 29- Justin Gaethje def. Brian Foster via TKO (leg kicks) RD 1, 1:43
Coming off of consecutive FOTY candidates with Luis Palmino in 2015, it was thought that Gaethje may have taken too much damage due to his arguably overaggressive style and that Brian Foster, winner of WSOF’s one night lightweight tournament last November, could be the man to finally make him pay for his recklessness and disregard for his own health.
Gaethje didn’t even need a round to disprove that theory…
Per usual, “The Highlight” came out hot, throwing heavy hands with the intention of putting Foster out cold with each one that landed. Foster fired back, but he couldn’t slow the assault and quickly found himself trying to fend off brutal leg kicks, as well. Foster failed to find a solution, leaving Gaethje free to mercilessly land damaging kicks to his legs until the UFC veteran could no longer stand. The referee was forced to halt the bout while Foster languished on the mat after suffering several of the debilitating blows.
As Foster was helped from the cage, Gaethje’s hand was raised in victory for the ninth time under the promotion’s banner, leaving him with an undefeated record of 16-0 with 14 finishes. The question going into the battle was whether or not Gaethje’s methods could hold up, but the query coming out of it was whether or not there is anyone left in the division outside of the UFC that can simply keep up with the champ.
#2. UFC Fight Night 85- Mark Hunt def. Frank Mir via KO (punch) RD 1, 3:01
It’s time for the world of MMA to stop doubting “The Super Samoan.”
Mark Hunt’s most recent walk-off knockout of former UFC heavyweight champion in Brisbane is just another reminder of that and leaves no doubt that he is still one of the most dangerous competitors north of the light heavyweight division. It was nothing we haven’t seen from the New Zealander before, but the thunderclap that Hunt laid on the side of Mir’s head in their main event clash might have provided his most impressive performance to date, as much for the disdainful look on his face as he nonchalantly strolled away from his latest victim as for the blow itself.
It all looked too easy for Hunt. He defended Mir’s takedowns and then put him to sleep. It was just that simple. It shouldn’t have been, but it was, and now Hunt is once again on the verge of fighting for the UFC’s heavyweight title. At 42 years of age and a record of 12-10, including 6 losses in a row during one dismal stretch, that shouldn’t be possible, but here we are nonetheless.
#1. UFC 196: Nate Diaz def. Conor McGregor via submission (rear-naked choke) RD 2, 4:12
Coming in on only 10 days notice to compete against one of the best fighters in sport who also just happens to excel at mind games is not the ideal situation for even the most tested and decorated of mixed martial artists. Outside of the monster paycheck it provides, there isn’t much upside to taking on such a challenge. Many, if not most, would have turned down the opportunity to face the brash Conor McGregor under such circumstances.
Good thing Stockton’s Nate Diaz simply doesn’t give an “F” about such minor details.
Diaz got the call, moseyed on off the beach, went toe-to-toe in a verbal battle with McGregor in one of the great press conferences of the sport, put on his gloves, and won the fight. Hollywood stuff, really.
After enduring the best of what McGregor had to offer in the opening round of the main event of UFC 196, Diaz wiped away the blood that was pouring over his right eye and fired back at McGregor, eventually stunning his foe and forcing the Irishman to go for one of the most ill-advised takedown attempts in recent memory. Once the shark had his prey in the deep waters he called home, it was game over. McGregor couldn’t regain his senses long enough to compete with the Gracie-trained black belt and soon found himself tapping the canvas.
The performance from Diaz was topnotch, but did far more than just add another “W” to his record. Finishing McGregor in such fashion has propelled Nate Diaz into super stardom, a level he had always aspired to achieve but could never quite reach until that night. Since then, the younger of the Diaz brothers has been making the media rounds and excelling in the spotlight by showing off a side of his personality that many had not been privileged enough to witness until now.
Nate Diaz’s performance at UFC 196 is proving to have been a life changing achievement. That leaves it unrivaled as the top ranking performance of the month.
Honorable Mention: Meisha Tate, UFC 196, Neil Magny UFC FN 85, Siyar Bahadurzada, UFC 196