By Elliot Worsell
BIRMINGHAM - Nottingham welterweight Dan ‘The Outlaw’ Hardy did the necessary revision and research to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is Akihiro Gono tonight at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England. Falling narrowly short of an A-grade for his efforts, Hardy did pick up a priceless split-decision verdict in the UFC 89 prelim bout, kicking off his massively promising UFC career in fine style.
Former PRIDE veteran Gono, known to all mixed martial arts enthusiasts as one of the trickiest and cagiest competitors around, simply couldn’t set enough traps over the course of three fiercely competitive rounds to sway the verdict his way.
Charged by an electric home crowd, Hardy displayed all the improvements he’d promised in the weeks leading up to the bout. His stand-up was crisp, his patience and composure was evident, and, perhaps more pivotally, he managed to wreck the few attempts Gono made at getting things to the floor.
While the Hardy of old may have been overwhelmed by Gono’s accurate counter-shots or his savvy skills on the ground, this new version made the right choices at the right time to ensure complete control.
In the opening round he got the better of things via hard leg-kicks and occasional punches as Gono backed up and beckoned the younger man in. Despite his best intentions, Hardy often fell short with shots or simply missed the target as Gono exhibited all his famed slickness and defensive nuances. At times, the Japanese star would look like a world-class boxer, slipping and sliding Hardy’s shots with his back against the Octagon and seemingly nowhere to manoeuvre.
However, while Hardy missed with many, he also landed many. Moreover, he looked to land many. On the flipside, Gono, ever the showman and ever the crafty counter-puncher, simply failed to work enough over the long haul to expect any favours. He landed some beautifully timed left-hooks in the first round and a couple of spiteful counter rights in the second but, save for sporadic success, simply failed to commit himself enough to gaining control of the fight.
Often, the three-round bout resembled a lesson. A masterclass. The veteran Gono, 34, against the starry-eyed pupil Hardy, 26 and only just starting out on his road to, he hopes, UFC championship success. Though never fully exerting himself enough to grab control of events, Gono did enough to teach Hardy a trick or two. He made Hardy’s stand-up work look predictable at times and lured the Nottingham standout into a few traps he wished he’d stayed clear of.
Ultimately, though, it was Hardy’s desire and, crucially, his improvements – structured over a key four-month preparation – that helped bag the win. He kicked at the right time and he punched at the right time. When Gono became desperate in the final round and attempted to drag Hardy to the floor, Dan showed impressive composure and slickness to get back to his feet in a matter of seconds. After all, there was no time to mess about with a wily competitor like Gono.
Game plan executed and first UFC bout out the way, Hardy walked away a narrow albeit thoroughly deserved winner via scores of 29-28 (twice) to Gono’s 29-28.
CARWIN TEACHES ‘OLD SKOOL’ A LESSON
Win by any means necessary would have been paramount on Shane Carwin’s mind before this evening’s bout with Doncaster’s Neil Wain. A couple of looping Wain haymakers later, Carwin did just that, 1:31 into the very first round.
In a heavyweight bout always expected to be short and explosive, Colorado man Carwin got more than he bargained for from a Wain right hand and decided to quickly terminate the plan to punch on their feet. Unsteady rather than hurt, Carwin instantly grabbed UFC debutant Wain and yanked him southward.
Figuring the stocky Englishman would be a safer proposition on the floor than on the feet, Carwin used his vastly superior ground game to swiftly manoeuvre himself to side position. Struggling to cope with Carwin’s strength and know-how on top, Wain was essentially a sitting duck for the bigger man.
Once side control was gained, Carwin began chipping away at Wain’s resolve via hurtful elbows and punches. The writing was instantly sketched on the wall and, as Wain failed to effectively protect himself, the bout was waved off 91 seconds into the opening session.
It wasn’t the destructive, highlight-reel knockout Carwin delivered in May against Christian Wellisch, but it was a performance that exemplified the Denver native’s discipline and adaptability. He sensed Wain was a danger with his fists, quickly turned the tables on him and offered him a ground puzzle the Doncaster slugger simply failed to solve. Carwin moves to 10-0, while UFC debutant Wain – seemingly a threat while stood up - is taught a valuable lesson.
ETIM FRUSTRATES AND OUTBOXES STOUT
Both Liverpool’s Terry Etim and Ontario’s Sam Stout stayed true to their word this evening in Birmingham as they kicked and punched incessantly for 15 minutes of lightweight action.
Aside from one quickly stuffed takedown attempt by each, Etim and Stout put on an enjoyable exhibition of stand-up hitting and kicking, much to the delight of the raucous NIA crowd. Sending them over the edge was the unanimous decision verdict Etim walked home with following the three intriguing rounds.
Home favourite Etim - an angular and awkward 6’1 fighter with impressive Muay-Thai skills – managed to contain the stockier Stout for much of the three rounds. Utilising well-placed leg-kicks and occasional counter jabs and left hooks, Etim would successfully time Stout’s advances and catch the shorter man coming in.
Eager to get inside and find the angles and distance to do his work, Stout used a selection of leg-kicks, wild left hooks and overhand rights – most missing. Sensing Etim was backing up with his chin in the air, Stout would stoop down low and come up with wide hooks or looping shots from awkward angles. Now and again, Stout would find the range and connect, but there often wasn’t enough sustained contact to pose a genuine threat to Etim.
Aside from a couple of decent shots landed by Stout towards the end of round two, Etim very much had the look of a man in control. He has maturity and poise beyond his mere 22 years. Despite the roar of the crowd and the threat of Stout’s heavy hands directly in front of him, Etim stuck to his game plan and picked his spots well.
As the rounds progressed, it was evident the 24-year-old’s Stout’s attacks were becoming born out of desperation rather than any pre-planning or method. He had to figure a way to get inside Etim’s reach and kicks and he struggled to stay in range long enough to unleash his own weapons.
Following three rounds of precise standup work, Etim received the nod by scores of 29-28 (twice) and 30-27. Buoyed by the home crowd and displaying a decent array of punches and kicks, Etim scores the best win of his promising career and takes his record to 11-2. Stout falls to 14-5-1.
MILLER GETS THE BETTER OF ALL-DEBUTANT MATCH-UP WITH BARON
Youthful exuberance and raw strength conquered experience and know-how as Jim Miller overpowered and eventually choked out French star David Baron at 3.19 of the third round in a battle of talented lightweights.
New Jersey’s Miller, 10 years Baron’s junior at 25, initiated the action from the outset, always looking to start attacks and always looking to be the boss on the ground.
The seasoned Baron, a man with a wealth of high-level mixed martial arts experience, found himself able to hang and deal with Miller’s advances, but he could never seem to generate any action of his own. He would always be reacting upon whatever Miller decided upon.
Numerous times Miller would get Baron’s back, only to be then shaken off by the slippery and composed Parisian. Nevertheless, Miller’s diligence and desire to finish things gradually broke the will and durability of Baron. He could only avoid the inevitable for so long.
Entering the third round, Miller was evidently the one with the skip in his step. Only five minutes away from victory, Miller took Baron to the floor – a recurring theme in the bout – and used all his superior strength to control the flow of the action.
Despite Baron’s attempts to keep Miller guessing and avoid countless choke attempts, Miller eventually caught his piece-de-resistance with only two minutes to go. Eager to not let this one slip away, Miller secured the rear-naked choke win and took his record to 12-1.
EKLUND WAKES UP AND CHOKES OUT SCHIAVO IN THE THIRD
Slow-starting Swede Per Eklund snapped into action just in the nick of time to choke out Frenchman Sammy Schiavo at 1:47 of the third and final round of their lightweight bout.
The clinical nature of the finish belied the problems Eklund had getting going in this evenly-poised bout. Before Eklund kicked into his fifth gear midway through the second round, the contest was tilting both ways and very much up for grabs.
The aggressive and wild Schiavo got the better of proceedings in the opening session, using overhand rights and plenty of determination to bully Eklund to the cage and keep him there. One spiteful right hand in particular rocked Eklund backwards and down to the mat. Sensing he could finish things early, Schiavo went in for the kill, unloading everything he had on the Swede.
Wily and experienced, Eklund wasn’t finished yet, and he rode out the brief storm, displaying impressive poise. Realising Schiavo had used up a lot of his tank in the opening stanza, Eklund cleverly eased his way into the fight and grew confident from the fact he was still alive and kicking.
Entering the second session, Schiavo again started quickly – letting his hands go and attempting to bully the taller Eklund backwards. Deciding he’d get more joy on the ground, Eklund dropped to his back, where he began to work his game plan on Schiavo.
Successfully neutralising the Frenchman’s aggressiveness, Eklund was able to get Schiavo’s back and work a rear-naked choke. Unable to finish things there, Eklund switched it up and went for an arm-bar. Held for only a matter of seconds, Schiavo spun out of his momentary predicament and climbed on top of Eklund.
Two narrow escapes in the second round merely acted as the precursor to Schiavo’s downfall in the third. Eklund again secured the takedown and again worked his magic on the ground. His longer limbs and impressive composure helped fashion another opening. Grabbing Schiavo’s back and raining down elbows on the Frenchman’s head, Eklund was soon offered a clear path to secure the rear-naked choke. He didn’t require a second invitation and jumped to 15-3-1 in the process.
BIELKHEDEN OUTSCORES LIAUDIN IN ‘GRINDER’
Control was the name of the game for David Bielkheden as he managed to dominate enough positions on the ground against Jess Liaudin to scoop a hard-earned unanimous points decision verdict in the lightweight debut for both men.
The Brazilian-trained Bielkheden started aggressively and, save for a few momentary respites, never let up from first claxon to last.
Bloodied and overwhelmed, Liaudin struggled to gain any kind of authority in the bout and had to endure long periods on his back under the heavier Bielkheden. The Brazil-trained Swede would boss proceedings on the floor and then when the pair got to their feet would do enough work in the clinch and up against the cage to settle matters there, too.
Liaudin’s renowned toughness and bravery kept things interesting – especially as both jockeyed for position in the ground – but, ultimately, he didn’t have enough answers to the questions the 29-year-old Bielkheden posed him. The rough and tough Bielkheden, now 13-6, got home by scores of 29-28 (twice) and 30-27.
Hardy opens UFC career with win over Gono at UFC 89
Elliot Worsell, UFC - Nottingham welterweight Dan ‘The Outlaw’ Hardy did the necessary revision and research to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is Akihiro Gono tonight at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England. Falling narrowly short of an A-grade for his efforts, Hardy did pick up a priceless split-decision verdict in the UFC 89 prelim bout, kicking off his massively promising UFC career in fine style.