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FSM Essential Recap: UFC Las Vegas 17 – Thompson vs. Neal

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2020 has certainly been a year like no other and that equation involves the UFC too. And as the final event of a historic season has come to its conclusion, perhaps it is only fitting that the consensus nicest guy in the business in Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson walks out of the UFC Apex with his hand raised after cruising to a dominant decision victory over Geoff Neal at UFC Las Vegas 17.

 

Photo credit: Cooper Neill/ Zuffa LLC

When it comes to the entertainment value of the final UFC main event of the year, it certainly delivered. There was no bad blood, no ill intentions  — just two highly skilled guys going after it. It wasn’t the main event that we were initially promised, but perhaps this amicable show of high-level competition was the finale that we all needed.

When it comes to the art of striking, there are few, if any, that are more skilled than StephenWonderboyThompson. The sheer volume and fluidity of Thompson’s striking sequences is a joy to watch. His output is relentless and extremely efficient, and that showed over the entirety of his 25-minute bout against Geoff Neal.

Thompson came into this one with a chip on his shoulder. He was adamant that, in spite of being 37, he is far from done and certainly not ready to be the gatekeeper of the Welterweight division. Well, outclassing a guy as powerful and highly rated as Neal has proved that in every way possible.

A tough fighter like “Handz of SteelNeal is never really out of a fight until he is out of it. The brutal knockout power can never be overlooked, but in this one, it just wasn’t even close. Thompson’s arsenal of stand up weapons is one of the greatest the game has arguably ever seen, and he utilized all of them to perfection on Saturday night.

Neal had a few bright moments here and there. There was also a nasty clash of heads in the first round that cut and compromised the vision of both with blood creeping into the eyes of Neal and Thompson. But ultimately, Wonderboy’s fight IQ and ability to control the range with a plethora of striking variations got the job done. As good as Neal is and certainly still can be in the future, there are levels to this game — and Thompson’s striking proved to be elite once again — it’s as simple as that.

The former 170-pound title challenger picked up his second consecutive win with this victory, the first time he has been able to do that since 2016. Putting two very tough competitors in Vicente Luque and Neal to the sword, and notching up 300+ strikes landed in the process, Wonderboy proved that he’s still alive and kicking.

As one of the UFC’s best-ever years comes to an end — amidst some of the worst ever times — 2021 has already shaped up to be an incredible season of competition in the global MMA leading promotion, and perhaps — after his adventurous Jorge Masvidal call out — it might include yet another trip to the top of the welterweight mountain for Thompson himself.

Official Result: Stephen Thompson def. Geoff Neal via Dec. (Unanimous — 50-45 x 3)

 

Co-Main Event: Jose Aldo def. Marlon Vera via Dec. (Unanimous — 29-28 x 3)

 

It has been a long time coming. “The King of Rio” dropped down to Bantamweight in order to have another run at championship gold, and UFC Las Vegas 17 saw the former 145-pound champion get his hand raised for the first time in his new weight class.

Albeit controversially, since Aldo’s split decision loss to Marlon Moraes back in 2019 was by consensus the wrong call, there were no doubts regarding the decision in this one. Aldo entertained the very game, Marlon Vera, in what was the Ecuadorian’s biggest challenge of his career, but the veteran savvy proved to be far superior on Saturday night.

The judges scoring certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Aldo never looked in doubt. Controlling the distance with his trademark leg kicks and calculated striking in and out of the pocket, the fight did not feel like it was even heading into the third and final round.

But for Aldo, all that mattered was to get back into the win column following a three-fight losing skid. He was advised by his coaches at the break to look for the takedown in the final five minutes, and the 34-year-old took the instructions to heart.

 

Photo credit: Cooper Neill/ Zuffa LLC

Aldo went out aggressively in the third and, in typical Demian Maia fashion, snatched Vera’s back and rode out the final period controlling the bout in human backpack mode. It wasn’t pretty. There was never really much danger for Vera to be submitted. But it was certainly effective.

Vera’s toughness will never be questioned and this will prove to be a great learning curve, but Aldo knew he desperately needed to see his hand raised tonight — and he knew exactly how to get it done.

The Bantamweight division is stacked at the moment. There is talent pouring out of it and with this victory, Aldo will remain in and around the Top 5. And to make things even spicier, the former 145-pounder invited the soon returning TJ Dillashaw to dance next.

 

Michel Pereira def. Khaos Williams via Dec. (Unanimous — 29-28 x 3)

 

Thompson vs Neal
Photo Credit: MMA Fighting

This one was the one to watch out for. Two extremely exciting knockout artists clashing in the center of the cage, on paper, spelled nothing but fireworks. But the fight that we witnessed was far more tentative and calculated than the fight week build-up promised.

It was evident that both guys respected each other’s power. Khaos Williams had only spent 57 seconds in the Octagon prior to this. Michel Pereira has one of the most unorthodox styles in the game. Neither fighter wanted to make the wrong move that could potentially see them with their lights shut off.

All three rounds were very close and not easy to score. The social media judges had it going both ways, but Pereira ended up edging it with his tireless activity all over the cage.

The Brazilian mixed it up, attempted a couple of submissions, landed a few takedowns and seemed to be more in control throughout the 15 minutes. Williams though did land more of the significant strikes and certainly was the more powerful in the stand-up exchanges, but according to the judges — he didn’t do enough.

Credit to Pereira, he adapted very well to accommodate and neutralize Williams‘ most dangerous weapons, which are his quick hands and utilized his physical advantages to his advantage.

The Brazilian’s talent is undeniable. At only 27, he has already competed in almost 40 professional fights. The theatrics that comes with his style is what sells, but beneath all of that is a very dangerous competitor who could soon become a problem in the Welterweight division.

 

In the remaining fights on the stacked main card, Rob Font picked up a huge victory in the Bantamweight division with a stoppage of former title challenger Marlon Moraes and Marcin Tybura recorded his fourth win of 2020 with a second round TKO of highly rated Greg Hardy in the Heavyweight division. 

 

Official Results:

 

Rob Font def. Marlon Moraes via R1 TKO (Punches)


Marcin Tybura def. Greg Hardy via R2 TKO (Punches) 

 

 

Another good fight card is in the books as the UFC continues to entertain us week after week during this tough period we’ve been in. Whether we are watching champions, former champions, title contenders, or up and comers, the UFC will continue to give us entertaining fight cards to enjoy.

 

 

Be sure to check out franchisesportsmedia.com for all your latest in MMA, Las Vegas sports news, events, previews, and recaps.

 

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-Arion Armeniakos – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

 

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