What a way to start the year. Attendees of AFC 79 saw longer fights, comebacks, a new champion rise, an old champion defend, and even got to meet former UFC lightweight king Sean Sherk.
FIGHTS OF THE NIGHT: LAUREN TAYLOR vs. WILLOW BAILEY and ROD PUCAK vs. TOMMY MCMICHAELS
Both the fights were so good I couldn't pick one over the other. They both featured enough themes, reversals, and development to earn surprise Oscar nominations.
Bailey and Taylor enjoyed a raucous, back and forth first round, where both champ and challenger dealt debilitating damage, though Taylor probably took the round. In the second stanza Bailey looked to be taking over the fight by putting Taylor through a boxing clinic, peppering her with punching combinations from all angles. Taylor looked lost as 'The Motivator' lit her up, so she took the fight somewhere more familiar. With the champ mounted, Taylor played the surf to Bailey's shoreline, crashing on it and eroding it away. It was only Bailey's indomitable spirit that got her through the round. But where the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. Taylor has so severely injured Bailey's eye that the referee called the fight, and a new champion was crowned.
Pucak and McMichaels II wasn't supposed to happen. McMichaels soundly controlled Pucak for three rounds in an uninspiring but clear-cut decision victory back in September. He had earned a shot at former champion Jesus 'the Truth' Rivera, while Pucak was stuck in his role of gatekeeper. But when Rivera was injured the busiest fighter in Alaska stepped up again, living up to his nickname, 'Short Notice'. McMichaels got the fight to the ground like he wanted, where his Jeff Monson-like physique would be most stifling, but he was stuck fending off a kimura until Pucak got back to his feet. After an unexpected judo takedown from Pucak and some more back and forth action, 'T-Gunz' had Pucak's back against the cage. It was here that he delivered the striking equivalent of an appendectomy, landing a knee to Pucak's gut that twisted the durable fighter's face and made everyone in the crowd think about buying some flowers for their liver "just because." McMichael's saw his opportunity and swarmed. But Rod! Pucak! Was! Not! Done! He weathered the storm, barely escaping a ref stoppage, and turned the tide of the bout 100% with a flying knee out of nowhere. Enduring his own storm now, it was all McMichael's could do to hang on until the bell. In the second round he looked like he was winning the fight again, scoring a takedown. But his gas tank was on empty, and Pucak got to his feet and landed a series of unanswered punches which collapsed his opponent and evened their score.
KO OF THE NIGHT: HIPA FOUVALE
16 seconds is less than the amount of time I needed to type this sentence, but it was all Fouvale needed to lay his opponent out with a meteor of a left hook. The Guam native needs a nickname. I say we call him 'The Guamy Bear'.
SUBMISSION OF THE NIGHT: DOUG EVANS
Poor Maurice Mitchell. Despite eight months of preparation and traveling to California to train for a few weeks, he just didn't have anything to offer against Doug Evans on Wednesday. Evans took him down with ease, softened him up, and locked in a textbook rear naked choke.
BEST DO YOUR ROADWORK
McMichaels-Pucak II was the best example on the night of the new five-minute rounds effecting the outcome of a fight. All of the best action in the first round took place in the last minute, which wouldn't exist under the old, three-minute rounds. In their first fight, McMichaels controlled the action for roughly nine minutes to win the bout. In the rematch he again controlled for the better part of nine minutes before giving into his desperate lungs. This should be a warning to all fighters to hit the street and do their jogging.
NEXT FOR EVANS: Moving up in promotion. He's needs to go the way of Julio Paulino and Ricky Shivers. He's too good to be the AFC champion anymore. I'd love to see him in special superfights, but holding the belt will ultimately tie up and stagnate the division.
NEXT FOR MITCHELL: Back to the drawing board, plus wrestling lessons. He's a talented and wily striker, but if he wants to achieve his full potential he might need to take a page out of Josh Koscheck's book and train 95% on the weakest part of his game.
NEXT FOR TAYLOR: Who knows? While the women's division has been more active over the last year, she's the challenger the action produced. The women's division still have a lot of room to grow, and there needs more fights and more fighters before a contender emerges. Maybe her first challenger hasn't even fought in the AFC yet. Most likely she'll fight Willow Bailey again, though.
NEXT FOR BAILEY: Heal, get a rebound fight done, then gear up to challenge Taylor again.
NEXT FOR PUCAK: McMichaels.
NEXT FOR MCMICHAELS: Pucak.