McCall outworks Ortiz; Hieron holds on
As if mixed martial arts events in UFC 129's immediate wake weren't going to automatically feel less important. Add Manny Pacquiao's considerable shadow and you have the recipe for good MMA flying under the radar. For competitors and promoters involved this weekend, that turned to be true of quality cards in Newkirk, Okla., and Lemoore, Calif., where, respectively, Bellator Fighting Championships and Tachi Palace Fights put on fights of some significance.
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The weekend's best effort was streamed online when Ian McCall, unquestionably a top-5 flyweight, showed, again, the level of excitement and skill to be had at 125 pounds. Other efforts were solid; some not so much.
In a limited report card, we're handing out no worse than a C- this week:
Bellator 43/TPF 9 report card
Two fights at 125 pounds and Ian McCall looks like he could be the best flyweight in mixed martial arts. Connecting on an assortment of punishing leg kicks, well-polished hand combinations and strong takedowns, the 26-year-old Californian shut out Dustin Ortiz in the main event of Tachi Palace Fights' latest offering on Friday night. McCall, a WEC veteran at 135 pounds who once went the distance with Dominick Cruz, is wonderfully suited for the nascent flyweight division. On the heels of a resounding points win against then-top-ranked Brazilian Jussier da Silva, McCall is well-positioned for big fights in an underappreciated weight class. Best-case scenario: McCall (10-2) gets dangerous TPF champion Darrell Montague, 23, sometime this summer. Flyweight is well worth watching because of performers like McCall, whose nonstop blend of speed and aggression is highly entertaining.
Fabricio Camoes (12-5-1) scored an important win on his journey back to respectability when he outworked and outfought fellow UFC veteran Efrain Escudero. Camoes' striking was on point, especially with left hooks and low kicks as he neutralized the "Ultimate Fighter" 8 winner, who fell out of favor with the UFC and was released last year. "Morango," 32, is better than he showed in two UFC efforts, but not good enough to become a serious contender at lightweight.
Jay Hieron, 34, needed some breaks after sitting in limbo for more than a year. After three tight decision wins in as many months, some will argue fate and fortune is now on his side. A veteran of virtually every fighting organization you can think of, Hieron bested Rick Hawn on Saturday by split decision to get a crack at Ben Askren and the Bellator Fighting Championships' welterweight title. Hieron (22-4) is a strong puncher with good wrestling. But more and more, he's becoming a habitual counterpuncher who backs up much more than he moves forward. Based on the way he chooses to fight, it's actually quite surprising that judges awarded Hieron three wins. He was effective early with low kicks and his left hand. As the fight with Hawn played out, however, Hieron was too busy evading action to score much on the offensive end. He's lucky to be where he is. And maybe he deserves to be.
Rick Hawn suffered his first MMA defeat after a tight fight in which he showed a sense of comfort in the way he moved and punched. Just moving into his third year as a pro MMA career after pursuing Olympic-level judo much of his life, Hawn, 34, has the tools to be a competent welterweight. It's wrong to say he lost on Saturday to Jay Hieron. More accurately, neither guy won. But when the math was tallied, it was Hawn (11-1) who came out on the bad end of the decision. He pressed with the overhand right and mixed in jabs later in the fight. Hawn's judo was not much of a factor. If he can find a way to mix in that style of grappling into his game and fight on the inside more, he still strikes me as as a potentially dangerous fighter.
He's no longer unbeaten, yet Dustin Ortiz (7-1) should feel positive about hanging in there against Ian McCall's 15-minute assault. The young Tennessean, who took much more punishment than his face showed, has room and potential to grow. Finding answers for strikes at the end of grappling exchanges and repeated kicks to all sides of his legs would be great starting points.
Through two rounds, Efrain Escudero was on his way to a solid "D" against Fabricio Camoes. A late rally in the third round, however, made a lopsided loss relatively competitive. The wrestler had to win to maintain hopes of returning to the UFC, and for the most part he was beaten in every facet of the game. Escudero (16-3) is still just 25, but his long-term prospects look dim at this moment.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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