Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight bruisers Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang battled last night (Sat., Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.
When Jingliang was first signed, it was with few expectations. However, the Chinese athlete has come a long way since then, securing multiple knockout wins and entering this bout on a significant win streak. Interestingly, the opposite was true for his opponent. Matthews entered UFC hyped as an Australian wunderkind, and he lived up to early expectations. Since then, however, “The Celtic Kid” has struggled, seemingly unsure of his own mid-fight decisions.
The 23-year-old turned that around last night, looking better than ever.
After a brief feeling out process, Matthews began to find success with his in-and-out combinations, scoring some hard shots on his advancing foe. Jingliang did not back off, moving forward behind the jab and trying to time a heavy right hand across his foe’s joe.
Jingliang had trouble finding his range and tried to force the issue, but he ran into a brutal counter right hand from Matthews that saw him hit the mat. Matthews immediately jumped into mount, dropping punches and transitioning into back mount. Matthews controlled the fight from there until the end of the round, trying to sink in a rear naked choke.
It was a drastically different start for Matthews compared to his tentative Welterweight debut.
An early exchange saw both men land power shots and gave Matthews a chance to jump on a guillotine, but Jingliang used toughness and some fingers in the eyes to escape. From top position, Jingliang dropped hammers on the Aussie, who scrambled up quickly and returned to the favor.
At the halfway point of the round, Jingliang’s forward march was beginning to wear on “The Celtic Kid.” Matthews found himself backed into the fence more often, where Jingliang’s big combinations were far more accurate. Matthews was not done though, he fired heavy shots back despite his obvious fatigue.
Cheater tactics or not, Jingliang was back in the fight.
Jingliang, as usual, continued walking his foe down into the third, firing right hands and low kicks. Matthews answered with a double leg takedown, but he was unable to hold “The Leech” down, who continued to stalk his foe with power shots.
A big right hand from Matthews stunned the Chinese athlete, but Jingliang somehow immediately scrambled into top position. Matthews was able to return to his feet rather quickly, and the pair scrapped to the final bell.
All three judges awarded Jake Matthews the victory.
This was a vastly superior “Celtic Kid” compared to his last few bouts. The biggest improvement was some mix of confidence and comfort, as Matthews has always shown skilled-but-inconsistent kickboxing. In this bout, he really did let his hands go, and the results were pretty stunning.
Matthews did a great job of maintaining an extra step of distance. Jingliang tried to lead with the cross and 1-2 all night, but Matthews stayed just out of range. When Matthews led, it was with a big movement — like a flying knee or lunging punch — but much of his success came by countering when Jingliang came up short.
All in all, both men found success in the grappling, so it really was Matthews’ improved kickboxing that earned him the victory.
First and foremost, Jingliang’s eye gouging is something I’m obligated to address. It was obviously an illegal way for Jingliang to escape the guillotine, and it was definitely intentional. From a fighter’s perspective, however, I have no real issue with “The Leech.” Those who fight tend to understand that anything goes, and if the referee doesn’t call it, it never happened.
Most fans will be pissed, but Jingliang’s tactic kept him in the fight and gave him a chance to win. Ask yourself, “would I cheat to give myself a chance at $ 20,000?” Jingliang’s win bonus is somewhere around that figure, and more than that, simply not wanting to lose on the big stage is a motivator to do crazy things. Outside of the foul, only Jingliang’s toughness and cardio kept the fight close. “The Leech” made few adjustments and made poor tactical errors throughout the fight, which allowed Matthews to do so much damage. In the future, Jingliang must do a better job of closing the distance.
Last night, Jake Matthews scored the biggest win of his pro career. What’s next for the young prospect?
For complete UFC 221: “Rockhold vs. Romero” results and play-by-play, click HERE!