The U.S. debut of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s MMA promotion, Eagle FC, went down Friday night in Miami, and produced an overall entertaining and generally well-presented night of fights.
Regional MMA tends to get scored on a curve, but Eagle FC 44 was a different sort of animal. It’s hard to call the outfit, known as Gorilla FC prior to Khabib buying it up, truly “regional” given its Russian footprint. At the same time, it’s not the UFC, not Bellator, not the PFL or ONE — but in terms of overall production quality, the card was right up there. It all stream lived (and free) on the FLXcast app, which looked sharp, smooth and glitch free.
When it comes down to it, however, it’s the fights that matter most. Those delivered for the most part on Friday, with plenty of stoppages, plenty of action, and a number of notable names competing.
Eagle FC 44’s main event saw kickboxing champ Tyron Spong return to the cage for the first time since 2012, taking on the hulking Sergei Kharitonov. While Spong fired off a few low kicks early, Kharitonov easily got the striker to the ground, sinking in a head lock from side control. From there, Kharitonov transitioned to mount, with three and a half minutes remaining in the opening round. An awful lot of time to have the Russian “Paratrooper” on top of you. Somehow, Spong made it out of the round, but not before eating a healthy portion of ground n’ pound.
— Eagle Fight Club (@EagleFightClub) January 29, 2022
Looking to duplicate the success he had in round one, Kharitonov immediately dropped for a takedown in the second. This time, Spong stayed upright. They’d battle it out on the feet, but Kharitonov would get Spong on his back, and make it to mount, with more than two minutes left in the round. This time, Spong was going nowhere, and couldn’t run out the clock. Kharitonov had one of Spong’s arms trapped, putting him in a dicey spot. The ground n’ pound brought in the ref, and that was all she wrote.
The Russian improved to 34-9, 2NC with the TKO victory. For Spong, his first loss as a mixed martial artist puts him at 2-1 in the sport.
Rashad Evans returned to action for the first time since his retirement in 2018 in the co-main event of Eagle FC 44.
Entering as an underdog against the little-known Gabriel Checco, the former UFC light heavyweight champion found his groove early. If there was any rust, it seemed to have been shaken off by the second round. While Evans ate an early spinning high kick, he got Checco on the mat early in the frame. After avoiding a few leg locks, “Suga” moved to side control. Checco would briefly turn the tables, and went after a heel hook later in the round, but Evans had plenty of top time.
The third round opened with an Evans front kick, followed by a right hand. Checco wound up stunned, going to the ground with Evans looking to take the back. Checco went back to his leg lock game, but Evans was having none of it, and was soon back in side control. His control time would earn him the decision win on all three scorecards.
Following the fight, the 42-year old Evans said the key to his return was finding love for the sport again. And he’s looking to fight again moving forward, promising he’d be in better shape for the next outing.
Earlier in the night, an early onslaught from Cody Gibson had things looking dicey for fellow UFC alum Ray Borg. But Borg would survive the storm, and fall back on a solid gas tank to mount an impressive comeback. By the third round, he had Gibson on his back, battered and bloodied. Borg did just about everything he could to find the finish, landing elbows and hammerfists and briefly moving to mount. While he couldn’t put Gibson away in the end, he did take the unanimous decision victory in the bantamweight fight.
Full results from Friday’s Eagle FC 44 card can be found here.