Fight Festival 31 offered a long and entertainment night for the fight fans on the 1st of October at the Töölö Sports Hall in Helsinki, Finland. Even though most of the fights on the card went to distance, the night was filled with exciting back-n-forth battles between evenly matched fighters.
In the main event UFC veterans in Lucio Linhares and Kenny Robertson were hunting for their ticket back to the biggest show on the planet. Early in the round Robertson landed a heavy right on the jaw of Linhares but the Brazilian born Finn pressed forward with punches. Linhares was able to crack Robertson with couple shots of his own but the American countered with takedowns. In the closing seconds of the fighters round when the fighters broke off from a clinch situation, Robertson exploded with a spinning back fist that landed clean on Linhares and knock him out cold. A spectacular win for the high school teacher from Illinois whom we’ll probably see soon back in the UFC.
In the co-main event Finnish lightweight powerhouse Niko Puhakka take on Xtreme Couture’s very experienced John Gunderson. Gunderson started strong landing a quick combo and took Puhakka down where he was able the Finn’s back. Puhakka kept his calm and defended well. In the second round the momentum switched to Puhakka’s side who was able to get dominant position on the ground and land strikes. Puhakka also had Gunderson in a very tight looking anaconda choke but the American did an awesome job defending the choke. In the final round Puhakka was able to set the pace as Gunderson begun to fade away. After three rounds of grueling ground fighting, the judges awarded Puhakka with an unanimous decision. This was probably Puhakka’s biggest win ever so it’ll be interesting to see where his next fight will take place.
In the light heavyweight bout Finnish top prospect Marcus “Caveman” Vänttinen dominated France’s Malid Merak. Vänttinen was clearly the stronger fighter and took his opponent down easily from the clinch. On the ground the long limbed Frenchman quickly tried to apply a kimura on Vänttinen but the Finn tucked his hand deep and punished Merak for the rest of the round. In the second round Vänttinen again took his opponent down from the clinch and started raining down elbows and punches. Eventually Vänttinen moved to mount and hit Merak with couple of horrendous elbows that cut and possibly broke something in Merak’s face, leaving him no choice but to tap out. In the post fight interview Vänttinen announced that he has signed with the Bellator and will participate to promotion’s Light Heavyweight Tournament that starts in early 2012. Excellent news for the talented young Finn but also for the whole Finnish MMA scene that has had some trouble getting its top fighters to major promotions.
Finnish JP Vainikainen and American Steve Lopez fought a draw in an exciting lightweight bout. Lopez scored points early by taking Vainikainen down and spinning to his back but Vainikainen but the young Finn defended skillfully. In the second and third round Vainikainen was able to hit Lopez with heavy shots and the American was in survival mode for latter part of the fight. Few seconds left in the fight Lopez broke the rules by upkicking grounded Vainikainen from the bottom and received a yellow card from the ref. The fight was scored as a draw which was a bit controversial considering Lopez’s yellow card. After the fight Vainikainen's team issued an official protest about the decision. The protest was then processed by the Finnish MMA Federation's jury (five judges) who re-evaluated the fight under FMMAF rules. The jury decided that Vainikainen won the fight based on effective striking, aggression and the point deduction to Lopez.
Another controversial draw decision was ruled in the welterweight fight between Bellator signee Janne Tulirinta and France’s Sebastien Garguier. The fight was real slugfest where both fighters were landing heavy shots on the feet without backing up an inch. The Frenchman got the better of the striking exchange after Tulirinta, who had been sick the week before the fight, begun to gas out. The majority of the crowd seemed to think that Garguier won the fight but the judges thought otherwise and the fight was declared as a draw.
Finnish featherweight prospect Joni Salovaara extended his winning streak to seven consecutive wins by beating Jeremy Pender of USA. Salovaara got the better of the striking on the feet and scored numerous takedowns. In the third round Salovaara cracked Pender with a shattering shot and finished the job on the floor with strikes. Salovaara, currently at ranked 10th on the European Featherweight top ten, has improved by leaps and bounds during the last two years. It will be interesting to see if he gets matched up with a big name 145er for his next fight.
Catchweight 80 kg / 178 Lbs: Lucio “Spartan” Linhares (16-6) vs Kenny Robertson (10-1), USA: Robertson by KO R1
Lightweight: Niko Puhakka (24-11) vs John Gunderson (32-11), USA: Puhakka by UD
Light heavyweight: Marcus ”Caveman” Vänttinen (21-3) vs Malid Merak (11-7), France: Vänttinen by TKO R2.
Welterweight: Janne Tulirinta (12-3) vs Sebastien Garguier (9-7), France: Draw
Lightweight: Juha-Pekka Vainikainen (17-5) vs Steve Lopez (12-5), USA: Draw
Featherweight: Joni Salovaara (9-4) vs Jeremy Pender (7-2), USA: Salovaara by TKO R3
Bantamweight: Janne Elonen-Kulmala (4-2) vs Donatas Karlonas (2-3), Lithuania: Jamba by UD
Bantamweight: Mikael Silander (2-0) vs Perttu Paatola (2-0): Silander by UD
Kickboxing WAKO European Championship 64,5 kg Jarkko Jussila vs Petar Zivkovic: Zivkovic by split Dec
Muay thai: Jaakko Dahlbacka vs Paulius Sileikis: Sileikis TKO cut R5