It would have been foolish to expect UFC Moscow to turn out as well as UFC 228 did last week. There were certainly a few contests that fell flat in the UFC’s debut in Russia, but there were also a few pleasant surprises. Alexei Oleinik emerged the victor over Mark Hunt in the battle of AARP applicants. Jan Blachowicz continued his improbable run. Magomed Ankalaev reestablished himself as a hot prospect. Last, but not least, out of all the contests on the card, it was Petr Yan and Jin Soo Son who stole the evening with an absolute barnburner. If you don’t recognize either name, you’re in good company.
There weren’t as many clear-cut winners and losers on this card, several combatants who walked away with a W appearing in the loser’s column. In fact, there were more than a few head scratching performances/moments. Despite that, UFC Moscow has to be an overall success walking away.
Alexei Oleinik: Is it possible Oleinik could be in a title eliminator in his next contest? You better believe it’s possible. The 41-year-old may very well be the worst athlete on the entire roster. Yet after all the years of competition, all of the experience he has acquired, Oleinik knows all the tricks in the book and utilizes all of those he’s capable of to secure victory after victory. Granted, there wasn’t anything particularly savvy about his takedown and submission of Hunt, but that also doesn’t take away anything from what Oleinik was able to accomplish.
One thing Oleinik blew: his post-fight interview. He should have called out the likes of Stipe Miocic. Would he have received that fight? Probably not. Imagine if he did get it and somehow found a way to submit the former champion. It would be hard to deny him a title shot at that point. Given Oleinik’s age, they’d be wise to put him on a fast track to the top. Just saying….
Jan Blachowicz: While I’m disappointed Blachowicz utilized a smothering attack that deprived us of a classic Nikita Krlyov contest, the Pole deserves all the credit in the world for picking up his fourth straight win. It was a calculating performance from someone who very well could have been one loss away from being cut just a year ago. Now, he may have the best case for a title shot. While it says more about the sad state of the division than it does about Blachowicz himself, I don’t want to rain on his impressive run. Blachowicz is a legit contender at this point.
Khalid Murtazaliev: There are plenty of holes in Murtazaliev’s attack, but he also showed loads of physicality and potential as he outmuscled CB Dollaway around the cage. Perhaps most encouraging was the kicking arsenal he put on display. If he can focus his energy in a better way moving forward, Murtazaliev could be a keeper.
Petr Yan and Jin Soo Son: I had to pair these two together after the barnburner they put on. I don’t even care that Son missed weight… though I’m sure he cared once Yan earned $50K for FOTN. Son caught everyone by surprise with his early attack, providing an argument he won each of the first two rounds. Even crazier was Son’s reaction every time Yan landed a jab or hook as the Korean smiled incessantly every time. He was enjoying it! Some may believe Yan’s stock took a hit as he was unable to put away the newcomer, but those people either weren’t watching or paying attention. Yan’s pace picking up in the final round and laid the punishment on THICK. Son just wouldn’t go away. Believe it or not, the bantamweight has another young stud to add to their stable.
Magomed Ankalaev: Ankalaev’s head kick finish of Marcin Prachnio may have been the most impressive KO of the evening, but that isn’t the only reason he belongs in this column. His composure in the cage following the first loss of his career was impressive. There was no panic, no nervousness… just a steel gaze in his eyes as looked to accomplish his mission. Ankalaev should not only be back in the good graces of analysts, they should absolutely be excited about his future.
Jordan Johnson: It’s obvious now why so many people wanted Johnson to drop to middleweight for a while now. There wasn’t a moment where Johnson wasn’t winning, manhandling Adam Yandiev and coming close to finishing him several times in the first round before doing so early in the second. Now that he’s no longer smaller than his opposition, Johnson’s wrestling is going to be tough for the middleweight division.
Merab Dvalishvili: Far from the most exciting contest on the card, Dvalishvili was fine with that as it it could be argued it was the most dominant. The only reason Dvalishvili didn’t score more takedowns is he was able to hold Terrion Ware down for long chunks of time, delivering consistent GnP to open the evening. In the process, Dvalishvili ensured he’ll be on the roster for at least a few more fights.
UFC: The action in the cage was mixed, but the reception from the fans in Russia was awesome. I can’t say what it was that kept the UFC from debuting in Russia sooner, but it should be clear that they should have made a greater effort to touch down there sooner. It picked up a few nice additions to the roster in the process. Then again, they may have paid too high of a price for this….
Mark Hunt: The longtime fan favorite doesn’t appear to have lost any of his power, but there is definitely something missing from him that he possessed just a few years ago. Is it competitive spirit? Has he slowed a step? I can’t quite put my finger on it. Nonetheless, it’s clear Hunt is no longer the top contender that he was for years. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the Aussie is now 44, but it’s difficult to accept nonetheless given the ageless quality the heavyweight division seemed to have to it. Hunt has one fight left on his contract. The question at this point is whether he’ll look to hold out for a high profile contest or if he just accepts the first opponent the UFC offers him.
Shamil Abdurakhimov and Andrei Arlovski: Much like Yan and Son shouldn’t be separated for their awesome performance, Abdurakhimov and Arlovski shouldn’t be separated for their disastrous performance. Largely a staring contest with the occasional takedown, neither looked like they wanted to be there. Abdurakhimov may have escaped with the win, but he may have damaged his stock in the process. It isn’t like he had a reputation as an exciting fighter before this. He’d be wise to get back in the cage as soon as possible to erase this from everyone’s memory.
I’ll defend Arlovski from the calls of retirement. For one, he clearly suffered a broken nose, likely leading to his tentative performance. Plus, it isn’t like he hasn’t put forth lackluster fights for a long time. Remember his third contest with Tim Sylvia at UFC 61? I’m sorry if you do. How about Frank Mir at UFC 191? Arlovski has these crap performances from time to time. Unfortunately, they’re part of the Arlovski package.
Thiago Alves: Alves’ performance wasn’t terrible. There was an argument he deserved the decision, though I’m not going to make it. However, tentative point fighting contests he like the one he put on with Alexey Kunchenko are painful reminders that Alves is no longer the wrecking machine who blazed a violent path to a title shot at UFC 100. Alves doesn’t have much left in the tank. There are a few wins out there he can snatch up, but there aren’t very many interested in seeing those contests.
CB Dollaway: Did Dollaway owe Herb Dean money or something? The veteran referee allowed Murtazaliev to land almost a full minute of unnecessary offense before the round expired. To the surprise of no one, Dollaway couldn’t stand afterwards, prompting Dean to FINALLY call the fight. Dollaway simply doesn’t have the athleticism or durability that once allowed him to crawl his way into the top ten of the division. I don’t think this was his last appearance, but it won’t be long before that day arrives.
Rustam Khabilov: Khabilov may have six straight wins, but he didn’t deserve the decision against Kajan Johnson. Once again, he was a victim of his inactivity, stalking the Canadian around the cage without much effort. The UFC has decidedly proven they prefer style over substance and every one of Khabilov’s wins over the course of that streak have been lethargic decisions. Even if he did the UFC a favor in beating Johnson, Khabilov didn’t do himself any favors.
Kajan Johnson: I know I predicted Johnson wasn’t getting another fight in the UFC following his last loss, but there are more reasons to feel confident in that prediction this time around. This was Johnson’s last fight on his contract. He reported the UFC said they would offer him a new contract if he won. While most watching the fight would agree Johnson was the better man in the cage, he wasn’t awarded the decision thanks to some home cooking for Khabilov. It’s a shame this likely marks the end of the road for the outspoken Johnson.
Mairbek Taisumov: Perhaps surprising for many to see Taisumov here, but all of the momentum he built up came to a crashing halt, even if he was the one who had his hand raised in the end. First, he BADLY missed weight, coming in a 161. Then, his streak of KO/TKO finishes was snapped at five in a boring chess match with Desmond Green. Being unable to put away Green doesn’t lend a lot of credence to his claim of being a top ten fighter. I can’t help but wonder how much urgency the UFC has to get him over to the USA now.
Marcin Prachnio: Prachnio wasn’t nearly as reckless against Ankalaev as he was against Sam Alvey, but the result ended up the same: Prachnio sleeping in the middle of the cage. The karateka doesn’t appear to have the skills to compete in the UFC. Given he’s fighting in the most shallow division in the UFC – unless you count women’s featherweight as an actual division -- that’s a damning statement.
Adam Yandiev: Wasn’t Yandiev supposed to be uber-strong? Admittedly, I’m being harsh on the newcomer as no one believed he had the technical wrestling to hang with Johnson on the ground. What no one expected was Yandiev to produce no significant offense. Yandiev may have had the worst night of all the Russians on the card.
Terrion Ware: Ware saved his worst for last. He had been competitive in each of his previous UFC appearances, even if it was clear he was going to come out on the short end of the stick. He had nothing to offer Dvalishvili in this fight, spending most of his time on his back. It doesn’t look like he’s ever going to pick up a win in the UFC as I struggle to see him getting a fifth opportunity to do so.
Herb Dean: Dean has made some egregious refereeing blunders before, but his refusal to stop the Murtazaliev-Dollaway fight ranks right up there with the worst of them. There wasn’t a person in the arena who believed Dollaway had anything left in the tank. An error like that warrants some sort of discipline, perhaps a suspension. Alas, don’t expect that to happen.
UFC: Yes, I know I’ve listed them in the winner’s column. However, I couldn’t put them in the neither category given the starkness of reasons for why they’d be winners and losers. It wasn’t hard to spot Ramzan Kadyrov in the front row of stands. The Head of the Chechen Republic is well known for his human rights abuses to his people, including murder and torture. Perhaps the UFC did pay too high of a price to make their landing in Russia….
Alexey Kunchenko: Not the type of debut many were expecting out of the undefeated Russian. It wasn’t necessarily a bad performance – he did get a win after all – but his reputation as an exciting fighter took a bit of a hit. He didn’t make an effort to finish the fight until the halfway through the final round, settling for a point fight with Thiago Alves. People aren’t going to remember this performance moving forward.
Desmond Green: Given the circumstances surrounding him, Green put forth an incredible performance. He made Taisumov look human in the process, becoming the first person to go the distance with the Russian in over four years. However, despite the commentary team’s best efforts to convince everyone otherwise, he lost a clear decision. Until Green begins following up on his single strikes, he’ll never be more than a gatekeeper.
Stefan Sekulic: It says something about how low the expectations for Sekulic were when he loses a clear decision without being truly competitive at any point and he doesn’t end up in the loser column. By all appearances heading into the contest, Sekulic was going to get trucked by Ramazan Emeev. While there were shaky moments, Sekulic showed more skill than was expected. I’m not sold on him being a mainstay yet, but I like his chances more after this.
Ramazan Emeev: Emeev needed to make a statement. He almost did, coming close to securing a first round finish. Almost doesn’t cut it though. Emeev’s wrestling and power are proficient enough that he could make some noise at welterweight. He’s too passive though and the UFC won’t give him the push he deserves if he doesn’t start putting away his opponents. Given Sekulic was a short notice opponent, this was probably the best opportunity for him to do it. Ouch.