Heading into the main event of UFC Mexico City, it felt like a good chance we’d walk away from the event with positive vibes. The main card had largely been positive, with Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso turning in a FOTN performance in the co-main event. Instead, a dark cloud emerged over the legacy of this event as the main event ended in a no contest after Yair Rodriguez poked Jeremy Stephens in the eye and he was unable to continue. Understandably, the fans were upset, as was Rodriguez. Hell, so were the viewers at home.
However, that cloud grew darker when the fans began throwing garbage at the cage and Rodriguez threw a temper tantrum. So instead of the potential barnburner Rodriguez and Stephens represented, we ended up with the worst possible outcome. Sigh….
Brandon Moreno: Given I never wanted to see the flyweight division go anywhere, it’s obvious I was against Moreno being released from the UFC when they did cut him loose. His performance against Askar Askarov showed exactly why I – along with many others – felt justified when the UFC eventually decided to keep the division around. Moreno found himself in plenty of sticky situations throughout the first two rounds as Askarov’s technical grappling proved difficult to escape from. Nonetheless, Moreno’s picture can be found in the dictionary under opportunistic, eventually finding his way out of the Russian’s grasp and doing enough damage to potentially steal the round. Moreno’s gas tank proved superior to ensure he took the final round too. In my eyes, it was his most complete UFC performance, proving the youngster is still getting better.
Irene Aldana: I’m not trying to take anything away from Aldana’s performance. She looked amazing, mixing all sorts of strikes into her attack to the body and head. It was a dominant performance. However, before we get too excited, keep in mind that it came against a debuting Vanessa Melo who also missed weight significantly. I’m not saying Aldana didn’t do what she was supposed to do. She absolutely did. I’m saying before we say she’s ready to go up against the best in the division, let’s remember who it was she was beating up.
Steven Peterson: After the opening round of Peterson’s contest with Martin Bravo, I didn’t think he’d end up here. He looked sluggish as Bravo danced circles around him, putting together countless punching combinations. Peterson lucked out when Bravo began to flag under the intense pace he pushed, creating the opening Peterson needed to land a brutal spinning back fist that was violence personified. Bravo went out cold and Peterson secured one of the best KO’s of 2019. Given he had lost three of his four UFC appearances coming in, Peterson badly needed this win. Not only did he get it, he got it in impressive fashion.
Jose Quinonez: While Quinonez didn’t exactly beat an opponent of note, he did put together the type of complete performance we haven’t seen out of him. In some contests, he’s relied on his boxing. In others, he used his size to overwhelm his opposition on the mat. This time, he did a little bit of both. I would have liked to have seen a finish against an opponent as green as Carlos Huachin, but that’s nitpicking given Huachin never came close to scoring a finish of his own.
Kyle Nelson: I feel like I should have known better. Nelson tends to come roaring out of the gate like a lion and Polo Reyes has been showing signs of deterioration. Nelson did what he does, blitzing the native Mexican and securing a standing TKO stoppage as Reyes was out on his feet. There’s still no indication if Nelson has changed things up should the fight go into deeper waters, but this win was encouraging nonetheless, allowing the Canadian to keep his job.
Angela Hill: The complaint about Hill has been her tendency to fade quickly after the first round. While she did slow some after a very strong opening frame, Hill was still able to push a solid pace before scoring on an elbow that opening a cut above Ariane Carnelossi’s eye. It provided Hill her first stoppage win in the UFC and eased the concerns of many about her abilities to remain effective deep into contests. Yes, she slowed, but she also remained effective at a high altitude. I’m still not sold her approach littered with lateral movement is what is best for her, but I also don’t feel quite as critical.
Sergio Pettis: Pettis’ win over Tyson Nam may have been the most Sergio Pettis-like win of his career. There were few if any moments that stood out as Pettis relied heavily on a jab, basic combinations, and low kicks to outpoint the more powerful Tyson Nam. I’ll admit Pettis did try to add some flash with a spinning technique or two, but nothing connected and Pettis still has yet to secure a single stoppage win in his UFC run, making for nine decisions wins in his tenure. While he’d help himself immensely if he were to pick up a win by some other measure than decision at some point, it was more important for him to pick up a win coming off two consecutive losses and that’s what he did.
Paul Craig: Who knew Craig could win a fight without necessitating a miraculous comeback? The gritty Scoty scored on a brutal knee in the clinch that dropped Vinicius Moreira, leading to Craig finishing him off with punches and a RNC. It wasn’t much of a surprise he won, but Craig hasn’t been able to have anything come easy for him recently. I don’t see Craig building too much off this win, but it does ensure he remains in his low level gatekeeping role.
Bethe Correia: I didn’t realize how much I missed Correia’s victory dance until the decision was announced. While there is strong reason to believe Sijara Eubanks would have taken the win had it taken place closer to sea level, it wasn’t. Correia was better conditioned to deal with the thin air and it allowed her to outwork the fading ground fighter over the last two rounds. There was nothing about the performance that screams Correia has made any massive improvements. It just looks like Eubanks underestimated her.
Claudio Puelles: While a major asterisk needs to be placed next to Puelles win over Marcos Mariano, Puelles looked absolutely awesome. Sure, Mariano may be the worst fighter on the entire UFC roster, but Puelles plowed through who the UFC put in front of him and that’s all you can ask of him. Keeping in mind Puelles is still only 23, he could develop into a legit UFC fighter yet.
Herb Dean: It feels like we’re crapping on Herb Dean more than we are singing his praises as of late, but major kudos for his attempts to keep the main event going. Even though there is no official time limit for an eye poke – i.e. the fighters technically shouldn’t get time for an eye poke -- Dean gave five minutes for Stephens to get his eye working properly. Even though it felt like a losing cause from the beginning, credit to him for making the attempt to preserve the contest.
Yair Rodriguez: This has nothing to do with Rodriguez poking Stephens in the eye. It happens. It has everything to do with how he reacted to Stephens being unable to continue. I get being upset that Stephens was unable to continue, but his actions were helping to incite the crowd to pelt Stephens with garbage after he was unable to continue. Dude, what the hell? When interviewed later, he claimed Stephens was faking the injury. Right… Stephens is going to forfeit the opportunity for a win bonus and a potential performance bonus because he’s scared to fight you? I’m not buying it, especially now that Stephens is requesting a rematch. Plus, Stephens has been in the cage with a plethora of killers over his career and has never backed down. Get off your high horse buddy. No need to point fingers in this instance.
Vanessa Melo: I really didn’t want to put Melo here, but she did miss weight by a ridiculous amount. Thus, she ends up here despite taking the contest on short notice and showing a lot of heart and durability. Melo continued to march forward despite Aldana’s constant jabs, combinations, and kicks, refusing to go away. I’ll admit I didn’t see much in terms of physical gifts that would allow her to eventually become a player, but she has the determination to hang around for a while in one of the most shallow divisions in the organization. Nonetheless, that bad weight cut….
Martin Bravo: Bravo’s KO loss was heartbreaking. Needing a win as he entered on a two-fight losing streak, he looked fantastic early, putting together combinations Peterson struggled to keep up with. Bravo slowed a bit in the second round, but continued to go after Peterson. Bravo attempted a spinning back fist and that was all for him as Peterson landed his own and Bravo ended up on the wrong end of a highlight reel. Now with three consecutive losses, Bravo is probably on his way out of the organization. Too bad as this was the best he’s ever looked.
Carlos Huachin: I’m not saying the Peruvian doesn’t have talent. I’m saying he shouldn’t be trying to pick up the experience he badly needs at the UFC level. I get he was a late notice signing for a fight when he made his debut, but Jose Quinonez shouldn’t be winning as comfortably as he did against anyone at the UFC level. Basically, Huachin isn’t UFC caliber. It would be healthier for his career prospects if the UFC let him go and get some seasoning. Otherwise, his confidence could get wrecked.
Polo Reyes: It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Reyes looked like one of the more consistent action fighters on the roster. Now, he appears to be on his way out as he can’t take a punch anymore. Maybe he never could in the first place as Dong Hyun Ma – with whom he had a memorable brawl with at UFC 199 – hasn’t exactly proven to be a colossus of power himself. Regardless, I don’t want to see Reyes in the cage again as I fear his brain taking any more punishment.
Tyson Nam: I’m not of the belief that Nam isn’t going to be a player at flyweight, but I had higher expectations for the upset artist. It felt like he was holding back at times as he was being picked apart by Pettis. I get not wanting to be reckless, but Pettis has never given anyone a reason to respect his power, something Nam has in spades. Nonetheless, Nam did take the fight on short notice. Here’s hoping he can make a hell of an impact in his next showing.
Vinicius Moreira: Three UFC appearances, three UFC losses in the first round. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about the Brazilian’s UFC run as he’s fallen quickly every time he steps in the cage. It’s clear there is a major gap in physical skills between Moreira and the rest of the division, enough so that I don’t think a trip to the regional scene to regain his confidence and pick up some experience would be enough to get him back to the UFC. I can’t help but think this is the last we’ve seen of Moreira in the UFC.
Sijara Eubanks: Remember less than a year ago when Eubanks was briefly scheduled to headline the UFC PPV card in New York? Yeah, we all averted disaster. Eubanks was a sizeable favorite over Correia and proved why with a strong first that was close to being a 10-8 round. Then, as she has been wont to do, she faded. I get that this fight was in Mexico City, but it’s not like the UFC had to change where the fight was taking place at the last moment. Eubanks should have been aware this was a potential problem and made a greater effort to address it. For now, it feels like she’ll never live up to her potential.
Marcos Mariano: Mariano never should have been anywhere near a UFC fight and this proved it. Puelles may not be UFC caliber himself and he completely dominated Anderson Silva’s buddy. I don’t know if Mariano made it due to a negotiation ploy or whatever, but can we at least sign guys who have a modicum of a chance of becoming a deserving roster member? Mariano was never that. Seriously, we don’t see this type of crap in the NBA or NFL. You want to be taken more seriously, start treating your roster spots seriously.
Mexico City Fans: Part of me wants to give them a pass as I get the disappointment of not being able take in the contest the event was sold on. But when it comes down to it, there’s never a good excuse to throw debris at performers on stage, whether actors or athletes. Even worse, they did it because the fighter suffered an injury and was unable to continue. Even if it’s easy to understand their disappointment, there’s no excuse for that.
Jeremy Stephens: A part of me believed it was more appropriate to label Stephens a loser coming out of this event. He was unable to participate fully in the main event due to the eye poke and it appears there could be some serious consequences from the injury. But… I don’t have it in my heart to place blame on him for this. He did nothing wrong and got pelted with debris by the Mexico City fans. He certainly feels down given all that has played out – and he may be a loser in the long-term should the eye injury prove serious – but I’m not going that far yet.
Carla Esparza: It feels wrong to put Esparza here. She fought a hell of a fight against Alexa Grasso, winning the first two rounds with a brilliant strategy. Then the third round came around and nothing went right for her. Even when she escaped from a DEEP armbar, it looked like she dislocated her elbow in the process. The toughness Esparza showed in the process was 100% that of a badass, making it to the bell serving as a hell of an accomplishment. But she also emerged from that fight the worse for wear. For full disclosure, I scored the fight a draw, though I’m not going to say Esparza winning was a robbery. I can see the scorecards going either way. But the perception of Esparza walking away from this contest doesn’t feel very rosy.
Alexa Grasso: Credit to Grasso for fighting back from losing the first two rounds to come thisclose to securing a finish. Her pursuit of a finish when it felt like she was behind two rounds was the type of effort we’d like to see out of more fighters in that type of situation. However, her inability to stop Esparza’s takedowns also is what led to that hole. It’s not like she arbitrarily started the contest from behind. Nonetheless, Grasso comes out of the event looking better than Esparza – figuratively and literally. Though it isn’t as big of a bump as many believed it would be for her heading into the event, her trajectory is still on the upward.
Askar Askarov: There was a part of me that wanted to put Askarov in the winner’s column. He was a part of one of, if not the best, fight of the evening. Plus, it’s not like he lost. However, Askarov also lost his early dominant positions and gassed in the high elevation. Basically, he let the win slip away from his grasp. Still there was a lot to like in his performance, showing some excellent grappling in a division more known for its scrambling. Not to say he didn’t have some scrambling, but I have to point out what impressed me. It’ll be fun to see what he can do.
Ariane Carnelossi: I liked enough of what I saw out of Carnelossi to not consider her showing a complete loss. Throw in that she took the contest on short notice and I decided I couldn’t label her a loser. Attempting to bully Hill around the cage ala former champion Jessica Andrade, Carnelossi had a few nice moments. Not that she was winning the contest at any point, but it did convince me she could be a fun action fighter in the deepest of the women’s divisions. At 26, there’s still time for her to work out many of the kinks she showed in her performance here.