UFC 257 was the first PPV of the new year for the UFC and it most certainly delivered something new. With most expecting 2021 to start in the same fashion as 2020 – with Conor McGregor delivering an emphatic KO in the main event – it was a hell of a shock to the system when the former two-division champion was on the receiving end of a KO for the first time in his career. It was at the hands of Dustin Poirier, someone McGregor had easily disposed of several years prior. Consistently attacking McGregor’s lead leg to weaken his base eventually paid off as Poirier caught McGregor flat and unleashed hell when he noticed McGregor was hurt.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Given where Poirier’s standing in the sport was coming into the event, there was two people he could have beat to get the jump in stock that could launch him into superstardom. One of them, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is retired for the moment. The other is the man he beat, McGregor. He may not get the rub Khabib and Nate Diaz did when they beat Mystic Mac, but Poirier guaranteed he’ll be fighting for the title when the UFC decides to take the belt off Khabib.
Others of note were Michael Chandler’s successful UFC debut, KOing the durable Dan Hooker in the first round. Joanne Calderwood put herself back in title talks, as did Juliana Pena. Basically, there were many wins that could prove to be launching pads from the night.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Some may think McGregor deserves to be here, but his legend is established and isn’t going anywhere. He’s still the money man everybody wants to stand opposite of in the Octagon.
I’ll go with Hooker. He did have a blood and guts battle against Poirier last year, but getting violently disposed of in the first round is not a good aesthetic. Plus, he did lose that battle with Poirier. He isn’t going to drop out of the top ten, but he’s not going to be fighting anyone in the top five any time soon. He’s probably going to be in gatekeeping role unless he can quickly string together another long winning streak. That’s going to be difficult. Jessica Eye has put herself in a similar situation, but the road back at women’s flyweight doesn’t appear to be as crowded at the top as lightweight. Then again, she also has a loss to the division’s champion….
Best Newcomer: A rarity in the age of COVID, there were no newcomers for UFC 257. So… yeah. Moving on….
Start Typing a Resume: It isn’t because Nik Lentz is at the bottom of the barrel. It’s that he has lost three in a row and has a fairly high price tag given he’s been around for over a decade. For the purpose of clarity, there’s no shame in losses to Charles Oliveira, Arnold Allen, and now Movsar Evloev. Oliveira and Allen are ranked and Evloev will be before the year is out. But three consecutive losses is still three consecutive losses, especially for someone who doesn’t draw eyeballs. It’s no guarantee Lentz will be let go, but the UFC has let go of better talents in recent months that had similar stretches.
Saved Their Job: Few believed Marcin Prachnio deserved a fourth opportunity after coming up empty in his first three tries, but he got the job done against Khalil Rountree. It was a close contest that could have reasonably gone to Rountree, but the only thing that matters to Prachnio is that he’s still employed.
Biggest WOW Moment: Has to be Poirier’s KO over McGregor. It wasn’t necessarily the most stylistic KO, but you can’t help but drop your jaw when the biggest star in the history of the sport gets KO’d for the first time in his career. McGregor remaining on the mat as long as he did only added to the moment. However, I can’t just leave it at that….
Both Chandler and Hooker were being patient to the point fans were getting anxious for something to happen besides a body shot or a calf kick a single shot at a time. Chandler finally followed up one of his body shots with a POWERFUL left hook to the face that dropped the durable Hooker and finished him off with several more shots. Chandler needed a WOW moment to launch him into title talks and he got it.
Cure for Insomnia: It felt like a throwback to 15 years ago when Antonio Carlos Junior’s only course of fighting was pursuing takedowns. Brad Tavares had fleeting moments of offense, but it was wall-and-stall for most of the fight, leading to many nodding heads jerking themselves back into consciousness.
Never Seen That Before: The obvious answer is saying we’ve never seen McGregor get KO’d before, but that’s a cop out. I’ve seen fighters stop delivering blows after they think the fight is over when the ref hasn’t called the fight. But the manner in which Marina Rodriguez not only walked away, but argued with both Amanda Ribas and Herb Dean that the fight had been stopped before officially finishing the fight with a couple more hard strikes was very unique.
Best Callout: While Julianna Pena’s callout of Amanda Nunes was done with confidence, she still has some work to do to get the title shot she is calling for. Nunes responded as such just minutes after the callout. Regardless, always smart to plant a seed, giving her an honorable mention.
The best callout goes to Chandler, rattling off McGregor and Poirier before finally getting to the reigning champion, Khabib. He did it with enthusiasm and pizzazz too, evoking Ric Flair’s famous “Tear in my eye” promo from the 1992 Royal Rumble. While I doubt he gets any of those three next – McGregor would make the most sense of the three at the moment — Chandler made all the right moves.
Best/Worst Referee Call: Is Herb Dean to blame for the debacle with Rodriguez and Ribas? I’m not so sure, but many think he’s to blame. He did get very close to the action, but he never pulled Rodriguez off. He did start to move forward to separate them, but paused before completing the action. Showing my age, it reminds me of the Tuck Rule all the way back in 2001 with Tom Brady. Does that count as an incomplete pass or a fumble? Does that count as an attempted stoppage or did Herb stop himself in time? Had Rodriguez continued to swing away, I’m sure Herb would have finished the action in another second or two, but we’ll never know for sure at this point. Regardless, it was easily the most controversial call of the night.
Diamond in the Rough: Amir Albazi isn’t getting a lot of attention as flyweight isn’t the sexiest weight class. However, the 27-year old has two UFC wins against more experienced opposition. It’s still too early to say he looks like a future title contender, but those in the know will be keeping a steady eye on him. Evloev and Arman Tsarukyan deserve consideration here too, but they’re more established than Albazi, meaning they aren’t quite as much in the rough.
Best Comeback: Poirier definitely dropped the first round, but was it enough to call it a comeback? Probably. Regardless, that fight has gotten enough love and will for years after, I’m going a different direction. After definitively losing the opening round and maybe even the second, Pena dug deep and managed to overwhelm a fading Sara McMann in the final round with an RNC. Even though she may have been able to pull out the decision, it’s always best to guarantee the job gets done with a finish.
Biggest Cluster F@#k: The UFC raised the prices of PPV’s – again – to $70. Then Uncle Dana makes a big stink about how the UFC is going to be cracking down on illegal streamers. Come time for the PPV to start… and thousands of people who bought the PPV legally are unable to view the fights. I don’t know who is to blame – ESPN, UFC, Amazon, Apple, etc. – but – fair or not — it’s being reflected on the UFC. I’m glad I wasn’t working customer service for ESPN+.