Given the lack of depth and early start to the card, UFC Vegas 39 largely flew under the radar of casuals. The main event saw Marina Rodriguez upend submission specialist Mackenzie Dern, taking four of the five rounds of the fight by a comfortable margin. The lone exception was the second round, which saw Dern get the fight to the mat early in the round and demonstrate exactly why she’s considered to be the standard for ground work in women’s MMA. While the rest of the card was passable – none of the fights induced narcolepsy – passable doesn’t make for a great card if that’s the only thing being served. Here’s a rundown of the card with my Unofficial Awards....
For an audio review of the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: The obvious choice is Rodriguez, but there’s a wide swathe of those who follow the sport who weren’t surprised she delivered victory as the underdog. The second round was scary as Dern had over four minutes of control – exhibiting exactly why she was the favorite – but the rest of the contest went pretty much how everyone thought it would. It all came down to whether one believed Dern would find a sub when the fight hit the mat. She didn’t, thus the outcome we got. However, without any other major breakthrough performances paired with Rodriguez’s constant underappreciation from fans from fans, she fits the slot here. After all, there’s now a good-sized contingent of fans who want to see Rodriguez face Joanna Jedrzejczyk next, myself included. At the beginning of the year, no one was thinking about that fight.
Biggest Fall in Stock: As much as I hate picking stock risers and fallers from the same fight, I don’t have a choice. Dern has been getting criticized badly for her striking performance. A lot of it is warranted, but not all of it. Regardless, the loss shows having a transcendent grappling game can only take one so far if they don’t have a consistent way to get the fight where they want. In other words, I’d say Dern’s lack of wrestling is more troubling than her striking. Regardless of what I think, it’s a good reminder that it’s foolish to expect Dern to submit every single one of her opponents just because the fight hit the mat. Dern will take a step – maybe two – back and she if she can iron out her wrinkles in much the same way she did following her loss to Amanda Lemos. Her stock has taken a hit, but she’ll be back.
Start Typing a Resume: If the UFC cuts loose Sabina Mazo after two losses in a row, I think they’re making a mistake. That said, I can see them doing it with all of the new DWCS members jumping onto the roster. Bodies need to be cleared out to make room for them. At 24, Mazo has plenty of time to develop into a contender. Admittedly, she hasn’t looked great in those two losses, but she’s already flashed all sorts of potential. It would be foolish to cut her loose at this point.
I’m not positive it’ll happen, but I’d probably guess Charlie Ontiveros is on his way out the door. He only made it to the roster as a very late notice replacement, not having the resume of someone who is going to turn themselves into a roster mainstay. Given he hurt Steve Garcia on several occasions, he may have shown enough to maintain his spot, but he wilted under the GnP from Garcia for a loss.
Saved Their Job(s): I’ll get into it some more a bit later, but Mariya Agapova needed her win over Mazo in the worst way. After being on the losing end of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, her reputation was on the line as well.
I’m sure there are some that disagree with me, but I’m not so sure the UFC would have kept the youthful Lupita Godinez around if she fell to newcomer Silvana Gomez Juarez. Godinez took all the mystery out of that possibility, bullying Juarez around in the short amount of time the fight lasted, ultimately finding an armbar. I’m not as high on Godinez as some others are, but I won’t deny she stands a fantastic chance of evolving into a fun action fighter.
Garcia was in a similar situation to Ontiveros. He made the roster as a short notice replacement, but Garcia’s resume was more akin to a prospect who was on his way upwards. Of course, Garcia has been dealing with some health issues, so he hadn’t been seen for 19 months. Fortunately, Garcia appears to have those issues behind him and showed a ton of resilience, eating some heavy shots from Ontiveros before coming back for the win. Defense is an issue, but Garcia looks like he’ll be a fun action fighter for a while.
Biggest WOW Moment: While the card was pretty good from an entertainment standpoint, there weren’t a lot of single moments. That said, I’d have to say the front kick from Randy Brown to the face of Jared Gooden was the biggest eye-opener on the card. Gooden was wobbled badly, but did recover. However, Brown acknowledged in his post-fight interview with Paul Felder that kick dislocated his toe, giving him mobility issues throughout the rest of the contest.
Never Seen That Before: Amidst Dern’s dominant second round, she ended up entangling the arm of Rodriguez in her legs. That happens commonly, used to apply a crucifix position. But in a spark of creativity and ridiculous skill, Dern attempted to hyperextend Rodriguez’s arm in an armbar. With her legs. Think about that for a second. Sure, it proved unsuccessful, not really coming close to succeeding, but I saw enough of it to think it’s plausible to work. Unlikely, but plausible.
Never Seen That Before... with a Caveat: Every fiber in my being tells me I’ve seen an axe kick completed on a standing opponent in MMA. I just can’t remember when. Well, I couldn’t remember when prior to Ontiveros landing the one that gave Garcia a terrible case of stanky leg. Even though I’m guessing Ontiveros will be cut loose, the axe kick would be reason enough to keep him around in my mind. Of course, it isn’t up to me....
Redeemed: Agapova received a lot of crap for her loss to Shana Dobson. While the oddsmakers in the fight had no business making her a 15-1 favorite, she was and ended up a laughingstock as a result. Having issues with the law and getting booted out of ATT didn’t help things out, but Agapova showed some real maturity in disposing of Mazo. In fact, she came thisclose to taking the Biggest Jump award, the general lack of public awareness of how good Rodriguez is/was being the thing to push her over the top.
Bad Read: I’m hard-pressed to think of another coach I’d recommend higher than James Krause if I weren’t to know anything about the fighter. However, I’m of the opinion Krause made a huge mistake when he told Tim Elliott he was up two rounds. Rather than go for it in the final round, Elliott was more in survival mode. The best instance of that is Elliott wasn’t showing any urgency to get back to his feet when Matheus Nicolau put him on his back in the final minutes. That very well may have cost Elliott the fight. Given Elliott has stated he does his best with a corner giving him constant direction, it might have served him well if Krause had simply said he didn’t know who took the second round. To Krause’s credit, he did come out and claim he made a mistake... all the more reason why he’s one of the best coaches in the sport.
Righting the Ship: Agapova wasn’t the only prospect who came into the event coming off a disappointing showing, though her’s was by far the most notable. Godinez and Alexandr Romanov were in need of an impressive win in the worst way too. All three of them not only secured definitive wins, they delivered definitive finishes that set them back on the course of prospects worth watching. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of them will be fighting for the title some day, but could I see them breaking into the top ten of their respective divisions? Absolutely. Only time will tell.
Nothing More than a Paycheck: Can someone tell me what Chris Gutierrez and Randy Brown gained in their wins? Both were heavily favored in their fights, so much so they didn’t make any gains in the standings with the win. The win for Gutierrez extended his unbeaten streak to six, though none of the names he’s beaten in that time are standout names. In Brown’s case, he entered the event coming off a win over Alex Oliveira, not to mention wins over Bryan Barberena and Warlley Alves previous to that. No disrespect to Gooden, but he isn’t as established as any of those names. If this was a short notice fight – and I mistakenly thought it was based on the quality of it – it would be acceptable. As for Gutierrez, I’m just used to the UFC disrespecting him. I’d much prefer these fights be more than just paychecks for the participants, but given that’s what these guys do to feed their family, sometimes it’s what they’ve got to do.
Notable Accomplishment: For the first time in UFC history, all of the Performance Bonuses went to women, Dern and Rodriguez getting FOTN with Agapova and Godinez taking the other $50K bonuses. Don’t expect it to be the last time. Given it’s still a distance behind men’s MMA in it’s evolution, WMMA has more room for growth, both in terms of quality and in the number of participants who could join in the near future.
Appropriately Seasonal: If you don’t like blood, MMA isn’t the sport for you. And I’m not talking about a little bit from the nose or whatever. I’m talking about it gushing out. I’ll admit those type of situations don’t happen with every event — much less, every fight — but there are times where it looks like Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers executed their craft in the cage. Fortunately for Damon Jackson, the doctor allowed him to continue after an elbow from Charles Rosa opened up a faucet above his eye, a surprising development in my eyes as I was sure the fight was going to be stopped. Take a look for yourself.