There was an obvious lack of enthusiasm around UFC Vegas 45. It wasn’t the fault of the fighters as there were several fights that raised eyebrows of fans. It was more of a burnout as there had been a total of three weekends without a UFC event since Independence Day weekend in the USA at the beginning of July. People were ready for an off-season of sorts and UFC 269 felt like a perfect crescendo to end on. Well, the fighters at UFC Vegas 45 turned out to be one of the more violent cards of the year, a plethora of finishes dotting the list of results, topped by Derrick Lewis doing what Derrick Lewis does: taking his cup out of his shorts and throwing it into the audience. Claiming he doesn’t want five-round fights anymore. And of course, adding another KO to his ledger when he disposed of Chris Daukaus, setting a new UFC record in the process with 13. It was a great way to end the event and the year of 2021. As for a rundown of the rest of the card, here’s the rest of my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: Given how reluctant fighters circling around the top five are to give an opportunity to a fighter looking for their breakout win, the jump from top ten to top five may be the hardest to make in MMA. Thus, all the credit in the world to Belal Muhammad for making the most of the opportunity he got against Stephen Thompson. Aside from a few early strikes from Thompson, Muhammad was in the catbird seat for the entirety of the fight, maintaining constant pressure on Thompson and securing takedown after takedown. It wasn’t an exciting fight, but it was a hell of a showing given Muhammad spent the entirety of his last fight against Demian Maia keeping the feet standing. That type of versatility is exceptionally impressive. It’s hard to deny Muhammad a spot in the top five.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This is a tough spot to pick as Thompson, Raphael Assuncao, and Diego Ferreira are all worthy of consideration. However, I’m going with Ferreira as most already assumed Assuncao was already thought to be a fallen figure and Thompson is directly opposed to the biggest gainer in stock in Belal Muhammad.
In Ferreira’s case, it’s his third consecutive loss, including two finishes. He entered the year as a dark horse candidate as a title contender, entering his contest with Beneil Dariush pretty much at a pick ‘em level. At 36, it’s hard to believe Ferreira is ever going to enter the rankings again at this stage in his career. Hell, it’s reasonable to say he may never get a shot at a ranked opponent again. Even though his three losses – Dariush, Gregor Gillespie, and now Mateusz Gamrot – came against quality competition, none of them were controversial contests in the least. Ferreira is a clear step lower than all of these opponents.
Start Typing a Resume: I wasn’t so sure the UFC should have signed Dustin Stoltzfus of DWCS, but he proved he was a decent signing. Unfortunately for Stoltzfus, none of his showings resulted in victories as he faced three tough opponents in whom there is no shame in losing to. He came thisclose to securing a win in his loss to Gerald Meerschaert, but ultimately he came up short when he didn’t have the stamina to get back to his feet following a heel hook attempt that should have delivered him from the danger Meerschaert was posing on the mat. Instead, Stoltzfus is likely on the outside looking in.
I can see the UFC giving Harry Hunsucker another opportunity, but in two fights in the organization, he has yet to fight a combined three minutes. He doesn’t appear to have the durability to compete with the best heavyweights in the world. Given that, the UFC might be doing him a favor by letting him go, offering a form of protection against himself for his long-term health.
Some may say I’m delusional putting Sijara Eubanks here as she isn’t on a losing streak. However, that would be ignoring that her loss to Melissa Gatto was not just her third in her last four contests, it was the third time she has missed weight in her UFC run. Even if Eubanks isn’t cut, it sure as hell is the last time she’ll be seen at flyweight. It’s a shame given she had potential to be a difference maker in the division. However, she’s also 36 and nothing more than a gatekeeper at bantamweight.
Once it was clear Andre Ewell was about to suffer his third consecutive loss, I figured there was a good chance the lanky featherweight would find his way back into the organization. And then I remembered he’s 33. At one of the higher weight classes, he’d probably be back. At featherweight, it doesn’t seem likely. I’ll be looking for him in Bellator or PFL.
There were a lot a questions around Matt Sayles motivation after it was reported the former featherweight ballooned up to 250-lbs in his two-year hiatus. I’m not going to say he looked terrible returning to 155, but he came out on the short end of the stick due to his willingness to go to the mat with Jordan Leavitt when everyone knows Leavitt is a wiz on the ground. Now sitting at 1-3, it’s hard to see Sayles coming back.
Saved Their Job(s): There is a major asterisks next to Justin Tafa. Yes, the head kick in which he put away Hunsucker was absolutely brutal, one of the most violent I can remember given Hunsucker appeared to fully block it. But Tafa also became the first heavyweight in UFC history to miss weight. Given the upside on Tafa appears limited and there’s no guarantee he’ll even make weight, he could be out the door despite his win. However, given his willingness to throwdown in the type of brawls Uncle Dana has a soft spot for, he could stick around. I don’t know what happens with him, but there’s no doubt his job status is being discussed.
Credit to Charles Jourdain. He knew what the tea leaves were reading. In his post-fight interview, Jourdain admitted he was on the last fight on his contract and he didn’t know if the UFC would want to bring him back with a ho-hum win. He may not have put Ewell away, but he sure as hell tried as hard as he possibly could and put on a dominant performance in the process. Jourdain landed some shots that left many amazed Ewell was still alert. Given Jourdain clearly wants to come back and it’s hard to believe the UFC won’t want him back after that performance, he’ll be around for a while yet.
Jordan Leavitt’s performance coming into this event was quite poor. If he were to replicate a performance like that against Sayles, I think it would have been the last we saw of him. Fortunately for Leavitt, he clearly put in some time in the training room, not looking as lost on the feet as he did against Claudio Puelles. He still has a long way to go, but at least he made progress and was able to get the win doing what he does best: wizardry on the mat.
Never Seen That Before: I’ll admit I had given up on Don’Tale Mayes developing into the skilled big man I believed he had the promise to blossom into the first time I laid eyes on him doing tape study for DWCS. From my perspective, he never appeared to enjoy the sport, making progress something hard to come by. I’m happy to say I was wrong as Mayes has been working hard on his wrestling and turned in a dominant performance against Josh Parisian. Unfortunately, that’s going to be forgotten as the hip thrust attack he performed whilst in the top spot of a north-south position has garnered all sorts of guffaws. I don’t get the feeling the move did much if any damage, but it sure as hell has landed him an eternal spot in MMA gifdom... perhaps even beyond that.
Best WOW Moment: There was no shortage of awesome moments. Lewis putting away Daukaus under a slew of punches. Amanda Lemos’ front kick to the face of Angela Hill. Ricky Simon’s slick boxing combination to down Raphael Assuncao. Tafa’s head kick of Hunsucker. Melissa Gatto crumpling Eubanks with a kick to the liver. Leavitt’s inverted triangle on Sayles. Every single one of them were awesome moments that had me sitting up. Ultimately, I went with Cub Swanson decimating Darren Elkins, turning back the clock to put down one of the most notoriously durable fighters in the first round. I don’t anticipate Swanson going on a run after this win – he is 38 – but these are the type of performances that tend to jump start a win streak. Just sayin’....
Theme of the Night: Given how many spots I talked about as consideration for the best WOW moment, it should be a hell of a tell as there were 10 finishes out of 13 fights on the card. While I still maintain the UFC should have ended the year with a PPV, I can’t say this was the wrong way to end the year either as the violence just continued non-stop. It didn’t break or tie the record for most finishes in an event, but it had the second most ever, which is a hell of a legacy to walk away with.
Bummer of the Night: What proved to be unfortunate for the evening was the UFC didn’t see fit to award more than the customary four Performance Bonuses, despite the extraordinarily high amount of finishes. I’m sure there were some locker room bonuses that were handed out – at the least, I would hope there was – but it doesn’t look like the UFC is willing to bend the rules on the amount of official bonuses unless it’s a numbered event. That’s a major bummer, adding a stigma to the Fight Nights that make it more difficult to sell big names on appearing on a televised event. Rather than having a set amount of bonuses, the UFC should just hand out bonuses on whether the fighters deserve them given the understanding of what constitutes a Performance bonus... even if that meant giving out fewer than the customary four. That obviously wouldn’t be the case here, but more money should have gone around for all the highlights the UFC collected for the night.
The Other Theme of the Night: The other theme of the evening was established Friday when three fighters missed weight in Tafa, Eubanks, and Macy Chiasson. While Tafa got the most heat, Chiasson’s was the most worrying as she missed weight for a featherweight contest when she normally competes at bantamweight. I understand she took the fight on short notice, but it also indicates she didn’t take the weight cut as seriously as she should have given she was fighting up a weight higher than usual.
Most Controversial Decision: There weren’t many decisions on the card, but there was no shortage of outrage on the internet when Lemos was declared the victor over Hill. Lemos certainly won the opening round when she came thisclose to putting away the durable Hill, but she faded hard after that. Hill took advantage of Lemos’ declined output in the second, definitively taking that round. The third was more controversial, most – including myself – giving the round to Hill with a spinning elbow that put Lemos to the mat being the difference. However, upon further review, it looked like Lemos hit the mat due to a slip, the elbow missing. Thus, I don’t believe the decision going in favor of Lemos was nearly as egregious as I originally thought. In fact, I can see it going either way as Lemos landed more than her share of heavy shots in that round. What does make it heartbreaking is the split decision loss puts Hill at 0-4 in split decisions. Is there a more cursed individual when it comes to close decisions than Hill?
Most Confusing Moment: While the contest with Ferreira and Mateusz Gamrot appeared to be at it’s peak, it all the sudden stopped after an innocuous looking knee from Gamrot to the ribs of Ferreira as Ferreira motioned to the referee that he was done. The commentators had no clue what happened and I’m sure the television audience were in the same camp. The knee wasn’t so innocuous. If anything, it should serve as a lesson to fighters to strategically place their punches and kicks in what would appear to be moments of rest as you never know what strikes will end the night.