With UFC 258 – and the organization’s first title defense of the year – in the books, it’s time to look back at the event from a less traditional point of view. Some of the categories are fairly traditional. Some not so much. Regardless, I’m here to hand out awards to those who participated in the event in a way that offers a largely comprehensive rundown of the event. Here we GO…!
Biggest Jump in Stock: This is always one of the hardest categories to figure out, but it was simple this time. Anthony Hernandez’s UFC career had been largely underwhelming going into the event, coming in at 1-2. He was a very large underdog to grappling ace Rodolfo Vieira, one of the more hyped prospects in the UFC. Hernandez endured a rough opening, being dominated for the first half of the round. He got the win and while there is more to it than just getting the win, I’ll get into the details of that a little bit later.
An honorable mention has to go to Kamaru Usman. He was already seen as a dominant champion, but overcoming a slow start to demoralize Gilbert Burns in the manner he did was on an otherworldly level. GSP has long been considered the GOAT at welterweight. It doesn’t look like it will be long before Usman wrests that title from him.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Many are probably expecting me to put Vieira in this spot and there’s a lot of sound reasoning behind the thought. As a hyped prospect who was a heavy favorite, his loss to Hernandez was a major upset. However, it was also Vieira’s first loss and it’s important not to put too much stock into a fighter’s first loss. If he doesn’t appear to learn anything from this loss in his next contest, then you begin worrying.
That’s what appears to be case for Maycee Barber. Granted, Barber deserves some leeway as she was also coming off a long injury layoff, but she lost a high-profile contest against Alexa Grasso the UFC seemed to expect Barber to win. Perhaps the UFC deserves more blame than Barber as they didn’t seem to give her a proper step backwards coming off her first career loss to Roxanne Modafferi, but Barber is the one paying the price. I’m not saying Barber is a bust, nor am I saying she won’t be a future title contender. I’m saying she’s not going to have the spotlight on her for a while… and that may not be a bad thing.
Best Newcomer: A part of me wonders why I keep including this category when there haven’t been many newcomers as of late, but that will be changing shortly! As it is, Phil Rowe was the only newcomer on the card and didn’t do anything to embarrass himself in a close losing effort to Gabe Green. He came thisclose to securing the win with his smarts despite a leg injury. He doesn’t look like a future contender, but he has the looks of someone who could be a mainstay.
Start Typing a Resume: It’s hard to find a more heartbreaking case as it was arguably the most impressive performance of Maki Pitolo’s career, but he came up short in the end. It’s hard to justify keeping him around after a 1-4 run, especially when several of those losses felt like they could have/should have gone his way. Perhaps he can make his way back….
Saved Their Job: The UFC would have you believe Kelvin Gastelum belongs here, but they weren’t going to cut him if he lost his fourth contest in a row unless he really crapped the bed. There’s no shame in losing to Israel Adesanya, Darren Till, or Jack Hermansson, the men Gastelum fell to before righting his ship against Ian Heinisch.
The UFC had a long period of holding on to fighters who lost their first two contests, but they haven’t been as lenient as of late. I think they would have held onto Gabe Green anyway, but there was the possibility. The same could be said of Hernandez, but we’ll get to that right about….
Biggest WOW Moment: NOW! Hernandez was getting schooled for the first half of the opening round of his contest with BJJ expert Vieira. However, Vieira couldn’t get the finish and gassed HARD. Hernandez not only unleashed a flurry of strikes on his exhausted opponent, he submitted him with a guillotine! For the record, that is only the second ADCC gold medalist to be tapped in the UFC, the first being Roberto Traven in 2001. Nobody saw this coming from Hernandez, odds of him winning by submission being anywhere from 30-1 to 40-1, at least from what I saw. WOW indeed.
Cure for Insomnia: For a card lacking a lot of name value, it did well enough not to have any fights that induced nap time. Those contests that had the potential of being boring benefitted from those trailing behind on the scorecards turning it up a notch in hopes of securing a needed finish. It wasn’t a crazy awesome card by any means, but the lack of yawners also shows it was anything but a stinker.
Best Comeback: No doubt Hernandez was considered for this, but I have to go with Julian Marquez. Outclassed for the first two rounds by Maki Pitolo, Marquez was on a mission for the finish in the third round. The third round didn’t completely go his way either, but some heavy artillery set up an Anaconda choke with less than a minute to go. Stuff like that is what makes MMA such an incredible sport.
Best Callout: There haven’t been many callouts of late, only two serious ones coming to mind at UFC 258. Belal Muhammad called out Li Jingliang, a perfectly acceptable callout. But it lacked the pizzaz created by Usman when he declared he was open to a rematch from Jorge Masvidal. I’m sure it’s a financially motivated callout as their first contest wasn’t close and Masvidal hasn’t fought since that bout. Masvidal’s argument is he took the fight on short notice, foregoing a full camp. I’m of the opinion there wouldn’t be much of a change from their first contest, but I can’t fault Usman for chasing eyeballs and money. There’s only so long that a fighter has to make money.
Best/Worst Referee Call: Nothing egregious for the evening, but I wasn’t crazy about Mark Smith neglecting to deduct a point when Gabe Green connected with two cup shots on Phil Rowe in less than a minute on the official clock. Inadvertent or not, the rules exist for a reason and it’s maddening how often a simple warning seems to suffice. I don’t think there would be a coincidence if referees deducting points more frequently for nut shots, eye pokes, and fence grabs resulted in less of those occurrences.
Haven’t Seen that Before: It wasn’t on the level of the legendary Showtime Kick, but Chris Gutierrez showed high levels of creativity, scoring with a Superman punch off the cage into a kick onto Andre Ewell. I’m not sure how cleanly either strike landed, but all sorts of credit to Gutierrez.
Please Tap…. There aren’t a lot of people tougher than Mallory Martin. She proved that by hanging around in the triangle choke of Polyana Viana before being transitioned into an armbar. I rarely audibly yell for someone to tap – usually I start squirming before doing so and this was no exception – but Martin finally did so, likely doing some serious damage to her arm. Here’s hoping that isn’t the case.
Best Interview: Whether you felt it was too WWE or disingenuous, you remember the shenanigans of Julian Marquez’s interview. I doubt many people threw out the hashtag he was trying to encourage and I’m not aware of too many MMA fans who were taken by him asking Miley Cyrus to be his Valentine, but those type of antics do appeal to a certain population and Marquez is making a play at them. It did nothing for me, but I’m smart enough to recognize just because I don’t care for something doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. The fact I remember his interview tells me it was effective.
Best… Squirrel! Joe Rogan clearly doesn’t have the same enthusiasm for MMA he did several years ago. I’m not faulting him, he’s been announcing for the UFC for years. I would still consider him an asset as nobody does a better job of breaking down technique when he is laser focused. However, I would appreciate it if the UFC would keep him separate from Daniel Cormier. The two of them went off on several tangents – including one on the word stymie of all things! – that took away from the fight in front of them. It was hard to remember it was a three man booth as there were long periods of time play-by-play man Jon Anik said nothing. Rogan and Cormier are obviously friends and enjoy the company of one another, but too much buddy banter damages the broadcast. Keep Rogan with the likes of Paul Felder and Michael Bisping. Maybe see if they can bring Brian Stann or Jimmy Smith back….
He Said What? For my money, Anik is the best play-by-play man in MMA. However, it was a bit odd for the respected announcer to bring up the custody battles of both Gutierrez and Ewell in the middle of their contest. I understand bringing in a touch of the fighter’s personal lives into the announcing, but a custody battle? Given sensitivity of the issue – and the complete lack of knowledge of the entire situation for the audience as there is multiple POV’s involved – I don’t know if that was the smartest direction to go. I know both Gutierrez and Ewell have talked about the custody situations publicly in the past and I’m sure they love their kids, but legal situations like that with very little context would probably best be left untouched for the general public.