Anyone looking for a satisfying ending to the Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad fight at UFC Vegas 21 was disappointed. The bout, which headlined the ESPN+ streaming fight card, came to an abrupt and alarming end when Edwards poked Muhammad in the eye and Muhammad told the doctor he could not see. It was the second eye poke from Edwards in the brief contest.
The fight was supposed to deliver a lot more.
Edwards, the No. 3 ranked fighter in the official UFC rankings, had not stepped into the octagon for nearly 20 months. Muhammad, who was ranked No. 13, took the fight on short notice. Edwards hoped a win would get him a shot at 170-pound champion Kamaru Usman. Muhammad hoped a win would rocket him up the rankings and put him in position to work toward a title fight. It’s hard to see either man getting his wish after the no contest ending.
It’s hard to fathom any discussion about this fight concentrating on anything but rules, eye injuries, calling fouls or changing the gloves the UFC uses.
Ryan Spann: Ryan Spann knocked Misha Cirkunov to the mat with a beautiful straight right. Instead of following Cirkunov to the ground, Spann’s coach instructed him to let Cirkunov back to his feet. That was wise advice as Spann sent Cirkunov back to the mat and closed out the contest 71 seconds into the first round. This was a great bounce back win for Spann whose September loss to Johnny Walker ended an eight-fight winning streak.
Dan Ige: It might have taken longer than Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping thought, but Dan Ige scored a one punch knockout win over Gavin Tucker. Ige’s win was the first one significant strike knockout win of 2021 and things only got more interesting when Ige called for a matchup against “The Korean Zombie.”
Davey Grant: Jonathan Martinez knocked Davey Grant to the mat in the closing seconds of the first round. Grant stood up at the end of the round and looked more irritated than injured. Grant had no interest in letting Martinez take control of the fight. He came out in the second round and put it on Martinez, ending the fight with a left.
With the victory, Grant is on a three-fight winning streak with knockouts in his two most recent outings.
Angela Hill: Angela Hill put two defeats behind her in a big way. Heading into UFC Vegas 21, Hill was on a 3-2 run with split decision losses to Claudia Gadelha and Michelle Waterson. Hill overwhelmed Ashley Yoder in the featured prelim fight. Hill was miles ahead of Yoder in offensive and defensive striking throughout the three-round contest. Hill’s best work came when she attacked Yoder’s body.
This win should be a good confidence booster for Hill.
Charles Jourdain vs. Marcelo Rojo: This featherweight matchup was a crazy striking battle. Jourdain was as high as a 3-1 favorite, but no one told Rojo he was supposed to get run over. These two put it on each other from the opening bell and had the fight gone the distance, it sounded as if Jourdain’s corner was unsure if he was going to get the nod. With the instruction that he needed a finish, Jourdain went out and got a knockout with a positively brutal third round beatdown of Rojo, whose body gave out on him with 29 seconds left in the final stanza. This was a highly entertaining striking battle.
Rani Yahya: Rani Yahya got back in the win column for the first time since 2018 with a submission win over Ray Rodriguez. The veteran grappler, who has been with the UFC since 2011, suffered a loss in 2019 and fought to a draw in 2020, did his thing against the debuting Rodriguez. He pushed his opponent to the cage, used his strikes to get takedowns and then patiently moved into position for a submission. The submission win was the 21st of Yahya’s career.
Nasrat Haqparast: Nasrat Haqparast moved to 5-2 in the UFC with an excellent performance against Rafe Garcia. The 25-year-old southpaw started slow, but once he found his groove he took complete control of the fight, forcing Garcia into a striking battle Garcia was not prepared for.
Haqparast’s cardio held up throughout the 15-minute scrap. He was still throwing — and landing — nasty combos in the third round. Especially noteworthy were the uppercuts, step-in elbows and body kick from Haqparast.
Haqparast looks like he could become a player at lightweight, but he shouldn’t rush things, at only 25, he and the UFC have time to let things develop in time.
JJ Aldrich: JJ Aldrich fell behind Cortney Casey early thanks to Casey’s fast-paced striking, but Aldrich did a good job defusing that situation with takedowns. Those takedowns seemed to take something out of Casey. She just couldn’t get back in a groove after hitting the mat. In my mind, it was the wrestling and ground control that earned Aldrich the victory.
Jinh Yu Frey: Former Invicta FC atomweight champion Jinh Yu Frey ended a two-fight losing skid via takedowns and ground control. She gave up the second round, where she and her opponent, Gloria de Paula, spent the entire five minutes on their feet.
Frey saved her job with the win, but her opponents don’t need to page too far through the book to figure out what they need to avoid when it comes to Frey. Frey needs to add some new wrinkles to her game if she wants to stick around the UFC.
I was close to putting Frey in the “neither” category, but her takedowns and ability to keep the fight on the mat was too hard to dismiss.
Matthew Semelsberger: Sixteen seconds. That’s how long it took Matthew Semelsberger to score a knockout win over Jason Witt. Witt threw two slow low kicks while leaving his chin wide open. That was one too many as Semelsberger stepped in with a nasty right that ended the fight.
Semelsberger said he his performance was disappointing in his short-notice UFC debut, which he won via decision, there’s no way his second UFC win should leave him unsatisfied.
Leon Edwards: Before UFC 251, UFC president Dana White said Leon Edwards would be next in line for a shot at UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman with a win over Belal Muhammad. Edwards did not get the win. What he got was a no contest because he poked Muhammad in the eye and Muhammad could not continue.
After the event, Edwards campaigned for a title fight and dismissed the need for a rematch with Muhammad. While I appreciate his candor, I think Edwards should be a bit more open to the idea of a rematch since his (illegal) actions and his actions alone brought an end to the fight.
Belal Muhammad: It’s hard not to feel bad for Belal Muhammad. He took the fight with Edwards hoping it would move him up the welterweight rankings. It was a calculated decision. The best result would have been a win and a move into the top half of the rankings. The worst result, with a loss, was that Muhammad would drop a couple notches down those rankings. Instead, thanks to the eye poke, Muhammad finds out nothing. Even worse, he’s not likely to get a rematch with Edwards. Saturday was an awful night for Belal Muhammad.
Misha Cirkunov: Cirkunov had not fought since a September 2019 submission win over Jimmy Crute. His return to the cage did not go well. Ryan Spann knocked him down twice and finished the fight via strikes in 71 seconds. The result might not have been a worst-case scenario for the returning fighter, but it had to be close to that.
Gavin Tucker: Gavin Tucker learned a lesson Saturday. That lesson was, if you leave your head on the center line, you might just get knocked out by someone who only had one UFC knockout before you faced them.
Jonathan Martinez: UFC commentators Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping were discussing the striking of Jonathan Martinez in the closing seconds of the first round of his matchup opposite Davey Grant. Almost as if on cue, Martinez dropped Grant with a left. He could not get the finish. Things went south very quickly for Martinez in the second stanza and Grant stopped him with a left of his own.
Manel Kape: Manel Kape had a rough start against Matheus Nicolau, but he turned things around in the second stanza and looked to be heading toward a win with his third round performance. However, the judges awarded the fight to Nicolau.
I think the problem Kape faced, outside of the last minute of the final round, is that his combinations seemed limited to no more than two strikes.
Kape had a much better performance on Saturday than he did in his first UFC bout, but he’s still trying to get the feel of the UFC. If Kape, who has incredibly fast hands, can add a little more to his combinations and up his pace a bit things should turn around for him. But with two losses in two fights, the clock is ticking
Eryk Anders and Darren Stewart: Darren Stewart started out well, but it looked like he got overconfident in his ability to hurt Eryk Anders and that opened the door for Anders to put it on Stewart as the round progressed. However, the work Anders put in went down the drain when he threw — and landed — an illegal knee to his downed opponent. With that, the fight came to a no-contest end.
What made the knee even more shocking is the title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling ended in the same manner last week.
Ashley Yoder: Ashley Yoder had a tough go against Angela Hill. She had nothing for Hill on the feet and by the middle of the second round, Yoder’s body language was not the best. She looked as if she did not want to eat any more strikes, especially to the body from her opponent. Yoder’s best bet was on the mat, but even when she got a takedown, she could not do anything once the fight hit the ground.
Ray Rodriguez: Rani Yahya is not the name you want on the other side of a UFC bout agreement, but that’s who Ray Rodriguez faced at UFC Vegas 21. Rodriguez did everything he could to keep the fight standing, but Yahya was unstoppable. He forced Rodriguez to tap in the second stanza. Rodriguez is 0-3 with three stoppage defeats in the UFC.
Rafa Garcia: Rafa Garcia took his fight opposite Nasrat Haqparast on short notice and things did not go his way. Garcia did a nice job in setting up his takedown attempts, but he could not land them. That left him to slug it out with Haqparast, which was not ideal. Garcia didn’t look bad, but he was not on the same level as his opponent. One positive to take away from the decision loss was that Garcia never backed down, even as Haqparast’s striking overwhelmed him.
Cortney Casey: Cortney Casey started her fight against JJ Aldrich with a lot of aggression. Her striking was on point, but after an Aldrich takedown, Casey had a hard time getting back on track. The fight was a split decision in favor of Aldrich, but I think Casey could have got the nod had she been able to return to her initial pace before the first takedown from Aldrich.
Gloria de Paula: Gloria de Paula spent most of the first round on her back after a Jinh Yu Frey takedown. De Paula kept the fight standing for the second round, but she had to fight off a takedown after Frey caught a kick late in the stanza. For some reason, De Paula tried another kick in the third round, which Frey easily converted to a takedown. Frey then kept De Paula on the mat and earned the win. The kick in the third round was a big mistake. De Paula’s corner should have implored her to keep distance and avoid giving Frey the chance for a takedown. That didn’t happen and it cost De Paula the fight.
Jason Witt: Jason Witt learned a lesson on Saturday, a calf kick with no defense or set up can leave you with a 16-second knockout loss.
The judges: The judges took some heat on this card, especially after the Matheus Nicolau vs. Manel Kape and JJ Aldrich vs. Cortney Casey fights. The judges gave Nicolau the 29-28 split decision win, while 22 media members scored it for Kape and zero scored the fight for Nicolau. As for the Aldrich vs Casey fight, the uproar wasn’t as loud in that bout, but the judges awarded Aldrich the 29-28 split decision win, while 16 of 17 media members, saw it for Casey.
The UFC commentators: The UFC had a fight end on an illegal knee last week. The outcome, a disqualification, seemed somewhat confusing to commentary team. Which is kind of understandable since it’s not a common occurrence. However, the UFC and the commentators should have reviewed the rule and the potential outcome just in case it happened again. Well, it happened again. And like last week, the commentary team seemed flummoxed as to the rules. That was a missed learning opportunity by the UFC and the commentary team.
Matheus Nicolau: Matheus Nicolau did not have a bad fight against Manel Kape, but the media who scored the event, all gave the fight to Kape. That says a lot.