If you’re not sure what to make of UFC Vegas 21, you’re hardly alone. There were several KO’s to take your breath away and competitive fights that saw fun momentum swings throughout. Then there were the infuriating judges’ decisions and the multiple bouts that ended in no contests thanks to fouls. It would be easier to focus on the good if the evening ended on one of the KO’s, but Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad’s main event was cut short due to an eye poke to Muhammad, resulting in one of the no contests. Perhaps you won’t recognize a good chunk of the names on this awards list, but you’ll get a pretty good feel for how the night played out.
Biggest Jump in Stock: On a night featuring several violent KO’s, it was clear there was going to be a lot competition for this spot. Matthew Semelsberger, Davey Grant, Dan Ige, and Ryan Spann all delivered with the KO’s, but there was only one real option in my mind: Ige. What pushed him over the top was the talk of who he might be fighting next, going from disposing the likes of Gavin Tucker to calling out the Korean Zombie with no one thinking he’s crazy for doing so. To give a more accurate picture, Ige was scheduled to face the inimitable Ryan Hall before Tucker stepped in, but that’s still a very notable jump. Even if Ige ends up facing a lesser name than Korean Zombie next, he doesn’t look like a scrappy underdog who is only visiting the top ten for a cup of coffee anymore. Semelsberger, Grant, and Spann all serve as very worthy honorable mentions.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This spot is weird this week. With the craziness of the eye poke no contest in the main event, Leon Edwards certainly hurt his stock – probably more than anyone — but I’m not sure his stock actually fell. Weird dichotomy, right? The Brit did look like he was on his way to victory, but he didn’t actually get it. Given how rapidly things can change in the fight game, that matters. But a win over him still feels like it’s just as important of an accomplishment, if not more, than it did before the event. With all the confusion, I’m going a different direction: Misha Cirkunov. The Canadian has lost four times in the first round since 2017, including the KO loss to Spann this weekend. While it’s been a while sine anyone saw him as a rising up-and-comer, he appeared to be someone who could give the top ten of the division a run for their money at the very least. It doesn’t feel that way anymore.
Best Newcomer: Marcelo Rojo was the only reasonable choice given how competitive he was with Charles Jordain. At one point, Rojo appeared to be ahead in the second round after most agreeing he took the first, only for Jourdain to wake up from there and put on a brutal beating on Rojo. It may not have been the result he wanted, but Rojo proved he’s going to be a hell of a fun addition to the UFC roster.
Start Typing a Resume: While there isn’t a name on the card I can guarantee we won’t see fighting in the UFC again, I feel confident in saying someone won’t be as the UFC has been clearing names with a lot of regularity. Courtney Casey and Ashley Yoder are game fighters who bring it every time, but they are on bad stretches with, coming in at 2-5 and 1-3 respectively. They could be gone. Ray Rodriguez was finished in both of his UFC appearances, not showing much in either contest. He could be gone. Jason Witt does have a recent win, but he was obliterated in both of his losses. He could be gone. If his price tag is too much, Cirkunov could be gone, ala Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos. Lots of possibilities.
Saved Their Job(s): About the only name I feel was on the chopping block that currently isn’t is Jinh Yu Frey. The former Invicta atomweight champion badly needed a win after dropping her first two contests. She didn’t win over any new fans in the process, but Frey did what she needed to do for the win, riding out a debuting Gloria de Paula in two of the three rounds from the top position.
Biggest WOW Moment: It’s rare the most jaw-dropping moment of the evening happens right out of the gate, Semelsberger’s one-punch KO of Jason Witt was pretty damned astonishing. Witt walked into the pocket unprotected and Semelsberger put him to sleep with a single punch right on the button. With a moment like that, Semelsberger has given himself a solid foundation for a long UFC career.
Grant and Ige both deserve a HUGE honorable mention, but the way Witt’s head bounced off the mat has me leaning towards Semelsberger.
Cure for Insomnia: Easily the Frey-de Paula fight. Lots of inactivity from Frey in every round, whether laying on top of de Paula or standing in front of her as de Paula pieced her up in the second. There was very little drama and only worth watching if you need a nap.
Never Seen That Before: I could very well, be wrong about this one, but the limited time I had to post this prevented me from doing the full research. So, there are UFC events that have multiple no contests. For example, UFC Fight Night Bermudez vs. Korean Zombie has two no contests. However, both of those no contests were applied retrospectively due to a pair of combatants testing positive for marijuana. I don’t believe that I’ve seen multiple no contests applied on the same night as the event as happened with UFC Vegas 21. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t come across an example of that in my limited research.
Best Callout: Ige gets what this game is all about. In addition to picking up an extra $50K for his one-punch KO, Ige called out the Korean Zombie in hopes of upping his profile. Given the Zombie’s penchant for delivering either a quick and violent finish or engaging in FOTY caliber contests, Ige asked for the right person to not just up his profile, but also gives him an excellent chance of getting another Performance Bonus. Until the UFC fighters can come close to sniffing the type of money those in the other major North American sports leagues, I favor fighters ensuring their financial security.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: I very much disagreed with Herb Dean calling the Eryk Anders-Darren Stewart fight a no contest, but I like how he put the onus on the doctor to declare whether Stewart could continue. Fighters never want to come across as weak and rarely make the best decision for their health. The doctor examined Stewart and advised against Stewart continuing, taking away the strong likelihood Stewart would suffer a loss despite eating an illegal blow. Many would argue Stewart was on his way to losing anyway – likely true – but he didn’t tell Anders to throw the knee. That was Anders own stupidity. I’m not a fan of those knees being illegal myself, but thems the rules and whatever the rules are should be enforced. Dean did that and allowed Stewart to save face by forcing the doctor to make a decision.
For the record, I was fine with the main event being called a no contest as Edwards goal wasn’t to poke Muhammad in the eye; it was an unfortunate side effect of Edwards body language as he threw a kick. Anders’ goal was to knee Stewart in the head… which he did and was a blatant violation of the rules.
I will be damned…. When you think of finishers, Rani Yahya isn’t someone that comes to mind. And yet, the grappling ace now has the most finishes in WEC/UFC bantamweight history, scoring his ninth when he subbed Ray Rodriguez in the second with an arm-triangle choke. It is worth noting every single one of those nine finishes came by submission, but it shouldn’t take away from the accomplishment as it underscores how silently awesome Yahya’s career has been. Given his fighting style, he should be able to add to the total over the next few years despite his 36 years.
Learning Opportunity Missed: Last week involved one of the most controversial moments in modern MMA history when Petr Yan kneed a downed Aljamain Sterling in the head, resulting in Yan losing his championship to Sterling. You’d think it would be a while before we saw someone costing themselves a win with that type of mistake… nope. Eryk Anders doesn’t seem to pay much attention to rest of the UFC world as he drilled a downed Darren Stewart in the head when he was down. It didn’t result in a loss for Anders, but it did cost him a very good chance to leave with a win bonus. Hopefully, the fight is rebooked as it was awesome prior to its unfortunate ending.
Trip to an Optometrist: No, I’m not referring to Muhammad, though he will undoubtedly see one. Matheus Nicolau fought an awesome fight against Manel Kape, but I don’t think he won. Neither did the MMA press, all 22 members listed – myself included for transparency – scoring in favor of Kape. I’m not saying Chris Lee or Bryan Miner – the two judges who scored for Nicolau – shouldn’t ever be allowed to judge a contest again. But can we at least get an explanation from them about what they saw? I understand judges sitting around the cage have a different viewpoint than television viewers, but their scores seem to be egregiously bad given what the rest of the MMA world saw. Perhaps we could get the same from Rick Winter and Michael Bell, who awarded JJ Aldrich a win over Cortney Casey when 16 of the 17 MMA media members favored Casey. Accountability is all I’m asking.