It’s been a while since we had morning fights, but it was a nice change to start taking in the combat before the sun had hit its zenith in the sky. Aside from some questionable judging, it was a basic Fight Night card with solid action and a touch of controversy. The main event saw Marvin Vettori take a dominant decision over Kevin Holland while the co-main was a competitive scrap between Arnold Allen and Sodiq Yusuff should have taken home the FOTN bonus. Of course, I’m not here to talk about who picked up the Performance Bonuses. No, I’m here to talk about the less conventional awards and give a rundown of sorts on the events of card. So here goes...
Biggest Jump in Stock: It wasn’t necessarily a surprise that Mackenzie Dern was able to pick up a win over Nina Nunes. After all, Nunes was coming off a nearly two-year layoff and Dern’s physical skills have never been in doubt. However, her previous opponents had generally gone to the mat with her voluntarily, leaving questions about Dern’s takedown abilities. This time, Dern tripped Nunes to the mat and methodically working her way to an armbar against an opponent who hadn’t been finished in nearly a decade. There’s a big difference between enforcing your will on your opponent and taking what they give you. Dern enforced her will and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her fight for the title by the end of the year if the cards played out just right.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Most would acknowledge Mike Perry’s reputation far exceeds how good he actually is. To his credit, he usually turns in a fun contest that’s worth tuning into. Not this time. Despite being only 29-years old, he looked shot against Daniel Rodriguez, becoming a human punching bag in a one-sided shellacking. Rodriguez isn’t a slouch by any means, but Perry has turned in competitive scraps with the likes of Vicente Luque and even defeated Paul Felder. Perhaps it was because Rodriguez is a southpaw – something Perry has struggled with — but that’s a crappy excuse for a performance this poor. Either way, it’s hard to see Perry positioned in a prime position ever again, much less any time soon.
Nunes got some consideration, but nobody really knew what to expect out of her upon her return from a maternity leave. She wasn’t competitive against Dern, but the level of unknown makes it hard for me say her fall was the most precipitous.
Best Newcomer: As the only newcomer to score a victory, many would automatically jump to Luis Saldana being the obvious pick. However, Ignacio Bahamondes turned in a FOTN caliber performance in falling to John Makdessi. On the flip side, most would say Jordan Griffin deserved the win over Saldana. In the end, I’ll side with Saldana given he made weight. Not my favorite way to separate a close competition, but making weight is part of the job and Saldana accomplished that part of the job. Either way, both offered promise.
Start Typing a Resume: Yorgan de Castro made a hell of a splash in his UFC debut with a walkoff KO, but hasn’t put in a quality performance since then, dropping three in a row. He capped it by getting put to sleep in the first round against an opponent who was previously winless in multiple UFC appearances. Hard to see him returning.
Some would say it’s overdue, but it’s also hard to see Sam Alvey coming back after six consecutive appearances without a win. After 21 appearances, Alvey had a solid run and produced several highlight reel KO’s early in that run. He turned in plenty of stinkers too, but few make it to double digit appearances in the UFC. As hard as it might be for some to believe, Alvey secured double digits in victories in the UFC.
There’s a possibility Griffin is looking for a new employer – it was his fourth UFC loss in five appearances – but the controversy surrounding his loss combined with his aggressive style being exactly what Uncle Dana is always looking for, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him back in the Octagon for at least one more opportunity.
Some may say Perry will be another on the cutting room floor, but his name still carries weight, even if his performance doesn’t. Much like Griffin, I expect he’ll get at least one more opportunity.
Saved Their Job(s): As is often the case, the fighter who likely lost his job did so against a fighter who saved his job with a winning performance. Perhaps most impressive is Jarjis Danho did so with a single punch against de Castro, a manner few expected out of the former strongman following a long layoff. Then again, it was a heavyweight contest. Strangely, given the amount that appear to be on the chopping block, Danho appears to be the only participant on the card who had their back against the wall who succeeded.
Biggest WOW Moment: There were several moments that impressed – Mateusz Gamrot’s KO comes to mind — but it’s hard to argue with Danho turning out the lights on de Castro. His striking had been sloppy in his first two UFC contests – four years ago – but his technique was picture perfect in delivering a counter right hand to the temple of de Castro. It was a bit of a scary moment as de Castro was out for a while, but it was also one of the jaw-dropping moments that people watch this sport for.
Cure for Insomnia: I’ve said before that dominance can be boring and that proved to be the case with Da Un Jung controlling William Knight over the course of their contest. Had Jung looked to do more than just maintain control over Knight, perhaps there would have been more entertainment, but Jung didn’t want to put in any more effort than was required to get the win. I supposed I really can’t blame him….
Some may point to Joe Solecki and Jim Miller, but given the first round opened with some fun standup, I figure that best fits for getting an honorable mention.
Never Seen That Before: I can’t recall an RNC being applied at the angle Julian Marquez was able to secure his against Alvey. Recognizing he couldn’t get his hooks in, Marquez squatted down and squeezed with all his might to put Alvey to sleep. Fortunately for Marquez, he has a hell of a squeeze. Otherwise, I don’t think that choke would have worked as intended as there was very little that a BJJ coach would have praised with that choke in regards to technique.
King of Cringe: Henry Cejudo held this title after claiming the flyweight championship, but he’s now retired, even if just temporarily. Thus, someone else needs to claim the crown and Marquez is making an extremely strong case. He called out Miley Cyrus to be his Valentine two months ago and now claims he’s a gift for ABC, being on free television. His callout – I’ll mention that in a moment – only added to the cringe. I’m happy to award him the crown since he’s trying so hard for it.
Best Callout: I was scared Marquez calling out members of the Kansas City Chiefs to play pickleball or badminton would be my only choice – guys, take your shots! – but I was fortunately rescued by Marvin Vettori. Of course, I don’t think Vettori is getting Israel Adesanya next – especially if Robert Whittaker wins next week — but no one else was taking the opportunity to make a callout. I’ve made multiple cases in the past why fighters might want to make callouts, but it appears my reasoning is falling on deaf ears. It’s their careers and they can do what they want, but I know they’d be doing themselves a favor if they tried to take greater control of the path of their careers.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: There weren’t many opportunities to question the referees – unlike the judges – but given the snoozer Miller and Solecki turned into, it’s fair to question whether Herb Dean allowed a lot of nothing to occur on the mat as opposed to breaking them up. Traditionally, I’m more in favor of forcing fighters to get out of bad positions, but it appeared Solecki was purposely stalling in the second round in hopes of riding out the round. Not a major complaint by any means, but a debate that pops up in MMA fandom frequently.
Unappreciated Effort: While the broadcast team made a big deal about it, nobody on the internet seemed to care all that much that Vettori broke the record for most takedowns in a middleweight contest with 11. Perhaps few seem unimpressed is the same type of fight was seen just three weeks previously when Derek Brunson took Holland down time and again. Given Vettori has never been known for his wrestling, never having landed more than three takedowns in any previous contest. Regardless, Vettori’s performance won’t get the appreciation it deserves due to the lack of aesthetic pleasure it provided.
Call for Accountability: This isn’t the first time I’ve called out the judges, nor will it be the last, but the prelims were chuck full of questionable judging decisions. The most egregious was the loss by Griffin as 16 of the 18 media members on MMA Decisions scored in favor of Griffin. In contrast, none of the ringside judges scored in his favor. Can I see Saldana winning that fight? I suppose if I tilt my head at a certain angle, but I felt it was a sure thing. Other weird scores saw Dave Hagen score in favor of Hunter Azure over Jack Shore, Derek Clearly score for Bahamondes over Makdessi, and Adelaide Byrd give Joe Solecki a 30-27 score when it felt clear Jim Miller took the first round. I’m not calling for none of these judges to never score a fight again, but clarity is key to keeping the integrity of the sport. If we can at least get explanations for what they saw – and if they judge fights professionally, they should be able to give an explanation – it would go a long way towards keeping the peace.