UFC Vegas 24 ended up being one of the worst events in recent memory. I’m not trying to take anything away from Robert Whittaker’s dominant performance over Kelvin Gastelum – the former champion looked better than ever – nor am I saying this event will go down in infamy the way UFC 33 or UFC 149 did. But it was the hardest one to sit through in recent months. Part of it can be attributed to the pacing – which was screwed up by the cancellation of the co-main event right before the event began – but there was also a major lack of singular moments or hyper-competitive contests. Thus, these awards are lacking in pizazz. Sorry, but I’m playing with the hand I was dealt.
Never Seen That Before: Technically, the moment didn’t happen at the event, but it certainly had a massive effect upon the event. At the ceremonial weigh-ins, Jeremy Stephens shoved Drakkar Klose in a very forceful manner. I can’t say for sure whether it was unprovoked as Klose had a mask on, but it didn’t appear his mouth was moving, so the guess here is there was no provocation. Due to the shove, Klose suffered a myriad of concussion-like symptoms that prevented him from being able to fight, thus cancelling their contest. Given fighters aren’t allowed to harm on another prior to a contest, Stephens could have some severe repercussions coming his way beyond missing his paycheck. Very good chance that fighters will be thinking twice about shoving an opponent at weigh-ins moving forward.
Never Seen That Before Part II: Jessica Penne spent a large chunk of her contest with Lupita Godinez hanging onto her standing opponent. In the third round, Godinez was able to maneuver Penne into the position and not just powerbomb her, but hit her with a jackknife powerbomb. Makes me wonder if Godinez has been training with Brock Lesnar since Rena Mero aka Sable is the last female who regularly scored with the jackknife….
Biggest Jump in Stock: This was a hard field to award and not for the typical reasons. Those who were set up to have their stock vastly improved didn’t turn in the expected performance. Thus, even though he was already the highest profile fighter entering the event, it feels like Robert Whittaker did the most to boost his stock by dominating Kelvin Gastelum over the course of five rounds. If I was Uncle Dana, I’d be working on booking Adesanya and Whittaker as fast as possible.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Abdul Razak Alhassan easily takes this spot. Formerly a one-round specialist with four first round stoppages in his UFC career, Alhassan looked like he didn’t want to be in the cage in the least. His movement was lethargic, indicating his move up to middleweight appears to be more out of laziness as opposed to him outgrowing welterweight. Alhassan’s days as an action fighter are over.
Best Newcomer: Both Dakota Bush and Godinez fell short in their UFC debuts, though both had moments that put their promise on display. I’ll award it to Godinez as her powerbomb is going to permanently be on her highlight reel for the rest of her career. Plus, she had the stronger argument for winning than Bush had by a long shot.
Start Typing a Resume: This is going to be a crowded category. Given how sharply his stock has fallen, it shouldn’t be a surprise Alhassan would be here. The chances are good the UFC can find a younger fighter capable of putting up a better fight for less money than Alhassan.
Out of all those I believe will be released, Justine Kish is the one I’d be most reluctant to let go. She put up a hell of a scrap with Tracy Cortez, a solid chunk of the Twitterverse believing she should have had her hand raised triumphantly. Plus, it’s rare she’s in a boring fight. However, it’s impossible to ignore losing four of her last five fights. If she’s let go, expect Bellator to gobble her up.
I feel confident in saying Bartosz Fabinski has reached the end of the line. The grinder has never had an aesthetically pleasing fighting style and has dropped three in a row within the confines of the UFC, every one of those losses coming via submission, the latest coming at the hands of Gerald Meerschaert. Given he only does one thing well and opponents have figured out how to combat that, it sure as hell looks like the end of the line.
It’s no sure thing, but Anthony Birchak could very well be cut loose following his second consecutive contest. Sure, the UFC isn’t as strict about cutting fighters after two fights as they used to be, but Birchak is 34, already on the down side of his career, and in a division briming with exciting, youthful, talent.
I’ve seen some suggesting Stephens will end up on the chopping block due to his weigh-in shenanigans, but I don’t see that happening, even if he doesn’t have a win in his last five fights. Remember, Uncle Dana once tried to bail this dude out of jail. He’s got a HUGE soft spot for Stephens. I’m not saying there won’t be consequences, but Stephens isn’t going to lose his job.
Saved Their Job(s): Penne was on thin ice, not having won a fight since her UFC debut all the way back in 2014. Some of the names she faced in that time are amongst the elite in the division, but fighters have to win if they want to stay employed. It was very touch and go, but Penne pulled it off against Godinez. Hopefully, she can build on the momentum the win generates.
I have no doubt Meerschaert saved his job with his submission of Fabinski. The longtime veteran has been on a two-fight losing streak and had dropped three of his last four. He could still be on the downside of his career – he is approaching 50 career bouts – but he’s going to be around a bit longer.
Biggest WOW Moment: This is very dependent upon what you define as a WOW moment, but it’s also indicative of the lack of action on the card. At first watch, the Stephens’ shove on Klose doesn’t appear to be all that unique in the history of weigh-in shoving incidents. However, knowing it knocked Klose out of their contest makes it a hell of a lot more impressive. But does it really drop your jaw upon first seeing it without knowing the consequences? Not really.
Thus, I’ll have to go with the jackknife powerbomb from Godinez. It didn’t put Penne away, nor did it appear to significantly hurt her. But the visual of it was so unique – I did state I can’t recall seeing it in an MMA fight before – that it’s hard not to sit up and take notice of it.
Cure for Insomnia: While I’ll admit Jacob Malkoun’s win over Alhassan was due to an exceptionally intelligent performance, it was also painful to watch. Alhassan’s lack of motivation is a bigger reason for the lack of excitement than Malkoun’s strategy, but the combination of both made it easy to be distracted by the slightest thing with your viewing space.
Best Callout: Nobody on the card really made a call out. However, Israel Adesanya made a comment directed at Whittaker on Twitter following the latter’s dominant win over Gastelum. Given fighters have apparently given up on making callouts, that makes it the best callout on the card… and he wasn’t even on the card.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: There weren’t any calls that gained a lot of notice, which makes it an excellent evening for the referees as their job is to be as invisible as possible. However, picking a single moment, I’d go with Mark Smith stopping the Gravely-Birchak contest when he did. Birchak wasn’t completely out and looked like he could keep going, but he’d been knocked down previously and taken a lot of punishment. Given the lack of protest from Birchak, it was the right call.
Unexpected Record Holder: Meerschaert’s submission made him the sole holder of the most submissions in the middleweight division with six. Some may crap on the achievement by pointing out one of those whom he was previously tied with, Demian Maia, moved to welterweight roughly halfway through his UFC career and picked up six more along the way at 170. Nobody is saying Meerschaert is superior to Maia, but he holds the record fair and square and should be applauded.
Most Painful Nut Shot: No doubt this belongs to Juan Espino delivering a knee to Alexandr Romanov in the third round of their contest. It was severe enough that Romanov couldn’t continue, leading to their contest being the rare technical decision. Nut shots happen enough that they typically aren’t notable, but this one stopped a fight. That’s pretty damn bad. Still not on the level of Gabriel Gonzaga nailing Chris Tuchscherer or Raymond Daniels debilitating Peter Stanonik, but noteworthy nonetheless.