As my colleague Zane Simon has suggested many times, the legacy of an event revolves very much around the main event. That proved to be the case with UFC Vegas 25… which is a good thing in this case. With the first official finish of the evening coming in the co-main event, the event proved to be difficult to slog through for the most part. Sure, there were a couple fantastic contests and several others that were solid, but there’s nothing like a sudden finish to break up a monotonous event. A couple of yawners and a disappointing DQ finish – the unofficial finish of the evening – set a pall over the evening. The co-main broke the monotony and the main event shattered the remaining pieces, Jiri Prochazka finishing Dominick Reyes with a spinning back elbow to conclude an instant FOTY candidate with a KOoTY candidate.
Biggest Jump in Stock: The obvious choice is Prochazka, but it’s also the correct choice. Sure, those who followed Prochazka’s RIZIN career knew he had serious potential to be a major player, which he proved when he toppled Volkan Oezdemir in his debut. Though the doubters were few after that, there were a few. No more. Prochazka has exceeded the high expectations upon him as a can’t-miss action fighter and proved he deserves his place as an elite light heavyweight. It’s impossible for me to say how many casual viewers tuned in to see Prochazka do his thing, but they may very well have walked away with a new favorite fighter. Prochazka’s performance was that good.
Felipe Colares deserves an honorable mention for his back-and-forth scrap with Luke Sanders that eventually saw the Brazilian emerge victorious.
Biggest Fall in Stock: There’s going to be a lot of people upset with this pick, but Luana Pinheiro’s DQ win over Randa Markos looks like it is hurting her standing in the MMA community. Does anyone really know if she was legitimately knocked silly by Markos’ upkick? Well, Pinheiro knows, but she won’t admit she was acting if that was the case and there’s going to be a large swath of people who won’t believe her even if she wasn’t. It’s a no-win situation for her. Deserved or not, her stock as a hot prospect is taking a major hit and it could be a while before it recovers… if it recovers.
There aren’t many other good candidates. Cub Swanson was finished early by Giga Chikadze, but that happens and Swanson is already seen as a gatekeeper. KB Bhullar looked terrible, but his stock was never high in the first place.
Best Newcomer: Pinheiro was the only debutant and though she won, we’ve already established her win was about as disastrous as a victory can get. I’ve already touched on it – and I will again a bit later – so the less said here, the better.
Start Typing a Resume: I’ll say this: if Luke Sanders gets a pink slip, it won’t be from a lack of effort. The longtime veteran probably had his best performance in his loss to Colares. The problem is Colares also rose to the occasion, having his best performance and securing the judges’ favor. Sanders has now dropped three of his last four, his lone win coming over a completely shot Renan Barao. Given bantamweight is full of younger fighters with more upside, it’s hard to see Sanders hanging around.
As far as roster spots go, many were questioning if Markos’ spot is in jeopardy. While she did drop her fourth in a row, it was also a DQ loss as a result of her landing an illegal upkick that appeared to be thrown in the heat of the moment. Given she’s been on the roster since the inception of the strawweight division – and the fight was looking like a barnburner prior to the DQ – it’s hard to see the brass letting her go after that result. Here’s hoping the UFC is willing to let her run it back with Pinheiro.
It’s very possible we’ve seen the last of Poliana Botelho as she dropped her third in her last four, but I’ve got a hunch she’ll find a way to hang around for more opportunity.
Saved Their Job(s): Many disagreed with the decision, but no one will deny that TJ Brown left everything in the cage and at the very least, made it one hell of a scrap. He knocked down Kai Kamaka and came close to submitting him with a kimura. Normally, you don’t expect to hear the person who executed those techniques wasn’t the deserved winner, which is a pretty damned big clue to how awesome their fight was. Whether he deserved it, I’m happy to see Brown hang around a bit longer.
Luana Carolina put her job in serious jeopardy when she missed weight for her contest with Botelho, but was able to squeeze out the win by having the deeper gas tank. It wasn’t a pretty win, but you do what you have to do to stay employed.
In defeating Sanders, Colares likely saved his job too. Having a stretch with similar success as Sanders, it was a loser leaves town contest and Colares emerged victorious. His emotional post-fight interview likely added to his fanbase too
Biggest WOW Moment: Colares came out strong by delivering a slam to Sanders that would make Matt Hughes proud. Then Giga Chikadze landed his Giga kick to the body of Cub Swanson, giving Colares some competition. Unfortunately for them, Prochazka blew them out of the water with his spinning back elbow KO that was one of the most inspired KO’s in recent memory. Watching Reyes fall like a tree in the woods is going to be replayed for years on end.
Cure for Insomnia: The opening contest with Colares and Sanders got the night off to a hell of a start, only for Andreas Michailidis and Bhullar to kill all the momentum. Bhullar didn’t look like he wanted to be there, tentatively throwing out strikes that only touched up Michailidis. Michailidids was aggressive early in looking for a finish, but he faded quickly and received so little resistance from Bullar early on, it wasn’t any fun to watch.
Never Seen That Before: While there were several rarities on the card, I don’t think I can think of anything that hasn’t been done before. Upkick DQ’s are rare, but they do happen and there is typically controversy over whether the recipient is faking it. So that doesn’t take the cake. Neither does Prochazka’s spinning back elbow, as it was the third in UFC history behind Dong Hyun Kim and Ricardo Ramos. Incredibly rare, but it has been done. Plus, I’ve seen several in smaller promotions. My wife suggested Prochazka’s haircut, but again, it’s rare, but not something that hasn’t been seen. So I’ll say there wasn’t anything, though it wasn’t for lack of effort.
Best Callout: While I certainly appreciated Chikadze calling for Max Holloway – a longshot by a wide margin – Merab Dvalishvili asking for Dominick Cruz feels like a contest that’s not only realistic, but makes all the sense in the world. Cruz is a legend and has received numerous callouts over the years, rarely rising to meet them due to a swath of injuries. Those injuries – as well as Father Time — showed they have taken their toll as Cruz barely squeaked out a win over Casey Kenney, but it was a win. Perhaps it was *nonexistent* ring rust, but Cruz needs another win before he can seriously entertain the idea of retaining the status of an elite fighter. Dvalishvili is perfect to test him as he is a step up from Kenney, but not so much that it feels like Cruz appears to be a sacrificial lamb. For Dvalishvili, Cruz provides him with some serious potential name value for his resume. Plus, given both fighters are reputed for their extreme cardio levels, it’s hard not to think of the insane possibilities.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: I know there’s quite a few people who believe Jason Herzog should have deducted Brown for his fence grabs, but I believe that’s retrospective wishing given most believed Kamaka deserved the win. So I’ll say Chris Tognoni deserves props for letting Colares and Sanders continue to scrap it out when both were on the verge of having Tognoni step in. Tognoni let things continue – to the benefit of Colares in the first, Sanders in the second – and the fans were handsomely rewarded.
Brass Balls: No, this surprisingly doesn’t have anything to do with a low blow. This goes to Paul Felder in the broadcast booth for stating his belief that Pinheiro was faking after receiving the low blow. Many deemed Felder questioning whether Pinheiro would resort to faking as uncalled for. Why would a fighter stoop to that level? Ask Josh Koscheck. A decade ago, he faked being on the receiving end or an illegal knee from Rumble Johnson. Many would say Diego Sanchez copped out of his fight with Michel Pereira, though Sanchez was clearly losing that fight. The point is, fighters aren’t beneath doing what it takes to receive their win bonus. This is their livelihood after all. Think of some of the things you or someone you know have done for a few extra bucks. This wasn’t a few extra bucks for Pinheiro; this was doubling her salary. Plus, as a color commentator, it’s Felder’s job to call things as he sees it. That’s what he did. Given he was an actor in his college days, it could be said he’s as much of an authority on the situation as anyone. Whether one agrees with Felder or not, he’s entitled to voice his opinion. In fact, he’s paid to give his opinion. Feel free to disagree with it.
Best Named Move: First of all, a Giga kick isn’t just a liver kick. If the MMA world was going to name a simple liver kick after a particular fighter, the honor would undeniably have to go to Bas Rutten. It’s the way Chikadze lands it that differentiates it as he digs the underside of his foot into their liver as opposed to whacking at it with the top half of the foot as Rutten regularly did. It allows Chikadze to land liver kicks at an angle his opponents don’t typically expect to be attacked in the liver from. It also proved to be effective as Swanson crumpled in a big hurry after Chikadze placed it expertly to Swanson’s midsection. There are few better ways to leave your legacy on a sport than having a move named after you. It’s the only reason anyone remembers who Jason Von Flue is.
Quietest Ascension: Sean Strickland wasn’t quiet when he beat on Jack Marshman last October, but his move up the middleweight rankings hasn’t received a lot of attention despite three consecutive wins since his two-year hiatus due to injury in October. It’s not like the wins have been close either, Strickland taking dominant decisions in two and finishing Brendan Allen in the other. And yet, it feels like few are taking notice. Don’t be surprised if his name is brought up sometime next year as a potential title challenger. Strickland is really hitting his stride.