UFC Vegas 27 was bereft of singular moments that fans will recall a few months from now, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad card. Rob Font proved his win over Marlon Moraes was anything but a fluke, dominating Cody Garbrandt over the course of 25 minutes to establish himself as a legitimate threat to the bantamweight crown. Carla Esparza, as an underdog, beat the brakes off the hyped Yan Xiaonan to potentially secure a title show at strawweight. Those fights as a whole won’t be forgotten, even if they don’t come anywhere close to FOTY contenders. Here’s the other understated happenings and memories from the evening.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Nobody was excited about the possibility of Carla Esparza securing a title shot going into the event. She hadn’t had a definitive victory since her win over Virna Jandiroba in spring of 2019 or a finish since 2014. It’s hard to say she doesn’t deserve a title shot now after an absolutely dominant performance over Xiaonan. I can’t remember a single piece of significant offense landed by Xiaonan as Esparza just took her to the mat right away in the first two rounds and made Xiaonan a bloody mess before the fight was stopped. Critics may not be excited about Esparza getting a title shot, but there’s no way to deny she doesn’t deserve it at this juncture. I supposed she’d had enough of being disrespected....
Biggest Fall in Stock: I hate to match the biggest fall in stock opposite of the biggest riser, but there’s no other way around it if I’m being honest. Yan Xiaonan looked horrid in her contest with Esparza. Not only did Xiaonan show poor takedown defense, she also showed a complete inability to get back to her feet. While she’s surely to get a sizeable step back in competition following this brutal loss, she’s going to have to string together several victories together to get back to where she was coming into this event. Given the book on how to beat her has now been written, it’s not going to be as easy to get back to that point as it was prior to this loss.
Best Newcomer: None of the three newcomers secured a win, but there’s no debate who delivered the most impactful performance in a loss: Chris Barnett. The 5’9” heavyweight ate all that Ben Rothwell had to offer and landed some heavy haymakers of his own. In my opinion, it was the most entertaining contest of the evening, coming to an end right as it was starting to get too sloppy. Barnett is not going to be a title challenger, but if he can provide the type of fun he did against Rothwell while securing the occasional highlight reel KO, he’ll be a fantastic addition to the roster.
Start Typing a Resume: I had a feeling Victor Rodriguez got his call too early for his own good and his second consecutive first round loss proves it. The Alaska native has some talent, but he needed a LOT more seasoning before getting his call to the big show. Perhaps he can make his way back.
I’m not so sure Claudio Silva is going to be on the chopping block, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him hit the road after his second consecutive loss. The Brazilian is pushing 40 and it appears opponents have figured him out, prepping for his early onslaught and riding out the fight after Silva gasses. He could get one more opportunity, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this point.
It felt inevitable Justin Tafa would be on the chopping block shortly after his UFC signing given he only had three professional contests at that point. The Mark Hunt protégé has made visible progress and has plenty of potential, but it looks like a case of too much, too soon. Now 1-3 during his UFC run, it might be best for him to toil in the regional scenes for a few years before getting a call back that feels very likely… provided he doesn’t take the Bellator or PFL route.
Saved Their Job(s): There were many who believe Court McGee should have been cut loose after dropping five of his previous six, but the former TUF winner received one last opportunity and he made the most of it. The best part about it was McGee didn’t secure his win over Silva by the skin of his teeth, putting on his most complete and dominant performance in years. Perhaps more fighters should be taking advice from their elderly neighbors as McGee claimed that’s what gave him his inspiration for the evening.
Josh Culibao had been unable to secure a win in his first two UFC contests, but the third time was the charm for the Aussie. All he had to do was ride out the early storm from Shayilan Nuerdanbieke before picking off the newcomer with a technical striking game. No doubt Culibao’s ceiling is limited, but it’s good to see him pick up a benchmark for all MMA fighters: a UFC win.
Some may have disagreed when Ben Rothwell said his back was against the wall, but I think he was right. The longtime vet has a hefty price tag in comparison to those he’s been fighting recently and the organization would love to find a way to trim someone whom they deem isn’t pulling their weight in regards to their salary. I’m not going to get into whether Rothwell is or isn’t earning his keep, but I’m sure the UFC isn’t positive his salary is worthwhile at this point.
Lastly, Jared Vanderaa may or may not have rescued his employment. The big man’s UFC debut portrayed that of an unskilled big man, but his sophomore effort portrayed something completely different, showing maturity, toughness, and knowledge of how to use his size. Had he managed a decent outing in a loss, he probably would have been kept around. He guaranteed he’d still be around with a win, not to mention picking up a Performance Bonus.
Never Seen That Before: Maybe break dancing will become a legit training method. Rafael Alves executed a spinaroonie – I don’t know what it’s actually called, so I’ll go with Booker T’s wording for it – to escape from the grasps of Damir Ismagulov in the midst of a scramble, ending up on his feet. It isn’t just that a break dance technique was done in a fight – Michel Perreira does crazy crap like that all the time – but that it was an actual useful technique… damn. I wonder if this is the beginning of a trend…
Biggest WOW Moment: Less of a WOW moment and more of a WOW performance, Esparza wanted to make a statement and damn it if she didn’t. That’s in part due to a lack of specific moments produced in this event – Bruno Silva’s KO of Victor Rodriguez would be my choice for actual best WOW moment – but the brutality coming from Esparza was so unexpected, it takes the cake for me. No one saw her performance coming. No one.
Best/Worst Referee Call: Fortunately, there was nothing egregious to magnify. The only thing that really comes to mind was the feeling Keith Peterson could have stopped the contest between Esparza and Xiaonan before he did as it became increasingly clear Xiaonan wasn’t escaping the crucifix Esparza had her trapped in. That said, it was hardly Luke Rockhold beating the living daylights out of Chris Weidman.
Best Callout: I get where Jack Hermansson is coming from by asking for Robert Whittaker, but Whittaker has no reason to accept that fight. Thus, even though I support him asking – you never know unless you ask – I don’t think that was the best callout. I also think Font asking for the winner of Cory Sandhagen and TJ Dillashaw makes a lot of sense, but it’s also the only fight worth making for him. Thus, I’ll go with Bruno Silva calling out Rogerio Bontorin. Bontorin is far ahead enough of Silva in the rankings that I don’t think he’d be up for it, but it would be absolute fire if that contest were to take place. Plus, Silva stands a better chance of getting that fight by making the callout. That makes the potential contest totally worthwhile in my eyes.
Theme of the Night: Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels like there have been fewer fights that have turned into bloodbaths as of late. Not saying there has been anything done differently, just the luck of draw. Last night shattered that feeling with a couple of contests that saw the canvas painted red. Tafe opened up a gnarly cut on Vanderaa that not only left Vanderaa’s face a crimson mask, but left Tafa’s in a similar state after they engaged in close quarters. Vanderaa’s corner worked some magic in between rounds, but that image stuck with viewers for the rest of the night. Immediately after that fight, Esparza busted up Xiaonan in the midst of her GnP onslaught. The carnage created by Esparza was there for all to see in her post-fight interview as her fight uniform was covered in Xiaonan’s blood. There were smaller cuts throughout the evening, but those two contests stood head and shoulders above all else in regards to the plasma content.
New Top Contender? Norma Dumont is dead set on competing at bantamweight despite being in the position of the top featherweight contender in the division. That’s by default as she beat the only other featherweight on the roster in Felicia Spencer. Dumont’s reasoning for moving to bantamweight is sound enough: she wants to stay busy and that’s hard to do in a division with only one other full-time competitor. Until the UFC actually makes an effort to sign some legit featherweights to compete in the division, I’m of the opinion they should just scrap it. Not even their own top contender wants to be there.
Best Wishes: I’m happy I will continue to hear Paul Felder on commentary – at the present, he’s my favorite color commentator – but I will miss his performances in the cage as the lightweight contender announced his retirement during the broadcast. No one ever questioned Felder’s toughness – the only stoppage in his professional career was a doctor stoppage due to a cut – and he was consistently entertaining. As a fan, you can’t ask for more out of a fighter. Personally, I would have loved to see him scrap it out a time or two more, but convincing a fighter to keep fighting is a bad thing. If they don’t have that fire, they’re far more likely to get hurt than deliver an epic performance. Thus, all there is left to do is thank Felder for the memories and the sacrifices he made to his body in the cage.
Best Wishes II: I considered not touching on this given he did announce his retirement last week, but the UFC put together a nice video package for Alan Jouban, just like they did with Felder. So what the hell, let’s include Jouban. Jouban didn’t emerge as a contender like Felder did, but he did have several fights that many in the sport wish they could replicate just once. Like Felder, Jouban is fortunate to have his job as an analyst to fall back on, so we haven’t seen the last of him. However, all there is left to say with regards to his fighting career – and I’m going to sound like a broken record – is thank you for the memories and the sacrifices he made to his body in the cage.