One of the factors that makes MMA unlike any other sport is its cruelty. We’ve seen it several times in recent months. Chris Weidman’s leg break. Jacare Souza’s arm break. Jamahal Hill’s arm dislocation. Now, we witnessed Conor McGregor’s lower tibia/upper ankle fracture, putting the biggest star in the history of the sport – and perhaps the current biggest star in the sports world in general – on the skids for a while. McGregor’s comments after the end of the fight at UFC 264 only added to the story, dragging the wife of Dustin Poirier through the mud with insults directed at her. It’s understandable why Poirier’s win isn’t getting the attention it deserves, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating the moment doesn’t belong to him. As always, there were other moments on the card that deserve a closer look. Let’s dig into my unofficial awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Ilia Topuria and Dricuss Du Plessis have very strong cases to be made given the impressive manners in which they secured their victories, but Kris Moutinho deserves this spot in his one-sided loss to Sean O’Malley. Sure, Moutinho never put a scare into O’Malley, but he never stopped moving forward, never stopped trying to win. The kid needs a lot of work on his defense – I’m not sure if he knows what head movement is – but the fact he ate so much damage swung the crowd into his favor by the end to the extent they were booing Herb Dean’s stoppage of the contest with 27 seconds left. There have been several fighters who’ve had solid UFC runs that never received as much love from the crowd Mouthinho did in his lopsided loss. That’s what a strong narrative can do.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Undoubtedly this spot has to go to McGregor. Owning a single win since his crowning achievement of becoming the first double champion is only part of the fall. McGregor’s insistence on the fight being declared a loss due to doctor stoppage was indicative of someone looking for any excuse he can to convince any and everyone that a fourth fight is necessary. Then his disgusting comments towards Poirier’s wife made him look like a disgusting human being. Given McGregor’s long history of poor judgment (i.e. smashing other people’s phones, attacking buses, jumping into cages without authorization, etc.), it’s hard to say he’s a good person who has made mistakes. At what point do we say repeated poor decisions are indicative of who he is? He’ll still make money when he comes back, but it’s hard to believe his fan base will ever be as strong as it was at his peak.
Start Typing a Resume: The only person who for sure won’t be returning to the organization is Jerome Rivera. The lanky flyweight looked good in the opening minute and a half of his fight with Zhalgas Zhumagulov, showing a directed strategy as opposed to just throwing out random strikes. Then he got caught in one of the weirdest looking guillotines, bringing his UFC record to 0-4. At 26, he could make his way back, but that’s never a guarantee.
There are rumbles that we’ve seen the last of Jessica Eye in the UFC. I can’t confirm that, nor would I cut her loose if it was my decision, but I can’t argue that it wouldn’t be justifiable. The former title challenger has now lost three fights in a row and four of her last five. However, all of those losses came against opponents currently ranked in the top ten, plus the champion. She’s losing to quality competition. She has survived a similarly porous run prior to dropping to flyweight, but perhaps the organization isn’t looking to show her as much leniency this time around. However, her loss to Jennifer Maia was both a close scrap and an entertaining one, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of her.
Saved Their Job(s): Zhumagulov is the only fighter who appears to have saved their employment with the UFC. The Kazak fighter was 0-2 in the UFC heading into the event and knew he needed to secure a win if he hoped to stay on the roster. He did so in a quick manner with a submission that leaves me wondering how in the hell he didn’t collect a Performance bonus. Limiting the amount of bonuses really sucks.
Biggest WOW Moment: I typically try to reserve this award for a spot that didn’t have quite the spotlight, but McGregor has an orbit all of his own. Whether you believe Poirier’s kick check had anything to do with McGregor’s broken ankle, the ankle/leg break itself was a jaw-dropping moment on its own. Thus, I absolutely had to go with the conclusion of the main event. However, I don’t want to take away from the violent finishes of Irene Aldana, Tai Tuivasa, and Dricus Du Plessis as they made it impossible to choose which of those three would have taken the crown had the main event not produced such a drama laden finish. If I were to guess, it probably would have been Tuivasa for disposing of Greg Hardy in a manner so many have been desperately hoping to see happen to the former NFL All-Pro. That said, all arguments for Aldana or Du Plessis are more than welcome.
Never Seen That Before: There has been several occasions when trash talk has sunk into despicable levels. McGregor talking about Poirier’s wife wanting to see McGregor’s pubic region prior to their trilogy fight was a prime example. But having a fighter talking trash of any sorts after a debilitating injury isn’t something I can recall. But as he’s prone to do, McGregor took it to another level by dragging Poirier’s wife into the discussion once again with more disgusting comments about her. Poirier’s wife didn’t choose to have a career in MMA; her husband did. McGregor should keep the talk to the person who choose to get involved in the sport and leave their supporters out of it. Regardless, the image of McGregor, unable to stand up, spewing vile words at his opposition’s wife is going to be one of the defining images of his career.
Never Seen That Before II: What the hell kind of choke did Zhumagulov put on Rivera? I understand it was a modified guillotine choke, but I’ve never seen one applied at that angle. I saw some on Twitter comparing it to Dan Miller’s guillotine of Dave Phillips in the IFL. I won’t deny that Miller’s was impressive, but it was a far more traditional choke than whatever it was that Zhumagulov found. I’d love to have a name attached to it – maybe the Zhumatine – because it doesn’t feel right to just call that a guillotine.
Best/Worst Referee Call: I’m not 100% which moment was worse, but Herb Dean takes the cake either way. Though I completely understand where those who are arguing his stoppage during the O’Malley-Moutinho contest was justified are coming from, Dean’s timing was terrible. Moutinho did eat a ridiculous amount of damage, but he didn’t seem to be in any more trouble than he had previously been in during the round, despite what O’Malley might have claimed. If Dean was going to stop the fight due to accumulated damage, why not do it earlier? If the claim is Moutinho wasn’t intelligently defending himself, he never did that at any point of the fight. Rather than let Moutinho bask in the moment by going the distance despite O’Malley’s onslaught Dean stopped the fight with 27 seconds despite it being clear Moutinho had enough in the tank to keep going.
The other call I considered, I can’t confirm how it played out – and probably will never be able to – but if Dean allowed McGregor to influence the manner of how the fight was stopped on record, that’s some serious BS. The only proof that happened was the aggressive manner in which McGregor insisted the fight be declared a doctor stoppage. Dean may very well have tuned out McGregor and called it as he saw it. But I don’t know that and McGregor’s influence and vehemence of the call can’t help but sow doubt in my mind.
Best Callout: It wasn’t a specific callout as he named three potential opponents in the process, but Gilbert Burns knew damn well what he doing when he called out Jorge Masvidal, Nate Diaz, and Leon Edwards following his win over Stephen Thompson. Is he likely to get any of those three next? Hard to believe he will, but sowing the seed of fighting any of the three makes them more likely and those are the ideal fights for Burns. Too bad Burns isn’t the ideal fight for any of them. Masvidal has either Edwards or Colby Covington to choose from, Edwards has Masvidal or campaigning for a title fight – especially now that Thompson isn’t an option – and Diaz will fight whoever he wants, whenever he wants. I get the feeling it won’t be Burns. Expect Burns to play a gatekeeping role against the likes of Belal Muhammad or Neil Magny.
Pot Calling the Kettle Black: When the UFC first implemented their Reebok uniform policy back in 2015, no one was claiming they didn’t have an argument that all the sponsors on the fighters shorts looked unprofessional. The issue most fans had was the UFC making that argument while pasting advertisements all over the cage. That issue was taken to the nth degree as there was nary an inch of the Octagon that wasn’t covered in some sort of an advertisement while the fighters still aren’t allowed to have logos or advertisements on their ring gear except in very special circumstances. It’s a hard policy to defend when they treat their own cage like it’s a NASCAR stock car….
Best (Almost) Breakout Win: There were several wins that turned heads, ranking as the best wins of the careers for those who produced those victories. Max Griffin survived a couple of scares from Carlos Condit before securing a comfortable decision. Michel Pereira looked fantastic for the first half of his contest with Niko Price before going into survival mode for the second half to squeeze out his win. Tuivasa put away a massively unpopular Greg Hardy in a brutally short order. Brad Tavares outclassed a very game Omari Akhmedov over 15 competitive minutes. Du Plessis made sure we all knew how to say his name after violently disposing of Trevin Giles. However, it comes down to two choices for me: Aldana and Topuria. Aldana’s win qualifies as breakout in the more traditional sense as she delivered a KO against a highly ranked opponent, which could get her a title shot. But… she missed weight. Badly. She may still get the title shot, but I’m going with Topuria for taking it to Hall and decimating the leg lock wiz in a matter no one else who tried was able to do. It won’t have people talking about him fighting for a title, but that’s why it was almost a breakout win.