Despite the return of a former champion from a long retirement at UFC Vegas 31, this was very much an overlooked event as there wasn’t much else of note on the card. Fortunately for those who did chose to watch, there were 8 finishes out of the 10 contests, topped by Islam Makhachev putting on a dominant performance against Thiago Moises. Of course, that was expected in the same way the sun rises in the east, so it didn’t exactly make waves. Regardless, no matter how inconsequential, every event advances the narrative and it was a hell of an entertaining watch. Oh… Miesha Tate’s successful return does rate as the most significant narrative from the event. She looked pretty damned good in her return too. As for the rest of the card, that can largely be explained with my Unofficial Awards…..
Biggest Jump in Stock: I’m going with Billy Quarantillo. That would be in part to the fact Quarantillo was coming off the worst performance of his career against Gavin Tucker, giving him further room for growth in his stock. Regardless, Quarantillo took some extra time off after his last fight in addition to having corrective eye surgery and never looked better than he did against Gabriel Benitez. Quarantillo’s relentless pressure was too much for Benitez to overcome, making it impossible for the precision striker to get off his signature kicks.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Most of the fights on the card either went largely as expected or were hard fights to pick in the first place, making it easy to settle on Francisco Figueiredo into this slot. The brother of the former flyweight champion, Deiveson Figueiredo, Francisco fights in a similarly ambling fight style as his brother. He probably should try something else as he doesn’t have the power, explosion, or killer instinct as his brother, proving unable to put away a chinny Malcolm Gordon. Expectations weren’t that high for Francisco in the first place, but this loss completely tanked them.
Start Typing a Resume: There’s no one I can say with assurance is going to be on the chopping block, but there are a few I wouldn’t be surprised to see being handed a pink slip. Alan Baudot started strong against Rodrigo Nascimento, only to fall flat on his face when he gassed himself with a heavy pace early and fell prey to a Nascimento comeback. After two losses in a row, Baudot will probably get another chance given his connections – he’s a training partner of Francis Ngannou – but he’ll be skating on thin ice.
Khalid Taha has the misfortune of being in the division brimming with all sorts of young talent in bantamweight. With no shortage of prospects at 135, the UFC is unlikely to give him a long leash as they did the likes of Khadis Ibragimov at light heavyweight. Taha does have power, but he’s wooden and struggles to adjust when an opponent comes at him with a diverse attack as Sergey Morozov demonstrated. If he drops a third contest in a row, he’ll surely be gone, but two in a row might be enough to put him on the skids.
Given he’s winless in his last six appearances, some may expect Jeremy Stephens to be on the outside looking in in short order. However, Stephens has only been facing top competition, putting on generally competitive scraps outside of this loss to Mateusz Gamrot. However, more than anything, Stephens is one of Uncle Dana’s boys. Rather than punish Stephens in any way shape or form for his weigh-in tiff with Drakkar Klose, Stephens was booked into another fight while Klose is still on the sidelines. Stephens isn’t going anywhere.
Saved Their Job(s): After two first round losses to open his UFC career, there was a bit of surprise to see Malcolm Gordon get a third attempt to pick up a UFC win. Fortunately for the Canadian, he not only survived past the first round, he scored a unanimous decision over Francisco Figueiredo. While it was certainly a close contest, most would agree he deserved the win. Here’s hoping he can build on the momentum of this win.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: After Amanda Lemos knocked Montserrat Ruiz silly – silly enough the referee stepped in to separate the fighters – Ruiz popped up into her fighting stance and moved across the cage in anticipation of the fight continuing. This happened despite the referee having clearly shoved Lemos off Ruiz and Lemos dancing in celebration of the stoppage. I initially disagreed with the stoppage as Ruiz was clearly moving and ready to go… but if she was so out of it that she didn’t realize the fight was over despite seeing the referee’s actions, I not only can’t complain with the stoppage, I have to say it was the best call of the evening.
Never Seen That Before: In addition to the referee having stepped in when he did against Lemos and Ruiz, I have to admit that I haven’t seen a fighter pop up in the manner Ruiz did with the belief the fight was still going despite all the visual evidence to the contrary. To be fair, I can’t say exactly what it is Ruiz saw given she had just been knocked silly, but one would think she noticed the referee pulling Lemos off in some form and saw Lemos’ celebration too. Ruiz really must have been rocked….
Biggest WOW Moment: Though the contest between Quarantillo and Benitez was largely one-sided, Benitez’s knockdown of Quarantillo immediately made everyone sit up at attention. Sure, Quarantillo did eventually get the win that appeared to be inevitable prior to the knockdown, but given Benitez appeared to be on the ropes, the counter left that floored Quarantillo reminded everyone that the suddenness in which a fight can end is one of the factors that makes MMA such an enjoyable contest. In basketball, you’re not going to instantly make a 40 point deficit disappear. A comparable situation in MMA can see that happen.
Best Callout: I know everyone loves the high-profile callouts, but major props to Rodrigo Nascimento for making a callout that makes a LOT of sense. Asking for Chase Sherman, he asked for a fighter that represents a reasonable step up from where he was fighting, giving him a winnable fight that also allows him to gain reasonable cage experience. Exactly the type of callout a fighter should make. Sure, Makhachev called out Rafael dos Anjos and Quarantillo called out Charles Rosa, but both of those fighters are of arguably lower stock than those who called them out. Thus, Nascimento’s callout was the best callout.
Still Scary as Hell: I get the feeling many fight fans were introduced to Wallid Ismael for the first time after Lemos secured her quick win. A notorious wild man back in the infancy of the sport of MMA, he still has that glint in his eye that makes you hesitant to shake his hand if given the opportunity as he served as Lemos translator in her post-fight interview. There’s no doubt he took liberties with what his pupil elaborated, but I’m not going to say Wallid’s enthusiasm and theatrics weren’t effective. He made me want to go digging in the crates for some of his old fights….
Ready for the Big Time: There are two names on the card that were fighting opposition they were expected to dominate in Makhachev and Lemos. Makhachev has been claiming nobody wants to fight him and it feels safe to assume many in the women’s strawweight division feel the same about Lemos. Given it’s been a while since anyone has pushed Makhachev in the slightest, it feels pointless to give him someone that isn’t in the title discussions, or at the very least, has been in those talks very recently. As for Lemos, it was an obvious step back for Lemos to be facing Ruiz after disposing of Livinha Souza in her previous contest. It feels pointless to give her another opponent outside of the top ten. Had these contests been made due to an injury replacement, there wouldn’t be an issue, but that wasn’t the case.
Stupidest Take: While I completely disagree with Michael Bisping’s take that Rodolfo Vieira shouldn’t be using a sports psychologist, I also don’t want the color commentators to be making general statements that everyone completely agrees with. They are color commentators after all; they’re supposed to add color to the commentary. That said, just because Bisping was able to power through his potential mental blocks during his fighting career by cardioing up, that doesn’t mean everyone else can do so. Everyone else functions differently and several prominent fighters have used sports psychologists in the past, including one notable champion who beat him for his middleweight title in Georges St-Pierre. If everyone functioned the same way, there wouldn’t be differing styles of fights. Bisping is not a stupid person by any means, but he was completely off track when he said Vieira didn’t need a sports psychologist. After all, Vieira did end up the victor in his contest….
Paid by the Second: The obvious choice for this award is Lemos given her contest only lasted 35 seconds, but her dominance was expected. Thus, I’m going with Gamrot given most expected him to have a knockdown, drag out, competitive contest with Stephens. Instead, Gamrot took down the seasoned veteran and submitted him in the span of 65 seconds with a submission seen less and less in the present day, the kimura. Gamrot intended to make a statement and sure as hell did so. Expect him to be getting a sizeable step up in competition, deservedly so.