I don’t want to pussyfoot around: UFC Vegas 33 was a crap card on paper. Only two of the fighters outside of the main event entered the event with UFC wins with many of the contests featuring fighters looking to stay employed. In other words, you know what two sections of my awards are going to be jam-packed. However, all credit to the fighters as they made it well worth the while for those who did tune in. Though Sean Strickland deserves credit for his win over Uriah Hall in the main event, the best string of action came with the rest of the main card, a series of finishes and one of the best single rounds of action I’ve ever seen in an MMA contest. Not bad for a card everyone was hating on. Here’s the awards for the evening….
Biggest Jump in Stock: I had a hard time with this spot. Several turned in job saving performances, but only a few of them induced a potential rethinking of their abilities. So, given it’s harder to get over the hump of being another guy – or gal – on the roster to being seen as a potential contender, I’ll go with Strickland turning in a complete five-round performance against a durable Hall. I understand those that would disagree with this pick given most expected Strickland to do what he did, but that was no small task. Plus, it’s even more impressive when one thinks of where Strickland was a year ago: prepping for his return after a devastating motorcycle injury had kept him on the shelf.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This was another hard one to pick, especially given I want to pick someone whom I believe will still be on the roster. Rafa Garcia was a heavy favorite against Chris Gruetzemacher, only for the younger fighter to blow his wad after some early domination. Garcia is still a prospect, so there’s no reason to write him off yet. But if he was unable to get past someone with such mediocre physical skills as Gruetzemacher, there is reason to question his ceiling. The hope here is this ends up being a prospect loss of sorts that Garcia can learn from.
Best Newcomer: There were three newcomers on the card, Melsik Baghdasaryan being the only one to walk out with a win. Of course, his win came over another newcomer in Collin Anglin, but that didn’t make it any less impressive. There are some things Baghdasaryan needs to work on – he’ll probably be in trouble if a fight goes three rounds – but there’s a lot to like. For instance, his head kick on Anglin was a thing of beauty and his follow up was an exhibition of great killer instinct.
Start Typing a Resume: There’s a few that I’m not sure will be cut loose, but I could very well see them no longer being on the roster. Niklas Stolze is the name I’m most unsure about. He wasn’t competitive in his loss to the previously winless Jared Gooden, getting KO’d in brutal fashion in the opening round. I can see Stolze getting another chance, but his UFC debut wasn’t exactly competitive either.
Gloria de Paula is another one I’m not sure about, but I kind of hope she does get cut loose. Only 26, her only wins on the regional scene came against cans or untested competition and she ended up making it to the organization via DWCS, a method notorious for sending prospects to the big league too soon. De Paula needs more seasoning. Give her a few years and I think she could be a force to be reckoned with.
Many were thinking the UFC continually extended a lifeline to Ashley Yoder she didn’t deserve. It doesn’t look like she’s going to be getting another one. Typically, Yoder has at least been scrappy enough that even when she’s been overmatched, she’s been game. Those moments were few and far between in her loss to Jinh Yu Frey.
I’m not saying it was overdue, but it felt like Ryan Benoit had a longer leash than most other fighters in his position. Being a power puncher at flyweight has never been a great recipe for success, requiring another level of athleticism to make that work. Benoit isn’t a bad athlete, but was never an exceptional athlete, typically getting outworked in all his contests. His loss to Zarrukh Adashev was a perfect example of that.
Saved Their Job(s): Gooden took a major risk when he stepped in for Mounir Lazzez just four days prior to the event as he entered on a two-fight losing streak. Scoring a first round KO in brutal fashion ensured that the gamble paid off. He didn’t get a $50K bonus, but I felt strongly that he deserved one, another reason why the idea of a limit on the amount of bonuses awarded completely sucks.
I’ll touch more on Jason Witt a bit later, but a third loss in his four UFC contests would assuredly have been a nail in the coffin for him. A seasoned vet who doesn’t appear likely to make any major gains from his current abilities, he needs to be producing now to justify his roster spot. He might have just barely hung on, but it was enough to squeeze out the win and keep him on the roster.
I have a hard time believing the UFC wasn’t looking to send Gruetzemacher packing. Even older than Witt — perhaps with even less physical advantages than Witt — Gruetzemacher looks like the ideal stepping stone for younger fighters. Not this time. Garcia expended his gas tank in the first round, leaving him mere fumes to run on from there. If you’re going to go all out on Gruetzemacher, you better put him away.
The outcome wasn’t what either of them preferred, but a draw was probably the only outcome that would allow both Danny Chavez and Kai Kamaka to remain on the roster. Chavez was saved by a pair of fouls on Kamaka’s part that saw Herb Dean take a point, leaving the fighters and fans with the unsatisfying outcome. It will be a must win for both in their next appearances.
Adashev entered the night winless in the UFC and knew he was on the ropes. Perhaps a bit more aggression would have been preferred as he allowed Benoit to do just enough to leave some doubt in the minds of many when the judges cards were read, but it ultimately did the trick. Now, Adashev needs to build on that momentum.
Never Seen That Before: The phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is tricky in application to sports as the opposition can make adjustments, meaning what is working now may not be working two seconds from now. Well, Jinh Yu Frey didn’t make an adjustment late in the second and Yoder threw 1-2 after 1-2 after 1-2 after… you get the idea. It ended up being something in the neighborhood of 9 consecutive jab-crosses, Yoder’s left cross landing with emphasis time and again. Maybe one of those early punches stunned Frey; there’s no other good reason why she just let Yoder land left cross after left cross.
Biggest WOW Moment: The third round between Witt and Bryan Barberena is the stuff fighters dream about. With Witt up two rounds, Barberena finally came to life, swinging for the fences and coming very close to putting away Witt. It isn’t like Witt was just surviving either, securing takedowns and landing his own brand of wild offense out of desperation in hopes of stopping Barberena’s onslaught. There were several impressive finishes on the night, but it was the several near-finishes in this round that was pulling butts out of seats.
Cure For Insomnia: As a whole, there wasn’t a fight that served as a sleep potion. However, if someone were to fall asleep during the first two rounds of the Witt-Barberena fight, no one would blame them. Of course, the listless performance from Barberena during those first two rounds is a large part of what made the final round so brutally awesome.
Best/Worst Referee Call: I’m a big proponent for referees taking points for repeated fouls, thus why I feel it necessary to give props to Herb Dean for doing so against Kamaka, especially after he specifically told him he would do so after another infraction. I’ve already stated the outcome – a draw against Chavez – was deeply unsatisfying, but it feels appropriate, especially given it’s impossible to measure how much the fouls affected Chavez. Kudos to Dean.
WTF?: Strickland said a couple of curious things after his win. First, in his post-fight interview, he said he’d probably be cooking meth in a trailer if it wasn’t for fighting. It elicited a laugh from many – myself included – while also showing Strickland has that level of crazy that it takes to be successful in this sport. Later, while answering questions backstage, he let it be known he thinks it would be cool if he were to kill a person he was fighting in the cage. I get the feeling while there may be an inkling of truth to that answer, I think it was more of a shock value to get people to remember his name. You don’t often forget who it is that said he “would love to kill someone.” If that’s the case – and I think it is – it’s good marketing on his part, even if it does make people say WTF. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I hope not.