UFC Vegas 34 has come and gone, playing out very much as expected. Jared Cannonier defeated Kelvin Gastelum in the main event, Mark O. Madsen squeaked past the eternally youthful Clay Guida, and Alexandre Pantoja earned a title shot by disposing of Brandon Royval in one hell of a barnburner. Not everything on the card was brilliant, but it was hard to ask for a better start to the night, the first four fights delivering four finishes in which every one of the victims went to sleep. Unfortunately, it did set up the rest of the card to be a bit of a letdown by comparison, but that doesn’t mean the card as a whole was a disappointment. In fact, that’s far from the case.
To get an feel for the way things played out, dig into my Unofficial Awards….
Biggest WOW Moment: I typically don’t like to start with this award, but I HAVE to given the insanity of the moment. Even though Ignacio Bahamondes was well on his way to taking an impressive decision victory, the native Chilean went for all the glory and snatched it out of the air. As an exhausted Roberts stumbled backwards, Bahamondes caught him with a spinning wheel kick that elicited memories of Edson Barboza and Terry Etim. If you didn’t have a visible reaction to that finish, you aren’t human. Perhaps I’m caught up in the now, but this feels like the front runner for KOoTY at the moment.
Biggest Jump in Stock: There were several who made a strong case for this spot, but none could overcome the performance of Bahamondes. The fight ending kick probably would have been enough to slide him into this spot, though it would have been fair to question the validity of his spot given an entire performance shouldn’t be judged solely on a single moment. Fortunately for Bahamondes, there is essentially 15 minutes of solid footage indicating there’s more to the former kickboxer than just a spinning wheel kick, expertly mixing his strikes, both in terms of variety and where they landed. At 6’3”, he won’t be staying at lightweight forever, but he can certainly make some more noise before heading up.
Biggest Fall in Stock: There were a couple of choices I can see arguments for ahead of who I ultimately settled on, but the nod goes to Trevin Jones for me. After back to back KO wins – I’m counting the first one — Jones was riding high. Against Saidyokub Kakhramonov, a short notice replacement, Jones looked flat, opting to grind things out against the fence with minimal effect. My colleague Zane Simon pointed out he appears to have suffered an adrenaline dump early, perhaps when Kakhramonov slapped on a tight guillotine early. Jones escaped that one, but appeared to be in survival mode from there. What makes it worse, not only did Kakhramonov take the fight on four days notice, he had to fly halfway around the world… and he appeared to be the fresher fighter. Real bad look for Jones.
Best Newcomer: This was not an easy choice as Kakhramonov and Josiane Nunes both had debuts that are tough to top, but I chose Kakhramonov as I’d consider Jones to be a higher quality of win than Bea Malecki. The road for Kakhramonov to be a divisional
Start Typing a Resume: There’s a possibility Sasha Palatnikov could get the benefit of the doubt and come back around after his second loss in a row, but given there’s a fresh wave of DWCS products ready to make their way to the organization, I have serious doubts for someone like him. While he’s still inexperienced with 10 professional fights, he’s also 32, no spring chicken for a prospect. Plus, welterweight isn’t short on depth.
I expect we’ll either see him back in the UFC (or Bellator or the PFL), but three losses in a row should be enough for Roberts to receive a pink slip. The lanky lightweight has all the talent in the world, but hasn’t put it all together. That said, there were some encouraging signs prior to his sudden KO loss, even if he didn’t win a single round. Fighters might want to avoid having Uncle Dana anoint them as the next big thing as that always seems to be a kiss of death.
Unlike Palatnikov, Fabio Cherant has the benefit of plying his trade in a division that lacks for depth, so I could very well be wrong about him being cut loose. Throw in the fact he’s a youthful 26 and has plenty of physical tools, I was reluctant to put him here. However, both of his UFC losses came via first round stoppages, having very few moments that indicate he’s a diamond in the rough that his regional work indicates.
I have zero doubt in my mind Domingo Pilarte is on his way out. The lanky bantamweight spent almost the entirety of his fight with Brian Kelleher in a closed guard looking to minimize the amount of damage Kelleher rained down upon him, merely looking to survive rather than win the fight. Pilarte’s body language as the decision was announced indicated he’s aware of this as well as I have a hard time believing there’s anyone more disappointed in himself than he was at that moment.
Chase Sherman received a nice bit of leeway in his first UFC stint, but it’s hard to believe he will the second time around. The big man looked like he was just going through the motions, just trying to get through the fight and perhaps nab a win while he’s at it. When Sherman debuted in the UFC in 2016, he looked like he enjoyed fighting. There was no sign of that enthusiasm he used to display against Parker Porter. Perhaps he’s lost his fire…
Saved Their Job(s): After a relatively listless debut, Ramiz Brahimaj wasn’t fooling around, immediately taking Palatnikov to the mat and doing what he does best: pursuing submissions. Given this performance was far more akin to what he showed on the regional scene, there’s good reason to believe this won’t be his only UFC win.
Some may believe William Knight needed a win to hang around, but I’m not so sure. Had Knight lost, I think he would have been given more wiggle room than Cherant currently has, the man Knight disposed of. Though short for 205, Knight’s unique frame and skill set is worth investing more time into. Fortunately, Knight found a highlight reel finish, meaning the UFC brass didn’t need to go into that debate at this juncture.
Bahamondes may have saved his own job with his performance, but given I’ve already spent enough time on him, I’ll leave it at that.
Never Seen That Before: I’ll admit that I’ve seen similar endings to fights before, but the sloppy way in which Knight threw his punch, only for it to actually put Cherant to sleep, seems like an anomaly. There was basically no bend to Knight’s elbow as he threw out a check left hook, if you can call it that. I’m saying I haven’t seen that before because I’m not sure what kind of punch that was. Regardless, it did the job.
Biggest WOW Moment II: Knight’s KO of Cherant deserves a spot here, but I’ll leave it where it is and given this spot to Nunes KO of Malecki. While Nunes’ overall strategy leaves a lot to be desired in the long run – walking forward swinging heavy leather is what she always does – it was perfect for Malecki as the lanky kickboxer continued to back herself into the fence and kept her hands low. It led to a heavy left hook dropping Malecki cold and giving Nunes a debut to remember.
Best Callout: Credit to Mark O. Madsen for having a name in Gregor Gillespie, but I’m not going to give him credit for a callout that doesn’t have a chance in hell, at least not at the moment. Thus, I’m going with Kelleher asking for Sean O’Malley. He’s clearly been keeping tabs on the youngster, realizing O’Malley has purposely been avoiding ranked opponents. Kelleher isn’t a ranked opponent and doesn’t appear to be ahead of O’Malley in the rankings. But if O’Malley isn’t looking for a clear step up in competition, Kelleher makes a lot of sense.
Best/Worst Referee Call: It’s hard to find a more inconsistent referee than Herb Dean, though I will admit he’s been more miss than hit as of late. The miss this time around was separating Kakhramonov from a sleeping Jones in a timely manner, allowing Kakhramonov to continue squeezing a few seconds after Jones was staring at his eyelids. The role of the referee is to minimize the potential damage delivered to the fighter after they can no longer functionally continue to fight. Dean has had a bad habit of coming up short in that area as of late.
Iron Jaw: Everyone has always known about Gastelum’s incredible chin. The longtime UFC vet has faced several heavy hitters – including middleweight champion Israel Adesanya – and never gone to sleep. He ate several hard shots from Cannonier, including one in the third that put Gastelum on his ass, only to see him pop up immediately after hitting the canvas. I know this isn’t anything new about Gastelum, but it should be noted when his incredible chin lives up to its reputation.
Deep Tank: It isn’t a surprise when a fighter from a lighter weight class can rack up over 100 significant strikes. It’s impressive when they do it consecutively. It’s improbable when a heavyweight does the former, unheard of when they perform the latter. And yet, Porter was able to do just that, landing 149 significant strikes one fight after racking up 126. He’s not only surpassing 100, he’s doing so by a significant margin. Porter looks more like the plumber who moonlights as a fighter on the weekend than a professional athlete, but his performance has belied his appearance, outworking smaller fighters who look the part. I never would have predicted this from him when he first joined the UFC.