Heading into the main event of UFC Vegas 35, the big question was if Giga Chikadze was ready to face one of the most talented strikers in the UFC in Edson Barboza. Chikadze answered that question with a resounding, “yes.”
In a fight that was edge of the seat tense, thanks to the striking ability of each competitor, it was Chikadze who scored the finish in the third stanza.
Looking at the fighters above him in the rankings, Chikadze, who entered the contest at No. 10 in the official UFC featherweight rankings, looks like he could give any of the men ranked above him a tough fight.
Chikadze called for the back-up role in the upcoming fight between 134-pound champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega. If he can’t get that gig, Chikadze said he would like to face former champion Max Holloway. Chikadze mentioned he feels Holloway might be too dismissive of his striking talents and would like to prove the Hawaiian fighter wrong.
Read on for the winners and losers from UFC Vegas 35, which took place at UFC Apex.
Giga Chikadze: Giga Chikadze moved to 7-0 in the UFC with the biggest win of his MMA career. Chikadze finished an aging, but still very game, Cub Swanson in his last outing. That win left some questions about the former kickboxer. He answered those questions on Saturday with his win over Edson Barboza.
Chikadze’s striking is top-notch. He’s fast, powerful, mixes up his targets and is unafraid to take chances. He’s also extremely confident. All those factors make him a dangerous featherweight. The fighters ranked above him might need to work on their wrestling skills, because a striking battle with the 33-year-old is ill advised.
Bryan Battle: Bryan Battle struggled in the early going of his middleweight TUF final fight against late replacement Gilbert Urbina, but he worked through that adversity to get the submission win. Battle, who was last pick on this season of TUF, is a work in progress, so it’s going to be interesting to see what he does with his opportunity.
Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand: This was a fun fight to crown the winner of the bantamweight division of the most recent season of TUF. The 28-year-old Turcios took home the win and gave off some strong Diego Sanchez vibes in his post-fight interview.
It was a bit of a surprise that UFC president Dana White didn’t award a contract to the 22-year-old Hiestand, who made things very interesting and at just 22, it would have been a good decision to give Hiestand another look in the UFC. Perhaps that will happen, but White could have made that announcement inside the octagon.
Daniel Rodriguez: Daniel Rodriguez made the most of a short notice opportunity with a decision win over Kevin Lee on Saturday night. Rodriguez was the more powerful striker of the two and his ability to thwart Lee’s takedowns was another big reason he got the win in this matchup. Rodriguez is now 6-1 in the UFC. He might not break into the rankings next week, but the days of fans sleeping on Rodriguez could come to an end.
Andre Petroski: Andre Petroski noted he had earned a reputation as a fighter who faded at the seven-minute mark. I’m not sure if Petroski shook that reputation in full on Saturday, but he took a good step toward putting that talk behind him with a third-round TKO win over Micheal Gillmore at UFC Vegas 35.
Gerald Meerschaert: Things have not always gone Gerald Meerschaert’s way in the UFC. After an impressive debut with the promotion in 2016, he’s had his difficulties. Meerschaert entered his matchup at UFC Vegas 35 on a 3-5 run. He was also the biggest underdog on the card. If the UFC thought Makhmud Muradov would get a highlight reel victory over Meerschaert, they were very wrong. In an impressive effort, Meerschaert ended Muradov’s 14-fight winning streak with a second-round rear-naked choke submission. With the victory, Meerschaert has his first winning streak since he won two in a row in 2017-18.
Abdul Razak Alhassan: Abdul Razak Alhassan was on a three-fight losing skid heading into his matchup against Alessio Di Chirico on Saturday. It took him less than 20 seconds to get back in the win column with a highlight reel head kick knockout.
Darren Stewart and Dustin Jacoby: Darren Stewart and Dustin Jacoby put a lot of living into a short, but exciting fight. Stewart started out strong, but Jacoby took control with his striking and ended the fight in the first round.
One of the impressive things about this fight was the finish. When Jacoby had Stewart hurt, Stewart tried to fight back, but Jacoby’s head movement and ability to keep landing strikes showed Jacoby is an above average striker with the ability to stay in control in the heat of battle.
Jacoby is a former Glory kickboxing title challenger and with an unbeaten streak of six fights, Jacoby is someone to keep an eye on at middleweight.
Pat Sabatini: Pat Sabatini’s face after his win over Jamall Emmers was easy to read. Despite a submission win in the first round, Sabatini was not happy with his performance. I think Sabatini was being a little hard on himself. After all, he recovered well from getting rocked by strikes and left Emmers with an injured knee after a heel hook submission win. However, I appreciate the fact that Sabatini, who is a fighter to watch, is hard on himself. That trait bodes well in a sport like MMA, where satisfaction can lead to regression.
Mana Martinez: Mana Martinez had a very rough lead up to UFC Vegas 35. COVID-19 protocols kept him from making his UFC debut on August 21 and on August 17, his coach, Saul Soliz died from COVID-19. The 25-year-old had a slow start on Saturday against Guido Cannetti. Martinez ate a lot of heavy leg kicks in the first round, but he was able to reset before the second stanza and he found his groove over the final 10 minutes and use his high output striking and forward motion to take over the fight. He finished the bout strong, scoring a late takedown and adding some heavy ground strikes for the split decision win.
Monitor Martinez to see how he performs in his next bout, as he will hopefully have less on his mind ahead of that scrap.
Chris Toigni: Referee Chris Toigni did his job in deducting points from Wellington Turman. He gave Turman multiple warnings about extended fingers and when Turman kept extending his fingers, Toigni deducted two points in quick succession.
Edson Barboza: Despite his loss to Giga Chikadze, Edson Barboza is still one of the best strikers in the UFC, but at 35, his days of moving up the rankings and contending for a title might be behind him. Barboza’s resume is one of the most impressive in the UFC. He’s faced nothing but top level talent since 2014 and I think he will continue to do that, but I also think he will be the man who tests the younger featherweights who are trying to break into the top 10 of the division. At his age and with a 2-2 record at featherweight, Barboza’s road to the top of the division looks very steep.
Kevin Lee: Kevin Lee’s return to welterweight was unsuccessful. In his first fight at 170 pounds since Rafael dos Anjos submitted him in 2019, Lee lost a decision to Daniel Rodriguez. Lee had a good first round, but when his ability to keep the fight on the ground failed in the final 10 minutes, Rodriguez took over the contest. Lee is now on a 2-5 run dating back to 2017.
If the UFC is not going to have a 165-pound division, and it doesn’t look like it will, the promotion might do Lee a favor be releasing him and allowing to get some more reps at welterweight against non-UFC competition and seeing how things shake out for him.
Sam Alvey: Sam Alvey has been fighting for his job for the past few years. On Saturday, his run without a win extended to seven fights. Alvey has been a counter fighter for a long while. He willingly puts himself against the cage and he’s rarely in attacking mode. This loss could be the final UFC fight for the 35-year-old. It’s mind boggling to realize that Alvey was unable or unwilling to adjust his style since his last victory, which came in 2018.
On another note, Alvey’s outburst against the judges was unwarranted after the loss. He has no one to blame for this setback but Sam Alvey.
Jamall Emmers: Jamall Emmers dropped Pat Sabatini early in their featherweight bout. When he followed Sabatini to the mat and quickly gained mount, Emmers probably thought he was in control. He wasn’t. Sabatini recovered and the heel hook he found was much more devastating than the toehold Emmers was working. Emmers could be out for quite a while after his submission setback.
Guido Cannetti: Guido Cannetti started out well against Mana Martinez, lighting up his opponent with leg kicks, but when Martinez was less accepting of those strikes in the next two rounds, Cannetti could not come up with a Plan B.
Andre Petroski: The call Jeff Bezos “joke” was a groaner.
UFC Rankings: While looking at the welterweight division after Daniel Rodriguez’s win, I was shocked to see Robbie Lawler, who has one win in the past five years, ranked at No. 15 in the official UFC 170 pound rankings. Further, Lawler hasn’t fought in the past year. This isn’t a shot at Lawler, but at the rankings and rankings team. It would be great if UFC would provide some transparency in the rankings.
TUF Franchise: The TUF fights felt like an afterthought. This season might have been the least talked about in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter.” It felt like the show exists these days simply to supply cheap content. If that’s the case, the UFC would be better off adding additional Contender Series cards. Perhaps the UFC could use those events to feature one weight division and hand out a single contract per show. Fight fans have proven to be much more interested in Contender Series events than they are in TUF, but as we know, the UFC doesn’t like change. No, the promotion prefers to suck every drop of life it can out of something before it moves on, and it seems like there’s at least a little blood left in the husk that is TUF.