Uncle Dana probably thinks I’m going to eat my words about TUF, given both of the crowning TUF matches were fun scraps (at least he would think that if he knew I existed), but I’m not backing off. I still think TUF should have been left in the graveyard after the UFC transitioned over to ESPN. I’ll offer my congratulations to Ricky Turcios and Bryan Battle, but I’ll wonder why they opted to go that route when DWCS involves winning a single fight, utilizing their own coaches, and not being secluded for weeks at a time with multiple weight cuts in a limited window. Now that I’ve done by obligatory trashing of TUF, back to our regularly scheduled programing.
The main event of UFC Vegas 35 between Giga Chikadze and Edson Barboza may not have lived up to the impossibly high expectations some had for it – I saw FOTY talk for it – it was certainly a fun scrap that turned out to be a coming out party for Chikadze when he put away Barboza in an elongated finishing sequence early in the third. While that was the biggest development of the evening, there were other events from the evening that advance the everlasting narrative of the organization. Lets dig into it with my Unofficial Awards….
Biggest Jump in Stock: Given I don’t want to put someone who wasn’t even on the roster in this spot, the clearest choice is Daniel Rodriguez. 18 months after debuting in the UFC, Rodriguez is now 7-1 in the UFC (arguably 8-0) and now has a win over a former interim title challenger in Kevin Lee. Rodriguez’s ability to stay calm when he’s either hurt or in a terrible position is exceptionally impressive. Though Lee scored several takedowns, Rodriguez never panicked and was usually able to work his way out of the troublesome position. He’s earned an opportunity to face a ranked opponent at this point, but it’s impossible to guarantee that’s what happens. Regardless, Rodriguez has progressed to the point where he’ll be on the receiving end of some callouts.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I generally hate picking the opponent of the one whose stock jumped the most as it’s generally the most obvious choice, but it goes beyond losing to Rodriguez for Lee. Ever since he was tabbed to fight Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title in 2017, he’s gone a disappointing 2-5. It’s difficult for him to make the cut to 155 with his athletic frame, but he’s also gone 0-2 at welterweight – including this loss to Rodriguez – making it clear his welterweight future isn’t going to be very bright unless he makes some serious changes. Without up close knowledge, I can’t confidently predict what he might want to do, but something needs to happen.
Best Newcomer: This was a tough one to pick given both TUF winners overcame adversity to secure impressive wins, but I’m going with Ricky Turcios. The Team Alpha Male product had one of the more entertaining TUF crowning performances in the long history of the tournament, edging out a youthful Brady Hiestand. I’m of the opinion Hiestand has the higher ceiling, but Turcios was the better man in the present. Even though there is a large swathe of fans of MMA who don’t care about a TUF title anymore, there is a small pocket who still think it means something and that’ll only help Turcios in his climb.
Start Typing a Resume: A strong argument could be made that Micheal Gillmore never should have been on a UFC card in the first place, but I get the feeling Uncle Dana wanted to reward him for hanging around Vegas when the show was filming and stepping up when an injury replacement was needed. Gillmore showed better than expected and was able to check off fighting in the UFC as a career accomplishment, but no one ever saw him as a long term prospect.
For many in the UFC community, it was a long time coming to see Sam Alvey get the axe. Well… we’re assuming he’s getting the axe. Many assumed he would be gone after his two previous contests, but he found a way to make it back. However, at this point, with seven winless fights, it’s hard to believe he can find a way to make it back, especially when Wellington Turman did everything possible to keep him in the fight. Alvey had a long run, the length of most would be jealous of. But at 35, I don’t see him coming back.
At one point, it looked like Darren Stewart had things figured out. He had a stretch where he won five of his six UFC contests, making himself at home at 185 after a rough start to his UFC career at 205. Two rough contests later, he runs back up to light heavyweight and has now failed to pick up a win in his last four contests. I didn’t think moving back to light heavyweight was going to solve his issues and I’m even more convinced of that after this latest loss to Dustin Jacoby. I’m up in the air if he could work his way back into the organization.
At 41 with a 2-5 UFC record (2-7 if you count his time on TUF), it’s hard to believe Guido Cannetti is making his way back to the UFC. He hung tough against an emotional Martinez, but still came up short despite putting on one of the better performances of his career, perhaps even his best performance. At his age, there’s no point in the UFC keeping him around any longer.
There’s a chance Alessio Di Chirico ends up on the chopping block – he has lost four of his last five – but I’m not as sold on that as I am on the others saying sayonara.
Saved Their Job(s): Andre Petroski may have been making his UFC debut, but make no mistake that he was fighting for his job. There are some who believe even with the win that he’ll be relegated to fighting for a UFC contract on DWCS, but that would be such a blatant slap at the TUF format, I don’t think the UFC will take that course. Regardless, he got the win and I’m sure he’ll stay in the organization in the process.
There’s no doubt Abdul Razak Alhassan was fighting for his employment, entering the contest on a three-fight losing streak, his last win coming all the way back in 2018. He responded spectacularly, securing one of the most brutal head kicks I’ve seen in a long time, doing so in just 17 seconds. It appears Alhassan needed a change of scenery, changing camps ahead of this fight against Di Chirico. Previously, his body language had been miserable. I’ll admit there wasn’t a lot of fight time to judge him on this time, but it looked much improved.
Speaking of body language, Wellington Turman was another one who looked vastly confident in comparison to his previous form. There may have been several holes in his striking, but he threw with authority, which appeared to make all the difference. Even as Turman ate some shots from Alvey, his lights didn’t go out as they had in his two previous contests. Maybe his chin is tougher than we all thought….
Biggest WOW Moment: Less to do with the fact Di Chirico had never been finished via strikes – though that does help – Alhassan’s head kick KO was simply a spectacular kick. It may not have put Di Chirico out cold, but he certainly wasn’t on the same plane of reality as anyone else in the APEX at that moment. Di Chirico leaning into the kick didn’t help things out on his end, but it also added to the visual of the flailing Di Chirico.
Best/Worst Referee Moment: I’ve long been in favor of referees being quicker to take points for infractions of the rules. I’m not against a warning, but when the infractions continue to pile up or directly affect the location of the fight, that’s when a referee needs to step in. While I was a bit annoyed with how long it took Chris Tognoni to take points for eye pokes on the first occasion he did so to Turman. However, he wasn’t playing around when Turman did so almost immediately after the contest restarted, taking another point. There were no more issues with eye pokes after that….
Best Callout: Chikadze really shot for the stars. He could have asked for someone like Arnold Allen or Calvin Kattar, fights that seemed like realistic goals that allow him to continue climbing the ladder. Instead, he asked for perhaps the biggest fish of all, calling out a Max Holloway who is not only scheduled to face Yair Rodriguez in November, he could very well be fighting for the featherweight title after that should Brian Ortega beat Alexander Volkanovski. However, Rodriguez also has a history of not making it to his scheduled fights and Chikadze has proven willing to step in to take a fight on short notice. It’s hard to believe Chikadze won’t be the first person Uncle Dana calls if Rodriguez is forced to pull out. I normally don’t care for the shoot for the stars callouts, but this one actually made sense to me.
On the Shelf: Injuries are to be expected in any fight. After all, this is a sport where the combatants are looking to intentionally hurt one another. However, Jamall Emmers looks like he’s going to be sidelined for a long time after it appeared his knee was severely jacked up by Pat Sabatini’s heel hook. It’s a shame as Emmers had just come back from a herniated disk and is deep enough into his career that he needs to make a move now if he wants to make a run. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Here’s hoping the injury isn’t as severe as it appeared to be at first glance.
Treading Water: I’ve seen fans wonder why a fighter should take a fight if they have “nothing to gain” from taking it. It’s easy to forget this is a job for these fighters and they don’t get paid on the same level as the more established sports around the globe. Thus, whileJJ Aldrich isn’t going to jump in the stands by disposing of a game Vanessa Demopoulos given she was expected to easily clear that hurdle she does collect a pair of paychecks, her base pay and win bonus. Plus, Aldrich picked up some additional experience and I’d guess her confidence grew as well. Just because she’ll be treading water in the standings doesn’t mean she had nothing to gain. It was a good showing for Aldrich and it’s easy to see her continuing to build off this success.
David Slaying Goliath: While I disagreed with the odds in regards to how big of an underdog Gerald Meerschaert was (he was in the neighborhood of +440 against Makhmud Muradov), I’m not going to pretend I gave picking Meerschaert any serious thought. I’m always happy to be proven wrong in these situations given the David vs. Goliath moments where David emerges successful are a big part of the reason why we watch this sport. Making Meerschaert’s win that much more impressive was it looked like Muradov was going to finish him off within the first couple of minutes. Meerschaert’s chin held up, continuing to pursue the takedowns, and eventually got the fight to his world and subbed out Muradov. Even though Muradov had a busy schedule prior to coming to the UFC in 2019, this was his first loss in almost five years. I don’t necessarily think any less of Muradov for this loss either, but it certainly serves as a nice reminder of why Meerschaert was the record holder for submissions in the middleweight division even before forcing Muradov to tap.