UFC Vegas 37 has come and gone. Though it was a long and arduous journey through all 14 fights, it ended up being a fun journey. There were eight finishes, no real stinkers, and a few moments that jumped out of the screen. The biggest development saw Anthony Smith turn away Ryan Spann in the main event, then offering an explicit-laden interview that indicated he feels disrespected. Just a little.... Of course, that was hardly the only development. Strap in for my Unofficial Awards and you’ll get a unique rundown on the card....
Biggest Jump in Stock: The only name that really jumped out to me is Arman Tsarukyan. Everyone expected him to beat Christos Giagos. Nobody expected him to beat him in the first round on the strength of his striking. A counter left sent Giagos sprawling backwards into the fence, leading Tsarukyan to jump all over him until the referee pulled him off. It was Tsarukyan’s fourth win in a row and his first finish in that time. Given Giagos has traditionally been durable makes it that much more impressive. Look for him to appear in the official UFC rankings next week. Whether he gets a ranked opponent next is another story.
Biggest Fall in Stock: It wasn’t so much that Devin Clark lost to Ion Cutelaba. Most predicted that to happen. It was the fact that Clark was unable to put up a competitive fight against a guy who has been notorious for fading hard beyond the first round. Not that Clark has been known for a good gas tank himself, but all his UFC wins have come by decision, indicating he tends to be more effective over longer periods than Cutelaba. No one really believed Clark would evolve into a contender, but becoming a gatekeeper to the top ten seemed reasonable. After a loss like this, there’s a reason to believe Clark may not even be able to reenter the rankings at any point moving forward.
Best Newcomer: There’s a reason many were calling Erin Blanchfield one of the best prospects prior to her UFC debut and she proved why. A reasonable argument could be made that she secured a 10-8 in every round against a durable Sarah Alpar. Granted, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes Alpar has a long-term future in the organization – more on that in a bit – but Blanchfield did everything you’d expect her to do to a talent that may or may not deserve to be on the roster. At 22, the fear is the UFC may rush Blanchfield’s development ala Maycee Barber. Here’s hoping they don’t do that.
Start Typing a Resume: Most fully expected Antonio Arroyo to be cut with a loss, but I didn’t expect I’d be somewhat bummed about it. Arroyo had more big moments than Joaquin Buckley, including an impressive flying knee that left most wondering how Buckley was still standing. Unfortunately, an uppercut changed his fortune pretty quickly, giving Arroyo three losses in a row.
I was on the Mike Rodriguez train a few years back. I saw the raw talent along with his uniquely lanky frame and thought of the possibilities, so long as he could learn to use his length. Well, he never did and is now sitting at three losses in a row. At UFC Vegas 37, his loss to Tafon Nchukwe exemplifies what I mean as the only place Nchukwe had a chance of winning was in the clinch. Nchukwe had no problems getting there. He didn’t need to negate the five-inch reach disadvantage he had against Rodriguez because Rodriguez negated it himself.
Not that she has looked particularly competitive in either of her two UFC losses, but I really think the UFC is going to cut Alpar, largely because of her Go Fund Me that she started to pay for her camp expenses. I can’t fault Alpar for wanting to be the best she can be for her fight. In all reality, the UFC shouldn’t either. However, it painted them in a bad light when Jake Paul dumped a huge sum into the account. There’s a possibility the UFC might not go that direction, thinking they could come across as petty. That hasn’t stopped them before....
There was a surprise for some that Emily Whitmire was even on the roster given the low level of her wins and she was coming in on consecutive losses. To her credit, Whitmire’s striking did appear improved, but she got complacent operating in the guard of Hannah Goldy, leading to Whitmire being armbarred. With three consecutive losses,
Saved Their Job(s): Ariane Lipski had earned a reputation as one of the biggest disappointments in recent UFC memory. Perhaps she heard all the rumblings as she came out like she had something to proved, beating newcomer Mandy Bohm from pillar to post for all three rounds. While she looked fantastic, it does need to be received with a grain of salt as Bohm doesn’t have a single notable win on her resume. Thus, while Lipski looked good, it’s hardly an indication she’s about to live up to expectations.
It’s a weird way to save one’s job, but Gustavo Lopez and Heili Alateng fighting to a draw ensured that neither would end up on the chopping block. Out of the two, Lopez appeared to be in more danger as he has more experience with less room for growth. Plus, the UFC seems determined to give every fighter from China a chance to break through. That said, I feel confident in saying Alateng’s fence grab saved Lopez’s job.
Goldy has taken a lot of flak from the MMA community. From her extra push from the organization that most believe she didn’t deserve to having a child with Alex Nicholson – a good friend of Mike Perry – it isn’t to say there hasn’t been material to work with. Though she started out poorly against Whitmire, she ultimately got the job done with an armbar from the guard. Given Goldy isn’t known for her grappling, that’s a very good sign. She still has a lot of work to do, but every journey starts with a single step.
Biggest WOW Moment: Context is needed, but that doesn’t mean Nate Maness’ KO of Tony Gravely won’t be on his highlight career for the rest of his life. At the end of the first round, Gravely dropped Maness, following up with some ground shots only to have the round end and Maness be allowed to continue. Though he was still woozy, Maness made it back to his corner and continued the fight. A little less than halfway through the second, Manness connected with a counter that sent Gravely sprawling to the mat. Just minutes after taking a stroll through Dream Street, Maness sent Gravely on his own walk through the to-be-avoided boulevard. MMA is truly a fantastic sport....
Best/Worst Referee Call: There were several times where it looked like referees could have stepped in and stopped the action. The Maness fight is a perfect example of that, though we were glad it didn’t happen in the end. So rather than point out a bunch of examples that were separated by the thinnest of margins, I’ll go with Keith Peterson taking a point from Alateng without issuing a warning. The grab was blatant enough that there was no other solution to form other than it stopped Lopez’s takedown, so Peterson, recognizing that could be a fight changing moment, issued a fight changing edict. Perhaps if more referees were as decisive with the deductions, we would get less fouls....
Sometimes, These Things Happen in MMA... Gus Johnson’s infamous utterance following the Nashville brawl in Strikeforce will forever live on. It isn’t that he’s wrong; it’s that brawls like that have taken place in every sport. It appeared something was about to go down following the conclusion of the main event as Smith and Spann were a bit heated going into their contest. Spann felt Smith disrespected him heading into their fight, Smith felt everyone was looking at him as a stepping stone. Fortunately, the only thing exchanged was some words and a few shoves, but the shoves were more prominent as security tried to keep the men separated. Cooler heads prevailed and Smith gave a fiery post-fight interview that was largely censored by ESPN.
Best Callout: Speaking of his post-fight interview, many would expect me to circle Smith’s callout of Aleksander Rakic. I’m going to pass on that. While I understand where Smith is coming from, their first fight was so non-competitive, I have no interest in seeing it again unless there aren’t any other fights that make sense for both combatants. While Rakic makes sense for Smith, it makes zero sense for Rakic. Plus, there are other fights out there for Smith that do make sense. Thus, I’ll go with Tsarukyan asking for Dan Hooker. Those two have gone back and forth for a while now, Hooker accusing Tsarukyan of dodging him. It doesn’t appear that way now. Hooker will have to get past Nasrat Haqparast next week, but that’s a very doable task for the Kiwi.
Dental School Dropout: I don’t know at what point Cutelaba mangled the lower jaw of Clark, but Clark’s teeth were a mess by the end of the second round. The broadcast didn’t show it, but later photos revealed three of Clark’s teeth were mangled, pushed backward from their typical upright standing. There was some question as to whether Clark should continue, but the doctor indicated it didn’t seem likely Clark would do any further damage to his jaw beyond what was already done. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen an injury like this in MMA, but it’s never easy to look at.
Moving on Up.... A pair of fighters moved up to different weight classes, the results being mixed. It worked out beautifully Nchukwe, wading into the range of Rodriguez with minimal effort and landing hard power shots for the entirety of the contest. It didn’t turn out so well for JP Buys. Buys matchup with Montel Jackson appeared to be lopsided in the first place as Jackson is one of the largest bantamweights on the roster, if not the largest bantamweight. It looked a lot like there was an entire weight division separating the two of them. The difference in their success: the styles of fights. Nchukwe is a striker and was able to be the faster man in landing his shots. Buys, primarily a wrestler and grappler, gassed himself in a hurry having to throw around a body far larger than what he is used to. Buys said he’s done with flyweight. If it’s because of medical issues, I completely understand and won’t second guess. If he can make the weight without doing himself bodily harm, he might want to reconsider.
Old Prospect: I don’t want to call Carlston Harris a prospect as he’s a finished product, but unless a fighter has been plying their trade in some other high-profile organization prior to making their move to the UFC, they are typically looked at in that manner. So I’ll go with it... for now. At 34, Harris proved he’s a force to be reckoned with, disposing of a legitimately hyped prospect in Impa Kasanganay. How high he can climb before age starts to take its toll can be debated, but let’s enjoy the carnage he can produce until that point.