It’s hard to find much fault with UFC Vegas 36. The man event between Derek Brunson and Darren Till delivered an intriguing contest with a clear and definitive winner. While the result wasn’t what the UK faithful were hoping for, it would be safe to say the victories by the top UK prospects more than made up for that. Did I mention the UK’s most universally beloved fighter in Molly McCann also picked up a win? For a unique breakdown of how the card played out, let’s get into my Unofficial Awards….
Biggest Jump in Stock: Nobody seemed to have a major jump in their stock. Some may point to Khalil Rountree producing what appears to be the best effort of his career, but he’s had what would appear to be a breakout role before only to slide backwards in his next contest or two. The likes of Jack Shore and Tom Aspinall did exactly what everyone expected him to do. Thus, I’ll go with Derek Brunson pulling out a victory as an underdog for the fourth consecutive fight. I can understand some people pointing out Brunson’s level of competition during the run hasn’t turned out to be as strong as it appeared to be going into the contest, but Brunson has nevertheless exceeded expectations by continuing to win. It isn’t fair to label him a gatekeeper anymore. Gatekeepers occasionally let someone through the gate and Brunson has dammed up the progress of all those who’ve come against him in the last few years.
Biggest Fall in Stock: As much as I hate to select Darren Till given Brunson was the one who had the biggest gain, it’s only appropriate to go with him. Charles Jourdain is the only other fighter whom it feels appropriate to put in this spot and his fall isn’t nearly as prominent as that of Till’s. Till has lost four of his last five, the lone win a split decision win over Kelvin Gastelum, one of the few fighters whose fall from grace could rival that of Till’s. There is room for defense as Till has been losing to the best fighters at welterweight and middleweight, but he’s got to be winning some of those contests himself if he wants to be labeled amongst them. He hasn’t been, meaning he needs to have a step down in the level of his competition at this juncture.
Never Seen That Before: I’ve seen a plethora of leg kicks lead to a finish. I’ve seen the snapping of a leg from a kick. I’ve also seen a heavy volume of oblique kicks limit the mobility of a fighter. But I’ve never seen a single kick intent on bending a leg in a way it isn’t meant to bend end a fight instantaneously in the way Khalil Rountree’s side kick to the knee of Modestas Bukauskas did. Oblique kicks have been a controversial matter in the sport given the danger of serious injury they present, but Rountree can’t be faulted for executing a maneuver that is well within the scope of the rules. It’ll be interesting to see if we end up seeing a greater volume of side kicks to the knee as it served as a very effective counter.
Best Newcomer: There’s no doubt Paddy Pimblett lived up to all the hype surrounding him coming into the event. Sure, Pimblett had his struggles in the contest, getting hurt several times by a game Luigi Vendramini before finding his own finishing sequence. Even more promising was it was a finishing sequence brought about by Pimblett’s fists, a surprise given the hyped newcomer made his way into the organization on the back of a strong wrestling and grappling game. Despite the hype, Pimblett has his doubters, but he’ll silence them if he can continue to show strides on the feet.
Start Typing a Resume: It’s kind of funny that most of those who seem unlikely to return to the UFC were dominantly on the main card. The lone exception would be Ji Yeon Kim. Kim may be able to survive the chopping block as her 3-4 UFC record isn’t embarrassing by any means and she was competitive in her loss to Molly McCann, but the 31-year old appears to have bumped up against a ceiling of sorts in her 4-year UFC run. With consecutive losses, that’s enough for the UFC to cut her loose if they see fit.
Vendramini is the one on this list that I most likely believe will be brought back. Sure, he’s only 1-3 in the UFC, but he was beating Pimblett until he wasn’t and still has plenty of room for improvement at just 25-years old. Then again, he wasn’t hyped when he entered the organization and there’s plenty of youthful lightweights out there starved for their chance in the organization.
While I’m sure Bukauskas is worried about his employment status, I’m sure he’s a little bit more worried about the condition of his knee. Early indications were that several of the ligaments in his knee were wrecked, meaning we won’t be seeing him for quite a while whether he remains on the roster or not. Bukauskas is another who could survive as he’s a youthful member of one of the most shallow divisions, but I don’t think that will save him this time around.
No doubt there will be less skilled fighters in the welterweight division than David Zawada after he’s cut loose from the roster, but it’s hard to justify keeping him around with his 1-4 UFC record. There’s no doubt Zawada has faced some difficult competition to warrant his porous record, but the name of the game is win and he hasn’t done that. Look for Zawada to end up back in KSW.
Saved Their Job(s): While I can’t say for sure Julian Erosa would have punched a ticket elsewhere with a loss, it was certainly conceivable. Instead, Erosa didn’t shrink back from the power of Charles Jourdain and found a submission in the third round, stopping the possibility of a second consecutive loss. Given the hard road Erosa faced to begin finding success in the UFC, it’s hard not to appreciate this win for him.
Another one that makes it hard not to root for is McCann, avoiding her third consecutive loss with an exceptionally aggressive approach towards Kim. It made for one of the more entertaining scraps on the evening, awarding McCann with an overdue Performance bonus. Given the performance wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, there’s a possibility Uncle Dana may have seen she stuck around, but the win ensures we won’t have to find out.
Biggest WOW Moment: Rountree’s kicking out of Bukauskas’ knee came close to taking the honors, but Pimblett’s blitzing of Vendramini after the Brazilian had hurt the newcomer several times has to take the cake. Being fully aware of the circumstances does add the drama of the moment as Pimblett had been very outspoken about his disposing of Vendramini coming in the opening round prior to the event. It looked like he was going to be embarrassed only for him to catch him with his heavy right hook on several occasions. Coming from behind to fulfill his prophecy was one hell of a moment, the type that is rarely duplicated.
Steadily Rising Star: Typically, a fast riser is seen as a shooting star, but Tom Aspinall doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to potentially extinguish his own flame. His opponent, Serghei Spivak, didn’t land any serious offense prior to Aspinall landing a heavy elbow that spelled the beginning of the end for Spivak. The Englishman has every reason to be cocky, disposing of all four of his UFC opponents thus far, but has remained humble enough. When given an opportunity to call his shot in the post-fight interview, Aspinall stated he wanted to take his time, not offering a specific name. It may not be at a rapid pace, but it does feel like the UFC has a potential star on its hands.
Best Callout: Perhaps I’m bending my own rule on callouts as I prefer the fighters state an actual name as opposed to saying they want the fighter ranked directly ahead of them, but the actual contest makes enough sense that I’m alright with it. Plus, Aspinall did mention the name of Blagoy Ivanov in the post-fight show. Given Aspinall isn’t in a hurry to rush into a potential loss, Ivanov is the type of durable opponent that Aspinall doesn’t seem likely to bowl over that would allow him to gain some very valuable experience.
Under the Radar: Marc-Andre Barriault and Dalcha Lungiambula opened up the card with a hell of a scrap. Unfortunately, it already looks like it has been largely forgotten about. Both fighters appeared to be improved from their previous contests, but it was Barriault’s greater volume that made the final difference. The win doesn’t do anything major for him, but on a compact card, it feels worthwhile mentioning their entertaining performance.