The first UFC event of the year is in the books. Largely an underwhelming card – there were only two finishes out of ten fights – it was saved by fantastic main event between Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze. Just a half-month into the new year, their featherweight war has established itself as the early front-runner for FOTY—with Kattar delivering a life-changing beating to a game Chikadze, much in the same way Max Holloway did to him a year ago.
In the process, Kattar re-established himself as someone to watch in the division. Chikadze’s title hopes may be dashed in the present, but the product of Kings MMA should have enough time to right his ship given his relative inexperience in the sport. For a quick overview of the rest of the card, here are my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock
I don’t think there were too many followers of the sport who were surprised to see Kattar win. However, I do believe the majority of those who watched will admit they were surprised at how dominant the New England Cartel fighter was. There was a lot of talk that he might be a stepping stone for Chikadze going into the event. Walking out of it, he has everyone demanding that he get another fight against an elite opponent.
At featherweight, those names would be Alexander Volkanovski, Holloway, and Brian Ortega—perhaps the Korean Zombie and/or Yair Rodriguez in some books. Volkanovski and Zombie are booked and Kattar has already faced Holloway. That leaves either Ortega or Rodriguez, and no one is positive they would dispose of Kattar. That’s a far cry from being a stepping stone.
Biggest Fall in Stock
There was a lot of hype around Chase Sherman when he returned to the UFC last year. The big man took an interesting odyssey after being released from the promotion and looked like he made the most of his time away, eliminating Ike Villanueva in violent fashion on his return debut. Ever since that point, however? He doesn’t look like he has wanted to be in the fight business. Losing to Jake Collier inside of a round is a bad enough look, but to lose via submission? That’s really bad. If Sherman gets another fight, he’ll be lucky.
Amongst a trio of DWCS alumni, Viacheslav Borshchev is the only one who walked away with a win, but it hardly means he took this honor by default. He absolutely earned the label with a brutal liver shot to Dakota Bush, dropping him like a sack of potatoes. Bush had never previously been finished in his career, making the stoppage that much more impressive. It’s hard to imagine the Russian prospect having a much better start.
Start Typing a Resume
I’ve already touched on Sherman, so even though I don’t see him coming back, I’ll leave it at that. Bush was looking good until he wasn’t. Regardless, while he is a prospect that has flashed promise, he isn’t a highly hyped prospect and there is no shortage of fighters craving an opportunity at lightweight. Thus, while I’d like to see Bush get a third fight in the organization, I understand there’s a good chance it isn’t going to happen.
Given he took the fight on very short notice, I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kevin Croom. Officially, he doesn’t have a win in his three UFC contests, but his debut was a shocking upset—before it was overturned due to a positive marijuana test. Here’s hoping the UFC is willing to give Croom some leeway, but more often than not, they don’t seem to.
Saved Their Job(s)
I’m not sure there is anyone who definitively saved their jobs. It could be argued Collier, Bill Algeo, or Jamie Pickett fall into that category – as a loss would have resulted in the third loss in the last four contests for each of them – but there’s no guarantee. If I were to guess, Pickett was likely the most vulnerable, but it is realistic to see all of them being released if they had come up short.
Never Seen That Before
During the fight between Algeo and Joanderson Brito, Brito was ‘playing the game’ by keeping his hand on the mat so Algeo couldn’t knee him in the face. In hopes of getting Brito to lift his hands from the mat, Algeo was stomping on the hands of Brito. We’ve all seen fighters perform foot stomps against the fence, but I can’t recall seeing anyone stomping on their opponent’s hands. It wasn’t effective at getting Brito to lift his hands, but I guess it did do damage. Curious to see if this becomes a regular occurrence.
Best ‘Wow!’ Moment
I’m tempted to label the entirety of the fight between Kattar and Chikadze as a ‘Wow!’ moment. But, given the suddenness of the ending on the Borshchev-Bush fight, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to the Russian. The body-shot ending truly was a highlight reel moment that is going to be played over and over for the rest of his career.
Best Non-Fight Ending Submission
In the second-best fight of the evening – obviously, Kattar-Chikadze was the best – Brandon Royval edged out Rogerio Bontorin. It’s a good thing it went that way as there was a point in the third round when Bontorin appeared to tap to a Royval armbar. It was a quick tap that was easy to miss, but it was a tap nonetheless—at least it was in my eyes and many others in the MMA community. Had Bontorin come out ahead on the scorecards, there would have been a bit of controversy, but the right man ended up winning in the end.
Most Dubious Record
While it’s impressive Katlyn Chookagian has been able to rack up a record of 10-4 record in the UFC, it isn’t exactly a point of pride that every one of those wins have come via decision. Furthermore, she’s the first to reach the distinction of that many wins all by the same manner. Pointing this out isn’t to impugn on Chookagian’s ability as a fighter. If anything, it’s an indication she knows what she’s good at and sticks to it.
A free agent, Chookagian has stated she hopes to re-sign with the organization. Given she’s been a good soldier for the UFC, I think they’ll bring her back despite her reputation for a less-than-aesthetically pleasing fight style. Then again, they’ve let those type of fighters go without much of a fight before.
Best Unofficial Coach
For the second fight in a row, Court McGee looked like a completely different fighter compared to the fading scrapper that appeared to be at the end of the line a couple years back. Coming out full of vim and vigor, McGee got in the face of Ramiz Brahimaj from the beginning and never backed down, securing constant takedowns and even scoring an early knockdown. For both fights, he’s given credit to his elderly neighbor lady, for instructing him to develop a persona more akin to his nickname, the ‘Crusher’. If there is more to it than that, perhaps McGee might need to start giving out her number. There are a few other fighters who could use someone to light a fire under their ass.
Best Short Notice Warning
Croom wasn’t the only fighter who accepted his contest on just days notice; Charles Rosa stepped up with just a few days warning as well, signing a brand new contract with the organization in the process. In the case of Rosa, it appears to have provided job security with the new contract. It may not do so with Croom. Regardless, neither of them came out on top—both losing effectiveness the deeper the fight went. Credit to them as they were in as good of shape as they were to take the fight, but they also serve as an effective warning of the dangers, especially if Croom ends up released.
Most Likely Memory-Holed Fight
I hate to crap on a pair of fighters as they step into the cage and leave everything on the line. But given they are fighting at the highest level on a platform that’s supposed to provide entertainment alongside competition, sometimes critiques have to be made. Fortunately for Pickett and Joseph Holmes, the fight wasn’t so atrocious that it will be remembered for how bad it was – ala Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000 – but it isn’t going to jump into the forefront of anyone’s mind either. It was a fight that happened and that’s about all that will be said of it.
I typically like to point out the best callout, but given there wasn’t one – Chookagian asked for Miesha Tate, but Tate is already scheduled – I’ll highlight the curious challenge from Bill Algeo. Not only did Algeo ask for Chikadze, he referred to him as a “Biden voter.” Given Chikadze is a native of Georgia – the country, not the state – unless he picked up his US citizenship, he couldn’t have possibly voted for the current President of the United States. Perhaps it was a ploy to get attention. Making political statements often seems like the surest way to get people talking in this day and age. Algeo admitted later to playing heel, but apparently has real beef with Chikadze. The “Biden voter” part of it remains unexplained.