The UFC’s first pay-per-view card of 2022 was high on excitement and drama. The event saw some impressive debuts, a title change hands and another title unified without the UFC president bothering to step into the octagon and present that champ with his belt.
In the main event, embattled UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou retained his title with a decision win over Ciryl Gane. The co-main event of the evening — and the “Fight of the Night” — saw Deiveson Figueiredo regain the UFC flyweight title in a trilogy fight against Brandon Moreno. Also on the main card, Said Nurmagomedov made a positive and emphatic statement in his first fight in over a year.
Meanwhile, the prelims saw impressive UFC debuts from Victor Henry and Jack Della Maddalena. While on the early prelims, Vanessa Demopoulos made an impression with her submission win and her post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
Francis Ngannou: Francis Ngannou retained his undisputed UFC heavyweight title on Saturday with the first decision win of MMA career. He defeated Ciryl Gane mostly by scoring (minimally) on the feet and keeping Gane on the mat for good portions of the final three rounds.
I can’t fault Ngannou for his approach to this fight. Gane had the skill set to defeat Ngannou and showed that for the first two rounds, but when Ngannou took Gane to the mat, he prevented his opponent from scoring points. The win might not have been exciting for those who wanted to see the vaunted power of Ngannou, but he showed some new wrinkles to his game and he and his coaches deserve praise for that.
Ngannou’s power alone beats most UFC heavyweights. If he can add takedowns and damage on the ground or legit submission attempts (against high-level competition) to his arsenal, Ngannou will be a scarier fighter.
Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo: Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo put on a fabulous five-round flyweight fight. What was impressive about Figueiredo’s performance was that he put his faith in his coaches and the game plan they developed for him and it paid off with a unanimous decision win. Had Figueiredo fought just a little more recklessly or threw caution to the wind, he might have lost. Figueiredo’s patience and composure, something he might have lacked in the pasted, carried the day.
Moreno was confident, comfortable, and having fun. He did an excellent job of fighting off the takedowns of his opponent and landed some outstanding counters, especially when he threw combos. However, I think Figueiredo’s power outweighed Moreno’s output.
Outside of every fighter in the flyweight division, I don’t think you would find many who would be against a fourth (and maybe even a fifth) fight between these two. Figueiredo called for just that after his win. UFC should make it happen.
Michel Pereira: Had a rough first round against Andre Fialho, but he made adjustments between the first and second stanza and came back strong to win the welterweight matchup. I don’t know the upside of Pereira, but I’m fairly sure the UFC and many fans are unconcerned with how high he can climb in the 170-pound ranks. Pereira is a fighter who brings chaos to the cage and always offers a high level of entertainment in his fights. The 28-year-old is now on a four-fight winning streak and looks like he’ll be in the UFC for quite a while.
Said Nurmagomedov: Said Nurmagomedov had not fought since October 2020 and he was not interested in spending much time inside the octagon in his return to action. Nurmagomedov came out very aggressive with his striking in his bantamweight fight against Cody Stamann.
Nurmagomedov opened the fight with an aggressive striking game, using different techniques and targets to force Stamann into his wrestling. With that, Nurmagomedov quickly showed he also has submissions, as he locked up a nasty choke that had Stamann tapping almost as soon as the fight hit the mat.
The total fight time for this bout was 47 seconds.
Michael Morales: Michael Morales had a UFC debut to remember. After getting rocked by Trevin Giles early in the bout, Morales came back and earned a first-round TKO win. Giles might have allowed Morales to stay in the fight after backing off after he hurt Morales, but that’s not to take anything away from Morales. Taking advantage of errors is part of being a complete mixed martial artist. Morales did that to move to 13-0 as a pro.
Victor Henry: Victor Henry was a little slower and a little less skilled than Raoni Barcelos (on paper), but heart, pressure, volume, pace and confidence helped him to stay in this bantamweight contest and eventually win the unanimous decision.
This was a great UFC debut from Henry and set the bar very high for his future. What made Henry’s upset win — Barcelos was the biggest favorite on the card — even more impressive was that he took the bout on short notice.
At 34, I expect Henry to be aggressive in attempting to get as much out of his UFC career as he can.
Jack Della Maddalena: Jack Della Maddalena looks like a striker to watch. He used an effective jab to bloody his opponent, Pete Rodriguez, and then floored Rodriguez with a big left. Della Maddalena is a fighter to keep an eye on in the welterweight division and judging from what UFC president Dana White said when he signed the 25-year-old after a DWCS card, the UFC is expecting big things from the Australian.
Matt Frevola: Matt Frevola went beserker-mode after Genaro Valdez had the audacity to start their lightweight fight with an aggressive style. Frevola answered Valdez’s aggression with more aggression and more power. Frevola scored four knockdowns on his way to the first-round knockout win.
The fight was not as technical as Frevola said he wanted, but it showed that he is someone his opponents might not want to test without some strong striking defense.
The win ended the first losing skid of Frevola’s MMA career.
Vanessa Demopoulos: Vanessa Demopoulos took a big shot from Silvana Gomez Juarez that put her to the mat in the early going of their strawweight fight, but she recovered quickly and tied up her opponent nicely to prevent further damage. From there, Demopoulos worked into an armbar that allowed her to get the submission.
This was a big win for Demopoulos and she showed a lot of charisma and personality during her post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
Jasmine Jasudavicius: Jasmine Jasudavicius used her reach advantage well in the early going of her bout against Kay Hansen, but she also allowed Hansen to move into range a little more than she should be comfortable with. I liked how she tried to work to control Hansen’s arm while she was in Hansen’s guard on the ground in the first round. She didn’t succeed in locking up the limb, but the work she did showed some smarts. Jasudavicius also did a nice job of landing elbows from inside Hansen’s guard, but I think she could have landed a few more. I also liked how Jasudavicius didn’t give up position after Hansen gained a takedown early in the second stanza.
This was a solid UFC debut from Jasudavicius and it gave her something to grow on. I got the feeling this was an example of a “safe” fight from Jasudavicius in an effort to get the win under her belt.
Ciryl Gane: Ciryl Gane’s technical fighting style came back to bite him at UFC 270. Had he had a little more aggression while the fight was standing and done some damage, he might have earned himself the win. With the decision loss, Gane — who is still pretty green in MMA — might have learned a lesson and that lesson might change his approach to the fight game. It should. An argument could be made that he lost this fight because of his approach more than Ngannou won the fight.
Andre Fialho: Andre Fialho tried to take the fight to Michel Pereira as much as possible, which - on paper- seemed like the best move to make. He controlled location as much as possible and tried to keep his opponent on his back foot and cut off the octagon. That worked for the first five minutes. However, Fialho’s approach failed in the second and third round and that cost him the fight.
Pereira adjusted to Fialho between rounds one and two, but Fialho could not adjust to Pereira and that might have cost him the fight.
Trevin Giles: Trevin Giles showed that his power came with him from middleweight to welterweight when he hurt Michael Morales early in their UFC 270 bout. Instead of taking advantage, Giles went to the clinch. It’s hard to think Giles will not regret that decision after getting knocked out later in the first round.
Genaro Valdez: Genaro Valdez started his fight against Matt Frevola with a very aggressive style. The downside for Valdez is that he didn’t have any defense, and Frevola was the more powerful striker.
I could see Valdez picking up some fans after this fight, which was full of action and violence.
Silvana Gomez Juarez: Silvana Gomez Juarez showed she has impressive power and good timing with a heavy right hand, but she showed little more than that in getting submitted after scoring a big knockdown.
Kay Hansen: Kay Hansen struggled mightily in her UFC flyweight debut — she was 2-1 at 125 pounds before UFC 270. She was at a reach disadvantage and she had a little trouble working through that. She also seemed to focus on forcing an armbar instead of letting the fight come to her and going with the flow. I get the feeling that Hansen might be a bit too in her head. Hansen has talent. She needs to find a way to properly harness that talent.
Jason Herzog: Deciding to stand up Jasmine Jasudavicius and Kay Hansen in the second round of their flyweight bout was incredibly questionable. Jasudavicius was actively striking on the ground. This seemed like an error by the respected referee.
Joe Rogan: C’mon now, Joe Rogan. Rogan seemed to imply that Cody McKenzie was some kind of guillotine choke master during the Tony Gravely vs Saimon Oliveira fight. The fact of the matter is that McKenzie was a one-trick pony that was not all that great with his trick. He went 3-4 in the UFC and had two guillotine choke wins. To me, McKenzie will be remembered more as the guy who entered the octagon in basketball shorts with the prize tag still attached than a guillotine choke master.
Mike Beltran: A case could be made that Mike Beltran had an off night on Saturday and allowed fighters to take too much damage before stopping fights.
Dana White: I don’t mind that Dana White didn’t put the belt on Francis Ngannou because if I was Ngannou I wouldn’t have wanted that, but it needs to be mentioned that Dana White did not put the belt on the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion.
UFC: Per the disclosed pay by the California State Athletic Commission, the UFC still has contracts that start at $10,000 to show. This despite the fact that the UFC has had record earnings and said pay has increased.