UFC Vegas 62 wasn’t a disappointment. However, opening up the article with that phrase should be a giveaway that it wasn’t an overwhelming success either. Most of that sort of ‘meh’ sentiment resounds from the main event.
Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo put on a tight, nip-and-tuck fight that wasn’t easy to score. However, it was also a fight bereft of big moments or momentum changes. As a result, it feels like this will be a contest quickly forgotten, even though it was competitive and could net Grasso a shot for Valentina Shevchenko’s gold.
Had the bigger name athletes that fell off the card—due to various reasons—been able to stay on, it might have been a different story. Alas, we got what we got. Dig into my Unofficial Awards to get a feel for the rest of the event....
BIGGEST JUMP IN STOCK
While there is a possibility Grasso gets a title shot off her win over Araujo, it wasn’t the statement she needed if she wanted to ensure she’d be the choice over Manon Fiorot (should Fiorot get her hand raised in Abu Dhabi). Thus, while her win may prove to be the most consequential on the night, I don’t think she actually had the biggest leap in stock. That would go to Jonathan Martinez.
Martinez entered the UFC four years ago as an injury replacement, expectations were low that he’d even become a mainstay. He not only developed into that, he’s also managed to put together an impressive 7-3 record. The problem was, the best of those wins came against the likes Alejandro Perez & Thomas Almeida. Well, not only did he supplant that by taking out Cub Swanson, he did it by kicking the legs out from under Swanson. If I’m being fair, Swanson didn’t look bad fighting at 135 either. It was impressive enough that no one scoffed when Martinez called out Dominick Cruz. That’s a hell of a jump from where he was entering the event.
BIGGEST FALL IN STOCK
Keeping in mind that I’m only picking among fighters I believe will be remaining on the roster here, this was a hard spot to figure. No one had a truly disastrous evening. Swanson and Victor Henry were considered, but ultimately I felt compelled to go with Nick Maximov.
Many may dispute that choice, given Maximov suffered a leg injury in the first round and it was gutsy for him to even end up making it to the final bell. However, I’m not seeing a lot of growth out of him from fight to fight. Even before Maximov got hurt, it didn’t feel like he was bringing anything new to the table. Yes, I know he dropped Malkoun, but he was also unable to capitalize on that. I’m not saying anyone should give up on Maximov, but given his youth and lack of experience, I’d think now is when he’d be making big strides. It hasn’t been happening.
SAVED THEIR JOB(S)
Nobody looks at Dusko Todorovic as a blue-chip prospect anymore. Entering the fight with Jordan Wright, Todorovic had dropped three of his previous four, including two first round KO losses. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t favored to beat Wright, but no one would have been shocked at this point if Todorovic was unable to secure the win. Wright did secure a dominant opening round, but Todorovic hung in there and unleashed hell on Wright to open the second, eventually securing a stoppage and holding onto his job in the process. If Todorovic continues to show improved maturity, he could still fulfill his previously high expectations. Even if he doesn’t (and the guess here is he doesn’t) he should be able to carve out a long UFC career.
A member of the UFC roster ever since the WEC was absorbed into the promotion, Raphael Assuncao has carved out a role as one of the most respected members of the 135 lb division. After all, he entered the contest tied for the third most wins in bantamweight history. That’s also indicative of a long career, and Assuncao entered his fight against Victor Henry on a four-fight losing streak at the age of 40. Knowing the end is nigh, the Brazilian wanted to close out his career with some sort of dignity, throwing everything into his training camp. It paid off. It was the best version of Assuncao we’ve seen in years, showing perfect timing on the counter and securing several takedowns off caught kicks to take a competitive, but clear decision victory. Assuncao may not retire, but he has the option for another fight if he wants... maybe two.
I don’t see the future for Pete Rodriguez being at 170, but his first official UFC win came at that weight class. Then again, he didn’t prove all that much in disposing of Mike Jackson, as anyone who loses to the photographer has been released shortly thereafter. I’d love to see Rodriguez drop to lightweight as he’s tiny for welterweight, but he’s given no indication that’s in the cards.
START TYPING A RESUME
I’ve always had sympathy for Wright given how many haters he has, but I also figured this day would come sooner or later. Given his lack of stamina and athleticism, I believed he would have been better off plying his trade at light heavyweight. The issue with his stamina proved to be the issue this time around. A strong opening round that featured a lot of wrestling completely drained him, leaving him exhausted. Todorovic had his way with him from there, dropping Wright to 2-4 with three consecutive losses. It looks like Wright is done.
Hard to believe Misha Cirkunov hasn’t reached the end of his UFC road. Four consecutive losses is more than enough to get someone a pink slip. A stretch in which he’s won twice over the last nine contests only makes it worse. Cirkunov looked like he was going to be a BIG part of the light heavyweight division at one point. Instead, right as he was being asked to prove he could be a serious player, the wheels came off. At this point, it looks like his chin has completely deteriorated. I’m not even sure he could play gatekeeper in the lower half of the division anymore.
Typically, after the UFC signs someone, they give them three opportunities to pick up a win before cutting them loose. There are exceptions where they let them go after two, typically if the fighter in question is boring or got completely blown out in both contests. Neither of those apply to Brandon Davis, but this is his second stint in the organization and now sits at 2-7 over the course of both frames. There’s a lot of young talent looking to prove themselves at bantamweight. I didn’t mind Davis getting the second chance, but his limitations seem pretty well established. It makes more sense to give someone else those opportunities.
I’m sure there was at least one person in the UFC offices who exclaimed, “FINALLY!” when Rodriguez put Jackson away. All indications were that the UFC was embarrassed he was taking up a roster spot, but they signed him to a contract to fight CM Punk and he hadn’t done anything within the terms of the contract to warrant being released. With the loss, they now have the excuse they were looking for to cut him loose.
BIGGEST WOW MOMENT
I loved the submission from Tatsu Taira and Martinez’s stoppage from leg kicks was a masterful display. However, even though I admit those impressed me more, I didn’t say “WOW!” to those in the same way I did for Alonzo Menifield’s brutal finish of Cirkunov. Menifield made no secret he was looking to turn out the lights, launching several hard punches before connecting about ninety seconds into the fight. Even though those are the type of KO’s Menifield is known for, it was his first one like that since 2019. Not that I thought the other choices for Performance Bonuses were bad, but I was shocked to see Menifield didn’t pick one up.
I haven’t been passing this award out much as of late as I tired of trying to make it something. But Joanderson Brito threw out one that makes sense, though I admit it isn’t a matchup I would have put together without being prodded. He needed a dominant win to make it work, but it he delivered.
Dan Ige is on a three-fight losing streak, but each one of those losses have come against some of the best fighters in the division. It would be wise for him to take a step down in competition, but the list of fighters who will purposely ask for a lesser opponents is short. For Brito, Ige represents a clear step up in competition and a way to climb up the ladder in a hurry. By calling out Ige, it gives Ige the perfect opportunity/excuse to take a step back in competition. He’s not in a great position to be turning down callouts as it is anyway. Granted, it took the callout for the fight to make sense, but that’s also what makes it that much better.
We’ve seen leg kick finishes before. Edson Barboza has two of them in the UFC. But I think we often get KO’s created by leg kicks confused with actual leg kick finishes. For instance, Santiago Ponzinibbio set up his finish over Neil Magny by taking out the legs, but it was punches that actually put the finishing touches on Magny. It wasn’t the UFC, but many fondly remember the beating Jose Aldo put on Urijah Faber’s legs. However, that fight didn’t involve a stoppage; it went the distance.
Leg kick finishes are more rare than we tend to think of them. Martinez’s finish of Swanson was just the 14th official leg kick stoppage in UFC history. However, the most impressive part of Martinez’s finish is that it came against an established veteran. Barboza’s came over Mike Lullo and Rafaelo Oliveira—not exactly the most glowing of names on Barboza’s resume.
I am excited about the future of Tatsuro Taira. He’s only 22 and has the talent to fight for the title someday. In his post-fight interview, he claimed he’s going to remain undefeated up until he claims the flyweight title. That’s hell of a claim. Not impossible; nine have been able to claim the title undefeated since the beginning of the Zuffa era (eleven if you include interim titles). But given the best fighters tend to learn the most following their first loss, I wouldn’t count on it.
I’m not trying to dissuade him from having that attitude; it takes an unreasonable degree of confidence to achieve the types of things champions achieve. All I’m saying is expect him to lose a fight or two before he becomes the best version of himself. Regardless, you’d be foolish not to keep a close watch on him.
With half of the participants on this card having four or less fights in the UFC, there wasn’t an extended history of Performance Bonuses. Thus, after Cub Swanson’s nine career bonuses, the most bonuses anyone else had was two. One of those was Raphael Assuncao, who also happened to have the longest amount of time since he last picked one up out of those who did have a past bonus, that coming in November 2017. In terms of those who have never been awarded a bonus, Araujo extended her streak to eight fights. The bonuses proved to be the first for both Wright and Taira while it was just the second for Todorovic and Martinez.