As a card ravaged by injuries and withdrawals, UFC Vegas 61 proved to be a mixed bag. The prelims started the action out in an exceptional manner, impressing enough that all the Performance Bonuses for the evening were awarded to those who appeared in the card’s early fights. That doesn’t mean the main card was terrible—the main event between Yan Xiaonan and Mackenzie Dern was chocked full of drama—but it didn’t have the same flash the first half of the event contained.
Overall, I’d say the card felt like a success. Yan snapped a two-fight losing streak in upsetting Dern, somehow surviving nearly two entire rounds on the ground with the noted grappling ace. Of course, there will be a whole slew of articles focusing on what the evening meant for the main event fighters, but I’m here to focus more on the less publicized parts of the evening with the Unofficial Awards. Let’s dig in!
BIGGEST JUMP IN STOCK
Some would probably put Yan in this spot, but I’m not so inclined. Not because it wasn’t an impressive win, but rounds two and five of her contest with Dern proved exactly why Dern was the favorite. Instead, I’m going with Brendan Allen. Given he’s already had nine UFC fights under his belt entering his contest with Krzysztof Jotko, many figured they already knew the book on Allen. It’s easy to forget, however, that ‘All In’ is still just 26-year-old.
Allen provided a stark reminder of just how good he is, disposing of a typically tough Jotko in the first round with a RNC that didn’t even have the hooks in. Allen has been at Kill Cliff FC for a couple of years now and that’s typically when fighters begin feeling comfortable with the coaching of Henri Hooft. It may not have been the striking Allen won the fight with, but he wasn’t lacking for confidence in his performance. With three consecutive wins, Allen could be looking at a contest with a ranked opponent next.
BIGGEST FALL IN STOCK
Aside from those who are likely to end up on the chopping block, no one should experience a huge drop in stock. Thus, almost by default, Dern is probably taking the biggest hit. It isn’t like she had a poor performance; she came the closest to securing a stoppage on several occasions. But ever since she started facing the cream of the crop of the division, the results haven’t been there. Despite a reputation as the most dangerous submission specialist in the division, she hasn’t been able to secure a sub in her last three contests—even when spending large chunks of those fights on the mat.
It opens up a debate whether her mat abilities are overblown. Or at the very least, forces the recognition that those skills aren’t nearly as dangerous as they would be if she could get the fight to the mat on a consistent basis. Until her abilities to get takedowns show obvious improvement, I don’t see how she could be considered a serious title contender. Fortunately for Dern, she is young enough in the sport that there’s still lots of room to improve. All that said, Dern sitting well outside of the title picture is a disappointment for many.
There were two newcomers, but it can’t be denied that Chelsea Chandler was the only reasonable choice here. The question going forward is if Chandler is looking to make her bones at bantamweight or if she’s going to have to settle for being one of the few women featherweights on the roster. There’s no doubt the latter represents a quicker road to a title shot, but that’s also dependent on the UFC keeping the division around. There’s no guarantee that’ll happen. Regardless, Chandler proved to be a physical beast, ragdolling a legit bantamweight in Julija Stoliarenko. No matter what division Chandler ends up competing in, she’s going to be a force.
SAVED THEIR JOB(S)
It isn’t that Raoni Barcelos wouldn’t beat half the bantamweights on the roster. It’s that he may have already seen his best days and a loss would have put him on three straight—had he dropped this bout to Trevin Jones. Instead, Barcelos stopped his streak at two and reminded everyone why he had earned a reputation as the best bantamweight without a number next to his name early in his Octagon run. Barcelos dominated Jones in every aspect of the fight, making every effort to secure a finish. The only thing stopping that was the pure toughness of Jones. It was a dominant and impressive performance from the Brazilian.
Had Daniel Santos repeated his performance from his UFC debut, he probably would have been given a thank you for his time in the organization. Fortunately for the Brazilian, he put on the best performance of his career. Sure, he endured a rough opening round, getting hurt multiple times by a game John Castaneda, but he ultimately survived and ended up putting away the man known as the ‘Sexi Mexi’, something no one else had been able to do in the last eight years. If Santos’ debut can be attributed to jitters, then it looks like he’ll be one of the more promising additions to a division chuck full of promise.
Not fighting very often makes it easy to forget how good a fighter is, especially if they are coming off a two-fight losing streak; that’s what tends to happen when audiences haven’t seen you win in a while. So, it felt like a bit of a minor surprise when Joaquim Silva was able to right his ship and do so in highlight fashion. It’s possible it was merely a last gasp for Silva, who has been in the game for quite a while now. But, who knows, maybe he’s about to hit a second wind in his career. Regardless, he’ll be around a bit longer.
START TYPING A RESUME
In many ways, Jones’ run in the UFC is very similar to how his career on the whole has gone. There were spectacular moments that flashed just how good ‘Five Star’ could be, but there have been too many disappointments to call it a true success—especially based on his clear athletic talents. It’s tragic that Jones had his UFC debut turned into a no contest due to marijuana, but those were the rules at the time. In the end, Jones is currently sitting at 1-3 with the no contest, a record that sees very few fighters get brought back for another opportunity.
At 45 and coming off four losses in his last five appearances, it would surprise no one if Aleksei Oleinik were to receive a pink slip. However, I’m inclined to believe the ancient Russian will be given at least one more opportunity. For whatever reason, he appears to be a favorite of the brass. In any case, he’s always easy to promote: can the oldest person on the roster pull another trick out of his bag to extend his career over these younger bucks? In the right matchups, it’s a legit question. Given Oleinik was able to go the distance only solidifies my thoughts that he’ll hang around.
It’s a real bummer Jesse Ronson is likely to end his MMA career without an official UFC win. He does have an unofficial UFC win, but it looks worse with each passing fight—having become a no contest due to a failed drug test. Ronson claims it was a tainted supplement – and I’m not saying it wasn’t — but each subsequent loss makes it look more and more like the PED’s did have an effect on his performance. Ronson was having a close fight with Silva before the end came, but he’s now sitting at six UFC appearances without getting his hand raised, including three in this stint. I think he still has enough he could secure a win in the right matchup, but the right matchup is becoming a far more narrow category all the time.
The UFC couldn’t have given Randy Costa a more favorable contest. There aren’t any other 42-year-old bantamweights on the roster and that’s for a damn good reason. And yet, ‘The Zohan’ was not only unable to put away the aging Guido Cannetti, he was finished in just over a minute. I’ll admit that Cannetti is better than I’ve been giving him credit for, but this was a fight made for Costa to win. Instead, it looks like the Joe Lauzon protégé has punched his ticket out of the organization.
Some may contend Stoliarenko should be here, but I would say she is safe. She took the fight on short notice and accepted the contest at a 140-pound catchweight that everyone knew would be detrimental to her. I understand the UFC can be cruel towards their combatants, but I believe even they would acknowledge the favor Stoliarenko did for them, especially given she entered the contest on an impressive submission win.
BIGGEST WOW MOMENT
The card started with a run of four consecutive finishes, the last of those four being the most spectacular. Silva telegraphed that he was looking for a flying knee by throwing several throughout the contest. Hell, he even connected on one before nailing Ronson with the switch knee that put him on his back. It didn’t put Ronson out cold, requiring a flurry of punches on the mat, but the impact was enough that Ronson stood little chance of recovery provided Silva didn’t give him an opportunity to recover.
It looked like Ilir Latifi might succeed in taking this for a good chunk of the evening, but Randy Brown pulled in the most lackluster win of the evening by the time the event ended. Latifi’s win was at least a win without debate, even if it was bereft of significant action. In Brown’s case, a very reasonable case could be made that Francisco Trinaldo should have had the ‘W’. The first round was close, the second round was even closer, and Trinaldo took the only round that wasn’t up for debate when he controlled Brown for near the entirety of the third round.
For the record, I did score the contest for Brown, but it’s hard to get excited about his ability to compete with any of the welterweights populating the official rankings if he’s struggled so to dispose of the 44-year-old ‘Massarunduba’. Perhaps it was just an off-night for ‘Rudeboy’—he acknowledged himself it wasn’t his best performance—but the fight game is less friendly to a poor performance than other sports.
It wouldn’t have been a stretch to label this whole fight card as ‘Senior’s Night’ in the UFC. There were four combatants who were aged 40 or greater: Trinaldo, Latifi, Cannetti, and Oleinik. Even if Latifi and Oleinik squared off with one another—barring a draw, ensuring at least one of them would win—the held up well enough to secure a 2-2 record for the evening. Hell, as I already touched on, some would say they should have been 3-1 as Trinaldo’s loss wasn’t without controversy. It appears there is life after 40 in MMA after all.
MOST INTERESTING REQUEST
Following his win over Viacheslav Borschev, Mike Davis made an interesting request in his post-fight interview: fans will get to see him in the Octagon more often if he can get 100K followers. In fact, he promised he’d fight four times in 2023 if that can be accomplished. First off, I don’t think it’s wise to write checks that there’s no assurance he can cash. Too many issues could arise to make a promise like that something he falls short of keeping—especially when he has a history of struggling to make it to the cage. It doesn’t help that it looks like he may have suffered a broken orbital.
Second, the best way for him to get more followers is to fight as often as possible. The next best thing to do is to provide entertaining content on his social media. Think along the lines of Derrick Lewis. Plus, Davis didn’t specify where all those followers are supposed to follow him. Twitter? Instagram? I’m not trying to rip on him. I find Davis to be as entertaining a fighter as there is out there and would love to see him fight as much as possible. Even more important, I hope he finds success in picking up as many followers as possible, as well as in the cage. I just worry he’s putting the cart before the horse. Regardless, if it’ll help, I’d recommend going out and giving him a follow.
Bonus Numbers: There’s a good chunk of fun facts to take out of the bonuses. As I mentioned, all of the bonuses were awarded to the fighters on the prelims. What makes it that much more impressive is the UFC awarded six as opposed to the usual four. In the process, Cannetti ended the longest period between OTN awards for the event, having last picked up one at UFC 180 in November 2014... when he was a youthful 34.
The night also proved to be the first bonus for four others: Chandler, Allen, Santos, and Castaneda. Trinaldo now has the longest gap of time from this event between Bonuses, securing the FOTN at UFC 198 in May 2016, 13 fights ago. Krzysztof Jotko is nipping on his heels, having last secured a bonus in June 2016, which was 11 fights ago for the Pole. In terms of never having secured a bonus, Yan has now gone nine fights into her UFC career without a bonus.