Another UFC event has come and gone, with UFC Vegas 64 producing a plethora of finishes. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it one of the better events of the year, but it sure as hell exceeded the expectations that were placed on it. The main event saw Amanda Lemos score the upset over Marina Rodriguez, knocking the top strawweight out of the title picture and inserting herself instead. That contest is going to get most of the attention – and rightfully so – but there were several other contests that will shape the UFC landscape further. To brush up on those a bit more, let’s take a look at my Unofficial Awards...
Biggest Jump in Stock: Given she was a sizeable underdog in the main event, it has to be Lemos getting the jump here. If she hadn’t pulled it out, Mario Bautista would have been the pick given the dominance he showed in his victory. Rodriguez had already turned away the likes of Yan Xiaonan and Mackenzie Dern, doing her best to make herself the most viable option. And while Lemos had lost to Jessica Andrade earlier this year, most aren’t going to hold that against her too much given Andrade is a unique breed capable of beating anyone at any time. What really does it for Lemos though is the manner in which she beat Rodriguez. She knocked Rodriguez silly, becoming the first to finish her in her lengthy career. Given the UFC is more business than sport, she’ll get a boost for her ability to finish fights, something Rodriguez struggles to do. Marketability tends to matter more than performance and it’s easier to market someone who can deliver finishes than a point fighter.
Biggest Fall in Stock: The easy pick is Rodriguez, but I’m seeing things different. Yes, she’s out of title contention, but I get the feeling the UFC was going to try and delay granting her a title shot as long as they could. In other words, they didn’t value her the way the rest of the MMA world did. On the other hand, Mark Madsen wasn’t very competitive against Grant Dawson, getting controlled damn near from the minute the fight started until Dawson was able to elicit a tap. It isn’t so much that Madsen lost; it’s that he wasn’t competitive. Besides Madsen, I don’t think there was anyone who believed he had a realistic chance at winning the lightweight title. All the same, this loss confirmed it isn’t going to happen.
Best Debut: She was the only debutante on the card, but Tamires Vidal impressed enough in her debut to ensure she gets a mention. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with Vidal’s film prior to her debut, but she has clearly made some strides in the interim. That isn’t to say she’s anywhere near a finished product, but she has the aggression to help make up for some of the further polish she could use. And while few are going to say a win over Ramona Pascual is anything to indicate stardom in the future, she finished her with a flying knee when renowned heavy hitter Josiane Nunes was unable to put her away.
Saved Their Job(s): I don’t think there is a more Jekyll and Hyde fighter in the strawweight division than Polyana Viana. All four of her UFC victories have come within the first round. Given she has eight fights total in the UFC, that should say something about her ability to go the distance. Regardless, it didn’t matter this time around as she disposed of Jinh Yu Frey in less than a minute. If Viana could put some consistency behind her showings, she could be a major noise maker. As it is, I expect her to continue vacillating between looking like a champ and a chump.
There hasn’t been a lot of investment in Johnny Munoz from the organization. After all, he was one of the short notice signings during the pandemic signing spree. To his credit, he took some time off from his most recent fight and put time into his striking. While Munoz did show some of his BJJ skills, it was the work on the feet that ensured he picked up the win. Whether that’s more of an indication of how much Munoz has improved or if it’s an indictment of his opponent, Liudvik Sholinian. Regardless, Munoz did what he needed to do to win.
I don’t think I would have given up on Jake Hadley if he had come up short – too much potential in my eyes – but I get the feeling Uncle Dana figured he already gave him a leg up when he signed him off DWCS despite missing weight for his contest. The youngster proved he learned a lot from his loss to Allan Nascimento, pushing a hard pace and showing the grappling chops that so many had been singing about. Regardless, I don’t think we’ll see Hadley anywhere near the chopping block for a while.
Start Typing a Resume: I’d really hate to see Darrick Minner get handed a pink slip off an injury. I’m not sure what happened to him as it wasn’t a checked kick that caused the injury, but he was clearly compromised. It was academic at that point as Minner couldn’t stand or properly fight off the physical menace that is Shayilan Nuerdanbieke. The loss does drop the seasoned veteran to 2-4 in the UFC, including three consecutive losses. I would understand why the UFC would cut their losses – Minner isn’t cracking the rankings and isn’t an action fighter in the traditional sense – but I hate it would come off a loss due to injury.
There’s a part of me that’s surprised Frey has hung around as long as she has. She’s on the small side in the smallest division on the UFC roster and doesn’t have the speed to make that a moot point. And while I credit her for sticking around as long as she has, she has consistently been fighting those near the bottom of the barrel. Despite that, she’s now sitting at 2-4. I get that it isn’t as porous as Ashley Yoder, but Yoder at least turns in consistently entertaining scraps. The same can’t be said of Frey.
I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw of Sholinian on TUF, so I didn’t have the greatest expectations of the Ukranian in the first place. He did show some fire late, but it also came way too late as Munoz had already built up a two round lead by that point. If Sholinian was younger, I might think another opportunity would be appropriate. Given he’s 32 and this division is overflowing with talent, I’d rather give his roster spot to someone younger.
I don’t think Uncle Dana should regret taking a chance on Candelario given he signed him off DWCS despite a loss, but two more losses in the UFC should be enough to have the plug pulled at this point. I might have said otherwise had Candelario made weight as both of his fights have been highly entertaining, but missing weight is usually a death knell if you were thought to be on the chopping block in the first place.
Speaking of missing weight, Pascual wasn’t able to make the bantamweight limit, assuring she’d need a win to stay on the roster. Instead, she dropped her third consecutive contest and most likely is headed towards the unemployment line. Pascual was lucky to get on the roster in the first place given she was a short notice replacement. The UFC gave her every chance and unfortunately, she couldn’t make good on it.
Best WOW Moment: There were quite a few finishes on the card, only two of the eleven fights requiring the assistance of the judges. I considered Lemos’ finish of Rodriguez, but ultimately decided Viana’s finish of Frey was more impressive. Viana put the traditionally durable Frey on her back in a flurry of punches before bringing about nap time with a hammerfist to the face after Frey hit her back. It’s Viana’s ability to produce moments like that that kept the UFC from cutting her loose after three consecutive losses.
Best Callout: I don’t think he’ll get it, but credit to Neil Magny for at least asking for a fight with Gilbert Burns, someone who is good way ahead of Magny in the rankings. There is some sense to it given Burns is coming off a loss and would probably love an opportunity to fight in Brazil early next year as Magny proposed. But most would agree Magny would be a heavy underdog in that contest. Regardless, given Magny is the ultimate good soldier – not to mention he’s now in sole possession of the most victories in UFC’s welterweight history – it makes sense the UFC cut him more leeway than they would most others. Besides, I don’t think there’s any way the fight would happen if Magny didn’t call for it. Perhaps the callout can will the fight into existence.
Worst Weight Class Change: An argument could be made we didn’t see enough of Nate Maness at flyweight given the fight only lasted just over two minutes, but that could also be argued why it was a bad decision for him to cut down to 125. To Maness’ credit, he didn’t look overly drawn out on the scales, but he also didn’t have the physicality to fight off Tagir Ulanbekov as the protégé of Khabib was able to find a standing guillotine choke. I doubt Maness is going to be scared off by the loss to Ulanbekov, but I think his gritty style is better suited to 135 than 125.
Hardest Ceiling Bump: While Madsen had a worse loss, it could also be said we don’t know what the ceiling is for Dawson. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Dawson to break into the top ten of the shark tank that is the lightweight division. In other words, Madsen may not be as bad as his loss appears. On the flip side, we know what Magny is. I’m sure he’s heard it plenty and would rather be known in a different light, but he is the definitive gatekeeper at welterweight. That means we’ve got a real good idea of Daniel Rodriguez’s ceiling. To be fair to Rodriguez, he performed well enough that I’d say there are several occasions he would beat Magny if they ran the fight back about ten times. Despite that, Magny ultimately came out on top. Regardless, it feels safe to say Rodriguez is either in the same tier as Magny or just a step below.
Worst Showing: This goes to the UFC itself. On a night chuck full of finishes, they wouldn’t go beyond their usual four bonuses. They have done six bonuses before, so it’s not like it’s an unheard of proposition. Some will say the energy in the building doesn’t warrant it, but the event took place in the APEX. It’s impossible to produce that type of energy when a crowd isn’t allowed to populate the event. The fighters made the most of what they did and produced a card that likely would have had the crowd on their feet all night if they had the opportunity to put them there. As far as I’m concerned, Lemos and Ulanbekov were just as deserving as those who did pick up the extra $50K. Besides, it’s not like the UFC has raised their bonus amount over the years. It’s not like $50K goes as far as it did when they made that the standard fare for bonuses almost a decade ago.
Bonus Numbers: Speaking of bonuses, it may surprise many to learn Magny entered the event with the most bonuses under his belt at four and he walked out with a fifth. However, it had also been well over six years since he last nabbed one, that coming in March 2016. That was 14 fights ago, snapping the longest streak on this card by default as there wasn’t anyone else on the card with that many fights within the organization. Bautista finished the event with the second most bonuses by picking up his third while Viana picked up her second and Vidal her first. As for those who have never won a bonus, Maverick entered and left the event with the most fights without a bonus of anyone on the card, her number of appearances now up to six.