Coming off a week that saw UFC 282 end in all sorts of controversy, UFC Vegas 66 kept up the tradition with a controversial main event. The difference is, pretty much everyone will admit there isn’t a strong consensus one way or the other for Jared Cannonier or Sean Strickland to be the one getting their hand raised. Strickland landed more volume and may have landed the cleaner shots. On the flip side, Cannonier was landing with power. In the end it was Cannonier who got his hand raised in a split decision, but even those who favored Strickland on their personal scorecards — as I did — will admit it could have gone either way.
Cannonier’s win keeps him in title talks, even as it seems the UFC will book a rematch between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira. At the very least it keeps Cannonier as the likely candidate to fill in if an injury occurs given we don’t know the outcome of Robert Whittaker-Paulo Costa. For Strickland, the loss shouldn’t hurt given the controversial nature, but it does ensure he’ll be out of the title picture for at least a year. At 31, he has the time to get back into the fray.
As for the rest of the card....
- Arman Tsarukyan is a scary dude. There wasn’t a moment where he didn’t appear to be in control against Damir Ismagulov, a man who was on a 19-fight win streak. Tsarukyan called for a top five opponent and I can’t say he doesn’t deserve that opportunity. This performance solidifies the idea that a wide swath of the MMA world is very interested in seeing him rematch Islam Makhachev.
- Given the long stretches of the fight that were extremely tentative, I’m not sure Amir Albazi did anything to fast track himself into a flyweight title shot. Regardless, he secured a highlight reel win against an opponent he was supposed to easily dispose of. If it doesn’t help, it sure as hell doesn’t hurt. What he really needs is a win over a quality opponent. Hopefully, Albazi can get that opportunity in his next contest.
- Given how many times he has crapped the bed, Alex Caceres makes it real easy for us to forget how good he can be. He provided the biggest reminder in his career, putting Julian Erosa to sleep with a head kick. While Erosa is going to lose that way sometimes, Caceres has never delivered that type of win. He may get another crack at a ranked opponent with that win.
- Drew Dober and Bobby Green lived up to the lofty expectations set for them. Green outlanded Dober throughout the entirety of the contest, but Dober didn’t back down in the least. He stayed in Green’s face until he landed a left hook to put Green to sleep. Dober’s stock shoots up while Green’s shouldn’t be hurt in the least. He was winning until he wasn’t. Sometimes, you just get caught.
- Good win for Michal Oleksiejczuk over Cody Brundage, but not a lot learned from either competitor. Oleksiejczuk hits hard and Brundage tends to be undisciplined. Brundage had the right idea in wrestling with Oleksiejczuk, but was a bit too frenetic in his approach and gave up the dominant position.
- Cheyanne Vlismas’ takedown defense is still atrocious. Until she solves that – and I don’t see her doing so – she’s never going to live up to the expectations many had for her. Credit to Cory McKenna for showing excellent fight IQ, abandoning the striking when it became clear she wasn’t going to win that way.
- I’m convinced Jake Matthews will never put it together. I can’t deny his boxing is slick. What I can’t figure out why he opted to stand and trade with the powerful Matthew Semelsberger for most of the contest when there was a consensus that he was the better ground fighter by a significant margin. Thus, he gave away the fight when Semelsberger scored several knockdowns despite Matthews winning more minutes of the striking.
- The stock of Saidyokub Kakhramonov shouldn’t take a hit in the least. If anything, it should go up. He was dominating Said Nurmagomedov in a way no one else has before Kakhramonov got caught in the slick guillotine from the veteran. Nurmagomedov’s stock goes up too as he proved he can maintain his composure in the face of adversity to find a finish, but I’m of the opinion Kakhramonov has the brighter future... not that either appears to have a dim future by any means.
- It isn’t hard to see why Maheshate wants to stay at lightweight, but if he’s missing weight at the age of 23, he might want to consider making the move to 170 sooner rather than later. It would allow him to remake his body quickly and avoid doing the untold damage of cutting down to 155 when it’s already a massive struggle.
- We’ve seen a bunch of grinding wrestlers out of Russia come over to the UFC and struggle to impose their will. Two fights into his UFC career and Rinat Fakhretdinov hasn’t had any issues doing that. Granted, two fights isn’t very deep into a UFC career, but the dominance in which he has won indicates he’s going to climb quite a bit higher before meeting his match.
- Manel Kape is going to fight for the flyweight title in the next two years. He did everything he wanted to do to David Dvorak besides secure the finish, showing both his striking and grappling prowess. Kape has the KO power, flash, and personality to make him the star they’ve been clamoring for at flyweight.
- Sergey Morozov proved control can override damage provided the control is extensive and the damage is kept to a minimum. It wasn’t exciting, but Morozov’s takedowns, control, and knees against the fence overrode Journey Newson’s superior striking.