UFC Vegas 66 was a solid event as a whole, featuring several solid high-level fights, even if it wrapped on something of a blah note. Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland fought five competitive rounds with consistent action. Typically, that would sound like a solid fight. However, with very few dramatic swings and few major moments from either fighter, it failed to make for a memorable bout.
Both men maintained a similar pace, landing consistently through the contest. Cannonier landed the harder shots, but Strickland landed the cleaner shots. It was a very difficult fight to judge that left most observers agreeing there wasn’t a definitive winner. Ultimately, the judges went with Cannonier, getting the heavy hitter back on track following his loss this past summer for the middleweight title.
There was plenty of other action on the card that should have more than made up for the main event. Unfortunately, that’s rarely how it works. The headliners almost always overshadow everything else, every time. To try and fix that, we’ll cover the rest of the event here with my Unofficial Awards....
BIGGEST JUMP IN STOCK
This was a tricky spot to figure out. Arman Tsarukyan dominated a highly regarded opponent. Drew Dober turned out the lights on an opponent who has traditionally been very difficult to put to sleep. Manel Kape did what he wanted to a tough opponent. In the end, I had to go with Alex Caceres.
Sure, he didn’t beat someone who was on the level with any of those other aforementioned men. But it was a fight he wasn’t supposed to win and he did so in a manner that established he can end a fight in a flash. A closer look at Caceres’ record reveals that he’s won six of his last seven fights. ‘Bruce Leeroy’’s past inconsistencies may mean that there are some who will never give him the benefit of the doubt, but I think he’s earned more respect on his name.
BIGGEST FALL IN STOCK
The odds may have been tilted too much in his favor, but Jake Matthews was a rightful favorite over Matthew Semelsberger. Add that Matthews won a solid two-thirds of this fight, and it really seems he should have had his hand raised... at least provided he fought smart. Matthews didn’t fight an intelligent fight, though.
Instead, Matthews opted to engage Semelsberger in the area where Semelsberger is most dangerous. Given that the Aussie has a more proven ground game, a ground-based attack seemed the most direct path to victory. But, he didn’t try making a serious attempt to go to the mat until the third round—after he was down two rounds and been knocked down three times. Barring some sort of Robbie Lawler-like late career evolution, it may be that Matthews is becoming his own worst enemy.
SAVED THEIR JOB(S)
It feels weird saying for any event (and especially a Fight Night), but there weren’t many jobs on the line, if any. It’s very possible the UFC wasn’t going to cut anyone from this event barring disastrous results. There may be one person I suspect won’t have a contract come 2023, but I’m not even confident in that case.
START TYPING A RESUME
Journey Newson may not have consecutive losses, but he does have just one official UFC win in five attempts. Granted, he would have another if it wasn’t for a positive marijuana test, but his record is what it is. If he was a young prospect whose best days were ahead of him, I might not include him here. Given he’s 33 and doesn’t fight with the veteran savvy you’d expect of someone his age, he’s likely topped out. If bantamweight didn’t have so many prospects worth looking at, I might guess he’d be safe. As it is, I think this may be the end of his time in the Octagon.
BIGGEST WOW MOMENT
Caceres has been around the UFC for a long time. He’s been in some hella fun fights, pulled off some fun upsets, and crapped the bed at several inopportune times. Basically, he’s done it all. All except secure the highlight reel KO. Now he has. He threw a right hand that left Julian Erosa leaning into a left high kick that put ‘Juicy-J’ to sleep. I’d be shocked if this KO doesn’t end up on Baba O’Riley.
MOST CONFUSING MOMENT
About halfway through the second round of the contest between Rafa Garcia and Maheshate, Garcia had his opponent pushed against the fence. Maheshate’s foot was out away from the cage, so Garcia started landing some heavy foot stomps. After the third one, referee Mark Smith rushed towards them, declaring Garcia can’t do that. Last time I checked, foot stomps were perfectly legal. Perhaps an explanation will come out over the next few days? I’m curious what reasoning Smith has to offer.
MOST GRITTY PERFORMANCE
It wasn’t the most exciting performance, but Garcia looked like he was a weight class or two smaller than his opposition. Maheshate did miss weight, but it didn’t fully explain why he appeared so much bigger in the Octagon. Despite the size disparity Garcia proved to be the bully in the cage, scoring several takedowns and controlling Maheshate for long stretches. Perhaps the most impressive part about it was he did so while leaking insane amounts of blood from his head for half the contest. It isn’t infrequent for fighters to be freaked out a bit by their blood pouring everywhere. The blood seemed to get to Maheshate more when he became drenched in it. Regardless, it showed impressive mental steel.
MOST DOMINANT PERFORMANCE
There were a couple of options to pick from here, but Rinat Fakhretdinov had to be my official choice. The Russian grinder was in control for almost the entirety of the contest, a few submission attempts from Bryan Battle being the only times when it looked like Fakhretdinov was threatened in any form. Even then, none of the submission attempts came anywhere close to being fully clamped on.
MOST IMPRESSIVE LOSS
There were a couple of excellent choices for this as well, with two contests where the loser of the fight was winning right up to the ultimate moment of their demise. The runner-up was Bobby Green, who was outlanding Drew Dober by more than a two-to-one margin before Dober landed a powerful left hand that sent the longtime veteran sprawling to the mat. Green looked like he was picking up right where he left off from when he dominated Nasrat Haqparast. 99% of the time that would totally be the most impressive loss.
In this case, however, it goes to Saidyokub Kakhramonov. The Uzbekistan native was putting on a completely dominant performance over Said Nurmagomedov, mauling the highly regarded bantamweight for close to every second of the contest. Nurmagomedov threatened with a guillotine in the opening round, which was the only time he had any serious control. At least that was the case up until he found the finish with a modified guillotine choke. Given Kakhramonov was fighting at a much higher level than what he had previously faced and appeared to be more than holding his own, he gets the award—not that he actually gives a damn.
MOST DISRESPECTED FIGHTER
Does anyone really believe Arman Tsarukyan is going to get an opponent he’s happy with? Having lost a razor-thin contest to Mateusz Gamrot this summer, Tsarukyan rebounded with an emphatic win over the criminally underappreciated Damir Ismagulov in the co-main event. In his post-fight interview, Tsarukyan declared he didn’t actually lose to Gamrot and that he wants a fight with someone ahead of him. Unfortunately for him, the top of the lightweight division is full of fighters who have established a level of credibility that allows them to pick and chose who they are willing to fight and when.
While those who follow the sport religiously know how good Tsarukyan is—and that he can compete with anyone in the division—he still doesn’t have enough name value to do anything for the contenders above him. Thus, Tsarukyan is left being disrespected as it appears unlikely he’ll get a fight he truly wants. The hope here is that I’m wrong.
MOST MATURING PERFORMANCE
At 23, Cory McKenna can be forgiven if she makes the occasional foolish mistake. What typically isn’t forgiven is if a fighter strays from their bread and butter, something she did in her loss to Elise Reed. McKenna redeemed herself against Cheyanne Vlismas, adjusting her strategy after dropping the first round. McKenna still showed improvements in her boxing, but ultimately was coming up short in that department. The second round turned into a grind against the fence and the third was almost entirely on the mat. Vlismas struggled without space, clearing the way for McKenna to pick up the victory. If she can continue to develop her skillset, McKenna appears to have the know-how to develop into a strawweight of note down the road.
MOST IMPRESSIVE FLYWEIGHT
There appears to be light at the top of the flyweight division as Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno settle their eternal rivalry. Thus, Amir Albazi and Manel Kape were given excellent opportunities to make a case why they might be the preferable choice for the UFC to push into the title picture. It’s hard to say definitively one way or the other which one submitted a stronger application. Albazi secured a highlight reel finish, but the fight was largely tepid up until that point.
Kape didn’t get the finish, but he came thisclose to doing so on two occasions. The first saw him bend David Dvorak’s arm out of shape with a kimura in the first round—where Dvorak was ultimately saved by the bell. The second saw Dvorak on wobbly legs with Kape landing heavy strikes.
Ultimately, I’m more willing to say Kape was more impressive, since Dvorak was a more proven opponent than Alessandro Costa. Regardless, both are very much in the picture. If either one can deliver impressive performances against proven opposition, they could end up fighting for a belt by the end of 2023. For the moment, I think Kape has a slight edge to be that guy.
The FOTN went to Green and Dober, giving each of them six Performance Bonuses for their UFC careers. That would have tied them for the most Bonuses had Alex Caceres not picked up his seventh. Michal Oleksiejczuk picked up just the second Bonus of his UFC run. Ismagulov maintained the longest drought of anyone on the card, dating back to December of 2018. In terms of amount of contests, Olesiejczuk snapped his seven-fight streak without a Bonus. Now, Ismagulov and Garcia are tied with six fights each without a Bonus. Perhaps one of the most surprising number is Kape is still without a Bonus in his UFC run.