The main event of UFC 271 saw Israel Adesanya successfully defend his title for the fourth time, this time turning away the man he wrested the belt from in the first place, Robert Whittaker. It wasn’t an instant classic, but it was a good fight that saw more rounds that were hotly debated than clear cut one way or the other. Overall, the fight lived up to expectations and the rest of the card seemed to exceed them. The co-main event was a classic of a banger. The middleweight title eliminator looked like it was going to go one way before immediately going the other. And there was no shortage of fun in the two lightweight contests to open the main card. Let’s get into the less scrutinized action of UFC 271 with my Unofficial Awards....
For an alternate POV for the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: It wasn’t a huge surprise to see Tai Tuivasa come out on top of Derrick Lewis. After all, Tuivasa is one of the hardest hitters in the sport. But to see him endure some heavy artillery from Lewis and come back to knock the former title challenger out cold really put his performance over the top. In the process, it launches Tuivasa into a completely different tier of heavyweight. Tuivasa proved he can walk through a bit of fire and emerge victorious. I’m not predicting he’ll be a champion in the future quite yet, but it seems like a realistic possibility at this point. Expect Tuivasa to be headlining Fight Night cards for the next several years.
Biggest Fall in Stock: For me, it came down to either Nasrat Haqparast or Alexander Hernandez. I went with Hernandez given his stock was higher than Haqparast’s at his peak. Given the finality of his loss to Renato Moicano, any hopes of Hernandez becoming a perennial top ten lightweight have been thoroughly dashed. As he is at this point, Hernandez still has a place in the UFC, particularly with relative newcomers. But he’s going to have to put together a serious winning streak to knock on the door of the rankings again. That seems very unlikely.
Best Newcomer: There were only two newcomers and both lost definitively. In the case of AJ Dobson, he at least won a round, so he kind of gets this spot by default. The DWCS alumni showed fast hands in the opening round of his fight with Jacob Malkoun, but Malkoun had worn him out enough by the time the second round came by that Dobson couldn’t stop the takedowns from there. Dobson has fought at welterweight before, so perhaps a future at 170 is in the cards if he struggles with the physicality of the middleweight division.
Start Typing a Resume: I wouldn’t have had a problem with the performance of Fabio Cherant if it was just the first two rounds. He was measured and had a brief moment of success when he stumbled Carlos Ulberg. I would have liked to have seen more action, but I didn’t hate it. Given he was down two rounds, I wanted to see more out of him in the last round. Instead, he was too reluctant to engage, never stopping to consider that it was make-or-break for his UFC career. He chose to break and picked up his third strike.
Saved Their Job(s): Entering the night at 1-2 in the UFC with a bad missed weight cut in his previous appearance, the 37-year-old Maxim Grishin needed a win to stay in the organization. It’s not like he’s a prospect the UFC might give a little extra rope in hopes of having the lights turn on. Grishin is already on the downside of his career. Nevertheless, the Russian put together the most complete performance of his UFC run, expertly using his reach to pick apart an overweight William Knight and avoid any real trouble.
Biggest Momentum Swing: There were a number of momentum swings at UFC 271. Perhaps many believe Jared Cannonier turning the tide on Derek Brunson deserves to be here and I totally understand that sentiment. But I think there was an earlier fight that did it better. Sergey Morozov came thisclose to putting Douglas Silva de Andrade away with a big right hand and a slashing elbow that opened a big cut next to the right eye of de Andrade. Somehow, the Brazilian survived the onslaught and came back in the second round swinging for the fences. It wasn’t long before he rocked Morozov with a head shot and continued to throw heavy leather until he finally dropped Morozov. Morozov got back up from that, but de Andrade didn’t let up, eventually dragging Morozov to the mat and securing a RNC. It was an instant classic, the type of fight that won’t easily be forgotten. De Andrade already had some nice highlight reel moments in his career. Now he has a signature win.
Best Incomplete Comeback: It could be argued Ronnie Lawrence secured two 10-8 round’s to open his fight against Mana Martinez. He had knocked down Martinez twice and took him down to the mat at will. He looked defeated as the second round ended, but there was still fight in Martinez yet. Late in the round, he rocked Lawrence with a body-head combo that had Lawrence doing the stanky leg. A few more hard punches from Martinez had Lawrence shoot for a desperation takedown... only for Martinez to slap on a triangle before transitioning to a DEEP armbar. Lawrence’s defense was perfect and that was largely the end of Martinez’s comeback. It didn’t get the job done, but it was certainly noteworthy given the situation Martinez was in entering the final round.
Most Honest Moment: Kyler Phillips was given a showcase matchup with Marcelo Rojo and fought like it was just that. After easily outpointing Rojo the first two rounds, Phillips was a bit more aggressive in looking for the finish, finding a triangle armbar about halfway through the third round. Though it was an impressive performance, Phillips was honest about the level of his opponent when asked if it was the best win of his career. His response: “Hell no, definitely not.” In an age of extreme PC, it’s hard not to enjoy such a brutally honest answer.
Cure for Insomnia: Cherant is going to get more blame given he didn’t push for the win in the final round. However, Ulberg was the one dictating the pace. He did what he needed to do to win, so I won’t fault him too much in that sense. But in terms of putting on an entertaining contest, he’s just as much to blame as Cherant, if not more. Bottom line, it was a terrible fight.
Most Conspicuous Absence: Much has been made of Joe Rogan as of late. I’m not here to take sides on that debate. But it was a very curious move when it was announced mid-week that he was unable to provide commentary for UFC 271 due to a “scheduling conflict.” Odd he would have a scheduling conflict when he had already long been scheduled to provide commentary at UFC 271. The excuse smelled of BS. It didn’t help matters when Jon Anik stated during the main event that he received a text from Rogan, indicating Rogan was watching the fights. Apparently, this “scheduling conflict” still allowed him to do what he would have been doing in the first place... watching the fights. Dana White added his two cents to the issue as well. Given the firestorm around Rogan, it isn’t necessarily a surprise he removed himself from the broadcast. It makes sense to allow the rage to burn out and allow as much attention to be placed on the fights rather than on Rogan. But could Rogan at least be straight up with us?
Best Lightweight Win: Heading into the event, all four lightweights who competed on the card – Hernandez, Moicano, Haqparast, and Bobby Green – were comparable in terms of their ranking placement. Moicano and Green separated themselves with distinction when they obliterated Hernandez and Green respectively, But which win was more impressive? Moicano endured a competitive first round with Hernandez before turning on the jets and brutalizing Hernandez in the second. On the flip side, Green did whatever he wanted to with Haqparast, landing a career best 188 significant strikes on the way to blowing Haqparast out of the water. Both men deserve plaudits, but I’ll go with Moicano on the basis he appeared to be the bigger question mark between himself and Green heading into the evening. Being able to walk out with a win on the back of an impressive striking performance to set up his RNC was the cherry on top.
Strangest Moment: What the hell was Jeremiah Wells doing when he ran along the cage to open his fight with Mike Mathetha? As Wells got about a quarter of a way around the cage, he ended up stumbling. At that point, Wells abandoned whatever in the hell he was doing after the stumble and admit to being embarrassed at how it all went down later. But even as he tried to offer an explanation, it still left most people scratching their heads.
Happy Trails: Roxanne Modafferi ended her career in the exact manner she pursued it from the very beginning: pushing forward against long odds. Modafferi was never a physical marvel. Hell, it could be argued her happy demeanor worked against her as many would suggest a degree of meanness is needed to be successful in the sport. But Roxy did things her way, picking up whatever technique she could on her journey of 18 years, becoming a figure beloved by all in a sport that tends to be polarizing. In Modafferi’s final contest, a youthful Casey O’Neill used her physical advantages to outwork Modafferi by a wide margin, landing well over 100 significant strikes more than Modafferi did. And yet Modafferi persisted, pushing forward, optimistically believing that moment would open up when she could strike and change the course of the fight. It didn’t happen and Modafferi closed her career on a loss. Regardless, it can’t be said she went out a loser. Much love and respect to Roxy. We all hope she finds success and happiness in whatever she does going forward.