For anyone who has ever watched a Magomed Ankalaev fight, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise he turned in a plodding performance in the main event at UFC Vegas 50. Ankalaev can brawl, but that only happens if his opponent is up for that. Well, Thiago Santos hasn’t been willing to do so for several years. Thus, we got a slow-paced main event that saw Ankalaev tepidly outpoint Santos over the course of five rounds. Ankalaev said he wanted a title shot after the decision was read, but that isn’t happening off that performance. It put a sour cap on what had been a hell of a night of action.
The other big happenings of the night saw Song Yadong knock out former title challenger Marlon Moraes and Sodiq Yusuff sneaking by a game Alex Caceres. However, those weren’t the only storylines from the evening. We’re going to touch on the rest of what happened on the card with my Unofficial Awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: This is a hard spot to figure. The outcomes on the main card weren’t unexpected. Thus, even if Yadong’s win over Moraes was impressive as hell, I’m reluctant to put him here. Given Damon Jackson completely dominated Kamuela Kirk in what was supposed to be a pick ‘em contest, it feels appropriate to give him the boost. Not only was it a dominant performance, he capped it by submitting a respected grappler. After all, did anyone think it seemed out of place for him to be asking for a ranked opponent after his win? While I don’t think he’ll get it, it didn’t seem like he was making a massive overreach. Jackson isn’t a good athlete, but he’s crafty as hell and makes the most of his limited physical abilities. I never understood why the UFC let him loose after his first stint in the organization.
Biggest Fall in Stock: That’s four straight subpar performances from Santos. The Brazilian slugger was lucky enough that Johnny Walker found a way to fight ever worse than Santos did, saving Santos from five consecutive losses. I think it’s time the UFC stops presenting him as an elite light heavyweight. After all, Santos hasn’t secured a stoppage since he blew out his knees against Jon Jones and he’s now 38. It‘s not like he’s been living up to his reputation as an action fighter either. I might feel different if Santos had put up a spirited performance, but that didn’t happen. Santos still has a place in the division, but as a gatekeeper to the top five? I think it’s safe to say those days have come and gone.
Best Newcomer: None of the newcomers need be embarrassed by their performances, but it was clear Javid Basharat looked the best out of all. Taking on a tough test in his UFC debut in Trevin Jones, Basharat was in the driver’s seat for most of the contest. Jones wasn’t overwhelmed, but Basharat came thisclose to putting away the veteran in the first and never allowed Jones to take control from that point. Given his weak competition on the way to the UFC there were concerns about Basharat being the real deal. Turns out he is.
Start Typing a Resume: Moraes isn’t getting chopped because he’s no longer a UFC-caliber fighter. He’s getting chopped because he isn’t an elite fighter anymore and he’s getting paid like one. Like many sports, MMA fighters tend to start making their best money about the time they begin to decline and that’s the case with Moraes. Moraes has now lost four in a row and five of his last six fights. Even worse, the lone win many would say he should have come out on the other end of the scorecards. Moraes is still capable of delivering KO’s, but he’s never been more prone to being on the receiving end of them too. I expect Moraes’ days in the UFC are over.
I’ll never understand why Karl Roberson fell in love with grappling. For whatever reason, the former kickboxer stopped dancing with the girl that brought him to the dance, putting him in a do or die situation with Khalil Rountree. To Roberson’s credit, he had the advantage on the mat with Rountree, but opted to stand and trade with the striker. Now, on a three-fight losing streak, I get the feeling the UFC has seen enough.
I think it would be a mistake for the UFC to cut Sabina Mazo given she’s still just 24 and already put together a three-fight win streak, but it’s hard to ignore three losses in a row for the native of Columbia. While the loss to Mariya Agapova hasn’t aged well, there’s no shame in her earlier loss to Alexis Davis, nor the one that just happened to Miranda Maverick. Further in her defense, Mazo was supposed to face Mandy Bohm prior to Bohm falling out with an injury. Maverick is a BIG step up from Bohm. If the UFC takes that into account, I think Mazo could get one more chance. Otherwise, I have a hard time seeing her come back.
I get the feeling the contract status of Dalcha Lungiambula has more to do with whether he sticks around, but the UFC could justify letting the South African native maintain his spot. It can’t be denied that he looked fantastic the first three minutes, coming thisclose to putting away Cody Brundage. However, it only took those three minutes before he gassed himself, allowing himself to get caught in a guillotine and unable to escape. That’s not a good look.
Saved Their Job(s): In my mind, Maverick’s job was never on the line despite entering with consecutive losses. Her two losses came to Maycee Barber and Erin Blanchfield and the only people on the planet who thought Maverick lost to Barber were the two judges who scored for Barber. Throw in that Maverick took the fight with Mazo on short notice and Maverick deserved a LOT of leeway. Despite my opinion, there’s no doubt Maverick will be brought back now as she dominated the lanky Mazo in all areas, securing an RNC.
I’m reluctant to sing the praises of Guido Cannetti too loudly given Kris Moutinho isn’t a high-level talent. But when you’re a 42-year-old bantamweight who enters the fight as the underdog, I’ve got to give plenty of props for pulling out the win. Knowing Moutinho has energy for days, Cannetti went for broke to get the win early since he wasn’t going to be able to outwork him over the long haul. Or it could be that’s how Cannetti always fights. Regardless, it was a hell of a feat for the old man.
Biggest WOW Moment: Several moments ran through my mind for this spot, but ultimately I had to settle on Drew Dober scoring the finish on Terrance McKinney. It may not have been the highlight reel finish that Azamat Murzakanov’s flying knee finish of Tafon Nchukwi was, but finish taken in the whole of the fight was absolutely jaw-dropping. McKinney was thisclose to putting away Dober on several occasions in the opening minutes of their fight before Dober found his footing about halfway through the round. Dober landed a heavy knee that floored McKinney before finishing the youngster with some ground strikes. I can count on one hand the amount of one-round comebacks that have proven that dramatic. It’s a damn shame the UFC won’t go beyond the four official Performance bonuses as Dober and McKinney were well-deserving.
Best Callout: I rarely pull this one out anymore given most fighters ignore the opportunity to make a decent callout. This time around, there were three solid candidates. However, there while the other two were respectable, there was only one choice to make. I couldn’t have been happier with Dober asking for Bobby Green. It not only is a fight that makes sense for both combatants in respect to their placement within the division, it would probably be absolute fireworks. Fighters, take note in how Dober made that callout. He wasn’t disrespectful. He wasn’t condescending. Dober also talked about it in the sense it’s something fans would want to see. I point this out as fighters tend to think calling someone out is disrespectful. Dober demonstrates that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Theme of the Night: This isn’t difficult to figure out: comebacks. Murzakanov dropped the first two rounds before blasing Nchukwi. Brundage endured a hell of a beating before stopping Lungiambula. Matt Semelsberger was completely smothered by newcomer AJ Fletcher in the first round before turning the tide in the second and third round for the W. And of course, there was Dober coming back from the severe beating McKinney put on him. It made for a great night of fights that was, unfortunately, overshadowed by the plodding main event.
Most Clueless: I hate to throw Ankalaev under the bus, but the Russian stated he wanted a title shot after his victory. It doesn’t require much investigation to figure out Uncle Dana is unlikely to reward someone with such a miserably boring performance. Ankalaev also stated he wanted to go all five rounds, which is commendable enough to test those waters before fighting for gold. But if it also meant he wasn’t going to pursue a finish, he was flushing his title desires down the toilet, at least in the immediate. Ankalaev’s fight IQ can’t be disputed, but he may want to start paying more attention to the outside workings of the fight business.
Best Use of Underutilized Weapon: It isn’t the first time Rountree has used a legal technique that is rarely seen. He used an side kick to the knee of Modestas Bukauskas to end their fight, something I haven’t seen anyone else utilize in the UFC. Against Roberson, Rountree went with a soccer kick to the body. I remember Rountree using one to get into the TUF house back in the day. But like the side kick to the knee, I can’t recall anyone else using it. I don’t know if it’s right to refer to Rountree as innovative, but he deserves credit for knowing the legalities of the fight. I get the feeling more fighters don’t utilize soccer kicks to the body as they believe all soccer kicks to a downed opponent are illegal....
Another Reason for Unlimited Bonuses: Lost in the mix was the slugfest put on by Alex Pereira and Bruno Silva. For some, it was the most anticipated fight of the evening and it lived up to expectations. The only way it didn’t was that it didn’t end before the final bell, but not for a lack of trying. Silva looked like he was about to wilt several times from the body shots of Pereira, launching his own power punches. Despite the efforts of Silva, those power punches, which would have seemingly dropped most other fighters, didn’t seem to faze Pereira. I predict they would have received a Performance Bonus on most other cards, but they didn’t this time around. It’s really a shame the Bonuses are dictated not necessarily by how well a fighter performs, but by how well everyone else around them performs. Here’s hoping they got a locker room bonus of some sort.