Another Fight Night come and gone. That’s the general feeling around UFC Vegas 52. The overall feel of the card didn’t feel spectacular, but it also didn’t feel like a major letdown the way the event from the previous week did. However, I get the feeling if a crowd had been present, the energy would have been far more different. On an eleven-fight card, seven of the fights ended in the first round. Plus, none of the fights were complete trash. Topped by Jessica Andrade reestablishing herself as a force in the strawweight division by choking out an upstart Amanda Lemos. There weren’t too many other fights of consequence, which is why there wasn’t much buzz, before or after the event. Nonetheless, as with any card, there were developments, and we’ll touch on them with my Unofficial Awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Nobody made a huge jump. Andrade bowled through Lemos, but it wasn’t a huge surprise. Charles Jourdain shocked many when he pulled off a one-armed guillotine, but Lando Vannata’s sketchy record makes it hard to put too much into the win. I’ll go with Claudio Puelles. The young Peruvian was in control of the entirety of his contest with Clay Guida, catching Guida in several submission attempts. Guida, showing the veteran savvy he picked up over his long career, was able to work his way out of each of them. But when Puelles caught him in a lightning-fast kneebar, Guida tapped right away. Puelles’ ground work looks to be amongst the best in the division. His win over a proven vet like Guida solidifies him as someone to keep an eye on.
Biggest Fall in Stock: It isn’t that I don’t think she can’t recover from the loss, but Lemos looks nothing like a dark horse of a contender at this moment. Not that there weren’t bright moments – I liked the strategy Lemos was taking prior to getting caught in the sub – but it’s not like she was dominating up to the finish. All anyone is going to remember is Lemos was stopped in the first round by Andrade. If Lemos were a few years younger, I wouldn’t worry so much about her ability to rebound. Unfortunately, at 34, I fear this was her best – perhaps only – chance to breakout. I’ve been proven wrong on that idea several times before – Michael Bisping being the ultimate example – but the odds a most certainly against Lemos.
Best Newcomer: There were only two newcomers on the card, both coming out on the losing end. However, whereas Dean Barry was a heavy favorite who pissed away victory, Evan Elder was an underdog who put on a spirited performance. At 25, Elder has plenty of time to fulfill the prodigious promise he displayed. Even more encouraging, he fought outside of his normal lightweight division. I was worried the UFC may have called him up too soon – not much of a choice though given it was a short notice call – but I’m less worried about it after seeing how competitive he was against Preston Parsons.
Start Typing a Resume: There have been those who hated on Jordan Wright even before they saw him in action on DWCS. A karateka out of Beverly Hills – Beverly Hills Ninja wasn’t just a nickname – who beat up on a bunch of cans on his way up, he comes across as the pampered uppity who didn’t earn his lumps on his way to the big show. Wright has at least proven he’s dangerous since making it to the roster, but he has not proven to be consistent. With his first round loss to Marc-Andre Barriault, Wright now sits at 2-3 in his UFC run. It’s no guarantee he’ll be handed a pink slip given his fights tend to be fun, but there’s a big part of me that thinks Uncle Dana is going to let him loose.
I don’t think there’s anyone who would disagree with the idea that Dwight Grant has underachieved throughout his UFC run. Even though he looked better against Sergey Khandozhko than he has in his recent fights, it still didn’t feel like Grant was fighting to the fullness of his abilities. It resulted in Grant’s second consecutive loss and his third in his last four fights. Given he’s 37 and most of his fights have been snoozers, I think the UFC is done with him.
Ike Villanueva stayed on the UFC roster one fight longer than I expected, but I have a hard time believing he’ll keep his spot with his third consecutive loss. It brings his overall UFC record to 1-5. I suppose he was given some extra leeway given his willingness to step in on short notice, but Villanueva is 38 and never had much upside even when he was signed. Besides, his body isn’t holding up the way it once did.
I didn’t have a lot of confidence Cameron Else was going to be long for the UFC when he signed on short notice to face Kyler Phillips in 2020. Sure, he’s fun given he goes balls to the wall, typically resulting in an early finish either for him or his opponent. In this case, it was his opponent scoring the finish. Else just doesn’t have the physical gifts to compete at this level.
Saved Their Job(s): I’m not a fan of quick turnarounds after a fighter has suffered a KO, but Barriault made it pay off for himself. Just two-and-a-half months after having his lights turned out, Barriault stepped in the cage with a renowned KO artist and walked out with barely a scratch on him. In fact, it resulted in Barriault’s first career submission. Often times, the first KO loss of a fighter’s career serves as their best lesson. That may well be the case for Barriault.
Aori Qileng didn’t look bad when he was fighting at flyweight, but he looked spectacular fighting at bantamweight. To put a bit of a damper on his performance, most would point out Cameron Else was probably his lowest quality opponent he has faced in the UFC, but a first round finish in the bantamweight division tends to turn heads. Regardless, the win keep Qileng on the roster.
I’m still not 100% sure the drop to light heavyweight was the right move for Phillipe Lins, but the results thus far indicate it was the right thing to do. After dropping his first two UFC contests at heavyweight, Lins was able to successfully utilize his wrestling and grappling chops against a smaller opponent in Marcin Prachnio. I know many will point to the heavy strikes Lins landed as the reason he won – I don’t disagree with that assessment – but Lins set up his striking success with the threat of his ground attack.
The UFC would love to cut Mike Jackson loose, but he found a way to escape with a win. Well... I shouldn’t say Jackson found a way. It’s more accurate to say Barry gave him the win with a pair of fouls that resulted in a DQ in the first round. The first was a low blow, the second was a DEEP eye gouge. So even though everyone knows Jackson has no business in the UFC – he himself knows this – he will keep his spot on the roster.
Best WOW Moment: There weren’t a lot of KO’s and those are usually what populate highlight reels. Thus, I was going between the lightning fast kneebar from Puelles and the first ever standing arm triangle choke in UFC annals by Andrade. It’s hard for me to choose between the two, but I’ll go with Andrade as it took a while for most viewers to recognize Lemos was in trouble. Once we all realized the trouble she was in, Lemos was almost unconscious. It just goes to further solidify Andrade’s reputation as a powerhouse unlike any who has ever stepped foot in the strawweight division.
Theme of the Night: Some might argue it was another night highlighted by fouls, but I’d rather focus on the large number of fighters who were making their return to the cage after long absences. Else and Lins hadn’t been seen since 2020. For Sergey Khandozhko, it was 2019. For both Tyson Pedro and Jackson, it was 2018. It isn’t rare to have at least one fighter on each card who hasn’t fought in over a year, but five of them with absences of more than 18 months? That‘s unusual. Perhaps more unusual, all those fighters fought on the prelims.
Best Return: Given all the fighters who had long absences, someone should be singled out for the best performance following that absence. It wasn’t an easy choice as most of them won. Lins and Khandozhko scored hard-fought wins while Pedro had a relatively easy win. At first glance, that makes Pedro the easy choice, but most would agree Lins and Khandozhko had more difficult opposition. Regardless, I’ll go with Pedro as I believe he has the highest ceiling. Thus, he’ll end up making more noise long term.
Best Callout: I’m not sure what clicked with Charles Jourdain, but he’s looked like a completely different fighter in his last two appearances. When he got the opportunity to make a callout, he had a well-reasoned opponent in mind: Edson Barboza. It would be a big step up for Jourdain – he acknowledged it himself – but it would also be fireworks if both were to stand and trade. Then again, Barboza has endured so many high-level battles that it may not be quite the step up in competition we all think it is. I was think Billy Quarantillo would be a good choice for Jourdain, but I think the Canadian offered a better choice that I would have.
Most Mature Performance: I’m not just saying this because Maycee Barber turned in a performance that showed a new level of maturity. She stuck to her strategy and when de la Rosa was able to find an advantageous position, Barber methodically worked her way out of it. So, while I’m highlighting it because of her past immaturity, she legitimately put together the most complete top-to-bottom performance on the card. Turning 24 next month, Barber is still very young. Thus, with a performance like that, there’s never been more reason to believe she could live up to the massive hype she heaved upon herself when she declared she wanted to become the youngest UFC champion in history. That isn’t going to happen, but the possibility of becoming a champion? That’s still on the table.