Smashing. That’s the best word used to describe UFC Vegas 53... and also perfectly describes what Marlon Vera was doing to Rob Font’s face in the main event. Though the fight was far closer than it will be remembered for, Vera hurt Font on multiple occasions throughout their fight, almost always at the end of the round. Unable to find the finish, Vera was nevertheless able to secure a unanimous decision victory for the biggest win of his career. It’s not like the rest of the card was disappointing either. There weren’t a lot of notable names on the card, but the action sure as hell delivered. Let’s dig into it with my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: Prior to the main event, it was hard to know who would have the biggest leap. With Vera’s bruising performance, it left no doubt that the Ecuadorian native has officially arrived as an elite bantamweight. There’s still some concerns about Vera’s ability to put together a consistent attack over the course as he was losing every round that he won until he landed his heavy artillery. But given he was able to land that artillery as often as he did – he badly hurt the ultra-tough Font on four separate occasions – it may not matter. Jose Aldo exposed Vera’s weakness to wrestling, which could be problematic. Given this was the best version of Vera that we’ve seen, I’m more than willing to find out if it will be an Achilles heel.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I don’t believe he’s in danger of being cut, but Andre Fili might be in that position if he loses his next fight. That’s a far cry from the guy who was consistently hovering just outside the official UFC rankings. This most recent loss, a 41-second KO to Joanderson Brito, is the worst on paper given Brito has yet to establish himself. Now, the only victory Fili has in his last five fights was a split decision win over Charles Jourdain prior to Jourdain finding his footing. There are caveats in there as Fili was on his way to upending Daniel Pineda before an eye poke brought an early end to the contest and the only fight he was blown out in was this most recent one. However, at some point, the excuses have to end and positive results will need to be produced.
Best Newcomer: There was only one debutant. Though Yohan Lainesse ultimately came up short, I would still say he exceeded expectations. The Canadian showed excellent power, coming thisclose to putting away a durable Gabe Green before fading down the stretch. No one is predicting Lainesse will become a contender, but he showed enough that he could carve out a nice niche as a lower-level action fighter.
Start Typing a Resume: I’m up in the air on this choice, but it’s hard to predict what the fate of Tristan Connelly will be. His incredible upset win of Michel Pereira is far back enough that many have forgotten about it and he doesn’t have any other wins in the confines of the Octagon. And while there is no shame in losing to Darren Elkins in general, this is a badly faded version of Elkins who has only been able to squeak by those who are on the chopping block. Connelly’s performance was impressive enough he could hang around, but he might want to start typing just in case.
I hate the idea of ripping on Gina Mazany given it’s clear how much fighting means to her. Unfortunately, now sitting at 2-6 in the UFC after falling to Shanna Young, it needs to be said that Mazany simply doesn’t have the physical tools to hang in the UFC. She tried her luck at bantamweight and is now floundering with her energy levels at flyweight. It’s not going to click for her the way she wants.
Saved Their Job(s): With the win, Natan Levy for sure saved his job. However, the man he beat, Mike Breeden, also saved his job by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Levy in the final round to put a scare into the Israeli after dropping the first two rounds. The best way to get into the good graces of Uncle Dana is to go for broke and that’s what Breeden did. He may have been safe regardless of the outcome, but he ensured he’ll be back. Levy, despite the win, may be on more unstable ground than Breeden given his more methodical approach.
I couldn’t figure out why Young didn’t drop to flyweight after her UFC debut. She was bullied by Macy Chiasson, then she was bullied by Stephanie Egger. Young finally got the message, moved down to flyweight, and picked up her first UFC win by disallowing Mazany from being the bully. I’m not going to predict she’ll become a world-beater at 125, but she’s fighting where she should be now and should have a decent run now. At the very least, it seems clear it has extended her UFC career.
Biggest WOW Moment: I really wanted to pick Brito for this spot. His overhand right that demolished the typically durable Fili was a thing of beauty, giving the Brazilian his first UFC win in brilliant fashion. Plus, the idea of this article is to help give shine to some of the developments that don’t receive as much shine as the more talked about moments on the card. Unfortunately, I can’t deny Vera hurting Font several times. First, Vera rocked Font in the closing seconds of the second round with a left hand. Then it was a knee in the closing seconds of the third. Then the side kick a little past the midway point of the fourth round put down Font. Finally, it was a hook kick as the fifth neared its end that hurt Font. I know that’s a collective moment, but each one of those moments built upon one another, creating a level of euphoria that was peaking by the fifth round.
Best/Worst Referee Call: I’ve been a fan of Jason Herzog for quite a while. The way he handled a fence grab from Connelly was something I wish referees would do for a long time. As Elkins was looking for a single leg takedown, Connelly grabbed the fence to prevent Elkins from completing it. Herzog not only called out Connelly, he stopped the action and reset both fighters to the position they were in prior to the illegal infraction. I recognize it’s impossible to truly reset the circumstances to what they previously were, but kudos to Herzog for at least trying to set things as close as possible.
Best Comeback: There would have been a strong case for Breeden here if he had managed to complete his comeback, but there’s no doubt it could be anyone other than Gabe Green. Not only did Green drop the opening round after several heavy shots from Lainesse, Green was also dropped himself in the early stages of the second. It was a minor miracle he popped up the way he did. Green maintained his pressured attack, working over the body of the much larger Lainesse. It paid off as Lainesse was clearly compromised just minutes after seeming to decapitate Green, collapsing against the cage with about a minute to go in the round. It looks like the vision correction surgery paid off for Green.
Most Gutsy Performance: You’d think any card with Elkins on it would automatically have him taking this spot. And believe me, he came thisclose to taking this award as he turned in another classic performance against a game Tristan Connelly. However, I ultimately went with Krzysztof Jotko. Sure, Jotko didn’t utilize as many takedowns as Elkins. He didn’t utilize as much control time, nor did he fight in the clinch as much. What Jotko did do was face a much more dangerous opponent in Gerald Meerschaert and never at any moment did it appear Jotko was in any real danger. It’s not like Jotko never took the fight where Meerschaert is at his best either. If this was the grittiest performance, I’d be obliged to go with Elkins. Seeing as how it’s gutsy, I stand by the choice of Jotko.
Worst Decision: Many would say it was the biggest robbery of the night, but I’m not sure I would go so far as to label Andrei Arlovski’s win over Jake Collier as a robbery. I clearly agree it was a bad decision – I am calling it the worst decision on the card – but I can see Arlovski taking the last round if I squint and tilt my head sideways. I don’t want to go into a diatribe about how MMA judging needs to be improved – we all know that’s true – but I do want to point out Arlovski isn’t the one who gave himself the decision. He isn’t to blame, so spewing hate and vitriol towards him is very much misdirected.
Best Big Brother Impression: Francisco Figueiredo is never going to be on the level of his older brother, flyweight champion Deiveson. That doesn’t mean he can’t produce flashes of brilliance that don’t provide reminders they come from the same stock. While I acknowledge I don’t see Deiveson winning a fight via kneebar the way Francisco did over Daniel da Silva, it was a quick win that seemed to come out of nowhere... just like many of Deiveson’s win’s come. While I’d love to see more moments like that for Francisco, I fear that could end up being the highlight of his UFC career.
Best Big Brother Impression: No, that’s not a typo. It’s simply in reference to a different type of big brother. Alexandr Romanov completely big brothered Chase Sherman in the way big brothers across the world picked on their younger brothers since the origination of mankind. Given the ridiculous odds going into the fight, that was the only way Romanov could walk out of the event without having turned in a disappointing performance. The slimmed down Romanov made a callout of Augusto Sakai after the fight – which also qualifies for best callout of the night – and looks like he could be preparing himself to make a serious run.