I received a bit of flack from MMA fandom for my support of Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot being made a five-round main event for a Fight Night card. After the performance the two of them put on at UFC Vegas 57, I feel very vindicated in my evaluation of the contest heading into the event. I had stated it had the potential to be a FOTY candidate and it will proudly say it lived up to that hype. Tsarukyan and Gamrot gave one another all they could handle and produced a show that would have elicited all sorts of cheers had the contest taken place in an arena as opposed to being in the APEX. The rest of the card proved to be solid, producing mostly competitive contests without any major highlights. Fortunately, the main event made up for it. Let’s take a dive into the card, from to top to bottom, with my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: I try to avoid putting the victor of the main event in this spot, but given Gamrot was such a sizeable underdog, it’s hard not to slide him into here. Many believed the former two-division KSW champion was bumping up against his ceiling against Tsarukyan. Whether Gamrot was the rightful winner is a reasonable debate to be had, but it can’t be denied that both put on phenomenal performances and that it was a very close contest. Thus, even though both Gamrot and Tsarukyan were impressive enough that both had their stock go up, Gamrot gets a greater benefit of the doubt given he snatched the victory. If he gets his requested callout – Justin Gaethje – there’s no doubt he’ll find himself as the underdog again, a role in which he has been thriving in.
Biggest Fall in Stock: There was reason to be concerned about Neil Magny after his last performance against Max Griffin. Yes, Magny did ultimately win the fight, but the fight was far closer than it was expected to be, many believing the judges robbed Griffin of a rightful victory. It left a question of whether Griffin had improved that much or if Magny had slipped. While no one is going to give Magny too much crap about losing to Rakhmonov, it was the fact that Magny couldn’t land any significant offense in the fight. Magny largely ended up looking like a punching bag. Magny has a lot of fights against high level competition under his belt, meaning it isn’t beyond the pale that he’s nearing the end of his UFC run. I think there are still wins for Magny to be had, but it’s plausible the days of Magny populating the official rankings are a thing of the past.
Start Typing a Resume: I haven’t been a big fan of Alan Baudot. Not that I haven’t recognized the talent the Frenchman possessed, but he was an underachiever. I say was as he put on the best performance of his career against Josh Parisian, coming thisclose to putting the big man away. Unfortunately for Baudot, the referee didn’t stop the fight when it could have been reasonable to do so, allowing Parisian to make a comeback after Baudot had already drained most of his tank.
It looked like the UFC was giving JP Buys every opportunity to find success. He was on the first season of DWCS. When that didn’t work out, he was brought back in season four and earned a contract there, but hasn’t looked good in the least since touching down in the UFC after dropping his first two contests. Now that he’s dropped a third consecutive fight, I don’t see the UFC bringing him back. At 26, Buys is young enough that he could work his way back to the organization, but something needs to change from the status quo for that to happen.
There’s a chance we’ve seen the last of Tafon Nchukwi, but I think he’ll be brought back. Yes, he’s dropped three of his last four, but he’s only 27 in the light heavyweight division, a division in desperate need of depth. Nchukwi’s youth and inexperience should give him some leeway, but I acknowledge there is no guarantee he’ll maintain his spot.
Saved Their Job(s): Parisian needs to send referee Mark Smith a fruit basket as he could have easily stopped the fight in the first round. By making a comeback, Parisian likely saved his UFC employment in the process as he would have dropped three of his last four had Baudot picked up the win. Instead, Parisian evened out his UFC record. I wouldn’t peg Parisian to make a run for the rankings, but he could be an effective gatekeeper.
It could be argued Sergey Morozov would have been on his way out with a loss, but I’m not so sure. Just four fights into his UFC career, he’s faced a murderer’s row of fighters, including the man he just picked up a victory over in Raulian Paiva. That said, his 1-3 record had he fallen to Paiva would have put him on thin ice at the very least. The win ensured the speculation wouldn’t come to pass and Morozov is safe for at least a couple more fights.
Biggest WOW Moment: There were several scrambles in the main event that had me watching with great interest, but given I’m struggling to pick out one in particular without having to go back and re-watch the fight, I figure it doesn’t qualify as a WOW moment. The spinning back-fist was another memorable moment, but it didn’t alter the momentum enough for me to slide it in here. The funny thing is, despite the card being an unqualified success, the amount of jaw-dropping moments was few and far between. Nevertheless, I’ll go with Carlos Ulberg stunning and dropping Nchukwi for his first stoppage win in the UFC. It wasn’t the one-punch KO the UFC loves to show during Baba O’Reilly, but it sure as hell was a nice addition to Ulberg’s personal highlight reel.
Best Callout: There were several fighters who made callouts, an improvement from the status quo. Granted, I wasn’t crazy about all of them. For example, Thiago Moises called out Joe Solecki. While Solecki is a respectable fighter, I would have pegged him a notch or two below Moises’ current status. Let me put it this way: in less than a year, Moises goes from fighting Islam Makhachev to calling out Solecki. It isn’t quite Bret Hart calling out El Dandy, but it doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t have an issue with Gamrot asking for Gaethje either. Gaethje is the premier action fighter on the roster, so a win over him puts him in the title picture. However, I would have called out Beneil Dariush if I were Gamrot. A win over Dariush would mean roughly the same amount as a win over Gaethje at this stage and it would also eliminate a potential title challenger from the picture should Gamrot emerge victorious. Plus, I’d say Dariush is a more favorable matchup stylistically for Gamrot. But that’s just me....
Regardless, I’ll go with Rakhmonov calling for a fight with Stephen Thompson. Thompson isn’t a title contender any longer, but he still has name value and possesses a unique style that forces fighters to walk into the fight with anything other than a standard strategy. It would be interesting to see what Rakhmonov and his team would come up with to combat Wonderboy. Though I would be favoring Rakhmonov in that fight, Thompson’s striking always leaves open the door for an upset, even if it’s been several years since Thompson secured a stoppage.
Most Improved Stock with a Loss: I’ve already mentioned Tsarukyan for this spot. He fought like an elite fighter in the cage and was well deserving of a win. What sucks for Tsarukyan is the exact same thing could be said of Gamrot. Thus, while I expect Gamrot to jump Tsarukyan in the rankings, I don’t expect anyone else to leap over him despite the loss. However, there was another fighter who looked vastly improved in a loss: Rodolfo Vieira. The BJJ wizard was unable to secure the takedowns needed to take the fight into his world, but he came close to winning even without them. Granted, much of that was due to Chris Curtis needing to respect the takedowns of Vieira – Curtis would piece him up in a straight up kickboxing fight – but that shouldn’t take anything away from Vieira’s performance. He made excellent use of low kicks and landed some heavy shots. Vieira may have lost, but he can walk away with his head held high as he looked like an actual mixed martial artist as opposed to a BJJ guy trying to make it in MMA.
Best Homer Simpson Impression: It’s far from the first time we’ve seen someone pull off the Homer Simpson – where their opponent exhausts themselves in the beating on them without getting the finish – but Parisian’s come-from-behind victory was the most blatant example of this in a long time. Given this style of victory Isn’t conducive to good long-term health, here’s hoping we don’t see Parisian utilize this on the road to another victory.
Most Controversial Decision: For those who only looked at the name fighters on this card, you probably assume I’m going to say the main event. While I’ll address that I believe Tsarukyan was the rightful winner, the contest was close enough that I don’t have a major gripe with the actual outcome. No, I’m looking at the opener between Vanessa Demopoulos and Jinh Yu Frey. It isn’t that it wasn’t a close fight either, but I thought it was pretty obvious that Frey’s steady, consistent attack would be enough to override Demopoulos’ occasional bursts of big offense. Hell, the MMA media agreed with me. Regardless, the judges saw otherwise.
Best Rebound Performance: This was tough. Cody Durden deserved serious consideration for manner in which he disposed of Buys, jumping him early and getting him out of there. But I ultimately went with Moises. It wasn’t just that Moises beat a more proven opponent in Christos Giagos. It was the manner in which he beat him Durden had a degree of luck catching Buys with one of his wild haymakers. Moises dissected Giagos methodically, utilizing his world class BJJ to advance bit by bit to the point he secured an RNC. It was a nice reminder of Moises’ potential after two consecutive losses.
Most Stacked Division: For the longest time, the lightweight division has gotten the reputation as the deepest division in the sport. I haven’t disagreed either. It makes sense, given those who fight there tend to be a bit too small to find big success in other sports that put such an emphasis on size. In other words, the best athletes that would excel in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions of MMA are already participating in the NBA and NFL. Can’t blame them; they make a shit ton more money. However, with the rise of MMA’s popularity, the bantamweight division may very well be deeper than lightweight, at least in terms of high-level prospects. The obvious name to point out from UFC Vegas 57 is Umar Nurmagomedov as he turned in a dominant performance over Nate Maness. But it would be foolish to overlook the other two bantamweight contests on the card. Morozov and Paiva turned in what may have been the FOTN had the main event not delivered in the way it did. Plus, Mario Bautista, in what appears to be the most overlooked performance of the evening, disposed of gritty veteran Brian Kelleher in just under half a round. Bautista looks like he’s ready to make a big move, adding yet another talented youngster to the mix at 135.