After a week away, the UFC returned with UFC Vegas 56 to kick off 12 straight weeks of events. It wasn’t a bad way to return to action, though the lack of name value to the card means it is likely to fade into the background in short order. It doesn’t help that the main event between Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik doesn’t have a significant impact on the hierarchy of the heavyweight division. It does help that the contest delivered the action, Volkov delivering a spirited performance as opposed to the flat appearances leading up to this contest. Rozenstruik didn’t roll over and die for his part – he appeared to have Volkov on the ropes at one point – but he ultimately went down a bit over two minutes into the contest. Rozenstruik wasn’t happy with the stoppage as he was still moving, but he was also falling to his knee when Herb Dean made the move to end the action. Given the large amount of competitors fighting for their employment, there aren’t a lot of awards listed in this edition, but lets delve into my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: It’s one thing when you beat a proven opponent whom your expected to beat. It’s another when you completely dominate that opponent. There were already plenty of people who expected Movsar Evloev to compete for the title someday. I think there are quite a few more people who feel that way after Evloev completely dominated Dan Ige. While it’s firmly established that Ige isn’t an elite fighter, he wasn’t dominated by other elite fighters in the same way Evloev dominated him. It was in every aspect of the fight, not just the wrestling as everyone expected. Evloev came closer to putting Ige away than anyone else when he landed a flying knee that wobbled the Hawaiian. The added threat on the feet might be the thing that will ultimately push him over the top.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I considered not including this spot given no one who is likely to stay on the roster is likely to take too big of a hit in their stock. Ige would be a good candidate, but he was too big of an underdog for me to feel his stock wasn’t already down. Thus, I’ll go with Rozenstruik, even though there were signs that he has improved. The problem for Rozenstruik is he has continually fallen short when matched up with the elite of the division. Given Volkov isn’t elite, this was a must-win in a sense for Rozenstruik if he wanted to be more than a gatekeeper for the top ten. Rozenstruik is young enough that he could eventually claw his way to the top, but the likelihood of that appears low.
Best Newcomer: Many would argue Rinat Fakhretdinov is more deserving given he was in control of his contest for nearly the entire time – and he probably has the higher ceiling – or Lucas Almeida but I’m going with Karine Silva for a couple reasons. First, she may not have been the underdog, but Silva’s contest was much more of a toss-up heading into the event than Fakhretdinov’s and secured a stoppage within the first round. Second, while I still stand by the idea Fakhretdinov has the higher ceiling, that doesn’t mean he has a greater chance of making noise. Welterweight, where Fakhretdinov ply’s his trade, is a deep division. So is featherweight, Almeida’s stomping grounds. Women’s flyweight, Silva’s home, is far more wide open, offering Silva far more opportunity. I understand things can change in the course of a few years when both would likely have the best chance of being players, but that’s where I stand for now.
Start Typing a Resume: Off the bat, it needs to be said I’m not sure Mike Trizano is being handed walking papers. On paper, it’s not only his second consecutive loss, but his third in four fights, two of those coming via stoppage. Plus, the former TUF winner has yet to secure a stoppage victory of his own, nor does he have much of a ceiling. However, Trizano doesn’t back down and this loss to Lucas Almeida was easily the most entertaining scrap he’s been in. That could be enough for the UFC to bring him back, but I say that with minimal confidence.
There was a nice swathe of fans and writers who liked the future prospects of Poliana Botelho when she debuted back in 2017. I’ve been wrong MANY times, but I feel like I had the right read on Botelho. No doubt she had physical tools to work with, but she was always missing something in transitioning from one phase of fighting to another, plus a questionable gas tank. She looked like she had been working on that – I liked what I was seeing prior to being dropped by Silva – but it comes too late. She’s now lost three in a row, four of her last five. I’m sure the UFC is moving on.
While I wouldn’t be opposed to the UFC bringing Zarrukah Adashev back for another chance to right his ship, his 1-3 record indicates that isn’t likely to happen. Two of those losses came as a result of quick KO’s, including Ode Osbourne doing the honors at this event. Adashev does have room to grow, but I don’t think there is enough of a ceiling for the UFC to justify bringing him back.
It should be noted Felice Herrig opted to retire as opposed to her likely being cut, but there was a good chance she would have been given a pink slip anyway. Regardless, Herrig told herself she would retire if she wasn’t feeling it and it was clear she wasn’t looking like her old self. She’s been competing for a long time. It feels like the right move for her. Here’s hoping only the best for her as she moves on to different things in her life.
I’m not happy to put Alex da Silva here as I believed he was very clearly deserving of a draw with Solecki, but a pair of judges disagreed in a way that I struggle to understand. That isn’t to say da Silva doesn’t anyone to blame other than himself given he could have taken a draw if he hadn’t had a point deducted – more on that further down – but he’s now sitting at 1-3 in his UFC run. The unfortunate thing about that is that record isn’t indicative of the talent he has shown in his tenure, but your record is what your record is.
While I was very concerned about the energy levels of Niklas Stolze dropping down to 155, it was ultimately his ability to stop takedowns that disappeared instead. Nobody was ever predicting Stolze would emerge as a special talent, he looked like someone who could pick up a win or two before going on his way on the strength of his outside striking and beautifully timed knees. While the knee almost worked out of the gate, it ultimately wasn’t enough, likely sending him on his way winless after three appearances.
While it was a close enough contest that I didn’t see a single cry of robbery from MMA Twitter, most thought Zhalgas Zhumagulov did enough to take the W over Jeff Molina. Hell, Molina himself thought he lost when he heard a card of 30-27, storming off in frustration before he heard his name announced as the victor. It’s a real shame as this was easily the most complete performance from Zhumagulov in his UFC run, mixing takedowns, control, and the occasional power shot to force respect from Molina. Unfortunately for him, the judges disagreed and it dropped him to 1-4 in his UFC run.
It’s been a weird ride for Andreas Michailidis. Fighting in three different weight divisions over his tenure, he also seemed like he was being fed to hyped prospects every time out. Not that anyone ever felt Michailidis was going to be a world beater at any point, but he looked like he could be a serviceable gatekeeper. Then again, the UFC isn’t looking for gatekeepers. Regardless, while Michailidis’ drop to 170 didn’t seem to deplete him to the point many expected, he came up far short of what was needed for a win.
Saved Their Job(s): I was shocked the UFC brought Karolina Kowalkiewicz back in the first place given she entered her fight with Herrig on a five-fight losing streak, but I can’t help but feel they let her know in no uncertain terms this was her last chance. She made the most of it, implementing major changes in her training and entering the fight with a level of confidence that had been missing for several years. She didn’t look like the fighter who beat Rose Namajunas to earn a title shot all those years ago, but she looked good enough to secure her first UFC finish. Interesting to see if this proves to be her peak or if she can build off this momentum.
Normally, I wouldn’t include someone like Benoit Saint-Denis here after two losses. However, the UFC has been quicker to pull the trigger as of late, the releases of the likes of Bruno Silva and Kris Moutinho being prime examples. Saint-Denis looked like a completely different fighter, the cut to 155 doing wonders for his ability to muscle around his opponents. Of course, no one is mistaking Stolze as a definitive test to prove Saint-Denis is a UFC caliber fighter, but it is a test Saint-Denis did emphatically pass.
Biggest WOW Moment: There was no shortage of stoppages on the card, nine to be exact. None of them feel like they’ll make the Baba O’Reilly reel, so it’s hard to pinpoint which one exactly stands out the most. Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing was Almeida’s knock down of Trizano. However, I’ll go with Tony Gravely putting down Johnny Munoz. When it happened in real time, I was confused about what happened. Munoz shot in for a takedown before slumping to the mat, from what was difficult to see. The commentators speculated it was a knee, but that didn’t seem right. Replay showed Gravely somehow generated enough power despite having just inches of space to generate the power to put Munoz down with his hybrid uppercut/shovel punch. At first glance, the KO was an enigma. Upon further inspection, it was incredibly impressive.
Best Referee Call: One of the most consistent gripes amongst MMA observers is the constant inability of referees to punish fighters for blatant rule infractions. Perhaps part of the issue is not wanting to disturb the flow of the fight, particularly if the rule-abiding competitor is in control. That appeared to be the case with Solecki and da Silva. While Solecki rode the back of da Silva for nearly the entirety of the round, da Silva continually used his toes in the fence to improve his defensive position in the second round of the their fight. I’m totally fine with people criticizing referee Chris Tognoni for how long it took him to finally deduct a point, but he did do it and he did without interrupting the action. Thus, the momentum of the fight wasn’t interrupted and Solecki was able to maintain his advantage. Hopefully, referees can take this approach with greater frequency going forward.
Theme of the Event: An argument could be made the chopping block was the theme of the event given how many combatants were fighting for their employment life. Hell, I wouldn’t put up a fight if someone wanted to go that direction. However, I’ll go with questionable judging. Despite the large amount of finishes, two of the decisions appeared to be so questionable, they were receiving far more attention on the Twitterverse than any other contest. A solid case could be made for Molina having gotten the job done, but the 30-27 awarded to him set off a fair amount of observers. The da Silva loss was more egregious in my eyes, but I appear to be in the minority with that opinion.