In what appears to be the UFC’s final event at the APEX for quite a while – we can only hope – we finally received an answer to who the better Rafael was once and for all as Rafael Fiziev put away former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos early in the fifth round of their highly anticipated contest. The UFC was determined to have an answer to who was better as this was the third time they had scheduled this contest, only for it to fall out on the previous two attempts. The third time was the charm and Fiziev proved he’s capable of hanging with the best the lightweight division has to offer. While that was obviously the big story of the event and will be discussed in countless articles over various websites, the goal of the Unofficial Awards is to brush over the less talked about happenings of UFC Vegas 58 in hopes of shining a light on some of the notable proceedings that went down. So, let’s get to it....
Biggest Jump in Stock: Many would probably insist Fiziev belongs here, an argument that is more than fair. Despite that, I feel more strongly about putting Saidyokub Kakhramonov in this spot after the native of Uzbekistan utterly demolished Ronnie Lawrence in what was supposed to be a close fight. Lawrence entered the contest with 14 takedowns in his two UFC contests – 26 if you count his appearance on DWCS – without being taken down himself. Kakhramonov was so dominant that Lawrence only added one more takedown to his count while being taken down 10 times himself. That’s not how a fight with pick ‘em odds are supposed to go. Kakhramonov did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, proving his short notice victory over Trevin Jones was no fluke. I feel like I say this every week – and I’ll say something similar a bit down the line – but the bantamweight division has another name to keep an eye on.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Given the one-sided nature of his loss to Kakhramonov, I could put Lawrence here. I’m going to go with Kakhramonov being far better than we all thought and ding Lawrence only a bit. Instead, I’ll go with a different member of the bantamweight division in Ricky Turcios. I don’t know what we saw out of Turcios against Aiemann Zahabi, but it was terrible. It’s like he anointed himself the next Bruce Lee after he received his TUF crown and tried to implement all of Lee’s moves after a weekend of binge watching all his movies. It ended up being a fight in which he provided all style and no substance, landing a total of 27 significant strikes after landing 100 in his UFC debut when his opponent controlled him for about half the contest. If he comes back with a performance resembling anything close to what he did against Zahabi, I have no doubt Uncle Dana will kick him to the curb. Too bad he won’t do the same thing to TUF....
Best Newcomer: I wasn’t going to include this if Garrett Armfield didn’t put on a respectable performance, but the natural bantamweight gave David Onama a hell of a fight at 145 on five days notice. Armfield showed some strong wrestling and a good jab, arguably taking the opening round. It was no surprise he faded after the opening round – it was a short notice fight – and Onama made short work of him after that, but Armfield looks like he’ll be a welcome addition to bantamweight, a division that’s arguably the deepest in the organization.
Start Typing a Resume: Jared Vanderaa very much reminds me of some of the throwback heavyweights from about a decade ago that didn’t make it very far. Christian Morecraft. Tim Hague. Chris Tuchscherer. They all pressed up against the heavyweight limit, were willing to throwdown, and didn’t last very long in the organization. Now sitting at 1-5 in the UFC, it looks like Vanderaa is going to have the same legacy. Only 30, it isn’t hard to see Vanderaa picking up a few regional wins and making his way back, but it’s also reasonable to expect the UFC would rather take a fresh look at someone new before welcoming Vanderaa back.
I could be premature with this thought, but I could see Tresean Gore being handed a pink slip. He’s just way too green to be competing in the UFC. It’s a bit of a risk as Gore is undeniably talented and Bellator could scoop him right up, but he’s flailing and the UFC hasn’t thrown him into the deep end yet. It’s one thing for him to lose to Cody Brundage. It’s another thing for him to lose to Brundage when Brundage gives Gore the type of fight he wants. If Gore is cut, but dead set on making it back to the UFC, there’s plenty of regional shows that would gladly give him the experience that is needed.
It’s hard not to be frustrated with the career of Karl Roberson. A plus athlete with professional kickboxing experience and a developing ground game, he looked like he could become a real fixture at middleweight. Instead, his fight IQ held him back and he couldn’t make the cut to 185 consistently after a while. Thus, he was forced up to light heavyweight, a place where he is severely undersized. No surprise, he ended up being manhandled on the mat by a MUCH larger opponent, resulting in his fourth consecutive loss. Unless your name is Sam Alvey, that’s usually a death knell for your employment.
Saved Their Job(s): I didn’t expect to be saying Chase Sherman would have one of the most impressive performances of the evening, but here we are. It’s been a couple of years since Sherman delivered an impressive performance, appearing to be stuck in his own head when he can’t get things to go his way immediately. As a result, most had written him off as a head case who would never fulfill the expectations his physical talents indicated should be placed on him. Kudos to Sherman as he acknowledged he needed to change his mind frame coming into the fight and it allowed him to stay all over Vanderaa before delivering the final sequence about midway through the final round. If Sherman can keep his mind in a good place, he can be a useful gatekeeper. That all depends on him keeping his head in a good spot. Perhaps that extra $50K he picked up will help with that....
While I’m listing Antonina Shevchenko here, I don’t believe her job was actually in jeopardy unless she offered absolutely nothing. The reason I say that is I get the feeling some nepotism would come into play, being the sister of Valentina. It doesn’t matter at this point as Antonina snuck out of the event with a close split decision win over Cortney Casey. Antonina completely lacks the confidence her sister possesses, which will forever hold her back. Regardless, she’s still skilled enough that I’d expect her to hang around for a few more years yet.
I’m not sure if I should be frustrated by Kennedy Nzechukwu or impressed by his smothering performance of Roberson. If he’s always had the type of wrestling and grappling he showed, I’m frustrated as hell he never bothered to show it before. If this was something that he only developed recently, it’s hard not to be impressed. Regardless, Nzechukwu snapped a two-fight losing streak, ensuring he’ll stick around and tease us with his prodigious potential.
Biggest WOW Moment: The easy choice here is to go with Fiziev’s left hook that spelled the beginning of the end for RDA. It was set up perfectly and resulted in the biggest win of Fiziev’s career. But it didn’t get the same rise out of me as when Jamie Mullarkey dropped Michael Johnson right before the end of the first round. I pick that moment as just over a minute before, Johnson had dropped Mullarkey with a slick combination, coming thisclose to putting away the Aussie. It signaled we were going to be in for a wild ride between those two. It wasn’t credit as an official knockdown as Johnson went for a takedown to save himself, but he was clearly hurt.
Too Much, Too Soon: I’ll never understand the UFC’s recent desire to place a pair of fighters relatively fresh from DWCS into the co-main event. They did so again with Caio Borralho and Armen Petrosyan, two names that even a lot of fans who follow the sport closely wouldn’t be familiar with. While I was familiar with them and acknowledge both have bright futures, why rush them into that spot? Even worse, they knew Borralho would attempt to neutralize Petrosyan and it resulted in the most forgettable fight of the evening. That isn’t to say Borralho is a bad fighter – I did say they both have bright futures — but Borralho and Petrosyan would have both been better served to duke it out earlier on the card rather than serving as the tasteless appetizer to the main event.
Most Forgotten Fight: Speaking of Borralho and Petrosyan, their less-than-entertaining contest took all the wind out of the sails of the bout between Said Nurmagomedov and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Realize I’m saying the most forgotten fight, not the most forgettable fight. Nurmagomedov and Andrade served up a hell of a fight that saw both men swinging for the fences with nearly every strike. Andrade continually marched Nurmagomedov down while Nurmagomedov continued to look for his signature spinning back kick. There did end up being more misses on those swings that hits, but it ultimately proved to be a fight that was a lot of fun. And yet, there seemed to be nary a word about it uttered at the end of the event. Regardless, Nurmagomedov should be fighting a ranked opponent next and Andrade’s stock shouldn’t take a hit despite the loss.