Aside from the main event, there wasn’t a lot of name value to UFC San Diego. That didn’t stop those on the card from turning in a hell of a showing, making it difficult for those handing out the Performance Bonuses to figure out who to award the extra $50K to. It probably would have been best if a couple of extra bonuses were handed out – at least two extra to the usual four in my opinion – but that’s another deal. As for the main event, Marlon Vera appears to have put an end to the title aspirations of two-time former bantamweight kingpin, Dominick Cruz when he sent him sprawling to the canvas face first. It wasn’t an upset by any means – Vera was a notable favorite – but it was still a shock to the system to see the all-time great get finished in such a violent manner when he had spent most of his career being one of the hardest fighters to land a clean strike on. Unfortunately, Father Time comes for everyone and Vera firmly established his spot amongst the best of the bantamweight division as anything other than a fluke.
Of course, given that’s the main event of the event, plenty will be said about that contest in articles and podcasts over the next few days. We’re here to touch on some of the more overlooked happenings of the event with my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: There’s a good chance the majority of viewers didn’t know who Nate Landwehr was prior to his co-main event showing with David Onama. They sure as hell remember it after last night. Along with his dance partner, David Onama, Landwehr put on a once in a lifetime performance that was put over the top by Landwehr’s showmanship. After a rough start, Landwehr recovered to put a hell of a beatdown on Onama, put couldn’t put away the resilient youngster. Even though he couldn’t finish Onama Landwehr played to the crowd, letting Onama back to his feet on several occasions despite having Onama in serious trouble, giving Onama every chance to get back into the fight. Onama did take advantage of that that, winning the final round on one scorecard. Despite playing with fire, Landwehr was able to walk out of San Diego with a win.
Biggest Fall in Stock: It’s one thing to lose to Alex Pereira in a standup battle. Pretty much everyone is going to do that, few finding the success Bruno Silva did against the soon-to-be title challenger. But losing a standup battle to Gerald Meerschaert is something no high-level middleweight should have happen to them. The record will show that Meerschaert submitted Silva, so perhaps he can erase the memory of that performance. But anyone who watches the film will see that Meerschaert won via club-and-sub. If Meerschaert had simply caught him in the midst of a wild exchange, that wouldn’t be a bad deal. Meerschaert is a cagey vet after all. But Meerschaert is also a minus athlete and had no business outstriking Silva. Perhaps it was just an off night. Perhaps there’s an injury or illness we’re all unaware of. Until further evidence comes along, Silva has lost pretty much all the good will he built up in his first four contests in the organization.
Best Newcomer: Sometimes, this spot is by default. If the debut isn’t impressive, I tend to skip this award. Given there were five fighters making their official UFC debuts, there was no choice other than to give someone their due and it wasn’t easiest thing to do. Ultimately, even though I believe we got the best look at Yazmin Jauregui, the limited time that we had to look at Josh Quinlan was too much to overlook. Though he’s already created plenty of controversy for picking up his UFC contract via DWCS while on PED’s, no one can deny that his explosive debut putting away Jason Witt within a matter of minutes wasn’t impressive. So long as the humble persona he displayed after his win is legitimate, Quinlan will probably be able to win over his detractors.
Saved Their Job(s): Most would agree Gabriel Benitez was given a gift when the UFC matched him opposite Charlie Ontiveros, but he did what he was supposed to do when he took out the chinny Texan. Benitez had been finished in three of the four fights prior to this contest, so many were shocked he was still on the roster. Despite that, Benitez took some solid shots from Ontiveros, threw the massive lightweight to the ground, and punched away until Ontiveros broke. It will extend his UFC run for sure, but I still have doubts it will be a significant extension.
It would have only been his second loss in a row, but I have no doubt the UFC would have cut loose the 38-year-old Tyson Nam if he showed any sign of rust. It wasn’t just age the longtime KO specialist was battling; he was also returning from a torn ACL. Nam did look slow, but no slower than he was prior to the injury as he’s never been the fastest man at flyweight. However, his timing and power are still there as he caught Ode Osbourne on the return from a flying attack to spell the beginning of the end of the fight. That should be enough for Nam to return to his gatekeeping role.
I could still see the UFC letting him loose, but I’d be keeping Youssef Zalal around after he staged a blistering comeback to secure a draw against newcomer Da’Mon Blackshear. Of course, perhaps there should be an asterisk given Blackshear took the fight on short notice and is a BIG 135er, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him gas down the stretch. Nevertheless, Zalal did what he needed to do to keep himself from losing. Throw in the fact this was his first fight at bantamweight and he’s still just 25, I believe it would be a mistake for the UFC to give up on him.
Start Typing a Resume: I get the feeling Jessica Andrade took the soul of Cynthia Calvillo when they fought about a year ago. Calvillo hasn’t looked like the same fighter. Confidence used to beam from her. That hasn’t been the case since that fight. To be fair, Calvillo did look better in her loss to Nina Nunes than she did against Andrea Lee towards the end of last year, but it also wasn’t enough for her to pick up the win over a fighter who has also been struggling to regain her previous form. It proved to be the fourth loss in a row for Calvillo, which should be enough for the company to axe her.
Even though I don’t think Ontiveros should be on the UFC roster, that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy watching him fight. Though I agree with the general idea that there’s a reason axe kicks are rarely thrown, Ontiveros throws them with great frequency and effectively. That said, wins need to be coming at some point at none have come for him after three appearances. Even worse, he’s been finished in spectacular fashion every time too. It’s hard to believe he’ll be coming back.
It feels like the UFC has been looking for an excuse to cut Jason Witt for a while. The smothering wrestler has never had the most exciting style and has a limited ceiling. The one thing the UFC has been able to capitalize on is his fragile chin, Witt being on the receiving end of three first round KO’s, including the aforementioned one from Quinlan. Given Witt was initially signed as a short notice replacement in the first place, it shouldn’t be a surprise in the least.
Biggest WOW Moment: Without context, I’d probably go with Quinlan’s KO of Witt. It was a legit one-punch KO that had Witt’s eyes up in his head even before he hit the mat. Those don’t come around every day. With contest, Vera’s head kick KO of Cruz deserves this spot. While Cruz hasn’t been as difficult to land a clean shot on as he was in his prime, his durability has vaunted. Hell, the lone TKO loss on his record prior to Vera putting him away was embroiled in controversy... and perhaps cigarettes and alcohol. There was no controversy this time around. Cruz was done and he knew it when the cobwebs cleared... and he was on the receiving end of a brutal highlight.
Knowing When to Say When: Not bad for a hobby. Given Nunes got into MMA for that reason, I think things turned out pretty well for her. The journey turned into a career and led to her meeting her wife after all. Nunes may not have developed into a title contender, but she did crack the top five after an inspiring four-fight win streak after many anticipated her time in the organization would have soon drawn to a close. Now that Nunes has officially decided to call it a career, it appears to be the right call. Sure, she pulled out a win over Calvillo, but it wasn’t exactly an inspiring performance. She doesn’t have the fire she had when she made her way up the rankings.
Worst Game Plan: I had several fights in mind for this. At first, I was considering Cruz, but a re-watching of his contest revealed he was more insistent on pursuing takedowns than I had recalled after the initial viewing. Unfortunately for Cruz, the wrestling wasn’t finding great success for him. Thus, the game plan can’t be blamed for his loss. However, I can confidently ask what Lupita Godinez and Devin Clark were thinking. Godinez was at least having a competitive fight with Hill, so I feel I can cut her some slack as she may have believed things were going differently on the judges’ scorecards. Plus, while she didn’t take advantage of her edge in wrestling as much as I would have liked, she did at least make a few efforts to take the fight to the ground. That wasn’t the case with Clark. The longtime veteran didn’t get a single takedown attempt on record while Azamat Murzakanov did whatever the hell he wanted to Clark. If Clark had at least attempted to wrestle and failed, there wouldn’t have been questions about his strategy. As it is, it looks like he was running his head into the wall time and again.
Worst Decision: I hate the word robbery in the sport of MMA. It gets thrown around way too damn much. There are certainly decisions that I strongly disagree with, but I always make the greatest effort to see what my detractors would see. Usually, I can develop an understanding of what they saw, even if I disagree. I can’t understand what two judges saw when they gave the decision to Martin Buday over Lukasz Brzeski. Brzeski outlanded Buday by a significant margin, keeping the bulkier Buday on the defense for the vast majority of the contest. Even in the round I would have given Buday, Brzeski outlanded him, Buday getting the edge as he appeared to hurt Brzeski. However, even that was contentious as Brzeski either wasn’t hurt too badly or her recovered quickly. The first two rounds, I can’t reasonably see Buday winning. Thus, as much as I hate using the word robbery, I think I’m willing to use it in this case.