Early indications were that UFC Vegas 59 was going to be a cursed card. Two contests fell out less than 24 hours before the event was scheduled to kick off, after the fighters had already weighed in. Call me superstitious, but my experience with the sport portends bad things when those issues crop up. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Though whittled down to just 10 fights, nary a one of those contests required the judges to submit a scorecard, becoming just the second card in UFC history to have every one of the contests be decided before the final bell. The final finish came when Jamahal Hill unloaded on Thiago Santos after hurting him in the fourth round of their fight. Though a Hill win wasn’t a surprise, it did prove to be the gritty type of fight many were looking to see out of the light heavyweight up-and-comer.
Far from being the only story of the event – which also served as a TUF finale – let’s take a look at all the other developments on the card with my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: There were a LOT of names to consider in this spot. I admit I tend to circle those in the official rankings or those on the verge of entering them given those final jumps are the hardest to make, so that narrowed the choice down to Sergey Spivak and Geoff Neal. Ultimately, I went with Neal given his opponent actually put up a decent fight. It didn’t look like that would be the case early when Neal hurt Vicente Luque in the first round, looking like a finish was on its way. The referee gave Luque a lot of leeway and the Brazilian fought his way back into the contest, arguably taking the second round. However, Neal hurt him again in the third and didn’t let up, becoming the first to finish Luque via strikes. Luque may never fight for a title, but that’s an impressive feat. Plus, Neal looked much improved from his recent spat of lackluster showings. If this proves to be the aberration, all this praise is for naught. However, I’m of the opinion those showings were the fluke given what we saw out of Neal prior to that. It looks like heavy hitter is back.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This was a hard spot to figure. I have a rule not to put anyone whom I believe is going to be released here, so that eliminates a lot of options. When it boiled down, it came to either Santos or Luque. The longer track record of losing belongs with Santos, establishing him as someone who shouldn’t be considered one of the elite of his division anymore. Throw in the fact Luque is significantly younger and has the time to turn his ship around, the choice became obvious. To be fair to Santos, none of the names he has lost to in his recent skid – five losses in his last six appearances – is anything to be ashamed of. Hell, I would even say this was the best Santos has looked since returning from his long injury layoff. The problem is, to be one of the best, wins need to follow. That hasn’t been happening.
Best Newcomer: No doubt both Mohammed Usman and Juliana Miller looked good in their official UFC debuts, but Miller’s success over the contest was more sustained. Usman was having a nip and tuck affair with Zac Pauga before the KO came out of nowhere. Miller was winning the fight almost from the opening bell. Plus, Miller is much younger with a much higher upside. I wouldn’t say I see a title in the future for Miller, but I do see her staying on the roster for a long, long time.
Saved Their Job(s): Given all the names that appear to be on the chopping block, the lack of people who were lucky to pick up the win is amazingly scant. The best way to put it is there were several contests that were made with a high expectation of one side or the other winning and those expected to win, did so. I suppose a case could be made Cory McKenna could have been on the chopping block with a loss, but I’m of the opinion the UFC is willing to give the youngster a lot of leeway. Even if they weren’t going to, becoming the first female to pull off a Von Flue choke in the UFC ensured there were no worries about her employment status.
Start Typing a Resume: Four straight wins, followed by four straight losses. That’s the narrative of Augusto Sakai’s UFC career. Granted, Sakai was facing significantly easier competition on his way up the ladder than that after he began his backslide, but the UFC is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately organization. Sakai hasn’t done much of anything positive. Either Spivak improved so much that he looked like a world-beater or Sakai has declined to make Spivak look that way. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but it’s still a bad thing for the Brazilian. The guess here is that it’ll depend on his contract status, but Sakai could be headed elsewhere.
He was always a curious signing, but given the general non-competitive nature of his fights, it looks like Erick Gonzalez may be on his way out the door. To be fair, Gonzalez lost to Jim Miller and Terrance McKinney, more than respectable names. That could be enough to get Gonzalez a third crack in the organization, but I have a hard time believing the brass isn’t considering chopping him at the very least. Being finished in the first round doesn’t help his case.
Is the day finally here? Are we really at the end of the line? At this point, I kind of hope it isn’t as I want to see how many fights Sam Alvey can go without picking up a win. As it currently sits, he’s at nine, easily a UFC record. Given Alvey wasn’t competitive in the least against Michal Oleksiejczuk, we may have finally reached the point where the UFC gives him his pink slip. It’s a bit of a shame it got to this point as this winless streak is going to be the thing that defines Alvey’s career. Prior to that, had he been released when a fighter is typically released – after three, maybe four consecutive losses – he would have been thought of as a limited KO artist who made the most of what he had to work with.
During the heyday of Pride, there were a slew of Japanese stars in the MMA world. Kazushi Sakuraba. Kazuyuki Fujita. Hayato Sakurai. Since the demise of the organization, it’s hard to find someone who approaches their level who comes from the Land of the Rising Sun. Thus, it pains me to say it looks like Takashi Sato is on his way out the door. In his previous UFC losses, Sato had struggled with the ground game of his opponents. Though it was expected that would again be the issue with Bryan Battle, Sato was instead put away with a brutal head kick. That gives him three consecutive losses and an overall UFC record of 2-4. That’s not the way to maintain a roster spot.
It might come across as cruel given she just returned from maternity leave, but Miranda Granger is now riding a three-fight losing streak. Given her incredible reach advantage over Cory McKenna, it’s hard to find a matchup in which she would have had more physical advantages. I would say the layoff was bad for her as she didn’t look the least bit comfortable in the cage. You might even say she looked like she didn’t belong in the UFC....
Biggest WOW Moment: Raise your hand if you thought Bryan Battle was going to be the one to deliver this moment? Alright you liars, put your hands down. While Battle has impressed since making his way to the roster, it has been his intelligence that belies his age and experience that has people excited about his future. Against a traditionally durable Sato, Battle landed a perfect kick upside the head of Sato, putting the Japanese native out cold. Mohammed Usman’s perfectly placed punch certainly deserved a lot of consideration – and probably would have taken this spot on most cards – but I ultimately decided Battle not needing a follow-up punch was a nice way to separate the two.
Never Seen That Before: The night opened up with a lot of confusion as Mayra Bueno Silva watch able to get Stephanie Egger’s arm in a tight spot right next to the cage. As Silva locked in the armbar, Egger’s body was positioned in a way that her free arm wasn’t visible to any of the UFC cameras. Normally, that’s not a big deal, but given Silva let up on the armbar, claiming Egger tapped, it created quite the conundrum. The referee looked at all the camera angles, but when he couldn’t find anything conclusive, he checked with the judges to see what they saw. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t familiar with the process of the referee checking with the judges on what they saw, but it does appear to be a legal process. One of the judges claimed he “100%” saw Egger tap and Chris Tognoni responded in kind, calling an end to the contest and awarded the win to Silva. Egger was non-committal throughout the process whether she did tap, leaving most observers to believe she did. Regardless, it was a unique experience for everyone involved.
Best Learning Experience: Even though the idea is athletes learn more in defeat than they do in victory is absolutely true, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn something in victory. Hill’s win brilliantly illustrates that idea. While Hill had gone to decision before – four times to be exact – there’s a difference in getting cage time early in one’s career and being pushed by a reputed dangerous striker. Santos put a scare into Hill, landing several hard strikes throughout the contest. Perhaps more surprising, Santos utilized more wrestling than he ever had previously in his UFC run and did so effectively. In fact, Hill was down on the scorecards going into the fourth, though he didn’t know that. Regardless, Hill was forced to dig deep, test his mettle, and came out on top.
Bonus Numbers: Lot’s of interesting numbers with regards to the bonuses. Five were handed out instead of the usual four. Given the violent nature of each of those who received the extra $50K, it’s hard to argue against any of them. Noted for his absence given he noted he was now nine fights into his UFC career without a bonus was Spivak, easily making him the fighter with the most fights from the card without receiving a bonus. Spivak’s performance was good, but not on the level of those who did pick up bonuses. However, perhaps more conspicuous for a lack of bonuses in his tenure is McKinney. Sure, he’s just four fights in, but all of them have ended in the first round, three of them victories. Another curious note is Neal picking up just his second bonus given his violent reputation. I’m sure I’m not the only one surprised by that. By the end of the night, Luque remained the most decorated fighter on the card in terms of bonuses with eight, but Santos closed the gap, picking up his seventh.
Funky Facts: The other card which featured a perfect finishing rate, UFC Fight Night 55, was headlined by Michael Bisping, who happened to be providing commentary on the UFC Vegas 59. As far as participants, Alvey was featured on both cards, though he was in the victory circle at Fight Night 55.