UFC Vegas 28 has come and gone, the worst fears of viewers fortunately avoided. After a pair of five round fights that were largely chuck full of inactivity, Jairzinho Rozenstruik turned up the volume just enough to avoid putting fans to sleep, though he surely would have put Augusto Sakai to sleep had the referee not intervened. Well… maybe not, given Herb Dean stepped in with just a second left in the opening round, but quick finished was what was hoped for and was fortunately delivered.
While that was the highest stake contest, there were plenty of other happenings in the contest to further the UFC story. Let’s dig into some of the lesser known happenings with my Unofficial Awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: You know you’re doing something right when people are talking about you potentially fighting your division’s reigning champion after just two UFC appearances. Manon Fiorot followed up her spectacular debut with a just as impressive sophomore effort, disposing of Tabatha Ricci under a plethora of strikes. After her performance, there was some Twitter buzz about her facing Valentina Shevchenko in a year or two. While those making those claims understand it’s still a long way from that, the fact they are even talking about it is an indication of how well Fiorot is doing two fights into her UFC career. And to think, many hadn’t even heard her name at the beginning of the year….
Biggest Fall in Stock: Nobody completely plummeted, but I’ll go with Makwan Amirkhani. Mr. Finland had a lot in his favor with Kamuela Kirk coming into the contest on short notice and he couldn’t walk out of the event with the W. Losses against Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza were excusable given Amirkhani’s striking abilities. Coming up short against a short notice opponent when the contest primarily takes place in your wheelhouse is a very negative indictment.
Best Newcomer: There were some strong candidates, but the clear choice is Gregory Rodrigues. The Brazilian picked up his second win in two weeks, debuting on short notice against Dusko Todorovic. Most impressive was Rodrigues relying on a couple of aspects that wouldn’t be considered to be his biggest strength, his striking and wrestling. Regardless, he landed several hard shots on Todorovic and took down the athletic Serb with several double-legs. No need for him to use his vaunted BJJ….
Start Typing a Resume: There was a LOT of excitement around Ariane Lipski when she joined the UFC a few years ago. It didn’t take long for that excitement to extinguish itself as Lipski has never resembled the whirling dervish she was advertised to be. In fact, she didn’t deliver any significant offense towards De la Rosa, falling to 2-4 in the UFC. Lipski is still young enough at 27 that she could make her way back to the organization. Hopefully she can regain her confidence and do just that.
It’s no guarantee, but it’s hard to see Laureano Staropoli hanging around after three losses in a row. He’s not a boring fighter and there’s still room for him to grow, but three consecutive losses is three consecutive losses and he hasn’t been overly exciting. Like Lipski, he’s young enough he could make it back. My guess is he’d be back as soon as the UFC is back to taking their show all around the world again and touch down in Argentina again.
Like the other two I’ve already listed, I think Youseff Zalal could work his way back to the organization. In fact, I’d say he’s the most likely to do so… provided he is cut. He’s the youngest of the three on this list and I’d say he has the highest ceiling. Throw in his contest was the most competitive and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Zalal in the UFC, even if they cut him loose.
Saved Their Job(s): Alan Patrick found a unique way to potentially save his job. On his way to losing a one-sided contest to Mason Jones, Patrick was fortunate enough to get poked in the eye. I can’t say whether or not he could actually continue, but he claimed he couldn’t see and the fight ended up being a no contest. Given it wasn’t a loss, it probably saved his employment.
Never Seen That Before: I’ll admit I’m showing my bias for this pick, but I also have to admit there weren’t too many unusual happenings for this card. I very much disagreed with the decision that saw Ilir Latifi awarded the win over Tanner Boser. While I’ll admit numbers don’t mean everything, I can’t recall a losing fighter having such a lopsided advantage in the amount of significant strikes landed, Boser having a 45-10 advantage. I can recall a greater advantage by sheer numbers, but a difference of four-and-a-half times? Throwing out freak accidents like the second Uriah Hall-Chris Weidman contest – Weidman is the only one to land a strike and he lost via TKO – I can’t recall such a disparity. I could continue to make a case for Boser, but the category is Haven’t Seen That Before, and I’ve already clarified that part, so I’ll stop right here….
Robbery? …And pick it up here. I understand there is now way for viewers – judges included – to objectively measure the amount of damage done during the course of a fight. Even visible damage is a spotty criteria as some guys take minimal damage to begin bleeding and others need a hatchet driven into their face in order to cut them. But I also don’t believe it means it should be completely ignored, taking it with a grain of salt. Latifi’s eye was jacked up and Boser appeared to be largely unscathed. Given the way Latifi was fighting, it was very hard for the judges to know he had his arm broken in two places, but it does make me feel justified a bit more in my belief Boser deserved to win. I’ll end by saying I understand where the argument for Latifi’s victory is coming from – he controlled a large chunk of the first and most of the third with his wrestling – but I disagree with it. Significant damage is the number one judging criteria, not control.
Biggest WOW Moment: Is a round a moment? For the purposes of this card, I’m going to say it is. The first two rounds between Santiago Ponzinibbio and Miguel Baeza were competitive and entertaining. But the third round between the two of them was the type of round fighters dream about being in. Baeza tried to continue his assault on Ponzinibbio’s legs, but Ponzinibbio’s tenacity shined through, taking the fight at Baeza and taking the fight on the strength of that round. Seriously, go and watch it if you haven’t seen it. Or go back and watch it again. I did.
Cure for Insomnia: You would have thought a fight with Rozenstruik in it would automatically take this award. Instead, Roman Dolidze and Laureano Staropoli did their best to bring the viewers down to earth after the barnburner between Ponzinibbio and Baeza. Dolidze hugged his way to victory, hanging onto Staropoli for the majority of the contest, proving unable to finish his takedowns. There was little worth remembering from their atrocious showing.
Best/Worst Referee Call: Strictly from the standpoint of a fan, I hated Chris Tognoni stopping the contest between Jones and Patrick. Jones looked like a million bucks and was more than deserving of his win bonus. However, Tognoni did exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation. Jones did poke Patrick in the eye and there’s no disputing that’s a foul. Whether Patrick could or couldn’t see is only known to him and I’ll take his word for it. Hell, even if he could see, I can’t blame him for not wanting to take a loss which appeared to be a given had the fight restarted. He should do what is best for him and he did. So while I hated the outcome, Tognoni needs to be applauded for doing the right thing, even if he knew it would ultimately prove to be unpopular.
Best Callout: For clarification purposes, I ignore what the fighters say to the press backstage. I’m only focusing on what they say immediately after the fight. I’ll make exceptions if someone on Twitter reacts to a fight that just went down, but that’s about it. I’ll admit I could be wrong, but I don’t recall a callout being made. Granted, a lot of that can be explained by a solid chunk of the fights not having an immediate post-fight interview due to the time crunch brought on by the amount of fights they were trying to squeeze into the allotted time for the prelims, but why didn’t the main card fighters make more of that time. Whatever….
Animosity in the Booth? In the first round between Dolidze and Staropoli, Michael Bisping began commenting on how Dolidze might want to release his hands and let them fly and do some damage on Staropoli. Dominick Cruz vehemently disagreed, stating Dolidze is winning with control and it’s Staropoli’s job to escape if he wants to win. While I understand where both were coming from, it was fun to see divergent personalities come out, no surprise given Cruz’s notoriously inflexible personality; it’s his way or the highway. They eventually moved past it, but there’s no doubt the commentary was getting testy for a bit, creating the only entertaining aspect of that fight.
Stock Boosted in a Loss: It feels wrong to barely touch on Baeza’s performance against Ponzinibbio, just mentioning that he and Ponzinibbio put on a hell of a scrap. Given Baeza’s lack of experience, he put on an incredibly mature performance that was only eclipsed by Ponzinibbio digging insanely deep to pull out that win. Ponzinibbio wouldn’t have had to dig as deep as he did had Baeza not weakened Ponzinibbio’s base to the point where Ponzinibbio was stumbling even before the first round was out. It’s not like Baeza performed badly late either. Ponzinibbio was just better. I can’t help but believe Baeza will be a better fighter for having gone through that. I’m more excited about his future than I had ever been before.
Was It Worth It? I’ve already mentioned Ponzinibbio had to dig deep to pull off the win. His leg was in terrible shape by the end of the first round, much less by the end of the fight. He did a fantastic job hiding the pain late in the fight, but everyone knew it was compromised. Performances were fighters have shut out the pain have been seen before, but it has come with a HEAVY price many times before. Don Frye was never the same after Ken Shamrock tore up his leg. Frye won, but was it worth the price? How about Robbie Lawler digging deep during his legendary run from 2013-2016? Lawler has only won a single fight since that time, looking like a shell of his formerly violent self. Given Lawler gained legendary status after that run, it could be argued it was worth it. Will Ponzinibbio have long-term effects? Only time will tell.
Theme of the Night: During one stretch of the evening, there were eye pokes in three contests in a row, including the no contest which ended from an eye poke. Fortunately, the epidemic of eye pokes slowed into a more routine amount – which is still too many – but for a while, it felt like we weren’t going to get a fight that was untouched by eye pokes.
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