The biggest upsets always seem to occur when no one expects it. Matt Serra was merely a TUF winner and that would be all he would be heading into his contest with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. Holly Holm was being pushed too quickly into her bout with Ronda Rousey, so she was supposed to be just another footnote in Rousey’s path to immortality at UFC 193. Michael Bisping had already had his ass handed to him by Luke Rockhold and was accepting the fight with about two weeks notice prior to UFC 199. In the case of Julianna Pena, she was a loudmouth who was only providing motivation for the not only the women’s GOAT, but perhaps the GOAT, in Amanda Nunes at UFC 269. History looks at Serra, Holm, and Bisping far differently than it did prior to their title wins and it’s sure to do the same with Pena.
Though Pena defeating Nunes was the most consequential result, it was the main event between Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier that ultimately may go down as an all-time classic. The two traded the first two rounds, showing what it was they did best before Oliveira found the finish in the third and solidifying his status as champion. It was a fantastic night of fights. Here’s my closer look into the card with my Unofficial Awards….
For an audio breakdown of the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: I already spoiled my thoughts here with the opening paragraph. Whether Pena is going to be a long-reigning champion or a footnote of a champion – Serra, Holm, and Bisping combined for a single successful defense – she ended the dominant reign of Nunes. That alone will keep her name prominent in the annals of MMA history. In the more immediate, she’s likely to have a rematch with Nunes – if the former champion wants it – and even if she drops the title back to Nunes, Pena will become the target for everyone else who is hoping to get a title shot. Think of it in the way everyone in the heavyweight division calls out Andrei Arlovski. It has been over 15 years since Arlovski held the belt, but that status as a former champion remains forever and even if Arlovski is a shell of his former self, a win over him is still seen as a major boost. Pena will always be seen in that light from now on.
Biggest Fall in Stock: 16 months ago, Augusto Sakai was preparing for his first UFC main event against Alistair Overeem. He had the look of an emerging heavyweight contender. Now, following his third consecutive loss, he looks like he has peaked. Sakai had a competitive opening round with Tai Tuivasa, but the wheels came off after he ate a left hook from Tuivasa in the middle of the cage that was the beginning of the end. I don’t think Sakai will be cut as the UFC tends to give heavyweights a degree of leniency that don’t give other divisions with more depth, but there isn’t anyone who looks at Sakai as a top ten heavyweight anymore.
Biggest WOW Moment: Even though there were plenty of jaw-dropping moments, the moment when Nunes tapped out to Pena was easily the biggest moment. Not that the choke was overly impressive or anything, but the viewing audience wasn’t absolutely positive of what they were seeing. For some, time seemed to stop, much in the same way when McGregor KO’d Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. Without that, I probably would have gone with Kai Kara-France melting former bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt.
Most Curious Strategy: I swear I’ll move on from Pena and Nunes after this as I know there is going to be numerous articles touching on their contest, but I can’t get how quickly the fight changed out of my mind. Nunes absolutely dominated the opening round. Pena even looked somewhat shaken in between rounds, perhaps wondering what she had gotten herself into. The second saw Pena engaging with Nunes on the feet, an area Nunes was expected to dominate. Even though Pena’s striking appeared awkward, she was landing. Whereas I would have expected Nunes to get a takedown had she been hurt. After all, Nunes is considered to be one of the most intelligent fighters on the roster. Instead, she bit down on her mouthpiece and continued to trade punches. Perhaps she was thinking her superior technique would eventually win out. Perhaps she didn’t think she was as hurt as she actually was. Regardless, it was clear she was dazed and confused by the time Pena took her down and found the choke. Perhaps if Nunes hadn’t had such a dominant opening round, I could attribute it to an off night. It was a curious enough performance that some of whom I watched the event with questioned if Nunes threw the fight. While I don’t believe she did, I can at least see where they would question it.
Shooting Star: There was a large swath of fans who expected big things out of Erin Blanchfield when she was first signed to the UFC. Her dominant performance over Sarah Alpar raised some eyebrows, but it didn’t surprise too many. However, her dominance of Miranda Maverick almost certainly surprised everyone as Maverick has also been considered to be one of the rising stars of the division as well. Instead, Blanchfield controlled Maverick on the mat and took the fight to the floor whenever she pleased. Some may question her inability to secure a finish in either one of her UFC performances, but I’m far more impressed by back-to-back dominant decisions than flash finishes. It’s hard to believe there won’t be a stronger consensus of who the top prospect at women’s flyweight is after that performance.
Déjà vu: When Andre Muniz became the first to submit Jacare Souza, he did so with a rarely seen inverted armbar. It’s easy to name the fighters who have secured a basic armbar, but it isn’t easy to name others who have an inverted armbar on their resume. Well, it’s even more difficult to name those who have multiple inverted armbars on their resume as Muniz elicited a tap from Eryk Anders in the same manner. Fortunately for Anders, Muniz didn’t break his arm as he did Souza. Unfortunately for Muniz, the Arm Collector has already been taken for a name, but it can at least be claimed he has a copyright on that position in the same manner Ovince Saint Preux has a copyright on the Von Flue choke.
Cure for Insomnia: While Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio’s fight wasn’t a complete snoozer, it was a tedious point-fighting affair in the midst of a main card that saw all the other contests secure drama-filled contests. While Neal snapped a two-fight losing streak, he’s unlikely to get a step up in competition as the atmosphere around the fight was exceptionally stale, as emphasized by the booing audience.
Understated Record: While Gillian Robertson doesn’t look like she’s going to have the breakout moment some expected out of her a year or two ago, she is now in sole possession of a very notable record: most finished in the women’s flyweight division with six after submitted Priscilia Cachoeira. Even more impressive was Robertson finished the submission despite Cachoeira trying to gouge her eyes out… no joke. It can largely be attributed to Robertson’s frequent appearances in the cage, also possessing the record for most fights in the division at 11. Regardless, that’s still a ratio of more than half her fights ending in a victory before the final bell.
Delivered as Promised: While Bruno Silva and Jordan Wright wasn’t the highest level of fight – there were several other fights on the early prelims that were a higher quality – they gave the UFC exactly what they wanted: a quick and violent ending to start out the televised portion of the card. I get the feeling the UFC didn’t care which one delivered the finish, they just wanted the finish. They got exactly what they asked for.
Comeback Fighter of the Year? While Tuivasa’s comeback officially began in October of last year, the heavy-handed slugger has delivered three finishes in this calendar year to extend his overall winning streak to four. That’s quite the difference in tone after the Mark Hunt protégé dropped three in a row by the end of 2019. There are still holes Tuivasa could continue to address, but he’s doing a much better job of being patient on the feet and amplifying what he does best. And to think, some were wondering if Tuivasa was going to be released….
Still in the Mix? Following his win over Casey Kenney earlier this year, there was talk that the end was near for Dominick Cruz. The former bantamweight champion barely inched past Kenney, looking like he had lost at least a half a step. Cruz looks like he found that messing step against Pedro Munhoz, easily outworking the heavy-handed Brazilian over the last two rounds to comfortably take a clear decision. Munhoz isn’t a title contender himself, but he is a step up from Kenney and has been competitive with several fighters who could be called contenders. The clock may be ticking for the 36-year-old Cruz, but given his ability to prove doubters wrong and how fresh he looked against Munhoz, I wouldn’t count him out.
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