I’m not saying anything controversial when I say the fighters appear to be feeding off the energy provided by performing in front of a sizeable live audience. While I’m not going to say UFC Columbus was on the level of UFC London, there’s no doubt it proved to be an absolute success. The crowd exhibited awesome energy from the beginning and the fighters responded in kind with spectacular performances of their own. I know the year is still young, but it does speak volumes when the two best Fight Night cards thus far were in front of a crowd….
As for what did actually happen, the main event exceeded expectations when Curtis Blaydes gave everyone a stern reminder he’s still one of the best heavyweights on the planet when he beat Chris Daukaus as his own game, flattening the former police officer with a thudding right hand. Several fighters had breakout performances of their own, announcing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in their divisions. Here’s my Unofficial Awards, touching on some of the lesser mentioned happenings of the event.
For the Winners and Losers, click here. For an audio review of the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: I had a hard time settling on this spot. Chris Gutierrez deserved strong consideration. Manon Fiorot did succeed in despite receiving a big step up in competition in Jennifer Maia, but she was also a favorite. Alexa Grasso was also expected to win over Joanne Wood. Thus, I settled on Kai Kara-France given he was a heavy underdog against Askar Askarov.
Even after beating Cody Garbrandt, the thought was Kara-France was an entertaining striker who is good enough to put on action fights with the best in the division. Winning them appeared to be a different story. Well, not only did he secure a win over one of the best in the division, he did it over the course of three rounds. Had Kara-France caught Askarov much in the way he did Garbrandt, the thought would have been he won via the punchers chance that every striker has. Instead, Kara-France effectively outpointed the previously undefeated Askarov while surviving a couple of sticky situations. Kara-France asked for a title fight in his post-fight interview. He could very well get it.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Everyone loves Joanne Wood. Not that I’ve actually met and talked to her, but by all accounts, she’s one of the biggest sweethearts in the face-punching industry. However, after another submission loss to Grasso, she has now lost four of her last five contests, three of those by first round submission. To be fair to Wood, she has been losing to quality competition. Lauren Murphy and Jennifer Maia both challenged for the title after beating Wood and Taila Santos is scheduled to do the same. However, at some point, Wood needs to start being consistently competitive, much less winning, if she wants to maintain a reputation as one of the top flyweights in the division. Wood might want to look into shaking things up with her camp as the approach to taking her down has been the same; her approach has grown stale.
Best Newcomer: I don’t think anyone had any doubt Aliaskhab Khizriev would end up taking this slot given he was a massive favorite over the only other newcomer on the card in Denis Tiuliulin. To be fair to Tiuliulin, he had a few nice moments, but at no point did it appear Khizriev was in danger of being finished or put in a precarious position. The final result saw Khizriev secure the finish, which was to be expected.
Start Typing a Resume: Given the depth of the featherweight division and his reputation as a point fighter, it’s possible Bruno Souza is going to be handed a pink slip. I’m not confident he’ll soon be on the outside looking in – I think he’ll stick around for one more fight — but I do believe it’s a possibility worth acknowledging. Souza showing aggression against Luis Saldana does help his case for staying around.
Saved Their Job(s): Once one of the top prospects in the lightweight division, Marc Diakiese found himself fighting for his job, perhaps even as fodder for Viacheslav Borshchev. Instead, for all except a brief flurry of offense from Slava Claus in the first round, Diakiese completely dominated and controlled the exciting striker. It was a hell of a statement by the Englishman, potentially signalling a rebirth as someone to keep an eye on.
It’s easy to forget Saldana is already 31 given he makes mistakes that are common of younger fighters. Not that he’s ancient, but I want to think of him as a prospect when he’s largely a finished prospect. Given the UFC recognizes that, it’s plausible they would have let him go if he failed to inch past Souza. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but Saldana did get the W and assures himself he gets another fight in the UFC.
Best WOW Moment: The reputation of Chris Gutierrez entering the event was that of a boring point fighter whose best weapon is his low kicks. Gutierrez did open up the fight touching up Danaa Betgerel with a lot of low kicks, but he ended it with a spinning back fist, just the ninth such finish in UFC history. More important than extending his unbeaten streak to seven, it gave Gutierrez the type of moment that has been lacking on his UFC resume. Now, the UFC has something they can staple to his highlight reel and hype him up moving forward.
Best Callout: I really wanted to put Neil Magny in this spot given he has been asking for Khamzat Chimaev for quite some time. The problem is Chimaev is fighting Gilbert Burns in a couple of weeks and Burns is higher in the pecking order than Magny is. Thus, the callout makes no sense on the side of the ascendent Chimaev.
I didn’t hate Manon Fiorot’s callout of Katlyn Chookagian, but Chookagian is scheduled to fight Amanda Ribas in May. Thus, that callout loses some steam. It’s still a fight with possibility should Chookagian get past Ribas, but we have to wait a bit for that to happen.
Thus, I’ll go with Blaydes asking for Stipe Miocic. Blaydes may have needed to be nudged into the callout by Daniel Cormier, but it’s a callout that makes perfect sense. Miocic is a two-time champion, the most decorated heavyweight champion in UFC history. At 39, Miocic only has so many fights left in him. Blaydes would be nuts to pass up on the opportunity to be one of those few fights left. There will be time for him to fight Ciryl Gane – his original callout – down the road.
Most Overlooked: It’s been the story of Magny’s career that he has been overlooked. That’s partially explains why Magny was never booked with Chimaev. He’s also been disrespected by several opponents who’ve looked to use him as a stepping stone on several occasions. Now that he’s secured the record for the most wins in the welterweight division alongside GSP, the UFC celebrates by… announcing it after the fight. I get that Magny largely obtained the record by being exceptionally busy during his rise up the division. He’s not exactly one of the all-time greats. However, he’s got to be winning those fights too. I would have thought hyping up the moment a bit more heading into his fight with Max Griffin would have been appropriate. Maybe even a short video package after the win to show some of his more impressive wins. Oh well. It is what it is. I suppose we can enjoy the combination of pile driver/powerbomb that he executed….
Best Strategy: I really can’t emphasize enough how intelligent Diakiese was to utilize his wrestling-heavy approach. Though Diakiese didn’t have a reputation as a wrestler, he had proven in the past he can go that route when necessary. Well, it was more than necessary against Borshchev. In a pure kickboxing match, it was hard to see Diakiese outclassing the former K-1 champion. Instead, he took it to a realm where it was hard to see Borshchev standing a chance of success. The question will be whether Diakiese can maintain the intelligence he showed her.
Best Demon Slayer: For clarification, I’m referencing someone being able to avoid falling into the same trap they’ve fallen into on several occasions. It is almost a given that Sara McMann will win the first round of her contests. With a fresh gas tank, McMann is the most dominant wrestler at bantamweight, perhaps in the entirety of women’s MMA. However, her background as a wrestler also has conditioned her body to be used to performing short bursts of energy rather than going hard over five minute stretches. In other words, she has struggled to maintain her effectiveness late into fights. McMann not only took the first round with ease against Karol Rosa, she also dominated the second round. The third round wasn’t as easy, but McMann kept her wits about her and managed to not just survive, but maintain enough control to take the last round for a clean sweep of the scorecards.
Worst Demon Slayer: I’ve already touched on the struggles of Wood, but her struggles create a hell of a contrast against what McMann was able to do in getting past Rosa. Perhaps Wood could take some wrestling lessons from McMann and talk about overcoming demons in the process. Just a thought, given the similarities they’ve experienced.
Turn Back the Clock Moment: The contest between Bryan Barberena and Matt Brown was supposed to be a slobber knocker. While it delivered on that front, it went beyond the expectations. Few expected the fight to go the distance given the effects of age and injuries on the two of them. It obviously took everything in them to go the full 15, delivering haymakers to one another at every opportunity. I wouldn’t count on the two of them having another fight like that in them, but they already defied the odds by turning in this one.
Stinker of the Night: Normally, I title this the Cure for Insomnia. However, there was just enough drama between Matheus Nicolau and David Dvorak that I didn’t feel like calling it an absolute snoozer. That said, it sure as hell didn’t deliver what was expected. The first round and a half largely consisted of the two of them staring at one another as they moved around the cage, occasionally thinking to throw a kick or a punch. The final half of the fight was satisfying enough, starting with when Nicolau floored Dvorak. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to completely erase the taste of the first half.
Forgotten Performance: Heading into the event, the most hyped fighter for many was Fiorot. After the event, barely a whisper has been uttered about her. She did what she was supposed to do by disposing of Maia. Hell, it was even an entertaining scrap. But very little attention has been given to it. I understand there is only so much attention to go around and this was a deep Fight Night card, but it’s still a surprising development. I suppose some of the lack of attention can be attributed to Grasso’s first round finish of Wood within the same division, but I was also under the impression that Maia was a greater challenge than Wood.
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