It wasn’t UFC London from the previous week, but UFC Columbus was a hell of an event in its own right. The main event wasn’t exactly a heavily anticipated contest for MMA fandom, but it overdelivered by a wide berth in terms of expectations as Curtis Blaydes showed off a wrinkle many weren’t sure he possessed. There were several other fights of import within the top ten of those divisions and most of them lived up to the expectations. Plus, one of the more entertaining slugfests in recent memory took place between reputed action fighters Matt Brown and Bryan Barberena. UFC Columbus ended up being yet another blistering success as the UFC hits the road with more of their events.
Read on for the winners and losers of UFC Columbus, which took place at the Nationwide Arena.
Curtis Blaydes: Given his two losses to Francis Ngannou, Blaydes still has a hell of a mountain to climb if he hopes to challenge for the title for as long as Ngannou remains champion. Regardless, Blaydes did the best thing he could do to help boost his stock by securing a brutal finish stemming from his standup. The finish isn’t likely to silence all of Blaydes’ critics who claim he’s a boring fighter, but it does poke a big hole in their argument. Blaydes made a mistake by calling for a fight with Ciryl Gane when he had Stipe Miocic sitting in the audience, but he was fortunate enough to have Daniel Cormier point him in the right direction. From where I’m sitting, Blaydes vs. Miocic makes a LOT of sense.
Alexa Grasso: If Grasso wanted to launch her name into the Shevchenko sweepstakes, she needed to impress against Joanne Wood. She may not be the first to submit Wood in the first round – far from it – but it was nonetheless impressive, especially given it was Grasso’s first submission win of her career. I wouldn’t count on Grasso being next in line for the title, but there would be zero surprise if she’s fighting for gold next year.
Bryan Barberena: If you can turn in a memorable slugfest at a time when most believe you might want to start considering retirement, you’ve had a hell of a night. Barberena clearly isn’t the same fighter he was a few years ago, but he’s still got the drive to keep moving forward as he showed in his slobber knocker with Matt Brown. The Columbus crowd may have disagreed with the decision, but the right man came out on top.
Matt Brown: Brown didn’t walk away with the W, but he put on a hell of a show in front of his hometown. No doubt it’s a moment he’ll remember with fondness. Great showing from a 41-year-old.
Kai Kara-France: By far the biggest winner on the night, Kara France overcame the long odds to score the most impressive win of his career by hanging the first loss on the ledger of Askar Askarov. Askarov managed to have Kara-France in a bad spot on the mat in every round, but perseverance from the Kiwi resulted in him getting the judges nod on the strength of his striking prowess. Kara-France called for a title shot afterwards. So long as the UFC is fine with him waiting around, he’s probably going to get it. Otherwise, I’m expecting Kara-France to do the damn thing with Alexandre Pantoja.
Neil Magny: I’m putting Magny here for one reason: he surpassed Georges St-Pierre for the most wins at welterweight in UFC history. In many ways, it was the quintessential Magny fight against Max Griffin: Magny gets hurt early, Magny recovers, Magny gains steam as the fight continues, Magny wins a decision. However, I’m of the opinion that Magny shouldn’t have had such a difficult time against Griffin. Regardless, the record is impressive and Magny deserves major props for that accomplishment.
Marc Diakiese: I know a lot of people would disagree with this spot for Diakiese given his wrestle-heavy approach towards Viacheslav Borshchev wasn’t very entertaining. However, it snapped a two-fight losing streak for Diakiese when another loss would have left him unemployed. So, while it wasn’t entertaining, it was a mature and intelligent approach from Diakiese that deserves all sorts of props.
Sara McMann: I wouldn’t go so far as to say McMann’s win over Karol Rosa puts her back into contention talks, but it does keep the dream alive for McMann at 41. Given what we saw out of Glover Teixeira, I’m all for McMann gunning for the ultimate prize. Against Rosa, McMann successfully managed to keep herself out of bad positions, an issue that has plagued her throughout her career. That kept McMann from panicking and avoiding the mental errors that have led to her being submitted on multiple occasions. Great win for the vet.
Chris Gutierrez: Despite entering the event with a six-fight unbeaten streak, Gutierrez wasn’t receiving a lot of love for two reasons. First, his level of competition hadn’t been very high. Secondly, his reputation as a point fighter with little finishing ability. Well, Danaa Batgerel was a clear step up in competition and Gutierrez put the tough Mongolian away with a spinning back fist, the ninth such finish in the history of the UFC. The night couldn’t have gone any better for Gutierrez.
Aliaskhab Khizriev: Just stepping into the cage was a win for Khizriev given he’s had at least four fights cancelled since winning his contract at DWCS in 2020. Khirzriev lived up to the hype by putting on a show against Denis Tiuliulin before choking out his fellow Russian in the second. He indicated he wants to move to welterweight, a move I don’t want to weigh in on until I see what he looks like there. We shall see.
Denis Tiuliulin: Sure, Tiuliulin got choked out, but he put up more of a fight than anyone expected he would. Many were expecting him to be lucky to make it out of the first round. Instead, Tiuliulin landed some hard punches of his own, including one that seemed to stun Khizriev for a split second. Tiuliulin got the late callup for being an available body. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this ends up being the highlight of his career.
Manon Fiorot: The hype around Fiorot has been so heavy that many were expecting her to blow past Jennifer Maia. That didn’t happen, but it was nonetheless a clear and impressive victory for the French fighter. Fiorot outworked the tough Brazilian by a wide margin and showed some ground skills by taking Maia down several times and bouncing right up when Maia took her down. She made a smart callout by asking for Katlyn Chookagian in her post-fight interview. Fiorot is playing the game perfectly, but it should be noted Chookagian is scheduled to fight Amanda Ribas in May.
Herb Dean: Is there something I’m missing? Dean received a huge ovation from the Columbus crowd when he was introduced for his first assignment of the night. As a referee, Dean is a mixed bag. As for his personality, he’s on the quiet side, rarely saying or doing anything out of the cage that garners attention. He isn’t from Ohio either. For whatever reason, the veteran referee received a lot of love from the live audience that usually isn’t given to referees.
Chris Daukaus: Following the loss to Derrick Lewis, I wanted to see Daukaus take a step back, pick up a bit more experience against high level competition, then perhaps get a shot at the elite again. Instead, Daukaus was thrown at Blaydes, a more difficult stylistic fight for him than Lewis. Despite Blaydes being superior on the mat, he NEVER looked to take the fight to the mat and ended up beating Daukaus at his own game. Daukaus is now on a two-fight losing streak, both KO losses within the first six minutes of the fight. It’s going to take some serious rehabbing of Daukaus’ image before he can be considered worthy of testing another elite fighter for quite some time.
Joanne Wood: There isn’t anyone out there rooting against Wood. But there isn’t anyone out there who believes she’s a contender at 125 any longer either. Four losses in your last five appearances will do that to ya. Give three of those losses were first round submissions, including this one against Grasso, it doesn’t look like Wood is doing anything to address the underlying issues that are plaguing her. JoJo is looking like the biggest loser on the night.
Askar Askarov: A strong argument could be made that Askarov should have already had a shot at the flyweight title. After all, he has wins over Alexandre Pantoja, Tim Elliott, and Joseph Benavidez. Perhaps most impressive, he fought former champion Brandon Moreno to a draw. Unfortunately for Askarov, his grappling heavy style ensured the UFC was going to make him take the long road to the title and he was derailed by Kara-France. I totally understand the argument for Askarov to get the win, but the judges didn’t see it that way and now the Russian will need to put together another streak before he’ll be whispered about for a title fight.
Viacheslav Borshchev: The only bright spot I can remember for the Russian striker was a flurry of punches in the first. Other than that, Borshchev was smothered by Diakiese for the entirety of their fight. I wouldn’t use this performance of an indication of his future as Boshchev has only been fighting in MMA for about three years, but there’s no doubt this loss is going to require some time to lick his wounds. Regardless, it should be a good learning experience.
Karol Rosa: I applauded Rosa going for the flying knee to open the third. What drove me crazy was Rosa hovering over McMann, diving in and out of her guard. Rosa should have backed up and forced McMann to stand. Given McMann’s history of cardio issues, the likelihood of the former Olympic wrestler securing a takedown that late were on the low end. Rosa had the opportunity to stand and bang at a moment when she NEEDED a finish and didn’t take it.
Jennifer Maia: I was reluctant to put Maia in this spot given she put up a good fight in a contest in which she was a sizeable underdog, but it was Maia’s third loss in her last four fights. Not in possession of a reputation as an action fighter, Maia needs to be winning to keep spot, regardless of whether she’s been losing to some of the top fighters in the division. Maia should get a step down in competition in her next fight, but it could be a do-or-die situation for her.
David Dvorak: It could be argued Dvorak won 75% or more of his fight with Matheus Nicolau. He was the fighter moving forward for more than the first round in a half that didn’t produce much action and he was the more active fighter over the last three minutes or so of the final round. For the record, I did score the fight for Nicolau, but Dvorak had a golden opportunity slip away for him largely because of a single punch that had him doing the stanky leg before falling to the mat.
Commentary Team: I’m used to Cormier expressing a huge bias towards a particular fighter during a fight. Bisping typically isn’t as egregious as Cormier. Both fell into that trap during the Magny-Griffin contest, continually saying Magny needed a finish in the third round because Griffin outlanded Magny. Their own statistics indicated Griffin outlanded Magny by one strike in the second. Given we all know that not all strikes are created equal, they needed to be honest and acknowledge the possibility of Magny needing a finish, not the guarantee of a finish needed.
Max Griffin: Griffin lost, but I get the feeling most walked away from his loss to Magny thinking that was the best version of Griffin we’ve ever seen. Griffin dropped Magny in the opening round and managed to take one judge’s scorecard in a split decision loss. Griffin was a heavy underdog entering the contest, but managed to make it a dramatic reading of the decision. I wouldn’t give Griffin another ranked opponent, but he proved he’s at least capable of hanging with them.
Matheus Nicolau: It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but it was an important win for Nicolau to edge past Dvorak. Nicolau was incredibly lucky all the judges gave him the opening round as it just as easily could have gone in favor of Dvorak. Regardless, Nicolau had the biggest moment in the fight in round two when he knocked Dvorak silly. By the rules of karma – not MMA judging – that should have given him the win. I was on the verge of putting him into the winners category when Nicolau failed to make a callout when teed up by Daniel Cormier. He did ask for a top five opponent, but that isn’t the same thing as saying an actual name. While I agree he deserves a crack at the top five, I’m not sure he gets it. He isn’t making the waves necessary to get the UFC’s attention.
Luis Saldana: Credit to Saldana for doing what he needed to do to pick up a win over Bruno Souza. It may very well have saved his job. But it was a turnoff to see him motioning for the crowd to bring the noise while circling away from his opponent. Don’t pretend to do one thing while operating in a completely different manner. Putting his hands on his knees with about a minute to go in the fight doesn’t help his case. Saldana claimed he was working on his cardio going into this contest, but the results aren’t necessarily indicative of that.
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