Another PPV come and gone, another night chuck full of wild takes and ideas. UFC 273 isn’t likely to make the final cut on anyone’s Event of the Year list, but that hardly means it wasn’t a qualified success. Alexander Volkanovski impressed into the minds of everyone just how dominant he is by dismantling the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, in a violent manner. Aljamain Sterling shocked the world by upending Petr Yan, extending their unorthodox feud when many expected it to come to a definitive conclusion. And of course, Khamzat Chimaev lived up to the immense hype he had built up for himself, surviving the back-and-forth instant classic put on by himself and a dogged Gilbert Burns. There’s no doubt the success of the card was top heavy, but there were some other moments on the card worth mentioning. Lets get into them with my Unofficial Awards….
For a different perspective of the event, click here. For an audio recap, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: I felt reluctant to put Chimaev in this spot, but I can’t deny what having his mettle tested did for his reputation. There were questions about how his cardio would hold up. It wasn’t impenetrable, but it held up well enough for him to secure a decision. There were questions about how he can take a punch. He got rocked, but was able to hold up. New questions have opened up about his striking defense and whether his wrestling is as dominant as advertised, but many are quick to forgive if an entertaining brawl can be delivered. Chimaev did just that, raising his stock in a significant way. I doubt he fights for the title next as the UFC appears determined to finally give Leon Edwards his long overdue shot at the belt, but It’s hard to believe Chimaev won’t be the first person they call if something happens to Edwards.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I can see many making a case for Aspen Ladd here, but I believe her stock was already low heading into her fight with Raquel Pennington. On the flip side, Yan entered the evening as one of the best P4P fighters on the planet. Hell, I heard some reasonable voices say he was the P4P best. And while I completely understand the argument that he deserved the win, it can’t be denied that he didn’t perform at his best. There was no sign of the composed killer he was in his first fight with Sterling. Instead, Yan appeared to be driven by emotion, looking to punish Sterling as opposed to notching a victory over him. It led to Yan rushing some of his strikes, looking panicked at other points. Whoever it was that was fighting Sterling, it wasn’t the Petr Yan that ascended to the title over Jose Aldo. I believe he can be found again, but this version of Yan also lends less credence to the idea that the illegal knee he landed on Sterling in their first contest was solitary miscue.
Best Newcomer: No disrespect intended towards Piera Rodriguez, but the choice has to be Mike Malott. The Canadian had a back-and-forth round with Mickey Gall before landing a powerful left hook that floored the traditionally durable Gall. There were enough scary moments for Malott that it’s safe to say he hasn’t answered all the questions that were hanging out there before his fight, but he did prove he belongs in the organization. Plus, it was a hell of an entertaining round. I get the feeling Malott’s ceiling is limited
Start Typing a Resume: We may have seen an end to the Mickey Gall experiment. Six years into his UFC run and it appears the best win on his record is George Sullivan. Now, not only did Gall suffer consecutive losses for the first time in his career, but he was finished for the first time as well. Gall didn’t look terrible, but there doesn’t appear to be much more room for him to grow. The UFC may find his salary is better spent on younger and more promising talent.
A lot of credit needs to go to Jared Vanderaa for his willingness to step up on short notice, but he’s now sitting at 1-4 in his UFC run after falling to the 44-year-old Aleksei Oleinik. Aside from being willing to take fights on little notice, the only other saving grace for Vanderaa is that his losses have come against opponents who have put up winning records within the organization. Still, falling to someone at Oleinik’s age is a bad sign, especially when Oleinik had been on a three-fight losing streak. Vanderaa just doesn’t look like he’s UFC material.
It pains me to say this given her potential, but Kay Hansen would be best served getting a bit more seasoning on the regional scene. Her weight miss on her return to 115 indicated she should be fighting at 125. Some may say her inability to push Piera Rodriguez off of herself was a sign she should be fighting at strawweight, but I think it’s an indication of her dehydrating herself too much. If Hansen were to have the time to fill in her frame at flyweight on the regional scene, it would be extremely beneficial for her.
Saved Their Job(s): This is a short list as Oleinik is the only one who I’d say was in danger of being on the chopping block. The 44-year-old is near the end of the line, but because his skillset on the mat is incredibly unique, he can still surprise from time to time. He proved it against by securing a scarf hold submission. Who else in high level MMA is capable of securing a scarf hold for the win? The list is incredibly short.
Biggest WOW Moment: It’s hard to single out a specific moment from the back-and-forth battle between Chimaev and Burns. Their fight was fire from the word go and stayed hot until the end. Regardless, I figured I’d be derelict in my duties if I left it there, so I’ll go with the moment when Burns timed the upkick to the body that sent Chimaev sprawling backwards. The sequence was somewhat emblematic of their contest as a whole; the intimidating specter of Chimaev looming over Burns, only for the Brazilian to unexpectedly find success. Burns didn’t win the fight, but there’s no doubt his stock went up in the loss. I can’t recall that being the case when a top five fighter lost to a guy outside the top ten….
Best/Worst Referee Call: We can sit here and debate all day about whether the main event fell somewhat flat because Volkanovski is just that damned good or if Jung had an off night. Hell, I’m willing to listen to arguments Jung is just faded. What I don’t believe can be debated is whether Herb Dean made the right call to stop the fight when he did. Jung was still standing and ready to keep fighting after Volkanovski landed his last hard right, but Dean recognized nobody was home even as the lights were on and stopped the fight. Jung’s body language afterward only proved the fact as it was an effort for Jung to even stand. Dean vacillates like no other on the good/bad scale, but he was most definitely on the good side in that fight.
Most Underwhelming Performance: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man popularized the line “With great power comes great responsibility.” In the case of Ian Garry, with great hype comes great expectations. If he didn’t have all the hype around him, his win over Darian Weeks wouldn’t have seemed like the letdown many interpreted it to be. Garry arguably took every round, but didn’t do so with the comfort many believed he should have. Given he’s still young in his career, critics should focus on him topping another credible young talent as opposed to being unable to style on him.
Under-the-Radar Contender: Following her loss to Holly Holm at the beginning of 2020, it was reasonable to believe we’d seen the last of Raquel Pennington against the best fighters in the division. After four consecutive wins after being assigned a gatekeeping role, including her win over the former heir apparent in Ladd, it’s time to say Pennington should be thought of as a contender. She feels the same way, calling for a title eliminator fight with Sara McMann. I doubt the UFC sees it that way, but the fight could be put together without that stipulation. If Amanda Nunes is to regain the bantamweight title from Juliana Pena, it’s hard to see Pennington getting another title opportunity, but the door is as wide open for her as it is anyone else should Pena retain. Regardless, a clear win over Ladd should be a signal to everyone that Pennington is a major force to be reckoned with.
Best Heel Turn: To be fair, the process of Sterling going heel has been going on for quite a while, but the turn was completed after the decision of his victory over Yan was read. The ironic thing about it is that it came about completely organically without Sterling really changing his personality. MMA fans were so frustrated with how he obtained the belt in the first place that they turned on him. Sterling’s turn was completed when fans booed the decision and Sterling reciprocated the feeling with his comments in his post-fight interview. It took Jon Jones a long time to figure out he was better off embracing the role of heel. Sterling figured that out in a hurry.
Cardio as a Weapon: A common conversation in the MMA community is which fighters do the best job of weaponizing cardio. While I don’t want to get in that conversation right now, I do believe Anthony Hernandez provided an exemplary performance of how to do that. While I don’t believe a shallow gas tank is traditionally a problem for Josh Fremd, the Factory X product is one of the biggest middleweights on the roster and was taking the fight on short notice. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t somewhat compromised cutting down to the middleweight limit. Hernandez pushed an insane pace from bell to bell, Fremd showing the effects of Hernandez’s strategy by the end of the fight.
Best Styles Clash: No, nobody pulled of the finishing move of famed WWE star, AJ Styles. What I’m getting at is the difference in the approaches of Julio Arce and newcomer Daniel Santos. After a fast start from the flashy Santos, the fundamental approach of Arce began to take over. Arce touched up Santos with simple jabs and punches while Santos continued to look for spinning and leaping attacks with minimal success. If fighters need an illustration why coaches emphasize fundamentals so much, this fight provides a great visual of why that is as Arce cruised to an easy victory.
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