It feels like a while since I’ve said this, but UFC Vegas 51 wasn’t a good card. I suppose it was a matter of time before we got a flat card. The main event between Belal Muhammad and Vicente Luque wasn’t bad, but it had high expectations that it didn’t quite reach them. Even more damning for the card was the multiple technical decisions that sucked the air out of the room. That doesn’t even count the other fights that were plagued by illegal infractions. Thus, while Muhammad’s win over Luque was both unexpected and impressive, there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm around the victory thanks to the malaise the rest of the card produced. Rather than continue to bemoan the poor energy of the card, let’s just move onto my Unofficial Awards.
For a different perspective, click here. For an audio recap of the card, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Kudos to Belal Muhammad as I can’t think of anyone who has consistently raised their ceiling as often as he has. First, it was expected he’d be a gatekeeper to the official rankings. Then he broke into the rankings and the thought was that he wouldn’t break into the top ten. Then he broke into the top ten and it was that he couldn’t crack the top five. Now that’s he’s beat Luque, Muhammad is going to enter the top five. It wasn’t the most entertaining fight, but for Muhammad to maximize his chances of winning, he had to dirty things up and he did so successfully. At some point, the MMA world is going to have to smarten up to the fact that Muhammad is legit… and I’m including myself in that comment.
Biggest Fall in Stock: He’s still young and talented, so Miguel Baeza could find a way to dig himself out of the current three-fight losing streak he finds himself in. However, it’s hard to believe he’ll ever be considered a future mainstay of the official UFC rankings as many had him pegged to be roughly a year ago. It doesn’t look like Baeza has the chin to launch himself into the highest levels of the welterweight division. What Baeza does have going for him is that his fights – even his losses – have been entertaining contests. Throw in the fact that the likes of Matt Brown endured three-fight losing streaks early in their UFC career only to develop into one of the preeminent action fighters in the history of the organization. Of course, Brown had a solid chin….
Best Newcomer: Both notable newcomers secured their victories via technical decision, so both have a bit of a taint to them. Regardless, I’ll go with heavyweight Martin Buday. Part of that is due to the big man having to navigate a more shallow division to navigate. Buday did an excellent job of utilizing angles to cut off the attack of Chris Barnett and smother him. Buday was well on his way to victory before the controversial elbow interrupted the narrative of the match. Regardless, Buday could prove to be the most consequential heavyweight to come through DWCS.
Start Typing a Resume: I’m happy to see Yanan Wu was able to score a Performance Bonus for her battle with Mayra Bueno Silva, largely because it seems likely to serve as a going away present for her. The problem is, even as she put on an entertaining performance, it wasn’t exactly a good performance. She threw a lot of volume, but not much of it landed. She got a takedown, but couldn’t do anything effective with it. It was very typical of Wu’s UFC run. Now sitting at 1-4 with no major signs of progress, I gotta think the UFC is cutting the cord.
Given the amount of heart in showed, it isn’t hard for me to see Uncle Dana wanting Brandon Jenkins to be brought back for another go-around. The problem I have with that is Jenkins fights in one of, if not the deepest, division in the sport. There’s all sorts of young talents knocking on the door with a higher ceiling than Jenkins. Most damning, even if Jenkins showed heart and toughness, he offered next to nothing offensively against Drakkar Klose.
While most would give Kevin Croom a win in his UFC debut, it doesn’t officially count given he tested for the wacky weed, changing the result to a no contest. Thus, he’s technically winless in four appearances. It’s a bit of a shame as Croom spent a long time trying to get to the UFC and couldn’t secure a win once he finally got there. To put a stamp on this loss, he was KO’d in 47 seconds. That isn’t the type of performance that brings back someone on the verge of losing their job.
Cases could be made that Baeza, TJ Laramie, and Istela Nunes are on their way out, but I expect they’ll stick around due to the youth and promise each provides.
Saved Their Job(s): I get the feeling Mounir Lazzez is going to prove to be a Jekyll and Hyde type fighter. He looked fantastic against the debuting Ange Loosa, landing heavy shots on Loosa from bell to bell. That’s a far cry from his flat performance agaisnt Warlley Alves. Regardless, Lazzez did an excellent job of managing the distance and picking apart his shorter opponent. While I acknowledge it was no guarantee the UFC would let him go, I anticipate his age likely would have left the UFC looking in a different direction. However, his performance wasn’t why everyone was talking about him after the event….
Not only would a 1-3 record be more than enough to justify the UFC cutting Rafa Garcia loose, it was also the last fight on his contract. Things were looking dire for Garcia when he landed an illegal knee to the head of Jesse Ronson when Ronson still had a knee on the ground. Referee Mark Smith intervened to take a point, meaning it was likely Ronson only needed to win a single round to avoid a loss if the fight went the distance. Instead, it ignited a fire in Garcia and he proceeded to put a shellacking on Ronson in the grappling department, submitting the Canadian with 10 seconds to go in the round. How much the knee impacted Ronson is impossible to say, but Garcia was penalized for it as best as Smith could penalize him and the fight moved on. Expect Garcia to have a new contract.
There was no doubt Sam Hughes was on the verge of being given a pink slip. Given her struggles to close the distance against Istela Nunes in the first round, it felt very much like she was on her way out. Fortunately for Hughes, she trusted her coach and her game plan and outlasted a fading Nunes to take a decision.
I’m not fully confident in this assessment, but I think we may have seen the end of Heili Alateng’s UFC run if he was unable to get past Croom. But a loss would have been three consecutive fights without a win in a division that is constantly producing exciting new talent. Alateng has proven he can win at the lower levels, but he also has a limited upside. The win ends the speculation and allows Alateng to continue to serve as a gatekeeper of sorts. Plus, he added a hell of a highlight to his resume.
Biggest WOW Moment: There weren’t a hell of a lot of highlights on this card, but the process in which Andre Fialho put away Baeza was absolutely jaw-dropping. The sequence started with uppercuts in the clinch. Fialho kept hammering away and Baeza got weak in the knees. As Baeza tried to pull away, Fialho launched a heavy left hand that sent Baeza sprawling to the mat, effectively ending the fight.
Most Controversial Referee Call: In general, the most talked about topic for the prelims was the inconsistency in which referees apply the rules. Specifically, everyone was bamboozled by the call the elbow landed by Martin Buday on Chris Barnett was deemed illegal but unintentional by Dan Miragliotta. Whether it was intentional or not, it’s still an illegal blow, right?
My take on it is it was a poor choice of words from Miragliotta. Most fouls are unintentional. But saying the end of a fight is coming due to an illegal blow, but no penalty applied? If a blow deemed illegal ends a fight, shouldn’t it at least be applied with a point taken? At least that’s how the situation played out with Caio Borralho and Gadzhi Omargadzhiev. Most would say it should result in a DQ. Buday angled his elbow so it wasn’t a 12-6 and appeared to be aiming for the side of the head as opposed to the back. When I looked at multiple angles of the shot, it looked like it was a legal elbow to me, though I acknowledge it was a borderline call. Thus, I was fine with how the situation ultimately played out. I’m sure Miragliotta saw a replay of the strike himself. Was he reluctant to deem it legal after he looked at it? That might explain why he said it was unintentional without punishing Buday. Unless he comes out with an explanation, we can only speculate.
Cure for Insomnia: Trey Odgen and Jordan Leavitt was not a fun fight in the least. Leavitt is awkward on the feet and Ogden was reluctant to let his strikes with any authority out of a desire to not be taken down by Leavitt. When Ogden was taken down, his strategy was to neutralize. Not that I blame him, but it also took away the opportunity to see Leavitt do what he does. For a card that wasn’t that great, this is a dubious distinction.
Most Dominant Performance: The atmosphere of the card didn’t help, but the expectation that Pat Sabatini was going to do whatever he wanted with TJ Laramie also caused his one-sided win to be overlooked. To be fair to Laramie, the young Canadian was fairly competitive in the first round, but nothing went his way the following two rounds. Sabatini took him down and controlled him with ease. I admit I was lukewarm on Sabatini’s prospects when he first entered the UFC. Given the continued improvements he has displayed since breaking in, I expect him to break into the rankings sometime next year, proud to admit he has proven me wrong.
Best Bounce Back: Some would have said Klose had a more dominant performance than Sabatini. While I accept that as a reasonable argument, I stand by Sabatini and acknowledge that Klose looked better than I would have expected following his long layoff of two years. Given he was dealing with concussion issues, it was impossible to know how Klose would look on his return. Fortunately for him, the UFC pitched him a softball of an opponent in Jenkins. Softball or not, Klose did what he needed to do to regain his status and laid the punishment on Jenkins nice and thick, securing the first stoppage victory in his UFC career.
Worst Weight Gain: I’m not going to say William Knight didn’t maintain his freakish athleticism when he weighed in a 251. He proved he’s still explosive as hell throughout the opening frame. But he also slowed down considerably after the first round, eventually being finished by Devin Clark in the third round. Worth noting: it was the first stoppage victory of Clark’s UFC career. That looks terrible for Knight. It appears carrying the extra weight worked against him as he struggled to climb back to his feet. The commentary team mentioned Knight’s team is looking to get him a nutritionist to help with the weight cut. Given the results we’ve seen the last two fights, I think that’s the proper approach.
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