Leading up to the co-main event, UFC 282 couldn’t have gone better. Each of the first ten fights resulted in finish. Not all of them were bangers, but they were all entertaining enough. Then we got to the co-main event… and nothing went right. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Paddy Pimblett put on a losing performance against Jared Gordon – the Englishman has been heavily protected – but his brashness in the face of what many believed was highway robbery when he was awarded the decision by the judges put a foul stench on everything. Then the main event saw Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev put on stinker. It isn’t that it wasn’t competitive; it was just a boring fight. That typically would be enough to make Uncle Dana incredibly upset. That the fight was supposed to crown a new champion. When it was awarded a split draw by the judges, we were still left without a champion in the light heavyweight division. Had the fight been entertaining, Uncle Dana probably would have been happy to book a rematch. Instead, he moved to book a new title fight next month… without either Blachowicz or Ankalaev involved.
The main and co-main events are going to garner plenty of attention from every MMA website, not to mention the judging controversies. Thus, the hope here is to touch on the happenings and people of the event who won’t be getting as much attention with my Unofficial Awards. Let’s dig in….
For a different perspective, click here. For an audio rundown of the event, click here.
Biggest Jump in Stock: Far from a flawless performance, Ilia Topuria ultimately accomplished what he set out to do, aside from achieving victory of course. Topuria wanted to make a statement and break the spirit of the fearless Bryce Mitchell. Before the contest, some may have said that was an impossibility. Topuria had done just that before the second round was out. The first round was competitive, but Topuria had confidence his power would eventually wear on the UFC’s resident redneck. It took some time, but that’s exactly what happened. The damage was wearing on Mitchell’s face by the time Topuria secured his final takedown, manhandling Mitchell in a way no one had ever done so before finding the submission. Many are looking at Topuria as a future title contender at this juncture.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This is a tricky spot to figure. Both main event fighters have seen their marketability take a hit, but it was never that high for either Blachowicz or Ankalaev in the first place. Nobody with their head screwed on right is saying they’re bad fighters; only that they put on a bad fight. That happens. Pimblett’s performance was uninspiring too, hurt further by his post-fight words and antics proving to be a big swing and a miss. Regardless, he still has Uncle Dana’s backing in addition to having enough clout walking into the event that his status won’t take too big of a hit.
Thus, while I acknowledge it won’t grab as many headlines, I’m going with Darren Till in this spot. Blachowicz, Ankalaev, and Pimblett can make the doubters silence with one good performance. It’s going to take more than that for Till. I’ll grant the Brit showed heart and toughness in surviving the opening round with Dricus Du Plessis, but that’s about the only positive I can say. He proved unable to put away a completely gassed Du Plessis, refusing to put his foot on the gas and telegraphing every punch he threw, giving Du Plessis notice to block or dodge the attack. The excuse that Till tore his ACL doesn’t help him out either as he’s considered to be injury prone in the first place. It’s hard to believe Till will ever be thought of as an elite fighter ever again. The fact he’s having to push off retirement rumors is a pretty good indication of that.
Best Newcomer: There were quite a few newcomers on the card – a bit of a rarity for a PPV – but there’s no debate for this spot. Raul Rosas Jr. not only became the youngest fighter to step into a UFC cage – just two months past his 18th birthday – he put on a dominant effort. After dumping Jay Perrin on the ground, he quickly found the veteran’s back and never left it. Perrin showed a lot of heart, fighting off the hands and avoiding Rosas’ first few submission attempts. It was an inevitability and Rosas got the submission. Perhaps even more promising, he exhibited his personality when he asked Uncle Dana for a bonus so he could buy his mom a minivan so she could drive him to the UFC Performance Institute. The best way for him to win over hearts is to lean into his youth. Smart play by the youngster….
Saved their Job(s): Edmen Shahbazyan would have been the ultimate warning story about rushing a young talent up the ladder too quickly had he come up short to Dalcha Lungiambula. Fortunately, the 25-year-old was able to recognize a change was needed, changing camps and management after his most recent loss over a year ago. It proved to be a prescient change as Shahbazyan put together the most mature performance of his career. Shahbazyan picked apart Lungiambula patiently until he found an opening he liked for a flying knee, maintaining the attack on the shaken Lungiambula until the referee stepped in.
I’m including TJ Brown on here more because of his association with James Krause than anything else. It’s hard to believe fighters with a recent association with Krause aren’t going to have a black cloud hanging over them following the potential betting scandal with Darrick Minner. Until there are no doubts that Krause’s former pupils have severed ties with him, I don’t see the UFC offering much leeway. Brown secured the win over the debuting Erik Silva, providing him with some much needed job security.
Start Typing a Resume: I’ve always got a bit of a soft spot for guys like Jay Perrin. Generally, people with his skillset have no business participating in high level athletics. While the results support that idea – Perrin is now 0-3 in the UFC – he’s at least made a respectable showing of it. Well, up until Rosas dominated him. Even then, Perrin didn’t just roll over and die. Still, at some point, you are what your record says you are and Perrin’s record says he doesn’t belong in the UFC.
Dalcha Lungiambula got a long leash. Not as long as Sam Alvey, but there’s a reason Alvey became a punchline. Regardless, now on a four-fight losing streak with an overall UFC record of 2-5, it’s time to pull the plug. Lungiambula’s thick frame proved to be too much of an obstacle for him as his opponents have always towered over him. Thus, Lungiambula usually had to travel a long distance to land his signature power shots. Given his age, it’s hard to see Lungiambula making his way back if this is the end.
Biggest WOW Moment: There were several moments to pick from, thanks to finishes from the first ten contests. Chris Curtis catching a kick from Joaquin Buckley and flooring him received strong consideration. So did Santiago Ponzinibbio’s come-from-behind finish over Alex Morono. Ultimately, I let the crowd reaction from Jarizinho Rozenstruik’s aggressive turn make up my mind for me. The crowd exploded as Rozenstruik engaged with Chris Daukaus off the bat, stunning the former policeman with a jab and not letting up for a single second. All the wild, the crowd was on their feet as Rozenstruik pursued the finish. Perhaps a bit of context is needed as most perceive Rozenstruik as a boring fighter. The native of Suriname proved that he can indeed be a crowd pleaser.
Best Camp Change: Ever since the downfall of Ronda Rousey, it has been difficult to find something positive to say about the Glendale Fight Club. They didn’t offer any changes for Rousey in her return fight after the book had been written on how to beat her. They oversaw the decline of former heavyweight contender, Travis Browne. The lone bright spot was Edmen Shahbazyan… and even his success appeared to be in spite of them. Shahbazyan endured a three-fight losing streak under their watch before opting to change things up. The results were immediate. Shahbazyan fought with a level of maturity that had been previously missing before his move to Xtreme Couture, picking his spots and displaying some attention to defense. That may sound simplistic, but it is also the truth.
Best Weight Change: I wasn’t a fan of Alexander Hernandez opting to move down to featherweight. Completely ripped at lightweight, he wasn’t struggling with the physicality of his opposition at 155. Why move down and risk completely killing his cardio by dehydrating himself down to 145? That issue did crop up around halfway through the second round, but Hernandez looked better than ever up to that point. He was a physical force, bullying Billy Quarantillo for a round and half. If Quarantillo wasn’t so durable, Hernandez more than likely would have secured the finish before his stamina betrayed him. Perhaps as he tinkers with the cut, Hernandez can revitalize his career at featherweight. I can see some similarities to Jose Aldo in that both lost their much maligned debut fights in their new home, but it ultimately proved to be the right move. I’m not saying Hernandez is about to become Aldo, but it looks like he’s making the right moves for his career despite opposition from critics.
Most Overlooked Performance: This has to be Du Plessis. It is completely understandable; the bigger story of his contest is the decline of Till. Till was once anointed by the UFC to be their next big European star. Had Du Plessis not endured the struggles he did in the second round, he may have succeeded in grabbing the spotlight. Regardless, Du Plessis did prove he’s a force to be reckoned with at middleweight, showing his wrestling skills, his durability, and perseverance. There were still some question marks around those entering the contest. Even if he had a bumpy road getting to the win, it did answer many questions… and the answers were positive.
Best Organizational Move: I’ve frequently bitched about the UFC’s reluctance to offer more bonuses when they’re deserved. I have to give them praise when they give out more than what I would have thought was warranted. Setting a new record for Performance Bonuses in one event, they handed out eleven – eleven! — at UFC 282. Everyone who secured a finish, plus Till for his FOTN performance with Du Plessis. There’s a part of me that feels like Uncle Dana was offering a big, fat middle finger to the participants of the co-main and main events. Whether it was for the right reasons or wrong reasons – and I can’t say with certainty – they deserve credit for doing it.
Bonus Numbers: Given all the Bonuses handed out, there’s a lot to unpack. Given it was their debut, it was obviously the first Bonuses for Cameron Saaiman and Rosas. It was also the first one for Brown and – a surprise to me – Shahbazyan. Just as many picked up their second Bonuses, that being Du Plessis, Topuria, Curtis, and Quarantillo. Rozenstruik wrapped up his third, Till his fourth, and Ponzinibbio tied Blachowicz for the most for members of UFC 282 with six. Shahbazyan had the longest drought both in terms of longest streak and most fights without ever having received a bonus, stretching back to November 2018. He ended the streak at seven, securing the extra $50K in his eighth UFC contest. Now, the longest streak belongs to Jared Gordon with eight fights dating back to December 2018. In terms of those who have never won a bonus, Lungiambula is now at seven contests, though it seems unlikely he’ll get a chance to snap that streak.
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