I think we all knew Merab Dvalishvili was good. But none of us knew he was that good. In the main event of UFC Vegas 71, Dvalishvili manhandled former bantamweight champion Petr Yan in a way that no one else had before. While Yan had lost three of his previous four fights coming into the contest, all of those losses were controversial in one way or another. There was no controversy in his loss to Dvalishvili. Not only did Dvalishvili sweep the scorecards, none of the rounds were remotely close. The commentators called it a star making performance. I wouldn’t go that far given I would come up short of calling Yan a star, but I’ll agree that it should have been.
As with any card, there were several other narratives worth talking about that have been overshadowed by the main event. That’s what this article is for, to touch on some of noteworthy happenings of the event. There were quite a few on this card. To cover them, lets get into my Unofficial Awards….
Biggest Jump in Stock: It’s rare when someone in the early portion of the card gets the biggest jump, but it’s hard to argue against Ariane Lipski earning this spot. That isn’t to take anything away from Dvalishvili, but his win wasn’t nearly as surprising as Lipski’s. The Brazilian entered the UFC with a wave of hype, only to disappoint eight fights into her UFC career. The fight with JJ Aldrich was do-or-die for her. Lipski most certainly did. Aside from the occasional flash, she looked like the fighter who earned the moniker Queen of Violence for the first time in her UFC run. Her counters were sharp, her clinch was lethal, her takedown defense was on point. There wasn’t an area in which Lipski didn’t win the fight. The commentary team made a big deal about her moving to a smaller camp so she could get more one-on-one attention. If that’s what the issue was for her, we may finally get the whirling dervish we were all so excited to see.
Biggest Fall in Stock: What the hell happened to Alexandr Romanov? He was looking fit as hell in his previous two contests, even if he suffered his first career defeat last year. For his fight with Alexander Volkov, the bulky Moldovan looks like he may have added a few additional pounds from when he was carrying a spare tire before slimming down. Perhaps changing camps was the issue, but the thought was Romanov was taking his career seriously last year. Against Volkov, he gassed after a single extended takedown attempt and was pounded out shortly thereafter. I believe part of that can be attributed to Romanov losing his confidence, which does happen. But after one takedown attempt? The excuse for Romanov’s change in camps is he didn’t want to leave home. I understand that, but if the coaching is available to push him to the next level, he’ll need to move on. Based on his fight with Volkov, it isn’t available. Thus, until I hear Romanov has moved elsewhere for his training, I’m not counting on him to reach his potential.
Best Newcomer: A strong case can be made for Vitor Petrino – especially given his contest was more entertaining – but Karl Williams left me thinking he’s going to be the more impactful fighter. The athletic heavyweight smothered Lukasz Brzeski over the course of their contest, making for a largely boring contest as both were exhausted by the halfway point of the fight. However, Williams showed he’s got some hands, hurting Brzeski a couple of times early before both were flagging. Plus, there were some flashes of excitement. Even with his gas tank near empty, Williams still managed to secure some takedowns. There’s a lot more he needs to work on before he’s a contender, but he’s got time.
Saved Their Job(s): Given the rap sheet of Sedriques Dumas, there wasn’t anyone in the know who wasn’t rooting for Josh Fremd. Given he was at such an athletic disadvantage, there was a lot of doubt whether he could do it. Fremd clearly did his homework, proving to be ready for everything Dumas threw at him. Fremd countered effectively and took down Dumas with greater ease than anyone expected. In the end, Fremd found the submission and secured his first UFC win in the process.
I don’t really have anything else to add to Lipski’s performance than what I’ve already said, but there’s no douobt she would have received a pink slip with a loss. For many, myself included, it was a bit of a surprise she didn’t already pick one up entering the event. Good to see her fulfilling her potential, at least somewhat.
Start Typing a Resume: I’ve put Guido Cannetti on here before, only for the UFC to keep the Argentinian around for whatever reason. To be fair to Cannetti, he did secure a couple of wins after celebrating his 40th birthday, but what is his upside at 43? He doesn’t have the cult following that some of the past veterans the UFC has kept around have accumulated. Credit to Cannetti, he’s in fantastic shape. But there aren’t younger bantamweights the UFC wouldn’t want to look at? We’ll see.
Given his debut came on short notice against Jailton Almeida, I’m expecting the UFC will give Anton Turkalj some breathing room. That his contest with Petrino was a fun back-and-forth affair doesn’t hurt either. Regardless, Saidyokub Kakhramonov was released after a single loss against a ranked opponent. Thus, there’s a part of me that expects Turkalj to be handed a pink slip. Given he was awarded a Performance Bonus, perhaps he’ll survive. However, it should be noted the UFC has released fighters off a FOTN bonus.
There’s a possibility Brzeski is cut some slack given the only souls alive who believed he lost to Martin Buday in his UFC debut were the people judging that fight. Regardless, he is officially 0-2 in the UFC and was on the receiving end of a one-sided loss to Williams. In heavyweight years, Brzeski is still a baby and has room to grow. Thus, between that and the controversial nature of his debut, I’d give Brzeski another look. After all, how many opportunities did Jard Vanderaa get? Even if your not high on Brzeski, I think it can be agreed his ceiling is higher than Vanderaa’s ever was.
Biggest WOW Moment: The moment I legitimately said “wow” was when Davey Grant secured an inverted triangle choke on Raphael Assuncao. It isn’t just that Grant secured an inverted triangle choke – one of the rarest submissions at the highest levels – but he did so against an accomplished grappler in Assuncao. There was some controversy getting to that point – I’ll address that in the next award – but it was an amazing finish that no one saw coming. For the record, I can’t deny Bruno Silva’s front kick to the face of Tyson Nam had me taking notice as well. Thus, at the very least, it deserves an honorable mention.
Happy Trails: It wasn’t the way he wanted to end his career, but Raphael Assuncao has nothing to be ashamed of in his final UFC performance. Given he was up two rounds on Grant, all he had to do was hold on through the final round. He very well may have done that had Keith Peterson not forced him to give up the position on Grant against the cage. Grant was able to return to open space and threw up a Hail Mary inverted triangle choke as Assuncao was merely looking to hang on by that point. Regardless, Assuncao leaves the sport as the most underappreciated bantamweight in the UFC’s history. Despite a stretch of eleven wins in twelve appearances – which included wins over TJ Dillashaw, Aljamain Sterling, and Marlon Moraes — he never secured a title shot due to his lack of marketability. Prior to his late career skid, he was at 11-2 in the UFC. Even with the skid, his 12-7 record is more than respectable, especially when one looks at the level of competition Assuncao fought over that time.
Worst Fight IQ: If you watched the first round between Said Nurmagomedov and Jonathan Martinez, you’d easily be able to see who the more talented fighter is. Nurmagomedov had his way with Martinez, hurting him on several occasions and threatened with a couple of submissions. However, Nurmagomedov also expended a lot of energy in the process, leaving him struggling to separate himself from Martinez in the final two rounds. When he was separated, Nurmagomedov wasn’t able to match the quality of the strikes Martinez. Had Nurmagomedov managed his energy – perhaps limiting his spinning attacks and takedown attempts – he probably would have been able to squeeze out enough offense to take one of the last two rounds. Instead, Nurmagomedov has likely cost himself his spot in the official rankings.
Biggest Question Answered: We’ve known Dvalishvili could push a pace no one could keep up with over the course of three rounds. What we didn’t know was whether he could do it over five rounds. Sweeping the scorecards the way he did would have been answer enough. Given he also blew out the old record for takedown attempts in a fight means the answer was shouted from the rooftops. The old record was 33 by Cain Velasquez when he recovered the title from Junior dos Santos. Dvalishvili recorded 49. I refuse to say that record will never be broken, but I can’t even begin to predict who would come close to breaking that other than Dvalishvili himself.
Craziest Statistical Anomoly: When I watched the contest between Victor Henry and Tony Gravely, I scored the contest in favor of Gravely. I acknowledge Henry was the busier fighter, but Gravely didn’t appear to be too far behind him, had the advantage in control time, and was landing the harder strikes. I was shocked after the event to look up the numbers and see Henry had an advantage of 154 to 75. I’d encourage anyone who can go rewatch that fight and tell me if that sounds inaccurate. I feel a bit like a sleazeball questioning the people at UFCStats as I’m aware of the time and effort they put into getting things correct, but that doesn’t sound right to me.
Most Maturing Performance: I can’t say most mature given there were a few things that are easy to single out as slip ups in the case of Nikita Krylov, but there’s no doubt Krylov showed a big jump in maturity from not that long ago. The Russian has a bad rep of putting himself in bad situations, such as when he was submitted by Paul Craig just last year. Against Ryan Spann, Krylov did put himself in some bad spots. What was different was the way he responded. Rather than panic, Krylov stayed calm and methodically worked himself out of the situation before eventually capturing Spann in a triangle. For instance, it looked like Spann had the guillotine on tight. Despite that, Krylov managed to escape. Putting himself in those situations is still something Krylov will need to work on, but it can’t be denied he’s making progress.
Weirdest Odds: Perhaps some might point to Lipski being as heavy of an underdog as she was against Aldrich, but it made a lot of sense given the performances she put on prior to this event. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been as heavy of an underdog as she was, but she was a rightful underdog. Can someone explain to me why Volkov was the underdog against Romanov? He may have only been a slight underdog, but he was an underdog nonetheless. Romanov’s best win would probably be Juan Espino. Volkov’s most recent wins were over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Marcin Tybura. Not only were both of them top ten heavyweights, Tybura had a win over Romanov just last year. I would have thought gamblers would have hammered that spot, but that couldn’t have been the case given Volkov was still the underdog right before the contest.
Bonus Numbers: Over the first five UFC appearances of his career, Grant didn’t pick up a single Performance Bonus. In the next six, Grant managed to pick up five, including his submission of Assuncao. Similar to the way Grant has been snatching up Bonuses, Silva picked up his third consecutive Bonus, firmly establishing himself as one of the more dangerous members of the flyweight division. Aside from them Petrino and Turkalj picked up their first $50K checks, Petrino in his UFC debut and Turkalj in his sophomore appearance. In terms of drought, JJ Aldrich easily takes the cake on that one. Having now competed in 12 UFC contests, Aldrich still has yet to pick up a single Bonus, stretching back to December 2016.
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