MMA is an interesting sport. There’s fights where you know exactly what you’re going to get. Sometimes that’s exactly what you hope for, other times you’re begging for a rabbit to be pulled out of a hat. Other times, you have no clue what to expect. As a fan, those are my favorite type of matches. As a prognosticator, I hate those.
Regardless, I had no idea what to expect between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman in the main event of UFC 286. Now that the fight has played out, I could smack myself upside the head as it played out in what feels like the most logical way. Then again, hindsight is 20/20. Edwards played it safe, spamming kicks to the legs and body of Usman while Usman showed hesitation to engage. Even when Usman overcame that, he didn’t have the same explosion that typified his attacks. Regardless, even with a point deducted for a fence grab, Edwards was able to safely outpoint the former champion, putting their rivalry to bed.
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing that happened at UFC 286. There were several other happenings at the event that won’t get near the spotlight the main event did. We’re here to touch on those with my Unofficial Awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: This spot is kind of hard to figure. Many would say Edwards has proven he deserves to be champion now that he has a defense under his belt. Or that his first win over Usman isn’t a fluke. Regardless, while a divisional champion can have their stock go up, I wouldn’t say Edwards’ performance was enough for me to say he’s launched himself into another level. The performance that did catch me off-guard was that of Jennifer Maia. There’s never been any doubt about the Brazilian’s talent. It’s been her ability to pull the trigger. For the second consecutive contest, Maia had no problem letting her hands fly. Casey O’Neill crashed into the pocket time and again, only to be met by Maia’s combination punches time and again. There were several close decisions on the evening, but Maia’s win over O’Neil wasn’t one of them. There were concerns heading into Maia’s contest with Maryna Moroz that she was fading out of the rankings. Now, not only has Maia scored two consecutive wins, she did so with complete performances. If Valentina Shevchenko is unable to recover the flyweight title, Maia may yet be able to secure another title shot.
Biggest Fall in Stock: I didn’t get the impression the fight between Edwards and Usman was as competitive as the commentary team made it out to be. Edwards had a strong game plan which lead him to victory, but I also feel like it was the worst version of Usman I’ve ever seen. The former champion was obviously mentally affected by the KO from his second fight with Edwards. Usman was far more gun shy than he has ever been, reluctant to pull the trigger. To be fair to Usman, he did eventually start going for takedowns. However, he didn’t complete most of them as he appears to have lost a step. I understand a lot of credit needs to go to Edwards, this version of Usman didn’t appear to be the same Usman who won and defended the welterweight title five times. At 35 with suspect knees, it shouldn’t be too surprising. I wouldn’t dare compare his falloff to the man he took the belt from, Tyron Woodley, at least not yet. But I don’t see him regaining the title, not based on the version of Usman that showed up in this contest.
Best Newcomer: I won’t deny that Yanal Ashmoz had the most explosive debut, finishing Sam Patterson in violent fashion in just 75 seconds. However, Patterson was also making his debut, making both Ashmoz and Patterson unknown quantities. Gabriel Santos was facing anything other than an unknown quantity when he debuted against Lerone Murphy. Murphy entered the contest undefeated after four UFC contests, including wins over Douglas Silva de Andrade and Makwan Amirkhani. Santos took the fight right to Murphy, coming thisclose to securing the upset over the home crowd favorite. In fact, most would argue it was the home cooking that swayed the judges in the direction of Murphy, most of the media members scoring in favor of Santos. Given the Brazilian took the fight on very short notice, it’s easy to believe we didn’t see the best effort from Santos. He’s still young too. Santos looks like he’s going to be a force for a long time.
Saved Their Job(s): Given it was the last fight on her contract, it’s easy to believe the UFC would have been willing to let Joanne Wood walk away if she had lost to Luana Carolina. After all, it would have been her fourth consecutive loss and fifth in her last six. The Scot avoided that fate, utilizing superior technique and volume to out point Carolina by a significant margin. Wood indicated she may retire if she doesn’t get offered another contract, but it would be better than going out on a loss. She’s no title contender, but she’s fun to watch and still has something left to offer. Here’s hoping she returns.
Two things were working against Veronica Hardy. First, she had struggled badly in her UFC run, entering the contest with a 1-4 record. Second, she married Dan Hardy, the former welterweight title challenger who is on the outs with the UFC. It’s a shame as Dan is a quality analyst. Regardless, those two factors made it do-or-die for the former Ms. Macedo. Hardy delivered the best and most complete performance of her career. Not only did she beat the heavily favored Juliana Miller, she beat the brakes off her. I don’t want to put too much stock into it given this was only Miller’s fifth professional fight, but Hardy looks like she could end up being on the roster for a long time to come if this performance proves to be reflective of her future.
Start Typing a Resume: Amirkhani has been on the roster for eight years. He’s had some explosive moments, but he’s also come up against a very hard ceiling. That couldn’t be more clear after dropping his fifth contest in his last six appearances. To be fair, he did win the opening round against Jack Shore. The problem is, he fell off a cliff after the first round, something that happens after almost every fight. Now 34 and 14 fights into his UFC career, it seems unlikely anything will change. He is what he is and everyone knows how to combat him.
I would say Omar Morales performed well enough in his loss to Chris Duncan to say he can still fight in the UFC. The first two rounds were close enough to say he could have been awarded the decision. Unfortunately, that isn’t what enough of the judges saw, resulting in Morales dropping his third consecutive fight and fourth in five appearances. At 37, it’s only going to be more difficult for him to turn the ship around moving forward. That he hasn’t been able to secure a finish in any of his UFC wins doesn’t help. He may get some leeway for stepping up on short notice, but that isn’t always enough to avoid a pink slip.
There appears to be something medically up with Malcolm Gordon. Always a consummate professional, it was weird to see him not just miss weight, but miss it by a LOT. During the event, the announce team stated Gordon had been instructed by doctors to stop cutting weight as he was having major kidney issues. He fought like someone having issues, getting blasted in just over a minute by Jake Hadley, dropping Gordon’s UFC record to 2-4. If the issues were that bad, Gordon deserves props just for showing up. Otherwise, the missed weight might be held against him, expediting the decision to cut him loose. I don’t know enough to make a fair judgment, but here’s hoping the UFC doesn’t punish him if the issue is as serious as I think it could be.
There’s a feeling Carolina is what she is. I get that she’s still only 29 and doesn’t have to many miles on her tires, but the commentary talked about how she realized she needs to enters fight with a strategy. It took five fights into her UFC career to figure that out? It doesn’t help that she didn’t seem to do anything different from what she did before. I’m of the opinion Carolina is fun enough that she’s worth keeping around. But she doesn’t seem like the type the UFC extends an long olive branch to. Two consecutive isn’t always enough for a pink slip, sometimes it is.
Biggest WOW Moment: Typically, this spot goes to a violent KO or a slick submission. This time around, I have to go with a near-submission. Muhammad Mokaev got caught by Jafel Filho in one of the worst kneebars I’ve ever seen. Mokaev’s knee not only was bent in the wrong direction, it was put in that position for several seconds due to his refusal to tap. After Mokaev escaped, he managed to secure an RNC to secure a win. It was an extreme display of guts and toughness, but I question if it was the right course of action for the long-term. Flashes of Don Frye and Ken Shamrock go through my head, tearing up each other’s legs, never being the same fighters afterwards. Mokaev has youth on his side, but that’s no guarantee he emerges unscathed.
Worst Referee Call: One of the positive developments of the last several years has been the use of instant replays for referees. During a break in the action, referees can consult with a ringside official about the action that created the stoppage in action. I wish Rich Mitchell would have considered doing that before deducting a point from Jai Herbert for the second groin shot of the round. The problem is, it wasn’t an actual groin shot as Herbert’s knee landed on the hip of Ludovit Klein. Replay confirmed it, but Mitchell didn’t ask for the replay. Herbert was deducted a point for something that wasn’t a foul, costing him a victory as the fight went on to be scored a draw. Here’s hoping Uncle Dana awarded Herbert his win bonus.
Best Paper Tiger: There’s a part of me that feels bad about handing this out, but there’s no doubt you’d never guess Marvin Vettori wouldn’t have any KO/TKO wins 14 fights into his UFC career. The dude is one of the most ripped members of the middleweight division. He looks like he could rip off his opponent’s head. His crazed demeanor indicates that as well. Despite that, Vettori doesn’t appear to be any sort of KO threat. Instead, he’s a point fighter, seven of his nine UFC wins coming via decision. There’s been plenty of comments about the dichotomy between his image and how he fights, but it has never been more stark than in his contest with Roman Dolidze. Dolidze was the wild man attempting to land the knockout blow. There was even a moment where Dolidze encouraged Vettori to throw down. While Vettori nodded in agreement, he didn’t opt to begin swinging wildly. Instead the Italian continued to point fight. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that; Vettori did win the fight. It just belies the madman reputation he’s developed along the way.
Most Disappointing Debut: I generally try to give newcomers a lot of leeway. It’s their first time on the big stage, under the bright lights. I intend to continue that, which is why I’m highlighting Christian Leroy Duncan. The Englishman walked out of the event with a first round TKO, but it was due to a knee injury suffered by his opponent. It could be argued Duncan’s early kicks contributed to it, but that would be speculatory. Regardless, Duncan didn’t get to show off his skills in the way that he hoped. Thus, while he walked out with a win, I have no doubt he left the arena disappointed.
Worst Judge: There were several head scratchers from the judges. I try to keep from throwing around the word “robbery,” but I was very close to saying that about Lerone Murphy’s win over Gabriel Santos. I can see where someone would award it to Murphy, but according to MMA Decisions, only two of the nineteen media scores agreed with the judges. However, as curious as that score was, it wasn’t inexplicable. In the case of Paul Sutherland, I don’t know where to begin. A fixture of judging fights in Europe for the UFC since 2009, he did the worst thing a judge could do: he gave fans a reason to know who he is. Even though Dolidze hurt Vettori a couple of times in the first round, Sutherland gave Vettori all three rounds. He also gave Morales all three rounds against Duncan when Morales scored next to zero effective offense in the third round. Giving Justin Gaethje a 10-8 in the final round of his fight with Rafael Fiziev didn’t help his cause either. Gathje won the round, but Fiziev was never so blatantly hurt or dominated to warrant a 10-8… and I’m a guy who thinks 10-8’s should be awarded more often. Fortunately, his funky judging didn’t affect the final verdict, but he’s likely to be watched carefully the next time he judges.
Bonus Numbers: Is it a surprise to anyone Gaethje walked out with another Bonus? That makes eleven bonuses in eleven appearances. Fiziev isn’t too far behind, picking up his sixth bonus in his eighth appearance for his FOTN with Gaethje. Other awardees were Gunnar Nelson picking up his fifth bonus and Hadley securing his first bonus after three appearances.
In terms of droughts, it may surprise some to hear that belongs to Wood. The Scot hasn’t earned a Bonus in her last 13 appearances, dating back to July 2015 against Cortney Casey. No one else comes close. At least she has won one. Morales still has yet to earn one after seven fights and I got my doubts he’ll get a chance to do so in an eighth.
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