To say the UFC’s return trip to Miami went much better than their first trip would be an understatement. To be fair to UFC 42, it was a completely different environment 20 years ago for the sport of MMA. Regardless, the main event between Matt Hughes and Sean Sherk was underwhelming and the rest of the card produced its fair share of disappointment. UFC 287 produced a completely different result.
Sure, hometown boy Jorge Masvidal came up short against Gilbert Burns and announced his retirement shortly after. But Israel Adesanya produced one of the biggest moments in recent MMA history when he reclaimed his title from his boogeyman, Alex Pereira. That he did so in emphatic and stylistic fashion only made the moment that much bigger. Even as I’d like to focus on other lesser-publicized happenings of the event, I can’t ignore the earth-shattering nature of that in this article.
Regardless, I’ll do my best to shed some light on some of the other happenings of UFC 287. After all, that is the idea behind my Unofficial Awards….
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Table of Contents
UFC 287 Unofficial Awards
Biggest Jump in Stock
This was a tricky spot to figure. Israel Adesanya got a huge monkey off his back by finally upending Pereira, but it wasn’t really a boost in stock. Burns did exactly what was expected of him. Rob Font and Christian Rodriguez were both strongly considered, but there’s asterisks. For instance, Font already had notable names on his ledger and how much stock should we put in Rodriguez beating an 18-year-old? Thus, I get where some may scoff at my choice of Luana Pinheiro, but I stand by it.
Yes, Pinheiro was the favorite over Michelle Waterson-Gomez, but not by a significant margin. But ask the typical casual fan who they believed would win and the answer would have overwhelmingly been Waterson-Gomez due to name recognition. The biggest name Pinheiro had defeated prior to this contest was either Randa Markos or Sam Hughes. Pinheiro still has notable holes to address before she fights the elite, but she’s proven she’s at least competitive against those around the ten ranking.
Biggest Fall in Stock
Raul Rosas Jr. is the first name that jumps to mind, but he’s only 18. A loss to a more mature fighter should be a shock in the least. Perhaps Waterson-Gomez is worth sliding into the spot, but Waterson-Gomez didn’t look like she’s slipped, Pinheiro was just that good. Even Gerald Meerschaert crossed my mind, but he’s had several poor stretches in his career. Thus, even though I don’t think it’s going to take much for him to get back on track, I’m giving this spot to Adrian Yanez.
Yanez didn’t show Font any respect for his power. He was overconfident in his abilities too. As a result, he spent long stretches in the pocket with little concern for what Font might throw back at him. I get that Font appeared to be on a downward slide, but his losses came to Jose Aldo and Marlon Vera. Yanez’s best win was a split over Davey Grant. There was a big discrepancy in competition there. Yanez appears to be wise enough to learn from this, but I can’t make guarantees. Much will have to do with how the UFC opts to matchmake him going forward.
She may have lost as a heavy favorite, but it was also easy to see why so many were high on the debuting Jaqueline Amorim. The Brazilian came thisclose to putting away Sam Hughes in the first round before fading hard after that. No surprise, given she went past the first round for the first time. Amorim does get this spot by default as she was the only debutant and the final result was disappointing. Regardless, I expect she’ll develop into a quality mainstay.
Saved Their Job(s)
Even had he lost the decision to Chris Curtis, Kelvin Gastelum saved his job with his epic throwdown with Curtis. It turned into one of the contenders for FoTY as we pass the quarter-year mark. Gastelum hasn’t been able to get any opponents who gave him fights where he can stylistically thrive. Curtis did and it reminded us why Gastelum had a rapid ascension in the first place. He still has some work to do, but at least Gastelum has a launching pad at this point.
Start Typing a Resume
I’m not sure what the finances of Cynthia Calvillo’s contract looks like, but I could easily see her having negotiated a something early in her UFC run that has her in danger of being kept around at this juncture. Not that the UFC would need further justification to release her after five consecutive losses, but we’re all aware of the penny pinching ways of the UFC brass and that might be the tipping point for Calvillo. Given she’s 35, it’s not like she can fall back on being a prospect anymore either.
Trey Ogden may not be on the chopping block given he allowed Ignacio Bahamondes to remain on the card by stepping up on short notice. But he’s also proven to be one of the more blah fighters on the roster. None of his fights have been remotely close to FOTN consideration and he’s probably past his physical peak. I think Ogden will be brought back, but I won’t be surprised if he isn’t.
Best WOW Moment
I acknowledge there is only one choice here as Adesanya’s KO of Pereira is going to be replayed over and over again, with good reason. As of now, it’s the KOotY in my book. However, it should be acknowledged there were several moments that deserved consideration prior to the main event. Joe Pyfer’s KO was noteworthy. Steve Garcia’s flooring of Shaylian Nuerdanbieke appears to have been forgotten. Font’s beatdown of Yanez was pretty sweet too.
Ultimately though, the combination of its significance and the out of nowhere nature of Adesanya’s victory makes it the only choice. Adesanya was hurt from Pereira’s leg kicks, but he began playing possum by covering up in the manner he did against the cage. Pereira was throwing with real power at a covered up Adesanya before Adesanya lashed out with a massive right hand, showing power that hadn’t been seen from him in a while. In the process, Adesanya created his definitive career moment.
I guessed erroneously in the instant analysis post the UFC would run back Adesanya and Pereira for a third contest in the Octagon. It seemed only natural given the UFC’s love of running things back. Remember them giving Cody Garbrandt an immediate rematch after losing to TJ Dillashaw? Or that we saw four fights between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo? And yet, even though Adesanya has wins over the other four names in the top five of the rankings, they aren’t opting to run it back? Please tell me they have some idea of who faces Izzy next?
It appears Pereira not wanting to cut to 185 anymore has something to do with it. He’s the biggest middleweight I can recall and is 35. He may not be able to continue making the weight. Plus, he presents a hell of a challenge for anyone at light heavyweight, meaning he might be able to become a two-division champion. Regardless, I’m on the disappointed side as there isn’t anything remotely on the horizon for Izzy that interests me. It might be a while before we see Adesanya fight again.
The development of Jorge Masvidal into one of the biggest names in all of MMA – perhaps the biggest name for a short while – was one of the most unlikely developments in the history of MMA. Though he had secured a title shot in Strikeforce before crossing over to the UFC, Masvidal appeared to be doomed to hover around the ten spot of the official rankings. Some of that was his own doing as Masvidal had a miserable habit of coasting in the final round of fights when he believed he won the first two rounds, but that was neither here nor there.
While many point to his blasting of Darren Till as the turning point, I’d go back further to his calling out of Donald Cerrone. Cerrone was in the midst of a stretch of 12 wins in 13 fights and Masvidal became the first to mow him down after he moved to welterweight. From there, Masvidal played his hand expertly, even when he didn’t win his fights. His unique personality and street fighting style – in addition to an image change – made him immediately marketable. A few highlights later and Masvidal found himself the face of MMA for a brief period.
Masvidal was never the best fighter in the world, but you never would have known it talking to him. He sold himself that way and casual fans bought it. After all, he took away Ben Askren’s zero in just five seconds in one of the most enduring moments in MMA history. Masvidal found financial security in the process and appears to be in a good place to move on from the sport. Here’s hoping he finds success in his future endeavors.
Most Understated Performance
Not that I expect him to get much light shined upon him, but there has been nary a thing said about the impressive nature of Garcia’s win over Shayilan. I get that Garcia came thisclose to having his lights put out in the opening minutes, but that should make his victory that much more impressive. I suppose it’s because Garcia doesn’t appear to be anything more than a fun action-fighter, but his UFC record is now above .500. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much to process from the card, but given the UFC’s emphasis on aesthetics, I thought Garcia deserved more plaudits.
Most Mature Showing
I understand why Bahamondes isn’t getting much attention. He tactically picked apart Ogden in a manner that didn’t produce any highlights. But in terms of his growth as a fighter, a coach would be exceptionally happy with Bahamondes’ showing. Constant stance switching, mixing of his strikes, keeping the fight where he had the advantage… Bahamondes did everything a coach would want him to do. I still question his long-term future at lightweight as I see him growing out of the division sooner rather than later, but Bahamondes looked awesome. Well… he looked awesome in terms of what an analyst looks for….
Hardest Ceiling Established
This was a tricky award to configure. I didn’t want to focus on fighters who are on the decline for this spot. They’ve already hit their ceiling and it makes no sense to configure a new ceiling. Thus, it has to be someone who is still making their way up. What makes it hard to figure in this case is that Curtis is already 35, an age when most fighters appear to be in decline. That doesn’t appear to be the case with him.
Regardless, while a reasonable case could be made Curtis deserved the nod against Gastelum, the close contest seems to cap Curtis somewhere around the ten spot in the official rankings. At least it does when combined with his loss to Jack Hermansson. Given the chaotic nature of his fight with Gastelum, it seems likely the contest has shortened his shelf life as well. I wouldn’t be against Curtis fighting someone else in the official rankings in his next contest, but there’s every reason to be wary that he’s peaked.
Given his string of safe performances, it’s easy to forget Adesanya was once a major bonus hog. He picked up his eighth Performance Bonus, but his first since the September 2020 when he finished Paulo Costa. Gastelum maintained pace with Adesanya picking up his eighth, both of them pulling ahead of Masvidal’s seven in the process. In conjunction with Gastelum for FOTN, Curtis earned his third, doing so at an impressive rate in just his sixth UFC fight. Font picked up his sixth Performance Bonus by downing Yanez.
The longest drought both in terms of overall length and of those who have never earned a Performance Bonus on the card belongs to the same combatant: Calvillo. Given she opened her UFC career with a pair of finishes and a lot of hype, it’s a bit of a surprise. Regardless, that goes back to March 2017 and 13 fights overall.
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