Another UFC Fight Night come and gone and UFC Vegas 76 was a night full of upsets. It wasn’t just squeaking by with a little bit of help from the judges either. The majority of the upsets were emphatic finishes, the UFC fighters making a huge statement about their perceived disrespect. The main event between Sean Strickland and Abus Magomedov, wasn’t one of those upsets, Strickland handily turning away the unproven Magomedov in the second round.
Unfortunately for Strickland, the win over Magomedov does little for his standing. Magomedov is so far out of the sphere of the rankings that the win is nothing more than a paycheck for Strickland. Thus, there’s no way I could consider Strickland one of the bigger winners of the night.
But who were the real winners and losers of the event? Sure, 12 UFC fighters officially had their hand raised in victory, but that doesn’t always mean they are the true winners of the night. Same with those who didn’t get their hand raised. Just like not all wins are created equal, not all losses are either. I’ll give you the lowdown on who the biggest winners and losers of the event were. I’ll limit it to three in each category, doing my best to avoid having the same combatants of a contest in both categories. Let’s dig in!
It wasn’t a pretty win, but Dawson dominated Damir Ismagulov in a manner that no one had previously done. In the process, it re-ignited interest in the former featherweight in a manner that his victories over aged competition was unable to do. Ismagulov is somebody who had given Armen Tsarukyan fits and I don’t believe there was anyone entering the event who would have proclaimed Dawson to be a superior fighter to Tsarukyan. Now, Dawson’s utter superiority over Ismagulov creates a hell of a launching point to make that argument.
Perhaps Ismagulov’s dalliance with retirement should have been a sign that Ismagulov didn’t have his head in the right place. However, I’d counter Ismagulov’s head probably wasn’t in the right place for the Tsarukyan fight either as he retired almost immediately after that contest. Despite that, Dawson was far more dominant that Tsarukyan. Thus, I’m of the opinion Dawson’s performance doesn’t deserve an asterisk. It’s amazing what happens when a UFC fighter finds the right camp for themselves….
If I’m being honest, I thought Ruziboev was a fraud entering the event. Yes, he has size and plenty of experience, but short on quality experience. Then again, even if you aren’t facing the best opponents all the time, you’re still learning with each appearance. Ruziboev proved he was learning how to use his reach as he didn’t allow the dangerous Brunno Ferriera to get near him. Even more impressive, he put the previously unbeaten Brazilian away with a vicious counter that put him to sleep. No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but I was very wrong about Ruziboev.
The question now is how much all that experience wears on his body. If it hasn’t taken a huge toll, Ruziboev is entering his physical prime at the age of 29 and should have the best coaching available to him as there has been at any point in his career. I know it’s just one win over an opponent with just one UFC win himself, but Ruziboev fought perfectly for the short time the fight lasted. If he can approach every UFC fight with just as perfectly planned of a strategy, he could be a major dark horse at 185.
It’s hard to believe any UFC fighter who has their hand raised after walking into the cage as a 5-to-1 underdog wouldn’t be one of the bigger winners on the evening. Given Brenner very well might have been saved by the bell at the end of the first makes it that much sweeter. The Brazilian was hurt quite badly by Guram Kutateladze at the end of the opening round, not to mention fighting most of the contest with a crimson mask on his face from a nasty cut. Many – myself included – had a lot of questions about Brenner even deserving his UFC roster spot. Those questions have evaporated.
That isn’t to say there aren’t still questions about Brenner. Hell, there’s questions about every UFC fighter, including the elite. But no one doubts his heart and toughness any longer, nor his ability to hang in an ugly fight. That said, there are some circumstances surrounding Kutateladze to leave us wondering if the win is of the quality we believe it to be at the moment, but only time will tell. Regardless, I’m confident we’ll see Brenner hanging around the organization for a long time.
I’m still high on Bonfim, but he fought like an idiot against Benoit Saint-Denis. Bonfim showed the Frenchman zero respect, encouraging him to continue to throw kicks at him uncontested. They were hurting enough that Bonfim began trying to do more than just block the kicks, but a fair share of damage was already done by that point. It looked like Bonfim experienced an early adrenaline dump too, not having the energy to escape or protect himself from the predations of Saint-Denis on the mat.
It is Bonfim’s first loss in nine years and he’s still only 27, meaning it isn’t a longshot for him to climb his way into contention yet. However, the bloom is off the rose with this loss. How he upended Terrence McKinney had him potentially fast tracked up to the top. Unless he can rebound with some spectacular finishes – note the plural there – it’s going to be a slower road than it would have previously been. UFC fighters want to peak when they’re at or near the top, not on their way there. This loss makes the latter scenario more likely.
Six years ago, Lee was just 24 with a 9-2 UFC record, soon to be fighting Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 216. The thought was he was going to be a mainstay in the lightweight division for a long time. Since then, he has gone 2-6 in the UFC. There’s plenty of reasons that could be discussed for that slide. Weight management could certainly be discussed as he has lost all three of his UFC fights at 170. Perhaps maturity, something that falls in line with his weight management. I’d even argue he has physically peaked as he hasn’t looked right in his last few contests.
It’s possible Lee just got caught, with the UFC fight with Rinat Fakhretdinov lasting less than a minute after Lee was clocked early. Maybe he has matured as the broadcast continually suggested. But losing that fast only contributes further to the idea he should be fighting at lightweight. However, I have to admit I’m not close enough to the situation to know if that’s unrealistic at this point. A fighter’s body is vastly different at 24 than it is at 30. Regardless, all indications point to Lee being finished as a UFC fighter of note. I pray that I’m wrong.
I get that some will argue vehemently on my inclusion of Ivanov here. He lost a competitive fight to Alexandr Romanov in a fight where Romanov was the favorite. What’s so bad about that? More than anything, this is a culmination of Ivanov’s disappointing run. Entering the organization as a main eventer in his debut, Ivanov was expected to be a prime-time player. While Ivanov has received some difficult competition — I believe every one of his opponents has had a number next to their name – the results have been poor as he now sits at 3-5.
It isn’t just that Ivanov hasn’t been able to deliver wins; it’s that he has been unable to deliver any sort of entertaining contests. Eight fights into his UFC career, not only has he failed to secure any sort of Performance Bonus, he’s been unable to avoid going 15 minutes in any of his contests. Against Romanov, he was delivered an opponent with a history of finishes. Despite that, Ivanov again went to decision. Now that he’s lost four out of his last five, I’m expecting the UFC to cut him loose. Not because he’s one of the worst heavyweights on the roster; it’s because he’s one of the worst to watch.
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