On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned for UFC Vegas 52, the second of three consecutive cards booked for the Apex facility.
While last weekend’s event brought with it huge implications for the welterweight title picture, this card certainly didn’t have the same at stake. However, what it did have was a former champion returning to her old stomping ground in the hope of surging towards a second reign.
In the headliner, former UFC women’s strawweight titleholder Jéssica Andrade returned to 115 pounds after a trio of appearances at flyweight, which included a failed shot at gold. In her way of a return to the championship conversation was rising contender Amanda Lemos, who promised a Brazilian showcase in the UFC Vegas 52 main event.
With promising prospects like Claudio Puelles and Dean Barry, the returning names of Mike Jackson and Tyson Pedro, and the always-entertaining Clay Guida and Charles Jourdain all in action, the card promised to deliver some fun scraps, even if it did lack the UFC’s heavy-hitting names.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 52.
Negative – A Notable Absense
It’s always a negative when a matchup that had Fight of the Night written all over it doesn’t make it to the Octagon. On a card that was thinner than previous ones, that was especially painful when the flyweight clash between Manel Kape and Sumudaerji fell off the UFC Vegas 52 slate.
Like many, this was the fight I had my eye on. Kape, a former Rizin champion, rode a lot of hype from Asia and Europe when he crossed the Atlantic to compete in the UFC. While two decision losses stalled his start, consecutive first-round knockouts have since ascended him into the 125-pound rankings.
“The Tibetan Eagle,” meanwhile, has been in similar form, rising to #12 on the flyweight ladder with three straight victories, including a decision triumph over Zarrukh Adashev last time out.
With immense speed and skill, as well as 24 knockouts between them, their bout promised to be a barnburner. Unfortunately for fans, the contest was canceled in fight week when “Starboy” withdrew due to “personal reasons.” In a now-deleted tweet, the Angolan-Portuguese fighter suggested it was due to him being flagged by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the DHCMT Turinabol M3 metabolite.
The reasoning for Kape’s withdrawal certainly has the potential to be a negative in its own right. However, if Rob Font’s situation in 2021 proved anything, it’s that conclusions can’t be jumped to in these instances.
So, with that said, we’ll stick to the disappointment of fans missing out on a sure-fire flyweight banger.
Negative – Great Start Everybody…
Nothing sets the tone for a night of fights quite like two low blows, a deep eye poke, and a disqualification. The list of negatives from the opening bout of UFC Vegas 52 is endless, but I’ll group them together to save us all time re-visiting that horror show.
In one of the more intriguing matchups on paper, Ireland’s Dean Barry made his debut. The 29-year-old had a torrid time in 2021 with canceled bouts, and he didn’t fare much better when his fight with “The Truth” finally happened.
The first round was eventful, but for all the wrong reasons. After previously being warned about straying low with his kicks, Barry launched a vicious spinning strike to the gentlemen’s area, if you will. It wouldn’t be excessive to place it up there with the nastiest strikes south of the border in recent memory.
What better way to welcome Jackson, who hadn’t been in action since 2018, back to the cage than with a horrific low blow, followed up by a tough-to-watch eye poke? The term ‘poke’ is also generous. Gauge certainly wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration.
This was about as negative a result as anyone could have imagined. The debuting Barry saw his first foray on MMA’s biggest stage end in disaster, the returning Jackson saw his comeback end very differently than he’d have envisioned, and fans were given a terrible start to the event.
Positive – Finally, A DQ…
It might be hard to acknowledge a positive from the UFC Vegas 52 opener, but after last weekend’s shambolic technical decisions, the disqualification ruling was, well, a relief…
Not to bang the same drum as UFC Vegas 51, but the ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional’ ruling is as baffling as Daniel Cormier’s knowledge of the scoring criteria. Last weekend, we saw Martin Buday and Caio Borralho walk away with technical decisions after delivering illegal shots that rendered their opponents unable to continue.
With that in mind, it was refreshing to see referee Chris Tognoni actually punish a blatantly illegal move. This time, a ruling that the move was intentional led to a DQ, while Dan Miragliotta’s differing conclusion to last weekend’s incidents took the bouts to the scorecards.
While I’ve added this as a positive, the inconsistency could easily have it as a negative. I’d also be hesitant to say Barry’s discretion was intentional, but that shouldn’t matter, and that’s the problem. Had Tognoni perceived the gauge to have been unintentional, which I don’t think would have been necessarily wrong, would that have prevented a DQ? It shouldn’t.
Ultimately, fighters are responsible for their weapons, and if they misuse them, resulting in their opponent being unable to fight on, why should they avoid being penalized?
Another positive to come from this was the quick transition from Cormier’s ‘no way the ref rules this a DQ’ to Joe Martinez reading out ‘by DQ’. Gold.
Negative – A Fight Day Cancelation
When Manel Kape withdrew, my main focus turned toward Alexandr Romanov. Imagine my joy when Brendan Fitzgerald brought us the news midway through the prelims that the Moldovan’s main card collision with Chase Sherman was off, owing to a “minor health issue” on the short-notice replacement’s side.
When it rains, it pours.
At 15-0 with 14 finishes, Romanov is about as exciting a heavyweight prospect as you can get. That status was enhanced when he submitted Marcos Rogério de Lima via forearm choke in 2020. While a technical decision victory over Juan Espino courtesy of a groin strike from the Spaniard, wasn’t ideal, “King Kong” reminded us of his potential when he finished Jared Vanderaa last October.
The first disappointment with Romanov’s scheduled fifth walk to the Octagon came when an intriguing fight versus Tanner Boser fell through. The Moldovan’s place on the card was initially saved by the returning Sherman, who’d only recently been released by the UFC, only for it to be struck off the event just hours before both were due to make the walk.
As well as the disappointment of missing out on seeing Romanov in action, it was also a negative to see Sherman miss out on a chance to bounce back with another opportunity on MMA’s biggest stage. Luckily, it appears he’ll be able to do so next weekend at UFC Vegas 53 instead.
Fight day cancelations are always a negative, but on an already-depleted and under-the-radar card, this one hurt.
Positive – The Mongolian…MURDERER!
(Heading to be read in a Bruce Buffer voice)
Welcome to the Octagon win column Aoriqileng. It took three outings, but “The Mongolian Murderer” has finally lived up to his moniker.
At UFC Vegas 52, the 28-year-old shared the cage with England’s Cameron Else. Having fallen short in a war against Jeff Molina at UFC 261 and lost his sophomore outing to Cody Durden, Aoriqileng was in desperate need of a rebound performance on Saturday to avoid an 0-3 UFC slate that not many survive.
Not only did he record his first win in MMA’s premier organization, but he did so with something we don’t see too often: brutal body shots. We all love a knockout, but crumpling an opponent with a flush shot to the body must be similarly satisfying.
From the route to victory to the victor himself, this fight was a positive. The negative? An atrociously late stoppage from Keith Petersen. Given that I’m feeling generous, I won’t give the “No Nonsense” ref his own negative section, but it wasn’t good…
Positive – Tyson Replicates Tyson
Saturday was a night for Tysons and, in particular, for Tysons landing uppercuts.
While WBC and The Ring Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury got it done in the boxing ring earlier in the night courtesy of a vicious uppercut against Dillian Whyte, Tyson Pedro arguably delivered an even more brutal shot to defeat Ike Villanueva.
The leg kicks certainly did the damage and made it pretty clear where the result was headed, but after being sat down against the fence towards the end of the first round thanks to a chopping kick, it was a brutal right uppercut that sent the 38-year-old to sleep. The follow-up shots only added to what was a memorable return for Pedro.
Having not competed since 2018, it was great to see Pedro not only back in the Octagon, but doing what he does best: finishing fights. Now back on track, it’ll be interesting to see what’s next for “Kangaroo Paws” as he looks to make up for lost time.
Positive – Ô Canada…
How about that? Back-to-back guillotine chokes to open the main card from two Canadians known for their striking prowess.
First came middleweight Marc-André Barriault. After being moved to the main card thanks to a fight-day cancelation, “Power Bar” made the most of his late promotion, opening the five-fight main slate in some style.
Barriault’s clash with Jordan Wright was widely expected to come to a close relatively quick. But while that turned out to be the case, the Quebec native securing his first-ever submission victory certainly didn’t seem to be on the cards leading into UFC Vegas 52.
Soon after, exciting featherweight Charles Jourdain, who also hails from Quebec, said ‘anything you can do, I can do better’.
Following in his compatriot’s footsteps, “Air” brought the level of excitement that his bout with Lando Vannata was expected to bring, first on the feet, and then on the ground. After flooring “Groovy” with a sharp right hand, Jourdain attacked the neck with one arm and notched his first tap-out win in the UFC.
Jourdain is a black belt, and don’t you forget it…
Positive – The Stacked Becomes More Stacked
The strawweight division is undoubtedly the strongest female weight class in the UFC. While the higher weights have two GOAT contenders in Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, their dominance over the past few years, up until UFC 269 for the “Lioness,” has left the flyweight and bantamweight divisions largely uninteresting, and the featherweight roster non-existent.
The same can’t be said for the strawweight division, which has not only seen the gold change hands numerous times in recent years but possesses a host of competitive contenders. Joining champion Rose Namajunas at the top of the 115-pound ladder are Carla Esparza, Zhang Weili, Marina Rodriguez, Mackenzie Dern, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Yan Xiaonan.
As if that group of elites needed more company, Jéssica Andrade announced her re-arrival at strawweight by jumping right back into the title conversation in the UFC Vegas 52 main event.
Not only did she return to the division with a win, but she did so in style, recording the first standing arm-triangle choke in UFC history. Andrade now boasts wins via strikes, slams, guillotines, body shots, and, now, a first-time standing submission.
If versatile had a human form, it would be “Bate Estaca.”
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 52?