Wednesday, June 29, 2022

5 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC Vegas 54

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest fight night event, UFC Vegas 54.

With another pay-per-view in the books, this weekend’s action headed back to the serene surroundings of Nevada’s Apex facility, where a new set of fighters looked to follow in the entertaining footsteps of Charles Oliveira, Michael Chandler, and a host of other names who thrilled the Phoenix crowd last weekend.

At the top of the UFC Vegas 54 slate, the light heavyweights took center stage for the second time this year. While March’s UFC Vegas 50 card saw Thiago Santos and Magomed Ankalaev battle it out, last night’s event featured a collision between former champion Jan Blachowicz and his fellow European contender Aleksandar Rakić.

As well as a 205-pound appetizer in the co-main event between Ryan Spann and Ion Cuțelaba, entertaining names like Davey Grant, Katlyn Chookagian, Amanda Ribas, Michael Johnson, and Viviane Araujo were also in action, as well as promising debutants like Jake Hadley and Tatsuro Taira.

The 11-fight card certainly showed promise beforehand and was perhaps one of the stronger UFC Fight Night lineups in recent memory. But did it deliver? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 54.

Positive – An Underdog Kicks Us Off In Style

There aren’t many better ways to start off a card than an underdog as high as +300 taking an opponent’s 0 inside one round. At UFC Vegas 54, TUF alum Andre Petroski kicked off proceedings by doing exactly that.

It was perhaps surprising that the middleweight bout between Petroski and Nick Maximov, a teammate of Nate Diaz, was chosen to open the card. But with how it started the night, it certainly turned out to be a fruitful choice.

After a brief battle on the feet, which saw leg kicks traded and some wild swings, Maximov was the one to change levels, shooting for Petroski’s leg. After a quick scramble, the 30-year-old attacked his counterpart’s neck, locking in a tight anaconda choke. Within seconds, Maximov was unconscious and awoke to a first loss added to his record.

In a battle of two elite wrestlers, it was shocking to see such an early submission, especially out of the toolbox of one of the night’s biggest underdogs. Petroski is now 3-0 in the UFC, and with back-to-back chokes, he’s given fair warning for his future opponents to protect their necks.

If the Pennsylvania native gets his post-fight callout answered, Gerald Meerschaert will provide a stiff test of his submission game and defense. Unfortunately, judging by the veteran’s response on Twitter, Singapore’s UFC 275 will come too soon.

But Petroski vs. “GM3” later this year? We’re down.

Positive – A Future Star Debuts

Not many have arrived in the Octagon as highly touted as Tatsuro Taira is. At UFC Vegas 54, the Japanese prospect faced his opening challenge in the form of tough two-time Dana White‘s Contender Series competitor Carlos Candelario.

It’s safe to say that Taira passed his first test with flying colors.

While he was taken the full 15-minute distance, there was little doubt about the result. As well as displaying his speed, grappling prowess, rapid position advancements and reversals, and technical footwork, we also got to see Taira tackle a gritty opponent who simply wouldn’t go away.

The bout wasn’t without its challenges for the young newcomer, who had to escape from one particularly tight choke. But nevertheless, the closing aesthetic of Taira reigning down elbows and strikes from mount certainly made a statement.

At just 22 years old, the sky appears to be the limit for Taira. As well as his impressive debut delivering a positive, the arrival of a new youthful and exciting flyweight to the entertaining weight class was one of UFC Vegas 54’s highs, and that’s without mentioning his great hand-written post-fight callout.

Japan has been after a new breakout star in mixed martial arts, and it seems they’ve found the perfect figure in Taira.

Positive – Effective Grappling

Grappling fans were certainly treated across the opening three bouts at UFC Vegas 54.

After Petroski’s fast submission and Taira’s impressive ability to advance position and deliver ground-and-pound, Virna Jandiroba took up the mantle with her high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Across three rounds, “Carcará” secured a dominant decision over Angela Hill after utilizing her ground talents to great effect.

On Friday, Bellator 281’s main event created discussion and controversy, both about the result and the application of the scoring criteria. In London, Logan Storley secured the interim welterweight title via split decision over Michael “Venom” Page. Throughout most of the fight, the American wrestler held MVP on the ground and against the cage, but without attempting submissions or landing anything significant.

After the bout, Bellator President Scott Coker expressed his disagreement with the verdict, as did some fans and pundits. While Coker has received criticism for his take, he has a point. Grappling must be effective in the sense that it’s utilized to deliver potentially fight-ending offense. Storley didn’t accomplish that. You know who did? Jandiroba.

From her first-round kneebar to her second-frame armbar attempt and ground-and-pound, the Brazilian perfectly displayed the “effective offense” element that was missing from Storley’s game on Friday.

Given the debate that was incited the night before, having a perfect example of effective grappling at UFC Vegas 54 was needed, and certainly a positive.

Positive – A KO That Was A Long Time Coming

We had a grappling-heavy start, but striking fans got their fill at UFC Vegas 54 courtesy of the fast hands of 25-fight promotional veteran Michael Johnson.

Johnson has seemingly become one of the UFC’s forgotten men. Heading into Saturday’s event, Johnson, who boasts victories over Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson, and Edson Barboza, was riding a four-fight losing streak, with his most recent setback coming to Clay Guida last February.

But not many have snapped a skid as emphatically as “The Menace” did inside the Apex.

Against Alan Patrick, the 35-year-old delivered a four-punch combination that sent his Brazilian foe to the canvas. From there, a brutal right hand shut the lights out before a follow-up shot extended Patrick’s nap.

As well as a UFC mainstay making his way back to the win column, the manner in which Johnson did so was a big positive of UFC Vegas 54.

Negative – ‘They’re Dirty Brazilians’

It perhaps says a lot about the UFC (and MMA) that Tony Kelley said this without hesitation or second thought in the corner of his partner Andrea Lee. Then again, perhaps it’s just indicative of Kelley.

After the first round of Lee’s fight with Viviane Araujo, UFC bantamweight Kelley responded to his fighter’s claim that the Brazilian did something illegal. The Louisianan suggested “that’s what they’re going to do,” further branding Araujo and her compatriots as “dirty f*cking Brazilians.”

Considering that statement came from the same man who chose a 20+-hour fight week drive to avoid wearing a mask for three hours on a flight, perhaps it’s not all that shocking.

Nevertheless, the remark was unsavory, unnecessary, and should have no place in mixed martial arts. While that comment was grim, his “you smoked her ass” re-assurance to Lee after she’d convincingly lost was also questionable.

Perhaps Adrian Yanez will knock some sense into him on June 18

Positive – “Dangerous” Davey Brings The Violence

If Michael Johnson had set the violence bar during the prelims, “Dangerous” Davey Grant at least matched it in his main card fight versus Louis Smolka.

It’s clear how Grant earned his moniker. Heading into UFC Vegas 54, the Englishman had collected four $50,000 bonus checks in a row. But his two previous bouts had seen him slip to decision defeats. This time, the judges weren’t required.

Bringing a level of destruction that we last saw Grant’s hands create against Jonathan Martinez last March, the 36-year-old slept 17-fight UFC vet Smolka with some truly vicious ground-and-pound following a brief scramble.

From the brutal calf kicks that sent Smolka to the ground to the grimace-worthy strikes that ended the contest, Grant’s performance was one of the most memorable of the night.

With that said, he can consider himself extremely unlucky not to be taking home a fifth-straight performance bonus. Sort him out with something Dana!

Negative – An Unfortunate Ending

UFC Vegas 54 was a great card with some great submissions and knockouts. The one thing that was missing? An entertaining and definitive main event.

Saturday’s headliner boasted high stakes, with Jan Blachowicz looking to work his way back to the title and Aleksandar Rakić hoping to secure his own rise to the top. Unfortunately, while one man did accomplish his target, it didn’t come in the way anyone would have hoped for.

Early in the third round, the bout came to an anticlimactic end after Rakić appeared to suffer a serious knee injury. After moving backwards under attack from Blachowicz, the Austrian’s knee blew out, sending him to the ground in pain. Credit must go to the former champion for not following up with shots.

Although there’s yet to be any confirmation as to the severity of the injury, it seems likely that “Rocket” tore his ACL, as well as perhaps further ligament damage. If that is the case, fans won’t be seeing Rakić inside the Octagon for some time.

Ultimately, it was quite a sour end to a very strong event, and that’s a negative.

While Glover Teixeira offered Blachowicz a rematch following the fight, which, of course, depends on the Brazilian’s upcoming defense against Jiří Procházka, Magomed Ankalaev will certainly think that an impressive performance against Anthony Smith at UFC 277 could perhaps help him leapfrog Blachowicz given the fashion of the Pole’s victory on Saturday.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 54?

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