On Saturday night, MMA’s premier promotion returned to action and held its latest Fight Night card in the form of UFC Vegas 55.
The ongoing rivalry between champion Julianna Peña and the recently dethroned Amanda Nunes has dominated the 135-pound discussion so far in 2022, but there are still some in-form contenders looking to remind the top two of their presence in the title conversation, and a couple of those women headlined UFC Vegas 55.
While former bantamweight queen Holly Holm was looking to continue her pursuit of a second reign and a sixth championship fight, #5-ranked Ketlen Vieira hoped to ride the momentum from her November 2021 victory over Miesha Tate and add the name of another former champ to her résumé.
With the always-entertaining Michel Pereira in action against Santiago Ponzinibbio, as well as the likes of Eryk Anders, Uroš Medić, Jonathan Martinez, Chidi Njokuani, and Chase Hooper also entering the Octagon, this UFC Fight Night looked set to be another under-the-radar card likely to produce some fireworks.
So, did it deliver in that way? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 55.
Positive – The Evolution Of “Sampage”
There’s not much better in MMA than watching a once-struggling fighter begin to flourish. If Charles Oliveira’s reign on the lightweight throne (*has) taught us anything, it’s that. While it’s nowhere near the same level, both in terms of skill and context, Sam Hughes was still able to continue her evolution in impressive fashion at UFC Vegas 55.
After a unanimous decision loss to Luana Pinheiro last November, Hughes entered 2022 with an 0-3 UFC record and with just one fight left on her contract. It’s safe to say that her fourth walk to the Octagon was make or break.
But having swapped Catalyst MMA for Fortis MMA, where she’s trained under the tutelage of renowned coach Sayif Saud, “Sampage” has not only rescued her career on MMA’s biggest stage, but began to make it her home. After outpointing Istela Nunes in April, Hughes made it two for two on Saturday, dominating Elise Reed en route to a third-round TKO, which came via some pretty brutal ground-and-pound.
Post-fight, Hughes said that her time at Fortis MMA has made her “unstoppable” and “unbreakable.” We’ll be seeing that claim tested in the coming months and years, but her latest triumph certainly did no harm to it.
Negative – Don’t Grab The Cage Or… You’ll Get A Free Submission Escape?
We’ve seen some questionable refereeing decisions in recent times, but standing a fight up after one fighter prevented a submission attempt by grabbing the fence takes the cake.
Mark Smith is great ref, but I’m sure even he’ll watch that back and say, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ During the first round of Chase Hooper’s featherweight clash with Felipe Colares, “The Dream” latched onto a leg from bottom position, potentially with an opportunity to lock in a calf slicer or another leg-based submission.
To try and prevent the move, the Brazilian blatantly grabbed the fence, and also prolonged it beyond Smith’s initial warning. The veteran ref responded by pausing the contest (all good so far). He then stood the pair up (taking a point? Great, love that Mark). “Fight…” (Hello?)
Essentially, Colares committed a foul in order to avoid a compromising position. As a reward, he was given a free escape and Hooper was punished by losing the position.
A strange one, to say the least.
Positive – Chase Hooper 2.0
If you were after another dose of evolved performances following Hughes’ card-opening win, how about that from Chase Hooper in the night’s second fight?
Hooper arrived in MMA’s premier promotion as a highly touted and unbeaten young prospect. While a quick debut win against Daniel Teymur and a come-from-behind submission victory over Peter Barrett aided that reputation, unanimous decision setbacks to Alex Caceres and Steven Peterson exposed some heavy flaws in Hooper’s game, namely his striking.
But while his standup game had previously been a display of flailing limbs and technique-less offense, a near-year layoff clearly helped “The Dream” work on his skillset. While ‘good’ would perhaps be generous, somewhat sufficient and polished would be an accurate description for Hooper’s improved striking.
That, coupled with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu talent and relentless pace, helped the 22-year-old to largely outclass the tough Colares, becoming the first to ever finish the Brazilian in the third round with some ground-and-pound.
While it’s clear that his game is far from complete and not without its issues, Hooper’s rebound performance at UFC Vegas 55 was certainly a start, and seemingly the arrival of Chase Hooper 2.0.
At just 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for the up-and-comer to evolve even more.
Positive – Someone Call A Medić
You’ll have to mispronounce Uroš Medić’s name for that pun to work, but (visually) close enough…
We knew “The Doctor” hit hard but holy smokes. The finishing combination that led to the end of Omar Morales’ night at UFC Vegas 55 was truly vicious.
Medić made his name in the UFC as one of the standout performers in season four of Dana White‘s Contender Series. After earning a contract with a first-round TKO win against Mikey Gonzalez, the 29-year-old maintained his 100% finishing rate on debut, recording a memorable and fast TKO victory over Aalon Cruz.
With his stock high, Medić experienced his first setback in his sophomore Octagon outing, falling to a submission loss to Jalin Turner, who’s now won four straight and earned a fight with ranked lightweight Brad Riddell next.
But while Turner is going on to big things, his former opponent won’t be far behind him after his latest outing.
At UFC Vegas 55, Medić appeared much more patient, awaiting the opening for his renowned power. After dropping Morales towards the end of the first frame, “The Doctor” brought things to a close in the second in emphatic fashion, flooring the Venezuelan with some clean and forceful shots.
Having gotten back on track with yet another impressive finish, Medić will be looking to continue his rise next time out. Given his performance on Saturday night, it stands to reason that a lot more eyeballs will be on him moving forward.
Positive – A Name To Remember
If there was one takeaway from the UFC Vegas 55 prelims, and perhaps the event as a whole, it was keep an eye on Jailton Almeida.
There’s something immensely casual and impressive about winning 10 consecutive fights at light heavyweight before nonchalantly moving up for a heavyweight debut on short notice and snapping the three-fight win streak of a man 40 pounds heavier.
While the victim of that was the previously in-form Parker Porter, the man behind the notable feat was rising prospect Almeida. Having entered the year as new addition to the UFC roster following a second-round submission win against Nasrudin Nasrudinov on DWCS, the Brazilian has certainly made an impact inside the Octagon in 2022.
After putting the light heavyweights on notice with a fast TKO victory over Danilo Marques on debut, “Malhadinho” showed his two-division talents on Saturday, taking down and dominating Porter en route to another first-round finish, this time via rear-naked choke.
With two wins in two divisions, 11 consecutive victories, a 100% finishing rate, and a frankly scary physical presence in the cage, this man looks to be a real problem, first for the light heavyweights, and perhaps even for the heavyweights should he make a permanent switch down the line.
Negative – An Underwhelming Main Card Fight
Who made the decision to drop Almeida vs. Porter to the prelims to make way for Polyana Viana and Tabatha Ricci on the main card? If that decision wasn’t questionable anyway, the way both fights went hammered it home.
The fight was as unentertaining as it was bizarre. It saw Ricci chase takedowns, only to stand up and throw kicks with little impact to Viana on the ground. The response from “Dama de Ferro” wasn’t much better, as she seemed content relaxing on her back and appeared to think she’d walked into a submission grappling event.
In the end, the scorecards all read 28-27 for Ricci. Despite her top position, Ricci did little in the opening round, and her compatriot was much more effective with submission attempts from the bottom. Although less active in the second frame, it certainly wouldn’t have been absurd to score that for Viana, too, as Ricci’s offense wasn’t much better.
In her post-fight interview, “Baby Shark” branded the Octagon as a “shark tank” and said that she is “hungry.” I’m not sure that the other fish at 125 pounds will be too concerned or afraid off the back of that performance.
Positive – Chidi, Chidi, Bang, Bang
Wow. Wow. Wow… Wow.
How do you light up an underwhelming start to a main card? Give Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani a call. After two tough watches to open the top slate at UFC Vegas 55, Njokuani brought the Apex crowd to its feet with another highlight-reel knockout.
Having seemingly prepared extensively for the clinch given Duško Todorović’s close-range style, “Bang Bang” lived up to his moniker in style, executing the perfect elbow as the pair separated towards the end of the first round.
After speaking earlier about Jailton Almeida’s fiery 2-0 start inside the Octagon, Njokuani has certainly earned the same level of acclaim. Having followed his 16-second debut win against Marc-André Barriault with another memorable stoppage at UFC Vegas 55, the Dallas native has sent a warning to the middleweight class.
Something about elbows just makes every knockout that extra bit vicious…
Positive – As Advertized, Violence!
Fight of the Night was pretty much a lock before the card even began. When entertainers Michel Pereira and Santiago Ponzinibbio were matched up, I think we all knew what to expect.
In the first round of the night’s co-main event, the Brazilian looked fantastic. While Ponzinibbio struggled to find the mark and landed at just over a 20% rate, Pereira was hitting more than 60% of his shots, and looked technical and fantastic.
In the second round, proceedings remained the same for a period, but the “Argentine Dagger” hit back towards the end, seemingly turning the tide and gaining the momentum heading into the final frame.
After a second wind saw Pereira land some hard blows to open round three, Ponzinibbio once again clawed his way back into the clash, playing his part in an incredible and wild final stanza.
In the end, “Demolidor” fell on the right side of a split decision, extending his win streak to four and securing his ascension into the welterweight rankings upon the next update.
A side-note, you have to feel for Ponzinibbio. The 35-year-old leaves everything inside the cage, and has now left the Octagon in back-to-back fights having lost razor-close decisions. In a parallel universe, the Argentinian could easily have two split decision victories over Geoff Neal and Pereira on his record, and be within the divisional top 10.
While Pereira will be celebrating another memorable win, Ponzinibbio’s stock certainly didn’t dip at UFC Vegas 55.
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 55?