Thursday, June 23, 2022

8 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC Austin

After the excitement of the promotion’s first Singapore-held PPV, the UFC returned to US soil on Saturday for another on-the-road fight night in the form of UFC Austin.

The second of a still-rare two-week trip away from the Apex facility saw the MMA leader land in Texas, where the Moody Center played host to a 13-fight card. While the event didn’t pose the immediate title implications and drama that UFC 275 did, the headliner did promise to shake things up at the top of the featherweight division.

While top-five contender Calvin Kattar battled #7-ranked Josh Emmett at the top of the slate, exciting welterweights Kevin Holland and Tim Means provided the appetizer. Elsewhere, the likes of Adrian Yanez, Joaquin Buckley, Guram Kutateladze, and Gregory Rodrigues all took to the Octagon on the main card.

With entertaining fighters like Cody Stamann, Roman Dolidze, and Ricardo Ramos also in action on the prelims, the event looked to be one of the stronger UFC Fight Night cards in recent memory, on paper at least.

So, did it deliver? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Austin.

Negative – Cursed

  • Manel Kape vs. Sumudaerji – UFC Vegas 52
  • Alexandr Romanov vs. Chase Sherman – UFC Vegas 52
  • Carlos Candelario vs. Tatsuro Taira – UFC Vegas 53
  • Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon – UFC 274
  • Manel Kape vs. Rogério Bontorin – UFC 275

It’s safe to say we’ve had our fair share of disappointing fight cancelations in recent weeks and months. And not just any cancelations, fight week/day disappointments. In a case of déjà vu, we can add Cerrone vs. Lauzon to that list again, this time for UFC Austin.

Like last month in Arizona, the pair made it to the event location, completed their media duties, and successfully weighed in. But once again, Saturday’s event went down without the presence of the the two veterans inside the Octagon.

In May, that was down to a nasty dose of food poisoning on the side of “Cowboy.” This time, a freak knee injury sustained by Lauzon while he was putting his socks on post-weigh-in, of all things, forced the bout to be scrapped.

If Tony Ferguson‘s ruptured LCL, which was caused by him tripping over an electrical cable prior to one of many planned matchups with Khabib Nurmagomedov, taught us anything, it’s that freak incidents like this usually means a matchup is cursed.

With that said, it doesn’t seem that the MMA gods want to see Cerrone vs. Lauzon. While the UFC hasn’t addressed whether or not a third attempt at pitting the two vets against each other will be made, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the promotion move both men on to other things.

Positive – Dolidze Doesn’t Kneed Long

This was some way to start proceedings…

The tone was set nicely at UFC Austin courtesy of Roman Dolidze, who was making his first appearance since a June 2021 victory over Laureano Staropoli. Against Kyle Daukaus, the Georgian was looking to return to a win streak having had his initial 2-0 start in the Octagon blemished by Trevin Giles last March.

Dolidze accomplished his goal about as viciously as he could have, finishing Daukaus with a truly brutal knee to the head against the cage. Having debuted in the UFC by stopping Khadis Ibragimov with a knee, it’s clear that Dolidze knows how to put the dangerous weapon to good use.

The only negative here was that more people weren’t in attendance to see it. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but the arena seemed remarkably empty, even for the opening bout of the night, which was actually one of the more intriguing matchups on the card.

Nevertheless, that certainly didn’t take away from Dolidze’s performance and brutal finish. Violence, violence, violence!

Positive – Frightening Dominance

How about that for a statement?

In the second fight of the night, Phil Hawes delivered one of the most one-sided beatdowns in recent memory, piecing Deron Winn up right from the word go. From effective jabs and cutting lead-in elbows to flush high kicks and cross-rights, everything “Megatron” threw, he did so with vicious intent, and usually landed.

Given Hawes’ striking talent, which was evident last time out before he got caught by Chris Curtis, Winn’s gameplan was a confusing one. Despite being thoroughly dominated, the elite wrestler didn’t even feint a takedown once.

The aesthetic of Winn bloody and beaten in his corner after round one made it pretty clear where the bout was headed. And despite some resistance in the form of a few overhand rights, it remained one-way traffic right up until a standing TKO stoppage. The “standing” is credence to the Missouri native’s toughness.

The beatdown maybe went on longer than it should have, with referee Herb Dean stepping in as the contest had gone beyond the ‘yep, this is done’ stage, something that was clear when Winn’s swings went from low power to no power.

Negative – Texas Judging

When the UFC heads to Texas, one narrative is inevitable, and it surrounds the expectation for some horrific judging catastrophes.

While not a total disaster given that it had no influence on the result, the first-round scoring for Hawes’ utter demolition of Winn was concerning. If that five minutes of action, which included a knockdown and a host of wobbly moments for Winn, as well as practically nothing in return, wasn’t worthy of a 10-8, then quite frankly, I don’t know what is.

Sal D’Amato awarded Hawes a 10-8, but judges Joel Ojeda and Jason Stafin did not. D’Amato gets a lot of stick, much of it unnecessary, but what does it say that he, the one experienced and renowned judge on that fight’s selection, got an obvious call correct, while two local officials somehow missed it?

That says Texas.

I wrote the above section expecting something else to crop up throughout the night, and that it did.

On the main card, Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze battled in a highly technical and highly entertaining lightweight contest. While it was undoubtedly a close fight with a few acceptable scorecards, Jason Stafin’s 30-27 certainly wasn’t one of them.

Once again, the seasoned judges scoring this fight, Chris Lee and Doug Crosby, turned in opposing 29-28s that were certainly acceptable. The dissenting, and clearly incorrect scorecard, once again came from the mind of Stafin, a local judge.

Given that Stafin’s experience amounts to two UFC Fight Nights and one Bellator event since 2016, his presence cageside can certainly be questioned.

Positive – The Spin King Does It Again

The group of 2022 Knockout of the Year contenders is beginning to get a little crowded, and a little dizzy.

While the standout is perhaps Michael Chandler’s front-kick knockout of Tony Ferguson, Molly McCann and Weili Zhang have both span to disable their latest opponents, the former via elbow and the latter with a backfist. Joining good company, then, is Ricardo Ramos.

UFC Austin had already started fantastically, but the featherweight contest between Ramos and Danny Chavez brought a new level of violence. Just over a minute into the fight, “Carcacinha” shut the lights out in some style.

As Chavez backed up towards the fence, Ramos dipped to his right and feinted a left jab. When “The Colombian Warrior” bit and dropped his hands to parry, the Brazilian threw a remarkably quick spinning back elbow up top, connecting clean with Chavez’s temple.

The 35-year-old was propped up by the cage, staring into space. Ramos quickly changed that, completing the knockout with a left hook that slumped his rival to the ground.

Having delivered a similarly brutal spinning back elbow against Aiemann Zahabi at UFC 217 in 2017, it’s clear that Ramos has nailed the art of eccentric and unique striking. When he returns to the Octagon, there’ll be no prizes for guessing what move most will be waiting for, including his opponent…

Positive – Another One

DJ Khaled references are cliché and overused when it comes to instances of repetition, but I’d estimate that it came to the minds of at least half the fans watching UFC Austin.

No sooner had the echo of Ricardo Ramos’ elbow stopped ringing around the Moody Center, Jeremiah Wells gave the Brazilian a run for his money on the brutality meter. The victim this time was Court McGee. Given that “The Crusher” had only been finished once in the UFC prior to Saturday night, the image of him unconscious on the canvas wouldn’t have been in many prediction pieces.

So how did he get there? A highlight-reel left hook from hell. After having a right hand parried, Wells threw a looping left hand that came from so far back, it’s understandable it went unnoticed from McGee.

After a sickening thud to the ground and some savage ground-and-pound shots, the fight was over, and Wells had followed up his memorable stoppages of Warlley Alves and “Blood Diamond” with a third equally devastating finish.

Positive – A Masterclass On Debut

It’s safe to say that Natália Silva’s fanbase got a whole lot bigger on Saturday.

It’s hard to recall a debut as technically sound, impressive, and dominant as Silva’s. Closing out the UFC Austin prelims, the Brazilian faced Jasmine Jasudavicius. While the Canadian’s walkout and song choice cemented her as the fan favorite early on in this one, that didn’t last long at all.

Who’d have thought a Brazilian debutant would have a Texas crowd chanting her name? Silva earned that acclaim with a flawless performance.

From her fluid movement and takedown defense to her lightening-fast kicks, both to the head and body, and including spins, everything that the 25-year-old attempted came off, and ended up making Jasudavicius look rather amateur, and even like a punching bag at times.

To make the performance that much more impressive, it marked Silva’s first outing since 2019. With the display, Silva has made an immediate impact in the Octagon, and will likely find herself with an elevated rise towards the rankings.

A new flyweight threat has emerged, and her name is Natália Silva.

Positive – Satisfying.

The biggest takeaway from UFC Austin was that bigots get their comeuppance, and in MMA, that means they get knocked out.

Opening the main card was Tony Kelley (not a bad position for someone who was supposedly ‘canceled’) and rising prospect Adrian Yanez. Delivering a finish for himself, his home state, the Moody Center crowd, and the country of Brazil, Yanez showed his class, and the gulf in it between himself and Kelley.

It took just minutes to see which of the two was sharper and slicker with their movement. And after surviving one hairy moment, Kelley met his end to the clearly superior Yanez less than four minutes into the opening round.

The ferocious KO brought a rowdy reaction from the crowd, as well as a big response from all corners of social media.

As it turns out Kerry Hatley might not be the biggest Kelley fan either. The ref decided against stepping in as the dazed 35-year-old sat clueless on the ground, resulting in three more shots that ensured Kelley went all the way to sleep.

Hatley also gave him an inadvertent kick to the head as he leapt over him in what was certainly a messy stoppage. Although you’d be hard-pressed to find too many complaints about it online.

I think most acknowledged that Yanez had earned a better opponent with his impressive run, but it seems many were okay with this matchup so that, well, what happened could happen…

With that out the way, though, it’s time for Yanez to fight a more notable name and begin facing bantamweights with numbers next to their names.

Positive – Main Card Violence Continues

When the prelims deliver such an entertaining set of fights, the main card often struggles to reach the same heights. At UFC Austin, that wasn’t the case.

After Adrian Yanez set the tone, the rest of the main card fighters took up the mantle and matched the efforts of their predecessors.

The first to do so was Gregory Rodrigues, whose fists did a surreal amount of damage to Julian Marquez. From the moment he rocked “The Cuban Missile Crisis,” the Brazilian smelt blood and went to work, consistently knocking down and wobbling Marquez. Eventually, a stiff right hand penetrated the Missouri native’s defense and ended his night.

After “Robocop” added a seventh finish of the night, Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze delivered their own dose of violence, but in the form of a technical and enthralling three-round battle. In the boxer vs. kickboxer contest, it was the former who came out victorious, with Ismagulov extending his win streak to 16.

The action certainly wasn’t done there.

Next up to have his Austin moment was Joaquin Buckley, who put in a striking clinic en route to a TKO victory in-between rounds two and three. The doctor’s stoppage came when it was clear that Albert Duraev couldn’t see out of a massively swollen left eye.

Giving us another look on the violence front was Kevin Holland in the co-main. Giving further evidence that his decision to drop to welterweight was a good one, “Trailblazer” moved closer to the 170-pound top 15 by snapping the three-fight win streak of Tim Means.

After showing his slick striking game on the feet, Holland capitalized on an opportunity to lock in his second UFC submission, forcing Means to tap-out to a tight D’Arce choke in the second round.

A submission was perhaps the only thing left on our UFC Austin bingo cards heading into the top-two bouts on the card. That was quickly rectified courtesy of Holland’s handiwork.

Positive – A FW Title Contender Emerges

Not many sentences get MMA fans as excited as, “ranked featherweights fighting.” The UFC Austin headliner showed why.

For five rounds, Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett went toe-to-toe, with both looking to secure their place opposite the Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 3 victor. In the end, after a remarkably-close fight, it was the #7-ranked contender who secured his ascension into the top five and into the championship conversation via split decision.

With Brian Ortega, who has lost to both Holloway and Volkanovski, and Yair Rodriguez, who fell to “Blessed” last November, set to collide next month, it seems that Emmett represents the kind of fresh blood that the champion will be looking for, whoever that may be after UFC 276.

At 37 years old, UFC Austin was a crucial moment for Emmett’s title charge. And against one of the division’s best, the 145-pound powerhouse shone bright.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Austin?

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