Sunday, June 26, 2022

8 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC Vegas 56

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned from a short break to bring fans UFC Vegas 56, live from the Apex facility in Nevada.

For Americans in the pacific time zone, the card represented some breakfast entertainment, while eastern fans were treated to some afternoon viewing. For Europeans, the event marked a rare evening experience, with the main card getting underway at 9 PM for those in the UK, some six hours earlier than the Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakić-headlined UFC Vegas 54 last month.

While the Poles and Austrians were left struggling to stay awake in May, the Russians had some prime time viewing for two of their countries’ best. As well as featherweight prospect Movsar Evloev battling top-10 contender Dan Ige in the co-main event, the top spot was occupied by former M-1 Global and Bellator champion Alexander Volkov, whose contest with knockout artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik marked his seventh UFC main event.

With names like Mike Trizano, Ode’ Osbourne, Alonzo Menifield, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Jeff Molina also in action, the card promised to send us into another pay-per-view week off the back of some solid fights.

So, did it deliver? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 56.

Negative – Artur Sadkov, I Mean Artur Shadkov, I Mean Arthur Shadakov, I Mean Askar Mozharov…

Where to start with this one?

I’m not sure there’s been a more fascinating, bizarre, and disappointing storyline ahead of a fighter’s debut in the UFC. There’s certainly not been one that’s surrounded such a level of fraud and attempted deception of the sport’s record keepers, not to this extent, at least.

Whatever the result had been at UFC Vegas 56, the story of Askar Mozharov’s ever-changing record, and the unraveling of him and his team’s lies, cemented his arrival in the Octagon as one of the night’s negatives.

At the start of fight week, the Ukrainian middleweight boasted a 25-7 record. A few days later, he was 21-12. Quite the change, huh? Well, by the weigh-ins, Mozharov was 19-12. I half-expected him to go negative by the time Joe Martinez introduced him inside the Apex.

So, how did we get there? A long history of deceit and cover-ups, and what has seemingly been a long-standing effort to manipulate his record.

For a detailed description of how deep Mozharov’s lies have run, Sherdog’s Jay Pettry provided an exposé that went through all the attempts of the 27-year-old’s team to alter his fight history, which ranged from three prior names used to write off defeats (Artur Sadkov, Artur Shadkov and Arthur Shadakov) to the creation of fake posters designed to convince Sherdog that the Ukrainian couldn’t possibly have lost because he didn’t even fight at the events in question.

Perhaps the highlight of the revelations was this email sent to them:

”Hello Sir,
In my tournament they added a fight that was not there. Please clean.
Marcelo Tenorio – Askar Mozharov
This battle was not, please delete.
Sincerely, Full Metal Dojo promoter, Jormur Bankonkong.”

Mozharov and his team evidently believed that Sherdog’s team is comprised of idiots, which it certainly is not. Add in the extremely suspect nature of some of Mozharov’s wins, which have left many suggesting that even the proven results on his slate were fixed, and the situation is a messy one.

Four different names, six non-existent wins, five missing losses. That’s a negative.

Given the controversy, it wouldn’t be surprising if Saturday remains his one and only UFC appearance. If that’s the case, perhaps he can go back to winning fights via suspicious leg kicks and questionable corner stoppages…

Positive – A Contender Emerges

At UFC Vegas 56, it was six in a row for the sixth-youngest fighter on the roster, Erin Blanchfield.

The 23-year-old’s potential has long been clear, but was on full display earlier this year against fellow prospect Miranda Maverick, whom “Cold Blooded” dominated en route to a third-round TKO.

On Saturday, Blanchfield entered the card-opener against JJ Aldrich as a huge favorite, but the bout wasn’t without adversity for her. The 29-year-old had success in the opening round, withstood Blanchfield’s wrestling attempts, and landed two takedowns of her own.

However, midway through the second round, the #15-ranked women’s flyweight capitalized on a loss of balance for her opponent, latching onto Aldrich’s neck and locking in a standing rear-naked choke. The high-elbow hold forced the tap, and Blanchfield extended her perfect promotional slate.

At such a young age and having proven that she can overcome some struggles and make the most of any opportunity presented to her, it really seems like the sky is the limit for Blanchfield. Should her call to face the victor of Jessica Eye vs. Maycee Barber be granted, the rising 125lber will have the chance to truly cement herself as a legitimate contender to the title.

Negative – How Many Warnings!?

I’m in disbelief to be writing this, in all honesty.

If the welterweight fight between Andreas Michailidis and Rinat Fakhretdinov taught other fighters anything, it’s cheat. Aside from integrity, why the hell wouldn’t you? Apparently, there’s no consequence for it, at least not when Mark Smith is the third man in the Octagon.

At UFC Vegas 55 two weeks go, Smith brought us a negative in the form of an actual decision to reward a fence grab. When Felipe Colares grabbed the cage to avoid being taken into a compromising position by Chase Hooper, the referee’s conclusion was that he should stand the pair up — the outcome that Colares was hoping to bring by grabbing the cage.

In the first round of Saturday’s second fight, Smith dished out no punishment for repeated fence grabs. By repeated, I mean almost double figures. At the very least, there were five warnings from Smith.

I said it after the Hooper vs. Colares fight, I think Smith is a great ref, by and large. But if five fence grabs don’t lead to a punishment, what does?

Positive – A Newcomer Impresses

Who doesn’t love a hyped debutant delivering in their first outing on MMA’s biggest stage? At UFC Vegas 56, we saw that courtesy of Rinat Fakhretdinov.

The debut of “Gladiator” has been a long time coming. The Russian earned a contract with a memorable knockout of Eric Spicely at UAE Warriors 15 last January. With the UFC president in attendance to film an episode of Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight, the brutal (and quick) right hand was always going to result in an invite to the Octagon.

And Fakhretdinov made the most of the opportunity, extending his professional record to 19-1 and his active win streak to 17 with a dominant win against Andreas Michailidis. Given the Greek’s wrestling credentials, to see him rag-dolled and viciously bust open on the ground was certainly telling of his Russian foe’s ability.

The welterweight takeaway from UFC Vegas 56 was that Fakhretdinov is a name to watch and could be a massive problem in the division.

Negative – 30-27 Molina?

When a fighter walks away after hearing the final scorecard of a split decision, I think it says all we need to know about which way it should have gone.

In one of the more notable bouts on the card, Jeff Molina and Zhalgas Zhumagulov met in a flyweight contest. The pair went back and forth throughout what was undoubtedly a close fight. For me, the Kazakh took the opening two rounds for a 29-28, but I’d understand a 29-28 scorecard in favor of Molina.

But 30-27? I’m not sure. The second round was close up until a hard shot from Zhumagulov, which clearly rocked Molina. With that easily being the most effective piece of offense of what was a close round beforehand, it seemed pretty clear which direction that should have gone.

Judging has been a hot topic since the last event, with many fans branding Holly Holm’s loss to Ketlen Vieira a “robbery,” despite there being nothing wrong with the verdict. It’ll be interesting to see if this 30-27 scorecard receives the same level of scrutiny given that it went in favor of a fan favorite.

Or, maybe I’ll rewatch it and take a different view. Either way, no robbery, but slightly confusing for me.

Positive – Holy Power…

In one of the highlights of the prelims, Tony Gravely treated us to a knockout that truly was out of nowhere, with the stoppage coming at the expense of Johnny Muñoz.

It reminded me of Lerone Murphy’s victory over Makwan Amirkhani last October at UFC 267. But while on that occasion, the Finnish featherweight’s level change met a vicious knee, “Kid Kvenbo” ducked into a short uppercut on Saturday night.

It was one of those KOs that left you wondering what happened. But upon the inspection of a replay, it became clear: some immense power had been generated. Gravely threw an uppercut from such a short distance that it’s remarkable it had the power to sleep Muñoz.

A finish like that has to go down as one of the night’s positives.

Positive – Kowalkiewicz Is Back

In the words of Shaggy, oh C(K)arolina!

At UFC Vegas 56, Karolina Kowalkiewicz was a woman on a mission. That mission was to snap a five-fight losing skid and record her first victory since 2018. How did she accomplish it? By beating the same woman she outpointed at UFC 223, Felice Herrig.

The pair went at it early, with both landing some clean blows. But it was the Polish veteran who looked the slicker of the two, seemingly connecting with the better shots in each exchange, both when leading the dance and when countering.

That trend continued in round two, and when the fight hit the ground, Kowalkiewicz turned up the heat. After coming up short in one tight rear-naked choke attempt, the former title challenger rained down some vicious ground-and-pound, before making it second-time lucky with the RNC and forcing the tap with just less than a minute of the frame remaining.

Emotions were high on both sides, with Kowalkiewicz celebrating a rebound performance and Herrig reflecting on what was her last fight in mixed martial arts. While seeing “Lil Bulldog” hang up her gloves after a tough defeat was a shame, witnessing the “Polish Princess” bounce back was a positive.

Positive – No Contesting That One

If Askar Mozharov’s fraudulent attempts to manipulate his record pre-UFC was a negative heading into this event, it’s only right that further exposing his career goes down as a positive.

Fighting with the banners of Tapology and Sherdog on his back, Alonzo Menifield dominated the Ukrainian pillar to post. Having seen Mozharov’s takedown defense, or lack of, early on, it was perhaps clear how the fight would play out.

And before the end of the first round, it was over. After a brief spell back on the feet, a wild Mozharov swung himself into another double leg, and this time it would prove to be the last required takedown. After securing the crucifix position, Menifield forced a stoppage with some brutal elbows.

In his post-fight interview, an agitated “Atomic” admitted to being pissed off that his Ukrainian foe had “three records.” You’re certainly not alone in that respect Alonzo…

Positive – The Jamaican Sensation

Two first-round finishes to open the main card? Yes please.

After Menifield’s hellbows, flyweight contender Ode’ Osbourne kept the violence going at UFC Vegas 56, brutally knocking Zarrukh Adashev out in what was the sixth fastest knockout at flyweight (1:01).

There’s something especially grimace-inducing about seeing a fighter slept on the feet, coming to for some brief defense, before being ground-and-pounded to sleep again. Unfortunately for Adashev, that was how the night went for him.

At 4-4 in professional MMA and with three defeats in four UFC outings, Saturday could well mark the end of the road for “The Lion.” But for Osbourne, the victory represented his second straight since he was finished by Manel “Starboy” Kape last August.

His post-fight callout of fellow UFC Vegas 56-victor Jeff Molina was answered pretty quickly, so perhaps that bout will be made for a few months’ time.

Positive – Featherweights Go To Work

After debutant Karine Silva added a third first-round finish, what was the main card needing? A banger. We were given that in spades, first by featherweights Mike Trizano and Lucas Almeida.

Towards the end of the first round, it looked like a bust-open and dazed Almeida was on his way to an unsuccessful debut after being dropped by a picture-perfect check left hook. But after he fired back with a knockdown of his own in the second, it was all to play for heading into the final frame.

A deep, deep cut on the forehead of “The Lone Wolf” courtesy of an accidental headbutt had also turned the momentum in favor of the newcomer. That was evident in the final round when Almeida spun Trizano around and to the ground with a clean shot, following up with some ground-and-pound for the stoppage.

Having made an impact on Dana White’s Contender Series and earned his shot with another regional title defense, the São Paulo native has well and truly established his name in the Octagon.

A great debut and a great fight. That’s a point for the positives.

Not to be outdone, co-main eventers Movsar Evloev and Dan Ige threw bombs from the very first second. Midway through the first round, the Russian delivered a move that was easily the most impressive of the night, connecting with a beautiful counter jumping knee as “50K” leapt into range.

The fact that Ige stayed on his feet, by the way, was remarkable. There’s a reason that he’s yet to be finished as a professional and has developed a reputation for having one of the strongest chins at 145 pounds.

If Evloev’s potential needed imagery, the aesthetic of top-10 contender Ige‘s battered and bruised face after one round with the Russian did the job.

The second frame followed the same pattern, with the former M-1 Global champion showing incredible movement in every exchange before exploding with a flying knee yet again. Evloev’s relentless ground-and-pound after taking the fight down towards the end of the round showed another element of his versatile arsenal.

Proceedings didn’t alter in the final stanza, with Ige remaining frustrated by Evloev’s immense ability to dictate the fight in all realms. With the nod from every judge, the Sunzha native will find himself inside the top 10 come the next rankings update, while “50K, now on a three-fight skid, will look to rebound further down the 145-pound ladder.

I think we’re looking at a future UFC champion, folks.

Positive – “Drago” Does It Again

Alexander Volkov never fails to maintain his position towards the top of the heavyweight division. The Russian has only ever lost consecutive fights on one occasion in his 45-fight career, which came courtesy of Tony Johnson and Cheick Kongo under the Bellator banner.

Volkov avoided replicating that skid yet again in the UFC on Saturday by finishing knockout artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik on the feet, marking a quick rebound following his submission loss to Tom Aspinall in London earlier this year.

The Surinamese contender protested the stoppage, but there’s little for him to complain about. Referee Herb Dean gave him a chance after the first collapse against the cage, but rightly jumped in following the second. Just because Rozenstruik was able to walk away wobbled following the stoppage and regain his composure, doesn’t mean he was in the fight at the time Dean stepped in.

I was wrong about this main event, not in the sense that it had little meaning for the context of the division, but in that it only had two potential outcomes. I was fully expecting either a slow-burning Volkov win on the scorecards, or a KO from Rozenstruik against the run of play.

In the end, “Drago” firmly proved me wrong courtesy of a quality right hand.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 56?

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