Tuesday, August 16, 2022

6 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC Vegas 57

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned for another set of exciting fights, with a number of talented athletes taking to the Octagon for UFC Vegas 57.

After two blockbuster events on the road in Singapore and Austin, Texas, the sport’s premier promotion headed back to the lowkey APEX environment for one final stop off before International Fight Week, UFC gold, and pay-per-view fever returns to Las Vegas this coming weekend.

The card represented one that didn’t necessarily entice the casual fans but built a lot of intrigue and anticipation among the hardcores. While the co-main event saw the incredibly promising Shavkat Rakhmonov face his toughest test to date in the form of perennial contender Neil Magny, the main event saw two similarly touted lightweights collide, with both Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot looking to make the most of the headline spotlight.

With the likes of Thiago Moisés, Umar Nurmagomedov, Chris Curtis, Carlos Ulberg, Raulian Paiva, and Vanessa Demopoulos also in action, the card looked set to be another under-the-radar one likely to produce some bangers.

But did it deliver in that way? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 57.

Positive – Finally…

For a while, color commentators showing a clear lack of understanding for the scoring criteria has been an ever-present on UFC cards.

The likes of Michael Bisping, Daniel Cormier, and Dominick Cruz have spouted some questionable takes, much of which centered around the idea that takedowns and control without effective offense could somehow sway a round in one fighter’s favor.

Well, fear not, we may have endured our last dose of facepalm-worthy commentary scores.

Last month, Bisping revealed that those whose voices grace our ears every Saturday would be attending a seminar with judges and referees in order to better understand what goes into scoring a fight.

Hallelujah.

It didn’t take long for the benefit of said seminar to pay dividends, with both Bisping and Paul Felder correctly mentioning the importance of damage and effective offense over control during the first fight of the night between Jinh Yu Frey and Vanessa Demopoulos.

It does, however, beg the question: why did it take so long?

I’m no expert on the inner workings of MMA commentary, but it seems obvious that those calling the action for the audience should have a working understanding of how what they’re describing is being scored. It seems the failure to do so has contributed to some consensus views on ‘robberies’ on recent cards.

Hopefully moving forward, the work of the commentary team will go some way to fixing the lack of understanding among many in the fanbase.

Bisping and Felder have passed the test, over to you Cruz and Cormier…

Positive – Smooth Transitions

While the strawweight bout between Demopoulos and Frey provided a steady opener, the second fight of the night saw bantamweight prospect Mario Bautista turn things up a notch.

Bautista, who entered UFC Vegas 57 with a 3-2 promotional slate, faced a tough test in the form of veteran Brian Kelleher. Having fallen short in previous outings against Cory Sandhagen and Trevin Jones, the 28-year-old was hoping to make it third time lucky in terms of adding a notable name to his résumé.

And courtesy of a slick submission, he ensured it was just that.

Midway through the opening round, Bautista took the fight to the ground with a sharp trip. From there, the Nevada native beautifully transitioned to mount, before locking in a tight rear-naked choke as Kelleher gave up his back.

A high-quality submission to open the finishing proceedings for the night was certainly a positive.

Positive – Ulberg Sets The Stage For CKB Stars

While the attention may be on reigning UFC champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski, as well as ranked lightweight Brad Riddell, next weekend at UFC 276, another of the trio’s City Kickboxing teammates got the ball rolling for the Oceanic team at UFC Vegas 57 ahead of International Fight Week.

Following an emphatic performance on DWCS in 2020, which saw him carve a path to the Octagon with a first-round KO against Bruno Oliveira, Ulberg suffered his first professional defeat in a memorable Fight of the Night war with Kennedy Nzechukwu. While he ultimately fell to a KO punch, the nature of the fight suggested that either man could have been slept at any point.

That couldn’t have been further from the case in his rebound performance. In a technically sound and methodical display at UFC 271 in February, “Black Jag” cruised to victory over the now-released Fabio Cherant.

On Saturday, Ulberg made it back-to-back with perhaps the most impressive display of his career to date. While the early goings saw a calm and composed Ulberg find his range and jab away at Tafon Nchukwi, the New Zealander didn’t need all of the 15 minutes this time. In fact, he didn’t even need two.

Having done his research on his Cameroonian opponent’s tendency to parry with his right hand, Ulberg went right around it with a brutal left hook. When that wobbled Nchukwi, “Black Jag” put his finishing instincts on full display.

Over to you Adesanya, Volkanovski, and Riddell…

Positive – A Nurmagomedov Shutout

It’s hard to believe that prior to UFC Vegas 57, some were criticizing the lopsided odds and suggesting that Umar Nurmagomedov’s matchup with Nate Maness was a lot more competitive than they made out.

While on paper, that wasn’t an outlandish claim, it ultimately couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Performing exactly as you’d expect a -1100 favorite to, Nurmagomedov put a beating on Maness for the duration of three rounds. After a tentative start on the feet, the American’s decision to close range proved to be fatal.

After Maness was taken down and controlled for the final minutes of the opener, Nurmagomedov turned up the heat in the second and third, landing some notable ground-and-pound, while receiving little resistance in return.

Even the first half of the final frame, which took place in Maness’ wheelhouse, saw the Dagestani get the better of the exchanges, even landing a brutal push kick at one point.

Perhaps the only negative for Nurmagomedov was that he couldn’t find a finish, securing a unanimous decision verdict instead. But against a previously 14-1 opponent who entered the fight on a four-fight win streak and having built a perfect 3-0 UFC record, that’s no downer on what was a dominant performance.

The bantamweight division is already stacked throughout, but it looks set to become even stronger as the cousin of Khabib Nurmagomedov rises towards contention.

Negative – Heavyweights Doing Heavyweight Things

So this fight happened.

While UFC Vegas 57 won’t be a contender in any event of the year discussions, it was an overall solid card with some memorable scraps. But perhaps the one really forgettable fight came in the slot prior to the main and co-main events.

I’m not sure what it’ll take for the UFC to learn not to place these kind of heavyweight fights on the main card. This one saw Josh Parisian square off with Alan Baudot, and while the pair threw heavy leather at the start, from there, it descended into a classic tale of sloppy and fatigued big men battling to do anything effective.

Having failed to make the most of a knockdown and draining his gas tank, Baudot had nothing left in the second, even to the point where he couldn’t defend against ground strikes from a Parisian who was also practically out of all energy.

In the end, Mark Smith called a stop to the contest as Parisian rained down what looked to be some tired and powerless strikes. Heavyweight MMA can often be exciting and sees some entertaining names scrap inside the Octagon, including Tai Tuivasa, as well as highly technical and skillful fighters like Ciryl Gane.

Unfortunately, none of the above applied here. Winner by fatigue, Parisian.

Positive – 16 For 16

There is officially a new elite contender in town at 170 pounds.

While most of the prospect hype at welterweight has been directed towards the charge of Khamzat Chimaev, the Chechen-born Swede has not been alone in his rapid surge up the ladder. His fellow prospect from across the Atlantic, Shavkat Rakhmonov, has stuck close behind.

While “Borz” recorded three wins before dispatching first ranked opponent Li Jingliang, Rakhmonov’s fourth outing not only netted him a ranked name, but top-10 contender Neil Magny.

In the UFC Vegas 57 co-main event, “Nomad” passed his stiffest test to date with flying colors, ensuring he maintained his 100% finishing rate in professional MMA by submitting “The Haitian Sensation” via guillotine with seconds left of the second round.

At 16-0 with 16 finishes, and given that he’s training alongside the likes of Gilbert Burns and Michael Chandler at Sanford MMA, there doesn’t seem to be a ceiling in sight for the Kazakhstani, who will likely find himself inside the divisional top 10 come this week’s update.

Whether it’s Stephen Thompson, Sean Brady, or another elite welterweight, the former M-1 Global champion will no doubt have the chance to move to within touching distance of a title shot next time out, and perhaps a much-anticipated collision with Chimaev.

Positive – Making The Most Of The Spotlight

Isn’t it amazing what happens when talented and hungry up-and-comers are rewarded for their hard work with a main event spot?

The UFC often favors former champions like Holly Holm and Miesha Tate or big-hitting heavyweights like Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik for fight night headliners. But when rising contenders like Mateusz Gamrot and Arman Tsarukyan deliver five-round battles like they did on Saturday, why aren’t we doing this more?

In terms of a stylistic matchup, this clash was near-perfect. From fast and furious scrambles to heavy exchanges on the feet, the Russian-Armenian and the Pole went toe-to-toe for 25 minutes, with both men looking to establish themselves as the leading prospect at 155 pounds.

Ultimately, it was clear at the final horn that both men had enhanced their reputations and signaled themselves as future title contenders.

And the result, a unanimous decision verdict in favor of Gamrot, was by no means a robbery, but I did disagree with it. Largely owing to his brutal body work, the first two rounds went Tsarukyan’s way for me, with the second being the closer of the two.

In the third, Tsarukyan continued with his kicking game and landed a notable right hand early. Midway through, Gamrot established grappling control for the first time in the fight. Aside from a few knees to the thigh, the Polish 31-year-old didn’t mange to offload any effective offense before Tsarukyan broke free. From there, the 25-year-old landed another memorable strike in the form of a spinning back kick to the chest.

Having finished the round with another clean roundhouse kick to Gamrot’s midsection, the third appeared pretty simple to score in my mind. Tsarukyan’s shots were significantly more impactful and the Pole’s control time didn’t lead to anything effective.

In the fourth, Gamrot opened proceedings with a flush right hand, but quickly fell to a spinning backfist. While there’s a chance it was somewhat down to balance having thrown a kick, the impact and reaction made it clear it was one of the most impactful shots of the night.

Tsarukyan continued to fare better on the feet, landing another brutal body kick. The Pole did pursue a rear-naked choke on the ground, but the impact of Tsarukyan’s shots led me to believe he was four rounds up heading into the fifth, albeit with two close frames.

The fifth was Gamrot’s best round, but I was fairly confident that Tsarukyan would get the nod, which wasn’t the case. I can see a Gamrot win, with rounds two, four, and five having the potential to go either way. However, given that all three judges gave the second to Tsarukyan, I was surprised that the same score wasn’t replicated in the third for a Tsarukyan win.

Negative – No Prelim Love?

Whoever gets the bonuses, good for them. It’s always great to see a fighter walk away with an extra $50,000. However, one choice seemed a bizarre one at UFC Vegas 57.

Parisian mounted an impressive comeback to defeat Baudot, but it was impressive down to his ability to recover from a knockdown, less so due to the opposition. The Frenchman had nothing left in the second round and had taken the term ‘gassed’ to a new level.

To see the likes of Carlos Ulberg, Mario Bautista, and Cody Durden, all of whom delivered notable first-round finishes, miss out on a bonus was a shame, especially when one went to Parisian for essentially winning a battle of fatigue.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 57?

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