Friday, August 19, 2022

5 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC Vegas 58

It was a battle of Rafaels on Saturday night as the MMA leader brought us action from the Octagon at UFC Vegas 58.

After a blockbuster International Fight Week-held pay-per-view last weekend, the UFC remained in Las Vegas for its latest Fight Night offering but scaled back the festivities to the tight surroundings of the Apex facility.

Headlining the 11-fight card were lightweight contenders Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev. While the Brazilian, a former champion in the division, was looking to ride the momentum from his five-round victory over Renato Moicano, the rising Azerbaijani was targeting another step up the 155-pound ladder having finished Brad Riddell last time out.

With hot middleweight prospects Armen Petrosyan and Caio Borralho featuring in the co-main event, as well as lightweight vet Michael Johnson, light heavyweight slinger Kennedy Nzechukwu, and promising featherweight David Onama throwing down, the event showed promise beforehand.

But did it deliver as another classic sleeper card? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 58.

Negative – No Nina

I’d be beating a dead horse if I were to bring up the host of fight-day cancellations we’ve had in recent times — but there’s been quite a few…

The latest came just hours before UFC Vegas 58 when Nina Nunes vs. Cynthia Calvillo fell off the card at late notice. Having admitted that she came back too soon after pregnancy to face Mackenzie Dern last April, Nunes was looking to notch her first win since 2018, back when she was regarded as a top contender.

Calvillo, meanwhile, was hoping for a similar return to the win column. Since a main-event victory over Jessica Eye in 2020, the 34-year-old has lost three straight, most recently via corner stoppage against Andrea Lee.

Early on during Saturday’s broadcast, it was announced that the pair’s clash had been re-booked for San Diego next month, so perhaps the opportunity to fight on a more prominent card in a fan-filled arena will turn out to be a positive. But for now, at least, after going through camps and both making weight, this fight-day postponement was a downer.

Positive – Leading BW Prospects Emerge

In the first fight of the night, two of the biggest prospects at bantamweight collided. While Ronnie Lawrence had moved to 8-1 with back-to-back UFC wins after earning a contract on DWCS, Saidyokub Kakhramonov was featuring in his sophomore Octagon appearance having debuted with a submission victory over Trevin Jones last August.

Ultimately, it was the Uzbekistani who left the cage with his unblemished UFC slate in tact, and it wasn’t even close.

In an utterly one-sided affair, Kakhramonov landed takedowns at will and controlled over two thirds of the fight, utilizing it to deal damage. And after earning three 30-27 nods on the scorecards, the 26-year-old has firmly made a statement in the division and established himself as a name to watch.

A hot prospect furthering their stock in one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC? That’s a positive.

And it wasn’t a singular dose of top bantamweight prospects delivering.

On the main card, Said Nurmagomedov extended his professional record to 16-2 and UFC win streak to three with a solid display against Douglas Silva de Andrade. From his slick and smooth movement to his fast and sharp kicks, the Dagestani singled himself out as one of the biggest threats outside the bantamweight top 15.

It’s hard to argue against the idea that the 135-pound weight class is the deepest division in the UFC.

Positive – Brutal Brundage

There was no better way to spark excitement back up following a relatively slow-moving bout between Antonina Shevchenko and Cortney Casey than this.

In the featured prelim, Cody Brundage looked to ride the momentum from his first-round submission win against Dalcha Lungiambula last September. He did exactly that by stopping TUF 29 competitor Tresean Gore in less than four minutes.

While it may be Gore who boasts the moniker “Mr. Vicious,” he wasn’t the one living up to that description on Saturday. Instead, Brundage delivered a truly out-of-nowhere knockout, first sending Gore down with a right hook before rendering him unconscious again with some short and sharp ground-and-pound shots.

At just 28 years old and with back-to-back first-round finishes, Brundage is another prospect to keep an eye on.

Positive – Lightweights Deliver As Advertised

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Michael Johnson and Jamie Mullarkey brought us the night’s best entertainment at UFC Vegas 58. There was one shock, however, and that was the fact that their war went the distance.

In the main-card opener, the two scrappers left everything in the Octagon. After landing a vicious combination early, it looked like Johnson was seconds away from making it back-to-back wins for the first time since 2018. But after recovering, Mullarkey finished strong and clearly had the veteran hurt, even if he wasn’t credited with a knockdown.

The fight continued along a similar path for rounds two and three, with the Australian on top in the second and Johnson fighting back in the third. With that, the scoring came down to a fast and furious opening round. While there was a lot of fury on social media over the result, at first view, I saw no issue with what was a tight first frame being given to Mullarkey.

Either way, the main story here was the memorable three-round battle the pair gifted us. Five years on from his potentially UFC Hall of Fame-worthy clash with Justin Gaethje (if “The Highlight” is to be believed), Johnson is still delivering bangers, and this time, he had another willing dance partner in Mullarkey.

Negative – More Yells Than Punches

After the war between Johnson and Mullarkey, we couldn’t have been given a more polar-opposite fight in the main card’s second offering.

At bantamweight, the unique approach of TUF 29 winner Ricky Turcios met the patient and counter-based style of Tristar Gym’s Aiemann Zahabi. As it turns out, that collision doesn’t equal a particularly exciting outcome.

For all of Turcios’ yells, talking, and kung fu noises, he didn’t do much, quite frankly. After two rounds, he’d landed at just a 20% clip when it came to significant strikes. By the end of the third, that had nearly halved to 11%, with “Pretty” connecting with just 27 of 235 shots thrown.

While the fight wasn’t particularly thrilling, perhaps the main negative here was a lackluster return to action for Turcios, who many had high expectations for following his TUF success.

Positive – Another One

That’s now back-to-back UFC Fight Nights that have concluded with a rising lightweight securing their place in contention. While Mateusz Gamrot successfully did so against Arman Tsarukyan at UFC Vegas 57, this time, it was the turn of Rafael Fiziev.

Against former champion Rafael dos Anjos, Fiziev looked great. Not only did he use his polished striking to outpoint the Brazilian on the feet, but he capped off the breakthrough performance with a memorable finish.

With the result, “Ataman” will likely find himself ascending to #7 in the division come the next update, where blockbuster matchups against the likes of Beneil Dariush, Michael Chandler, and Justin Gaethje could await him.

From there, a shot at gold won’t be too far behind.

Positive – A Great Stoppage

Referees get a lot of criticism, rightfully so in many instances. But when they get it right, it should be praised. In the UFC Vegas 58 main event, Mark Smith got it spot on.

Smith was heading towards a negative following the heavyweight bout between Chase Sherman and Jared Vanderaa. During the fight-ending sequence, he was seemingly awaiting the arrival of the coroner before stepping in to save Vanderaa, who ate three or four unnecessary shots while out on his feet.

But he redeemed himself in the headliner, calling an end to Fiziev’s battle with dos Anjos at the perfect time. After sending the Brazilian to the canvas with a vicious left hand, “Ataman” pounced on the dazed former champ, landing a brutal right as he engaged with the grounded dos Anjos.

I’ll list a few of the utterly ridiculous takes given by some online since the result:

  • “Couple more shots to seal the deal and I have no complaints.” (If you need fighters to go out more than twice to justify a stoppage, that’s a worry.)
  • “Gotta give a vet a second to try to recover.” (A finish is a finish, veteran status or not.)
  • “Eyes are open.” (If that’s the criteria for keeping fights going, God save the fighters…)
  • “I’m all for fighter safety, but that was way too quick in a fight with these stakes.” (So you’re not “all for fighter safety” at all?)

The third point is my personal favorite. I assume the imbecile who gave that take was unhappy with the stoppage in Antônio “Bigfoot” Silva’s latest knockout loss? Screw the fact he’s getting hit and has been stopped in seven of his last eight appearances, his eyes are open! He must be fine!

Smith acted appropriately after the knockdown. “RDA” turned towards Fiziev and showed movement that suggested he could defend. But after the first ground-and-pound shot left him staring at the ceiling, Smith jumped in.

In a legitimate sport that has to find the balance between measured and technical violence and chaos, this was the perfect stoppage.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 58?

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