On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest fight night offering, UFC San Diego.
While pay-per-view fever will shortly be arriving in Salt Lake City, Utah, the sport’s premier promotion had one more stop off on the road to UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards 2. And in a headliner worthy of a featured PPV spot, consensus bantamweight GOAT and former two-time champion Dominick Cruz looked to continue his surge back towards the top against fan favorite top-five contender Marlon Vera.
And though the rest of the card perhaps lacked the name power of its predecessors and upcoming successors, several exciting figures were in action, including David Onama, Bruno Silva, Angela Hill, and Tyson Nam.
So, did they all come together to put on an entertaining night of fights for the masses? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC San Diego.
Positive – A Murder In San Diego
Yep, that’ll do it.
The second fight of the night had a couple of positives, and the first was the sheer brutality of the finish that brought it to a close. Halfway through the opening round of Josh Quinlan and Jason Witt’s catchweight contest, “The Vanilla Gorilla” was put to sleep in the most emphatic fashion possible.
After Witt rushed in with a jab feint, debutant Quinlan telegraphed the left body kick that was following, throwing a looping left hook as his opponent was off balance. Unconscious from the moment it connected, the Missouri native hit the ground with a thud and took some time to come back to.
In his post-fight interview, Quinlan noted that he and his team had been “loading up the hook” ahead of the fight. Well, consider it locked and bloody loaded.
Perhaps an extra positive here was Quinlan’s ability to hold back the thunderous follow-up shot he looked set to deliver to the unconscious Witt.
I’ve never really brought into the “super necessary” narrative. While I wouldn’t criticize someone for ensuring the job was done — the fight isn’t over until the referee stops it, after all — the idea that there’s not a level of KO that makes it possible to evaluate whether an opponent is done or not is debatable.
While some violence-lovers will enjoy the vicious nature of the extra shots, this is a legitimate sport, and fighters like Quinlan aren’t animals. And in martial arts, which was founded upon the principles of respect and honor (as ONE Championship likes to remind us 16 times a week), I appreciate it when an athlete is willing to protect their opponent in the way that “Bushido” did at UFC San Diego.
And given his nickname, who’d expect anything less than discipline? Well, NSAC maybe…
Positive – Tyson’s Timing
If at first you don’t succeed (with jumping moves), try, try aga… Oh.
After Quinlan landed a crashing left hook that sent Witt’s head back to Kansas City, flyweight Tyson Nam entered the cage and replicated the blow with his right — perhaps sending Ode’ Osbourne’s skull beyond the continental border.
When Nam and Osbourne were matched together, a KO seemed to be the favored choice on the menu, with the pair boasting 18 between them. That ultimately came to fruition, and the pendulum swung to the side of the Hawaiian veteran.
Making his first appearance in well over a year, Nam delivered a display of timing for the ages. Having had a look at Osbourne’s flying knee early in the first round, Nam saw a bonus check coming his way when “The Jamaican Sensation” launched another. After not getting into range, Osbourne returned to ground level with an absolute bomb waiting to welcome him back.
Something about Nam is just so enjoyable to watch, with his technical but explosive striking style always threatening to turn the lights out on his rivals. Osbourne learned that firsthand in San Diego.
Positive – With Authority
Completing a hat-trick of consecutive finishes on the preliminary card, the fairly local Gabriel Benítez thrilled the Californian crowd by sending Charlie Ontiveros to an 0-3 UFC record — and in some style.
In 32 fights, Benítez has only gone to the scorecards eight times, whilst Ontiveros has given the judges work on four occasions in 20 professional outings. In case the math wasn’t obvious, that means a decision was always unlikely.
As many had predicted, the pair didn’t even reach the first horn, with “Moggly” putting a rapid stop to Ontiveros’ early success. After getting rocked on the feet, “The American Bad Boy” back-pedaled to the cage wall, which didn’t prove to be a safe haven for him. His Mexican foe locked his hands into a double leg before lifting and slamming him down with authority.
After moving into mount, the ground-and-pound finish was academic, and Benítez, who was fighting relatively close to his home of Tijuana, got his moment in front of a supportive crowd.
Negative – Calvillo’s Skid Continues
Entering UFC 255 in 2020, Cynthia Calvillo was 9-1-1 in professional MMA. Aside from a loss to current strawweight queen Carla Esparza, the Californian had delivered impressive performances against a number of top names, defeating Joanna Wood and Jessica Eye, and earning a majority draw against Marina Rodriguez.
Fast forward two years and she’s on a four-fight skid. How did we get here? A decision loss to #1-ranked contender Katlyn Chookagian wasn’t the end of the world, but two convincing TKO setbacks against Jéssica Andrade and Andrea Lee, the second of which came via a corner stoppage, displayed a Calvillo who was out of form and shot of confidence.
At UFC San Diego, she was met with UFC flyweight debutant Nina Nunes, and across three rounds, there certainly wasn’t the urgency you’d expect from a woman at a crossroads in her career.
Before the decision was read, it seemed like Calvillo told Nunes something along the lines of, ‘I didn’t think I could have a war with you’. I may be mistaken, but that’s what I believe I heard. For someone on a three-fight skid to admit they somewhat held back is strange.
Although seeing Nunes go out on a win was good to see, especially with how rare that is, seeing a once-top contender continue to decline was a shame. Another negative was Derek Cleary’s decision to score the fight for Calvillo, but it wasn’t quite outrageous enough to warrant its own point.
Positive – Hill’s Skid Ends
As if by magic, we saw the polar opposite type of display from a fighter on a three-fight skid just two bouts after Calvillo’s latest setback.
After decision defeats to Tecia Torres, Amanda Lemos, and Virna Jandiroba, Angela Hill entered UFC San Diego with one win in her last six. But even in defeat, “Overkill” usually leaves everything in the cage, and having done so again on Saturday, she edged a tight decision against Loopy Godinez.
The fight itself was one of the night’s positives, with both women going toe-to-toe for 15 minutes. Having seen some great finishes, a three-round barnburner was a nice change of pace. While it was a close contest, the Mexican certainly appeared to compromise her own efforts by refusing to take the bout to her own wheelhouse.
The other positive from this strawweight collision was the urgency and intent Hill showed. She arrived in the Octagon with a return to the win column in mind, and she earned exactly that.
Negative – “Blindado” No Shows
Make no mistake, the fact that Gerald Meerchaert snatched another neck and secured another underdog triumph was great to see. But Bruno Silva certainly didn’t show up as expected.
After joining the UFC in 2021, former M-1 middleweight champion Silva quickly enhanced his reputation as a must-see fighter by adding knockouts of Wellington Turman, Andrew Sanchez, and Jordan Wright to a streak that included nothing but finishes.
While that seven-fight run of form came to an end against upcoming title challenger Alex Pereira, “Blindado” delivered a strong performance and made the fight competitive enough that it’s hard to imagine it getting much attention in the build-up to UFC 281.
With that in mind, then, most were understandably expecting big things from the Brazilian in the UFC San Diego main card opener. But not only was he dropped and submitted in the final round, but that finish came with him down two frames and visibly fatigued despite not a lot of output.
While another “GM3” submission success was impressive, it was hard not to be disappointed at his opponent’s display.
Positive – A New Queen Of Violence
While I’m not ready to take the ‘eye-gauger’ label away from Priscila Cachoeira just yet, she can temporarily adopt Ariane Lipski’s “Queen of Violence” moniker after what she did to her fellow Brazilian at UFC San Diego.
“Zombie Girl” is certainly not someone to throw down with in round one. If her previous quick finishes hadn’t shown that, her latest did.
After pushing a fast pace against Lipski, the two Brazilians went strike-for-strike. But while Cachoeira dipped her head off the center line and appeared to calculate her chaos, Lipski had somewhat of a ‘sparring a heavy bag’ look to her attacks, which were fairly uniform left, right, left, right shots.
Unfortunately for her, that pattern was interrupted by strikes that had far worse intentions behind them. They sent Lipski to the ground, where an onslaught of ground-and-pound punches forced a stoppage.
The prelims saw a heavy dose of violence, so it was good to see the main card get in on the action.
Positive – Strawweight Strengthens
As expected, the UFC’s 115-pound weight class received the addition of a pair of exciting prospects on Saturday night.
The strawweight division has long been the most enthralling and contender-filled roster on MMA’s biggest stage. While the likes of Casey O’Neill and Natália Silva represent exciting prospects at flyweight, the ages of Yazmin & Iasmin will no doubt draw attention to their futures in the UFC’s lightest division.
At UFC San Diego, debutants Yazmin Jauregui and Iasmin Lucindo made the most of their main card spot, debuting with a bout that saw both women swing hard and fast for the duration. Whatever the result — ultimately a unanimous decision win for the Mexican — neither woman left the Octagon as a loser.
On a personal negative, I’m still getting over the fact that there are UFC fighters younger than me, and by three years? That’s a stinger. Three years ago, I was 20 and hungover in a lecture theater. Lucindo is plying her trade on the sport’s biggest stage, and to do so with the composure and confidence she had deserves immense credit — the same can be said for the victorious Jauregui.
Has a double-debut fight ever delivered like that?
Positive – A FOTY Contender
The UFC San Diego card had delivered just about everything up to the main and co-main events, so why not add a Fight of the Year contender to the mix?
We got exactly that courtesy of David Onama and Nate Landwehr. In the first round, “The Train” looked on the brink of defeat after being emphatically knocked down. But doing his best ‘call an ambulance, but not for me’ impression, the Tennessee native turned the tables in rounds two and three.
And with perhaps a sure-fire way to get the crowd on side, Landwehr wasn’t letting advantageous grappling positions stall the action, instead bringing the fight back to the feet for some more blockbuster exchanges.
Landwehr’s resurgence from flash KO to decision win was miraculous but was almost equaled by Onama’s heart and grit. The Ugandan looked down and out on the stool prior to the final round but came out with shots of his own and a chin that wasn’t giving up.
When it comes to edge of seat action, not much can top the scrap Landwehr and Onama brought to the Octagon.
Positive – Chito Train Rolls On
This one had Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson vibes to it. At the start of that UFC 274 clash, “El Cucuy” looked in form, only to be face-planted with a truly devastating head-kick KO.
Well, lightning has struck twice in legendsville.
In the UFC San Diego headliner, Cruz looked to be turning back the clock. But while the tough-to-crack puzzle that is his movement was causing Vera trouble through three rounds, the former champion’s periods of control on the feet were frequently interrupted by knockdowns.
While “The Dominator” recovered from three of them, the fourth — courtesy of a vicious head kick — ensured that there was to be no fast comeback.
Seeing a legend knocked out like that is never an ideal watch, but when it’s at the hands of a rising star who may have just secured a title shot, it has to be a positive, especially when it added the cherry to a San Diego cake that had already delivered in spades.
What were your positives and negatives from UFC San Diego?