Thursday, August 18, 2022

9 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC 277

On Saturday night, the MMA leader’s latest pay-per-view offering went down from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Off the heels of back-to-back events on the road in Long Island and London, the promotion headed to “D-Town” to complete the hat-trick ahead of a trip back to Las Vegas’ Apex facility next weekend.

UFC 277 included a host of exciting names on the preliminary card, including Alex Morono and Drew Dober, whose performances were followed by some crucial collisions on the main slate. While the likes of light heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev and heavyweight veteran Derrick Lewis provided some appetizers, all eyes were on the main and co-main events.

In the penultimate bout, previous foes Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France fought for interim gold at flyweight, while Julianna Peña looked to further legitimize her title reign with a second victory over consensus female GOAT Amanda Nunes in the night’s headliner.

But did all of those bouts and storylines culminate in an exciting event for fans? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC 277.

Positive – A Rare Double

What’s better than a backfist? Two simultaneous backfists.

The opening contest between Orion Cosce and Blood Diamond might not have been a barnburner, but it did bring one memorable moment. Towards the end of the second round, the pair engaged in a loose clinch. As they broke, Diamond beautifully ducked a right hand before throwing a ferocious backfist.

While the Zimbabwe native landed, he perhaps wouldn’t have been expecting to eat the exact same shot in return, with “Galaxy” throwing a backfist of his own just as he got to the end of his missed swing.

It wasn’t exactly a momentous moment in the grand scheme of UFC 277, but I enjoy the finer things in MMA, and anything that can make me say “holy sh*t” is deserving of a positive.

Positive – A Relentless Romanian

It took only two fights for the finishing proceedings to begin, and when they did, they did in a violent way.

At UFC 277, Nicolae Negumereanu made it four straight inside the Octagon in some fashion. Having recovered from a debut loss to Saparbek Safarov with wins over Aleksa Camur, Ike Villanueva, and Kennedy Nzechukwu, the Romanian was tasked with ending the 17-fight win streak of recent Dana White‘s Contender Series graduate Ihor Potieria.

Aside from an early second-round burst from the Ukrainian, Negumereanu imposed his will to a dominant effect, first with his wrestling in the opening frame and then with a brutal barrage to close the show on the feet.

From the truly vicious uppercut that sent the mouthpiece flying — and Potieria’s head out the cage and back across the Atlantic — to the knees that forced Kerry Hatley to step in, Negumereanu brought us an impressive stoppage victory early in the night.

Positive – An Impressive HW Debut

Who’d have thought it, unranked heavyweight contests can be entertaining.

During the UFC 277 prelims, Egypt’s first-ever Octagon fighter made his promotional debut. Having accepted the bout on less than two weeks’ notice as an inexperienced fighter, not many were expecting the high-paced action that Hamdy Abdelwahab brought in his fight against Don’Tale Mayes.

The pair threw hard early, and while the pace did slow, we didn’t see a classic tale of early fatigue that we’re used to in lower-level heavyweight bouts. And despite the short-notice opportunity, “The Hammer” stamped his authority on Mayes in the final round to take the decision, which didn’t come without some adversity.

Many expected this bout to go in a similar direction as the June clash between Josh Parisian and Alan Baudot, which showed us the worst side of the heavyweight spectrum. But having turned into an entertaining three-round scrap, Abdelwahab’s debut was an unlikely positive.

Negative – There it is…

While the right man had his hand raised, the heavyweight contest between Mayes and Abdelwahab did bring us our first inevitable “Texas judges are gonna Texas judges” moment.

The sentence, “The Texas Commission has assigned exclusively regional judges with limited experience judging in major promotions to every fight prior to the main card,” is enough to instill fear into any fighter. Thankfully for Abdelwahab, only one of the three judges scoring his debut bout forgot his specs.

It’s quite rare for there to be little to no case for a judge scoring a round in a controversial way. This time, there really was no case.

The third frame was about as clear a round to score as a judge could want, and yet somehow, Seth Fuller saw things differently. Perhaps he was swayed by a questionable Kerry Hatley standup, or perhaps he’s just incompetent, who knows the reasoning? Either way, it wasn’t good.

Positive – Alves Entertains, Dober Delivers

This one is a two-parter.

The first positive from what was always going to be an exciting affair between Drew Dober and Rafael Alves is one singular spell of action that delivered just about everything. After an accidental eye poke drew a brief pause, the pair came out fast and furious to finish the second round.

We had a flying knee, some brutally exchanged hooks, and Alves’ best Muhammad Ali impression, which was topped off with a dose of showmanship from the Brazilian.

With that round-ending sequence in mind, it’s perhaps a shame that we were denied a full final frame. But if a body-shot KO is cutting barnburners short, that’s fine by me.

Everyone loves a knockout, and it’s hard to think of something more vicious than a fighter being sent unconscious by a powerful blow. But there’s something about seeing one crumple to the ground in pain from a flush body shot that is just that extra bit brutal.

Dober, who once again played his part in one of the night’s best fights, landed a powerful left hook to the ribs of Alves — a shot that was enough to end the contest.

Negative – That’s Two

After the featured prelim between Alex Morono and Matthew Semelsberger, Seth Fuller departed the judging spotlight and Kent Basinger took to the stand. And like his counterpart for the Abdelwahab vs. Mayes clash, there was no defense for Basinger’s scorecard.

Once again, this was as clear a 29-28 as we could have. Morono took the first two rounds, while “Semi the Jedi” fought back to take the third, which was a frame that saw him land a notable flying knee.

To still have these scorecards coming in is a constant detriment to events held in the state.

Positive – A Contender Stakes His Claim

While at this point, it’s hard to know how much the apparent leg injury that Anthony Smith suffered affected the way the fight played out, the performance of Magomed Ankalaev was impressive either way.

Although the first round perhaps suggested that Ankalaev might have been on the way to another slow-paced point battle, Smith’s attempt to pull guard in the second culminated in a barrage of ground-and-pound strikes from the Dagestani to bring the main-card opener to a close.

For a division that somewhat stagnated in the immediate aftermath of Jon Jones’ departure, the addition of Ankalaev into title contention bolsters a divisional upper echelon that includes an entertaining and unique champion, a fan-favorite veteran who played his part in a sure-fire FOTY contender last time out, and the man with the “Legendary Polish Power.”

While it appears that Glover Teixeira will get a rematch with Jiří Procházka, the now-18-1 Ankalaev likely won’t be far behind as he looks to reach a championship ambition that many have tipped him to complete.

Positive – Statement Made

When I predicted an Alex Perez win at UFC 277, I did so with the belief that he’d put the pressure on Alexandre Pantoja and force him onto the back foot. I hadn’t considered the possibility of “The Cannibal” bursting out the gates like a madman.

When it comes to fast starts that aren’t Jorge Masvidal kneeing Ben Askren in the head, not much tops Pantoja’s strategy at UFC 277. The Brazilian immediately rushed Perez, forcing a firefight that didn’t benefit the back-pedalling Californian.

Before Perez could take a breath, he was defending a takedown and engaging in a grappling exchange that saw Pantoja jump on his back. From there, the finish was routine for the #4-ranked contender, who’s secured the majority of his submissions via rear-naked choke — although this saw him utilize back control to lock in a nasty neck crank.

For someone who had secured a title shot last year before being forced out, this was the perfect way to remind fans, the UFC brass, and the flyweight division of his talents.

Positive – Pavlovich Power

Many will try and downplay Sergei Pavlovich’s victory over Derrick Lewis with some over-exaggerated claims of “bad stoppage.” But that shouldn’t be the case.

The Russian beat “The Black Beast” at his own game. Though it appeared that using range to avoid Lewis’ power shots would be his best route to victory, Pavlovich waited for the former title challenger to burst forward before unleashing his own fast barrage of strikes, with a right hook and uppercut doing most of the damage.

In terms of Dan Miragliotta’s stoppage? I’m okay with it. It’s important that we look at what happens before a referee decides to step in when forming opinions, not after. A referee can’t predict what will happen. When Miragliotta stepped in, Lewis had just face-planted the canvas. Sure, he quickly bounced back to his feet after, but a ref can only go by what they see.

And perhaps a separate point surrounds how much Lewis’ popularity affects people’s views. Had Pavlovich been stopped like that, would people complain? I’d confidently suggest that most wouldn’t. Was it early? Slightly. But was there good reason to step in? Yes.

So, while some will paint this as a negative, the real talking point here is the continued rise of Pavlovich, who’s thrown his name into a group of contenders that includes Tai Tuivasa, Tom Aspinall, Ciryl Gane, Curtis Blaydes, and Stipe Miocic.

A side note: it seemed windy inappropriate for Rogan to mention the crowd boos as support for the “bad stoppage” narrative considering it was the same crowd that booed Pantoja’s back-take (before cheering the submission that came from it) not 20 minutes earlier.

Positive – The Assassin Baby Has Gold Again

As expected, Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France delivered a sequel worthy of following their entertaining 2019 contest.

After a technical chess match through the best part of three rounds, Moreno landed a grimace-inducing liver kick to leave his New Zealand rival sprawling to the canvas. From there, some fast and hard ground-and-pound did the trick — although we did see a classic tale of Herb Dean practically inserting himself into a three-way grappling exchange en route to stepping in.

After what had been a tough start to the third frame and a tight affair up until the finish, many were questioning how Moreno would adjust to once again defeat a much-evolved Kara-France. The Mexican provided a firm answer.

A fourth fight in any instance would rarely sound appealing, but seeing Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo respectively face-off in the Octagon has done the trick for me. Hopefully the forced animosity we saw earlier this year stays away for their tetralogy.

Positive – The Lioness Roars Again

Contrary to Venezuelan(Vixen) belief, the era of Nunes is not over.

It’s hard to recall a time when a defeated champion has come back and adjusted that well to overcome a difficult stylistic matchup. With her stance switches, Nunes negated Julianna Peña’s jab, which caused her so many issues last December. While she was constantly stunned back then, this time, the Brazilian flipped the script with a check right hook that was there all night.

Through five rounds, Nunes beat, bruised, and bloodied “The Venezuelan Vixen” en route to regaining her bantamweight strap. While the lopsided scorecards are perhaps reflective of the overall swing of the fight, it certainly doesn’t reflect the heart and resistance of the now-former champ, who looked close to locking in multiple submissions off her back and continued pushing forward with crimson mask in tow.

But unfortunately for Peña, the “Lioness” did not fatigue or wilt like she did before, and met the wild swings and rushed entries with precision counter-striking.

Nunes proved that her fire truly was re-lit with the upset loss at UFC 269, and firmly backed up her decision to adjust her training setup, but Peña also deserves praise for a display of grit that has no doubt increased her fanbase.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC 277?

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