Sunday, October 2, 2022

6 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC Vegas 59

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest fight night offering, UFC Vegas 59.

After trips to Long Island, London, and Dallas, the promotion made a brief pitstop at its home base in Las Vegas, with 10 bouts going down from inside the Apex facility. The card represented the only August event to take place in the building that became a savior during the pandemic, with trips to San Diego, Utah, Paris, and a pay-per-view at the T-Mobile Arena to follow in the coming weeks.

Taking to the Octagon for the sole Apex card of the month were a host of exciting names, including a pair of light heavyweight slingers in Jamahal Hill and Thiago Santos, who closed out proceedings in the main event.

With the likes of Vicente Luque, Geoff Neal, Terrance McKinney, and Bryan Battle also in action, not to mention this year’s The Ultimate Fighter finals, hopes were high for an action-packed card. But did it deliver as such? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 59.

Negative – 12, 11, 10…

If anything, this is a negative solely because us Europeans had to wait until beyond 1AM for the first fight of the night. But if I put aside my geographical bitterness, four fighters were left disappointed after being taken off the UFC Vegas 59 card, one the night before and the other on fight day.

While illness, seemingly as a result of a recent bout of COVID-19 and difficult/failed weight cut, forced Ariane Lipski out of her clash with Priscila Cachoiera, previous PED offender Josh Quinlan had his fight against Jason Witt pulled after a urine sample tested positive for a small amount of the M3 metabolite of dehydrochloromethyltestosterone.

Thankfully for the women, their pairing was kept together and simply shifted a week to UFC San Diego — which has had its own withdrawal woes. With Quinlan’s flagged test not marking a USADA violation but an issue with the NSAC, it appears he’ll be able to fight elsewhere, perhaps next weekend if things go to plan.

But for this card, a couple of late cancelations was a shame.

Negative – Caught Red Handed

I’m trusting your word on this Ron McCarthy…

Of all the things predicted for Saturday’s card, a judge determining a stoppage was perhaps not even in the top-50 possibilities. That was required after Mayra Bueno Silva locked in a deep armbar on Stephanie Egger. After rolling the Swiss bantamweight against the fence, the Brazilian released the hold after feeling a tap, a claim that wasn’t confirmed by her opponent.

Judge McCarthy’s view wound up being the fight-decider, with him claiming to have definitely seen a tap. From the replay, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have the perfect view, and from over his shoulder, one of the cage-side doctors began to rise from his seat. What would make him do that? Something that signaled that the fight was over. What would signal that in an armbar? A tap.

In addition, had Egger not tapped, why would she calmly sit up and look at the referee? Surely as soon as she felt the grip release, she’d frantically escape the position. Egger certainly reacted as if she’d lost, but then saw an opening to save herself. That’s not to mention the obvious evidence — why would Silva let go of the deep hold unless she was sure of the tap? If that’s not enough for a conviction, how about the complete lack of complaints once the verdict was ruled against Egger?

Sportsmanship is a crucial part of martial arts, and only a few weeks after Jessica-Rose Clark had her elbow dislocated in an armbar, the fact that Silva nearly had a win taken from her courtesy of an attempt to protect her opponent is not good. Egger would certainly do well to take a page out of Michelle Waterson’s book after she owned her decision to tap at UFC Long Island.

The positive here is that Silva was rewarded with the win she earned, but the real talking point is Egger’s apparent attempt to pull a quick one on Chris Tognoni. Good on the Brazilian for rejecting the handshake following the result. How would an attempt to prevent a fair win and the money that comes with that ever end with a cordial handshake?

Positive – “Poppins” Returns To The Win Column

Tap! That’s a tap, I saw it!

There was no controversy in the second fight of the night, with Cory McKenna forcing a tap that pretty much everyone inside the Apex and watching around the world could see. How did she secure it? Only the first Von Flue choke in women’s UFC history, no biggie.

After a disappointing night at UFC London in March, where a host of UK fighters had their hand raised, McKenna headed into UFC Vegas 59 with a point to prove. And against Miranda Granger, the 23-year-old did just that, utilizing her imposing wrestling game to dominate “Danger,” who looked like a fish out of water when the Welsh prospect landed top position.

After running out of time to complete an arm-triangle choke in round one, “Poppins” had a submission on her mind again in the second, locking in a tight Von Flue against the cage, forcing the tap just over a minute into the frame.

And in classic British fashion, McKenna summed up her submission as “had to get it bloody done.” Can confirm, she did indeed get it bloody done.

Positive – Brutal Battle

Knockout montage makers, crack open your video editors — you’ve got another to add to 2022’s reel.

No sooner had I come to the conclusion that -300 odds were slightly wild for Bryan Battle’s divisional debut against an established welterweight like Taskashi Sato, “Ten” was sleeping on the canvas after as brutal a head-kick KO as you’ll ever witness.

After 40 seconds of the usual feeling-out process, Sato’s attempt to parry was met with a right head kick that landed flush. When it comes to scary KOs, not much tops a fighter unconscious on the ground with their arms tensed in the exact position they were in when the kick landed. Battle created a Japanese statue with his foot — one that will no doubt have woken with a headache on Sunday.

The technique was also mightily impressive. After waiting for Sato to parry his lead hand, Battle threw a right cross, seemingly designed to force his Japanese foe to dip his head off the center line and into his doom — high-quality stuff.

Negative – Hard To Watch…

Sometimes, finishes aren’t good to see. While a performance as dominant as Michał Oleksiejczuk’s middleweight debut at UFC Vegas 59 deserves credit, the viewing experience ventured closer to uncomfortable than anything else.

When a lopsided display like Sam Alvey’s defeat on Saturday night is expected heading into the event, it perhaps says everything we need to know about where the UFC veteran sits in his career. While it’s not quite António Silva-level yet, Alvey isn’t far from the UFC’s iteration of “Bigfoot” right now, just with less KO losses. For the sake of all parties, let’s keep it that way by calling it a day.

After being dropped by a thunderous left hand, Alvey showed his grit by surviving on the ground. But when he returned to his feet, it was clearly only a matter of time, and one more knockdown was enough to end the featured prelim. With the result, Alvey is now winless in nine, with one draw splitting four-fight skids one other side. If the sixth or seventh loss hadn’t done it, the eighth should be enough for Alvey’s Octagon career to come to an end.

Also, there’s something very uncomfortable about seeing someone’s children right before they take a vicious beating inside a cage. If I hadn’t decided it before — and if Mike Grundy’s attending father at UFC London hadn’t already taught me this — I like my MMA without visible family…

Positive – Another One

Time is seemingly of the essence when Terrance McKinney is in action, and that was no different at UFC Vegas 59.

Before joining the UFC last June, McKinney boasted nine first-round finishes in 10 victories, with a trio of them coming in the three months prior to his promotional debut. Backing up that fast and furious reputation, “T. Wrecks” stopped Matt Frevola in just seven seconds, setting the record for the fastest UFC lightweight finish.

A sophomore outing against Farès Ziam ended fast as well, before Drew Dober flipped the script with a first-round stoppage of his own. But on Saturday, McKinney returned to winning ways with a standing neck crank submission against Erick Gonzalez.

The setup here was impressive. As pointed out by the great Luke Thomas following Alexandre Pantoja’s victory over Alex Perez last weekend, more and more fighters are beginning to utilize scrambles as a back-taking mechanism, paving the way for a fight-ending submission.

Now, perhaps this result wasn’t surprising. After his explosive start in the Octagon and given his charismatic personality on social media, the UFC gave McKinney a big step up in competition in the form of Dober. Having seen him fall short, it seems likely that the UFC want to rebuild the prospect’s momentum, starting with a return to form in a favorable matchup. While it’s no disrespect to Gonzalez, McKinney is certainly on another level.

But even though the matchup was probably designed for McKinney’s 12th first-round finish, the manner in which he found it was impressive nonetheless, and once again showed how well-rounded he is.

Positive – Pure Power

As someone who didn’t watch The Ultimate Fighter this year (and someone who doesn’t know anyone who did), I wasn’t sure what to expect from the heavyweight final. While my previous memory of Mohammed Usman had been a submission loss in the PFL SmartCage, he certainly created a new one for myself and many others on Saturday.

After a tentative opening round that saw Zac Pauga land the more impactful shots, Usman quickly shut the lights out in the second with a clean left hook and some truly brutal follow-up hammerfists.

It remains to be seen how high the ceiling is for Usman, but the knockout alone was one of UFC Vegas 59’s positives. The crowning of the first-ever set of brothers to win TUF seasons was a pretty unique accomplishment, too.

Positive – The Best Neal Yet

It’s hard to put into words just how good Geoff Neal’s performance was in Saturday’s co-main event. But the sentence, “The first man to knock Vicente Luque out,” should do the job.

Luque has long been the welterweight division’s ‘Mr. Durable’, competing in countless wars, and often escaping them with his hand raised. At UFC Vegas 59, the Brazilian got himself in another, but this was more of a one-sided invasion.

Neal was almost flawless, hurting Luque right form the word go. After a beating across two rounds, “Handz of Steel” landed another of the straight lefts that had been there all night, putting “The Silent Assassin” on skates. From there, Neal unleashed a barrage of uppercuts, each thrown with the kind of speed and power you’d expect from a round-one fighter.

While Neal’s power has never been in doubt, the aesthetic of Luque face-planting the Octagon floor didn’t appear to be on the menu pre-fight.

Now with back-to-back wins over Santiago Ponzinibbio and Luque, Neal finds himself in contention at 170 pounds. And his post-fight callout? A matchup with Luque’s friend and training partner Gilbert Burns. Whether it’s that or another of the Brazilian’s teammates in Shavkat Rakhmonov, I’m onboard.

Positive – The Sweet Dreams Stadium

The UFC Apex is well and truly Jamahal Hill’s house.

In the UFC Vegas 59 headliner, Hill took another step towards the top step at light heavyweight by finishing one-time title challenger Thiago Santos in the penultimate round. Not only has the result left him knocking on the door of the elite group of contenders at 205 pounds, but he’s doing so off the back of a feat that Magomed Ankalaev, Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira, and Aleksandar Rakić failed to do — stop Santos.

While he’s perhaps never been the same since the serious knee injury he suffered versus Jones in 2019, a victory over “Marreta” is still a massive accomplishment on any résumé. And as well as securing that, “Sweet Dreams” also added the feather for late-fight experience against a top name to his cap, having previously not gone beyond round two since his 2020 debut.

While the decline of Santos isn’t enjoyable to see, he did at least make good on his promise to deliver a “different” fight this time around, with the Brazilian swinging for the fences until his fourth-round demise.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 59?

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