Saturday, December 3, 2022

4 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC Vegas 63

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest Fight Night event, UFC Vegas 63.

After heading to Abu Dhabi with one of the biggest cards of the year, which included a pair of title fights and some of the sport’s biggest stars, the UFC returned to home base this week for a slightly more low-key affair.

But despite being lighter on stakes and name value, there were still some intriguing matchups on offer, as well as a collision towards the top of the featherweight division in the main event spot.

As well as Arnold Allen and Calvin Kattar’s headliner, the likes of Max Griffin, Dustin Jacoby, and Roman Dolidze were all in action, as well as a former UFC champion in Andrei Arlovski.

So, did the event provide an entertaining night of fights worthy of following last weekend’s pay-per-view? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 63.

Positive – A Sub To Start

When a fighter who boasts four first-round finishes in seven wins arrives as the night’s biggest favorite, a quick contest is certainly on the cards. And in the UFC Vegas 63 opener, Christian Rodriguez made that a reality by submitting promotional newcomer Joshua Weems.

While the opening minutes were largely competitive, with Weems even forcing the fight to the ground, “CeeRod” ended things in a flash by locking in a tight anaconda choke.

Having lost his UFC debut on the scorecards this past February, a first entry into the Octagon winners’ circle was exactly what the doctor ordered for Rodriguez, especially after committing to a bantamweight drop.

After a relatively slow start to last week’s high-profile event, a nice and quick submission to begin proceedings on Saturday was a positive.

Negative – Obliterated

It always feels strange to acknowledge a devastating loss as a negative, rather than the victor’s display as a positive. But while Steve Garcia put his power and striking on full display at UFC Vegas 63, it was the manner of defeat for Chase Hooper that was unsurprisingly the main talking point.

This past May, Hooper appeared to level up with a strong showing against Felipe Colares. In that win, which came via TKO in the third round, I spoke of the 23-year-old’s improvement and described his striking as “somewhat sufficient.”

Nothing about it was sufficient on Saturday night.

In the first minute, Hooper was dropped three times. Aside from a desperate grasp at a leg when he was hurt for the first time, Hooper’s approach was the same throughout, and featured a wild display of flailing limbs with the odd ineffective spin chucked in there.

The writing was on the wall early, and Hooper didn’t do much to erase it before a fourth knockdown signaled the end.

At UFC Vegas 55, Hooper had me writing a positive titled “Chase Hooper 2.0.” At UFC Vegas 63, the once-highly touted prospect firmly reverted to his first form.

Positive – Georgian Power

UFC Vegas 63 was a majorly unsuccessful night for Phil Hawes. Not only did he fail to continue the momentum from his dominant win at UFC Austin and get knocked out cold, but he’s also likely set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

That’s because he appeared to suffer knee damage during a grappling exchange. After Roman Dolidze initiated a scramble thanks to some vicious elbows from bottom position, the Georgian attempted a leg lock. As Hawes slipped out, his knee looked to bend beyond its means.

While it’s hard to say for sure, the replay seemingly showed an ACL tear — as did Hawes’ movement, with the compromised knee appearing to bend inwards for the remainder of the fight. From there, “No Hype” was facing an uphill battle.

But ultimately, the injury didn’t force the stoppage. Instead, a truly brutal three-fight combination did.

The question about allowing fighters to continue through injuries has come up a lot recently. At the last Apex show, Nick Maximov went the full 15-minute distance despite an early injury effectively eliminating any chance of success.

The same concern can probably be brought up here, especially given that Hawes’ freedom to continue with a likely serious injury resulted in him receiving a spell of unconsciousness.

But while the night was a negative for Hawes, the same can’t be said for Dolidze. The 34-year-old followed up a performance-worthy first-round knockout this past June in the perfect way, and has now staked his claim for a matchup against ranked opposition next time out.

Positive – A Striking Battle To Open The Main Card

In one of the more notable bouts on the UFC Vegas 63 card, former Glory kickboxer Dustin Jacoby looked to keep his momentum rolling against UFC veteran Khalil Rountree Jr.

First things first, this was great matchmaking. It pitted two in-form light heavyweights with conflicting striking styles against one another. That created a thoroughly entertaining battle between the high-volume and aggressive approach of Jacoby and the patient, heavy-hitting manner of Rountree.

That contrast provided a tough assignment for the judges, two of whom ultimately gave the nod to Rountree. While it shouldn’t need to be said, many close decisions this year have proven that it needs to be — this wasn’t a robbery.

Far from it, in fact. Both played their part in delivering a FOTN-level affair to open the main card, and it’s safe to say that either man would have been a worthy winner.

Positive – A Vicious Guillotine

My goodness did Tresean Gore rebound in style at UFC Vegas 63…

There aren’t many sports that can produce grimaces with as many different techniques as MMA can. That perhaps doesn’t usually include guillotine chokes — it does when Gore gets his arms around a neck.

Against Josh Fremd, the 2021 TUF contestant secured a hold of his opponent’s neck as he changed levels. Despite twisting and elevating himself with the cage, Fremd found himself in what looked to be an excruciating position.

Under the immense pressure of…well, practically having his head ripped off, Fremd went to sleep. He also took quite the blow to the head as it bounced off the canvas when Gore released the grip.

On the face of it, this was one of the night’s positives purely for the wild nature of the finish. But it was also good to see a struggling fighter find success in the Octagon for the first time.

Negative – Momentum Killer

Nothing is as confusing in life as the UFC’s card placement for Fight Night events. That was evident at UFC Vegas 63, where after an entertaining three-round striking war and a brutal submission, the main card’s momentum was slowed by a fairly classic heavyweight affair (classic in the negative sense of the word).

Jared Vanderaa entered the event on a four-fight skid and with his most recent outing ending in a knockout loss to Chase Sherman, who was riding a four-fight skid of his own before that win. How, then, does that equate to the spot directly below the main and co-main events?

On an extremely light card, maybe it wouldn’t be an issue. But with Hawes vs. Dolidze sitting on the prelims, the presence of Vanderaa’s clash with newcomer Waldo Cortes-Acosta on the main slate was bizarre.

Of course, some will claim the addition of more worthy bouts to the prelims is to create a bigger audience throughout the card. But realistically, if a fan isn’t willing to watch the prelims anyway, are they enthusiastic enough about the sport to be drawn there by a bout like Hawes vs. Dolidze? I doubt it.

It feels like the trend of having a heavyweight slog buried in the center of Fight Night main cards is never ending, despite the fact that it usually creates fairly low-paced viewing.

If the decision was made as a way to showcase the arrival of the unbeaten Cortes-Acosta, that wasn’t really accomplished either. While the Brazilian picked up the win, it wasn’t a particularly notable performance, especially given Vanderaa’s previous results.

Negative – Another One

I really didn’t envision a scenario where I’d be branding a win for Arnold Allen as a negative. Unfortunately, the manner with which it came was far from desirable.

It’s worth giving Allen his props, though. In the first round of the UFC Vegas 63 main event, the Englishman looked fantastic, with his straight left landing at will. It was clear that he was intent on making a statement against Calvin Kattar in what was his first appearance in the headline spotlight.

But while his pursuit of that began well, a freak knee injury for Kattar ended things prematurely. The issue came from an attempted flying knee from the American. Landing awkwardly on his right leg, it appeared that Kattar suffered a bad knee injury, similar to the one suffered by Phil Hawes earlier in the night.

This instance, however, appears to have been slightly more serious, with Kattar’s knee quickly giving out again at the start of the second round. While it’s hard to speculate at this point, the way Kattar’s leg shot up after an awkward step and visible pop would suggest some serious ligament damage.

On paper, this was set to be an unbelievable headliner. Unfortunately, like many others this year, we had that taken away by a freak incident.

It’s perhaps fortunate that Alexander Volkanovski has a lightweight shot in his future because the featherweight division looks somewhat cursed when it comes to the emergence of a top contender.

  • Yair Rodriguez – Defeated Brian Ortega following a shoulder dislocation.
  • Josh Emmett – Defeated Kattar in a much-disputed decision.
  • Arnold Allen – Defeated Kattar following a knee injury.

With that, it looks to be all to play for when it comes to securing the next shot. Perhaps two collide for interim gold and one meets Max Holloway?

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 63?