Saturday, November 26, 2022

6 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC Vegas 61

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest Fight Night event, UFC Vegas 61.

October is here, and as every month should, it began with some action inside the Octagon. In the latest card to be held behind closed doors (fully, in this case), a pair of talented 115lbers headlined in what looked set to be a crucial contest in the context of the strawweight title picture.

On one hand, Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Mackenzie Dern was hoping to continue the momentum from her victory over Tecia Torres and secure her place in a possible title eliminator next time out. To do so, she was tasked with adding more woes to the record of Yan Xiaonan, who entered the contest on a two-fight skid following losses to reigning champion Carla Esparza and Marina Rodriguez.

With the likes of Randy Brown, Sodiq Yusuff, and Brendan Allen also taking to the cage, the October 1 card promised to open this month’s proceedings in style. So, did it do just that? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 61.

Positive – Age Is Just A Number

On a night that saw a number of fighters on the wrong side of 40 in action, a few of whom squared off against significantly younger opponents, Guido Cannetti opened the card by adding a point in the column of the veterans.

The bout between Cannetti and Randy Costa promised one of two things: a finish or a barnburner. The answer was the former, and we were given it in just 64 seconds…

Costa has quickly established himself as a fan favorite for those who enjoy the social media side of MMA. But for latest appearance made for grim watching for his supporters, as did his previous two. Following a pair of TKO losses to Adrian Yanez and Tony Kelley, “The Zohan” was in search of the form that brought him consecutive wins in the Octagon not too long ago.

On Saturday, he did not find that. Instead, he had his legs chopped out by Cannetti, who pounced on his fallen foe, taking his back and locking in a rear-naked choke without hooks. And without much of an attempt to escape, the turtled Costa tapped.

While another setback for Costa was a shame, the main talking point here was an ageless Argentine wonder who made it back-to-back victories at 42 years old, and as part of a fast and furious bantamweight division.

Also, credit to “El Ninja” for using his post-fight mic time to pitch a UFC outing for his brother. We love a selfless act.

Positive – G&P

Way to make an impact on debut, Chelsea Chandler.

As one Stockton slugger exits the promotion, another enters. Representing the 209 at UFC Vegas 61 was a prospect who’d won four fights in a row following a debut loss to earn an opportunity on the big stage.

Against Julija Stoliarenko, Chandler barely put a foot wrong. As well as utilizing a major power advantage on the feet early, the Californian quite frankly dismissed the Lithuanian’s weak entries and level changes, which looked to quickly come out of desperation as she struggled to recover from the stiff lefts she was eating on the feet.

And putting an exclamation mark on the performance, Chandler forced referee Jacob Montalvo to step in following a relentless and brutal onslaught of ground-and-punches from mount.

Positive – “All In” With A Huge Win

Keeping the first-round finish train rolling in the third fight of the night was Brendan Allen.

It’s wild to think that Allen is only 26 years old, and yet he’s been teetering just below the top 15 for years. “All In” has suffered just two defeats in the UFC, but they both came at a time when he appeared close to breaking through into contention. First, it was against Sean Strickland (now ranked #7) in 2020, and then Chris Curtis (now ranked #15) a year later.

After back-to-back wins over Sam Alvey and Jacob Malkoun, it seemed like Allen had reached that stage again, with formerly ranked Pole Krzysztof Jotko marking a big opportunity. And under that pressure, Allen thrived by delivering arguably his most impressive performance to date.

Despite finding himself on his back early, Allen remained patient while awaiting the perfect opportunity to reverse position. Once he did, the tables turned in his favor — for good.

After some work in top position following a powerful takedown, Allen made the most of an opening to latch onto his Polish counterpart’s neck. Once the rear-naked choke was locked in, the tap followed quickly with less than 45 seconds of the round remaining.

Allen then put his toughness on full display by calling out a name that isn’t on the lips of many middleweights. While a pitch to face the #10-ranked André Muniz initially appears unrealistic, should the Brazilian wish to fight in front of home fans at UFC 283, he may be starved of options above him on the ladder. With that said, he could certainly do worse than granting the in-form Allen a shot at the top 10.

Positive – Sub, TKO, Sub, TKO

There was absolutely no slowing down in the first four fights at UFC Vegas 61. Well, aside from the first four minutes of Joaquim Silva and Jesse Ronson’s lightweight contest — but that was quickly fixed by “Netto BJJ.”

After a tentative opening frame for the most part, Silva removed any doubt about who secured it by coming close to ending the contest courtesy of a clean knee strike. While Ronson had appeared to recover, it was déjà vu halfway through the second round as the Brazilian landed another brutal flying knee. This time, he had enough seconds left on the clock to find a finish.

As well as continuing a violent set of opening fights, Silva’s triumph was a positive because it marked his first since 2018 and snapped a two-fight skid that certainly threatened his place on the roster.

Negative – Fight Day Cancelation

The opening negative at UFC Vegas 61 didn’t come through in-Octagon action. In fact, it came via the lack of it.

The decision to move Philipe Lins and Maxim Grishin’s light heavyweight bout to the main card had seemed a puzzling one at first, with the promotion’s tendency to add pairings from the heavier weight classes up the card looking to be the reason.

But towards the end of the prelims, it was revealed that the move was designed to give the Brazilian time to secure medical clearance for an unrevealed issue. Having ultimately not recovered from the problem, the bout was scrapped.

The matchup itself wasn’t exactly a sure-fire thriller on paper, but fight day cancelations are never desirable, especially for the athletes who have completed camps and arrived at the date of their contests.

Hopefully the pair can make the most of their preparation with a quick re-booking.

Negative – Heavyweights Heavyweighting

There’d been some suggestions during the week that it was surprising to see Ilir Latifi and Aleksei Oleinik’s heavyweight bout on the prelims. Given the UFC’s tendency to do the opposite, perhaps that was the case. But in terms of appropriate placement, the pair showed why they weren’t on the main slate.

The fight itself was not a memorable one at all. Latifi executed his gameplan well, and it was one of ultra-safety. Oleinik had admitted pre-fight that his motivation to train was dwindling and that he was essentially forcing himself to compete for the paycheck, and that led to a lackadaisical contest.

With that, it seems likely that we may have seen “The Boa Constrictor” fight for the last time. Judging by his post-fight interview, perhaps the same can be said for “The Sledgehammer,” who appeared to swap the hammer and become a heavy spirit level at UFC Vegas 61.

Latifi also suggested that he fought with a staph infection in his leg. The question begs, how did that one slip through the medical net? I’m sure that was a pleasant note to hear for Oleinik and the fighters who were yet to step inside the Octagon…

The Swede did end with a positive though — calling for a bonus from Mark Zuckerberg. If you’re going to eliminate the viewing public and media from the event, best believe you should be getting your check book out for the fighters competing in silence.

Negative – Really?

Speaking about Zuckerberg, let’s discuss that.

It’s hard to comprehend the amount of privilege that was sat front row at UFC Vegas 61. If Michael Chandler has the so-called “Dana White privilege,” as Tony Ferguson birthed, then Zuckerberg has the next level up. Oh yes, that’s right, it’s the “I’m a powerful billionaire privilege.”

There are so many areas to cover here that contribute to a ball of, excuse my French, PR f*ckery for the UFC. The first is the fact that we had to wait until the broadcast to find out why the Apex was off limits for fans and the media. That’s despite reporters granting White the platform to explain during the week.

What was the logic in hiding the reason? And whether the Meta chief had rented the facility for the night or not, sending a tweet denying that element is a tedious and almost insulting attempt to justify the empty house — ‘He didn’t rent it, what are you talking about! I offered it!’ Yes, because that is better…

The aesthetic was poor for the promotion and Zuckerberg. Essentially, the billionaire fight fan couldn’t possibly watch fights alongside an average person; he has to be the only one there.

The denial of fans is bizarre because the Apex capacity is hardly overwhelming to control. But even if we entertain the idea that some fans would have negatively affected Zuckerberg’s viewing experience, which was evidently the priority, why is he so precious that the presence of media members doing their jobs would have been too much? What were they worried about, John Morgan shoving a camera in his face like a TMZ reporter? That doesn’t strike me as his style.

The Apex was adapted to ensure that the UFC could continue hosting events and fighters could continue to make a living through the COVID-19 pandemic. When did it turn into an exclusive one-person viewing room for those with enough influence?

Positive – Bantamweights Bantamweighting

I don’t know what they’re drinking over at Chute Box, but its main ingredient is clearly heart with a heavy, heavy dose of toughness.

As if by magic, Daniel Santos and John Castañeda followed the trip to heavyweight dullsville with a matchup that was firmly on the opposite end of the excitement spectrum. From minute one, the pair exchanged hard blows, with the Brazilian firmly on the wrong end of the worst of them early.

But having somehow survived numerous rocky moments, “Willycat” flipped the script in the second round à la teammate Charles Oliveira versus Michael Chandler at UFC 262. Before the fight-ending sequence, it appeared that Castañeda’s chin was indestructible. “Sexi Mexi” had eaten clean shot after clean shot without so much as a grimace.

But when that damage caught up to him, it did so in the form of a truly vicious knee that echoed around the Apex (not that any fans or media members would have known without a replay).

After a brief rest from violent intentions on the card, Santos’ memorable come-from-behind win was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Positive – A Fantastic Back & Forth To Finish

Mackenzie Dern and Yan Xiaonan’s headliner was a good example of when a stylistic clash plays out perfectly for viewers.

On the feet, the Chinese contender had a clear edge. But when the fight hit the ground, the Brazilian’s immense jiu-jitsu ability came into play. Those two elements featured in alternating periods of the UFC Vegas 61 main event, making for an excellent watch across five rounds.

Ultimately, Xiaonan had her hand raised via majority decision. Personally, I believe the correct result would have been a draw, with the final round being 10-8 in favor of Dern. What is impressive, though, is that “Fury” survived a final round that left many seeing it that way. How many people would have predicted her to make it to the final buzzer of five minutes that were so dominant for Dern?

After another tough result last time out against Rodriguez — a fight I believe she did enough to win — it was good to see Xiaonan back in the win column, and understandably ecstatic about it, too.

For Dern, the result represents a small setback in her overall development as a mixed martial artist. Of course, her striking is far from polished, and her level changes aren’t smooth, but it’s easy to forget that she’s just 29 years old and has only been in MMA for just over six years.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 61?