Monday, November 28, 2022

5 Positives & 2 Negatives From UFC Vegas 62

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned to our screens for its latest Fight Night event, UFC Vegas 62.

After a weekend without Octagon action, the UFC wasn’t about to let boxing have all the combat spoils on October 15. And while there wasn’t as much name value on offer inside the cage, a host of exciting prospects were in action looking to make statements inside Las Vegas’ Apex facility.

To top things off, a pair of women’s flyweight contenders hoping to stake their claim for a shot at Valentina Shevchenko’s throne collided in the main event. And below Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo’s headline scrap, notable names like Cub Swanson, Raphael Assunção, and Alonzo Menifield threw down, as well as exciting prospects like Tatsuro Taira.

So, did those fighters come together to deliver performances worthy of a memorable 11-fight card? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 62.

Negative – A Major Absence

The nature of modern-day MMA and the lengths most go to making the limit for what they perceive to be their optimal weight class means fight cancellations are part and parcel of the sport, especially during the make-or-break moments of cuts.

Unfortunately, that fact reared its ugly head again prior to UFC Vegas 62, and in a sizable way.

Canceled bouts on late notice are always a negative — if not for the viewers, for the fighters who have completed camps and arrived within hours of their scheduled walk to the cage. It’s safe to say that UFC Vegas 62’s scrapped matchup was felt by all parties.

In the co-main event, flyweight contenders Brandon Royval and Askar Askarov were set to share the Octagon in a crucial bout toward the top of the 125-pound division. Given the stakes, as well as Royval’s status as a fan favorite, many branded the matchup as the best and most intriguing on the card.

Had it reached the steel, that may well have come to fruition. Instead, weight management issues forced Askarov out and “Raw Dawg” off the card.

At an event that was certainly light on both name value and matchups that boasted legitimate implications towards the top of a division, this failed fight’s absence was felt.

Positive – Only Kneeds 93 Seconds

That’s some way to open a card.

There’s three options for beginning an event in a strong way — a knockout, a submission, or a three-round barnburner. At UFC Vegas 62, the wheel landed on option one. And by “wheel,” I mean massive knee, and by “landed on option one,” I mean landed on Mike Jackson‘s chin.

A first-round finish wasn’t exactly a surprise in the opening fight of the night between Jackson and Pete Rodriguez. However, the manner in which it came was a shocker.

The writing was perhaps on the wall early, with the inexperienced Jackson eating heavy blows and constantly dipping his head as Rodriguez let his hands go. In the end, it took a few calls for the knee from the blue corner for the fight-ending shot to reveal itself.

With a truly vicious right knee, Rodriguez sent a crumpled and unconscious Jackson to the ground, with a couple of follow-up shots making the stoppage that much more brutal.

After a two-week break, Rodriguez re-opened Octagon proceedings in style.

Positive – Take Notice Flyweights

In one of the more noticeable matchups on the card, incredibly promising prospect Tatsuro Taira made his sophomore outing against CJ Vergara.

At UFC Vegas 54 this past May, Taira debuted in style, passing his first test with flying colors by stopping fellow newcomer Carlos Candelario. While he impressed by finding the finish, it came late in the final round, meaning the Japanese 22-year-old was able to show his well-rounded game throughout.

That was on show once again on Saturday night en route to a submission victory. Having once again put his ground abilities on display with slick passes and adjustments, Taira utilized a body triangle in the second round to beautifully transition into a nasty armbar, forcing the tap.

In a division that is already chock-full of young talent and excitement, the continuing rise of a breakout star from Japan was one of the main positives from UFC Vegas 62.

Negative – Injury Affected

One of the notable names to enter the cage during the UFC Vegas 62 prelims was Nick Maximov, a protégé of Nick and Nate Diaz. But Saturday certainly wasn’t his night as he fell to a two-fight skid courtesy of a loss on the scorecards to Jacob Malkoun.

But while his defeat to Andre Petroski earlier this year was convincing, this one came with an injury asterisk attached to it.

Although the bout had promised some entertaining and competitive ground exchanges, scrambles were limited owing to an apparent knee injury early into the fight that hampered Maximov throughout.

To put it simply, the 24-year-old was surviving for rounds two and three. And that begs the question, what is accomplished from continuing to fight? Is the label of ‘toughness’ worth the risk of aggravation and a longer layoff?

Ultimately, a potentially intriguing matchup between two top wrestlers was pretty quickly dwindled into an inevitable result owing to a seemingly freak incident. Far from ideal.

Positive – Atomic

There was a murder at UFC Vegas 62, and it was committed by Alonzo Menifield.

“Atomic” returned to the kind of wild ‘swang & bang’ style that we came to associate him with early in his Octagon career. Unfortunately for veteran light heavyweight Misha Cirkunov, that meant a fourth consecutive loss and a lengthy nap on the canvas.

After loading up early and showing he could withstand his Canadian opponent’s grappling efforts, Menifield went head-hunting. And less than two minutes into the first round, a left hand wobbled Cirkunov. From there, Menifield took advantage with a brutal shot from below before adding three follow-up strikes to the unconscious Latvian-born 35-year-old.

Miraculously — for someone whose power becomes the main talking point whenever they enter the cage — the result marked his first KO win in seven fights since 2019, with his previous victory coming via ground-and-pound TKO earlier this year.

Post-fight, he did appear to insinuate that his power shots had been somewhat stifled in previous gameplans, which perhaps explains his new one-man corner. Should his revert to fast and furious starts be permanent, we could be in for some more “atomic” knockouts down the line.

The KO did bring up some questions about follow-up shots. In this instance, the final hammerfist did seem unnecessary, not just because referee Mark Smith was audibly shouting stop and Cirkunov was clearly out, but because Menifield also appeared to pause briefly before committing to a final blow.

While it maybe wouldn’t have been so notable should the Canadian have come to instantly, his lengthy and concerning period unconscious certainly brings up a discussion.

The “super necessary” argument will lose its legs when a fighter suffers serious damage as a result of needless follow-up blows.

Positive – A Vet Turns Back The Clock

Raphael Assunção is not done yet.

I think most were able to acknowledge the recency bias behind the odds for the Brazilian’s main card bout with Victor Henry. But even so, it was satisfying to see the 40-year-old prove that his talent hasn’t dwindled in spite of some tough losses in recent times.

Returning to the counter-based offense that brought him so much success in his career, Assunção was able to land the majority of the fight’s major blows, with a string of right hands whilst he held one of Henry’s legs providing a particularly memorable highlight.

In the end, there was little doubt about who would have their hand raised. The result is a reminder that a losing skid inside a division’s rankings doesn’t mean a contender can’t dispatch those further down the ladder.

On a personal level, I always have an extra interest in Assunção’s fights as his first clash with Marlon Moraes was actually the first mixed martial arts fight I watched in its entirety (aside from casual — and quick — attractions like José Aldo vs. Conor McGregor etc.). With that, it was enjoyable to see him back doing what he does best and adding another green column to his record.

Positive – A Prospect Breaks Through With A Rarity

At UFC Vegas 62, Jonathan Martinez added a fourth win to his streak — and it was his best yet.

In the co-main event, “The Dragon” welcomed Cub Swanson to bantamweight. The veteran’s present? Left kick after left kick. Martinez fired it at will, be it to the body or head. Eventually, its work to the legs paid off in the second round.

After surviving a late scare in round one, which saw him saved by the bell having been floored by a brutal knee, Swanson returned in the second frame looking to put some pace on the 28-year-old. But that charge was firmly halted with a rare leg-kick finish.

Be it the upkick body-shot TKO that Irene Aldana secured against Macy Chiasson or the variety of submissions that are on offer, one of MMA’s main appeals comes through the versatile skills shown in the cage.

While the flush knockouts we’d seen earlier in the night were memorable, Martinez provided a different and yet equally impressive stoppage in the co-headliner.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 62?