6 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC 303: Alex Pereira vs. Jiří Procházka 2

On Saturday night, the mixed martial arts leader returned for its latest pay-per-view event, UFC 303.

International Fight Week unfolded in Las Vegas across recent days, with the headline act taking place inside the T-Mobile Arena. The venue hosted a number of intriguing matchups on June 29, with the championship rematch between Alex Pereira and Jiří Procházka leading the way in main event.

Like those two, Brian Ortega and Diego Lopes were also scheduled to do battle on short notice. But the eventual co-main event matchup brought a whole new meaning to late notice, with Dan Ige stepping in just hours before to replace an ill “T-City.”

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The main card was made up of some more prominent contenders like light heavyweight veteran Anthony Smith and bantamweight standout Mayra Bueno Silva, who followed a highly anticipated first bout on PPV between the undefeated and uber-confident Ian Garry and striking specialist Michael “Venom” Page.

Elsewhere, notable names like Joe Pyfer, Cub Swanson, Payton Talbott, and Michelle Waterson-Gomez all looked to leave T-Mobile Arena with victories. But did they come together to form an entertaining night of fights?

Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC 303.

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Negative – Come on, Vegas 

Any chance of some fans, Las Vegas?

I know empty arenas for the start events is nothing new — in the United States, at least. But it never becomes any less disappointing to see fighters make the walk on a major card, only to compete in the equivalent of a spread out Apex audience.

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That’s especially the case when the opening matchup is as intriguing as Ricky Simón vs. Vinicius Oliveira, which pitted a formerly ranked bantamweight and headliner against one of the division’s most exciting up-and-comers.

More than just the fighters missing out on a proper atmosphere, I still can’t wrap my ahead around why those with tickets want to get less for their money.

Do you guys not actually like MMA, or something?

Positive – Flyweights Are Fun

I can’t remember the last time an MMA fight had a grappling back and forth as entertaining as what Rei Tsuruya and Carlos Hernandez put on at UFC 303.

The pair engaged in submission attempts and the kind of scrambles that have you on the edge of your seat throughout. While Fight of the Night and Fight of the Year contenders are almost entirely made up of striking barnburners, Tsuruya vs. Hernandez was among the most entertaining of this year to date, even if it doesn’t get the widespread recognition.

And given that Tsuruya’s twister attempts came meters away from advertisements for the upcoming Twisters movie, the marketing team for that film no doubt couldn’t believe their luck.

It’s been a while, but it’s time to bring back an old favorite from this editorial surrounding the UFC’s past attitude toward the flyweights…

“Remember when the flyweight division was going to be abolished? Thank goodness common sense prevailed…”

I’ve been able to use that line in four of five event reviews, and each time I’m more and more thankful that one of the most exciting pool of fighters are still able to electrify on MMA’s biggest stage.

Rei Tsuruya & Carlos Hernandez

Image: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Negative – Polar Opposite

Nothing continues the momentum from an enthralling, fast-paced, high-level flyweight fight like classic, unranked heavyweight slop.

Andrei Arlovski and Martin Buday’s heavyweight prelim being painfully dull was expected. But it’s still 15 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back, so it’s going down as a negative regardless.

Neither man appeared keen to engage, and before any sort of strike of note could be thrown, they tired themselves in action-less clinches against the fence.

At this point, it feels like about a decade since “The Pitbull” was in an exciting affair. But having already become champion and competed a countless number of times — not to mention him being 45 years old — it’s hard to send the legend too much criticism. Buday, however, is much harder to defend.

Outside of the rankings (and inside the rankings in some cases), the UFC’s heavyweight division is as bad as it gets. And yet, the likes of Shamil Gaziev find themselves in headline spots.

The silver lining on this occasion? It came so early on in the night.

Positive – Future Star 

Daniel Cormier had his anecdote about betting on Yanis Ghemmouri cut off in violent fashion by Payton Talbott just 19 seconds into their fight. Turns out, -1600 odds were well and truly justified.

Talbott increased his stock at UFC 303 in what marked his first time competing inside the Octagon in front of an arena crowd. Suffice to say, he made the most of the opportunity at UFC 303, flooring his French opponent with a clean right hand to the chin in close to an instant.

With that result coming off the back of a brutal beatdown against the highly touted Cameron Saaiman, it’s hard to find another rising prospect at 135 pounds who has established themselves as a future star quite like Talbott.

For some reason, Talbott appeared to get some hate from the fanbase this week when featuring in promotional material for the UFC and ESPN. I say “some reason” as if we don’t know said reason — insecure MMA fans getting flustered by somebody dressing differently to them and having some color to their nails.

Those same ‘fans’ will be the type who idolize Sean Strickland, whose style couldn’t be further from Talbott’s when it comes to entertainment and the pursuit of finishes.

The 25-year-old is unapologetically himself and has a dry sense of humor that makes his personality shine through on social media. Given how high his ceiling is, we can most likely expect his prominence to only increase each time he steps into the cage.

Positive – Uppercut From Hell

Jean Silva is a bad man.

Some strikes in mixed martial arts — and combat sports as a whole — are just more satisfying than others. An uppercut is certainly in the top tier. Need I say more than Francis Ngannou vs. Alistair Overeem?

At UFC 303, Silva was the one putting that brutal technique on full display, as he slumped Charles Jourdain with a vicious strike when they exited a grappling exchange.

Unfortunately, “Lord Assassin” did miss weight. But while that may have hampered how we reflect on his immediate rise up the featherweight ladder following UFC 303, there’s no denying that he delivered one of the night’s top highlights.

Positive – Be Joe Pyfer

The “be Joe Pyfer” movement took a brief pause this past February when veteran middleweight contender Jack Hermansson put in the desirable performance on the night of their UFC Fight Night headliner. But as far as rebound performances go, yeah, fighters would do well to “be Joe Pyfer.”

Before going the distance in a losing effort against “The Joker,” Pyfer was a destructive force in his opening Octagon appearances, stopping Gerald Meerschaert and Alen Amedovski with strikes. When matched up with Marc-André Barriault, it always felt like a similarly violent performance was on the cards, providing February’s setback wasn’t playing too heavily on his mind.

“Bodybagz” emphatically returned to winning ways by proving his coach right when he predicted an even more dangerous and hungry Pyfer at UFC 303. The victim of the American’s path back to the win column was “Power Bar,” who was left face down on the canvas in under 90 seconds after eating a number of clean hits.

The jury is still out on whether Pyfer can excel against those inside the rankings. But when it comes to dispatching those outside of it, there’s no doubt about the 27-year-old’s ability to leave foes sleeping.

Negative – All Talk

Maybe that heading is a bit harsh on Ian Garry, who had his hand raised over Michael “Venom” Page to kick off Saturday’s PPV card. After all, he survived a challenge from considerably lower in the rankings that he shouldn’t really have needed to face.

Unfortunately, the gulf in numbers next to their name and Page’s history as a longtime Bellator fighter led to the Irishman practically laughing off any suggestion that “MVP” could have success against him. That’s always a curious strategy, because even if that fighter is to back up their remarks by running through their opponent, how are fans supposed to see it as impressive after you’ve spent weeks trashing their abilities?

In the Irishman’s case, he did not back up his words. “The Future” was clearly outmatched on the feet, where Page’s speed edge was obvious and power on display in a second round in which the Londoner landed some big blows on the Dubliner.

Ultimately, some errors from Page and a lofty chunk of control secured Garry the nod in a lackluster final round, but it’s hard to see the Irishman’s stock rising off the back of that performance. “MVP,” meanwhile, continues to defy the ‘Bellator can crusher’ label placed on him by many prior to his win over Kevin Holland, even in defeat.

I like Garry and I think he has a long future high up the welterweight ladder. But if I’m Leon Edwards, I’m sitting a little more comfortably on my throne after watching the #7-ranked contender’s latest triumph.

Positive – Dan Ige

I went back and forth on how to categorize the UFC 303 co-main event. Up until it actually happened, this was going to be a negative about yet another change to the lineup and an extremely late issue on the side of Brian Ortega.

But after seeing the fight, the focus absolutely has to be on Dan Ige, whose heart and grit inside T-Mobile Arena brought an unlikely positive.

Ige woke up three weeks out from his return to action against Chepe Mariscal. By the end of the night, he was within the steel surroundings of the Octagon throwing down with Diego Lopes on just hours’ notice.

And his display was not what you’d expect from someone drafted in at such a late hour. He fought valiantly and competitively against Lopes, who also deserves an immeasurable amount of credit for how he handled a tumultuous few days that saw him go from a featherweight fight with Ortega to a lightweight fight with Ortega to a 165-pound catchweight fight with Ige.

The Brazilian ultimately got the job done by winning the first two rounds, but he was made to withstand some heavy blows in the final frame as “50K” threatened to mount a comeback.

When talk of Ige stepping in emerged, my immediate thought was that it shouldn’t happen. And had Ige suffered a difficult loss early on, perhaps that feeling would have stayed. But with a responsible team around him and a more than strong performance, it’s impossible to see Ige saving the day in the way he did as a negative — providing he got paid with a capital P.

Positive – An Unforgettable Run 

Alex Pereira really is him.

It’s difficult to comprehend the position “Poatan” finds himself in. He’s knocking rivals out left, right, and center while in the midst of a second title reign in a second weight class. If somebody would have predicted that after the first round of his UFC debut against Andreas Michailidis, most would have laughed it off.

Of course, a discussion about the type of competition he’s faced is fair. Aside from a hard-fought battle with Jan Błachowicz, “Poatan” hasn’t had his grappling massively tested, and the Polish light heavyweight is by no means among the best on the ground.

But to be quite honest, that fact doesn’t affect Pereira’s status as a budding entrant into the group of all-time greats as much as it should. Perhaps that’s down to his finishing capabilities, continued habit of saving the promotion’s behind at major events, or a personality and humor that means even his lack of English doesn’t keep his star down.

On Saturday, Pereira took the next step toward undeniable greatness by repeating his feat from last November, this time in a fashion that left zero debate or controversy. While Jiří Procházka and many may have been unhappy with the stoppage at UFC 295, it’s a lot easier to look back on that and say with confidence that he wasn’t coming back after what happened at UFC 303.

At first, it appeared the horn to close out the first round had saved “BJP” after he was dropped by Pereira’s renowned left hook. Unfortunately, the extra time only served to send the Czech challenger to an even more brutal fate, as he was sent back to the canvas by a head kick and left wondering where he was by some vicious ground-and-pound strikes.

Enjoy “Poatan” while he’s here, folks, because he is one of a kind.

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