What mattered most at UFC 255 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno at UFC 256
Usually we’d open this column with a thorough review of the main event winner’s performance, and perhaps even a little technical analysis on how the fight played out. UFC gave us no time to digest all of that following Deiveson Figueiredo’s first flyweight title defense, though.
Cage-grabbing criticisms aside, Figueiredo owned challenger Alex Perez and lived up to his prediction of a first-round submission. It was a great performance to kick off his reign, but before we could even review the tape or get into the traditional post-fight procedures, news spilled out that Figueiredo will be making an historic 21-day turnaround for a champion to fight at UFC 256 on Dec. 12.
The challenger? Brandon Moreno, who of course picked up a first-round finish of his own against Brandon Royval a mere hours before Figueiredo’s fight. With neither man enduring more than a few minutes of cage time, and the UFC in need of a new headliner next month after bantamweight champ Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling feel apart, the stars for this scenario lined up quite well for everyone involved.
There are some legitimate concerns to be had about this play by the UFC. The margin for error is very thin, and hopefully Figueiredo and Moreno don’t overdo it and suffer injuries during what will be a hyper-compacted preparation window. There’s also the issue of making weight again so soon – especially for Figueiredo.
If everything goes off without a hitch, this could turn out to be a major positive for the Figueiredo vs. Moreno winner, as well as the overall health of UFC flyweight division. We’ve still not that far removed from the division being on life support, but now that belt is serving atop the card on back-to-back pay-per-view events to close out the year, and it seems Figueiredo could be a legitimate star in the making.
2. Valentina Shevchenko remains unmatched
My colleague Dave Doyle summed it up perfectly on Twittter in the immediate aftermath of Valentina Shevchenko’s unanimous decision win over Jennifer Maia to defend the UFC women’s flyweight title: “Tonight Valentina Shevchenko officially entered ‘everyone loses their minds when the champ loses one round’ territory.”
Maia’s successful second round against Shevchenko had many people – including myself – wondering if we were witnessing an all-time upset in the making. Given the pre-fight betting odds and overall knowledge of Shevchenko’s skills, many were expecting an execution, and therefor were surprised this fight even hit a second round. Maia was able to neutralize Shevchenko there, but she didn’t inflict any meaningful damage or advance to a position where she truly threatened to finish the fight.
In hindsight, everyone overreacted to that moment of the fight. That’s not a criticism, but rather an indication of the collective perspective on Shevchenko’s greatness. The standard has become so high that a fight not going 100 percent in her favor is viewed as a huge moment, and only the really good fighters in MMA history receive that distinction.
Will seeing Shevchenko even slightly vulnerable serve as a confidence-boosting motivator for future opponents? Maybe. But it seems like the names on deck won’t need it. Some big fights appear to be headed Shevchenko’s way, with post-fight narratives from Dana White including Jessica Andrade, Zhang Weili and Amanda Nunes. You can be sure that when any and all of those fights do happen, she won’t be a -2000 favorite like against Maia.
3. What to do with Mike Perry?
Mike Perry nightmare week came to a relatively predictable conclusion in the form of a unanimous decision loss to Tim Means. He wasn’t necessarily outclassed in the fight, but Means earned the win, and now questions surround what’s next for “Platinum.”
With the loss, Perry falls to 7-7 inside the octagon. He missed weight by 4.5 pounds, and anyone who follows the sport and is reading this likely knows about the bevy of issues he’s endured outside of the cage in recent months and years.
It’s going to be interesting to see how UFC handles Perry going forward. We can’t ignore the fact that for, whatever reasons, he is a draw is this sport and attracts eyeballs and clicks. Many of the things Perry has done in his personal life would have him kicked out the door in other major sports, but UFC has shown its leniency time and time again, so anyone calling for him to be cut is likely going to be disappointed.
Although Perry reportedly went through drug and alcohol treatment before this fight, there’s clearly still some ongoing issues with him. It should be fair to say he needs to get his weight situation – among other things – under control before competing again.
4. The end for ‘Shogun’ Rua?
Mauricio Rua was one of the fighters who helped create my passion for MMA, and there are many people out there who can likely relate to that experience. In light of that, watching him tap to strikes against Paul Craig might be a sign his end point has arrived.
Although “Shogun” still possesses heavy hands and knockout power, we should’ve seen the way his rematch with Craig played out coming from a long ways away. Rua’s knees have been beyond shot for years, and it’s a near impossible task for him to stop a takedown at this point. He can get back up pretty well, to his credit, but as we saw, he only has so many stand ups in him, especially with someone of Craig’s grappling prowess.
Eventually Rua, who turns 39 on Wednesday, found himself in a position he couldn’t escape, and Craig pounded away on him until he tapped out. It was a very tough fight, and not even an oil check could swing the tide in Rua’s favor, which should serve as something of a metaphor.
Rua is one of the all-time legends of this sport. He’s a former PRIDE FC grand prix and UFC champion, already a UFC Hall of Famer (and will be again in another wing), and has the resume and experiences in the sport that 99 percent of fighters could only dream of.
It’s not my call to say Rua needs to retire. Dana White wants it to happen, and Rua indicated he’s going to discuss the future with his family. His record in recent years does show more wins that losses, but younger, hungrier and more diverse fighters like Craig should not be sharing the cage with him at this point. Will the UFC be willing to give him more favorable matchmaking if he insists on sticking around? Or will Rua go the way of Anderson Silva and be released to go elsewhere?
5. A special debut for Sasha Palatnikov
It’s not often something from the opening fight on a card makes its way onto this list. Sasha Palatnikov makes the cut, however, because of the absolutely wild nature of his octagon debut, and the fact he’s the first UFC fighter from Hong Kong.
In the opening moments of the fight, it seemed like Palatnikov, who closed as a +435 betting underdog, was going to be quickly rolled over Louis Cosce. Perhaps another referee would’ve even called it off, but thankfully referee Chris Tognoni made the right call and allowed Palatnikov full opportunity to recover.
Once he escaped a stoppage, Palatnikov charged back at Cosce in an absolutely wild opening five minutes, which many have labeled the “Round of the Year” in MMA. Palatnikov wasn’t only content with entertaining, though. He came to win, and he fought like.
Palatnikov managed to pick his shots well over the final two rounds and sway the judges’ scorecard in his favor to cash as the sizable underdog. He also got “Fight of the Night” honors. Not too shabby a UFC debut.