What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 187 at the UFC Apex on Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

1. The eye poke conundrum

No one is happy with the way the main event ended between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad. I’ve seen a lot from cageside over my years covering the sport, but my skin was crawling when Muhammad went down with that eye poke. His reaction was really worrisome, and it’s very relieving that he reported “no permanent damage” to his eye after being checked out at the hospital.

Now, the question we must ask: Was this situation handled properly? Edwards (18-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) was warned by referee Herb Dean in the first round about potential eye pokes, then he hit Muhammad (18-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) with one in the second frame that ended the fight. I don’t think Edwards did this intentionally by any means, but the Brit did not properly control his weapons in the octagon, and it ruined the fight.

At first, I thought a disqualification was potentially warranted. Then I ran into Dean at the airport leaving Las Vegas, and I’m convinced the appropriate call was made. Dean said he only likes to issue DQs if there’s a degree of malice involved with a foul. He cited the fact that matchups involving fighters in a mirror stance can be a lot more conducive to eye pokes, and though Edwards was warned early in the fight, Dean cited the motion of how the two athletes came together as just an unfortunate and untimely moment.

Eye pokes happen a lot in MMA fights. More often than not we forget about them and move on because the fighters are able to continue. It just so happens this one got Muhammad in a really bad way, and in a high-profile, main event spot. It sucked for everyone involved, but upon reflection, a no contest as opposed to putting a loss on Edwards’ record and a win on Muhammad’s, seems like the right way to go.

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2. Edwards’ post-fight blunder

Edwards showed remorse over the unfortunate moment in the cage, but once he started doing his post-fight interviews, I think he killed any sympathy that might have been credited in his direction.

If Edwards had simply apologized, said he was controlling the fight up to the point of the foul (which he was) and likely would have won, then said he should move on to a rightful top three or top five matchup, I think a lot of people would’ve agreed. Instead, he pushed for the next title shot, which rubbed many people the wrong way.

The past two years have been super rough for Edwards. His eight-fight winning streak should’ve positioned him for a title shot, but COVID-19 restrictions, fight cancellations, mistimed callouts and more have caused much of the fanbase to turn against him. He didn’t exactly help that by saying he should be fighting Kamaru Usman next, especially with the no contest vs. Muhammad still so fresh.

Could Edwards actually get his wish, though? I wouldn’t 100 percent rule it out. He’s behind Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington in the queue, I’d imagine, but if the UFC can’t finalize a deal with either of those two historically difficult figures, maybe Edwards can get his chance.

That seems like wishful thinking for him, though, and Edwards may have to quickly accept the reality he’ll need another win before landing in a title fight.

3. Dan Ige’s one-hitter quitter

Dan Ige lived up to both of his nicknames in the best way possible against Gavin Tucker. “Dynamite” went off in the octagon when he put his fist to Tucker’s chin for the knockout in just 22 seconds, and it secured him the “$50k” bonus for a “Performance of the Night.”

Most were expecting a more competitive – or at worst – longer fight between Ige (15-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and Tucker. That wasn’t happening, though. Ige connected with a flawless punch to the chin of his opponent and Tucker was done on impact.

It was a hell of a way for Ige to rebound from a main event loss to Calvin Kattar this past summer, and showed he belongs at the elite of the featherweight division. His post-fight callout of Chan Sung Jung was perfect, and it may be very attainable for him.

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4. Another illegal knee controversy

Did Eryk Anders not watch UFC 259 just one week prior to his fight with Darren Stewart? If not, he’s going to be regretting not paying closer attention to Aljamain Sterling’s controversial title win over Petr Yan.

Anders robbed himself of a victory when he illegally kneed Stewart in the head during the first round of their middleweight main card opener. He’d hurt Stewart badly with strikes and was pummeling his British foe around the octagon before he made the blunder of the illegal shot, and as a result it was deemed a no contest.

Not only did Anders cost himself a win – and potentially a performance bonus – for his mistake, but he subtracted what would’ve been a critical career victory from his record. It was the right call by referee Herb Dean under the circumstances (and didn’t warrant a disqualification because less than one round of cage time had been completed), but “Ya Boi” is going to be kicking himself for a while over that one.

5. The UFC Apex experience

On a personal note, UFC Fight Night 187 was a bit of a special experience. It was the first time in more than a year that I’ve covered an event in Las Vegas for MMA Junkie, and my first time attending a fight card at the UFC Apex.

I definitely miss the environment of being in a packed arena with all the fans, but it’s hard not to appreciate the uniqueness of the facility. The acoustics of the fighter walkout songs are as clear as I’ve ever heard in a venue, and watching the actual fights is incredibly cool.

You can hear everything in there. I could hear Brendan Fitzgerald, Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier commentating the fights almost as if I was watching the broadcast; could hear the corners instructing their athletes as if it were a direct audio feed; and the sounds of every heavy breath, strike thrown/landed, foot movement across the canvas and other minor details were clear as day.

I’m not sure how much longer the UFC will continue to hold fight cards at the Apex with the coronavirus pandemic seemingly taking a turn for the better with vaccinations becoming more widespread. Even if that was the first and last time I see a show there, I’ll never forget what it was like to see a card in that venue.