Terrance McKinney celebrating his win over Fares Ziam at UFC Vegas 49 | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Get a unique rundown on all the trophies that should have been handed out at UFC Vegas 49 with Dayne Fox’s Unofficial Awards.
So… does anyone want to tell Islam Makhachev he’ll need to fight Beneil Dariush before he can fight for the title? After bulldozing through a game Bobby Green, the only think Khabib Nurmagomedov’s former teammate could talk about was fighting for the title next. It’s hard to blame him. In his last two fights, Makhachev, a traditionally cautious fighter, has been aggressive in his pursuit of the finish, grounding his opposition and finding a finish in a hurry. I haven’t heard a firm timetable on when Dariush will be ready, so I see no good reason to tell Makhachev he’ll need to attempt to run that fight back, at least not immediately. Makhachev wants to face the winner of Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje and it’s hard to deny he’s in the wrong. Who else is more deserving?
While the main event was the biggest story, there were plenty of other narratives worthy of inspection. We’ll do that as I dole out my Unofficial Awards….
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Biggest Jump in Stock: This isn’t an easy spot to fill. Makhachev was dominant, but that was expected. Arman Tsarukyan was dominant as well, but he was also a heavy favorite. Thus, I’ll go with the most surprising underdog on the card, Terrance McKinney. It wasn’t so much that McKinney won in a dominant manner; his previous four wins came in less than two minutes combined. It was that he demonstrated his ground superiority whereas his previous wins came on the back of his explosive striking prowess. The question many had with regards to McKinney was whether he’d be willing to test the mat prowess of Fares Ziam. It was almost by accident the fight hit the mat, but McKinney kept it there and demonstrated he’s far from a one-dimensional striker. His stunning debut doesn’t look like a fluke in the least.
Biggest Fall in Stock: It might be unfair, but I think Joel Alvarez is going to take the worst hit from his loss, at least as far as those who aren’t cut. He was never really in the fight, becoming blinded by blood about halfway through the first round by brutal elbow that opened up a nasty cut. There’s some question whether Alvarez can win a fight if he cuts down to the proper weight for lightweight, his most consequential wins coming after he missed weight. His best win after making weight is over Joe Duffy, who last won a fight in 2017. There’s reasons to remain high on Alvarez, but there’s also reason to be concerned about his future. One thing that may not be on the minds of many: bloodbaths like the one he endured can have long ranging effects.
Best Newcomer: None of the newcomers on this card have anything to be ashamed of, but Armen Petrosyan had the most notable impact by a wide mile. Going toe-to-toe with one of the hottest risers in the middleweight division, Petrosyan scored a controversial win over Gregory Rodrigues. Even if you scored the fight for Rodrigues – for transparency, I did — it can’t be denied it was a razor-thin decision, both men hurting the other on multiple occasions. Most promising is Petrosyan only turned pro in the fall of 2018. He’s been fighting for less than four years and he’s already scoring wins over the likes of Rodrigues! Petrosyan could become something special.
Start Typing a Resume: When the light heavyweight division was at its most shallow – yes, it was even more shallow than it currently is not that long ago — Misha Cirkunov was the beacon of hope that someone might rise up and emerge as a fresh face near the top. Fortunately, a few more faces emerged as Cirkunov never fulfilled the hopes many had for him. Instead, his chin proved to be too soft for his own good. Dropping down to middleweight, he’s now dropped two in a row, including his armbar submission loss to Wellington Turman. Given he can’t even get past a middleweight whom most would say is in the bottom half of the division, I can’t see the UFC justifying his price tag any longer.
I couldn’t figure out why the UFC was so insistent on giving Micheal Gillmore a second chance after dropping each of his debuts in TUF and the UFC. He never looked like someone who had the talents to hang with the UFC fighters of today. After getting bulldozed by Ramiz Brahimaj, it’s clear Gillmore doesn’t belong.
There’s an outside chance Zhu Rong is going to be cut loose. Sure, he’s listed as 21, but that plays into why he should be cut loose. Rong needs a little bit more seasoning on the regionals. There’s no doubt he has the talent; he doesn’t have the discipline to be fighting in the UFC quite yet. Having missed weight in two of his three UFC fights is further proof of Rong’s lack of discipline.
Saved Their Job(s): Priscila Cachoeira owes the judges her job. I won’t go so far as to say her win over Ji Yeon Kim was a robbery, but most observers seemed to be in agreement Kim was the rightful winner. I can see an argument the UFC would have kept Cachoeira around given her fight with Kim was insanely awesome – a fight doesn’t have to be technical perfection to be good – but I’m not sure that would be the case. Cachoeira drew a lot of ire from fighters and fans alike several months ago when she gouged the eyes of Gillian Robertson. No doubt it shortened her leash. Regardless, she’s going to stick around.
On the flip side, Kim very well may have saved her job in the losing effort. It was undoubtedly the best performance of her UFC career in a fight that personifies why people watch MMA. Her 3-5 UFC record isn’t impressive, but the UFC has kept fighters with worse records around. If Kim is cut, I won’t be surprised, but I think her performance in the loss will be enough to keep her around.
Credit to Brahimaj noticing when a golden opportunity opens up. When Jonny Parsons pulled out of his contest with Gillmore, Brahimaj jumped at the opportunity as fast as he could, likely seeing the contest as about the most automatic win he could obtain in the UFC. The win doesn’t do much to boost the stock of Brahimaj, but it does get him a win to create a bit more breathing room after dropping two of his first three UFC fights.
Biggest WOW Moment: I felt confident I was going to end up having Tsarukyan’s elbow here exploding the face of Alvarez. Instead, Cachoeira and Kim’s third round was one of the most insane slugfests that I can ever recall seeing in the sport. The first two rounds were entertaining for sure, but Cachoeira recognizing her employment was at stake took her performance to another level in the final round. Kim responded in turn. The result made a fight that most were complaining didn’t deserve to be on the main card – I was 100% in that group – ended up having the most enduring moment of the evening.
Best Fighter After the Clapper: I don’t know what it was that got into Alejandro Perez after the 10 second clapper sounded at the end of rounds one and two, but he became a different fighter when it sounded. In the first round, he scored a knockdown after being picked apart by Jonathan Martinez. The second again saw Perez getting picked apart, only for him to throw a flurry of punches on Martinez. Some landed, some didn’t, but they were heavy as hell and showed more fire than Perez had shown at any point besides the closing 10 seconds of round one. The final 10 seconds of the third weren’t nearly as successful for Perez, but coming thisclose to stealing a pair of rounds based on the final 10 seconds is a hell of an accomplishment.
I guess that happened… Sometimes you get a fight that is exceptionally unmemorable. It isn’t that it’s a bad fight or that either combatant has anything to be ashamed of in their performance. In fact, in the case of Victor Altamirano and Carlos Martinez, it’s that they were so similar in their performances that it makes it hard to remember specifics. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but come time for me to do film study on Altamirano and/or Martinez and it will be almost a clean slate for my memory.
Most Surprising Manner of Victory: Entering the event, Josiane Nunes had secured seven of her eight career wins via KO. Given her opponent, Ramona Pascual, was on the inexperienced side in addition to stepping in on short notice, most would agree it seemed like a given Pascual would be staring at the ceiling before the night was out. Instead, Pascual hung in there until the end. It wasn’t because Nunes opted to try pacing herself. Nunes was launching some major bombs, doing so from the opening bell to the closing bell. In the process, she demonstrated a deeper gas tank than anyone would have predicted. It’s not like she collapsed on the mat at the end of the contest ala Joaquin Buckley or Abdul Razak Alhassan from last week. Nunes could prove to be more than a novelty in the division.
Third Time’s the Charm: It may not have been the third serious submission attempt from Turman, but it was the third serious submission attempt in the fight with Cirkunov that proved to be successful. Turman played human backpack in the opening round with Cirkunov in pursuit of an RNC, only for Cirkunov to eventually dump him on his back. Cirkunov followed that with a North-South choke that had the commentators questioning whether Turman was going to go to sleep. It wasn’t until Turman threw up a lightning fast armbar that one of the submissions finally stuck. It wasn’t an anticipated contest, but it proved to be an entertaining one.