What the hell happened at UFC Vegas 8?
Greetings, fight fans!
UFC Vegas 8, Fight Night 175, whatever you want to call it is in the books and... it was definitely a UFC card! That's not to say that it was notably lackluster, but it certainly lacked any standout moments that'll have fans and pundits talking into the next week.
The event started out in rousing fashion with four-straight submission finishes, and then commentator Paul Felder went and jinxed it by saying that all the fights from then on would be stinkers. Kidding of course, and they certainly weren't all stinkers, but every fight went to decision after that point, and the fights themselves played out less and less interestingly as the card chugged on. It certainly wasn't helped by the main card opener Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cutelaba, which would've been guaranteed fireworks, once again proving how cursed it is when it was pulled at the last minute due to Cutelaba testing positive for COVID-19...again.
In the end, we saw a successful addition to the women's flyweight division, a faded former welterweight champion continue to fade further, a reliable gatekeeper capitalize on this, and a light heavyweight contender re-insert his name into the list of notables in a division that has been reinvigorated by its dominant champion vacating the belt. The event just kinda came and went, but let's talk about just what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Rakic chops down, dominates a lethargic Smith
#8 Aleksandar Rakic def. #5 Anthony Smith by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
What happened?: A combination of low kicks, wrestling, and smother top control carried Rakic to a dominant, but not especially awe-inspiring victory.
How did that happen?: Rakic worked a heavy low kick game right from the onset, and it quickly took its toll. Smith attempted to kick with him in the early going, but not even a minute-and-a-half into the fight, Rakic racked up enough of them to drop Smith, who never really looked the same from that point on.
Rakic put in the leg work early.
After managing to briefly hop on Rakic's back, he was thrown off and relegated to his back, where we would see him for the rest of the round and most of the fight. Smith came out more aggressive in the second round, but after landing a solid right hand and clinching up, Rakic just threw him to the ground and resumed his controlling the action with his stifling top game.
In the final round with Smith's leg clearly still bothering him, Rakic stunned him with a left hook before blitzing him with head kicks and a knee before Smith just tied him up and ended up being dragged to the ground once more. Smith's corner pleaded with him to scramble and get up, but he just didn't seem to have the energy or wherewithal to do anything substantial in the face of Rakic's heavy top game. In the final seconds of the fight, Rakic rose up from the ground and put his hands up in victory, and even then Smith could only slowly stand, appearing to fully realize his defeat.
Smith couldn't even muster a final sprint.
Other thoughts: While it certainly wasn't the most enjoyable fight to watch, it's still a big win for Rakic to move back into top prospect status after his contentious loss to Volkan Oezdemir. Although he was dominant and he looked very good out there, I don't expect it was a performance that has UFC brass excited about his next match up. With Smith's leg so compromised, many may wonder why he didn't stand up more and try to get the finish instead of playing a pretty conservative grappling game...and you know what? That's a good question. What he ended up doing was infinitely safer, and it's hard to blame him too much for it when he's coming off a loss an still fighting up the ranks, but Smith didn't look to have a ton left in the tank from early on; he looked to lack the tenacity we'd seen from him in the past that embodied his 'Lionheart' nickname. In fact, Smith generally just didn't perform well in this fight. He's someone who tends to push harder as the fight goes on and he's experiencing adversity, but in this instance he almost looked like he'd rather be anywhere else. This is a bit puzzling given Smith's general air of confidence, but I have to say that in listening to his promos ahead of this fight, his trash talk seemed more forced than usual; almost like he himself didn't fully believe it and had to convince himself. Either way, his claims that he can beat Rakic everywhere turned out to be very untrue, and it looked like even he accepted that pretty early into the fight, which is something that's historically pretty uncharacteristic of him.
Next for Rakic: It wasn't the most thrilling performance, but he's still proven himself someone who should be considered in the mix of imminent contenders. A friend of mine actually proposed this match to me weeks ago, and it was brought up on the broadcast immediately following the fight as well, and I agree that Jiri Prochazka is the fight to make next. I imagine that when the rankings get adjusted after this event, Rakic will replace Smith at #5 and Prochazka will remain at #6, but Prochazka still has a win over the man who beat Rakic just a couple fights ago, so they're primed to battle it out to determine who should perhaps take a title eliminator fight afterward.
Next for Smith: His unlikely run from middle of the road middleweight to light heavyweight contender was a fun ride, but that ride definitely appears to be over now. His usual reliance on coming back from a deficit to pour it on and win fights was never sustainable at a higher level, and in three of his last four fights he's been unable to tap into that rallying spirit. As a result, he not only lost these fights, but essentially looked battered, loss and just plain incapable of getting back into the fights. His one win in that stretch, against an over-the-hill Alexander Gustafsson, hasn't aged well and still represents a win he had to come back from a deficit and win even against someone who didn't seem the most motivated about fighting up to that point. It's hard to give him someone coming off a loss without going to far down the rankings, so Nikita Krylov or Misha Cirkunov could be next for him.
Magny keeps rolling, easily outworks Lawler
#14 Neil Magny def. #13 Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
What happened?: Magny used all the tools in his bag, using his rangy volume striking, persistent wrestling, and smothering control to stifle an already-skidding Lawler and net probably the biggest win of his prolific UFC career.
How did that happen?: There are many things that led to it, but chiefly in terms of the substance of the fight, Magny used a gameplan that Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington revealed has become increasingly potent against Lawler; or at least the current iteration of him. If you push the pace and throw volume at him from range and initiate clinches and tie-ups whenever he does get into boxing range, it seems to shut down a lot of what he wants to do, and he just has a problem adjusting to that at this point. Persistent volume at range tends to freeze him up and make him hesitant to commit, and extended wrestling and grappling battles tend to frustrate and wear him down over time. Lawler wasn't devoid of offense; he did land some solid punches at range but they were few and far between, and never significant enough to put Magny in trouble or deter him from his gameplan. Moreover, when Lawler did turn up the heat, he was keen to grab the Thai clinch or a body lock and tie him up or take him down so he couldn't land his big shots. What's more, the way the fight played out may have in part been brought on by Lawler actually initiating the wrestling in the fight. Once Magny got a feel for him in those exchanges, he probably realized he could use wrestling to his advantage in the fight rather than sticking to his outside range striking that would have given Lawler more chances to find his chin.
Lawler found the most success in the final round, even landing a big left hand early that caused Magny to grab a hold of him and pull guard. However, through much of the round Magny was much more willing to stand with him as he was the much fresher fighter. At range he still constantly peppered Lawler with jabs and low-power combinations that not only started to rack up damage over time, but also froze a lot of Lawler's offense and had him aimlessly moving forward with no answers. Essentially the same thing Covington did to him on the feet, albeit less frequently and emphatically. Magny walked away with three well-deserved 30-27 scorecards and a much more inspiring performance than in his last fight against Anthony Rocco Martin.
Other thoughts: Magny looked great out there and had an easier time against Lawler than I thought he would have, but I don't mean to take away from his win when I say that Lawler definitely looked like a shell of himself, and has for years now, barring his rousing performance in (controversial) defeat to Ben Askren. This is now his fourth-straight loss, and a major takeaway for me from all of those losses has been that he's lost a massive step and is coming up on the end of his career. He isn't just going out there and getting figured out, he looks like a fundamentally different fighter out there. When you watch his performances leading to and throughout his title run, there was much more exuberance to his game. He feinted more, he threw more volume and lower power to set up big shots, he moved and snaked his head frequently, he frequently employed hand-fighting to enter the pocket, he threw kicks. He was the type of fighter that used a deceptively diverse and tactical set of tools to get inside the pocket and remain there to exchange. Matt Brown calls himself a technical brawler, but Lawler perhaps embodied that even more because of how adept he was at using intelligent setups to assert and sustain big exchanges.
That version of Lawler I would have had no problem picking to beat Magny, but that version has been gone for a while now. Lawler used to be first out there. Now he seems content to sit back and mid-range looking for opportunities to land a big left hand that can finish or turn the tide of the fight, and he gets so focused on it that he ends up just not throwing nearly enough. Even in clinches he tended to be more defensive, and Magny would always be the first to attack land land off the break. All of this blows Lawler's game wide open because he's thrown out all the tools he used to draw opponents into his attacks. Everyone knows that he's just trying to find a big shot, and because of that it becomes so much easier to prepare for and avoid. Not to mention it also becomes easier to time clinch entries and takedowns against him. It's as if he's reverted back to his uninspired, unmotivated self that we saw at the tail end of his middleweight run in Strikeforce just before his career renaissance. Of course, we also can't forget that he's been through some pretty crazy wars and he's 38 years old, which definitely doesn't help matters. I think most had already given up on the possibility of him making yet another Cinderella run to title contention (let's not forget that he was essentially seen as shot before he returned to 170 lbs), but at this point it's fair to question whether or not he's even at the level of gatekeeper to the top 10, which is sad considering what he's accomplished.
Next for Magny: He was originally scheduled to fight Geoff Neal before Neal was forced to withdraw and Lawler took the fight on less than three weeks notice. I see no reason not to re-book that fight, and Neal has called for it again. It's still a step up in the rankings for Magny and makes even more sense for Neal than it did prior to now.
Next for Lawler: After dropping four-straight and after his recent performances, I'm curious about where his head is at when it comes to MMA. I'm not saying he should retire, but from the way he's been fighting to his seeming lack of enthusiasm for fighting, I just don't know how into it he is anymore. His next opponent should be a sizable drop in quality who is more likely to engage him in the fight he wants. I'd go with Alexey Kunchenko or Warlley Alves.
Grasso takes clear-cut decision in flyweight debut
#14 (Strawweight) Alexa Grasso def. #14 Ji Yeon Kim by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
What happened?: Sharper boxing and a clear speed advantage carried Grasso to a tidy, hard-fought decision over an always-tough Kim.
How did that happen?: It's not incredibly more complicated than that. Kim is always game for boxing exchanges and has a great chin, but over time she tends to lose efficacy because her game is largely one-note. She started off pretty well, landing quite a bit in exchanges and catching Grasso several times on the counter when she tried to create angles and strike off of them. However, her game inevitably starts to deteriorate because it stays the same even when her opponent starts to make adjustments, and that game is largely built on plodding forward, throwing a lot, and headhunting. As mentioned, she did find some success with this early, but Grasso's game was much more dynamic even just in the sense that she actually threw to the head and body more than a handful of times. Grasso can be vulnerable at times in exchanges, especially on the back foot, but she generally keeps her hands up, moves her head, and maintains a peekaboo guard so that she doesn't eat too many shots at range otherwise. Kim prefers to put more faith in her chin and will move aggressively into exchanges with her head on the centerline, which leads to her getting hit, but often being able to just walk through shots and hit her opponents as well. Over time, Grasso's speed, movement, and straight punches made a difference in boxing range, while Kim did nothing to compete with Grasso at mid-range, such as try to kick with her. Because of that we got a fight that was pretty competitive according to the stats, but in actually watching it, it was clear to see who was getting the better of the action because Grasso made her punches count more, and actually mixed up her striking.
Other thoughts: Coming into this fight I thought that Grasso needed to win it or it was a clear sign that she didn't belong at flyweight. Kim is definitely the bigger woman of the two, but she's also nonathletic, fairly slow, and doesn't really use size to her advantage by looking to grind on her opponents. Her game isn't much deeper than walking forward and trying to punch her opponent in the face, and Grasso is not only the better technical boxer, but a pretty well-rounded fighter that isn't afraid to mix in kicks, wrestling, and grappling when she needs to. She ended the fight on that note by reversing position against the cage and landing an outside trip to bring Kim to the ground, where she landed some good elbows and punches until the final horn. It wasn't the breakout performance she showed at strawweight against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, but nonetheless it was a good showing that at least makes me interested in how she'll fare in the division. I think there are definitely fighters whose size will give her issues, but her speed will likely continue to be an asset against most women.
Next for Grasso: This win will probably land her in the top 15 at 125 lbs, and I think her next fight should stick within that range. The winner of Gillian Robertson vs Poliana Botelho should suffice, but if they do want to push her to the top 10 she could fight the winner of Montana De La Rosa vs Viviane Araujo.
Next for Kim: Kim's still right on the cusp of the top 15 herself, so she has choices underneath her. She could fight the loser of Robertson vs Botelho, Molly McCann, J.J. Aldrich, or Ariane Lipski if she loses to Antonina Shevchenko.
Lamas tops a game Algeo on the strength of his grappling
Ricardo Lamas def. Bill Algeo by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
What happened?: In a thrilling three-round affair, Lamas had to overcome some adversity from his much larger opponent, but just as the momentum began to really swing in Algeo's favor, Lamas focused on his wrestling and grappling, and sealed his victory with a dominant third round.
How did that happen?: This fight essentially boiled down to Lamas eventually figuring out the range and slowing Algeo down enough to get inside and implement his wrestling. For as solid on the feet as he is, Lamas' best asset has pretty much always been his grappling, especially from top position where he's adept at maintaining position and constantly keeping opponents on the defensive with strikes and submission threats. This was a challenge early in the fight because Algeo is a huge, rangy featherweight, and looked to keep Lamas at bay with kicks and long punches from the outside at the onset. Lamas smartly began breaking him down with low calf kicks that appeared to bother Algeo, but once he was able to more easily close the distance he was met with a hard right hand that stunned him, and ended the round with Algeo in control landing shots against the cage.
The second round was a good one for Ageo. After being taken down early, he became much more aggressive and forced Lamas to more frequently. One too many naked takedown attempts led to Lamas shooting right into a well-placed knee that spun him around and had him all sorts of confused. Algeo gave chase and went after him, but Lamas as able to tie him up and recover well.
Le’ Art moving. pic.twitter.com/iq7Hw1wZd3— mma 21+ (@mma21plus) August 30, 2020
I dunno how he didn't go down from that.
Round three was all Lamas. After landing a sneaky inside trip against the cage, he opened up with hard ground and pound that forced Algeo to initiate scrambles, but Lamas was frequently one step ahead, tying up one of his legs to prevent him from standing and maintaining what was essentially a crucifix on Algeo's back to hold him in place while landing solid punches and elbows. Lamas is one of, if not the best in the division at seamlessly transitioning back and forth between holding position and landing quality shots on the ground, and this was on full display here. When Algeo would attempt to scramble, he'd lock down position and then quickly land shots to punish him for it. By the end of the round Lamas had him flattened out in back mount raining down punches, and if time permitted he might have achieved the finish.
Shockingly, all three judges actually scored the fight 29-27 and agreed on every round. It was refreshing to see them all give Lamas a 10-8 third round, but with how close the first round was, it was easy to figure at least one of them would lean in Algeo's direction. In fact several others did, as there were plenty of draws scored by fans and pundits, and it's a perfectly justifiable score. Ultimately I think they landed on the correct score, and gave us a bright spot in the dark world of judging competency.
Other thoughts: It was good to see Lamas out there looking good against a solid opponent. He's definitely on the downside of his career, and intimated that retirement is a possibility after this fight. If he does retire, good on him. Not many fighters are able to retire on a win, let alone one that they can be proud of, and he'd be doing just that. He looked sharp enough out there to continue fighting, but he's also 38 years old and his best days are clearly behind him. He's provided some fun and entertaining fights, including a Fight of the Night bonus winner here, and he's had a career where he'll mostly be remembered fondly as a perennial top featherweight and former title challenger.
Next for Lamas: If he doesn't opt for retirement, I'd like to see him fight the winner of Andre Fili vs Bryce Mitchell; he'd especially be an interesting potential foil for Mitchell's vaunted grappling. Otherwise I think they should re-book the Ryan Hall fight if his injury isn't too bad.
Next for Algeo: He looked pretty decent in defeat, but Lamas was still a major jump up in competition for him. I could see him in there with Jordan Griffin or Chase Hooper next.
Impa Kasanganay def. Maki Pitolo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Another fun fight to watch, as these two went to war for 15 minutes. One of Pitolo's biggest assets is how composed he stays under fire and how much focus he puts on well-placed body shots in exchanges, but he was essentially just thwarted by Kasanganay's power and speed. After a pretty competitive first round, the power difference was palpable and Kasanganay began to land more and land harder than Pitolo, while mixing it up just as much. Pitolo was able to roll with a lot of shots to take a bit of sting off of them, but he took plenty of flush shots that he just couldn't answer well enough for. It also appeared that Pitolo came in wanting to work more low kicks to break down Kasanganay's base, but after having one of them checked partway through the first, he mostly abandoned them. Kasanganay looked great fighting for he second time in 11 days; he was actually offered this fight immediately after receiving a contract following his win over Anthony Adams on Dana White's Contender Series.
Zak Cummings def. Alessio Di Chirico by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
This was the fight I was looking forward to least on the card, and up until the final second it lived up to that non-hype. It was essentially a close fight that had pockets of solid action, but for the most part was a glorified sparring match. It was also the fight that I knew would break a streak of four-straight finishes that the card started out with. The most exciting thing happened at the very last second when Cummings landed a buzzer-beating head kick that dropped Di Chirico hard and had him stumbling back to his corner. It literally may have won Cummings the fight, as two judges had it one round apiece going into the final stanza (not sure how Cummings won the first, but eh...judging), and I personally was leaning toward Di Chirico before the kick landed. Thrilling end to a not-so-thrilling fight, and even the referee was unprepared for that.
You can almost hear him say "Daaaaamn!"
Alex Caceres def. Austin Springer by submission via rear naked choke (3:38, R1)
I'm all for unorthodox fighters who trick opponents with odd movements and angles, but between looking like someone picked out of the crowd to fight at some Midwest regional MMA outfit in a bar, his borderline uncoordinated striking, and his offering pretty much no resistance in the finishing sequence, Springer didn't look like he belonged in there. I'll cut him a bit of slack though since he did take the fight on very short notice. Caceres, who really looks like he's been coming into his own as a fighter, just went out there and did his thing. Both men started off with some fancy kicks, but it was a head kick by Caceres that glanced off Springer's skull and wobbled him. Springer was able to recover and lean heavily on low kicks, but Caceres quickly began countering with check hooks and punches to the body. One of those body shots appeared to stun him a bit and force him to shoot a takedown that was easily stuffed, and Caceres effortlessly spun around to his back pretty much while locking in a rear-naked choke that was immediately tight. He secured a body triangle and got the tap after pretty much zero defending from Springer. Easy peasy.
Sean Brady def. Christian Aguilera by submission via guillotine choke (1:47, R2)
Brady already had a couple wins in the UFC, but this dominant performance maybe what he needed to really get noticed, as he pretty much beat up Aguilera everywhere before taking him down, mounting him, then locking up a one-armed guillotine from that position that put Aguilera to sleep. Commentator Paul Felder warned everyone that he has an extremely tight guillotine, and well, he was right!
Polyana Viana def. Emily Whitmire by submission via arm bar (1:53, R1)
It was good to see Viana get back into the win column after a pretty rough three-fight skid that really exposed the shallowness of her game. What still remains true is that she's a pretty dangerous grappler if you want to tangle with her there. As close as the fight was to the oddsmakers, I thought it was just a rough match up for Whitmire in general because she's essentially just a wrestler. She's still pretty stiff and awkward on the feet so she wasn't going to beat Viana there, and while she does have some grappling ability, she's definitely not the better grappler of the two. The only advantage she had was that she could wrestle well, but once she achieved that she'd be outmatched in the grappling, and that's essentially what happened. She landed a takedown into side control and Viana quickly attained full guard and started landing elbows from her back to distract from the armbar she was setting up. Whitmire initially avoids it, but Viana quickly reapplied it and it was immediately in deep, prompting a verbal tap. It would've been in Whitmire's best interest to try and work a clinch-heavy game rather than going to the ground, but that's not really how she fights. Otherwise, how crazy is it that Viana has all 11 of her wins via finish? How many strawweights can say that?
Mallory Martin def. Hannah Cifers by submission via rear naked choke (1:33, R2)
The sad plight of Hannah Cifers continues. She shows positive qualities in almost every fight as long as things remain on the feet, and as soon as the action hits the ground she just shows to be completely inept. After suffering her fourth-straight loss here, it's unlikely she'll get another shot in the promotion, which is made all the more sad because she was so close to the win in the first round. After landing a huge right hand and dropping Martin, she essentially knocked her out cold with the followup punch, only to wake her back up with another, allowing Martin to just barely survive a harrowing 10-8 round that saw her beaten from pillar to post.
She was thiiiis close!
At the start of round two, it was clear that Cifers had gassed herself out going for the finish, as she easily gave up a takedown and offered little resistance on the ground before giving up her back and tapping to a rear-naked choke. It was an insane comeback from Martin, and something that's starting to become a calling card for referee Chris Tognoni, who has recently allowed a few fights to go despite very near finishes, only to have the fighter come back and get the win. Hopefully, Cifers can go to Invicta and get a few wins under her belt (and a ground game), and we'll see what Martin has to offer. She's mainly a grappler in a division with several better grapplers, and she said she's not worried at all about getting wins like this, when she should probably worry that she was so close to being put away by Cifers. A better fighter may have finished the job.
And that's that for UFC Vegas 8, a card that wasn't bad, but just kinda happened. We got some great submissions and a couple thrilling fights, but I guess the bouts that were most anticipated fell a bit flat and it colored the entire card, as it tends to do. But this is the UFC, which provides us with an endless spat of cards, so onward and upward to next week, when we see former heavyweight title challenger and perennial career renaissance artist Alistair Overeem take on a pretty alright heavyweight in Augusto Sakai. Until then, sado out!