Even though UFC 259 had one of the hottest beginnings of any event I can recall – the first five contests had definitive finishes – it settled into a simmer for what turned out to be a card that struggled to match the hype in the end. There was certainly controversy – Aljamain Sterling became the first UFC champion to gain the title via disqualification – but it wasn’t the type of controversy that typically surrounds a high-profile MMA contest. Plus, the UFC didn’t get to anoint Israel Adesanya as the next generational star when Jan Blachowicz derailed his hopes of holding two title. Adesanya is still young enough in his career that he could eventually launch himself into a higher level of stardom, but he’s not quite there yet. I won’t be hitting all the narratives in a traditional sense, but you’ll get a strong idea of how the card played out from these awards. Let’s start out with a particularly unorthodox award….
Biggest Wad Blown: A phrase long popularized in the MMA community by Joe Rogan for exhausting your gas tank in a hurry, Carlos Ulberg blew his wad hard. Not that many would blame him. He clearly hurt Kennedy Nzechukwu and it arguably could have been stopped, but referee Herb Dean gave Nzechukwu every chance to hang in there. Ulberg couldn’t finish the job and was drained from that point. To his credit, he continued to throw back, but it shows why both cardio and energy management are such key components to MMA success.
Aljamain Sterling also blew his wad, but didn’t do so at nearly the speed of Ulberg. Nonetheless, Sterling deserves an honorable mention as he did so on the title stage, showing a severely compromised gas tank. Then again, Sterling did win the title….
Biggest Jump in Stock: Nzechukwu has to be in this spot. Yes, there were better known competitors with impressive performances, but there were few who knew who Nzechukwu was coming into the night. Even worse, many of those who did know him were picking him to lose to a guy who was better known as a model than as a fighter in Australia. Nzechukwu showed he has toughness, durability, and heart in spades. If he can find a killer instinct, he’ll go FAR.
Sean Brady and Kyler Phillips offer strong honorable mentions for their respective wins over Jake Matthews and Song Yadong, as does Jan Blachowicz for his surprising defense of his light heavyweight title.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Megan Anderson and Drew Dober had poor performances that inspired exactly no one. However, many expected those type of performances out of them. So the biggest fall has to be Joseph Benavidez. The former four-time title challenger looked old and slow, unable to out-athlete one of the worst athletes in the flyweight division. While his two losses to Deiveson Figueiredo can be forgiven given Figueiredo is the champ, this third consecutive loss is far more telling that age is catching up to Benavidez. No one likes to see the greats fall off a cliff. That’s what we’re seeing with Benavidez.
Best Newcomer: There was only one, but Uros Medic had an incredibly dominant debut. He didn’t allow Aalon Cruz to score any significant offense before securing a stoppage in less than two minutes. It’s fair to question whether Cruz is a legit UFC talent, but Medic completely came across as a badass in the process.
Saved Their Job: Not only did Nzechukwu immensely boost his stock, he may very well have saved his job. Keep in mind, I said may have. It wouldn’t have been consecutive losses, but his lone UFC win prior to UFC 259 was partially attributed to repeated fouls from his opponent. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t have to find out how precarious his situation is.
Start Typing a Resume: There are two candidates to be on the cutting room floor, both DWCS alumni. Aalon Cruz suffered his second first round stoppage loss in his two UFC contests, impressing exactly no one in the process. Without anything to build off, he might be done. Jordan Espinosa dropped his fourth contest in his last five fights. He might have gone to decision, but didn’t come close to winning any of the rounds.
Biggest WOW Moment: Most of the good stuff happened early in the evening, all of the Performance Bonuses going to preliminary combatants. The walkoff KO by Kai Kara-France was certainly a WOW! moment, but I had a bigger response when Nzechukwu landed his right hand across the jaw of Ulberg and dropped him. Part of that is due to all the heavy artillery each of them threw that didn’t put either of them down, only for the killshot to seemingly come out of nowhere. It got me out of my seat in a flash.
Cure for Insomnia: Dominant often means boring. Not always, but in the case of Tim Elliott and Espinosa, it sure as hell was. Elliott kept Espinosa either on the mat or against the cage for a ridiculous amount of time, but wasn’t able to do much beyond that. Aleksander Rakic and Thiago Santos certainly deserve mention too as neither was willing to take the risk needed to open up the fight. Thus, we got a tentative kickboxing contest that saw attention spans waning.
Never Seen That Before: Y’all know where I’m going with this. Petr Yan handed Sterling the title on a silver platter when he delivered the illegal knee to the head of a downed Sterling towards the end of the fourth round. Whether Sterling put on an acting performance as many were declaring after the knee landed, it can’t be debated that it did land and appears to have landed hard. Yan knew the rules – or at the very least, he should have known the rules – and that was a blatant violation of them. Given the lack of protest from Yan following the announcement, he understood what was up. Thus, we ended up with the first UFC title change via disqualification. Not how Sterling wanted to win the belt, but the dude is now champion. Whatever it takes, right…?
Never Seen That Before #2: After Kai Kara-France dropped Rogerio Bontorin, he walked off in a celebratory manner, circling the cage with his arms enthusiastically extended. His corner alerted him the fight wasn’t stopped, but when Kara-France went to deliver more damage, Herb Dean stopped him, finally giving an official indication the fight was indeed over. So… did Kara-France stop the fight, or did Dean? Regardless, it was a confusing sequence, but at least it was entertaining.
Best/Worst Referee Call: What the hell was Mark Smith waiting for? Aalon Cruz may have been moving a bit, but was any of his movement intelligent defense? Smith allowed Uros Medic to fire away, allowing Medic to land a total of 45 strikes to zero for Cruz in the span of 100 seconds. 40 or so of those seconds were unnecessary, the continuing brutality taking away from how impressive Medic was.
On the flip side, Jason Herzog must have been watching in the back as he wasn’t going to let Livinha Souza take any unnecessary damage, stopping Amanda Lemos from continuing to punish Souza when the look in Souza’s face said she wanted no more. She was done. Excellent work from Herzog.
For clarification, I don’t see where there was any controversy in the bantamweight title fight. Smith had an easy call to make. He stopped the fight on a blatant foul and made the obvious call to be made. Sure, I’m happy he did, but I don’t see that being the most impressive call of the evening by a long stretch.
He Said What? There has been a lot of complaints in the MMA community that Joe Rogan has lost a step in his commentary. He doesn’t appear to follow the sport as closely as he once did due to his cultural influence from his podcast, but his name value still carries weight. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he was talking about when he said Jan Blachowicz was OK at middleweight, but a beast at light heavyweight. While I agree Blachowicz is a beast at 205, when did he ever fight at middleweight? It wasn’t in the UFC. Joe didn’t do himself any favors with the critics when he said that.
He Said What? #2: Damn it, I want all the swear words and trash talk available to me! ESPN+ muted Tim Elliott when he talked trash to Jordan Espinosa. One thing that did get through was Elliott calling Espinosa “a little woman beater,” but little was heard beyond that. Given the things Conor McGregor and Michael Bisping – amongst others – have said over the years, I doubt anything Elliott said would have been all that shocking. When word did get out what was said – Elliott had heard of an incident with Espinosa putting his hands on a woman, Espinosa says the whole story isn’t out – I’ll admit it didn’t seem kosher, but far worse has been said on UFC telecasts without attempts at silence.
What’s the Point? Why is the UFC keeping the women’s featherweight division around? Amanda Nunes has now beaten anyone who has a victory in the division who is solely concentrating on competing in the division. Now it’s just a promotional tactic to have her carrying around two belts. For her defense against Megan Anderson, Nunes did look good, but it would be hard not to when Anderson showed absolutely no desire to be in the cage with Nunes. It’s not like there was any hype of the fight by the UFC fanbase either. As it currently stands, the UFC women’s featherweight title is pointless. Women’s bantamweight isn’t brimming with contenders either, but at least Nunes hasn’t literally beaten everyone in the division with a win.
Thanks For the Memories? Dominick Cruz didn’t look anything like the man who held a firm grasp on the bantamweight division at one point. Having clearly lost a step, Cruz’s unorthodox fight style didn’t have the same energy to it that it used to have. Nonetheless, Cruz had enough in him to outwit Casey Kenney in the end, proving he still has something in the tank. However, Cruz’s ultracompetitive nature may not allow him to settle for “something in the tank.” His singular focus has always been on regaining the belt. His callout of Monster employee Hans Molenkamp for a charity fight indicates he isn’t looking at the title anymore. I can’t see Cruz settling for being a gatekeeper of sorts as that looks like the role he’d have to settle for. Does that mean the end is nigh for one of the all-time greats? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Sigh of Relief: I’ve expressed my exasperation with the double champion era. Unless the title holder is going to regularly defend both belts on a schedule that would be on par with how often the belts would be defended by a singular champion in both divisions, I don’t want to see it. All it does is hold up the progression of both divisions. Plus, for all the talk of the double champion being so great, how many fighters have successfully defending their belt consecutively at least 10 times? Less than the amount of double champions we’ve had. I’d say that’s the more impressive legacy, but that’s just me. Thus, when Blachowicz retained his light heavyweight title, I breathed a sigh of relief. Not because I have anything against Adesanya. No, it’s because we can see the middleweight and light heavyweight division return to a sense of normalcy, hopefully with regular title defenses in both divisions. Blachowicz has Glover Teixeira waiting in the wings and Adesanya can focus on becoming the greatest middleweight in UFC history. Given that would mean overtaking Anderson Silva – one of those few with double digit consecutive title defenses — that could qualify him as the greatest fighter in UFC history…. Nonetheless, Blachowicz takes the award for allowing us – or at least me – to breathe easier.