On Saturday night, UFC Vegas 53 went down from inside the MMA leader’s home base, the APEX facility, in Nevada.
Following in the footsteps of some of the top featherweights, welterweights, and women’s strawweights, the latest UFC Fight Night saw the bantamweights take center stage to close out the month of April.
In a bout that promised to showcase why the 135-pound division is regarded as one of the best, top-10 contenders Marlon Vera and Rob Font collided in the main event. While “Chito” was looking to surge towards title contention, Font was hoping to rebound from his previous defeat in a matchup that he admitted had little on the line for him ahead of the event.
Elsewhere on the card, the likes of former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, entertaining veteran Darren Elkins, rising lightweight Grant Dawson, and unbeaten behemoth Alexandr Romanov were all in action.
So, could UFC Vegas 53 send us into another pay-per-view fight week off the back of a memorable card? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives.
Negative – Back-To-Back Fight Day Cancelations
What is in the Las Vegas water lately? A fight day cancelation is always frustrating but at two events in a row? Get outta here.
Last weekend saw the return of undefeated heavyweight prospect Romanov and his bout with Chase Sherman pushed back a week after a number of fights had already taken place. This time, it was the turn of Carlos Candelario vs. Tatsuro Taira. While this one did at least come pre-event, it was still far from ideal.
This contest pitted two exciting newcomers together in what looked set to be a fast-paced flyweight bout. While Candelario, whose only defeat came on Dana White’s Contender Series last year, would’ve also been fun to watch, it was Taira who I, like most, had my eye on.
The Japanese 125lber boats a perfect 10-0 record and is still just 22 years of age, not to mention he’s riding a 19-fight win streak if his amateur results are taken into account. To lose the debut of such a promising fighter last minute was certainly a negative.
Thankfully, just as Romanov vs. Sherman was re-arranged for UFC Vegas 53, Candelaro vs. Taira is set to go down at the next UFC Fight Night on May 14, meaning that its initial cancelation will likely be a short-term negative.
Negative – “Control Time Does Matter”
No, Dominick, no it does not.
There’s only so many times this can be listed as a negative before it simply becomes an expected part of the broadcast. At UFC Vegas 53, it took just two fights for one of the color commentators’ lack of grasp of the scoring criteria to shine through.
During the barnburner between Natan Levy and Mike Breeden (more on that soon), Jon Anik and Michael Bisping pondered whether the American had edged the second frame, which the Israeli had controlled more of but with little damage. In response, Cruz claimed that control time matters.
I’ll list below a quote from the criteria that shows why the former UFC bantamweight champion was wrong with his assessment.
- “Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals, and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match…”
The key words being, “contribute to the end of the match.”
Simply put, top and bottom fighters during grappling exchanges are scored based on the impactful nature of their actions, rather than the position itself. Control time does not fit into the equation if not effectively put to use.
MMA is an offensive sport and is all about pursuing a finish to the fight. Control time without submission attempts or impactful strikes is essentially meaningless when it comes to scoring a fight.
Cruz was at it again later in the night, suggesting that Jake Collier’s takedown with less than 10 seconds of the third round remaining, which resulted in about 5 seconds of top control and nothing else, is what ‘stole the round’ for him. *sigh*
Positive – An Early Back & Forth Brawl
After an entertaining fight for as long as it lasted between Gina Mazany and Shanna Young, the card’s strong start continued thanks to the efforts of Natan Levy and Mike Breeden.
For three rounds, the pair went at it hard, leaving everything inside the Octagon. Throughout the 15 minutes, both landed hard blows and had success in the grappling department.
The two lightweights were visibly exhausted after delivering an early Fight of the Night contender. In the end, it was the Israeli who had his hand raised via unanimous decision, but Breeden certainly did his stock no harm at UFC Vegas 53.
Add this bout to the list of reasons why fans should never sleep on preliminary cards…
Positive – A Wild Comeback In A Wild Fight
“Gifted” Gabe Green. If by “gifted,” he means gifted with immense toughness and recovery ability, then absolutely.
Picking up where the previous fight left off, Green and Yohan Lainesse threw down in the third bout of the night. Early on, the Canadian’s power was on full show and looked set to be the difference.
If the first round didn’t already suggest that, the thunderous right hand that practically face-planted Green in the second certainly did. When he hit the ground, it seemed that the fat lady had her mic on. She eventually sang into it, but not before the Californian had recovered and finished the fight himself.
Towards the end of the second frame, Green unloaded with alternating shots to the head and body. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a fighter let their hurt opponent off the hook by throwing solely to the protected head.
On Saturday, Green showed exactly why digging into the open body can be so effective. After one particularly strong shot to the liver sat Lainesse down, some ground-and-pound forced referee Herb Dean to step in.
Impressive comeback, vicious finish, and a UFC Vegas 53 positive.
Positive – A Mauling Worthy Of The Odds
It’s hard to imagine a fighter branded as a favorite ever being able to do justice to odds as lopsided as -2500. But if I was to hazard a guess at how they’d do it, it’d go something like Alexandr Romanov’s performance at UFC Vegas 53.
In the space of just over two minutes, the Moldovan put a beating on his American counterpart that included takedowns, ground and pound, and a submission. Romanov’s first takedown came in less than 15 seconds. While Sherman may have grown in confidence after making his way back to his feet, that was quickly slammed out of him courtesy of a brutal suplex.
From there, it was relatively easy for “King Kong.” After advancing to full mount, he delivered some hard shots to “The Vanilla Gorilla” against the cage, before locking in an Americana for the tap.
The positive here isn’t the result — that was expected. It’s the fact that a serious prospect in the heavyweight division went out there and dispatched a lower-level opponent in as brutal a fashion as he needed to, enhancing his reputation as a name to watch. An additional contender is always a positive.
With that, a big fight should be next for him, and the name of #13-ranked Augusto Sakai certainly wasn’t a bad one for Romanov to call out during his time on the mic post-fight.
Positive – Darren Deals Damage, And Takes Some…
Was Darren Elkins vs. Tristan Connelly ever going to end any way other than with both men beaten and bloody? The term ‘as advertized’ was invented with these kind of matchups in mind.
When Elkins is in action, two things are promised: damage and blood. Courtesy of his aggressive strategy and the ability of fellow veteran Connelly to match him, that’s exactly what we got.
Ultimately, after some brutal exchanges and thunderous elbows, the pair fought to the final buzzer, soon after which Elkins was awarded the unanimous decision victory.
Not many people have sent a ‘re-sign me’ message quite like “The Damage” did on Saturday night. Give that man a new deal, Shelby!
Positive – The Brito Bomb
Boom. How about that for a right hand?
Pre-UFC Joanderson Brito has arrived in the Octagon, and in some style. The one and only man to finish Andre Fili with strikes prior to UFC Vegas 53 was current #3-ranked featherweight contender Yair Rodriguez back in 2016. That is certainly not bad company for “Tubarão.”
It took less than a minute for Brito to close the contest. He did so in textbook fashion, probing with his sharp jab before flattening “Touchy” with a looping overhand right that twisted him into the 1996 Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt classic (Google might be needed for that one…).
Fili gave a valiant effort to recover, but after two more flash knockouts on the ground, Herb Dean had seen enough and the bout was over after just 41 seconds.
After a disappointing debut loss to Bill Algeo, this could well be the result that sets the 27-year-old Brazilian prospect on track for a fast rise up the 145-pound ladder.
Positive – Arlovski Doesn’t Age
If you’d expected a dull heavyweight slog in the UFC Vegas 53 co-main event, you were sorely mistaken.
Andrei Arlovski and Jake Collier threw hard for the duration and with a level of conditioning you wouldn’t expect from a 43-year-old and from a man of Collier’s size. After a tight three rounds, the former champ fell on the right side of a split decision.
While I did score the fight for Collier, calls of ‘robbery’ seem misplaced. Either way, however you scored the contest, no one can deny the toughness and durability of “The Pitbull.”
Remarkably, Arlovski is now on a four-fight win streak. Who’d have expected that sentence to make sense in the year 2022? With the victory, the veteran equaled Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone for the most wins in UFC history (23).
Judging by his fight week comments, which saw Arlovski reveal that he still has championship aspirations, it seems that the Belarusian-American is far from done inside the Octagon.
Positive – A Bantamweight Barnburner
What a way to cap off a thoroughly entertaining card. As promised, Rob Font and Marlon Vera went to war in the Fight of the Night, proving exactly why the bantamweight division is regarded as one of, if not the, most entertaining weight classes in the world.
From the first second, Font threw at a rate and volume that was a sight to behold, and probably gave cornerman Calvin Kattar flashbacks to his Octagon date with Max Holloway last January.
Towards the end of the second frame, Vera, who had seemingly been biding his time, joined the party, dropping his foe and threatening a finish. A fast and furious third stanza ended with the same aesthetic: Vera pummelling a downed Font.
In the fourth, a back kick to the head made it a trio of knockdowns from rounds 2-4. Once again, Font incredibly survived to reach his corner, although that was largely due to the Ecuadorian’s bizarre decision to give Font about 30 seconds on his back free of any offense.
Credit also has to go to Tyson Chartier, who asked his man if he was able to continue, something we don’t often see.
Despite his wobbly moments and multiple trips to the canvas, Font never stopped pushing forward and playing his part in an incredible headline clash. Ultimately, he was left pretty unrecognizable.
After 25 minutes, “Chito” was awarded a unanimous decision victory that will certainly mark his breakthrough into the elite at 135 pounds. Welcome to the main event winners’ circle, Marlon Vera.
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 53?