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Like something from a Hollywood car chase, UFC Fight Night 182 skidded into the UFC Apex Saturday night on fire and missing a couple of wheels. The nine-fight card, decimated by weight issues and injuries, nonetheless treated us to a former champion making an emphatic return to the division he once ruled, as well as two of the promotion’s most exciting “new” faces—one truly new, one back from a long layoff—making their second Octagon appearances of 2020. Here is the “UFC Vegas 14” stock report.
Rafael dos Anjos: There’s making the best of a tough situation, and then there’s what dos Anjos did on Saturday. Returning to the lightweight division after a four-year run at welterweight and facing a last-minute replacement in the dangerous Paul Felder, dos Anjos swept all five rounds in the eyes of most observers. The former champ looked very much like his vintage self, using his trademark suffocating pressure to harass Felder, taking him down in every round and giving him relatively few chances to get his striking going. The optics are made even better by how good Felder looked; incredibly, for a man who has spent time at welterweight as well in the past few years and accepted the fight on Tuesday, “The Irish Dragon” looked fit, sharp and in outstanding condition. While dos Anjos has quite a climb back to the title in the post-Khabib Nurmagomedov lightweight division, he jumps quite comfortably right back into the Top 10.
Sean Strickland: After two years on the shelf thanks to a horrific motorcycle accident, Strickland now has two impressive wins in as many weeks. While his one-sided unanimous decision win over Jack Marshman on Halloween was a nice welcome back to action, Marshman is 1-4 in his last five and may not be long for the UFC ranks. In contrast, Brendan Allen, Strickland’s foe at UFC Vegas 14, was on a seven-fight win streak, the last three of them in the UFC, and is one of the promotion’s brightest young middleweight prospects. Strickland outboxed Allen for a round and change before finishing him early in the second with a sharp series of combinations. Still just 29 years old, Strickland is even more of a person of interest in the UFC middleweight division, as well as a strong candidate for 2020’s “Comeback Fighter of the Year.”
Kalinn Williams: “Khaos?” “The Ox Fighter?” After his performance on Saturday, Williams can give himself a third nickname if he likes. He’s earned it. In Williams’ UFC debut back in February, he stepped up on short notice and knocked out the heavily favored Alex Morono in 27 seconds—in Morono’s hometown, no less. While that was an eye-opening debut, it had been a wild brawl that left justifiable questions over whether the 26-year-old could duplicate the performance, or even come close. Enter Saturday and Abdul Razak Alhassan, a formidable knockout artist in his own right, and Williams managed to outdo himself, scoring one of the most terrifying knockouts of 2020 in just 30 seconds. There was no slugfest this time; just a perfect short right hand that detonated on Alhassan’s chin as he was coming forward and left him out cold and stiff on the canvas. “Khaos” is now the first fighter in UFC history to open his Octagon career with two knockouts in 30 seconds or less, and is poised to be one of 2021’s breakout stars for the promotion.
Randa Markos: Markos’ improbable 16-fight run of alternating wins and losses—with one draw—ended this year, but more importantly, so did the mystique around it. For most of her UFC run, Markos has been ultra-reliable, a tough out for almost anyone, and capable of jumping up and taking out a contender like Angela Hill on the right night. After her lopsided loss to the debuting Kanako Murata on Saturday in which she was visibly frustrated on the ground, “Quiet Storm” is now 0-3 this year. While a three-fight losing streak is no longer a virtual guarantee of a pink slip in the COVID-era UFC, Markos’ days as gatekeeper to the stars appear to be over.
Roque Martinez: Martinez debuted in the UFC in September as a mildly interesting heavyweight prospect who had fought almost exclusively in Asia. While he was tapped out with relative ease by Alexander Romanov, Romanov is a far more highly-touted prospect who has been doing that to everyone. On Saturday against Don’tale Mayes, Martinez had the chance to right the ship, but the opposite happened. Mayes, who was himself 0-2 in the UFC coming into the fight, dominated the first two rounds and withstood everything the Guamanian could throw at him in the third without ill effect. Now it’s Martinez who is 0-2 in the Octagon, and while his job is likely secure for the moment, he has shown next to nothing in his two opportunities so far.