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Well, that was a reminder not to judge a book — or a fight card — by its cover.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 185 started out fight week as a 15-bout marathon, relatively low on ranked contender matchups and headlined by a main event that promised to be a one-sided mauling. The outlook did not improve when the card lost three of its most interesting matchups in the last 36 hours, including the ultra-rarity of one fighter walking out to the Octagon, only to have his opponent not follow suit.
Despite the modest expectations and the setbacks, “UFC Vegas 19” delivered a ridiculous night of fireworks, with so many highlight-reel finishes that poor Julian Erosa scored a flying knee knockout in under a minute and still managed to get frozen out of the post-fight bonus derby. And that horrible style matchup in the main event? Like a microcosm of the card as a whole, it delivered more shocking violence than we had any right to expect. On such an explosive, revelatory night of fights, of course some fighters’ fortunes rose while others fell. Here is the stock report for UFC Fight Night 185: Blaydes vs. Lewis.
Derrick Lewis: Saturday’s main event featured the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division’s all-time leader in takedowns against its all-time leader in knockouts, but the takedown guy was a 4-to-1 favorite for a reason, as Curtis Blaydes’ relentless wrestling assault had been too much for any man not named Francis Ngannou to handle. A round and a half later, Lewis had notched a solid contender for “Knockout of the Year” — certainly the most chilling. More importantly, it was the signature victory of his career so far, positioning “The Black Beast” one more win away from a title shot, at most.
Fans and media are often too eager to credit a fighter with one-shot knockout power, and commentators trying to maintain audience interest in a one-sided fight too often resort to telling us that the losing fighter could turn things around at any moment with a single punch. Perhaps more so than any other fighter in history, Lewis actually embodies that ideal. It is worth noting that while he entered the Octagon as the all-time heavyweight knockout king, and he left tied with Vitor Belfort for the most knockouts in UFC history, period, Lewis had already been the all-time leader in knockouts in the third round or later for several years. That isn’t too shabby for a guy whose conditioning is supposedly one of his weaknesses. He may be an endless source of sound bites, and a Top 5 pound-for-pound social media follow, but underestimate this man’s skills and heart at your own mortal peril.
Chris Daukaus: Six months ago, Daukaus joined the UFC to extremely modest expectations; if anything, he was the less-promising older sibling of recently signed middleweight prospect Kyle Daukaus. After a brutal knockout win over the aging, but still wily Alexey Oleynik, it’s suddenly the big brother who is the subject of attention, now 3-0 in the Octagon with three first-round finishes. Part of the buzz is due to the step up in competition; while Daukaus’ first two wins were over middling competition, Oleynik is a recent Top 10 heavyweight and still a fringe contender. However, at the same time, the older brother has been making strides towards being less of the big brother. While he pushed the heavyweight limit just two years ago in Cage Fury Fighting Championships, the Philadelphia cop has slimmed down dramatically, coming in at a svelte 234 for the Oleynik fight, with all the attendant improvements in speed and athleticism — and cardio, presumably, though that hasn’t exactly come up yet. Looking at the transformed prospect on Saturday, it was hard not to imagine him cutting all the way to light heavyweight, but why would he bother? In a UFC heavyweight division where no fighter is more than four wins away from the Top 10, Daukaus is right where he should be, 75% of the way there.
Aiemann Zahabi: The UFC announcers referred to Zahabi more than once as a prospect we would like to see more of. The first part of that statement may be a stretch, as the younger brother of Tristar Gym head honcho Firas Zahabi is 33 years old and has technically been on roster for almost five years. The second part, however, is dead-on. With his brutal knockout of a far more highly touted prospect in Drako Rodriguez on Saturday, Zahabi reminded us of just how sharp his offensive arsenal is — and, somewhat ironically for a scion of a team sometimes accused of turning fighters boring, how potent and aggressive he can be on the feet. Let us all pray that it isn’t another 18 months before we see him in the Octagon again.
Ketlen Vieira: Vieira began the week as a surging bantamweight contender, headed into a high-stakes bout with fellow Top 10 fighter Yana Kunitskaya. Thanks to the current state of the division — nearly cleaned out by Amanda Nunes, with pound-for-pound spoilers Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie running interference — Vieira might well have parlayed a convincing win over Kunitskaya into an immediate title shot. Instead, Vieira takes an undeniable step back with a razor-close decision loss to the Russian. Opinions will vary over the decision, depending on whether you value Vieira’s general dominance and protracted ground control over Kunitskaya’s bursts of offense and visible damage, but Vieira also missed weight by two whole pounds. Considering that that would have placed her three pounds over the limit for a title fight, UFC matchmakers might have been slow to grant her a title fight even if she had won on Saturday. While the 29-year-old Nova Uniao bruiser will almost certainly have more chances in the years to come, it’s hard not to see this as a disappointment.
Charles Rosa: Last May, Rosa lost a unanimous decision to Bryce Mitchell in which he was completely dominated on the ground for most of the fight. It was one of our first introductions to the realities of empty-arena UFC events, as we could clearly hear a frustrated Rosa — a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt — trying to verbally goad Mitchell into letting him up so that they could slug it out on the feet. It seemed fair to give Rosa a pass on that fight; Mitchell is turning out to be the kind of MMA ground phenom who will probably embarrass quite a few more highly credentialed grapplers in the cage before all is said and done. However, Rosa’s loss to Darrick Minner at “UFC Vegas 19” was even more lopsided. It was not surprising that the burly Minner, a former college wrestler, had such success bringing the fight to the floor, but what followed, in all three rounds, was a one-sided clinic in top control. Rosa was reduced to offering up low-percentage submission attempts from his back, which were punished by Minner, who thwarted them easily and advanced to more dominant positions. Rosa’s roster spot may not be in immediate danger, since he has alternated wins and losses since joining the UFC in 2014, but it’s growing more difficult to see winnable matchups for him in the extremely competitive 145-pound division.