UFC San Antonio has come and gone, leaving an awkward mark. The main event was anticlimactic. There were several fights cancelled in the 48 hours leading up to the event, even one during the event. What may have been the worst scorecard in UFC history was turned in (more on that a bit later). That doesn’t mean everything was rotten with the card. Most of the fights that did make it to the cage were perfectly acceptable in terms of the aesthetic. Even those that weren’t that fun had some solid moments. For example, the main event between Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen proved to be strong message from Sandhagen that he shouldn’t be forgotten about in the bantamweight title picture.
Without touching too much on the big stories from the event – those will get plenty of coverage elsewhere – we’ll go through my Unofficial Awards to give a rundown of the event in its entirety. Let’s dig in.
Biggest Jump in Stock: No one made a massive jump. Most already believe Sandhagen was one of the best bantamweights on the roster, even if they picked against him. Very few picked against Maycee Barber in her contest with Andrea Lee. Ultimately, it has to go to Lucas Alexander. The Brazilian was seen by most as being in the right place at the right time when he was signed to face Joanderson Brito last fall rather than being a legit prospect. While defeating Steven Peterson isn’t considered to be a huge accomplishment, the manner in which he did solidified the idea that he’s more than just another body on the roster. Alexander displayed a level of maturity in his performance, staying on the outside and picking apart the rugged veteran. I still have major questions about Alexander’s ability to climb deep into the rankings, but I do see him hanging around for quite a while.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This fall can be remedied with a single performance that represents a return to form, but Vera looked nothing like the world beater we all came to know heading into the event. Even in some of his past losses, Vera had been able to maintain the killer instinct in his eyes, knowing he’d eventually put his opponent away, provided he didn’t run out of time. That look was nowhere to be seen at any point. Vera had a deer in the headlights look, like the spotlight was too bright for him. Given he’s headlined a couple of other cards of similar repute, it doesn’t make sense for him to shrink in the spotlight. I find it likely there was more going on than what we know, but credit to Vera for offering no excuses.
Best Newcomer: There was only one newcomer and Vinicius Salvador came up on the short end of the stick of a close contest due to some questionable fight IQ. That said, Salvador did show a deeper gas tank than anticipated, not to mention his diverse striking and toughness. Yes, Salvador has a way to go before he can begin to fulfill his potential. Aside from his fight IQ, his striking technique could use a lot of sharpening, which would help exploit his impressive power. Salvador isn’t an elite prospect, but if he receives the proper coaching and training, he could be.
Saved their Job(s): Given his spotty history with PED’s, there’s a question to whether Daniel Pineda could end up pissing hot and requiring a lengthy suspension following his victory over Tucker Lutz. If that does prove to be the case, it’s plausible he could be released from his contract rather than ride out the entirety of the suspension, but that’s all speculatory at this point. For now, Pineda’s win is legit and his job is safe. Even as his job is safe for now, it feels like Pineda is on thin ice given his age. 37 is old for featherweight and Pineda has a lot of hard traveled miles on his body. Regardless, given his propensity for exciting fights, the UFC would be wise to utilize him as frequently as they can while he still has something left in the tank.
If they UFC could give Daniel Lacerda da Silva a fourth opportunity when he’d gone winless in his first three appearances, then I would have believed CJ Vergara would have been deserving of a fifth opportunity had he only managed a single victory in four appearances. Fortunately for Vergara, it didn’t come down to that as he managed to even out his record to 2-2 after overcoming some serious adversity at the hands of da Silva. A grizzled vet, Vergara spoke of working his way up to headlining cards. I don’t see that in his future, but I’ve been proven wrong plenty of times. What I do see is someone who can be a legit gatekeeper in a flyweight division that finally appears to be solidifying itself after being destroyed for the most part a few years ago.
Start Typing a Resume: If Tucker Lutz gets the boot, it won’t be a shock. Not that there aren’t several fighters who have hung on after notching a 1-2 start. There’s plenty who have survived that. But Lutz isn’t the type of aesthetically pleasing fighter that delights Uncle Dana. For those who don’t remember, Lutz required two appearances on DWCS to earn his contract. Uncle Dana told him he needed a finish in his second appearance after a grinding victory in the first appearance. I get a feeling Lutz might be on a short leash given Uncle Dana signed him despite him being unable to secure a finish. I’m not positive Lutz will receive walking papers, but the guess is that’s what happens.
I can’t recall the last time I advocated for a fighter to get a fifth opportunity after they lost their first four fights within the organization, at least not in a single stretch. Patrick Cote lost his first four, but it was over separate stints. I’d love to see da Silva get that chance without requiring a release. I get that the Brazilian isn’t likely to become a title challenger the way Cote did, but he’s proven to be a fun watch every time out. Most encouraging, da Silva showed maturity in his contest with Vergara, attempting to pace himself for once. He literally had Vergara running. I’m not counting on it, but I’d love to see him continue to develop within the confines of the UFC.
Biggest WOW Moment: There were a number of fun fights, but very few finishes on the card. Thus, even though I typically end up reserving this award for a spectacular finish. Well, that didn’t happen, leaving me feeling guilt-free of sliding Barber in here for the way she managed to trap the arm of Lee. Putting it that way makes it sound simplistic, the type of move we see in just about every contest with some decent grappling involved. But knowing Barber was on her back while Lee was in top position makes it a more complicated scene than just trapping an arm. It took major creativity on the part of Barber to pull it off. It even proved to be more than just a cool moment; it very likely won the round – and the fight – for Barber as she was able to land some impressive offense off her back as a result.
Happy Trails: He didn’t have the most notable UFC career, but Steven Peterson was one of the most respected members of the UFC community. Never the most gifted athlete, Peterson always managed to get by on heart and guts. His 3-5 UFC record isn’t impressive, but it is emblematic of his talent level. What everyone knew about Peterson is that they were going to know they’d been in a fight when they stepped in the cage with him. Only 32, Peterson had racked up an incredible amount of miles throughout his life and it was beginning to show. He indicated he wanted to concentrate on coaching when he announced his retirement and I get the feeling he’ll be a good fit for that. Here’s wishing him only the best.
Worst Scorecard: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who deserved to win the fight between Sandhagen and Vera. Hell, someone who was watching the very first fight of their life would have been able to recognize who won. And yet, inexplicably, Joel Ojeda found a way to score the fight for Vera, awarding him a 48-47 score. I try very hard not to be hyperbolic in these articles, but that could very well be the worst score I’ve ever seen in an MMA fight. Jeff Collins scoring 30-27 for Diego Sanchez over Ross Pearson is the only other one that comes to mind. For the record, Collins never judged a fight in the UFC ever again after turning in that score. There’s a very good chance the same fate awaits Ojeda. The only person happy with that scorecard was Dan Miragliotta as it took the spotlight off his questionable 30-27 scorecard for Barber.
Worst Luck: Ever since his turn to challenge Deiveson Figueiredo for the flyweight title in 2020, Alex Perez has been scheduled to appear in a total of 10 fights… and only one of those fights has come to fruition. There’s reason to question how much Perez’s heart is still in fighting after that many cancellations, but it’s also hard to believe all of it can be attributed to a lack of fortitude for Perez. After all, this is a job where you get punched in the face for a living and Perez has done it for quite a while. Hell, he’s done a hell of a job of it too. Regardless, his pulling out of his contest with Manel Kape can’t be blamed on a lack of heart. Perez reportedly suffered a seizure warming up for his fight. No reasonable person would fault Perez for pulling out at that point. Kape should be given some leeway given the heat going into their fight and him having a potential paycheck and win ripped from him. Rightly or not, many are going to give up on Perez ever being someone to pay attention to ever again. Don’t be surprised if it gets to the point where the organization cuts its losses and decides to move on ala Nicco Montano.
Most Middleweight non-Middleweight Fight: The middleweight division has developed a well-deserved reputation as a division known for middling fights, pun intended. No division has more fights that feature no one taking absolute control of a fight. The lone middleweight contest on the card fit that too a tee, at least for rounds two and three between Albert Duraev and Chidi Njokuani. Duraev’s dominant first round proved to be difference maker in their contest. However, the fight that best captured the spirit of the middleweight division was between Trevin Giles and Preston Parsons. Parsons utilized an aggressive gameplan that saw him fade sharply the further the match progressed. Giles faded some himself, but it’s hard to name any one round that either took definitively. Appropriately, Giles is a former middleweight himself. I suppose a fighter can leave the middleweight division, but the middleweight division will never leave the fighter.
Bonus Numbers: It took a bit for Nate Landwehr to find his footing in the UFC, but he appears to have done so. After all, the charismatic Tennessee native picked up the third Performance Bonus in as many appearances. That he was able to do so while fighting the most strategic contest we’ve seen from him yet is an incredible feat. It was also the third Performance Bonus for Pineda, extending back to his first UFC run in the early-to-mid 2010’s. Vergara and da Silva picked up the first of their careers. Perhaps that might prove to be enough to keep da Silva around….
In terms of droughts, it’s all about the ladies. In terms of the longest overall drought, Holly Holm last secured an extra paycheck for her Performance back in December of 2017. For her, that was six fights ago. Yana Santos has the longest drought without a bonus whatsoever, extending back to March 2018. However, Barber has fought a total of nine times since her debut in November 2018, giving her the most appearances without a Bonus appearing on this card.
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