On Saturday, the mixed martial arts leader returned for its latest event, UFC Fight Night: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Edson Barboza.
Before heading back to the United Arab Emirates for a stacked pay-per-view in Abu Dhabi next weekend, the organization put on another event from its Apex facility in Las Vegas.
While much of the MMA world’s focus was already on UFC 294, Saturday’s card wasn’t without a number of notable names on the lineup. That included in the main event, which saw Brazilian veteran Edson Barboza attempt to show that he still has what it takes to compete with elite competition against first-time headliner Sodiq Yusuff.
There were also a number of other intriguing storylines lower down the card, including the return of ranked bantamweight Adrian Yañez, Michel Pereira’s middleweight debut, and South African standout Cameron Saaiman’s latest Octagon outing.
But did those names come together to form an entertaining night of fights? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs. Barboza.
1️⃣1️⃣ fights coming your way on this #UFCVegas81 card!
Who's leaving tonight with a finish? 👀
[ B2YB https://t.co/uBOgAPCr1W ] pic.twitter.com/UL2ChHXz7f
— UFC (@ufc) October 14, 2023
Negative – An Insult
The UFC’s bout orders have long been slightly puzzling, and they don’t come more confusing than putting a ranked bantamweight as the second fight of the night.
In that spot on Saturday was Chris Gutiérrez, who broke into the top 15 at 135 pounds after a knockout victory over Frankie Edgar extended his unbeaten run to eight straight fights last November.
While he fell short of a place higher up the ladder against Pedro Munhoz this past April in Kansas City, Gutiérrez remains a prominent name sitting close to contention. Why, then, does he take to the cage before multiple debutants and much lower-placed athletes?
“El Guapo” shared the Octagon with and defeated Alatengheili, who stepped in on short notice to replace Montel Jackson. Of course, the matchup itself was put together close to fight week and marked a less anticipated one before.
But does that mean a ranked contender deserved second fight of the night? Absolutely not.
And it was good to see Gutiérrez call out the promotion for his card placement fight, going to show that fighters who have worked their way up the ladders do indeed see it as a mark of disrespect.
What was the point of letting Chris Gutierrez sacrifice Frankie Edgar in front of us all if he's gonna be prelim #2
— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) October 14, 2023
Positive – New Arrival
Of all the women’s divisions in the UFC, the bantamweight roster is undoubtedly the least entertaining, interesting, and competitive. With that in mind, any injection of fresh talent is a positive.
At UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs. Barboza, that talent was Melissa Dixon, an English prospect who maintained her undefeated MMA record at the expense of the “Russian Ronda,” or so she says.
Before their contest, Dixon was dismissive of her opponent’s use of former champion Ronda Rousey’s name given all that she achieved. And come time to fight, the Brit distanced Irene Alekseeva further from “Rowdy.”
Things began in a difficult fashion for the newcomer, who was sat down by a stiff right hand towards the end of round one. But “No Mess” — whose face became…well, “Yes Mess” — took control with some slick striking of her own and a display of dominance on the ground en route to a decision triumph.
Although Dixon was critical of her performance post-fight, she did quite emphatically stall the surge of a woman who announced her own arrival earlier this year with a first-round kneebar submission.
But if there is better to come from her, that’s only a positive for a division that is in dire need of something following Amanda Nunes’ retirement.
Melissa Dixon showed so much heart in her UFC debut #UFCVegas81 pic.twitter.com/IB4BqhGZcL
— MMANews (@mmanews_com) October 14, 2023
Positive – He Does It Again
Let it be known, Terrance McKinney does not get paid by the minute…
McKinney joined the UFC on the back of a string of rapid finishes, and that trend continued on debut with a record-breaking knockout of Matt Frevola at UFC 263 in June 2021.
Since then, the 29-year-old has been largely inconsistent, suffering three defeats to Drew Dober, Ismael Bonfim, and Nazim Sadykhov. All the while, however, he’s remained an always entertaining figure.
Now, for the first time since his opening two bouts on MMA’s biggest stage, McKinney has thrilled inside the Octagon while amassing a two-fight winning run, starting with an 85-second finish of Mike Breeden a couple of months ago.
And on Saturday, “T.Wrecks” sent late-notice replacement opponent Brendon Marotte to an even quicker fate by closing the show in just 20 seconds. In truth, it could have easily been sub-10 seconds, with the debutant being floored by a knee instantly.
Don’t blink when McKinney is inside the Octagon.
Terrance McKinney is the third fighter in UFC history to earn two knockouts in 20 seconds or less, joining Anthony Johnson and Matthew Semelsberger 👏 #UFCVegas81 pic.twitter.com/sdCrqATSJr
— UFC (@ufc) October 14, 2023
Negative – Oh, How Things Change
The UFC must be feeling pretty unlucky after losing two of its most promising bantamweight prospects in the space of one fight…
Of course, that is an exaggeration. Regardless of a close defeat on Saturday night to mark the first blemish on his previously perfect record, Cameron Saaiman remains an incredibly talented prospect and certainly a future contender.
For now, though, his surge up the ladder has been stalled. And unfortunately for the promotion, the man responsible for it may not be able use that momentum to rise the ranks at 135 pounds himself owing to the uncertainty surrounding his divisional future.
Prior to a unanimous decision victory over South Africa’s Saaiman at UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs. Barboza, Christian Rodriguez missed weight by a mammoth four pounds. It wasn’t a first offense for “CeeRod” either, as he also tipped the scale heavy for a 2021 win on Dana White’s Contender Series and prior to his win over Raul Rosas Jr. this past April.
In the aftermath of another impressive performance against a fellow prospect, the common sentiment appears to be that if Rodriguez can sort his cut out, he could have a bright future at bantamweight.
But with two weight misses out of three fights in the division under the UFC banner, has that ship already sailed? I hope not, because there aren’t many up-and-comers with more potential than “CeeRod.”
I tried to tell ya. Christian Rodriguez is on a different level📈 https://t.co/MIjKgv5C8g
— Anthony Pettis (@Showtimepettis) October 14, 2023
Positive – New Character Unlocked
Middleweight Michel may be a scary development…
Speaking of an uncertain future for Rodriguez following his latest issue on the scale, one man who missed weight recently and committed to a permanent move up is Michel Pereira.
The entertaining Brazilian striker earned a ranking at 170 pounds with six straight wins. But after seeing an opportunity to fight top 10 contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson fall away at UFC 291 this past July owing to a weight miss, Pereira began a new chapter on October 14.
And when it comes to starting life at 185 pounds on the right foot, “Demolidor” couldn’t have done much more.
It took the Brazilian just 66 seconds to stop Andre Petroski, who stepped in on short notice to replace Marc-André Barriault. The end came when Pereira found a home for his right hand, sitting his American counterpart down before finding the stoppage via ground-and-pound.
With his worries about weight in the past, a Pereira who is fully focused on fighting and doing so more regularly could be a frightening prospect for the middleweight roster.
Welcome to the middleweight division Michel Pereira! #UFCVegas81 pic.twitter.com/oFtyrZ090h
— MMANews (@mmanews_com) October 14, 2023
Positive – Damaging ‘Dragon’
Note to self: don’t get kicked in the legs by Jonathan Martinez.
On Saturday, “The Dragon” extended his winning run to six with perhaps his most impressive performance inside the Octagon to date.
Prior to his collision with fellow ranked contender Adrian Yañez, Martinez had risen into the top 15 courtesy of victories over Cub Swanson and Said Nurmagomedov. Fan-favorite striker Yañez joined those two as victims of Martinez’s ongoing strong form, and in the same fashion as “Killer Cub.”
Martinez became only the second UFC fighter to record two TKOs via leg kicks, brutally chopping down his opponent’s lead limb en route to a stoppage in the second round. With that, it’s time to recognize Martinez as a legitimate contender at 135 pounds and as a fighter who has earned an opportunity at the top 10.
After confirmation that Petr Yan won’t be heading to China this December due to injury, Song Yadong vs. Martinez in Shanghai anyone?
Jonathan Martinez gets another leg kick KO 😳 #UFCVegas81 pic.twitter.com/40iCerLPi3
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) October 15, 2023
Positive – War Barboza
Edson Barboza still bloody has it.
What a year it’s been for the Brazilian veteran. He entered it on the back of consecutive losses to Giga Chikadze and Bryce Mitchell, results that left many questioning whether the end was nye for the 37-year-old.
Consider that notion well and truly dismissed, for the time being.
After returning to the winner’s circle with a brutal knockout of Billy Quarantillo in April, Barboza made it two wins from two in 2023 against the man sat two places above him in the featherweight rankings, Sodiq Yusuff.
More than just a victory, the fan favorite’s triumph came in memorable fashion and will no doubt be among the contenders for ‘Comeback of the Year’ in a few months’ time.
In round one, Barboza was soundly beaten and seemly inches away from being stopped on numerous occasions. Despite that, one judge didn’t award “Super Sodiq” a 10-8 (make it make sense).
After surviving, the Brazilian turned the tide in round two before giving Yusuff a taste of his own medicine in the third, coming close to a finish with an insane spinning wheel kick à la his 2012 win over Terry Etim.
Barboza ultimately rode that wave into strong displays in frames four and five, cementing a comfortable-on-paper but actually far from it unanimous decision victory.
All eyes will continue to be on the striking phenom.
What a performance by @EdsonBarbozaJR 👏
He leaves tonight's #UFCVegas81 main event with the UD victory! pic.twitter.com/EijYIwNeR4
— UFC (@ufc) October 15, 2023
Read Also: UFC Fight Night Results & Highlights: Edson Barboza Outworks Sodiq Yusuff