Ah, early morning MMA. At least that’s what UFC St. Petersburg was for fans in the Americas. There are few things I enjoy more. Though I thoroughly enjoy it, it could be improved upon with higher quality fights. Nonetheless, despite the lack of name value, we got a lot of quality. The first four fights delivered violent finishes before a slew of decisions came our way. However, save for a few exceptions, those decisions were entertaining. The event ended with a nice pop – not quite a bang – as Alistair Overeem turned away perpetual underdog Alexey Oleinik and Islam Makhachev and newcomer Armen Tsarukyan turned in the FOTN. It turned out to be a pleasurable experience overall.
Alistair Overeem: It’s easy to forget how good Overeem really is when he’s been on the receiving end of so many highlight reel KO’s. There was even a brief moment when it appeared he was going to be on the receiving end of yet another, only for Overeem to cover up and weather Oleinik’s assault to his body. Overeem delivered some brutal knees from the clinch to the body and head and it wasn’t long before Old Man River crumpled, giving Overeem a win. The win doesn’t reestablish Overeem as an elite heavyweight, but it does reinforce he is still relevant. Given how many people thought Overeem was finished following his bludgeoning at the hands of Curtis Blaydes, that isn’t a bad place to be.
Arman Tsarukyan: Y’all remember when Lando Vannata had an explosive debut against Tony Ferguson and how everyone was excited about his future? Well, Tsarukyan’s performance was similar to that. Unlike Vannata, this doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a fluke. The 22-year old Armenian took the fight to Islam Makhachev, becoming the first in the UFC to take him down. Every round was a grinding affair that could have swung in his favor with just a single significant strike or takedown. Alas, Tsarukyan didn’t get the win, but he did earn the respect of the MMA world. There isn’t a person who understands a modicum of MMA who isn’t excited to see what this kid can do moving forward.
Sergei Pavlovich: So that’s why so many were picking Pavlovich to upset Overeem last year…. Pavlovich recognized Marcelo Golm was used to out-athleting his opposition. Being a comparable athlete, Pavlovich put the screws to the young Brazilian and finished him with strikes in a hurry. At 26, Pavlovich is still an infant in the heavyweight division. I don’t mind him taking some time off as he indicated he’d do in his post-fight interview. There’s no need to rush his development.
Roxanne Modafferi: My picks for this card weren’t the best, going 7-4. However, it’s largely worth it to me as I nailed the Modafferi pick, largely because I told myself I couldn’t underestimate her again. The awkward vet put nonstop pressure on Antonina Shevchenko, getting her down in every round and delivering more overall strikes. Modafferi’s high activity level overwhelmed the older Shevchenko sister and kept Roxy relevant near the top of the division. Another bonus: Keeping Antonina on the ground limited the amount of “HEY”’s Valentina was able to yell out. In that case, we all win.
Krzysztof Jotko: I feared Jotko may have lost all confidence following his third consecutive loss. He did look terrible against Brad Tavares after all. Instead, Jotko went back to basics, taking down Alen Amedovski at every opportunity and keeping him there for the majority of the 15 minute contest. It wasn’t pretty, but it was dominant and indicates Jotko can bounce back. At 29, there’s still time for him to crawl back into the top ten.
Movsar Evloev: He may not have achieved a finish, but Evloev’s performance was about as good as you could expect out of a decision victory. He pushed a hard pace, maintained it for the entire contest, scored takedown after takedown, and laid the punishment on thick onto Seung Woo Choi. On a card chuck full of impressive performances, this was possibly the best. Evloev is someone to keep an eye on.
Sultan Aliev: I’ll admit I’m giving Aliev a slightly lower standard than others as his performance against Keita Nakamura was boring. However, in that same token, it was about as exciting as it gets for Aliev. Plus, Aliev announced his retirement following the contest. Who doesn’t want to go out on a win? Here’s hoping him all the best moving forward.
Shamil Abdurakhimov: I’ve been mixed on the big Russian. There’s been times where he looks spectacular and others when unsure of himself. No unsure-ty emanated from him against Marcin Tybura, showing only confidence and precision, turning in the workman-like performance analysts love before capping it off with a violent finish. Things couldn’t have gone better for him. At 37, lets hope the UFC can start giving him some bigger opportunities sooner rather than later.
Michel Oleksiejczuk: I think it’s safe to add Oleksiejczuk to the list of light heavyweight prospects who are providing hope for the future. Gadzhimurad Antigulov isn’t a world beater by any means, but he’s proven to be tough. Oleksiejczuk knocked him down three times in 44 seconds, averaging a knock down less than every 15 seconds. I still worry about his size should he face a composed wrestler, but his own composure, accuracy, and power will make him a tough out for anyone.
Magomed Mustafaev: I was shocked to see how many people were picking against Mustafaev. The dude was a top prospect whose only recent loss was to Kevin Lee. Last time I checked, Lee was pretty damned good. After more than two years away, Mustafaev reminded us why he was so hyped, eliminated feared Muay Thai striker Rafael Fiziev in 86 seconds with a highlight spinning back kick. Lets hope he can stay healthy and continue to show us why he was once so hyped.
Stephie Haynes: At 9-2 with her picks, Stephie recorded the best score of the Bloody Elbow staff, her whiffs coming in with Nakamura and Tybura. Given just one staff member each picked those, Stephie can be excused on those picks. Will she reign next week?
Marcelo Golm: Losing in the fashion he did, I had no choice but to put Golm in the loser’s column. He only lasted 66 seconds after all. However, I also believe this is the best thing that can happen to the youngster. He was called up to the UFC too soon and has struggled swimming in the deep end. Throw him back on the regional scene, develop at his own pace, and get some experience. In about two or three years, he should be ready to fulfill his promise.
Alen Amedovski: I knew Amedovski was a poor wrestler and grappler. I picked him anyway, guessing he’d connect one of his haymakers cleanly. Nope. Amedovski did nothing to create excitement around him. I knew Amedovski wasn’t going to be anything more than a limited action fighter, but this was terrible, reminding me of many UFC contests circa 2006. He needs someone to bang with if the UFC wants a return on its investment.
Seung Woo Choi: I’m sure there are a lot of people ready to give up on Choi after his one-sided loss to Evloev. Trust me, Choi is better than what he showed in his UFC debut. Nonetheless, there is plenty of disappointment to go around as Choi barely got an opportunity to show what he can do on his feet. Here’s hoping he can paired up with a fellow striker in his next contest as his wrestling was, as expected, terrible. I’ll admit it was better than Amedovski’s showing as Choi continued to fight back to his feet, but that’s small consolation.
Keita Nakamura: Aliev was a very winnable opponent for Nakamura. Alas, the cagey Japanese veteran couldn’t keep the grinding Russian off him. It’s plausible of an indication of Nakamura coming near the end of the line, but he’s also had performances like this before against physically stronger opponents. His loss to Tom Breese in particular comes to mind. Regardless, it wasn’t a good night for the long time vet.
Alex da Silva: I instantly regretted picking Alexander Yakovlev when I saw him in the cage. The Russian looked like a skeleton. Da Silva started out well enough, only to gas and unable to escape from Yakovlev’s clutches. Da Silva does have some promise as he’s only 23 with a lot of fights on his resume. The problem is many of those fights were meaningless as quality has been lacking in his opposition. Hopefully this loss proves to be a good learning experience for the Brazilian.
Marcin Tybura: It wasn’t that long ago Tybura was headlining a Fight Night with Fabricio Werdum. Now, it looks like the Pole will be fighting for his UFC career in his next contest with his third loss in four contests. It isn’t just that he lost a fight many expected him to win. It’s that he couldn’t get the typical fast start he’s accustomed to. Plus, he got finished for the second time in three contests, bringing questions to his noted durability. It doesn’t take long for things to turn in this sport….
Gadzhimurad Antigulov: From two straight first round wins to two straight first round losses, things have quickly turned on the submission specialist. Everyone knew his balls out strategy out of the gate would only take him so far. It seems like he’s reached the point of how far it will take him. Unless the UFC lobs him a softball, Antigulov isn’t getting another win in the organization.
Rafael Fiziev: Had Fiziev been taken down and subbed, I probably wouldn’t have been so disappointed with his performance. Instead, the striker was outclassed on the feet in just 86 seconds, a place where he’s supposed to be at his best. Fiziev is still young in his MMA career and Mustafaev was a tough debut, so I’m not selling my Fiziev stock yet, but I’m sure expectations have been tempered.
UFC/ESPN: Why in the hell was the UFC labeling the prelims as being on ESPN+ if they were going to show them on ESPN2? This is a billion dollar empire and they can’t even tell people where their fights are being shown? Not to mention, I saw several people on the Twittersphere who were having problems with their ESPN app. These type of issues may seem minor in the bigger picture, but enough of this crap added up could cause some serious problems. Let’s get it together guys, for the benefit of all.
Alexey Oleinik: Oleinik came close to securing the upset. Let’s not dance around that fact. I’d even say there isn’t much I’d change about his game plan. Once he realized Overeem was going to continue covering up his chin, Oleinik attacked the body because it was what was available. The problem is few people can do so much with as little offense as Overeem produced and Oleinik eventually crumpled. Given how heavy of an underdog Oleinik was, it was to be expected. But credit to the old man as he proved he still has game.
Islam Makhachev: Khabib’s teammate may have walked out of the event with a win – and a hard-fought one at that – but he was given a showcase of sorts when the UFC awarded him a co-main event slot against a debuting fighter. Makhachev didn’t showcase as expected. I’m not trying to take anything away from Makhachev as Tsarukyan proved to be better than anyone expected, but many believe Makhachev should be going to battle with opposition in the top ten. This performance wasn’t indicative of that.
Antonina Shevchenko: I know a lot of you think this placement is BS. Shevchenko was the betting favorite and she lost. How the hell can she be anything other than a loser? People continually underestimate Roxy, including the UFC and the bettors. Roxy is a HUGE step up in competition from Ji Yeon Kim, Shevchenko’s last opponent. Lauren Murphy or Mara Romero Borella would have made more sense. Shevchenko did well enough that there shouldn’t have been any controversy had the judges awarded the fight in her favor, even going so far as to secure a couple of sweeps on Roxy. My opinion on Shevchenko didn’t go down, even in the loss. In fact, I expect her to learn a lot from it. She’ll be fine.
Alexander Yakovlev: There are a lot more positives for Yakovlev to take out of his win over Alex da Silva than negatives. His first appearance in over two years. His first win in over three years. Overcoming adversity to put away Alex da Silva. However, he looked dehydrated as hell at 155, never showing the type of body language you want to see out of a fighter. He’s too big to make lightweight safely and too small to compete with the physicality at welterweight. Anyone else for 165?