What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 52 in Austin, Texas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
The night of the slam knockout
It never ceases to amaze me that after more than a decade covering this sport from the closest degree with MMA Junkie, nights like Saturday still come through and things happen that have never happened before.
We got that courtesy of the back-to-back fights featuring slam knockout wins from Drakkar Klose and Cody Brundage. Only once in UFC history has more than one slam knockout happened inside a calendar year, and that was in 2001. We had two on this card alone, and in consecutive bouts. That’s actually mind-boggling.
Who did it better between the two? They came just eight seconds apart in the first round (also crazy), but I have to give the nod to Klose (14-2-1 MMA, 8-2 UFC), who powered his way out of armbar attempt and instantly crippled Joe Solecki. It was as clean as it gets.
Brundage (10-5 MMA, 4-4 UFC) was awesome too, though. It was shades of “Rampage” Jackson’s famous finish of Ricardo Arona in PRIDE when he slammed his way out of a triangle choke attempt, then had a few punches after to seal the deal. The special touch for Brundage goes to the fact he revealed the death of his grandfather during fight, which probably made it much more difficult to win. So for him to win like that, is truly impressive.
If you got to watch that 30 minutes or so of this card live, it definitely felt special. And it’s something that might never well happen again in this lifetime.
Miesha Tate's vintage performance
Miesha Tate turned back the clock in a big way against Julia Avila en route to delivering her first submission victory since a shocking title win over Holly Holm in 2016.
The major difference from that fight with Holm – besides the stakes, obviously – was that Tate (21-9 MMA, 7-6 UFC) was down in the fight and needed a miraculous comeback to get the win. Against Avila, she was dominant for essentially every second.
Tate scored an early takedown to start each round, and didn’t let Avila breathe at all. She completely mauled her foe in the first and second rounds, and although she could’ve easily coasted her way to a win on the scorecards, showed killer instinct to get the finish.
It was nice to see Tate bring that type of intensity with her effort. Does it suddenly make me think she’s going to reclaim the title at 37 years old? Not yet. We must remind that Avila was coming off a long layoff and serious injury, and even without that, she’s never proven herself to be top class in the women’s bantamweight division.
If Tate can bring this exact version of herself every time in the next string of fights, however, then my opinion of what she can truly accomplish at this stage of her career would change.
Sean Brady bounces back in a big way
After taking more than a year of ridicule for being finished by Belal Muhammad on the feet, Sean Brady showed his first career loss in October 2022 was a mere blimp on the radar when he utterly steamrolled Kelvin Gastelum before a third-round submission.
Prior to forcing Gastelum to tap with the kimura late in the fight, Brady (16-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) used his grappling prowess to shut down his opponent and open up the chance to finish. It was impressive stuff, and a huge way to bounce back from the loss to Muhammad.
It’s hard to know exactly where Brady fits into the upper tier of the welterweight division. Gastelum is one of the more inconsistent top-level fighters out there, and it’s hard to know how the cut back down to 170 pounds truly wore on him. Regardless, it was a promising outcome for his future.
Brady is no doubt in line for a top 10 name in the division.
Kerry Hatley's indefensible stoppage
Kerry Hatley deserves every bit of negative feedback and shame that comes his way after allowing Bobby Green to be brutalized by Jalin Turner before mercifully calling for a stoppage in the co-main event.
That was truly uncomfortable to watch, and it’s hard to disagree with anyone who says it was one of the most egregious referee errors we’ve seen in recent history – and perhaps, ever. Will he be penalized by the athletic commission in Texas or any other jurisdiction he’s planned to work for in the future? Probably not. And I’m not aggressively calling for him to be.
The immediate reaction to Hatley’s puzzling decision was rightful. It was good to hear UFC CEO Dana White say post-fight he expressed remorse, and I guess that’s all you can ask for at this point. But you just hope that remorse is sincere, and he never falls asleep at the wheel again.
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) December 3, 2023
The only reason Hatley is bought any measure of good will in this situation is because Green, by all appearance, seems to be OK. He got up and left the octagon under his own power, then sounded quite coherent during a social media post hours after the fight. If the situation had turned out worse – and even fatally – this discussion is a whole different ball game.
He should be grateful for that much, and take sincere reflection on his decision-making in that moment.
Arman Tsarukyan truly arrives
Arman Tsarukyan might’ve undone a lot of the good will with fans that he bought from his 64-second knockout of Beneil Dariush when he decided to mock Green for taking extra damage from Turner at his post-fight press conference, but if we can ignore that for a second and focus on what this performance meant, let’s try to do that.
It was significant, to say the least. For Tsarukyan to go in and utterly starch a motivated version of Dariush does wonders for his career, and allowed the world to see the potential many people – myself included – have seen in him for years now.
Tsarukyan has had some underwhelming performances at times, but now it seems like he’s rising to the level of the top competition in the lightweight division. That puts his 2018 loss to Islam Makhachev on short notice, and at just 22 years old, into an even better light for him.
The biggest problem now is the same one Tsarukyan faced prior to getting the Dariush fight: Who above him is going to be willing to take the fight? Dariush was fortunately a willing participant, but will the likes of Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Mateusz Gamrot (again), be? It’s tough to say.
The UFC could go the route or spring boarding him right into a title fight with Makhachev, but if you’re Makhachev, are you looking at that as an easier matchup than either Charles Oliveira or Justin Gaethje? Unlikely.
So that leaves Tsarukyan in a bit of a pickle. It will be interesting to see what the UFC does with him, because it would be a shame if he had to go the direction of taking a significantly lesser foe.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 52.