Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday brought a key heavyweight battle to Olimpiysky Arena in Moscow. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
The UFC’s debut in Russia was punctuated by another improbable tale of the aging but surging heavyweight. Alexey Oleynik made good on headlining in his hometown with a rear-naked choke finish of Mark Hunt after finding himself in early trouble in the UFC Fight Night 136 headliner. His victory comes at unique time in the division. A brief glance at the rankings in the weight class reveals a glaring omission. With the United States Anti-Doping Agency handing Fabricio Werdum a two-year suspension, there’s a shortage of showstopping submission specialists above 206 pounds in the UFC.
While the 41-year-old would be an unlikely candidate for title contention on the surface, a brief examination of his record shows there is promise. A record littered with a wide variety of tapout victories has only been blemished twice in the UFC, once to title-contender-in-limbo Curtis Blaydes in a puzzling sequence involving an illegal kick at UFC 217 and once in a razor-thin majority decision to Daniel Omielanczuk at UFC Fight Night 91.
Adding the marquee name of a former title challenger can only bolster Oleynik’s case as he hopes to make a move up in the division. From a style perspective, he would be an interesting challenge for the upper echelon of heavyweight. His striking style is far from the polish of an Alistair Overeem or a Junior dos Santos, but he’s unorthodox enough to create the necessary chaos to find his opportunities. Those reliant on a wrestling-based attack will have to worry about the submission threat, as he has finished a number of opponents with an Ezekiel choke from the bottom.
With champion Daniel Cormier likely to await the return of Brock Lesnar in January and the aforementioned Blaydes or recently dethroned Stipe Miocic in a holding pattern, the Russian is certainly not guaranteed to see a chance for gold. However, with his unrelenting workmanlike approach, Oleynik may prove to be a monkey wrench in the plans of his colleagues.
The bad piece of UFC Fight Night 136 -- besides the early start time on the West Coast interrupting my beauty sleep -- was the end result for Kajan Johnson. The Canadian dropped a split decision to Rustam Khabilov and is now on a two-fight skid. The four-fight winning streak that preceded these tough times seems far in the rearview, although that success ended in July.
Fighters often have shifts of momentum throughout their careers, but what makes Johnson’s situation particularly difficult is his place in the minds of UFC executives. Since March 2017, when he lived up to his “Rajin’” nickname while lashing out at a Reebok representative during a UFC fighter retreat, Johnson has been on the radar as someone who wasn’t fond of being a simple company man.
A year and a half after that incident, Johnson has only added fuel to the fire. He has become the interim vice president of the fighter-led union initiative Project Spearhead, teased UFC President Dana White with a fake hand shake at the ceremonial weigh-ins for UFC on Fox 30 and even included the kidnapping and humiliation of an older, angry, bald white man in a recent music video. Sprinkle that in with two consecutive losses and you have the recipe for unceremonious free agency.
The leash has been a bit looser for fighters that deliver the stereotypical exciting performance or find themselves on the wrong end of a close decision. The Tristar Gym product can check both of those boxes, as he not only delivered visceral action but appears to have suffered defeat at the hands of old-fashioned home cooking from the judges. However, it’s hard to believe that Johnson will be afforded such privilege. Since his emergence as a thorn in the promotion’s side, he has seen unfavorable matchups that are clearly reflected in the betting odds: He has been the underdog in all of his bouts. His loss to Islam Makhachev in July seemed to provide the guide to stopping him from defying those odds. The quick turnaround against another Dagestani known for forward-moving pressure and smothering grappling abilities was widely speculated to be another result of his issues with the higher-ups.
Looking back at how the UFC handled top-ranked bantamweight Leslie Smith -- she was shown the door during a two-fight winning streak that included a “Fight of the Night” performance and knockout -- it would be a surprise if Johnson were rebooked for another appearance in the Octagon.
There seems to be a recurrent theme in this series. Somehow at least one section usually points to questionable officiating. Today, that tradition continues. Disclaimer: Herb Dean has been one of the most consistently trustworthy referees in mixed martial arts for years. However, that was not on display in Moscow.
When C.B. Dollaway fell victim to a second-round onslaught of ground-and-pound from Khalid Murtazaliev, there was clearly no fight left in the Arizonan. Leading up to the strikes in question, his resistance in the wrestling exchanges faded as fatigue set in. High-level submission attempts and grappling counters turned into his guard being easily passed, as Dollaway found himself mounted and his scrambles easily shrugged off. Murtazaliev then opened up with the barrage against a nearly helpless and completely ineffective opponent.
The commentary team could see it, as Paul Felder, Dan Hardy and John Gooden shouted for a stoppage cageside. The MMA Twitter timeline exploded with demands that Dollaway be spared from any further punishment. For whatever reason, Dean seemed to be the only person who didn’t see it for what it was and allowed it to continue until the round ended. To make it an even more disturbing scene, a visibly broken Dollaway couldn’t even make his way to his corner after the round. Dean’s prompting to get the middleweight back to his stool was unnecessary. Fortunately, the middleweight realized he had nothing left and made the smart move to discontinue. Dollaway’s cornermen share some of the responsibility for what happened. They should have made that call and left it out of their fighter’s hands.
Dean’s next appearance on the card was the aforementioned main event. Considering the suspect job he did earlier in the night and the high probability of a finish between the two heavyweights, lingering doubts about his presence would certainly be understandable.