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For the second event in a row, the Ultimate Fighting Championship managed to get a card through fight week without any bout changes or cancellations, a rarity since the COVID-19 era began roughly a year ago. While that feels like cause for some cautious optimism regarding MMA’s immediate future, UFC Fight Night 187 itself was plagued in a different way, as a shocking number of the 13 fights were impacted by fouls and questionable judges’ decisions. We witnessed the unprecedented, as two bouts ended in no-contests on a single night for the first time in UFC history. That one of them was the main event was especially cruel.
Once “UFC Vegas 21” was finished, in all its frustrating glory — all emergency room visits done and MMA Decisions’ servers no longer completely redlined — some fighters’ stocks had risen while others had taken a hit, fairly or not. It’s a cold world out there, and I might be feeling a little chilly myself, but here’s the stock report for UFC Fight Night 187: Edwards vs. Muhammad.
Dan Ige: While Ige just missed the cut for my weekly pre-event roundup of fighters under special pressure to perform, he would have been the next name up if any of those three had fallen off the card. Obviously, “50K” was in no peril whatsoever of losing his job as he prepared to face Gavin Tucker on Saturday. He was 6-2 in the UFC, a borderline contender and one of the best homegrown success stories to emerge from Dana White's Contender Series. However, coming off a decisive loss to Calvin Kattar in his previous fight, Ige was in danger of melting back into the general population at featherweight. Considering that it had taken six straight wins to earn a shot at a ranked contender, he could ill afford another setback against Tucker, who was riding a three-fight streak of his own and entered the cage as a near pick ‘em.
This was a prove-it fight for Ige, and he delivered exactly the kind of performance a Top 10 fighter should against a less heralded opponent, crushing Tucker in just 22 seconds with a one-punch killshot that should appear on some “Knockout of the Year” lists. By so doing, he all but forced the UFC to match him up with another contender next, effectively regaining the momentum he lost in the Kattar fight.
Ryan Spann: On one hand, Spann’s first-round shellacking of Misha Cirkunov in Saturday’s co-main event wasn’t all that shocking. Spann is a constantly improving striker with fearsome natural power, while Cirkunov is the light heavyweight division’s ultimate feast-or-famine fighter, delivering sensational submissions or suffering brutal knockouts every time out, seemingly with no middle ground possible. However, a couple of details make this a quietly impressive performance for “Superman.” First, after coming in slightly heavy at Friday’s weigh-ins, he left, cut the additional weight and then performed just fine — or at least made sure that any potential gas tank or durability issues were moot. In an era when more and more fighters seem willing to shrug, pay the fine and fight heavy, Spann’s actions were those of a man who expects to fight for a title one day, and wants his promoter to have as few reservations as possible about granting him one.
Second, Spann showed composure and discipline in pursuing the finish against Cirkunov, forcing the powerful judoka to get back up after the first knockdown rather than diving heedlessly into his guard, or throwing kicks from Ali-Inoki position while Cirkunov regained his wits. Considering that Spann’s lone UFC loss was due nearly as much to Spann’s overzealous pursuit of the finish as to Johnny Walker’s blows to the back of the head, that’s an encouraging sign as well.
Manel Kape: In the pre-event column referenced above, I made a big deal of the idea that hot prospects can lose their first UFC fight and bounce back to win a title — let’s call that "pulling a 'Shogun'" — but not their first two fights. Well, here we are, and Kape has now lost his first two UFC fights. However, there were two glimmers of silver lining in this cloud. First and most obviously, Kape probably should have won; it was an ultra-rare case of every single media member of record disagreeing with the official scores. Second, for one round at least, Kape looked like the destroyer he was in his later Rizin Fighting Federation run. It is a question of confidence: Kape is the stronger, faster athlete and the more technical striker in almost all of his bouts. When he fights like he knows it, as he did in Round 2 against Matheus Nicolau on Saturday, he’s scary. More of that please, sir, and perhaps in a few years we’ll call it "pulling a 'Starboy'" when a fighter makes a splash in the UFC despite losing his first two.
Belal Muhammad: It isn’t fair. It isn’t his fault. Frankly, it sucks. Generally, when a lower-ranked fighter steps up on short notice, as Muhammad did against Leon Edwards, the risk-to-reward ratio is fantastic for him, while the fighter accepting the late replacement opponent faces something approaching a no-win situation. (For an example of this phenomenon stretched to its absolute limit, consider Daniel Cormier vs. Anderson Silva at UFC 200.)
For that reason, the result of Saturday’s main event — a no-contest due to an inadvertent eye poke by Edwards — was almost the worst possible outcome for Muhammad. While defeating Edwards would obviously have been a life-changer, even a competitive loss would have been better than this, as it would have proven that Muhammad belonged in the cage with a man who might be the second best welterweight on the planet. His stock, and possibly even his ranking, would have benefited just from giving Edwards a hard fight. Instead, Muhammad received a free ambulance ride and a no-contest after losing a fairly one-sided first round. He is calling for a rematch, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get one, as Edwards was already on the verge of breaking the divisional record for the longest winning streak without a title shot, the UFC seems bizarrely fixated on making him fight Khamzat Chimaev, and there’s always the Jorge Masvidal grudge match lurking in the background. In a welterweight division so competitive that it’s nearly impossible to break into the Top 10 from below, much less get a matchup with a Top 5 fighter, this was a lost opportunity.
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