UFC on ESPN 19 featured a makeshift main event and a lineup so riddled by cancellations that only eight fights made it to the finish line, but there was no shortage of fighters elevating or lowering their stock. What made “UFC Vegas 16” unique is that most of the movement seemed to be of the positive variety; of the eight bout results, the majority felt like examples of outstanding performances by the winners, rather than the losers stinking up the joint. Marvin Vettori and Jamahal Hill were among those who made major statements in the Octagon on Saturday, but they are far from the only ones. Here is the stock report for UFC on ESPN 19: Hermansson vs. Vettori.
Jamahal Hill: “Sweet Dreams” was a slight favorite heading into the co-main event against Ovince St. Preux, but even the most rabid Hill backers recognized the dangers the wily veteran presented to the relatively green prospect. After all, “OSP” had more UFC finishes than Hill had total fights, and wields perhaps the most unique—and therefore hard to prepare for—offensive skill set in all of MMA. Instead, the 29-year-old was completely undaunted, brimming with obvious confidence, and took the fight to St. Preux immediately. Hill’s boxing was simply too much for St. Preux, and his early and copious investment in body work paid dividends in the second round, when it helped set up the TKO finish. With all due respect to the likes of Klidson Abreu and Dequan Townsend, Hill just picked up by far the most impressive win of his young career to date, and he did it with ease and style. A Top 15 opponent is the likely next step for the young man from Grand Rapids.
Marvin Vettori: When Vettori entered the Octagon on Saturday, he gained a touch of immortality as the first Italian to headline a UFC event. When he exited a half-hour later, he was the most accomplished fighter in his nation’s history. Like Hill, Vettori was the betting favorite against his higher-ranked and more experienced foe, but like Hill, even those who favored Vettori over Jack Hermansson must have been surprised at how lopsided the victory was. Put simply, Vettori authored the most complete, most impressive performance of his career. Against Hermansson, a dangerous title contender in his prime, Vettori dominated in every phase. He outlanded Hermansson in terms of objective volume as well as subjective power, he turned aside the Swede’s persistent and determined takedown attempts, and on the few occasions the action did hit the canvas, he fearlessly navigated the ground game of one of the division’s most opportunistic submission artists.
Ilia Topuria: Grappling heads who hoped for a chess match on canvas from Topuria and Damon Jackson must have been disappointed when Topuria blew the Texan out of the water with punches in half a round. However, it’s hard to blame Topuria, one of the UFC’s hottest prospects, for taking the path of least resistance against the more one-dimensional fighter in Jackson. The finishing salvo of punches was brutal: set up by a left hook to the body that might have been enough to stop Jackson all by itself, the final left-right combo to the head put him out for good. Even in a year in which the UFC has had a half-dozen sensational debuts, Topuria stands out, having gone 2-0 in dominant fashion against solid opposition in Youssef Zalal and Jackson. He is a physical specimen and has a shockingly complete skill set, especially for a man who turns 24 next month. The featherweight division is officially on notice.
Matt Wiman: When Wiman returned to the Octagon last June after a four-and-a-half year absence, it was a bit intriguing. After all, his 2014 retirement, at age 31 and having won three of his last four, had been surprising. Why not find out if “Handsome Matt” had another run in him? Three losses later, the Wiman 2.0 experiment is officially over—or should be, at least. Against Luis Pena and Joe Solecki last year, Wiman had been overmatched and offered next to no offense, but neither had he taken inordinate amounts of damage himself.
In contrast, facing the debuting Jordan Leavitt on Saturday, Wiman was scooped up and slammed onto his head in 22 seconds, suffering one of the scariest knockouts of the year. Beyond the visceral image of Wiman, stiff as a board, out cold for over a minute, there is an even colder truth: Leavitt is a mildly intriguing prospect from Dana White's Contender Series who isn’t even seen as a surefire future contender. If Wiman can’t be safely sent into battle against a fighter of Leavitt’s level, there may be no place for him in the 2020s UFC.
Gian Villante: Speaking of experiments that may have run their course, Villante’s heavyweight foray took a serious shot to the gut at UFC on ESPN 19. Villante’s divisional debut back in June had been deflating, as the Long Islander gassed out horribly and fell victim to one of the more bizarre and embarrassing submissions in UFC history when Maurice Greene essentially hugged him to death from bottom position.
Saturday appeared to be a chance at redemption. Facing an opponent even more inflated than himself in the person of former middleweight Jake Collier, Villante weighed in 10 pounds lighter than he had for the Greene fight. However, his performance was even less encouraging, as Villante appeared to be the slower, less active and, by the third round, more tired man. There simply doesn’t seem to be a clear way forward for the 35-year-old, who had been going through a rough patch at light heavyweight, and now finds himself 0-2 against the big boys.
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