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The Good, the Bad and The Ugly from UFC Fight Night 234


The Ultimate Fighting Championship kicked off its 2024 slate Saturday with No. 3 Light Heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev emphatically closing the door on his rivalry with Johnny Walker in their rematch at the UFC Apex. Ankalev once again cemented himself as a legitimate contender and could put himself in position for a title shot late this year.

As expected, the UFC’s first card of the year came with the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s how it all went down at UFC Fight Night 234.

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The Good: Bring on the Violence

Fans were hungry for mayhem after a month-long fast from the brand, and the first three fights of the prelims did not disappoint. Joshua Van, Nikolas Motta and Jean Silva broke into the year with a trio of devastating knockouts, while Marcus McGhee and Brunno Ferreira showcased their fight-ending power as well.

The fights that went the distance were still action-packed. Mario Bautista climbed off the canvas to outduel No. 13 ranked bantamweight Ricky Simon. Jim Miller presumably punched his ticket into April’s UFC 300 with a third-round neck crank on Gabriel Benitez.

But it was Ankalaev’s knockout that stole the show. After suffering back-to-back setbacks in 2023, Ankalaev (18-1-1) desperately needed something to rally the fans behind him again. Walker is a skilled, wirey striker, and most coaches would want their fighters to take him to the ground. Ankalaev stood in the danger zone and came out unscathed. With one overhand right and a finishing uppercut, Ankalaev broke Walker’s nose, three-fight win steak and back into the light heavyweight title picture.

Overall, the UFC’s first card of the year delivered multiple highlight-worthy events in an era where that is tougher to do. Plenty of fighters left with their stocks on the rise, and if the action gets better from here, then we’re in for a fun 2024 from the UFC.

The Bad: Sometime Today, Please

The most awkward moment of UFC Vegas 84 came minutes before and after Jean Silva’s first-round obliteration of the overmatched Weston Wilson. Silva beat the breaks off Wilson for 4:12 before Marc Goddard mercifully stopped the fight, but his pre and post-fight antics caused fans to scratch their heads.

First off, Silva’s walk to the ring was longer than the fight. Clocking in at an absurd 4:30, Silva inched toward the cage with the tempo of a tortoise. Post-fight, he blamed his stoic and slow ring walk on his alter ego. But who knew that his doppelganger was part pitbull?

Prior to his post-fight interview, “Lord” barked at the camera, looking to intimidate any other featherweights looking to stand in his way. The UFC debutant was on top of the world, saying that nobody would be able to stand with him … ever.

Despite his impressive performance, it may do Silva some good to take it down a notch. Wilson was served up on a platter and looked like a scarecrow that got sucked into a tornado. Silva’s performance was as dominant as expected and could soon become a heel if done the same way.

The Ugly: The Apex … Where Excitement Goes to Die

The people have been starving for a month and would watch any action the UFC provided to kick off the new year, but how did the UFC reward their patience and loyalty? With a return to the ever-so-lively UFC Apex Center.

Since you can’t see my eyes as I type that sentence, I should tell you that they’re rolling from the sarcasm. Don’t get me wrong; I — like many — appreciated the Apex when it hosted its first event in May 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four years later, however, I feel like a woman who has been taken to the Cheesecake Factory one too many times; I’m sick of the place.

Despite having a capacity of 1,500, the Apex doesn’t seat even half of that. Tickets begin at $1,750, and the atmosphere doesn’t match the price. Too often, we’ve seen rising prospects and debutants pull off the most exciting wins of their career in this $40 million snoozebox. Hearing the sounds of shins crashing and punches thudding into their target was nice when it was too dangerous to travel, but it pales compared to the energy of a sold-out local crowd.

Imagine what fighters like McGhee and Silva could’ve done to a real crowd. Instead, their knockouts were appreciated with the same level of emotion you see from a PGA Tour audience. Post-fight interviews couldn’t be more awkward, and watching legends like Andrei Arlovski and Miller walk out to claps is a heartbreaking revelation of where the sport is heading.

Boxing has already suffered enough with its centralization in Las Vegas. What ultimately made the UFC special was its willingness to go wherever possible. Cards in Las Vegas, New York and Abu Dabhi are just as important in cities like Columbus, Jacksonville and Austin. When will the UFC rediscover its passion for exploration?

Dana White has said in the past that he intends to travel more consistently. Few can blame him for utilizing the Apex’s efficiency — why travel when you can save millions by putting on fights at home — but how are fans supposed to feel when you start the new year in the same spot? So much for that New Year’s resolution.
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