On Saturday, the mixed martial arts leader returned for its latest event, UFC Fight Night: Josh Emmett vs. Ilia Topuria.
After returning to its home base in Las Vegas last weekend, the UFC was back on the road for a card in Jacksonville, Florida. The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena played host to the promotion’s fifth show to air on the ABC television network, and a headliner worthy of the occasion topped proceedings.
Entertaining featherweight contenders took center stage, where former interim title challenger and #5-ranked Josh Emmett hoped to bounce back from his defeat in Perth this past February by blemishing the perfect professional record of the #9-ranked Ilia Topuria.
With the likes of flyweight prospect Maycee Barber, heavyweight knockout artist Justin Tafa, middleweight contender Brendan Allen, and all-time most winningest welterweight Neil Magny all taking to the cage, the June 24 event looked set for some entertaining action.
But did that come to fruition? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Fight Night: Emmett vs. Topuria.
Today’s FULL #UFCJacksonville lineup 🤩
— UFC (@ufc) June 24, 2023
Negative – A Slow Start
Nothing gets an arena crowd going like a three-round snoozer, am I right?
When the UFC is on the road, it’s always beneficial to have an entertaining opening contest, be it in the form of a finish or a 15-minute thriller. On Saturday, however, we got neither.
Sedriques Dumas and Cody Brundage had the opportunity to set the tone in Jacksonville — a tone that ultimately ended up being more appropriate for a bingo hall than the Octagon.
The main issue appeared to be Brundage, who simply couldn’t get going and frankly didn’t seem like he wanted to be in the cage. Unfortunately, no amount of firm feedback from coach Marc Montoya in the corner was able to spur the Michigan native into action.
And with Dumas seemingly content on grinding out a low-output victory on the scorecards, that left us with an underwhelming start to the card.
It also begs questions surrounding a number of talented fighters who have been released by the promotion in recent times or have yet to be signed. It’s hard to see a world where either Brundage or Dumas are UFC standard and certain others are not.
Positive – Chaos
If Dumas and Brundage’s bout was a poor way to start the card, the opposite was the case two fights later…
Technique largely went out the window when featherweights Trevor Peek and Chepe Mariscal shared the cage. But while we love to watch MMA’s most skilled in action, is anyone going to pretend that an all-out brawl isn’t also a positive outcome?
Given the pair’s fight styles and limited striking defense, a firefight on the feet always seemed likely. But it’s safe to say that not many would have predicted the absolute chaos and violence that took place.
It’s hard to think of a type of strike that didn’t come out when Peek and Mariscal hellaciously threw at one another. Front kicks, check. Spinning shots, check. Roundhouse kicks, check. Step-in elbows, check. Standing hammerfists, check.
You get the idea.
Ultimately, it was Mariscal who emerged victorious in his debut, marking a long-awaited and successful arrival on MMA’s biggest stage.
And having played his part in securing Fight of the Night honors (written before they got snubbed in the post-fight bonuses, but I’m leaving it in as a protest…) in just the third fight on the card, eyeballs will no doubt be on “Machine Gun” when he returns for his sophomore appearance.
— UFC (@ufc) June 24, 2023
Positive – Legendary Polish (Leg) Power
There’s something badass about being willing to break your foot in pursuit of dealing irrecoverable damage to an opponent’s leg. Unsurprisingly, a man nicknamed “Rebeasti” was willing to do just that.
Mateusz Rębecki extended his professional winning run to 14 straight fights in his promotional debut this past January. In his sophomore outing, he was tasked with stalling the rise of the highly touted Loik Radzhabov, who earned his own plaudits upon his entrance at UFC 285 in March.
In the end, it was the Polish fighter who ascended further up the lightweight ladder, and he did so in brutal fashion.
Within the first round, “Tajik Tank” was already struggling with his mobility having eaten an abundance of leg kicks. Soon into the second, the extent of that damage was revealed, with Radzhabov barely able to stand.
After continuing to pummel his opponent’s lower limbs, Rębecki ultimately closed out proceedings by shutting the lights out upstairs with a brutal left hook.
On a preliminary card that saw limited finishes, “Rebeasti” stood out with his violent and well-rounded display.
— MMANews (@mmanews_com) June 24, 2023
Positive – Allen Proves Himself… Again
Brendan Allen’s place as a legitimate contender in the middleweight division has long gone under the radar. Even an upset submission victory over Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist André Muniz didn’t seem to secure “All In” the respect he deserves from the fans and the rankings panel.
Well, add the Louisianan standout’s performance at UFC Fight Night: Emmett vs. Topuria to the pile of evidence supporting his credentials inside the Octagon.
While Allen was originally scheduled to fight up the ladder against Jack Hermansson, an injury to the veteran saw the unranked Bruno Silva drafted in. Not only does the #13 contender deserve credit for accepting a defense of his ranking after such an incredible victory last time out, but he should be lauded for more than delivering on his favorite status.
After an entertaining firefight on the feet in the early goings, Allen landed the hardest blow of the fight, dropping “Blindado.” From there, “All In” was patient en route to yet another rear-naked choke submission win — the tenth of his professional MMA career.
With that club & sub, Allen has more than earned a crack at the top 10. And in an often underwhelming division that is bereft of fresh challengers for the champion, the 27-year-old’s continued rise is a big positive.
— UFC (@ufc) June 24, 2023
Positive – Uppercut From Hell
‘Emphatic’ is one of few words that does David Onama’s triumph in Jacksonville justice.
As expected, Onama and fellow featherweight prospect Gabriel Santos delivered the kind of high-paced and skilled battle that was expected of them, with both men finding success on the feet.
In the end, it was the Ugandan who landed the killer blow, flooring his Brazilian opponent with a truly brutal uppercut late in round two. Adding to the vicious nature of the finish, “Silent Assassin” connected with a few shots on the way down and a hammerfirst on the ground for good measure.
Make no mistake, Onama is one to watch folks.
BRUTAL UPPERCUT FROM ONAMA 👊 pic.twitter.com/DdQfB1RWnZ
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 24, 2023
Negative – Heavyweights Stifled
Well, that was disgusting.
Heavyweights Justin Tafa and Austen Lane looked set to bring us to the headline fights with a show of brutal power. Unfortunately, those expectations failed to come to fruition owing to an eye poke that rendered the Australian unable to continue.
It’s not an over exaggeration to say that this might have been the worst eye poke in UFC history, to the point where it drew a hand-over-the-eyes reaction from myself akin to some of the brutal limb breaks we’ve seen inside the Octagon.
Many fans seem to love doubting the toughness of fighters who can’t recover from fouls. Suffice to say, nobody held that energy when it came to Tafa on Saturday night…
I’m not sure what referee Dan Miragliotta was waiting for in order to wave the fight off, to be honest. Perhaps Tafa’s eyeball to fall out? That’s the only thing that was missing when it came to further clear-cut evidence that “Bad Man” couldn’t see.
It’s always a shame to see a fight end that way, especially for the two competitors. Austen Lane was making a long-awaited promotional debut in front of his fellow Jacksonville residents, a factor that only makes the premature ending more disappointing.
Positive – WoMEn’S mMa IsN’T enTeRTaIniG
Sean O’Malley recently made headlines after he pondered the possibility of a separate UFC entity for the women’s roster. During the discussion, “Sugar” suggested that only a “few” female fighters are actually entertaining.
Well, hopefully he had Maycee Barber and Amanda Ribas in mind.
The pair of flyweight contenders put on a war in Jacksonville that will no doubt be among the fights discussed as the best of the year come the end of 2023.
Barber and Ribas threw with bad intentions early, with the former falling on the right side of the first significant moment when she bust the Brazilian open with a sharp elbow in the clinch.
And after avoiding a leglock attempt on the ground, “The Future” ended the opening round by throwing a barrage of ground-and-pound. It was in the second frame where things really went from barnburner to barnburner.
Both women left everything in the cage on the feet, launching combinations and countering with clean shots. The beginning of the end came when Barber landed a mammoth head kick, which she later capitalized on to drop Ribas with a close-range left hook.
Barber’s potential has always been clear, but she’s somewhat fallen victim to the lofty expectations around her blossoming career and an early entry into the UFC. With an unfortunate and, in my opinion, unwarranted judging controversy surrounding her previous victory over Andrea Lee, “The Future” was in need of a big performance.
Well, consider that box ticked, ticked, and ticked again. And count the elite at 125 pounds firmly put on notice.
— UFC (@ufc) June 24, 2023
Positive – The Featherweight Future Is Here
Has anyone ever passed a ‘toughest test to date’ in as convincing fashion as Ilia Topuria did on Saturday night? “El Matador” cemented himself as more than just a featherweight prospect in Jacksonville by dismantling former interim title challenger Josh Emmett across five rounds.
With knockouts of Jai Herbert and Ryan Hall, it was clear to myself and I think most others in the MMA community that Topuria boasts immense promise. But while that led me to predict a comfortable victory over Bryce Mitchell last December, count me surprised at how he performed in his main event debut.
Against Emmett, I did expect the Georgian-Spaniard to have his hand raised. But with that level of dominance? You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted that.
For 25 minutes, “El Matador” frankly beat “The Fighting Farmer” from pillar to post, rendering him virtually unrecognizable. To put Topuria’s display into context, he even earned an ultra, ultra, ultra-rare 10-7 score in round four from Chris Lee — a verdict I am entirely comfortable with.
The featherweight division has long been one of the most stacked in the UFC, but it’s been ruled over by an imposing champion who’s looked largely unstoppable. But for the first time in a while, I’m confident in saying that one rising star at 145 pounds has a good chance of dethroning “Alexander the Great.”