For the first time ever, the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev., hosted a UFC card. The 50,000 sq. ft. facility was built with the purpose of hosting and broadcasting fights. It was first used by the promotion for the Dana White Contender Series where top prospects throwdown with the hope of earning a UFC contract after a spectacular win.
One topic of discussion surrounding the fights in the Apex was the cage size and if it would play a factor in the action Saturday night. Typically, the UFC uses a 30’ octagon, however, the cage used in the Apex is a smaller 25’ cage. The difference in real estate absolutely factored in on Saturday night. Less space to move puts fighters in tighter quarters and has the potential to produce a lot of action. The 11 fights Saturday night delivered on that potential as every single fight produced entertainment.
It is worth noting that a considerable amount of fighters on the card are veterans of the Contender Series, so the venue and cage size is not completely foreign. It is also worth noting that adjustments were made from the Florida shows that put the commentators further away from the cage to reduce the chance that their dialogue would be heard by the fighters. Multiple fighters from the Florida shows were vocal about how they were able to use Daniel Cormier’s analysis to benefit their outcome.
Let’s take a look at the card.
Burns vs Woodley
#6 Gilbert Burns is a problem for anyone in the world at 170 lbs. Wow. The world champion grappler flat-out dominated the former UFC champ #1 Tyron Woodley from start to finish in a Unanimous Decision victory that he won all five rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
This was Burns second time fighting during the pandemic and has looked sensational for the second time. Burns grapevine while mounting Woodley, a former 2x NCAA All-American wrestler, was textbook.
Burns was able to impressively overpower the always strong Woodley during grappling exchanges. Woodley is also known for his speed and punching power, however, it was Burns who looked to be faster with more devastating power.
With the current climate in the sport, Burns may have caught lightning in a bottle and fast-tracked himself to a potential title shot opportunity. He’s definitely entered that conversation. With an uncertain travel situation for #4 Leon Edwards, seemingly derailed negotiations with #3 Jorge Masvidal, and an always difficult #2 Colby Covington, Burns’ willingness to play ball with the UFC matchmakers may see him slide into a contest with Hard Knocks 365 teammate and current champ Kamaru Usman.
Stories sell fights. What is a bigger story than teammate calling out teammate and fighting for a UFC world title? Although it is a great story, a potential matchup with Covington seems much more likely.
Sakai vs Ivanov
Brazilian Muay Thai specialist #13 Augusto Sakai went the distance for a controversial Split Decision against #12 Blagoy Ivanov. In a tight contest, Sakai avoided being taken to the ground in a pivotal moment by grabbing the fence. The offense was deliberate and warranted a point deduction from Referee Jason Herzog, although Herzog failed to make the call.
Had Herzog penalized Sakai the one point, the fight would have resulted in a Majority Draw. Jairzinho Rozenstruik would be a great next matchup for Sakai.
Quarantillo vs Carlyle
Billy Quarantillo won via Unanimous Decision against internet sensation, “Alpha Ginger” Spike Carlyle in an honorable mention for Fight of The Night. Carlyle shot out of a cannon to start the first round and almost found a finish with a flurry of strikes early on in the first round. He always displayed an abnormal strength level when he lifted Quarantillo with one arm and also with the way he powered out of a body triangle.
In a strange sequence of events, Carlyle began walking away from Quarantillo with his back turned before the end of the first round.
Carlyle began to fatigue as the fight continued into the second round, where Quarantillo took over to secure the win.
Roberts vs Weaver
Roosevelt Roberts was, as his nickname says, a “GoGetta” Saturday night against Brok Weaver. The 6’2” lightweight showed an impressive combination of speed and power with his striking along with a good backtake that set up the opportunity to finish the fight with a rear naked choke in the second round.
Dern vs Ciphers
Mackenzie Dern opened the main card with a historic outing that earned a $50,000 performance bonus. The BJJ world champion submitted Hannah Ciphers with the first ever leglock submission in Women’s UFC history in the first round.
With the impressive win, Dern answered any questions about how she’d bounce back from her first MMA loss suffered last fall against Amanda Ribas.
Chookagian vs Shevchenko
In February, #2 Katlyn Chookagian fought in her first UFC title fight against champion Valentina Shevchenko. “The Blonde Fighter” was dominated by the champion and was ultimately finished via GNP TKO.
What Valentina did to Chookagian, Chookagian did to Valentina’s older sister #12 Antonina. The older Shevchenko sister left the cage looking like she dove face first into a barb-wire fence.
We can stop now with the “what-if’s” with Antonina potentially being a contender for her sister’s title. While she is a good fighter with a high skill level, she is nowhere near the caliber of Valentina.
There is a strong likelihood that we may see a future matchup between Chookagian and the winner of #1 Jessica Eye vs Cynthia Calvillo which is scheduled for June 13.
Rodriguez vs Green
For a guy who took the fight on four days’ notice after a near two year layoff, Gabe Green put on a gritty performance in his UFC debut against Daniel Rodriguez. Now, Rodriguez won by Unanimous Decision, but this was a welterweight slugfest all the way until the final bell that saw a combined total of 302 significant strikes landed.
Hill vs Abreu
Jamahal Hill continued to impress the MMA world with his first round TKO finish via knee to the body followed by GNP. The win extended the 6’4”, 29-year-old’s undefeated record to a perfect 8-0.
Hill is still a very raw prospect who has yet to truly sharpen the sword, which is scary. Keep your eyes on this guy to make the climb in the 205 lb. division throughout the next couple of years.
Royval vs Elliott
Brandon Royval put the entire flyweight division on notice with the Fight of the Night for his UFC debut when he submitted #11 Tim Elliott in a gutsy performance. The fight had a relentless pace all the way through to the arm triangle choke midway into the second round.
That now marks 10 finishes in 11 wins for the Factory X product. To say that Royval is a prospect is severely undercutting his skill level, he is a contender right now. By finishing Elliott, Royval did something in his debut that the legendary Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson was unable to do.
There are three names that would be great so see Royval matchup with next, with two being highly likely and one being a bit of a stretch but a great storyline. The first two are #7 Kai Kara France and #8 Rogerio Bontorin. The third is #3 Brandon Moreno, who is also a former LFA champion. The UFC has a wave of young, talented flyweights and showcasing these types of matchups can help right the ship that once almost saw the division scrapped.
Kenney vs Smolka
Casey Kenney bounced back from his first UFC loss with a first round submission via one-arm guillotine against longtime UFC veteran Louis Smolka. Kenney is an under-the-radar prospect at 135 lbs. right now who just rattled off his third win in four trips to the UFC octagon since signing to the promotion in March of 2019.
Kenney also happens to be a former LFA champion.
Gutierrez vs Morales
Commentator and UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping described Chris “El Guapo” Gutierrez’s performance as “flawless”.
The 29-year-old fighting out of Factory X kicked off the show, and kicking he did. Gutierrez became just the tenth person in UFC history to finish a fight with leg kicks, with only Edson Barboza accomplishing the feat twice. In observing the technical precision and damage inflicted by Gutierrez’s kicking game, one can certainly draw comparisons to a Barboza-esque type of world-class kicking skills. His kicks are not just good, they are scary good.
He managed to hurt Vince Morales early and often in the fight. By midway into the first round, Morales’ lead leg and right side of his body was covered in welts and bruises.
The brutally damaging kicks ripped by Gutierrez silenced any questions relating to ring rust or the condition of his surgically reconstructed knee.
Depending on how far out his recovery is, Gutierrez has called out Andre Ewell on multiple occasions after Ewell won a highly controversial Split Decision against his teammate Jonathan Martinez at UFC 247 back in February. Ewell is recovering from a hand injury sustained in the fight with an unknown timeline for his return.
-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303