There’s a running joke in MMA circles regarding the “Gods” of the sport being wickedly cruel and tricksome. Those MMA Gods were up to their usual antics over the weekend, pulling the rug out from under a trio of fights split between Bellator 277 and UFC Vegas 51.
To get to the crux of the question posed in the headline up top, it’s easier to just give the answer than to show our math and explain how we got there. But frankly, when the biggest takeaways from UFC Vegas 51 are that the sport’s ruleset remains cloudy even to former champs, and that active fighters probably shouldn’t shout-out drug lords during their post-fight interviews, it’s safe to say you didn’t win the weekend.
Bellator 277, on paper, was the better card anyway. Going into the weekend, in an extreme rarity, the UFC was at a disadvantage. Coming off the big UFC 273 card in Jacksonville a week ago, no matter what sort of show Dana White and co. put on at the Apex, it was going to have a tough act to follow. Even with that in mind, however, UFC Vegas 51 was a paper thin card that failed to live up to even modest expectations.
Maybe, just maybe, booking two promotional newcomers into the co-main event slot was an ill-conceived idea. As surprising as the end to Caio Borralho vs. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev was, what was not at all surprising is that something funky (and not in a Ben Askren sort of way) transpired. The tone had been set earlier in the night, care of another fight tarnished by a major foul, Chris Barnett vs. Martin Buday. With a Buday elbow — several, really — landing flush to the back of the head, an already injured Barnett was rendered unable to continue.
DQ or No Contest, right? Well, not when the foul is ruled unintentional and you’re in the third round. Dan Miragliotta’s judgment call, ruling the strike accidental, brought scorn from the likes of Junior Dos Santos and multiple other active fighters who pointed out that a blow to the back of the head is never, ever accidental. You did, after all, mean to throw the strike.
And even should you choose to buy the “Barnett was turning his head” narrative, you end up with a tired old hockey defense. While the pro ranks still don’t enforce it, minor league players know to avoid any situation where an opponent might turn their back prior to a bodycheck being thrown — because paralysis is career ending, to say the least.
Whether intentional or not, the end result is the same: a fighter left unable to continue, robbed of the chance to turn the fight around, no matter how unlikely.
The fact that this situation played out a second time in one night, in a bout overseen by the same ref, defied all odds. In Borralho vs. Omargadzhiev, it was an illegal knee rather than an illegal elbow, but the result was the same. One fighter left unable to go on, another getting the win on the scorecards. At least in the case of Borralho, Miragliotta deducted a point, not that it mattered in the end.
Justin Gaethje was among those showing his scorn after the decision. Aljamain Sterling did as well, and he’s a fighter that knows a thing or two about illegal blows.
None of this is to say that the rules weren’t followed by the officials in either fight. It’s simply that, under the Unified Rules of MMA, an illegal foul can result in the offender winning the fight, which seems entirely counter-intuitive.
And then there was Mounir Lazzez’s shout-out after the fight, a moment the UFC no doubt really, really wishes had not happened live on ESPN. Lazzez opted to say some kind words about Daniel Kinahan, a notorious figure in boxing circles, founder of MTK Global, and leader of the Kinahan cartel, a sprawling drug empire connected to multiple murders.
That, just days after a five million dollar bounty was placed on Kinahan’s head by U.S. officials seeking his arrest.
Oops. At least Bellator’s seemingly constant string of bad luck was reserved for one fight, and one fight alone. The light heavyweight grand prix did not end as planned at Bellator 277 on Friday. In fact, it did not end at all. Instead, a foul resulted in a No Contest between Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson. Had three more seconds expired, the fight would have been in technical decision territory. Instead, after an accidental clash of heads that Anderson even informed the ref of (being a good sport), they’ll run it back later in the year.
As they should. At least fans, and the fighters themselves, will get a proper conclusion to the tournament.
The rest of the night went off without a hitch, with a couple of early fights surprising— none more so than Socrates Hernandez vs. Rogelio Luna, a brawl between an 0-1 fighter and an 0-0 fighter that was more entertaining than most of the what the UFC had to offer Saturday. If you haven’t seen it yet, the promotion wisely singled it out on their Youtube channel. Is it Fight of the Year? Probably not — there’s levels to this, or so we’ve heard.
Still, it was a fun 15 minutes for what it was, and both men deserve ample credit.
With the UFC and Bellator going head-to-head for a second straight week next Saturday, we’ll get another chance to compare and contrast, but for one weekend in April, the promotion often derided as second-best came away with the win.