On a weekend with three major MMA promotions running three major shows, the UFC was at a rare disadvantage right out of the gate.
While normally, those three initials — the vaunted U, F, and C — ensure that Dana White and co. have an edge over the competition, UFC Vegas 61 was a decidedly weak card on paper. And that was before a visit by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw to it that fans and media were kicked out of the UFC Apex on Saturday, dropping the profile of an already low-profile event.
The cards promoted by ONE Championship and Bellator, on the other hand, both featured relevant fighters and title fights. And that alone put them ahead.
Of course, history has shown that even the weakest of UFC cards has punched up. All too often events derided as “garbage cards” by fight fans over-perform and wind up being action-packed.
That was not exactly the case on Saturday, however. UFC Vegas 61 had some good fights, including the main event between Mackenzie Dern and Yan Xiaonan, and the Fight of the Night between Daniel Santos and John Castaneda.
That having been said, there were plenty of forgettable moments as well. No one will be singing the praises of Ilir Latifi vs. Aleksei Oleinik anytime soon; four of the five main card bouts going the distance didn’t help matters either.
Over at Bellator 286, you had some typically Bellator bad luck on Saturday. The card kicked off with an Anderson Silva-style leg break, and on the main card, Aaron Pico dislocated his shoulder, bringing a promising fight with Jeremy Kennedy to a premature end.
On the flip side, perhaps the best fight of the night from either promotion was Spike Carlyle vs. A.J. McKee. Yes, Santos vs. Castaneda was excellent as well. But McKee vs. Carlyle was just so unexpected, and so highly entertaining. Somehow, Spike Carlyle did not get the memo that he was brought in to lose in A.J. McKee’s lightweight debut. So after walking out to Real American dressed as Hulk Hogan, Carlyle ran wild over McKee during the opening round. Only one judge scored the round for Carlyle, something of a robbery, but McKee plainly won a very bloody, very fun fight.
A solid main event followed, disparaged by fans who had just witnessed McKee-Carlyle and wanted more. It didn’t help that Long Beach, CA is McKee country, so Patricio Pitbull, who came out on top against Adam Borics, was basically public enemy number one.
So who won the weekend? How about ONE Championship, who featured a brilliant main event at ONE on Prime Video 2 that more than lived up to expectations. Xiong Jing Nan vs. Angela Lee 3 was thrilling, nail biting, back-and-forth, and left those watching wanting a fourth fight, which may in fact happen if China’s Xiong chooses to take another stab at Lee’s atomweight title, after successfully defending her strawweight strap once again.
Stamp Fairtex vs. Jihin Radzuan was also extremely entertaining, as was the promotional debut of Ilya Freymanov, who was able to finish former champ Martin Nguyen.
The only downside to ONE on Prime Video 2? Amazon’s streaming platform buried the card so deep that you really only saw it if you were specifically looking for the event. That’s something that will hopefully change moving forward.