The Real Winners and Losers From UFC Fight Night 216
If nothing else, MMA fans ended the year with a prodigious haul.
The UFC's final card of 2022 wasn't crammed full of high-profile stars, but it was jam-packed with action in the form of a 13-bout show from the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
Middleweights Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland, each of whom were coming off losses in more significant events, faced off against one another in a crossroads bout matching the third- and seventh-ranked fighters at 185 pounds.
Cannonier dropped a five-round decision to then-champ Israel Adesanya atop UFC 276 in July and Strickland hadn't fought since the same night when he was vaporized in barely more than half a round by Alex Pereira. That fight propelled the Brazilian slugger into his own title bout, which he turned into a championship with a dramatic KO of Adesanya at UFC 281.
In fact, Saturday's show was supposed to include 14 bouts but a would-be middleweight scrap between Deron Winn and Julian Marquez was nixed because of a medical issue with Winn.
Nevertheless, the B/R combat team was on hand from start to finish to take in the competitive violence and compile a definitive list of the show's winners and losers.
Scroll through to see what we came up with and drop a comment with a take of your own.
Loser: Expecting Explosions
It was more tactical than titillating.
So if you reached the main event expecting to see a candidate for Fight of the Year, you certainly walked away disappointed.
Because it wasn't even the Fight of the Night.
But it probably won't bother Cannonier, who reignited championship aspirations with a split-decision defeat of his fellow ranked contender across a tedious 25-minute tussle that was clearly as difficult to judge as it was to watch.
Not one of the five rounds was unanimously scored in one man's favor by the three cage-side arbiters, two of whom gave Cannonier a 49-46 (4-1 in rounds) edge to offset a third who saw it in Strickland's direction by the same margin.
Judge Derek Cleary gave Cannonier the first, second, third and fifth rounds to arrive at his score and Junichiro Kamijo awarded him the first, second, fourth and fifth. Sal D'Amato was exactly the opposite, giving Strickland the first, second, fourth and fifth.
B/R's card was closest to D'Amato's and had it 3-2 for Strickland, giving him the second, fourth and fifth rounds.
"I thought I had it 3-2," Cannonier said. "I was pretty confident that I won. You saw the blood on his face so I knew I did some damage."
Strickland clearly disagreed and peered out toward the judges after the verdict was read, then quickly left the cage after tapping gloves with Cannonier. It was second straight loss after a six-fight win streak and his fifth in 17 fights in the UFC.
Cannonier, meanwhile, is 9-6 in the Octagon since arriving in 2015.
He landed occasional volleys of power shots but was often stopped by Strickland's persistent left jab and subtle foot movement. Neither man had the other in any imminent danger of a finish and the fight only went to the floor for a few brief scrambles.
Cannonier did score well to the body and legs with kicks, which he said was a strategy to offset Strickland's approach.
"I wouldn't say he was too tricky. He was just conventional and he was able to read me when I was getting ready to come in," Cannonier said. "(Kicking) was definitely one of the answers to his jab. One of the answers that was working for us. We had a whole playbook of answers for his jab but he's very good at not getting hit in the head."
Winner: Streak-Busting Pressure
It's admittedly an acquired taste.
But if you're a fan of the perpetual aggression that leads to frequent clinches along the fence and takedowns to the mat, the co-main matching lightweights Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov was right up your combat-watching alley.
The problem for the 12th-ranked Ismagulov was that the competitive traffic was all one way.
Ranked three spots ahead at No. 9, Tsarukyan consistently pressured his Russian-born foe and put him through the wringer to the tune of seven takedowns and better than nine minutes of positional control on the way to a unanimous decision victory.
All three judges gave him a 30-27 sweep on the scorecards.
It was Tsarukyan's sixth win in eight UFC outings and ended a run in which Ismagulov had not only won five straight with the promotion but hadn't lost in any venue in seven years.
"I beat a guy who had a 19-win streak and was 5-0 in UFC. He is my toughest opponent," Tsarukyan said. "He is tougher than the guys in the top five. And no one wants to fight us. I deserve a fight with someone in the top five. I ready I'm here."
The 26-year-old lost his UFC debut by decision against now-lightweight champ Islam Makhachev in 2019, then won five straight before a disputed decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot in his most recent fight in June.
"My goal is a rematch with Makhachev," he said. "I need one big fight and I'll get a title shot. Hopefully 2023 is going to be my year."
Winner: Chasing a Ranking
Alex Caceres stood in the center of the Octagon, waiting for the ESPN broadcast to come back live when he looked into the camera and whispered, "I'm here now."
You needn't tell featherweight opponent Julian Erosa.
He already knows.
Erosa eluded danger when he leaned slightly to the right and watched a Caceres left hand sail past, but he wasn't prepared for the left head kick that followed and rendered him semi-conscious on the floor and unable to fend off a follow-up series of ground strikes.
Six shots later, the fight was over as Herb Dean stepped in at 3:04 of Round 1.
"I have to credit my old trainer," said Caceres, who maintained his balance as he missed the punch and fired the kick in one motion. "We definitely trained a lot on our balance and did things on one leg. So, yeah, it's a little easy for me."
The win was the 10th at 145 pounds for Caceres, tying him for fifth-most in the weight class and boosting his UFC mark to 15-11 with one no-contest since his debut in 2011.
He'd earned a Top 15 ranking thanks to a five-fight win streak that stretched from 2019-21 before a decision loss to Sodiq Yusuff in March cost him the spot.
The Erosa win could send him back, however, and provide a higher profile for his pragmatic approach to the sport.
"It's all a journey," he said. "I'm scared in there. I'm not calm. We always have to have honor and wait for courage. Courage won't always be there, but if we're honorable and we do the right thing, we'll take advantage of it."
Winner: Getting the Last Word
Slowly but surely, Drew Dober was getting closer.
The 34-year-old lightweight was on the short end of most exchanges from a faster and more dynamic Bobby Green in the first round, but the longer the session went, the more often the Colorado southpaw was able to at least land with his left hand.
And by the time the second round was halfway through, it mattered.
Already a two-time winner by stoppage in 2022, Dober made it three straight when he finally pinned Green against the fence and landed a decisive left hook that felled his foe like a tree and led to an instant intervention by referee Keith Peterson at 2:45.
"He's fast. He's hard to hit. He can talk," Dober said. "He can draw out emotion that you don't want. But I'm blessed that I found it."
Indeed, Green had spent much of the first seven minutes yapping at Dober and his corner team, gesturing after missed punches and reacting when he landed his own. And given that he connected on 40 strikes to Dober's 17 in the first round, it was happening a lot.
Until it wasn't anymore.
"It was hard to get him against the fence," said Dober, who registered his eighth KO at lightweight, tying the divisional mark established by Dustin Poirier.
"I bring a chin and a left hand into every fight."
Loser: Respecting the Women's Game
Given the prevalence of high-profile women in the UFC, it's a bit surprising that such a packed card would include just one fight with female fighters.
But that was the case on Saturday night, with strawweights Cheyanne Vlismas and Cory McKenna getting together in the final match on the preliminary portion.
A 23-year-old from Wales who reached the Octagon after a win on Dana White's Contender Series in 2020, McKenna won for the third time in four subsequent fights with a unanimous decision in which she won Rounds 2 and 3 after dropping the first.
B/R agreed with the three judges and matched their 29-28 scores.
Vlismas was also 2-1 in the UFC after her own Contender Series stint and fared well early against McKenna with 17 significant strikes in an opening five minutes fought primarily at a distance. Her fortunes changed once things got to the ground, however, and McKenna racked up nearly nine minutes of control time over the final two rounds.
McKenna also wound up with a 103-66 edge in overall strikes while securing her eighth win in 10 career fights and fourth by decision. She finished 2022 with two straight victories after losing her first fight of the year by split decision to Elise Reed in March.
Vlismas is now 7-3 as a pro, with all three losses coming on the scorecards.
Full Card Results
Jared Cannonier def. Sean Strickland by split decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)
Arman Tsarukyan def. Damir Ismagulov by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Amir Albazi def. Alessandro Costa by KO (punch), 2:13, Round 3
Alex Caceres def. Julian Erosa by KO (kick), 3:04, Round 1
Drew Dober def. Bobby Green by KO (punch), 2:45, Round 2
Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Cody Brundage by KO (punches), 3:16, Round 1
Cory McKenna def. Cheyanne Vlismas by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Matthew Semelsberger def. Jake Matthews by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Said Nurmagomedov def. Saidyokub Kakhramonov by submission (guillotine choke), 3:50, Round 2
Rafa Garcia def. Maheshate by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Rinat Fakhretdinov def. Bryan Battle by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-27)
Manel Kape def. David Dvorak by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Sergey Morozov def. Journey Newson by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)