The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 18

Tom TaylorContributor INovember 29, 2020

Anthony Smith attends a news conference for the UFC 235 mixed martial arts event, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Las Vegas. Smith is scheduled to fight Jon Joneson March 2 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 18 card, which emanated from the promotion’s Apex facility in Las Vegas, was hammered by last-minute shakeups and lineup changes until it was nearly unrecognizable from its original version. 

Nonetheless, it turned out to be a pretty exciting night of fights.

In the main event, we saw former light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith correct a two-fight skid by submitting the dangerous Devin Clark in the first round. In the co-main event, meanwhile, we saw unbeaten Puerto Rican welterweight prospect improve to 9-0 with an impressive second-round submission of gritty Japanese star Takashi Saito. 

Elsewhere on the lineup, we witnessed some impressive wins from a number of other prospects like Bill Algeo, Norma Dumont, Jonathan Pearce, Anderson dos Santos, Su Mudaerji and Nathan Maness. While the card was markedly lacking in the big name department—Smith was the only legitimate star on the card—it produced a lot of fun finishes and action-packed scraps. 

As always, the B/R team was tuned into the action to bring you the post-fight coverage you crave. A quick perusal of any MMA news site will give you the results of the card. But who were the real winners and losers of this event? That, dear reader, is something you can only find out right here.

Keep scrolling to see our opinions, and be sure to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, questions, or sizzling rebuttals for the author.

Winner: COVID-19

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Jim Young/Associated Press

It doesn’t feel quite right to refer to something as legitimately terrible as COVID-19 as a “winner,” but it sure beat the heck out of this card. 

While the UFC has managed to maintain a ridiculously busy schedule of events during the pandemic, many of which have gone down without issue, this one was not so lucky. 

First, Renato Moicano was forced out of his planned lightweight fight with Rafael Fiziev after testing positive for the virus. Then, on the eve of the event, Curtis Blaydes also tested positive, and withdrew from his heavyweight headliner against Derrick Lewis as a result. 

On the surface, this card losing two fights due to positive COVID-19 tests doesn’t seem all that bad, but one of those fights was the headliner, and the other was one of the best matchups on the card, so the damage was pretty severe.

Loser: The Haters

After losing two fights to positive COVID-19 tests and two others due to visa issues, this card looked pretty rough on paper, and it got plenty of hate as a result. In fact, many people who might have tuned in for the card if there was nothing else on happily turned their attention to Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.’s heavyweight boxing exhibition instead. 

While the Tyson vs. Jones card wound up being a lot of fun in its own right, the haters who scorned and abandoned the UFC on ESPN 18 event ended up missing some fantastic action.

Of the 10 fights on the bill, a whopping seven ended by way of finish, and the three fights that reached the judges’ scorecards were quite entertaining. It won’t be in consideration for 2020’s Fight of the Year honors due to its complete lack of big names, but this was a very fun card from beginning to end, and one that the haters are probably upset they missed—whether they’re willing to admit it or not.

Winner: The Flyweight Division

In the second bout of UFC on ESPN 18 undercard, China’s Su Mudaerji made a successful drop from bantamweight to flyweight by knocking out Canada’s Malcolm Gordon in the first round. 

The win, the third-fastest in UFC flyweight history, immediately established Mudaerji as a fighter to watch in the division, and potentially a future title contender—and he’s sure not the only one. 

Mudaerji enters the flyweight limelight at a time when the division is arguably better than ever, as it’s ruled by a destructive champion in Deiveson Figueiredo and jam-packed with compelling contenders like Brandon Moreno, Alex Perez, Brandon Royval, Askar Askarov, Alexandre Pantoja, and David Dvorak.

Throw in the fact that Mudaerji’s successful flyweight debut was followed by a number of promos for the upcoming UFC 256 card, which will be headlined by a dynamite flyweight title fight between Figueiredo and Moreno, and UFC on ESPN 18 did an excellent job of showcasing this perpetually underrated division.

Loser: Long Layoffs

The UFC on ESPN 18 lineup featured a number of fighters returning from lengthy layoffs in Luke Sanders, Rachael Ostovich, and Jonathan Pearce. While Pearce won his fight, stopping short-notice replacement opponent Kai Kamaka III with a volley of third-round strikes, Sanders and Ostovich faired much worse, losing by second-round submission and third-round TKO respectively. 

The moral of the story? More often than not, it’s very dangerous for a fighter to endure prolonged periods of inactivity. Ring rust might not affect everybody, but it’s a clear and present danger in this sport.

Ostovich and Sanders learned that the hard way this weekend.

Winner: The Underdogs and the Bettors Who Picked Them

UFC on ESPN 18 was a big night for the underdogs.

Of the 10 fights on the bill, a significant six were won by fighters that the oddsmakers had pegged as underdogs: Nathan Maness, Anderson dos Santos, Jonathan Pearce, Norma Dumont, Bill Algeo, and Parker Porter.  

None of those fighters were particularly large underdogs, but all-in, UFC on ESPN 18 was definitely the kind of night that made a lot of opportunistic and risk tolerant bettors very happy.

Loser: Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan, far and away the most famous of the UFC’s commentators, was not on duty for the under-the-radar UFC on ESPN 18 card. Instead, the color commentary seat was filled by lightweight contender Paul Felder. 

That was a good thing.

At this point, Rogan, who has struck it rich as a podcaster, only commentates pay-per-view cards on North American soil. Despite his starkly reduced commentary schedule, his commentary performances have dropped off exponentially. His latest appearance at the commentary desk, at last weekend’s UFC 255 card, was particularly panned. He simply doesn’t seem to care as much about the gig as much as he once did—which isn’t surprising given the success of his podcast—and it shows, as his analysis has devolved into little more than the occasional scream of excitement.   

It just so happens that at the precise time that Rogan’s commentary has fallen off, a number of UFC fighters have begun establishing themselves as very solid commentators—none more so than Felder. 

The lightweight star was on fire in his headset at UFC on ESPN 18, both during the fights, and when he interviewed the winner of each bout. He was articulate, inquisitive, and funny when he needed to be.

It was a big night for him, and further proof that Rogan is no longer a necessary expense for the UFC.

Winner: Perseverance

Nobody on the UFC on ESPN 18 lineup needed a victory more than Anthony Smith.

Smith, who battled Devin Clark in the card’s new main event after the originally slated Blaydes vs. Lewis headliner fell through, stepped into the Octagon with a brutal TKO loss to Glover Teixeira and a comprehensive decision defeat to Aleksandar Rakic in the rear-view. Those losses were severe enough to cast serious doubt on his status as an elite light heavyweight contender.

Thankfully for Smith and his legions of dedicated fans, he was able to get back on track in this card’s main event—and in emphatic fashion. Less than three minutes into the opening round, Clark was frantically tapping to a constricting triangle choke.

It was a crucial victory for Smith and a solid example of perseverance paying off. After his losses to Teixeira and Rakic, he could have gone off the rails. He could have dropped back down to middleweight, or even retired to focus on his Sirius XM radio show. Instead, he enlisted the help of a therapist, dialed back his media obligations, and kept his nose to the grindstone, and in the end, it paid off.

UFC on ESPN 18 Full Results 

Main Card:

Anthony Smith def. Devin Clark via submission (triangle choke) at 2:34 of round 1

Miguel Baeza def. Takashi Sato via submission (arm-triangle choke) at 4:28 of round 2

Parker Porter def. Josh Parisian via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28) 

Bill Algeo def. Spike Carlyle via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Norma Dumont Viana def. Ashlee Evans-Smith via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) 

Jonathan Pearce def. Kai Kamaka III via TKO (strikes) 4:28 of round 2

Preliminary Card:

Anderson dos Santos def. Martin Day via submission (guillotine choke) at 4:35 of round 1

Gina Mazany def. Rachael Ostovich via TKO (strikes) at 4:10 of round 3

Mudaerji Su def. Malcolm Gordon via KO (strikes) at 0:44 of round 1 

Nathan Maness def. Luke Sanders via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:29 of round 2