Max Holloway and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ABC 1

Tom TaylorContributor IJanuary 16, 2021

Max Holloway and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ABC 1

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    On Saturday afternoon, the UFC promoted its first event of 2021—which also happened to mark the promotion’s debut on the ABC network.

    The card was headlined by a featherweight showdown between the division’s former champion Max Holloway and boxing specialist Calvin Kattar, its No. 6 contender. Co-headlining honors, meanwhile, went to fan favorite welterweight veterans Carlos Condit and Matt Brown, who had been matched up twice previously to no avail. Other highlights of the card included appearances from highly regarded fighters like Santiago Ponzinibbio, Li Jingliang, and Joaquin Buckley.

    As it turns out, the UFC got the recipe for its debut on ABC exactly right.

    When all was said and done, the card immediately stood out as a Fight of the Year contender for 2021—a pretty impressive feat considering it’s the first card of the year.

    But who, by the time the action subsided, really gained the most ground? And who sustained the biggest setbacks? Keep scrolling for our take on the real winners and losers from UFC on ABC 1.

Winner: Max Holloway

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    When I’m tasked with writing these Winners and Losers articles for B/R, I try to follow the lead of my esteemed colleague Lyle Fitzsimmons and avoid handing out Ws and Ls to individual fighters. The objective of these articles is not to regurgitate the results of each fight card, but to identify the winners and losers in the grander scheme. 

    That being said, it would be criminal not to give some shine to former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, who tore the division’s No. 6-ranked contender Calvin Kattar to shreds in the UFC on ABC 1 main event.

    It was, without any exaggeration, one of the most dazzling beatdowns you will ever see in mixed martial arts. Over the course of the fight’s five rounds, Holloway threw a jaw-dropping 602 significant strikes, and landed a dizzying 361 one of them. Let that sink in. He hit Kattar more than 350 times in 25 minutes.

    By the time the fifth round ended, Kattar looked like he had just climbed out of a blender; covered in bruises and cuts on every inch of exposed skin. In other words, the judges had an easy task on their hands. They gave the fight to Holloway with scores of 50-43, 50-43, and 50-42—a spread that it almost unprecedented, but impossible to argue with.

    With this unbelievable performance, Holloway rebounded from a pair of controversial decision losses to reigning UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and reasserted himself as the division’s No. 1 contender. Whether the win will be enough to earn him another title shot remains to be seen, but there’s no refuting that he was the biggest winner of all at UFC on ABC 1.

Winner: Simple Pleasures

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    In a perfect world, Carlos Condit and Matt Brown would have fought seven or eight years ago, when they were both still in their competitive crimes. Unfortunately, despite a few attempts from the UFC, the matchup didn’t materialize until 2021, in the co-main event of UFC on ABC 1, when both men are in the final chapters of their careers. 

    Thankfully, the fight was every bit as entertaining as we all hoped it would be. It was admittedly surprising to see so much of the action unfurl on the mat, but the fight lived up to the hype in every way possible.

    At the end of three, fun rounds that left both men painted in blood, all three cage-side judges scored the bout for Condit. The win isn’t going to propel the former interim champion back into title contention, but it really doesn’t matter.

    Condit’s fight with Brown was a reminder that sometimes, fights don’t need to be high-stakes to be interesting. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a belt, or a No. 1 contender spot, or even a spot in the rankings on the line.

    Sometimes, a fight can be as simple as two aging stars pummeling each other with all of the weapons they’ve accrued over the course of their respective careers, and that’s enough. Simple pleasures, you know? Like fresh-baked bread or a cold beer.

    That’s precisely what Condit and Brown gave us on Fight Island.

Winner: Keeping Busy

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Ring rust is a real thing.

    When fighters sit on the sidelines for years at a time, they often seem to have hard time getting their timing down when they finally make it back to the cage.

    That’s precisely the problem Santiago Ponzinibbio ran into on the UFC on ABC 1 main card—that, and Li Jingliang’s fist.

    Ponzinibbio’s fight with Li was his first since way back in November of 2018, when he turned the lights out on Neil Magny in his native Argentina. While that win propelled him into the top half of the UFC welterweight rankings, he was unfortunately sidelined with health issues for two years thereafter—an eternity in a brutal sport like MMA, where athletes shelf lives can be very short. 

    When he stepped into the cage with Li in Abu Dhabi, Ponzinibbio sought to remind the world why he was so highly regarded before his layoff, and perhaps even reclaim his spot in the rankings, which he lost due to his inactivity.

    Unfortunately for the "Argentine Dagger," that’s not the way things down. Instead, he found himself struggling with Li’s speed, movement and timing right off the bat, and ultimately paid the price. In the closing moments of the first round, the former contender threw a right hand, leaned back to evade a counter, but inadvertently put himself right in trajectory of a Li left hook.

    Just like that, he was down. 

    It was proof not only that Li is a legitimate contender at 170 pounds, but that fighters do benefit from competing regularly.

Loser: Hype Trains

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Joaquin Buckley closed out 2020 riding a pair of highlight reel wins over Impa Kasanganay and Jordan Wright. Those victories made him one of the most hyped fighters on the UFC roster heading into 2021, rivalled only by his fellow middleweights Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland. 

    Unfortunately for Buckley and his throngs of fans, the hype train went skittering off the rails at UFC on ABC 1, thanks to the most unheralded of foes: Italy’s Alessio Di Chirico.

    Di Chirico stepped into the cage on Fight Island as one of the biggest betting underdogs on the card. With three consecutive losses behind him, he was also fighting for his job with the UFC.

    He did not let the pressure of those realities get to him.

    At 2:12 of the first round, the struggling Italian middleweight knocked his highly regarded opponent senseless with a blistering head-kick, saving his job in the process.

    As commentator Dan Hardy put it, Buckley looked like he was "staring into the eyes of Medusa." It was a nasty knockout, a major upset, and a reminder that no fighter—no matter how hyped—is immune to defeat.

Loser: Special Announcements

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    On Friday, UFC President Dana White met with Khabib Nurmagomedov with the explicit purpose of ironing out the unbeaten Russian’s fighting future.

    We were told we'd be enlightened about the results of that meeting in a special announcement during the UFC on ABC 1 main card broadcast.

    Would Nurmagomedov stick to his retirement? Would he oblige White’s wishes and return for one more fight? It seemed the answers we sought were just around the corner… 

    Unfortunately, White’s announcement turned out to be a complete dud. All the UFC boss ended up telling us is that Nurmagomedov will apparently consider fighting again if one of the UFC’s top lightweight contenders—most notably Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, who fight at UFC 257 next weekend—can impress him enough to do so.

    In other words, contrary to the promise of a special announcement, the verdict is still out on what the future holds for Nurmagomedov.  

Winner: New Blood

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    The UFC on ABC 1 card featured rousing victories from two up-and-coming fighters who look like they could become legitimate contenders in their respective divisions.

    First up, in the final bout of the undercard, Joselyne Edwards—the first Panamanian woman to set foot in the Octagon—picked up an impressive unanimous decision win over China’s Wu Yanan. The fight marked Edwards’ UFC debut—an opportunity she accepted on short notice—and the victory came against an amply more experienced foe. It was a fantastic debut under any circumstances, but it was extra special because it occurred in the women’s bantamweight division, which is absolutely starving for fresh talent after reigning champ Amanda Nunes effectively culled the entire top-15.

    Edwards wasn’t the only prospect to make a splash in Abu Dhabi, either. 

    Not long after Bruce Buffer announced her win, he also did so for Hawaiian middleweight Punahele Soriano.

    Soriano kicked off the main card against unbeaten Serbian middleweight Dusko Todorovic. Despite entering the cage as a slight underdog, he was the picture of dominance, dropping his foe two times en route to a first-round knockout victory. Throw in the fact that he was returning from a layoff of more than a year, and the win is made that much more impressive. 

    Just like Edwards, he seems poised to make some real noise in the UFC.

Loser: Anyone Who Sat Through Vanessa Melo vs. Sara Moras

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    Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    The UFC on ABC 1 card started strong, with Austin Lingo defeating Jacob Kilburn in a Fight of the Night worthy scrap in the opening bout. Unfortunately, things took an ugly turn in the second fight of the night, as Vanessa Melo and Sara Moras stunk up the Etihad Arena in one of the worst fights in recent memory.

    The fight—if it can even accurately be called that—unfurled exclusively on the feet. While stand-up fights are generally pretty popular among fans, the problem with this one was that neither woman could seem to land with any regularity.  

    By the time the fight was over, Melo had connected on 56 of 169 significant strike attempts, while Moras hit her target a paltry 44 times on 200 attempts. That works out to striking accuracy rates of 33 and 22 percent respectively—objectively terrible stats by any standard.

    When this fight mercifully reached its conclusion, all three cage-side judges scored it for Melo, but it was the kind of fight with no real winner. Neither woman did much to justify their place on the UFC roster, and Moras—now 6-7 overall—will more than likely be cut by the promotion in the coming weeks.

    Yet the real losers, with respect to this fight, were the fans who had to sit through it. Respect to both women for all of their hard work in the gym, but it was simply painful to watch.

    They can’t all be Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk.