The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 24
The UFC returned to our screens Saturday night with the under-the-radar UFC on ESPN 24 card.
While the event was battered by last-minute shakeups and fight cancelations, resulting in just nine fights, it ended up producing some pretty solid action.
In the main event, we watched Marina Rodriguez burst into strawweight title contention with a short-notice flyweight win over Michelle Waters. In the co-main event, meanwhile, we saw Alex Morono make good on a short-notice opportunity, picking up the biggest win of his career at the expense of Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
Elsewhere on the lineup, we were treated to big wins from the likes of Neil Magny, Gregor Gillespie and Phil Hawes. But who gained and lost the most ground when all was said and done?
Keep scrolling for our take.
Winner: The Strawweight Division
The strawweight division is easily the best weight class in women's MMA, but the division is in need of some new blood. Case in point, the past seven strawweight title fights have involved just four women: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rose Namajunas, Jessica Andrade and Weili Zhang.
The strawweight division got an infusion of new blood in the UFC on ESPN 24 main event, when Brazilian muay thai specialist Marina Rodriguez established herself as a title contender with a unanimous-decision win over Michelle Waterson.
While the fight was contested in the 125-pound flyweight division, both women are strawweights through and through and will most likely return to that weight class for their next fights. At this stage, it's not clear whom Rodriguez will be matched up with her for next fight, but she's bound to get a big test. And if she wins, a title shot could be next.
Winner: Making the Most of Opportunity
Fortune favors the bold. Alex Morono reminded the world of that fact that during the UFC on ESPN 24 main card when he picked up a first-round TKO win over Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
Cowboy was originally slated to fight fellow veteran Diego Sanchez on the UFC on ESPN 24 card. When Sanchez was shockingly released by the UFC just a week ahead of the fight, however, Morono offered to step in against the veteran gunslinger on short notice.
It was a bold move, considering Cowboy's status as the winningest fighter in UFC history, but it paid off. Morono will return to Texas with the biggest win of his career secured.
"What a week," he said in his post-fight interview with commentator Daniel Cormier. "Short-notice fights have already done me so well. I'm so happy I won the fight."
Winner: Fight IQ
Fight IQ is as important as any skill in MMA. It might even be the most important skill of all.
Longtime UFC welterweight contender Neil Magny has it in abundance.
Magny once again flaunted his in-cage intelligence on the UFC on ESPN 24 main card, when he picked up a decision victory over brick-fisted knockout artist Geoff Neal. While he was clearly at a strength and power disadvantage in the matchup, he countered that disadvantage with a clever blend of slick defensive maneuvering, varied volume striking and deftly timed takedown attempts.
The Haitian Sensation night not be the best fighter in the world, but you would be hard-pressed to find a fighter who can outsmart him in the cage. The man is simply a masterful strategist.
Winner: The Gregor Gillespie Hype Train
By the time Gregor Gillespie stepped into the cage with Kevin Lee in November, 2019, he was one of the most hyped contenders on the UFC roster. Unfortunately for him, the hype train ran off the rails that night, as he was flattened by a head kick in the first round.
When Gillespie stepped into the cage with Diego Ferreira at UFC on ESPN 24—his first fight since that knockout loss to Lee—he needed a win to regain some of that lost momentum.
He got the win he sought. After a fun, scramble-filled first round, he took control of the action in Round 2 and finished his durable Brazilian foe with a volley of ground strikes.
Just like that, the 34-year-old's hype train is back on the rails—and he seemingly couldn't be more relieved about it.
"It's been such a long time since I felt that," he said in his post-fight interview with Cormier. "Last time I won a fight was two years ago, so that was a special one for me."
Loser: The Judges
There were no egregious judges' decisions at UFC on ESPN 24—but that doesn't mean a few of the on-duty judges weren't trying to make it happen.
Over the course of the nine-fight UFC on ESPN 24 broadcast, fans were shocked by a number of awful scorecards. The worst of the bunch occurred in Jun Yong Park's majority-decision win over Tafon Nchukwi, with one judge scorting the fight a decisive 30-25 in Park's favor and another scoring the bout a 28-28 draw.
They were all over the place all night, to the point that one could safely assume they were swiping on Tinder or playing Pokemon Go rather than watching the fights.
Loser: Broadcast Pacing
The UFC on ESPN 24 lineup was whittled down to a mere nine fights because of a series of last-minute shakeups. Just three of those fights landed on the two-hour undercard broadcast, which led to a nightmare in terms of pacing.
While the preliminary fights were thankfully fairly entertaining, the space between them was a gulf of commercials and promotional material for the bouts on the main card.
It was far from riveting viewing.