The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 30

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IAugust 29, 2021

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 30

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    The past few UFC Fight Nights have been lacking in big names. UFC on ESPN 30 was no exception, but like its predecessors, it exceeded all expectations in terms of action.

    In the card's main event, Georgia's Giga Chikadze emerged as a true featherweight contender, shutting out the lights on one of the UFC's best-established fighters, Edson Barboza, with a third-round TKO.

    Earlier on the card, two new Ultimate Fighter champions were crowned, as Bryan Battle defeated Gilbert Urbino by submission at middleweight and Ricky Turcios defeated Brady Hiestand by decision at bantamweight.

    Prior to that, rising welterweight star Daniel Rodriguez made another statement with a decision win over former interim lightweight title contender Kevin Lee.

    Consult the record books, and you will see who won and lost. But who really gained and lost the most ground when all was said and done? The B/R combat sports team has that covered.

Winner: New Blood

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    Edson Barboza may be a new face in the featherweight division, but he's as established as they come in the UFC, having fought 26 times in the Octagon.

    In the main event of UFC on ESPN 30, this hyper-experienced veteran was chopped down and destroyed by a younger, fresher man: Giga Chikadze. The Georgian won via third-round TKO following a violent volley of punches.

    With this outcome, Barboza's attempt at a career reinvention by dropping from lightweight to featherweight fell short. Chikadze, meanwhile, announced himself as a legitimate contender by beating one of the most reliable knockout artists in UFC history. He can look forward to high-stakes fights with the best of the featherweight division. Barboza, on the other hand, is running low on options in two divisions.

    It was a classic example of new blood trumping the old guard.

Loser: The Ultimate Fighter

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    We got two new Ultimate Fighter champions at UFC on ESPN 30: Ricky Turcios at bantamweight and Bryan Battle at middleweight.

    Ahead of the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter—the first in years—UFC President Dana White explained the appeal of the long-running reality show to B/R.

    "I just think that The Ultimate Fighter is a deeper dive into who these guys are—their personalities, where they come from, what they're all about, how they train," the UFC boss said. "So many people have become fans of the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter.

    "Now, I feel like we give you everything you need. We have Fight Nights. We have pay-per-views. We have the Contender Series—four or five fights in a night with the best unsigned talent available. We've got Lookin' For a Fight, where we go to small shows and there's some fun stuff to watch, and we get to watch these guys fight and see if they can make it into the UFC. Then you have The Ultimate Fighter for people who like to dive into an hour-long show and learn more about the characters."

    That's a good argument, but did this latest season—which took weeks on end to film—really introduce us to the likes of Turcios and Battle in a way that a single episode of Contender Series couldn't?

    It's hard to see the point. Stars are going to become stars whether it's on The Ultimate Fighter or Contender Series.

Winner: Stepping Up

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    A couple of weeks ago, Daniel Rodriguez got an important phone call. The offer on the other end? Fight longtime UFC lightweight contender Kevin Lee at welterweight on two weeks' notice. It was a tall order, but Rodriguez bravely accepted the challenge and made the most of the opportunity.

    Rodriguez struggled with Lee's wrestling in the first round but turned it on in Rounds 2 and 3—notably rocking Lee in the second—en route to a unanimous decision.

    The win over Lee, arguably the biggest win of his entire career, pushed Rodriguez to 6-1 in the UFC welterweight division. While he's still not ranked at 170 pounds, it's possible he will earn a spot in the top 15 when the rankings are updated. If he's not, he should at least earn a fight with a top-15 opponent like Muslim Salikhov or Sean Brady—the man Lee was originally expected to fight at UFC on ESPN 30.

    Whatever the case, Rodriguez proved that there's a lot to be gained by stepping up and accepting tough challenges on short notice.

Loser: Greener Pastures

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    When fighters find themselves on losing streaks, one of the most readily available remedies is a weight-class change. When the wins don't come in your own division, why not move down, where you will have a size advantage, or up, where you won't be subjected to a weight cut? It makes a ton of sense.

    Sometimes, this strategy pays dividends. Look at Robert Whittaker, who won gold at middleweight after ditching the welterweight division. Look at Jared Cannonier, who's arguably the top contender at middleweight after dropping down from heavyweight to light heavyweight and then from light heavyweight to middleweight.

    Unfortunately, for every fighter who finds greener pastures in a new division, there's another who doesn't. We got a good example of this strategy failing at UFC on ESPN 30, when longtime lightweight contender Kevin Lee took a second fight at welterweight in the name of a career reinvention.

    It just didn't work. Instead, Lee lost a decision to unranked, short-notice opponent Daniel Rodriguez, falling to 0-2 as a welterweight.

    Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it's not.