The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 34

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIApril 17, 2022

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 34

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    UFC Fight Night 204 went down on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and it delivered some important action in several divisions.

    The most relevant fight of the night occurred in the main event when Chicago's Belal Muhammad looked to avenge a brief and brutal 2016 knockout loss to Brazil's Vicente Luque. He succeeded on his mission, out-fighting his rival to a unanimous decision win that should earn him a spot in the welterweight division's Top 5.

    Beyond the main event, UFC Fight Night 204 was devoid of big names, but a couple of fighters still scored crucial wins. Chief among them was American lightweight Drakkar Klose, who rebounded from a loss to Beneil Dariush—and more importantly, a shove-induced injury at the hands of proven hothead Jeremy Stephens—with a second-round stoppage win over Brandon Jenkins. 

    This may be one of those cards that is lost to the sands of time fairly quickly, but make no mistake—it still produced some big winners and bigger losers.

    Keep scrolling to see who really gained and lost the most ground at the event.

Winner: Getting It Right the Second Time

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    Chicago's Belal Muhammad suffered the worst loss of his career in 2016, wilting under a storm of strikes at the hands of Brazil's Vicente Luque in just 79 seconds.

    The pair met again in the UFC Fight Night 204 main event—with a spot in the welterweight Top 5 on the line—and Muhammad didn't let the opportunity go to waste.

    The second time around, the 33-year-old defeated Luque by unanimous decision, tallying scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.

    In victory, Muhammad is now on an eight-fight unbeaten streak. The only blemish in his recent fights is a No Contest opposite top contender Leon Edwards, which was the result of an inadvertent eye poke.

    He still has some work to do to get ahead of welterweight contenders like Khamzat Chimaev and Colby Covington, but make no mistake, Muhammad is on his way to a welterweight title shot. The fact that he improved his position by avenging his biggest L is just the icing on the cake.

Loser: Team Canada

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    There was a time when Canada was one of the most successful countries in MMA. That was back when Georges St-Pierre was the king of the welterweight division, and fighters like Sam Stout and Mark Hominick were making waves at lightweight and featherweight, respectively.

    Things have changed. 

    While there are definitely plenty of great Canadian fighters out there, the "Great White North" is undeniably struggling with results in the UFC in 2022.

    UFC Fight Night 204 reaffirmed that fact, as Canadian lightweight Jesse Ronson lost a decision to Rafa Garcia, and Canadian featherweight TJ Laramie lost a decision to Pat Sabatini later on the broadcast.

    Both men are still winless in the Octagon. 

Loser: Jeremy Stephens

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    Drakkar Klose scored a big win at UFC Fight Night 204, defeating Brandon Jenkins with a volley of second-round punches.

    It was Klose's first appearance since a loss to top-ranked lightweight contender Beneil Dariush in a wild 2020 slugfest—but his prolonged absence was not his fault.

    Klose was out of action for more than two years after Jeremy Stephens, one of the most experienced fighters in UFC history, shoved him so hard at the weigh-in for their planned 2021 fight that Klose suffered a concussion and a spinal injury. Klose couldn't fight that weekend and was unable to fight again for over a year. 

    Stephens, who has since been dropped by the UFC and signed with the PFL, is a 35-year-old adult. He had no reason to shove Klose the way he did and should have known better. He has also shown no real remorse for his totally unjustified actions.

    Long story short: Klose was a big winner at UFC Fight Night 204. The guy who almost ended his career in an effort to look tough is still a loser.

Loser: Living Up to Expectations

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    Slovakia's Martin Buday made his Octagon debut against the ever-popular Chris Barnett on the UFC Fight Night 204 undercard. The 30-year-old heavyweight did so with a 9-1 record and stoppages in eight of his nine victories—with an imposing 6'4" frame to boot. 

    Needless to say, he lumbered into the Octagon with quite a bit of hype behind him. He did not live up to it.

    Despite being a proven finisher, the Slovakian big man employed a snooze-inducing, clinch-heavy strategy through rounds one and two. He then capped off his stinker of a performance by blasting Barnett with an illegal elbow to the back of the head to win the fight by technical decision in round three. 

    In an alternate timeline, Buday knocked out Barnett with something flashy and immediately announced himself as a heavyweight prospect—perhaps as the one we thought he was when he knocked out Lorenzo Hood with a first-round knee to earn a UFC contract on Dana White's Contender Series last year—to watch.

    In our timeline, he announced his arrival in the least memorable fashion possible. Hopefully, he learns from the experience.

Winner: Starting with a Bang

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    Chinese bantamweight Heili Alateng (15-8-2) knows how to kick things off in style. The 30-year-old from Inner Mongolia proved that at UFC Fight Night 204, demolishing Kevin Croom in just 47 seconds in the opening bout of the night.

    Heili wasted no time in the Octagon, walking Croom down and cracking him with a blistering right hook in the early going. The hook didn't actually put Croom down, but Heili didn't give his rival any time to recover, swarming him with a salvo of strikes.

    Seconds later, Croom was face-planting on the mat, and referee Chris Tognoni leaped into the fracas to spare the American from any further abuse.

    It was a great way to kick off an under-the-radar card—big ups to any fans who tuned in early enough to catch it—and a crucial win for Heili.

    The Chinese fighter was winless in his last two fights, having suffered a decision loss to Casey Kenney and battled Gustavo Lopez to a disappointing draw after kicking his UFC career off with two-straight wins.