Photo Credit: MMA Fighting.Com courtesy of Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
*This was originally posted May 15, 2022*
Unlike most of the other cards recently, this card heavily featured the women of the UFC, plus a group of new UFC fighters making their debut. The night was headlined by two of the top light heavyweight strikers in Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic which ended in an unfortunate fluke injury from Rakic. Just before that, we saw Ryan Spann return to the cage with a vengeance, finishing the rising Ion Cutelaba with a 1st Round submission. As mentioned, we also saw a few ranked women’s fights including great scraps between Katlyn Chookagian and Amanda Ribas, Viviane Araujo and Andrea Lee, as well as Virna Jandiroba and Angela Hill. We were treated to the return of veteran Michael Johnson as well as the impressive debuts of Manuel Torres and Tatsuro Taira. All of the bouts from UFC Vegas 54 are covered below along with BLÜ’s favourite performances of the night: the BLÜ BONUSES.
Andre Petroski def. Nick Maximov by Submission in the 1st Round
Petroski got his offence going early with a couple of heavy strikes. From there it looked like Maximov was going to get his ground game going. Amazingly, the biggest underdog of the night, Petroski, was the one who dragged the wrestler, Maximov, down and grabbed his neck. From there it only took a few seconds for Maximov to go limp, succumbing to an early 1st Round Anaconda Choke.
Tatsuro Taira def. Carlos Candelario by Unanimous Decision
This bout was originally scheduled weeks ago and has favoured Taira heavily since the betting lines opened. Candelario made the first move, pushing Taira along the fence to get some early control time. He got out of it pretty quick and moved into a clinch of his own over Candelario. As the round went on, Taira’s standup skill and power became more evident, landing a couple of HEAVY strikes. Closing out the opening round, both men grabbed a little control time, making it difficult for the judges. Personally, I’d have given the round to Taira thanks to his extra strikes and the skills he showed along the fence. The second round opened with some more HUGE strikes from Taira, dropping Candelario to the ground and taking his back. Using his extremely dominant position, Tatsuro let loose some WICKED ground and pound and fought for some deep submission attempts. After having Taira on his back for almost 3 minutes, Candelario FINALLY got him off and ended the round on top. Although that was impressive, it was a pretty clear round in favour of Taira, likely putting him up 2-0. Knowing he was down on the cards, Carlos fought hard to drag Taira to the ground and put him in a DEEP guillotine attempt. It took a LOT of flailing and flipping, but Taira got out of it and ended up on top. From there it was Taira who locked in a deep submission attempt. Carlos got out of it, but found himself in multiple other attempts and a hailstorm of ground and pound to finish the fight. Overall, a VERY impressive debut by Tatsuro Taira, grabbing himself a fairly dominant decision win, scoring 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 on the cards.
BLÜ’s Prelim. Pick #1
Virna Jandiroba vs. Angela Hill
Jandiroba ranked 12th heading into this fight, has lost two of her last three Octagon appearances, losing to one of the top-ranked contenders Mackenzie Dern and one of the fastest rising contenders Amanda Ribas. Ranked just below her in the 13th spot, Angela Hill has had a rough time recently with a record of 1-4. Amazingly, THREE of those losses came in split decisions to Gadelha, Waterson and, most recently, Amanda Lemos. Considering the TIGHT fights she’s had with so many ranked contenders, it seemed like Hill had the slight edge in this matchup. It’s well known that she doesn’t get tired and could go 5 rounds at full pace, so it seemed like she’d have the edge as the fight went on. If you combine her stamina with her unbelievable durability, it seemed likely that Hill would beat Jandiroba in a close decision.
Hill by Decision
Jandiroba made the first move of the fight, grabbing Hill and pushing her along the fence. From there she rolled, putting Hill into a NASTY looking spot for a kneebar or ankle lock. It was looking BAD, but Angela twisted and turned out of it and got back to her feet. Hill started to get things going early in the 2nd Round, landing some nice combos and even initiating some clinch work along the fence. The momentum then shifted immediately as Jandiroba took her down once again. It was tough going, but Hill managed to get out of the round. The final round opened with a couple of BIG strikes from Hill, stumbling Virna for the first time in the fight. Sadly for her, that was short-lived as Jandiroba found herself on top once again, smothering Hill with her wrestling. Hill put up a decent fight, but this one was ALL Virna, locking up a dominant unanimous decision win.
Virna Jandiroba def. Angela Hill by Unanimous Decision
The main thing that we learned from this matchup is that Jandiroba needs to be taken more seriously. She completely dominated Hill with her wrestling and managed to survive all of Hill’s onslaughts. She still hasn’t beaten someone who’s well-versed on the ground (like her losses to Dern and Ribas), but she does VERY well against strikers. This tells me she’s got a great chance of beating a striker in the rankings above her like Nina Nunes or Waterson. As for Hill, I think that’s the last ranked fighter she’ll square off against for a while, likely restricted to rising unranked fighters for the next couple of fights.
Michael Johnson def. Alan Patrick by KO in the 2nd Round
Johnson came in HEAVY with some big, big shots, stumbling Patrick more than once in the first couple of minutes. Not to be outdone, Patrick landed a BOMB of his own, stumbling Johnson into the fence. After going shot for shot, both landing huge blows, Johnson found himself on top of Patrick. With the late control time and extra stumbles thrown in there, it seemed clear that Johnson found himself up 1-0 on the cards after the opening round. Patrick ran into the 2nd Round like a wild man, throwing haymakers, but Johnson swiftly avoided all of them. Once again, Johnson landed a couple of bombs to stun Patrick. After a couple more big strikes, Johnson landed a BOMB, knocking Patrick onto his back and he jumped on him with a couple more huge shots to put his lights out.
BLÜ’s Prelim. Pick #2
Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee
In another closely contested ranked bout, we saw the 8th and 9th ranked flyweights square off. Araujo joined the UFC in 2019 and has had an impressive run so far with a record of 4-2 with a win over Modaferri and losses to Chookagian and Eye. Since joining in 2018, Lee has also done very well, going 5-3 with losses to Joanne Calderwood (Wood), Murphy and Modaferri. Since losing a decision to Modaferri, she’s improved tremendously, grabbing two finishes in a row over Antonina Shevchenko and Calvillo. These women are VERY similar and I thought this would surely end in a tight decision. The main factor for me was Lee’s recent improvement; she’s looked like a completely different fighter in her last two bouts with those two finishes. Although I thought Araujo would make it difficult, I thought Lee’s grappling skills would help her come ahead in the decision. There was also a SLIGHT physical edge for Lee considering she’s a couple years younger and has a couple extra inches in reach.
Lee by Decision
Both women came in trying to put on a show, letting loose some wild combos. Lee landed first, almost finishing Araujo with a MASSIVE hook into a head kick. Amazingly, after getting dropped to the ground, Araujo got up, picked Lee up and slammed her into the ground. Lee got up pretty quick and both of them started to throw out some more combos, but to really steal the momentum on the cards, Araujo took Lee down, landed on top and let loose some ground and pound. Both women came out heavy again, landing some big strikes, but Lee made a HUGE mistake, shooting for Araujo’s ankles, letting Viviane take her back. Lee managed to avoid the submission attempts, but with all the control time and ground strikes, Araujo was clearly in control of the round, maybe even notching herself a 10-8 round in the second. Araujo kept her wrestling dominance going into the final round, landing herself a takedown within the first 30 seconds. Lee got back up after a few minutes, but it was clear she was completely out of gas. She had lost all power behind her strikes and basically just fell to the ground after Viviane threw out a weak takedown. It started off close, but after the opening round, it was just pure dominance from Araujo.
Viviane Araujo def. Andrea Lee by Unanimous Decision
I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised that Araujo did THIS well against a tough contender like Lee. Lee looked as though she was going to get an early finish, but her cardio failed her, falling apart after the opening round. Araujo struggled with Lee’s explosive opening round, but for the rest of the fight, she looked unbeatable. With that level of ground game, overcoming a dangerous striker like Lee, there’s no doubt in my mind that she’d have a CLOSE battle with someone like Grasso and I think that’s the fight to make. Otherwise, maybe a matchup against Maia who was just above her in the rankings this week.
Main Card Action
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
The main card opened up with a couple of unusual matchups this week. Jake Hadley was coming off a win on the Contender Series, extending his undefeated record to 8-0 with a 2nd Round submission over TUF alum. Mitch Raposo. Allan Nascimento only had one fight in the UFC before this one with a split decision loss to flyweight standout Tagir Ulanbekov. The decision may seem obvious: side with the undefeated prospect over the man with a loss in his UFC debut. The thing is, Ulanbekov just lost in a razor-thin decision to the ranked Tim Elliott, all because Elliot won using some not-so-legal techniques. If Nascimento can get in a split decision with someone who was beating Tim Elliott, that told me that he would have an edge over someone like Hadley who had never faced someone of that calibre. I said it’d be close, but I predicted a decision win for Nascimento.
Nascimento by Decision
Just like the other fights on this card, these guys wasted absolutely no time, throwing out some wild combos. The first moment of the fight went to Nascimento as he got Hadley to the ground and started to really grab onto his leg and ankle. There were a couple of nasty looking kneebar and heel hook attempts, but Hadley slipped out of all of them. He may have survived, but Allan CLEARLY dominated the action in the opening round. The 2nd Round opened up with some more wrestling dominance from Nascimento. It didn’t seem like there was much of a danger for Hadley to get finished, but after controlling almost the entire round, it’s pretty clear that Nascimento found himself up 2-0 on the cards moving into the final round. Hadley came in HARD in the final round, dragging Nascimento to the ground fighting for submission after submission. Sadly, after a couple of transitions, Hadley found himself on the bottom once again. For some reason, Allan let him back up, leaving Hadley to get a takedown of his own. Of course, Nascimento reversed positions again, finishing the fight on top, capping off a dominant decision win.
Allan Nascimento def. Jake Hadley by Unanimous Decision
Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Here we saw another debut from a DWCS alum., this time in the lightweight division with Manuel Torres. Including his Contender Series appearance in October, he was on a streak with THREE 1st Round finishes in a row. Camacho, on the other hand, had gone 2-5 in his UFC career. His wins hadn’t been over anyone all that impressive, but his losses came to impressive contenders like Li, Neal, Dariush and Dober. Sadly, he was on a two-fight streak of getting FINISHED in the 1st Round heading into this one. Although Camacho’s losses have been to impressive fighters when you’ve been finished in the 1st Round of your last two fights AND your opponent has three 1st Round WINS in a row, it’s not a good look. There was a chance Camacho’s experience would play a factor, edging ahead in a decision, but from what I could tell, there was a better chance of Torres getting another early finish to start his UFC career.
Torres by Finish
Right away, Camacho found himself in trouble after Torres landed a couple BOMBS, making him wobble. Camacho recovered nicely with some big shots of his own, but it still seemed to be Torres landing the better strikes. As the round went on, Torres was landing BOMB after BOMB, making Camacho stumble all over the place until a final one dropped him to the ground. At that point, the ref had seen enough and stopped the fight. You can’t ask for a much better debut than that.
Manuel Torres def. Frank Camacho by TKO in the 1st Round
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
In yet another ranked women’s bout, this time we saw one of the top flyweight contenders, Katlyn Chookagian, face fan-favourite strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Chookagian has solidified her number 1 flyweight contender spot after winning 3 in a row over Calvillo, Araujo and Maia. Sitting at an impressive 17-4 record going into this weekend, all of her losses have come in the UFC to some of the best flyweights of all time like Andrade, Carmouche, Eye and the GOAT, Valentina Shevchenko. Ribas has been doing VERY well in her career as well, achieving a record of 11-2 with her lone UFC loss coming to Rodriguez. Other than that, she was flawless in her UFC career with wins over Dern, Markos and Jandiroba. While Ribas’ record was impressive and she’s a VERY talented prospect at strawweight, this fight was contested in the heavier flyweight division where Chookagian thrives. I said Ribas would make it a good fight, but that Chookagian is too powerful and too skilled for Ribas. With that in mind, I figured she would likely cruise to a decision win if she didn’t get a finish.
Chookagian by Decision
There were two things immediately obvious about this matchup; Ribas was WAY faster while Chookagian was much longer and bigger. Despite the size difference, Ribas quickly dove in and got the early takedown, smothering Chookagian and working towards a submission. It took her a couple minutes, but Katlyn managed to get back up. Sadly for her, with all that control time, it seemed like Ribas won the opening round. Knowing she likely dropped the first round on the cards, Chookagian came in heavy, throwing all sorts of combos at Ribas. It was working well until Amanda landed a MASSIVE judo throw, finding herself on top of Chookagian once again. Just like the first round, she managed to get up, but with that much control time, it was pretty hard to deny the fact that Ribas was likely up 2-0. The final round was looking great for Chookagian, using her striking to keep Ribas at a distance, but Ribas still managed to drag her down for a little bit near the end of the fight. The last round was tight and could have gone either way, but I’d say Ribas still won the decision thanks to the opening rounds.
Katlyn Chookagian def. Amanda Ribas by Split Decision
I’m not sure what to take away from this fight. Ribas defied all expectations and, in my mind, won this fight with her wrestling. That tells me, if she wants to, Ribas can stay up here at flyweight and likely beat anyone in the top 5 to get a fairly quick title shot. Chookagian is still the number 1 contender, but honestly, she didn’t do ANYTHING to show she can even compete with Shevchenko in another title bout. I think Chookagian has to do more to prove she can compete with the champ while Ribas could beat someone like Grasso, Murphy or Fiorot to get a title shot.
Louis Smolka vs. Davey Grant
In this one, we had a couple of exciting bantamweights ready to BRAWL. Since his debut in 2018, Smolka has an even UFC record at 3-3 with a win over Sumudaerji and 1st Round losses to Schnell, Casey Kenney and Morales. Grant has also had a fairly even record at 4-5, but the most intriguing bouts were the last two: a decision loss to ‘Chito’ Vera and a split decision loss to the VERY impressive Adrian Yanez. Both these guys are skilled and are looking for a good brawl, but one of them seemed to hold a decisive edge on paper. Grant is a POWERFUL striker and proved to be VERY durable and active in his last fight to Yanez. Meanwhile, Smolka was finished in the 1st Round in his last outing by TKO. With Grant’s power, skill, durability and activity, I saw Grant getting an early finish or having a dominant decision win.
Grant by Finish
Grant got the action going early, landing some heavy leg kicks and crisp combos. Grant was landing some HUGE combos with BOMBS at the end of them, but somehow Smolka was eating them, still walking forward. After getting SMOKED probably over a dozen times throughout the opening round, Smolka was finally dropped after a quick jab from Grant to close out the round. Smolka tried to get a bit of wrestling going, but Grant shut it down and kept his striking going. Amazingly, after getting DRILLED by a couple more HUGE shots, Smolka finally started to land some shots of his own, stumbling Grant a little bit. After a late mistake from Grant, Smolka found himself in a dominant position on the ground. With a wild comeback like that, I’d have scored it 1-1 at this point. Taking the notes from his corner, Grant came in and lit up Smolka’s leg with more kicks until he was hopping around and couldn’t stand anymore, falling to the ground. From there, all Grant had to do was land some heavy ground and pound to finally get the finish over a TOUGH Smolka.
Davey Grant def. Louis Smolka by KO in the 3rd Round
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
In the first of two ranked light heavyweight bouts closing the night, the 13th ranked Ryan Spann fought to defend his rank against the unranked terror, Ion Cutelaba. After winning in a split decision over Sam Alvey, Spann had gone 1-2 leading up to this one, sliding down the rankings with 1st Round losses to Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. In between those losses though, he managed to grab the 1st Round finish himself over Misha Cirkunov. Cutelaba’s record had also been a bit iffy recently, sitting at 1-2-1 in his last 4, but the two losses were to the quickly rising, top contender Magomed Ankalaev. In his last, he beat Devin Clark in a decision. This one was a coin toss; either man could have realistically grabbed an early finish. From what I had seen, Cutelaba is one of the most dangerous men in the division, he just happened to have fought and lost to the top of the division before they were ranked so highly (Ankalaev, Glover and Cannonier). I said they both have power and they both could have grabbed a 1st Round finish, but based on what I had seen, Ion is the more skilled fighter. I had to mention the fact that Spann has a 6-inch reach advantage, but I also had to mention that that hadn’t always helped him in the past. Either way, I thought we were seeing a finish here.
Cutelaba by Finish
Both men were letting their hands loose early, but it was Spann that landed the clean one first, stumbling Cutelaba into the fence. Using that position though, Ion found himself on top. Spann kept getting back up, but Cutelaba kept taking him down and landing on top. Out of nowhere though, Spann grabbed onto Ion’s neck with a front choke while they were still standing and held on while they both hit the canvas. As soon as they hit the mat, Cutelaba tapped right away and that was it.
Ryan Spann def. Ion Cutelaba by Submission in the 1st Round
The main lesson that we learned from this matchup is that Ion seems to be a bit too reckless right now to compete against someone in the top 15. He’s dangerous and has the skill to beat a lot of these guys… but gets too excited and jumps into situations that he should be avoiding. Spann, on the other hand, has cemented his place in the top 15 and should expect an exciting matchup in his next one. With his recent loss, Walker may be the perfect opponent to test Spann, as well as test Walker himself.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Closing out the night was the former champ, Jan Blachowicz, and the number 3 contender, Aleksandar Rakic. After grabbing the belt in devastating fashion over Dominick Reyes, Jan managed to end the undefeated record of the middleweight king, Israel Adesanya. In his last, sadly his short title reign came to an end after he was wrestled into the ground by the new champ, Glover Teixeira. Rakic has proven to be one of the top contenders with a UFC record of 6-1 with a split decision loss to Oezdemir and decision wins over Smith and Santos in his last three outings. While it was impressive to beat Santos and Smith, Rakic just hadn’t been able to make the same statements as Jan. He got a MASSIVE 1st Round KO over Anderson, knocked out Reyes and ended up giving Izzy his first loss. This man was the champion and he has his unbelievable “Polish power”, you have to give Jan the respect he deserves. I thought there was even a chance we could see Jan get another finish.
Blachowicz by Finish
Rakic was the first to land, cutting Jan open early, but the leg kicks from Blachowicz were HUGE. After some quick combos from both sides, Rakic tried to get some clinching going but was clipped by a hook from Jan. After a dead-even opening round, Rakic switched it up by taking Jan down and laying on top of him. Sadly for the ex-champ, he had no answer to that, spending almost the entire round on his back or along the fence. Jan looked good, trying to get some good combos and then out of absolutely NOWHERE, Rakic took a misstep and his knee popped out, leaving him lying on the ground with the ref waving it off. An extremely unfortunate way for Rakic to lose considering how well he was doing, but you’ve gotta be happy for Jan to get a win and possibly solidify his spot in the next title fight.
Jan Blachowicz def. Aleksandar Rakic by TKO in the 3rd Round
It’s not the way anyone wanted it to end, but it was a great showcase for both men. Rakic looked fresh, crisp and dangerous, proving he still deserves to be in the title conversation. On the other side, Jan showed why he held the title last year and that he also still deserves to be in the title conversation. We’re likely going to see Ankalaev fight Smith; from there, maybe the winner gets Jan or the title and the loser gets Rakic or the loser of the upcoming title fight between Glover and Jiri. Regardless, for the first time in years, this division has become slightly more interesting at the top.
BLÜ’s Record for the Night
Main Card: 5-1
KO of the Night: Michael Johnson
Sub. of the Night: Andre Petroski
Brawl of the Night: Louis Smolka vs. Davey Grant
Most Valuable Fighter
At the age of 35 with a record of 19-17, he found himself heading into this week on a 4 fight losing streak against another scrappy veteran in Alan Patrick who had a record of 15-3. He overcame all of that to get a DEVASTATING KO in the 2nd Round, possibly reigniting his career.