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For the second event in a row, the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
managed to get a card through
fight week without any bout changes or cancellations, a rarity
since the COVID-19 era began roughly a year ago. While that feels
like cause for some cautious optimism regarding MMA’s immediate
future,
UFC Fight Night 187
itself was plagued in a different way, as a
shocking number of the 13 fights were impacted by fouls and
questionable judges’ decisions. We witnessed the unprecedented, as
two bouts ended in no-contests on a single night for the first time
in UFC history. That one of them was the main event was especially
cruel.

Once “UFC Vegas 21” was finished, in all its frustrating glory —
all emergency room visits done and MMA Decisions’ servers no longer completely
redlined — some fighters’ stocks had risen while others had taken a
hit, fairly or not. It’s a cold world out there, and I might be
feeling a little chilly myself, but here’s the stock report for UFC
Fight Night 187: Edwards vs. Muhammad.

STOCK UP



Dan
Ige
:
While Ige just missed the cut for my weekly
pre-event roundup of fighters under special pressure to perform, he
would have been the next name up if any of those three had fallen
off the card. Obviously, “50K” was in no peril whatsoever of losing
his job as he prepared to face Gavin
Tucker
on Saturday. He was 6-2 in the UFC, a borderline
contender and one of the best homegrown success stories to emerge
from Dana White’s Contender Series. However, coming
off a decisive loss to Calvin
Kattar
in his previous fight, Ige was in danger of melting back
into the general population at featherweight. Considering that it
had taken six straight wins to earn a shot at a ranked contender,
he could ill afford another setback against Tucker, who was riding
a three-fight streak of his own and entered the cage as a near pick
‘em.

This was a prove-it fight for Ige, and he delivered exactly the
kind of performance a Top 10 fighter should against a less heralded
opponent, crushing Tucker in just 22 seconds with a one-punch
killshot that should appear on some “Knockout of the Year” lists.
By so doing, he all but forced the UFC to match him up with another
contender next, effectively regaining the momentum he lost in the
Kattar fight.

Ryan
Spann
:
On one hand, Spann’s first-round shellacking of
Misha
Cirkunov
in Saturday’s co-main event wasn’t all that shocking.
Spann is a constantly improving striker with fearsome natural
power, while Cirkunov is the light heavyweight division’s ultimate
feast-or-famine fighter, delivering sensational submissions or
suffering brutal knockouts every time out, seemingly with no middle
ground possible. However, a couple of details make this a quietly
impressive performance for “Superman.” First, after coming in
slightly heavy at Friday’s weigh-ins, he left, cut the additional
weight and then performed just fine — or at least made sure that
any potential gas tank or durability issues were moot. In an era
when more and more fighters seem willing to shrug, pay the fine and
fight heavy, Spann’s actions were those of a man who expects to
fight for a title one day, and wants his promoter to have as few
reservations as possible about granting him one.

Second, Spann showed composure and discipline in pursuing the
finish against Cirkunov, forcing the powerful judoka to get back up
after the first knockdown rather than diving heedlessly into his
guard, or throwing kicks from Ali-Inoki position while Cirkunov
regained his wits. Considering that Spann’s lone UFC loss was due
nearly as much to Spann’s overzealous pursuit of the finish as to
Johnny
Walker
’s blows to the back of the head, that’s an encouraging
sign as well.

HOLDING STEADY



Manel
Kape
:
In the pre-event column referenced above, I made
a big deal of the idea that hot prospects can lose their first UFC
fight and bounce back to win a title — let’s call that “pulling a
‘Shogun'” —
but not their first two fights. Well, here we are, and Kape has now
lost his first two UFC fights. However, there were two glimmers of
silver lining in this cloud. First and most obviously, Kape probably should have won; it was an
ultra-rare case of every single media member of record disagreeing
with the official scores. Second, for one round at least, Kape
looked like the destroyer he was in his later Rizin Fighting Federation run. It is a question
of confidence: Kape is the stronger, faster athlete and the more
technical striker in almost all of his bouts. When he fights like
he knows it, as he did in Round 2 against Matheus
Nicolau
on Saturday, he’s scary. More of that please, sir, and
perhaps in a few years we’ll call it “pulling a ‘Starboy'” when a
fighter makes a splash in the UFC despite losing his first two.

STOCK DOWN



Belal
Muhammad
:
It isn’t fair. It isn’t his fault. Frankly,
it sucks. Generally, when a lower-ranked fighter steps up on short
notice, as Muhammad did against Leon
Edwards
, the risk-to-reward ratio is fantastic for him, while
the fighter accepting the late replacement opponent faces something
approaching a no-win situation. (For an example of this phenomenon
stretched to its absolute limit, consider Daniel
Cormier
vs. Anderson
Silva
at UFC 200.)

For that reason, the result of Saturday’s main event — a no-contest
due to an inadvertent eye poke by Edwards — was almost the worst
possible outcome for Muhammad. While defeating Edwards would
obviously have been a life-changer, even a competitive loss would
have been better than this, as it would have proven that Muhammad
belonged in the cage with a man who might be the second best
welterweight on the planet. His stock, and possibly even his
ranking, would have benefited just from giving Edwards a hard
fight. Instead, Muhammad received a free ambulance ride and a
no-contest after losing a fairly one-sided first round. He is
calling for a rematch, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get one, as
Edwards was already on the verge of breaking the divisional record
for the longest winning streak without a title shot, the UFC seems
bizarrely fixated on making him fight Khamzat
Chimaev
, and there’s always the Jorge
Masvidal
grudge match lurking in the background. In a
welterweight division so competitive that it’s nearly impossible to
break into the Top 10 from below, much less get a matchup with a
Top 5 fighter, this was a lost opportunity.


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