After what felt like an eternity, the UFC returned to the Apex arena in Las Vegas Saturday night where Jared Cannonier may well have punched his way into a future title fight after an impressive performance against an always game Kelvin Gastelum. Cannonier continuously landed damaging shots that had the fans marveling at Gastelum’s durability, which ultimately became the story of the fight. The night began with four consecutive finishes including arguably knockout of the year when Ignacio Bahamondes finished Roosevelt Roberts with a spinning wheel kick to the head.
The rest of the main card produced high-quality theatre with flyweight contender Alexandre Pantoja and UFC newcomer Saidyokub Kakhramonov securing submission victories while Vinc Pichel, Parker Porter, and Mark O. Madsen fought to gruesome judges decisions. Join me as I step into the shoes of Sean Shelby and Hunter Campbell and predict what I think should be next for the UFC Vegas 34 winners.
UFC Vegas 34 Winners
Alexandre Pantoja (24-5)
A pair of flyweight contenders kicked off the main card of UFC Vegas 34 continuing the momentum from the prelims. Brandon Royval entered the UFC with an impressive 10-4 record and coming off a 23-second finish to win the vacant LFA flyweight championship. In an active 2020, Royval made his debut against UFC veteran Tim Elliot in May, submitting the former flyweight title contender in the second round and immediately making his presence felt. After a four-month turnaround, Royval found himself on the main card of UFC 253 and earned a second straight submission over another rising contender Kai Kara-France. After a win, he earned a number one contender bout against the current UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno, in a fight that didn’t go in his favor.
The winner on Saturday night, Alexandre Pantoja, made his presence known to the UFC fans after when he made his way into the semi-finals in The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of champions, beating the likes of Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France respectively before dropping a decision to finalist Hiromasa Ougikubo. Less than two months later in early 2017, Pantoja made his UFC debut and has gone 8-3 fighting only world-class opponents along the way.
On Saturday night at UFC Vegas 34, the pair set an extremely high price to open up the card. Pantoja made his intentions clear very early after shooting and earning a takedown within the first ten seconds where he was able to get control of Royval’s back. After some very entertaining scrambles and submission attempts, it was Royval who made the first mistake which leads to Pantoja finishing the fight via RNC. Sitting cage-side was flyweight king Brandon Moreno who immediately agreed to a trilogy bout with Pantoja but this time for all the marbles.
Vinc Pichel (14-2)
Another TUF alumni Vinc “From Hell” Pichel earned a hard-fought decision victory in the lightweight division against a tough outing in Austin Hubbard. Pichel improved his record to 7-2 inside the octagon, the California-native has only lost high-level opponents in Rustam Khabilov and Gregor Gillespie respectively. Winning back-to-back fights and looking to make it a treble, Pichel slowly grew into the fight against Hubbard the longer it went on. Although the two had a similar amount of total fights, Pichel had almost a decade of training experience on Hubbard and it carried Pichel to a convincing decision victory in the end.
Pichel has been unable to gain much of any momentum after his victories, fighting once a year on average since joining the promotion. The 38-year Old Pichel is currently riding a three-fight winning streak over the likes of Jim Miller and Roosevelt Roberts, and Saturday night, Austin Hubbard.
Sitting in the current top 30 of the UFC’s deepest division, a step up in competition is needed if Pichel has any desire to compete for UFC gold. Pichel deserves a set-up in competition, and a fun fight to make next would be against Drew Dober. Dober is coming off of two losses against ranked opponents and would be a wise decision to take a slight step back in the competition.
Saidyokub Kakhramonov (9-2)
UFC newcomer Saidyokub Kakramonov passed his short-notice debut with flying colors at UFC Vegas 34 on Saturday night. Taking on the highly talented Trevin Jones, Kakhramonov has solid all-around skills with an extensive background in Sambo and Judo. Including his win on Saturday, the 25-year old Uzbekistani improved his record to 9-2 losing to only Pipe Vargas and UFC bantamweight Umar Nurmagomedov.
The former CFFC bantamweight champion agreed to the bout just four days prior, and today looks like a formidable contender that may well have earned himself a ranked opponent in his next outing. Kakhramonov didn’t let off the gas the entire fight, staying in Jones’ face for as long as it lasted. Kakhramonov threatened with the guillotine multiple times throughout the fight and finally hit it with 20 seconds left in the second round.
After putting on a very impressive performance on such short notice, someone sitting just outside the top 15 would make a lot of sense on a full camp for Kakhramonov. a fantastic matchup would be Raoni Barcelos. Both men take any inch that is giving to them and look to put their opponent on the back foot at all times.
In domination fashion, Parker Porter was able to land fast, hard combinations that stung Chase Sherman and looked just as impressive in his striking defense. Mixing in elusive footwork, Sherman was punching at the air for the better part of 15 minutes. Porter cruised to a unanimous decision victory in a true breakout performance for the rising heavyweight. Porter’s ability to move his head off center line and step off-angle to counter Sherman with volume was what ultimately helped Porter in the majority of the exchanges on the feet.
In a little over a year since Porter’s debut, the Connecticut-native has fought three times going 1-2 now sitting on two straight decisions gaining a little momentum in the process. A great matchup that would only build Porter’s name, even more, would be a fun fight with fellow heavyweight Tanner Boser. Both men have a similar stick and move styles yet both will also sit in the phone booth and throw power shots until one hits the deck. Boser is currently on a two-fight skid and would be coming at a very important time in the Canadian’s career.
The co-main event on Saturday night was a controversial one, to say the least. Undefeated UFC lightweight and Olympic silver medalist, Mark Madsen fought his way to a hard-fought and a somewhat controversial split decision victory over UFC veteran and future Hall-of-Famer Clay Guida. The fight largely took place on the feet where Madsen looked to use his hands to close the distance and utilize his Olympic-level wrestling.
17 months since his UFC debut took place in a winning effort against Austin Hubbard, Madsen was very emotional in the octagon interview and explained the hardships he went through over the past year and a half. Unfortunately for Guida, only one judge felt he did enough to earn the victory on the night. However, the majority of the fandom feel Guida’s activity and pressure were too much for Madsen to handle. Now 4-4 in his last eight, Guida will always be a tough outing for most guys he steps into the cage with.
A formidable opponent and step up in competition is what Madsen earned himself on Saturday night. Scott Holtzman fits that description perfectly in my humble opinion. On a two-fight skid getting finished both by Beneil Dariush and Mateauz Gamrot respectively, matching up with someone who mainly looks to get the fight to the mat would be smart match-making and I’d lean towards Holtzman in a pure stand-up battle. However, if Madsen can get the fight to where he wants it he should be in for a more straightforward contest.
After it was announced that the title fight and rematch between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker is being delayed till at least 2022, some were saying this could be Cannonier’s opportunity to make a statement and claim that number one contender spot in definitive fashion. Cannonier’s last outing came back in October of last year when Whittaker won a clear 29-28 decision with Cannonier making a surging effort in the third, even rocking the Auzzie but unable to put him away.
Going into the contest, Kelvin Gastelum has fallen on some hard times as of recently taking high-profile fights on short notice including this one at UFC Vegas 34 after Darren Till pulled out due to a broken collarbone. Early in the fight, Gastelum’s slick footwork was allowing him to get off some of his combinations and getting out of the way of Cannonier’s hammers for fists. Halfway through the round, it seemed Cannonier found Gastelum’s timing and hit Kelvin with shots the would have put a lot of lesser men away.
In a very closely contested battle, all three judges saw the fight the same 48-47 for the current #3 ranked middleweight in the UFC. An impressive knockout way well have convinced the right people that he should be next for the title, possibly even in between the time, Whittaker will be able to get back in the cage. Unfortunately, I don’t think the statement Cannonier was looking for was made on Saturday night. With most of the top guys around Cannonier scheduled to fight each other soon, there’s a chance an impressive performance from Paulo Costa or Till could yet again mix up the top of the middleweight division. In that case, id like to see Cannonier fight the winner of Brunson and Till or maybe even the winner of Costa and Marvin Vettori, depending on the returning timeline of Whittaker who is clearly the front runner for next in line.
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Image