To say the UFC’s latest behind-closed-doors show at the APEX facility in Las Vegas didn’t go down without a hitch would be an understatement.
Initially booked to have 10 fights, UFC Fight Night 176 was struck badly by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and we ended up with a show that featured just 7 fights – the shortest UFC card since the TUF 2 Finale back in November 2005.
Thankfully though, the action inside the Octagon delivered and we were treated to some tremendous performances with some great finishes.
Here are the best and worst moments from UFC Fight Night 176: Overeem vs. Sakai.
#1 Best: Veteran Overeem keeps on rolling at Heavyweight
Alistair Overeem has often spoken about his desire for “one more run” at the UFC Heavyweight title, after failing to secure the gold when he faced champion Stipe Miocic back in 2016. The idea that a man who turns 41 next year could really be in UFC title contention might feel like a pipe dream, but after he defeated Augusto Sakai last night, it’s getting closer to reality.
‘The Reem’ struggled through the first two rounds of last night’s main event. He didn’t take too much damage from Sakai, but the Brazilian appeared to have a speed advantage and was more than happy to unload with combinations as Overeem covered up. It was clear that to win this one, the Dutchman would need to switch things up.
And switch it up he did. After securing a takedown late in the third round, it quickly became clear that Sakai didn’t have the skills on the ground to deal with the savvy veteran. Naturally from there, securing the takedown became Overeem’s modus operandi, and it appeared that Sakai had little to no answer for it.
The Brazilian took an absolute beating on the ground in the fourth round and when Overeem secured another takedown early in the fifth, the fight was stopped shortly after. This was a great comeback from the veteran, and his second big win of 2020.
So how far off a UFC Heavyweight title shot is Overeem really? Well, only Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes are really ahead of him in the queue now, given that in all honesty, he should’ve beaten Jairzinho Rozenstruik last year which would’ve put him on a five-fight winning streak.
Having two fighters ahead in the queue is obviously not a good thing, but given the current climate, Overeem might only be an injury – or a positive COVID-19 test – away from another shot at Miocic’s UFC Heavyweight title.
#1 Worst: The UFC’s COVID-19 woes continue
Given the UFC has put on a total of 19 events during the COVID-19 pandemic – and only had a relatively short shutdown period of 7 weeks before restarting with May’s UFC 249 – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world’s biggest MMA promotion has been able to ride the wave of the pandemic with no issues.
However, last night’s show was a stark reminder why that simply isn’t the case.
It feels like every recent UFC show has been struck by a ton of last-minute changes, but UFC Fight Night 176 was definitely the worst hit yet. Overall the card suffered a total of 11 changes, with no fewer than three fights being scrapped literally on the day of the event.
The UFC were able to salvage Brian Kelleher’s fight by scrambling to find Ray Rodriguez as a late replacement for Kevin Natividad. However, the fights between Thiago Moises and Jalin Turner and Marcos Rogerio de Lima and Alexander Romanov were simply removed.
Given that the two Brazilian fighters were sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, we should be reminded that the pandemic is ongoing, it’s very real and it’s not going anywhere yet. Given this trend, the UFC and its fans should be very afraid for upcoming mega-events like UFC 253 and UFC 254.
#2 Best: Pereira produces the best showing of his UFC career
As legendary rockers Guns N’ Roses once sang, all you need is just a little patience. Judging by his excellent showing last night, UFC Welterweight Michel Pereira evidently took Axl Rose’s wise words to heart.
‘Demolidor’ thoroughly beat Zelim Imadaev in all areas before finishing him with a rear naked choke with just over 20 seconds to go in the third round of their fight. It was the best performance of his short UFC career by a mile, and it was no coincidence that it was by far his most patient, too.
Gone were all the wild flips and tricks and while Pereira still came to entertain – throwing flying knees and shuffling like Muhammad Ali at times – it was clear that winning was the main thing on his mind. He kept a much slower pace than he’d done in the past, picked his shots, and generally outclassed Imadaev from start to finish.
The beautiful finish – a German suplex that led directly to the choke – was just the icing on top of the cake.
The feeling around ‘Demolidor’ was always that he probably had the raw tools to get to the top of the UFC, but was too focused on behaving like a wildman to actually make it. That may well have changed judging on last night’s performance.
The UFC should push him up the card once again because if he keeps fighting like this, they’ve got a star on their hands.
#3 Best: St. Preux uncorks one of the best KO’s of 2020
Ovince St. Preux came into his fight with Alonzo Menifield as a betting underdog, but quite why that was, I have no idea. ‘OSP’ had far more experience than his raw, hard-hitting opponent and Menifield’s style had already been exposed somewhat by his last UFC loss, a grinding defeat to Devin Clark.
In the end, we found out exactly why those odds were horribly wrong. The shorter Menifield simply couldn’t get close enough to St. Preux to land any of his bombs, and throughout the first round ‘OSP’ seemed content to keep his foe at bay with kicks.
Menifield decided to switch things up in the second round, opting to charge at St. Preux instead, and that turned out to be a mistake. Showing shades of his brilliant 2014 knockout of ‘Shogun’ Rua, ‘OSP’ simply shifted his weight and caught the oncoming Menifield with a picture-perfect left hook.
The prospect went crashing to the ground face-first, and St. Preux didn’t even need to follow up. To make things even sweeter, this was the 11th finish of St. Preux’s UFC career – giving him a record in the Light-Heavyweight Division.
We’ve seen some great knockouts in 2020, plenty of them on this series of behind-closed-doors shows, but this was definitely one of the prettiest.
#4 Best: Muniz saves us from a Fabinski special
One of the effects of having a shorter card last night was that all seven fights were shown on a truncated ‘main’ card. That meant that the UFC Middleweight bout between Andre Muniz and Bartosz Fabinski – which should’ve headlined the prelims – had much more of a spotlight on it.
For viewers, that was somewhat concerning. Fabinski is an excellent, battle-hardened fighter, but it’s not too unfair to say that he isn’t the most entertaining. Coming into last night ‘The Butcher’ held a 4-1 UFC record, but had never finished any of his fights, and seemed to be carrying the torch once held by smothering wrestlers like Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck.
When he took Muniz down early in their fight and avoided a guillotine choke from ‘Sergipano’, it looked like we could well be in for fifteen minutes of takedowns and grinding. However, the Brazilian clearly has plenty of submissions in his arsenal – and quickly transitioned into a triangle choke and then into a fight-ending armbar.
This finish was a thing of beauty, some of the smoothest grappling we’ve seen in the UFC in some time. It was also a bonus in terms of giving the viewers a beautiful tapout where to be honest, one wasn’t expected. ‘Sergipano’ probably earned himself a lot more fans last night, and that’s only a good thing.