Another UFC Fight Night card has passed us by and with it came some memorable talking points. Brendan Fitzgerald, former lightweight contender Paul Felder and former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping called the action from the commentary desk, Joe Martinez provided enthusiastic introductions that never fail to get us hyped for the action inside the octagon, and the fantastic Megan Olivi brought all the insight and information from backstage.
Taking place inside the UFC Apex, fans were treated to 10 matchups on what was a card without a host of top names and instead showcased some exciting newcomers and prospects. The event featured exciting Dana White's Contender Series graduates looking to make a name for themselves and a couple of middleweight contenders looking to edge closer to a title shot in the main event. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it was one of the best cards of the year so far.
With that said, here are the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 33.
Positive - A wild comeback gets us started
It's incredible how similar Orion Cosce's debut was to his older brother Louis'. Both men earned UFC contracts on the same episode of the most recent DWCS season. Louis Cosce made his debut against Sasha Palatnikov last November. After coming out of the gate fast and dominating early, he was finished by the Hong Kong-born welterweight following an impressive comeback.
At UFC Vegas 33, it was the same story for Orion. After dominating the opening round, 'Galaxy' saw the tide turn in the second when Philip Rowe let his hands go. Like his brother, Orion's toughness was on full display as he continued to eat hard shots and fire back with some of his own. But after a string of brutal knees up top, Cosce was sat down against the cage by a vicious straight right.
With both men victims of comebacks from their opponents, Louis and Orion Cosce will be facing must-win bouts in their next appearances. But despite an exciting prospect falling on debut, the opening fight was a great watch and got the night started in a strong way, which has to be a positive.
Positive - Adashev on the board in the UFC
An 0-3 record in the UFC is almost impossible to recover from. Fighters rarely get four chances to register their first win in the promotion. For that reason, it was good to see Zarrukh Adashev secure his first victory on MMA's biggest stage at UFC Vegas 33.
Continuing the momentum from the opening fight of the night between Rowe and Cosce, Adashev and Ryan Benoit came out hard and provided an entertaining three-round bout. The Uzbek flyweight had a clear gameplan and he put it into action perfectly. He tore apart Benoit's lead leg and left 'Baby Face' telling his corner that his leg was "f****d" in-between rounds. Despite dropping Adashev and nearly mounting an incredible comeback, 'The Lion' fought through a self-diagnosed broken hand and heard the final horn, securing a unanimous decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
Adashev came into the UFC with a 16-3 kickboxing record and his debut was highly anticipated. But a knockout loss to elite striker Tyson Nam and a defeat on the scorecards to exciting prospect Su Mudaerji didn't provide the start he was after. Hopefully a solid performance like that against a tough Benoit will get him up and running in the UFC.
Positive - Gruetzemacher and Garcia deliver a war
As if the prelims hadn't been explosive enough, an entertaining featured bout between Chris Gruertzemacher and Rafa Garcia sent us into the main card off the back of an absolute war.
The Mexican started the fight on the front foot and dropped Gruetzemacher with a clean left hook. After Garcia failed to finish the fight, the experienced 'Gritz' recovered and did damage of his own. By the end of the back-and-forth contest, 'Gifted' was beaten and bloody and showed the wounds of war with a gruesome bent nose.
In the end, Gruetzemacher left the octagon with a unanimous decision victory (29-28 x3) and rebounded from his first-round loss to Alexander Hernandez last year in style. This fight, along with every prelim fight, displayed exactly why cards without big names shouldn't be ignored.
Positive - A Fight of the Year contender
As expected, Bryan Barberena and Jason Witt went at it hard in the main card opener. It was certainly Fight of the Night, certainly had the round of the year so far and will certainly be considered for Fight of the Year come the end of 2021.
The toughness of both men was remarkable. They were hit with everything their opponent had and both hit the deck more than once. Heading into the third and final round, 'Bam Bam' needed a knockout. He certainly gave it his all to get one and, considering a judge somehow awarded Witt a 10-8 in the second round, Barberena was unlucky not to walk away with a 10-8 in the final round considering the damage his strikes did and the number of times he dropped 'The Vanilla Gorilla'.
In the end, Witt came out of the war with a unanimous decision victory. But Barberena certainly didn't harm his stock with his performance. I almost feel sorry for fans who only watch cards with big name stars and would've missed that barnburner.
Positive - A debut to remember
Welcome to the UFC Melsik Baghdasaryan. I was excited all week for the Armenian to make his debut this weekend and boy did he deliver. With four first-round knockouts in 2019, which totaled just 1:02 in the cage, he was always going to be explosive on debut, especially after being taken the distance in his appearance on DWCS last year.
Against another exciting newcomer in Colin Angllin, 'The Gun' looked dominant. His striking was crisp and fast. The slick left hand was there all day and Baghdasaryan looked close to a finish in the opening round. In the end, the 29-year-old had to wait for the second frame to find his KO, but it was worth the wait. A brutal left head kick signaled a vicious end to the bout.
A Khabib-esque interview showed that, as well as being a brute, the Armenian is a great personality. Baghdasaryan could become a real player in the featherweight division. Remember his name.
Positive - Another one...and another one...
Just when I thought UFC Vegas 33 couldn't get any crazier, we had two brutal first-round knockouts. It seemed inevitable we'd eventually get a slower fight but that wasn't to be. Whether from finishes or three-round wars, every bout delivered leading up to the main event.
In the third main card fight, Jared Gooden stepped in on short notice to face Niklas Stolze. In about as vicious a fashion as he could have, 'NiteTrain' secured the win just over a minute into the bout. He sent Stolze's unconscious body to the canvas with a thunderous straight right.
Following that incredible finish, Cheyanne Buys took Gooden's bar and raised it even higher in the co-main event. As Gloria de Paula attempted to get back to her feet, Buys launched a brutal left kick flush to the off-balance Brazilian. Some grimace-worthy strikes on the ground signaled the end of the fight.
Negative - The most depleted card in UFC history
Has an event ever been so affected by withdrawals and alterations to its card right up to fight day as UFC Vegas 33? Today saw Rani Yahya withdraw from his co-main event bout against Kyung Ho Kang after testing positive for COVID-19. Remarkably, it was the fourth co-main event scheduled for the event to be scrapped. Mounir Lazzez withdrew from his bout, Sam Alvey's return to the cage was postponed and an octagon-shaking matchup between Chris Daukaus and Shamil Abdurakhimov was dealt another setback.
Elsewhere, a blockbuster flyweight bout between Alex Perez and Askar Askarov, which would likely have determined the first challenger to Brandon Moreno's reign, was taken off the card. Inaugral women's 125-pound champ Nicco Montano was set to return for the first time since 2019, but a monster seven-pound weight miss for her bantamweight scrap put a stop to that. In total, UFC Vegas 33 had 11 alterations and withdrawals.
Thankfully, a reversal on the cancelation of Niklas Stolze vs. Jared Gooden kept that number below 12 and kept the number of bouts for the Fight Night in double digits. Nevertheless, losing so many great matchups was a negative for UFC Vegas 33.
Negative - TAKE A POINT!
Granted, Herb Dean eventually did take a point after a low blow. But the fact an eye poke as damaging as the one Kai Kamaka III delivered to Danny Chavez didn't result in a point deduction is poor.
In their featherweight bout at UFC Vegas 33, Kamaka dominated early but, after a poke and warnings from Herb in the opening round, 'The Fighting Hawaiian' caught Chavez in the eye in the second frame. After a long break and some water to his eye, 'The Colombian Warrior' was able to continue. But when does a point get taken for eye pokes if one as bad as that doesn't warrant it? We've learned this year that a 'hard' warning accomplishes nothing. It shouldn't be difficult. If a fighter has been warned and then an eye poke occurs, especially a clearly damaging one that could impact the fight, a point should be deducted. It's anyone's guess why that doesn't already happen.
After the opening round, it really seemed like a change in fortune for Kamaka was inbound and I'd be writing a positive. The 26-year-old is one of the most highly touted in the 145-pound division, but a knockout loss to Jonathan Pearce stalled his rise. A Fight of the Night war with T.J. Brown in May showed what he can do and put his entertaining style on full display. At UFC Vegas 33, it looked as if he'd finally return to the win column and re-rail his UFC career. Instead, his lack of discipline saw him leave the cage with a majority draw in a fight he was clearly on his way to winning.
Negative - Earth to Mark Smith?!
It's important to note that Mark Smith is one of the best referees. He rarely makes mistakes and when he does, they tend to be minor. But in the UFC Vegas 33 co-main event, Gloria de Paula took some unnecessary shots because Smith was seemingly pre-occupied and took his eyes off the fight.
The end of the bout saw Cheyanne Buys land a brutal head kick to the Brazilian as she got back to her feet and had one hand on the canvas. The consensus seems to be that as Buys went in for the kill, Smith was asking the video reviewer to check if de Paula was a grounded opponent. In doing so, he looked away and became distracted at the worst possible time. Buys jumped on her opponent and landed multiple unanswered shots before Smith became aware of the situation.
When fighter safety is the top priority, referees can't be distracted at a time when a fighter has nearly just been knocked out cold.
Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman seemed confused by the final sequence: