Between an action-packed UFC Vegas 29 card and a feel-good night for MMA’s old guard, there was no shortage of stories to follow on Saturday. What mattered most from the busy combat sports weekend? Let’s hit our five biggest takeaways from a memorable night.
1. We got one
Who else? Who else could’ve lifted us from our malaise and hurled the era of the circus fight into a brick wall? Only Anderson Silva. In a moment in time when MMA is seemingly taking losses to YouTubers on a monthly basis, only “The Spider” could’ve showed up for his big boxing paycheck as a near 5-to-1 underdog then showed out as well.
It’s remarkable. At age 46, as a neophyte boxer who hadn’t laced up his 10-ounce gloves in nearly 16 years, Silva outboxed a 35-year-old with 60 bouts of boxing experience on Saturday night. And what’s even more impressive: He made it look easy. Silva was faster, smarter, ballsier, and altogether twice the fighter Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was throughout their eight-round tilt. The former UFC middleweight king has been calling for his opportunity to transition to the sweet science for more than a decade. Once he finally did, he treated an ex-champion like old-man Stephan Bonnar.
No, no one else but “The Spider” could’ve made us feel like this.
Look familiar? #TributeToTheKings
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) June 20, 2021
Silva never got his storybook ending in MMA, but what he accomplished this weekend was somehow even better. He’d pleaded for this chance for years. From the moment he smashed through Rich Franklin and announced himself as the best middleweight the MMA world had ever seen, Silva swore up and down that a boxing match against Roy Jones Jr. was his dream fight. That’s never changed, and you could tell what this past week meant to him.
Silva was damn near giddy in every interview he did. The artificial walls that’d always trapped him within the UFC had finally been torn down, and Silva celebrated with the throwback of a lifetime. He stayed long with his jab. He played defense with his shoulder roll. He moved with the swiftness of a man a decade his junior, and his sneaky uppercut found a home time and time again. Most of all, he bullied Chavez at his own game — and he had the time of his life while doing it. The old joy we used to see from Silva, the exuberance to just be out there thriving in the heat of a gunfight, that was back once again.
How can you not love it?
No one deserved this more. Sure, Chavez Jr. was already a disappointment to the boxing world, but the greatest middleweight of all-time has now authored the best win for an MMA fighter in the squared circle in the absurdist boxing vs. MMA era — and probably earned himself future millions in the ring with the doors that just flung open to him. Long live, “The Spider.” May he now land the Jones Jr. fight he’s dreamt about since his golden days.
2. The walking undead
Is there a featherweight alive whose namesake is more perfect than Chan Sung Jung? It’s uncanny. Hurt him; injure him; hell, nearly rip his arm out of its socket — it’s all just another leisurely stroll for the zombie.
Jung’s decision win over Dan Ige was already admirable enough before we discovered what “The Korean Zombie” was dealing with at UFC Vegas 29. But after realizing that Jung effectively fought the final 15 minutes on his main-event bout with a mangled right arm on Saturday night, it cast his performance into a whole different light. And what’s better? Jung wasn’t even going to mention it. We may never have known about his mid-fight struggles had his coach, Eddie Cha, not revealed on the post-fight show that Jung’s shoulder popped out of its socket during a takedown attempt in the second round — the same shoulder that gruesomely leapt out of place in 2013 and brought an end to Jung’s lone UFC title challenge against Jose Aldo. This time around, Jung just played it off like it was nothing.
“We were constantly telling him to raise his hands,” Cha said with a hint of a smile, “and then after the fight he was like, ‘That’s why I couldn’t raise my hand.’ I was like, oh, OK.”
Jung’s toughness and ability to power through adversity has always been one of his defining traits, but Saturday showcased just how sophisticated MMA’s walking undead has become. Without a working right arm, Jung instead opted to out-wrestle and outwit the former collegiate wrestler Ige. He controlled the entire third round with a single takedown then returned back to that well in the fourth, constantly keeping his foe on his toes. It was a smart, savvy strategy, and Jung showed off the experience and ring generalship he’s quietly accumulated over his 14-year run.
“The Korean Zombie” may have once been a brawler to the core, but that ceased being true ages ago. At this point, he may very well be one of the most well-rounded athletes at 145 pounds.
Featherweight up-and-comer Giga Chikadze is already being considering as a replacement to step in against Yair Rodriguez on July 17. That’s a sensational matchup and a much deserved escalation for Chikadze. If I’m a UFC matchmaker, that’s the fight I’m pushing for — and then I’m slotting Jung into a mouth-watering matchup against Rodriguez’s original opponent, Max Holloway. Jung certainly seems to want it, and I’m getting goosebumps even considering what that’d look like. Tell me the thought of those two demons colliding at full force doesn’t ooze Fight of the Year potential?
Book it, UFC.
3. A banner night for the 40+ club
Speaking of nights to celebrate the old guard, the Lima household is going to be having nightmares about Matt Brown until the end of time. Fourteen years ago, “The Immortal” knocked out future Bellator standout Douglas Lima with a second-round salvo in Kennesaw, Georgia. On Saturday, it was little brother’s turn to taste the power of the Midwest, as Brown required just 12 seconds longer to cash as a 5-to-1 underdog and banish Dhiego Lima to the land of wind and ghosts with a nuclear missile of a second-round right hand.
Not bad for an old man, eh?
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 19, 2021
Brown has always been a fan favorite for good reason. In a sport flush with monsters who make the sublime look easy, he’s the quintessential everyman who’s just here to have a good time. Yet we’ve also reached a point where Brown’s longevity is starting to make his bonafides look historically elite. Consider this: Brown’s win over Lima dragged him into a tie with Vitor Belfort and Derrick Lewis for the most knockouts in UFC history (12). His 14 total finishes are tied for third all-time in UFC history. He’s first all-time in fights (28), finishes, and knockouts in UFC welterweight history. All this for a 40-year-old brawler who was nearly handed his walking papers early in his octagon run.
The clock on Brown’s career is clearly ticking, but we all need to appreciate this man for however long this is going to last, because natural-born warriors like him don’t come around often.
“How’s that for 40, b*tch?” Brown shouted to no one in particular after his win.
Talk that talk, you magnificent bastard. You’ve earned it.
4. Bad intentions
You know how it just feels like some athletes fight meaner than others? That hard-to-describe edge that just makes every punch, every kick, every elbow feel like it was thrown with murderous intent? Not every fighter can say they’re in that club. But Marlon Vera? Oh, he may as well be the class president.
Vera’s revenge win over Davey Grant was one of the true highlights of the weekend, a bloody war of attrition that saw Vera throw a veritable five-course feast at Grant only for the Englishman to devour every bite and trudge back to the table for another helping. Weirdly enough, Vera’s final count of 112 strikes landed were exactly the same number that carried Grant to victory in the pair’s first meeting in 2016. Just further proof that the MMA gods have a sick sense of humor when it comes to these sorts of things.
Still, Saturday’s rematch was a pivotal outcome for Vera. Not only did Vera avoid a 1-3 slump that may have spelled the end of his time as a UFC bantamweight contender, it also was one of those rematches that show you just how dramatic of an evolution its competitors have undergone. At age 28, Vera barely resembles the young pup who lost to Grant in 2016. He’s one of the few athletes for whom the old fight game cliche — “he gets better every fight” — not only rings true, but is also apparent enough that a casual viewer could be able to spot the seismic leaps in real-time.
There was never any doubt whether Vera belonged in the top 15 of the UFC’s bantamweight ranks; he simply reaffirmed it Saturday night. I just hope we can get Vera vs. Grant 3 sometime before these men are done, because they clearly bring out the best in each other.
5. Ain’t cheating, ain’t trying
Even being as generous as possible, I counted at least four different times Nicolae Negumereanu could’ve lost a point on Saturday against Aleksa Camur. In a fight that ended in a split decision in his favor, Negumereanu essentially set up base camp with a hand glued to the fence in order to stop his foe’s takedowns. Yet there was Mike Beltran — a referee I consider to be one of the better officials in the sport — issuing warning after warning to Negumereanu but refusing to take away a point.
Even in the fight’s waning seconds, Beltran chose only to yell at Negumereanu like a frustrated dad who’s been pushed over the edge by his out-of-control kids in a grocery store, as if Negumereanu was finally going to get the message with 25 seconds left to go. And wouldn’t you know it, Negumereanu ended up winning a razor-close split decision that would’ve totally gone the other way had the rules actually been enforced even once.
Of course he did.
Remember kids, it always pays to cheat in MMA (at least once or twice per fight, but occasionally as often as your little heart desires if the referee is in a good mood).