UFC Vegas 56 wasn’t the most impactful event. Alexander Volkov scored his best win in years in the main event, but it doesn’t really move him up the ladder. Movsar Evloev looked excellent in dismantling Dan Ige, but seeing as all the other top Featherweights are booked, it’s unclear where he goes next. Prospects like Erin Blanchfield and Thomas Almeida did well, yet they’re still several steps away from the Top 10.
Barring any breakout performances or huge surprises, there’s only one thing to talk about: all the bloody cheating! Starting with the second bout of the evening (Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Andreas Michailidis), there were a hilarious amount of rules infractions. Specifically, there was a whole lot of cage grabbin’ throughout the night.
I have a few takeaways from all the cage fondling. I’m lucky enough to get to watch fights from a variety of perspectives — analyst, fan, fellow professional fighter — so the takes are a bit varied and perhaps unrelated to one another. Nevertheless, let’s dig into ‘em …
The Analyst View
The rise in back control seems to be producing more cage grabbing and other dirty tactics.
If there was a secondary trend to the cheating, lots of backpacking occurred last night. Several fights saw entire rounds pass from the back control. At this stage in the game, holding down good opponents — fighters willing to work hard, take chances, and scramble — is damn near impossible. The modern workaround to improved scrambling and takedown defense is the back take, seen at UFC Vegas 56 by men like Joe Solecki, Damon Jackson, and Fakhretdinov. At one point or another, all of their opponents subsequently latched onto the cage in desperation, and in the case of Solecki’s opponent Alex da Silva, there was also some fingers-in-the-gloves fuckery.
As Aljamain Sterling demonstrated at the championship level in the rematch vs. Petr Yan, back mount is an extraordinary position to win rounds even if the choke doesn’t materialize, and fighters looking desperate to escape.
The Fan View
The refs have no system at all. Michailidis grabbed the fence a half-dozen times in clear view of the referee and suffered no consequences. Da Silva entangled his toes in the fence — seemingly a less impactful offense? — numerous times and lost a point just four fights later. That (deserved) point deduction changed the outcome from a split draw to majority decision for Solecki, but Fakhretdinov did not enjoy the same advantage on the judges’ scorecards.
He didn’t end up need it, but shouldn’t there be some type of consistency? It’s not a very professional look for the promotion.
The Fighter View
There’s a really interesting disconnect in how fans and athletes view little moments of cheating like grabbing the fence. A lot of fans are offended by such infractions, appalled that fighters would disregard the official rules in selfish pursuit of the victory. They see it as a character flaw of only certain athletes.
Conversely, every fighter I’ve ever met fully expect their opponent to take advantage of any grey area inside the cage. Bending an opponent’s finger backwards in a position where the referee cannot see? That’s part of the art, and both sides enter prepared for such trickery. The two golden rules of “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” and “If the referee doesn’t see it, it’s legal” are always in play.
When athletes are in a position to lose half their paycheck and get their ass kicked in front of their mother/spouse/children, a silly fence grab doesn’t seem so morally reprehensible. That’s the reality of a sanctioned street fight. It’s why Leon Edwards shrugged off Donald Cerrone’s attempt to kick him in the face while holding his glove. It’s why I wasn’t mad when a past opponent’s illegal fence grab resulted in a knee that shattered my nose. If your favorite fighter throws a high kick that wraps around the back of the head and hits the brain stem, he/she will be absolutely thrilled to watch their foe fall to the canvas.
Everyone inside the cage knows the game. To actually be considered a dirty fighter by one’s peers, it takes something far more major, like a performance enhancing drug (PED) failure or blatantly illegal shot a la Kazula Vargas vs. Brok Weaver.
If any of the MMAmania community have other fence grabby takes, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.
For complete UFC Vegas 56: “Rozenstruik vs. Volkov” results and play-by-play, click HERE!