Saturday’s UFC Lincoln event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Nebraska, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
1 – Justin Gaethje
A perk of this gig is that I get into fights for free. Having said that, I would pay to watch Justin Gaethje. I’ve felt that way since his WSOF days, and it’s only gone to another level during his UFC run. But I would be lying if I wasn’t concerned for the longevity of “The Highlight” after three consecutive wars against Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Yes, each fight was an instant classic, but if you want to have a long career, you can’t have too many of them. On Saturday, Gaethje didn’t engage in another war. Instead, he showed his level at 155 pounds by knocking out James Vick in less than a round. It was the fight he needed at this point in his career, and not only has he refueled his run for a UFC title, he got the kind of break that will only help him as he moves forward. Gaethje is a special fighter in a lot of ways, and now it looks like we will continue to see him at his best.
2 – Cory Sandhagen
Speaking of special fighters, Cory Sandhagen proved that when he fought twice in less than 10 days in January, winning both. And while every fighter who makes the walk to the Octagon in tough, some have an extra valve in their heart, and Sandhagen is one of those folks. If I was a referee, I would have stopped Sandhagen’s bout with Iuri Alcantara when his arm was going in a direction it wasn’t made to go in, simply to save the Coloradan from himself. But he wasn’t tapping and the referee wasn’t stopping the bout, so Sandhagen kept fighting. And go figure, he won the bout in the next round. Oh yeah, I’d pay to watch this guy fight too.
3 – Cortney Casey
No one wants to go to three split decisions. No one wants to go to one. But at this level of the sport, where everyone can fight, it’s often inevitable. Which brings us to Cortney Casey. I look at her record and wonder what non-diehard fight fans think of an 8-6 slate. In boxing, that record is a death sentence. In MMA, thankfully, it’s not, and after being on the short end of two of those split verdicts, one went her way against Angela Hill Saturday, and after not just a win, but an exciting win, this Monday is looking a lot brighter for Casey than some recent ones have. And she earned that.
4 – Deiveson Figueiredo
If you’re going to call yourself the God of War, you better bring it on fight night, and Deiveson Figueiredo does just that. One of the rare fighters to keep his perfect record four fights into his UFC run, the 15-0 Brazilian is now a legit flyweight contender after a second-round TKO of a guy who doesn’t get finished too often in John Moraga. Add in the fact that Figueiredo’s last two wins were over hot prospects Joseph Morales and Jarred Brooks, both of whom he took from the unbeaten ranks, and Figueiredo is going to be a monster at 125 pounds in the coming months and years.
5 – Rani Yahya
With a 7-1 record in his last eight bouts, a stretch that includes three consecutive submissions, Rani Yahya has paid his dues, done his thing and made his case. So hopefully he shows up in this week’s top 15 at 135 pounds, and even more hopefully, let’s see him in with a contender the next time out. Yahya’s a good guy and a helluva fighter and he’s earned this.