Saturday’s Fight Night Orlando event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Florida, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Amway Center.
More than any card in recent history, this one really gave me a problem when it came to picking just five fighters who significantly upped their profile with their victories last weekend. That’s a good thing because it shows that even though we’re only in February, 2018 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the Octagon. And with all due respect to the great wins turned in by Alan Jouban, Brian Kelleher and Ilir Latifi, here are my five biggest winners of last Saturday night.
1 – Jessica Andrade
Jessica Andrade. Jessica Andrade. Jessica Andrade. For my money, no one captures the visceral thrill of watching a prime Wanderlei Silva like this strawweight contender, who has looked better than ever since her 2017 loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. And in beating Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres in back-to-back bouts, “Bate Estaca” is the only real choice to face the winner of April’s rematch between Rose Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk. And after watching her victory over an ultra-tough Torres, she has to be given a good chance of winning the gold against either fighter. And even if she doesn’t, it will be fun watching her try to get there.
2 – Jeremy Stephens
For a while, Jeremy Stephens appeared destined to sit in the featherweight no man’s land. He was good enough to be among the best in the world, but he couldn’t seem to win the big one. Today, Stephens has won three big ones in a row, beating Gilbert Melendez, Dooho Choi and Josh Emmett. And as he’s found a happy medium between game planning and his usual berserker style, he is a legitimate contender for the featherweight crown. But with the title likely to be held up until later in the year, with champion Max Holloway facing the winner of Saturday’s Frankie Edgar-Brian Ortega bout, Stephens will have to fight again, and if I’m playing matchmaker, let’s see a rematch between Stephens and Darren Elkins for a crack at the belt.
3 – Marion Reneau
Marion Reneau was once deemed too old for The Ultimate Fighter. Now, at 40, Reneau is not just in the UFC, but she’s got five wins in the Octagon, with two of them coming over Jessica Andrade and Sara McMann. She’s also finished her last four victories, showed grit and talent, and in a bantamweight division that is wide open when it comes to top challengers for Amanda Nunes’ crown, I would definitely put “The Belizean Bruiser” in the title conversation.
4 – Max Griffin
Not many people gave Max Griffin a chance to beat Mike Perry last Saturday, and that baffled me. Griffin has power and speed, he’s proven to be resilient, and he brought a style that has given Perry trouble in the past. And when the Octagon door closed, he stepped up and delivered. Max “Pain” is still a work in progress, but he’s the kind of exciting fighter the fans can get behind, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next for him.
5 – Sam Alvey
Before Saturday’s fight, I wrote that Sam Alvey was the most frustrating fighter on the UFC roster. That wasn’t a personal knock on “Smile’N” Sam, just an observation that if he let his hands go, he could be a serious player in this game. And in Orlando, Alvey let those hands go and the result was a highlight reel knockout of Marcin Prachnio, his first finish since August 2016. And in a light heavyweight division that can always use some new blood, at least when it comes to exciting fights, former middleweight Alvey may be what the doctor ordered. As for his respectful call for a fight against Gian Villante, sign me up.