Friday’s UFC Utica event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in New York, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Adirondack Bank Center.
1 – Marlon Moraes
A 33-second knockout is a pretty good way to guarantee a spot on the list, but Marlon Moraes is the biggest winner from Friday’s card not just because of the way he finished the UFC Fight Night main event, but because of who he did it to. Jimmie Rivera is one of the top bantamweights in the game and he brought a 20-fight winning streak into the bout. But Moraes made short work of “El Terror,” and with three consecutive wins, including back-to-back highlight reel finishes that took a combined 1:40, the Brazilian bomber has earned his shot at the winner of the August championship rematch between TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt.
2 – Gregor Gillespie
To borrow the UFC catchphrase, Gregor Gillespie is as real as it gets in this sport, and intriguing personality aside, the New Yorker is clearly one of the best lightweights in the game. That was something evident to us here on the east coast for a long time, but now the rest in the world is getting their dose of “The Gift,” and while he would argue that he doesn’t deserve a top 15 ranking because he hasn’t beaten anyone in the top 15, I argue that with a 5-0 UFC record that includes four consecutive finishes and three post-fight bonuses, he has earned that ranking and a shot at a ranked foe next.
3 – Sijara Eubanks
After weight-cutting issues cost Sijara Eubanks a shot at the UFC women’s flyweight title in December, she needed Friday’s win over Lauren Murphy. Not just to double her paycheck and get her first UFC victory, but to let the world know that the weight issues are in the past and that she’s a legitimate threat to Nicco Montano’s crown. That’s worth a lot, and while she wasn’t spectacular against Murphy, she earned her roster spot, and now it’s all good stuff from here.
4 –Nathaniel Wood
A lot was expected from Nathaniel Wood as he arrived in the UFC Friday night, and he delivered, submitting Johnny Eduardo in the second round. That’s the cut and dried recap, but there was more to that fight than the final result. Eduardo was a tough test for Wood’s first trip to the Octagon, and he proved it in the first round, bloodying the Brit and landing several hard shots on the feet. Now, as a striker, that could have spelled doom for “The Prospect,” but he switched things up in the second round, stuffing an Eduardo takedown before finishing him on the mat. It’s the type of resilience and Plan B you want to see from an up and comer, and Wood bears a closer look as 2018 progresses.
5 – Ben Saunders
It seems like there’s always that fighter on every card who needs a win more than the rest of his peers. On Friday, two gentlemen fit that description, and they were fighting each other. And while the welterweight bout between Ben Saunders and Jake Ellenberger was expected to be a Fight of the Night candidate, instead, it was a Performance of the Night win for “Killa B,” who stopped Ellenberger in less than two minutes. After losing his previous two bouts by knockout to Peter Sobotta and Alan Jouban, Saunders’s win reignites his career, and sometimes, all a veteran needs is that one positive result to kickstart a run at the belt. Saunders got his result. Now we’ll see what happens next.