Saturday’s UFC Atlantic City event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in New Jersey, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Boardwalk Hall.
1 – Kevin Lee
The beauty of any combat sport is that for all the talk, posturing and hype, on Saturday night, you’ve got to fight. And yes, Kevin Lee likes to talk. But in the UFC Atlantic City main event, he lived up to every ounce of it in stopping Edson Barboza in the fifth round. It was as complete a performance as you will see in the Octagon, as “The Motown Phenom” delivered on the feet and the ground, and even showed plenty of resilience in shaking off a spinning wheel kick that rattled him midway through the bout. So is he ready for a crack at Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lightweight crown? He sure looks like it.
2 – Frankie Edgar
Frankie Edgar is cut from a different cloth than most fighters. Yes, every fighter who loses wants to remove the memory of that defeat as soon as possible, but once the initial sting wears off, they rest, get back to the gym, and get their chance a few months down the line. Edgar couldn’t wait that long. He thought about a June return, but instead asked for a fight a little over a month after his fight with Brian Ortega. Yes, it was risky, but that’s the zone Edgar is most comfortable in, and on Saturday, he delivered yet again, defeating Cub Swanson. It was yet another chapter in a compelling tale few have been able to pen.
3 – David Branch
David Branch’s first two fights back in the UFC after a more than six-year absence didn’t do him any favors. The New Yorker defeated Krzysztof Jotko via split decision last May, and then got stopped by Luke Rockhold four months later. But on Saturday, Branch reminded fight fans of the guy who went 12-1 between Octagon appearances and won two divisional titles in the WSOF promotion, as he knocked out Thiago Santos in the first round. The victory, which snapped Santos’ four-fight winning streak, not only netted Branch a Performance of the Night bonus, but new life in a division where he can make big moves fast.
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4 – Dan Hooker
Dan Hooker is a low-key sort in the lightweight division. He doesn’t talk trash and doesn’t make a lot of noise, but he is rapidly turning into one of the most dangerous fighters at 155 pounds. And that’s fine because, frankly, his resume in the division he moved to last June speaks for itself. A knockout of Ross Pearson, submission of Marc Diakiese and last weekend, a knockout of Jim Miller. Three wins and three finishes in a shark tank of a weight class? Yeah, I’m in, and apparently so is Paul Felder for what would be a fight to remember for sure.
5 – Siyar Bahadurzada
The hype train was in overdrive in 2012 when it was announced that Siyar Bahadurzada was coming to the UFC, and he didn’t disappoint in his debut when he knocked out Paulo Thiago in 42 seconds. Then there were back-to-back losses to Dong Hyun Kim and John Howard followed by nearly three years away due to injury. Bahadurzada returned in 2016, and while he put together finishes of Brandon Thatch and Rob Wilkinson, even they were spaced a year apart. On Saturday, Bahadurzada made it three in a row with another finish, this one of Luan Chagas, and hopefully it’s a sign that “Siyar The Great” will be more active in 2018 and beyond.