A quarter of the way into 2017, and there have already been some memorable moments. Jay Primetown gives his picks for the most memorable moments in the UFC during the first three months of 2017. Biggest Moment: The Fight That Didn’t Happen The biggest moment in the first quarter of 2017 was in fact the fight that didn’t happen. By far, the highest level and most anticipated fight booked in 2017 thus far was the interim lightweight championship bout between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Ferguson, on a nine-fight winning streak and the undefeated Nurmagomedov were the clear top two contenders in the lightweight division. That fight and more importantly a definitive next opponent for Conor McGregor would have been big money makers for the UFC. Instead, Nurmagomedov had to go to the hospital, so the fight was scrapped, and now McGregor seems more interested in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather than a quick return to MMA. This was a bad situation for the UFC any way one can look at it. Best Performance: Jorge Masvidal No fighter improved his stock more in 1Q17 than Jorge Masvidal. The longtime lightweight turned welterweight had been a fringe Top 15 fighter for several years, but he still hadn’t earned that one victory that would put him over the hump and into title contention. In perhaps the biggest fight of his career, Masvidal was tasked with fighting fan favorite Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of the first UFC on FOX event of 2017. In his best performance of his career, he had Cerrone on the back foot. It was Masvidal’s jab that really troubled Cerrone and nearly put him out of the fight in the first round. Masvidal had Cerrone so badly hurt that he nearly didn’t make it off the stool to start round two. It didn’t matter as Masvidal finished Cerrone and stamped his name in the upper echelon of the welterweight division. Masvidal will next face Demian Maia in what is designed as a No. 1 contender bout. Biggest Surprise: Darren Elkins over Mirsad Bektic Easily the most stunning result of the quarter was the one with the most heavily-lined upset. Elkins closed a +525 Underdog at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Elkins was pitted in a very difficult matchup against undefeated Mirsad Bektic. The Bosnian-American fighter had looked like a future featherweight champion with his athletic, heavy wrestling style with big time punching power. In the first half of this fight, it was very much the same. Bektic nearly had Elkins out of the fight in the first round landing heavy ground and pound cutting Elkins open. Towards the end of the second, Elkins started to have some success by stuffing Bektic’s takedown attempts. Down 20-17 on the scorecards heading into round three, Elkins was in need of a finish. Elkins, known as a high-energy fighter, was able to tire out Bektic and poured it on once he sensed Bektic was fading. Elkins landed a punch along the fence and then followed it up with a head kick that floored Bektic to give him the first loss of his career. For Elkins, it was the biggest win of his career and solidifies him as the premiere gatekeeper in the featherweight division. Best Fight: Jessica Andrade vs. Angela Hill There was no clear-cut fight of the quarter, but based on importance, action, and overall entertainment the best fight was a women’s strawweight contest between Jessica Andrade and Angela Hill. It was a key matchup in an emerging division. A case could have been made that a victory for either fighter would of put that fighter as the next in line to face champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The two fighters put on a show combining for a whopping 220 significant strikes over 15 minutes. The number of fighters willing to stand and engage with Andrade is minimal, so it was refreshing to see Hill strike with her. Andrade controlled the majority of the exchanges, but Hill had her moments in this bout landing on the counter. It was an action-packed 15 minutes, and that’s all one can ask for an important divisional matchup. Best Knockout: Edson Barboza While there was no undisputable fight of the quarter, knockout was the easiest category to award. In a matchup of Top 10 lightweights, Beneil Dariush traveled down to Brazil to take on one of the sport’s best strikers in Edson Barboza. Dariush did well early in the fight pressing the action and not allowing Barboza time to strike from range. Dariush was on his way to a 20-18 lead in this fight until he made ill-timed move forward and Barboza reacted with a flying knee landing flush to the jaw of his opponent for an instant knockout. It was one of the cleanest and impactful knee strikes in the UFC’s 20+ year history. Barboza’s ability to seemingly land that strike out of nowhere added to its luster as no one (except Barboza) saw it coming. Best Submission: Iuri Alcantara Like the best knockout of the quarter, the best submission was secured by a fighter to earn a come-from-behind win. Brazilian Iuri Alcantara was put into a difficult fight with American Luke Sanders. The American was undefeated heading into the biggest bout of his MMA career. This was a significant step up in competition for him, but early in the fight he showed he more than belonged. Sanders threw all sorts of combinations at the Brazilian and had him hurt badly in the first round. Alcantara was so badly hurt that it was surprising the referee didn’t step in to end the fight. Alcantara survived the round and was in trouble again in the second round, but Sanders got himself into an unnecessary grappling exchange. Sanders left his leg exposed and the veteran Brazilian took advantage of the situation securing a kneebar forcing the American to tap. This is a fight that Sanders never should have lost, but veteran savvy is an underrated trait in this sport, and Alcantara showed that in this victory. Best Debut: Cynthia Calvillo There were several positive debuts in the UFC during the early months of 2017, but the one that was the most impressive was by Cynthia Calvillo at UFC 209. The Team Alpha Male-trained fighter was given the added pressure of debuting on the Pay-Per-View telecast of UFC 209. In a matchup with Amanda Cooper, it appeared to be a relatively even fight on paper. In the first couple minutes of this bout, Calvillo was out-struck by Cooper and didn’t seem to have the striking prowess to compete with Cooper. The entire fight changed once Calvillo brought grappling into the occasion. Her wrestling strength was levels above what Cooper had previously utilized in the Octagon. Calvillo quickly transitioned to a submission taking Cooper’s back and quickly submitting her for a first-round victory. Calvillo’s grappling ability, even with just limited footage available, is near the top of the division, and she should quickly rise in ranking in this division. The UFC thinks so highly of Calvillo that she has already been booked for her next fight — another PPV telecast matchup at UFC 210 in April.
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