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Grading the Card: UFC 252

First of all, let me say it feels so damn good to be back. It has been what, about a million years since my last article? It’s been a very, very long time. Truth is, your favorite mixed martial arts monologist and prognosticator had a bit of burnout, and needed some time to recapture some of that love that wasn’t necessarily lost, but had taken a backseat to other obligations. Thankfully, after watching a bevy of fights since then has made me remember why I started watching this sport in the first place. Truly, mixed martial arts is the absolute epitome of physical and mental fortitude simultaneously being pushed to a limit as closely akin to war as two humans beings could be at without actually killing each other. Art is subjective, but what makes this sport far superior to all others is that very interpretation of humanity in its rawest and most visceral form. That, to me, is true art and is the reason I fell in love with this sport initially. And luckily, for all you saps out there, I was able to rediscover that in my time away. Consider that revelation as the best thing that’s happened to you today.

Okay, okay, I know. I have to show humility. *sigh*

You know it’s true, though.

Anyways, after all that nonsense, it’s time to make my triumphant return by doing what I do best: criticizing a fight card. I also missed the chance to grade UFC 250 and UFC 251, both cards which (Spoiler alert!) I would have scored better than this one. Real quick, let’s run through both, and what my hypothetical grades would have been.

UFC 250 Nunes/Spencer – C- Assuncao/Garbrandt – B- Sterling/Sandhagen – A+ Magny/Martin – B- Wineland/O’Malley – B+

UFC 251 Usman/Masvidal – A Volkanovski/Holloway – B+ Yan/Aldo – B Andrade/Namajunas – A Ribas/VanZant – B-

So there you go. Fictional grades, in retrospect of two cards that both over-delivered. But, that’s all in the past. Now it’s time to look at UFC 252, which is spearheaded by a battle between unarguably the two greatest heavyweights in UFC history, as well as perhaps the UFC’s fastest rising and outspoken contender in the co-feature. And with that, just as Miss Demopoulous did before that third grade summer vacation where you were chewing your fingernails to the nub out of fear you’d get a D in math and dad wouldn’t let you go to that super awesome summer camp upstate, it’s time to hand out some grades in the newest edition of grading the card.

Main Event: Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Aug 14, 2020 at 10:25am PDT

Is this really the perfect heavyweight matchup? Will this truly determine the greatest heavyweight in MMA history? Will the winner be in a position where they get a battle with Jon Jones next? How would either guy matchup with the new and improved Francis Ngannou? Will Cormier really retire if he wins? All of these questions are why this fight is happening. Admittedly, many purists, myself included, probably would’ve preferred to see the aforementioned Ngannou get this shot, being the rightful number one contender. However, what disassociates me from them in this instance is that I don’t mind this fight happening for the purposes of it seemingly being the closest representation of the perfect heavyweight matchup. Both elite? Check. Both well-rounded? Check. Split the series thus far? Check. Legitimate question regarding who’s better? Check. And by far the most important question of all, a great gas tank on both sides, translating to sustained action for a maximum of 25 minutes? Check, check, a million times over check. Regardless of the outcome, this fight will carry some sort of MMA lore when it is all said and done, and fights like that very seldom come around.

Grade: A

Co-Main Event: Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Aug 14, 2020 at 9:26am PDT

Yes, this is a massive fight. As big as the main event? Of course not. Big enough to co-headline? Eh, color me skeptical there as well. This fight is huge because this should (notice the emphasis on should) be the first time in his career that Sean O’Malley faces legitimate, contender-level UFC competition. Don’t try to sell me on the idea that a washed up 36-year-old Eddie Wineland was some sort of massive feather in the cap on the path toward title contention, it was a match designed for O’Malley to add a former title challenger to his resume and nothing more. This will be O’Malley’s first legitimate test inside the Octagon, against a criminally overlooked fighter in Marlon Vera who was on a five fight finishing streak prior to a very controversial split decision loss to Song Yadong back in May. Make no mistake, this is a substantially important fight for the future of the bantamweight division. But is it worth of a co-main event slot? On a fight night, undoubtedly, but a pay-per-view? Eh, probably would’ve been better slotted as a feature fight.

Grade: B

Junior Dos Santos vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Aug 14, 2020 at 11:37am PDT

An interesting heavyweight matchup that pits the former champion Dos Santos against rising heavyweight star Rozenstruik. For the purposes of action and action alone, this one should be exciting as long as it stays standing. Both men will also enter the Octagon with an air of urgency behind them, as both are coming off devastating losses- in the case of Dos Santos, two devastating defeats in a row at the hands of Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes, and Rozenstruik at the hands of Ngannou in a fight that lasted the entirety of 20 seconds before Ngannou just steamrolled him. I would expect this to be fascinatingly competitive, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t end in finish given the phenomenal striking pedigree of both. And for what it’s worth, it actually fits where it’s currently slotted on the card. This is exactly the sort of fight that would come to mind when I’d envision a feature fight on a solid pay-per-view.

Grade: A

John Dodson vs. Merab Dvalishvili

A post shared by MERAB DVALISHVILI-THE MACHINE (@merab.dvalishvili) on Aug 14, 2020 at 3:19pm PDT

Admittedly, I’m probably more excited for the two bantamweight bouts on the UFC 252 main card than I am for the two heavyweight battles, which is significant considering the two heavyweight matchups have immediate title implications. However, what’s interesting regarding these two bantamweight main card fights is that they each could feature the two fighters that this division may be built around in the coming years. I already mentioned O’Malley above, now let’s talk about Merab Dvalishvili, a.k.a. the bantamweight Khabib… potentially, at least. Dvalishvili seems to be getting overlooked due to the presence of not only O’Malley, but also so many rising mainstays that are coming into their own at 135 pounds. And just as O’Malley is getting his first real taste of contention against Vera, so is Dvalishvili in the form of John Dodson, the former two time flyweight title challenger who carries a bevy of power at bantamweight mixed with deadly precision carried over from his days on The Ultimate Fighter. This fight is a story of Dodson’s technique against Dvalishvili’s pace and cardio, and either way, a new bantamweight contender will emerge from this one. Gee, maybe I jumped the gun when I said these grades wouldn’t be that good. These have been a lot higher than I expected…

Grade: B+

Herbert Burns vs. Daniel Pineda

A post shared by Herbert "The Blaze🔥" Burns (@herbertburns) on Aug 14, 2020 at 12:48pm PDT

Opening up the main card is a fight that we’ll probably forget about come Sunday unless something drastic happens in it. Featherweight Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specialist Herbert Burns is taking on a returning veteran in Daniel Pineda. Now, I know I can’t really slam this fight for being on the main card, this was originally supposed to be the slot point of Magomed Ankalaev rematching Ion Cutelaba, which ended up getting pulled because Cutelaba tested positive for COVID-19. So, it’s not the fault of these two that they’re now slotted in a position that’s enviable for many undeservedly so. The only thing we can hope for is that these two come to deliver on Saturday night and give us something to remember come Sunday morning. I’ll cut them a little slack here.

Grade: C-

So our tallies equal up to two A’s, a B+, a B, and a C-. On a quality point scale, that comes out to a 3.1, a B average. Wow, UFC 252, you’re low key kind of stacked. And just imagine if this card still had Ankalaev-Cutelaba, and Pedro Munhoz vs. Frankie Edgar slotted. We’d have quite the card on our hands. But as it turns out, UFC 252 is still pretty damn solid regardless. Now, let’s just hope these guys deliver on the high expectations.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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