In the moments after Saturday night’s UFC event wrapped in Las Vegas, the Instagram accounts of various coaches and fighters all shared a version of the same highlight: Randy Brown’s first-round knockout win over Muslim Salikhov.
Some simply passed around the broadcast feed footage, while others, like that of Philadelphia-based coach John Marquez, offered up a slowed down, overhead version of the finishing combination — a basic one-one-two, where Brown slipped every so slightly to the left with each punch, pivoting through the right hand that found the veteran’s chin and put him on the canvas.
It was a clean, crisp combination, beautiful in its fundamental and technical simplicity, and seeing Brown’s efforts celebrated for his performance served as a reminder of how frequently we hustle passed tremendous finishes like this by unheralded talents when we should be lifting them up and sharing the highlights like those fighters and coaches.
FREQUENT SUCCESS, LONGEVITY AREN’T EASY
Saturday’s victory was the second straight for Brown and his sixth in his last seven fights. Dating back to the start of 2019, the 33-year-old “Rude Boy” is 8-2 inside the Octagon, with wins over Bryan Barberena, Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira, Khaos Williams, and Salikhov, and his two setbacks coming against current Top 15 talents Vicente Luque and Jack Della Maddalena.
Cynics and the harshest talent evaluators will look at Brown’s overall career in the UFC cage and frame it as one where he’s struggled to get by the best competition he’s faced, which is both unquestionably true and far too basic of an assessment.
Brown has five career losses, all of which have come since he graduated to the UFC from the regional circuit. Outside of his early loss to Michael Graves, all of them have come against respected competitors — Della Maddalena and Luque, wild man Niko Price, and current No. 1 contender Belal Muhammad.
While those setbacks create an identifiable hurdle that Brown has yet to clear, there is no shame in losing to any of those competitors.
Including his fight with Brown, Muhammad is 13-1 with one no contest since his own loss to Luque at UFC 205, which he’s sink avenged. The Brazilian that serves as a common tie between the two is 15-4 since his debut loss to Graves following his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, with his setbacks coming against current or former contenders and the reigning welterweight champ, Leon Edwards.
Price has been far more hit-and-miss, but Florida’s “Hybrid” is a bundle of electricity and unpredictability, and his finish of Brown came when he connected with a series of hammerfists off his back after the Lookin’ for a Fight alum had wrestled him to the canvas and was looking to advance.
And Della Maddalena is a perfect 6-0 inside the Octagon, most recently adding a win over Kevin Holland to move to 16-2 overall and a spot just outside the Top 10 in the 170-pound weight class.
Brown may not be a Top 15 fighter in the division, but he’s cultivated a nine-year, 17-fight (and counting) career for himself at the highest level in the sport, developing into a consistent winning along the way.
Neither of those things are easy to do, yet each is easy to overlook and dismiss, and we do it far too often.
RANKINGS STALWARTS REDUCED TO AFTERTHOUGHTS
This weekend, Jack Hermansson returns to action for the first time in a little over a year, facing off with Joe Pyfer in Saturday night’s main event at the UFC APEX.
A fixture in the UFC middleweight division since the fall of 2016, the 35-year-old Scandinavian has earned 10 wins against six losses over the course of his run, and has alternated wins and losses since his breakthrough victory over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza on short notice in the spring of 2019.
Hermansson is one of those competitors that casual fans don’t likely know all that well and someone whom many more ardent followers of the sport seem largely ambivalent to, as he’s never quite reached title contention and isn’t someone making waves on social media or talking trash in interviews.
He’s a consummate professional that has earned several quality wins against ranked and respected opponents, lost only to contenders and a former champion over the last several years, and will serve as a massive test for the relatively inexperienced Pyfer this weekend in Las Vegas, a fact that highlights the strange disconnect or detachment we have when it comes to giving divisional stalwarts like Hermansson their due.
Saturday’s fight is focused on Pyfer — he’s the ascending talent; the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grad with a harrowing backstory and undefined ceiling in the sport — but the reason it’s a critical pairing and major moment in his developing career is because we all both how good Hermansson is and what it means to beat him.
Though he’s never punched his ticket to a title shot, the former Cage Warriors champion has been close a couple times, and wouldn’t need more than a couple victories in order to get back to the brink of contention before the year is out, and yet we talk about him and others with similar or even greater profiles as if they’re run-of-the-mill talents when that is simply not the case.
Josh Emmett gets this treatment all the time.
Despite the fact that he’s been a Top 10 staple for the last six years and challenged for the interim title one year ago, the 38-year-old featherweight is someone whose entire tenure inside the Octagon comes with a “yeah, but…” attached to it.
He knocks out Ricardo Lamas to climb into the Top 5.
“Yeah, but is Lamas actually that good?”
He rattles off five straight victories, including a blistering knockout of Michael Johnson and a narrow, debated split devision win over Calvin Kattar.
“Yeah, but he didn’t really beat Kattar, so what’s his best win — Shane Burgos? Dan Ige?”
It was almost like his consecutive losses to Yair Rodríguez and Ilia Topuria in his first two appearances last year served as confirmation to many that the long-time Team Alpha Male representative wasn’t as good as advertised, as if getting beaten by a perennial contender and the undefeated prospect challenging for the title next weekend at UFC 298 are major demerits.
After those losses, he gathered himself up and banished Bryce Mitchell to the Shadow Realm at UFC 296, registering one of the best knockouts of the year.
“Yeah, but Mitchell took the fight on short notice and is more of a grappler.”
Katlyn Chookagian the same kind of treatment, if not worse, given that all 11 of her UFC victories have come by way of decision.
Dislike her point-fighting style and constant kiais after every strike all you want, however, at least have the decency to acknowledge that the 35-year-old “Blonde Fighter” has amassed an 11-5 record across two divisions, with her losses coming against former champions, former title challengers, and, most recently, Manon Fiorot, who should make her way into one of those categories in the next year or two.
Like Hermansson and Emmett, she’s been a staple in the Top 10 in each of the two weight classes where she has competed and has a host of Top 5 and Top 10 victories scattered throughout her resume, yet each time she’s announced as having a fight or poised to make the walk to the Octagon — well, she sprints, but you know what I mean — folks kind of turn up their noses.
Again, dislike the athlete and/or the aesthetic, but give her her due, which goes for Holly Holm as well.
The former bantamweight champ won her debut at UFC 184 on February 28, 2015 and has been in the Top 10 ever since. It’s one of her two wins over current titleholder Raquel Pennington, and while she has is a methodical worker in the Octagon with similar kiai issues to Chookagian, there is something to be said about a nine-year run as a title contender, that also happens to have one of the most iconic championship-winning moments swirled in there for good measure.
Whatever your beef with any of these competitors may be — and simply disliking them is perfectly valid — it feels mandatory to at least acknowledge that what they’ve done by being tenured contenders in their respective divisions for this long is an impressive achievement and something many of their counterparts would trade for in a heartbeat, yet we rarely treat it that way.
We fall over ourselves to heap praise on vibrant new names that start making waves with one or two wins, and elevate athletes to “next contender” or “future champion” status before they’ve passed any of these veteran tests, and yet we fail to appreciate or acknowledge those divisional fixtures that have passed those tests and now serve as those tests themselves.
It makes sense because new names always garner more attention and promise is intoxicating, but there is something to be said about being established, about having longevity in a sport where just sticking around the big leagues for multiple years is an achievement.
Every other sport and its audience offers due reverence to those that succeed, standout, and remain ultra-competitive for long periods, but MMA only does it sporadically, saluting distinguished champions and select veterans, rather than fully appreciating and acknowledging how difficult it is to be Brown, Hermansson, Emmett, Chookagian, or Holm.
If doing what they’ve done were easy, more people would do it, but they don’t, because it’s not, and we should recognize and appreciate that more.