Several of the UFC’s brightest up-and-comers were on display Thursday at UFC Fight Night 80. Some lived up to expectations, some torpedoed, while others are looking to get paid.
Here’s what 5thRound saw:
Paige VanZant (pictured):
The bubbly blonde might look the part of a superstar, but she performed like an extra in a rout to Rose Namajunas. “12 Gauge” shot blanks despite the fact Namajunas took the bout on five weeks’ notice. It’s not PVZ’s fault that the UFC chose to make her their next golden girl, so don’t hold that against her. What’s she supposed to say, “No, no. Go push someone else”? However, the 21-year-old is now presented with the exact same challenge Namajunas faced nearly one year ago to the day – rebound from a lopsided submission loss and prove to the MMA world why the UFC thought she could be a future face of the company. Best believe the UFC will carefully handpick VanZant’s next few opponents. #NoHairDontCare
Speaking of a youngster the UFC put their promotional machine behind, the 19-year-old was the night’s biggest odds-on favorite at 10-1. Cody Pfister planted Northcutt on his back early and was able to hold him there without much resistance. If it weren’t for a questionable stand-up by referee Mark Smith, Pfister would have cruised to take the first round. Sure, Northcutt was never in danger on his back, but it was surprising he didn’t have much to offer when staring up at the lights. Northcutt did what he does best from then on, taking Pfister down and ending things before the final horn. That’s now a perfect 7-0, all finishes for “Super.” There’s a lot of hype around Northcutt, and once again, don’t blame him for what the UFC is doing, and he didn’t do anything to hurt his hype train Thursday night.
“The next Ronda Rousey” finally lived up to expectations one year after getting embarrassed by Carla Esparza in “The Ultimate Fighter 20” finals to become the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champ. Despite accepting the fight on late notice, Namajunas was confident she’d bring VanZant back down to earth after putting pen to paper, then followed through inside the cage with a performance of a lifetime. The UFC strawweight division is still very raw, and so are many of its athletes, but Namajunas proved Thursday that she is just getting started and will be a force for years to come.
The TUF 15 winner is hellbent on cracking the top 5 in the lightweight division before the end of 2016. After unexpectedly submitting veteran Jim Miller in last night’s co-main event, it’s hard to argue that he couldn’t be a contender for the crown somewhere down the line. His heart, length and all-around skills make him a unique matchup in the UFC’s deepest weight class. He respectfully called out Beneil Dariush after the win, let’s see if the UFC grants him his wish.
Now, this was the card’s most interesting story that the UFC conveniently swept under the octagon mat. A night where the UFC had some of their brightest youngsters on display, they buried Sterling on the prelims of a UFC Fight Pass show because it was the final bout on his contract. It also didn’t help that he had previously declined the UFC’s unimpressive contract extension. If you’re looking for an exciting up-and-comer with personality, it’s hard to believe the UFC is looking past the 26-year-old. Sterling now owns an unblemished 12-0 record and has finished off three straight opponents since joining the UFC four outings ago. UFC president Dana White appears willing to let Sterling test the free agent market. Maybe White should just pay the man since he’s performing. As we all know by now, White can just cut him at any point and not be on the hook for future earnings. Oh, and not to take anything away from Tim Means or Namajunas, but Sterling submitted a BBJ specialist and wasn’t awarded with a “Performance of the Night” bonus? Hmm…