UFC Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Comedy

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Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Even with the huge efforts to bring the Octagon to the new home of big fights and Robert Whittaker‘s stunning knockout win, UFC Saudi Arabia puttered across the finish line for multiple reasons.

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Turki Alashikh, the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, has set a high bar for the combat sports events that have taken place at the Kingdom Arena. From Francis Ngannou’s improbable near win against Tyson Fury and the Queensberry vs. Matchroom card, that standard points to the best names and biggest stars being featured.

After numerous false starts and scheduling snafus, UFC Saudi Arabia missed that mark. While the original main event of Robert Whittaker and Khamzat Chimaev was one of the most anticipated fights of the year, it propped up a noticeably top-heavy card in its original inception

Even in the tradition of stacking the card to cater toward the local crowd of a new country, things did not go according to plan. Beyond the many shuffles that scrapped appearances by Chimaev, Abu Azaitar, and Said Nurmagomedov, most of the fighters that did make it to the cage failed to convincingly seize the moment, even if they got the win. 

Most notably, Shara Magomedov came up short in relation to the hype he has generated yet again. While he deserves credit for agreeing to three different opponents until Antonio Trocoli was booked on less than a week’s notice, his win was solely reliant on the depleted gas tank of a man who hadn’t competed in nearly three years. 

With the assistance of a gloriously bad no-call by referee Marc Goodard, “Bullet” was simultaneously able to preserve his undefeated record with a knockout win while underwhelming everyone hoping to see more.

Kelvin Gastelum and the Unbalanced Scales of UFC Saudi Arabia

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Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

After a laundry list of misfires on the scale during his 11 years in the UFC, it’s time for a long overdue moment of reckoning for Kelvin Gastelum. Once thought of as a shoo-in for welterweight title contention, he is now reduced to begging to keep his roster spot after his win over Daniel Rodriguez.

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That win should certainly come with an asterisk. After being unable to hit the agreed-upon welterweight limit, or even coming in at 180 pounds, the sudden change to middleweight almost certainly had an impact on what took place in the Octagon. 

Far more physically prepared for a middleweight contest than his opponent that had been undergoing the tough cut well into fight week, Gastelum was stronger and fresher during the entire 15 minutes. Without diving deeper into the implications of “D-Rod” agreeing to the late changes after over a year of inactivity and two previous consecutive losses, it’s hard to not think that the TUF 17 winner gamed the system for the price of 20% of his fight purse. 

Gastelum, who less than a month ago released a video on his YouTube channel entitled “Missing Weight” in which he ate a sampler platter of tacos, has a decision to make. He can either show the discipline that is needed to compete to his potential or give up on any ambitions below middleweight.

However, the real decision must be made by the UFC. His track record for meeting the most basic of contractual obligations has been spotty at best. The amazing amount of talent and a championship caliber skill set he possesses isn’t enough. 

Whether he’s released, permanently banned from dropping weight, or banished to low profile fight cards a message needs to be sent. 

Ant Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. He has been... More about Anthony Walker

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