Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
UFC 273 went down at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday night. In the main event, Alexander Volkanovski successfully defended his featherweight title against Chan Sung Jung, and in the co-main event, Aljamain Sterling finally silenced his doubters, retaining his bantamweight belt in a rematch with Petr Yan. Oh, and a little guy named Khamzat Chimaev continued his run toward an inevitable welterweight title shot.
But as big as UFC 273 was, it wasn’t the biggest sporting event of the weekend — The Masters took place in Augusta, Ga. So, as with UFC 271 and Whitney Houston, I’m mashing these two events together to show my appreciation for the biggest event in golf and some of the biggest fights this year.
The Green Jacket
To Aljamain Sterling, who ate a rash of crap for over a year and then s*** the whole damn world out.
Sterling entered UFC 273 with by far the most to lose. After winning the title in “controversial” fashion one year prior against Yan, Sterling had spent the past 13 months on the receiving end of trash talk and criticism from fans and fellow fighters alike. Although Sterling objectively did nothing wrong, Yan was somehow painted as the hero in this story, and so Sterling did the only thing he could do: He steered into the skid.
On fight week, Sterling talked a country mile of s***, convinced he was going to make the whole world eat crow. Had he failed, the outcome would have been miserable. Aside from confirming all the worst things that were said about him for the past year, Sterling would have had to delete his social media accounts and move to a cabin in the woods to escape the backlash. So instead, he did the only thing he could do: He won.
Sterling straight up outworked Yan over the first three rounds, out-landing him in the opening stanza before playing the role of human backpack in the next two (for what it’s worth, the second round was an obvious 10-8 round by both the actual rules and by any rational sense of how fight scoring should work). Yan ultimately adjusted, as he always will, but by then the damage had been done. This time, there was no excuse — he simply got beaten. Now, Sterling gets to take his victory lap — and no one deserves it more.
To Alexander Volkanovski, for one of the most dominant performances we’ve ever seen.
In 1997, Tiger Woods put on one of the greatest displays in golf history, obliterating the field at the Masters to win by 12 strokes (still a record) at the age of 21. And while Volkanovski isn’t nearly as young as Woods was then, his performance was equally as impressive. The featherweight champion outclassed the always-challenging Korean Zombie in every phase of the game. Volkanovski was everywhere and nowhere all at once, hitting Zombie where he least expected it, but never being there for the return fire. In the end, he out-landed Zombie by a total of 138 to 48 significant strikes — and honestly, the 48 seems high. Zombie looked absolutely perplexed by the end of the second round, and as Volkanovski started to really put some mustard on his shots in the third, things spiraled quickly. If there were two green jackets to give out, Volkanovski would have more than earned the second.
For the iconic call from Verne Lundquist at the 2005 Masters, when Tiger Woods took a shot that the commentators were all but writing off and then turned it into a piece of magic, the nod goes to Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev, one of the best fights you are ever going to see.
This bout was the most anticipated fight of the weekend, but despite the fervor around it, the outcome was largely thought to be a foregone conclusion. Khamzat Chimaev is the “Next Big Thing in MMA,” and given his rapid rise, imposing physical advantages, and the fact that Burns is perpetually underrated, the belief was that he would continue his romp toward the welterweight title with barely a speed bump. No one told Burns that, though, and for 15 minutes, he brought an absolute dogfight to the bigger, stronger Chimaev. In the end, Chimaev edged out a victory, but both men saw their stocks rise.
Come December, they both might take home “Fight of the Year “honors.
Rae’s Creek is an innocuous little tributary that has derailed the title aspirations of many a golfer (just ask Jordan Spieth), and so we award this to Aspen Ladd’s decision making, because at this point, she needs to regroup entirely.
Ladd entered the UFC in 2017 with a good amount of hype behind her as a future champion. But on Saturday night, she lost to Raquel Pennington, her second loss in a row and her third in her last four fights. And while there’s no shame in losing to Pennington, the way in which she did it is troubling. Ladd’s strength is in her grappling game, but for the first two rounds, she only shot one takedown attempt, a half-hearted effort in the first round. Instead, she spent the better part of 10 minutes getting tuned up on the feet.
Only in the third round, when her corner implored her to do more, did Ladd finally go to her wrestling. And when she did, it worked! She cleanly won the third round and showed that had she attempted to play to her strengths from the outset, she may well have won the first. Instead, Ladd has now put two straight into the water, and her career is reeling.
Sergio Garcia puts five shots into the water on No. 15
Speaking of bad decision-making. Back in 2018, Sergio Garcia was in outside contention to win a second green jacket when he shot a 13 on No. 15 after repeatedly attempting to fly some water and failing. In total, he put five balls into the water that hole, and that sort of dogged pursuit of failure is only matched by those poor misguided souls who try to grapple with Aleksei Oleinik.
Oleinik is 45 years old and known, almost exclusively, for his grappling ability, particularly his Ezekiel and scarf chokes. And so on Saturday, when Jared Vanderaa was beating him up only to then willingly pursue Oleinik to the ground for a bit of grappling, well, the end result was never in question.
The most iconic stretch of the most iconic golf course in the world can only go to one man, the most iconic cornerman in MMA, Ray Longo.
On Saturday, Longo coached Sterling to a no-doubt-about-it world title, with all his trademark vigor during the breaks. He has coached three homegrown fighters to UFC world championships as an underdog, which is incredibly impressive. The man simply does not get enough love.
The Pimento Cheese Sandwich
The Pimento Cheese Sandwich is a Masters staple that is incredibly overrated and probably bad for your health, but is occasionally fantastic. And so for this award, we turn to Herb Dean, who is a UFC staple that is incredibly overrated and often detrimental to the health of fighters, but who on Saturday, had a fantastic performance refereeing the main event.
At the end of the third round, Volkanovski was absolutely battering The Korean Zombie and was close to a stoppage, but Zombie was saved by the bell. Despite their fighter being clearly done, Zombie’s corner sent their fighter back out for the fourth round, but before the round started, Dean called the ringside physician in to check on Zombie, ostensibly to give his corner time to reconsider. When they did not, Dean restarted the round, as was his job, and the first big punch Zombie ate, he jumped in. It was a note-perfect performance from Dean, and one worth commending.