For those of you complaining about the main event of UFC 248, stop and think about what you witnessed prior to that. Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejzcyk threw down for what many – myself included – are calling the greatest fight in women’s MMA history. For 25 minutes, they threw everything they had at one another, several shots from each rocking the other at various points throughout the back-and-forth contest, though never enough to make anyone believe they were every in serious trouble of being finished. Their performance alone was worth every penny of the PPV price.
That doesn’t mean the main event wasn’t disappointing. Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero had… an interesting event. It did feel right to call it a fight after what Zhang and Jedrzejzcyk performed, but their tentative performances were also understandable given the strengths and weaknesses of each. The final product was a contest with an unclear winner, perhaps even both coming across as losers.
Weili Zhang: There were a lot of people questioning the veracity of Zhang’s championship win over Jessica Andrade. Understandable given the quickness of their fight and lack of quality opposition prior to that contest. After her instant classic with Jedrzejczyk, no one will ever do so again. Zhang proved all the things. Her toughness. Her gas tank. Her power. Her mettle. To sum it all up, her championship spirit. It will be hard to pick against her moving forward in her upcoming title defenses as she took the best Joanna Jedrzejczyk we have seen and came out on top. It’s impossible to pinpoint an exact moment of the fight that was Zhang’s best moment. It might even be impossible to say which rounds she won definitively. What can be said, regardless of whether you believe Zhang was the rightful winner or not, she deserves to be a champion.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Even in a loss, it could be argued Jedrzejczyk solidified her status as the all-time best strawweight. It’s also fair to point out Zhang could very well take that title down the road on the strength of this win, but that’s for MMA analysts and fans to debate down the road. For now, there is a consensus that Jedrzejczyk put together the performance of her lifetime. It could even be argued she deserved the W – I thought she did – but anyone who mentions the word robbery is ignorant to the intricacies of the sport of MMA. In a perfect world, both Jedrzejczyk and Zhang would be champions. Unfortunately, that isn’t how things work. Instead, Jedrzejczyk will go home, place some ice on her enlarged forehead, and have the pleasure of knowing she did something many champions – past and present – never have done: turn in an all-time classic.
Beneil Dariush: If it wasn’t for Zhang and Jedrzejczyk, it’s likely Dariush’s brutal KO of Drakkar Klose would have been the most memorable moment of the evening. Going into the contest, I had heard reports that Dariush’s weak chin was being attributed to a neck injury that he struggled to have properly healed. Coming into the contest, Dariush said it was finally healed. After eating Klose’s heavy shots in the second round, it’s safe to say Dariush was being honest. Once the fight devolved into a brawl, most believed Dariush was done for. Instead, he found Klose’s chin after a few heavy shots and quickly turned the momentum in his favor, chasing Klose across the cage to deliver the final killshot. Now on a four-fight win streak, Dariush is likely to get a shot at a ranked opponent next.
Neil Magny: For his sake, Magny might want to encourage everyone to hate on him. Despite having a far more extended track record than Jingliang Li, very few picked Magny to win. Instead of Li delivering the expected beatdown, Magny rose to the occasion in a way like he never has before. Taking complete control of the fight at the halfway point of the first round, Magny dominated every aspect of the fight, from the clinch, to the standup, to the wrestling, to the grappling…. EVERY aspect. It was a strong enough performance he could return to the rankings. At the very least, I wouldn’t expect the constant callouts to continue.
Alex Oliveira: Oliveira knew he had his back against the wall. Fortunately for him, he reacted accordingly. After an opening round where he appeared aloof – a common occurrence for him – he regained his focus and put his explosive athleticism to good use, opening up a cut on Max Griffin in the second and landing some heavy GnP in the third to eek out a close decision. Given Griffin rose up to the occasion just as much as Oliveira, I’m not bothered by how close the fight was. Bottom line: Oliveira rose to the occasion and gets to keep his job.
Sean O’Malley: There were a lot of people thinking The Suga Show was a lot of hype with no substance. O’Malley shut the mouths of all his doubters, going through Jose Alberto Quinones like a hot knife through butter. I don’t recall Quinones landing a single strike. I will grant O’Malley’s haters that Quinones isn’t exactly sterling competition, but he did exactly what he’s supposed to do. It’s obvious O’Malley hasn’t been sitting on his hands while USADA had him sitting on the sidelines. The kid is delivering on the hype.
Mark Madsen: I considered putting Madsen in the neither category as he faded hard after a strong start, but I can’t get that early suplex on Austin Hubbard out of my head. If there is a moment that encapsulates why there has ever been any hype behind the former Olympic silver medalist, that was it. After he slowed some, Madsen’s lack of boxing technique came to play as Hubbard made a comeback. There’s still plenty for Madsen to work on, but he’s going to be a threat if he can close the distance with his monstrous upper body strength.
Rodolfo Vieira: It was a bit harder than everyone expected, but Vieira found a submission in less than three minutes. Saparbeg Safarov came out swinging, swelling Vieira’s eye badly enough that his vision was clearly affected. Nonetheless, Vieira eventually found Safarov’s back and we all knew it was over from there, transitioning to an arm-triangle choke. At 30 with low mileage on his body, Vieira has plenty of time to complement his lethal submission game.
Gerald Meerschaert: Things looked rocky early when Deron Winn was rattling Meerschaert with punches and knees about midway through the first, but Meerschaert survived. Winn expended a lot of energy in the process and never came close to threatening Meerschaert in the same manner, allowing the tricky Roufusport product to work over Winn. After hurting Winn in the final round, Meerschaert continued the assault before finding a tight neck crank. Impressive performance from the crafty vet.
Giga Chikadze: His performance wasn’t flawless, but it was no less encouraging than his debut. Chikadze came out aggressive as hell with no worries about Jamall Emmers taking him to the mat. He hurt Emmers on several occasions too. AND… he secured another reversal on the mat and delivered some heavy GnP again. Chikadze did flag down the stretch, allowing Emmers to take the final round, but it was overall an encouraging showing.
Danna Batgerel: Regardless of how many more fights Batgerel has in the UFC, he’s a blistering example of how much the sport of MMA has covered the earth. The Mongolian put on a flawless performance against Guido Cannetti, bringing the pressure to the longtime member of the roster for the entirety of the contest. It kept Cannetti from getting on track and resulted in an early finish. He’s an under the radar prospect.
Jon Anik: Nobody places a bigger emphasis on getting the fighters name right and I now have an idea of how to say the name of Danaa Batgerel properly. I get that few people actually care about things like that, but I have to give the man props for the hard work. Nobody in the fight game is better at play-by-play and small things like that are a big reason why.
Israel Adesanya: While I’m putting Adesanya in the loser’s column, that doesn’t mean I believe he fought a bad fight. His performance was calculated, an attempt to minimize the damage Romero inflicted on him. Given the victims laying in the wake of Romero, I can’t say I blame him. Regardless, it ended up being a drab performance that fans quickly grew bored of. Adesanya didn’t help himself when he said in his post-fight interview he was clearly the winner. He emerged as the winner, but it was far from clear he deserved the W. Had he suggested it was a close fight, that he respected Romero, he was sorry it wasn’t more entertaining, he might have received a bit more breathing room from fans. Coming out defiant following a ho-hum performance in terms of entertainment – at best – is putting yourself in fans’ crosshairs. Claiming you do things everyone else is scared to do – such as facing Romero – and then fighting scared makes it even worse.
Before moving on, I feel it’s important to note even the most beloved of champions have turned in stinkers. Remember Anderson Silva’s defenses over Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Demian Maia? Those were some bad fights. It’s going to happen at times. There is still much to be written about the legacy of Adesanya and it’s hard to believe it won’t be brighter than not. For now though, Adesanya is going to feel some backlash.
Yoel Romero: I castigated Adesanya for his defiant attitude following his performance and the same should be done to Romero. Why the hell should Adesanya stand where Romero wants him to stand? I get fans love nothing more than two fighters standing their ground and slugging it out. But where is the strategy in that? We’d all be complaining what a moron Adesanya is in that case. Romero is right implying Adesanya did a lot of running, but Romero didn’t exactly do a lot of chasing either. However, I’ll also excuse him somewhat as his performance also played to his strengths. Plus, a fair argument could be made Romero was the rightful winner. Sure, he landed less volume, but we all know that not all strikes are created equal. At 42 and now on a three-fight losing streak, it seems safe to assume this is Romero’s last opportunity at the gold.
Having commented on both Adesanya and Romero, the bottom line is this: It wasn’t one single person’s fault. Neither were aggressive. Neither came out looking good. Neither appeared to have a Plan B when their initial strategy wasn’t producing conclusive results. Both should stop blaming the other for the lack of entertainment. Both looked even worse with their barrage of comments after the fight. When it takes two to tango, both are to blame and they proved to be a bad stylistic matchup when intelligent strategy was applied.
Drakkar Klose: It’s always a bit of an embarrassment when you talk about how chinny your opponent is only for you to be the one to go to sleep. Such is the predicament Klose finds himself in after Dariush knocked him silly, including having a three-fight winning streak snapped. Given how boring his fights usually are – and the fight was pretty boring in the opening round, keeping with Klose’s tradition – it might be a while before he gets another chance at an opponent of Dariush’s caliber. Maybe he’ll get some leeway after that barnburner of a second round….
Jingliang Li: The first two or three minutes went about as expected for Li. He landed some heavy shot on Magny and even got some takedowns. After that, Li forgot how to execute a strategy, spending long periods of the fight utilizing his head movement to avoid what Magny was throwing at him. In the process, he made Magny look like a powerhouse, something nobody ever does. I think it’s safe to say having his camp uprooted due to coronavirus affected Li in a major way.
Max Griffin: If Griffin keeps his job, he’s not a loser. He actually had a hell of a fight with Oliveira, coming thisclose to taking the decision from the judges over Oliveira. It could even be argued it was the best performance of his career. He mixed in some takedowns, scored a reversal on the mat, got his jab working before the cut over his eye affected his vision. However, there is a very good chance Griffin gets cut as he has dropped four of his last five contests. Only time will tell if Griffin ends up a loser from the results of the night, but I don’t think it’ll be a good result.
Jose Alberto Quinones: It’s impossible to find anything positive to say about Quinones performance. Not that Quinones was expected to win, but you’d think he could have put up something of a fight. Nope. After a loss like that, it’s hard to see the UFC giving him any sort of a push, even for the next time they fight down in Mexico. Quinones isn’t going to be getting any favors from the brass any more.
Austin Hubbard: It’s hard to win fights when your biggest strength is surpassed by your opponent. Hubbard’s best chance to win was to outlast Madsen – he sure as hell wasn’t going to outwrestle him – and he came close to doing that. Hubbard’s a smart fighter, but he’s also limited athletically. Case in point is what Madsen was able to do to him early on with the suplex and early control.
Deron Winn: Once again, Winn’s height ended up working against him in the extreme. He expended a lot of energy early to cross the distance and was unable to get a credible attack going later. Perhaps more disappointing, he made minimal efforts to get his wrestling going. Why the hell wouldn’t you go to your bread and butter? Winn will get another shot – he’s close with Daniel Cormier – but he may want to look at moving to 170. I know he’s wide as hell, but if it’s possible, he’ll want to strongly consider the move.
Guido Cannetti: I was shocked to see how many people were picking Cannetti to win. I get Batgerel isn’t an awesome prospect or anything like that, but he’s active and Cannetti is a 40-year old bantamweight. Sure, Urijah Faber picked up a win at 40-years old, but he’s Urijah Faber! This is Guido Cannetti we’re talking about! Cannetti is known for being aggressive, but he was fighting of his heels for much of the fight, making it a surety the Argentinian was in for a long night. Well… it ended in the first round, but you get what I mean.
Saparbeg Safarov: Given the low expectations most have for Safarov, he exceeded them by a wide margin. He hurt Vieira pretty badly. He escaped Vieira’s first real takedown attempt. And he lasted for more than two minutes. I’m joking a bit here, but the expectations for Safarov were incredibly low. Safarov gave Vieira a fight and made things entertaining. Basically, he did his job.
Jamal Emmers: I’m sure many will disagree with me on this placement. I get it. Emmers lost a close decision in a very winnable fight. That’ll almost always put someone in the loser’s column for me. But Emmers had a difficult matchup in Chikadze and looked like a UFC caliber featherweight, something many were questioning. There’s a long list of regional journeymen who either get to the UFC too late to show their best or prove why they shouldn’t have made it in the first place. At the very least, Emmers proved he belongs.
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