In the UFC middleweight division, there is reigning champion Israel Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker. After that there is a wide chasm, and then there is the rest of the division. That fact was obvious before UFC 271 and the top two UFC middleweights reinforced that over the course of the 25-minutes they battled inside the octagon at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on Saturday night.
Adesanya walked away with his title, his perfect middleweight record and another win over Whittaker, but I think we will — and should — see these two scrap at least one more time.
In the co-main event, Tai Tuivasa continued his run up the heavyweight rankings with a stunning knockout win over UFC KO king Derrick Lewis. The victory moved Tuivasa’s winning streak to five straight and dropped Lewis to 0-2 in recent fights in front of his hometown.
Also on the main card, Jared Cannonier stopped Derek Brunson in a middleweight contest that could launch him into a fight opposite Adesanya.
There was also some intrigue outside the octagon at UFC 271 that needs to be talked about.
Read on for the winners and losers of UFC 271, which took place at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas and streamed on ESPN+ following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker: Outside of the opening portions of the first round, this was a tense and enjoyable fight.
Robert Whittaker got outclassed and outworked in the first five minutes. Perhaps he was a little too much in his head after getting knocked out in his first meeting against Adesanya — and let’s be honest — that’s understandable. After the first round, Whittaker seemed to gain confidence in his abilities and that helped him fight a more effective fight against Adesanya. Yes, the champ was still able to draw him into some overzealous attacks, but Whittaker did better in this fight than in the first fight and showed growth.
As for Adesanya, he did his thing, and that thing was impressive. He mixed up his attacks, which kept Whittaker from having sustained success and even though Whittaker took him down, he was smart enough to not stay in the center of the octagon when the fight hit the mat and he was quick to work to his feet to keep Whittaker from turning those takedowns into effective scoring offense.
If you didn’t enjoy this fight, which Adesanya won via decision, that’s bad news for you, because I think we’re going to see these two get together at least once more in the future.
Tai Tuivasa: Tai Tuivasa delivered a spectacular knockout win on Saturday with a perfectly timed and placed elbow that left Derrick Lewis crashing to the canvas. Tuivasa, who was the No. 11 ranked heavyweight, going into this fight and he went through some scary moments to get the win.
What makes this win even more impressive is Tuivasa was on a three-fight losing skid in 2018-19. He came back from those consecutive defeats to win five straight bouts via knockout — all before the midpoint of the second stanza.
At just 28, Tuivasa looks like he will be a player in the UFC’s heavyweight division for years to come — that is, if his chin holds up.
Derrick Lewis: Derrick Lewis did his best to score the knockout over Tai Tuivasa. Seeing the blows that Tuivasa ate, one has to wonder what Lewis was thinking when his foe didn’t fall.
Everyone knew that Lewis and Tuivasa were going into this fight to finish it. Tuivasa got the finish, Lewis didn’t, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t give it his best effort to get that finish.
The Lewis vs. Tuivasa fight delivered what the fighters said it would and because of that, we all won.
Jared Cannonier: UFC president Dana White seemed on the fence regarding the possibility of the winner of the Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson getting the next shot at the UFC middleweight title. At UFC 271, Cannonier did everything he could to force White to give him that shot.
Cannonier had a rough first round against Brunson, but he took control of the fight in the second stanza. He fought off the takedown attempts of his opponent and used his powerful striking to wrap things up.
Cannonier moved to 5-1 in his past six fights with his win on Saturday. His only loss in that run was an October 2020 decision setback to Robert Whittaker.
Renato Moicano: Renato Moicano tends to do well against unranked lightweight opponents. He kept that streak alive on Saturday with an impressive submission win over Alexander Hernandez.
Moicano, who has been with the UFC since 2014, has only lost to Brian Ortega, Jose Aldo, Chan Sung Jung and Rafael Fiziev. With his second straight submission win, expect the 32-year-old to get another crack at a ranked opponent.
Bobby Green: Bobby Green earned a second straight win when he scored a unanimous decision win over Nasrat Haqparast. Green controlled the range of the fight. He used volume, head movement, his jab and an ability to split the guard of his opponent to frustrate and freeze Haqparast.
Judging from the reaction of the Houston fans, Green is turning into a fan favorite. If that’s the case, that is a reward for a lot of effort. Green has been fighting as a pro since 2008 and with the UFC since 2013.
Andrei Arlovski: With his win at UFC 271, Andrei Arlovski is on a three-fight winning streak, which is his best run since he went 6-0 between September 2013 and September 2015 while fighting in WSOF, Fight Nights and the UFC.
Casey O’Neill: Casey O’Neill was in a rough spot in that she faced the beloved Roxanne Modafferi in Modafferi’s final MMA fight. O’Neill performed well. She used pressure and volume to outclass her game opponent on the way to the win. O’Neill’s output, combinations, and accuracy were just too much for the veteran fighter.
O’Neill is now 9-0 in her career and 4-0 in the UFC and seems ready to test her skills against a top-10 opponent.
Roxanne Modafferi: Roxanne Modafferi ended her MMA career on Saturday with a loss to Casey O’Neill. But the crowd showed the women’s MMA pioneer a great deal of support during her post-fight interview, which I was glad the UFC aired.
Modafferi did what she always does in her bout against O’Neill, which was give maximum effort and never give up.
Kyler Phillips: The UFC matchmakers gave Kyler Phillips a chance to shine at UFC 271 and shine he did.
Phillips, who was the largest favorite on the fight card, was excellent everywhere. Phillips used movement, pressure, spinning techniques, jabs — pretty much everything he could — before he earned the eighth triangle armbar submission in UFC history.
The bantamweight division is an embarrassment of riches these days and Kyler Phillips is another fighter to watch in that division.
Ronnie Lawrence: Ronnie Lawrence was a massive favorite over Leomana Martinez. If the UFC matchmakers designed this fight to be a showcase for the 29-year-old, it worked, at least for the first two rounds.
Lawrence dominated every aspect of the bantamweight contest for the first 10 minutes, but nearly lost in the the third stanza. The last five minutes of the fight, put a bit of a question mark next to Lawrence’s name, but the first two rounds made Lawrence’s next fight a must watch.
Leomana Martinez: Between the second and third round of his bout against Ronnie Lawrence, Leomana Martinez’s coach, James Krause, implored him to throw caution to the wind. Martinez did that, and he hurt Lawrence and made the fight very interesting in the third round. Martinez got blown out in the first two stanzas, but he showed there’s no quit in him.
Douglas Silva de Andrade: Douglas Silva de Andrade had a rough first round against Sergey Morozov. He ate a lot of heavy strikes and sustained a nasty cut, but he made it through those five minutes and took the minute between rounds to reset and reset he did. Silva de Andrade looked like a different fighter in the second round. He repeatedly hurt Morozov with a body head combo and eventually got the fight to the mat where he finished via choke.
This was a very impressive performance from Silva de Andrade, who dug deep and showed a great deal of resilience in getting the finish.
Silva de Andrade now has two wins a row for the first time since 2015-2016 and both were noteworthy performances.
Jeremiah Wells: Jeremiah Wells used his wrestling, strength and experience to deny the much hyped Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha a win in his UFC debut. Wells took advantage of Mathetha’s lack of wrestling experience to battle for a hard earned takedown and then systematically broke Mathetha on the ground to get the choke and submission win. The former Cage Fury champ has put the spotlight on himself with his knockout win over Warlley Alves in his UFC debut and this victory will add to his appeal.
Casey O’Neill: If the crowd wants to paint you as a villain, it’s best to lean into that and that’s what O’Neill did while she was being booed after her win over the crowd favorite, Roxanne Modafferi.
Derek Brunson: Derek Brunson fought a solid five minutes against Jared Cannonier and nearly finished the fight in the last seconds of the first stanza. However, he seemed to lose any momentum early in the second round. Brunson’s entire approach to the fight seemed to change. He didn’t pursue takedowns, and he went back to leading with his chin — something he had seemed to have fixed — and he got finished. He looked like two different fighters in the first and second rounds.
Alexander Hernandez: Alex Hernandez complained about his original placement on the prelims of the UFC 271 fight card.
“Man, I’m fired the f**k up because of the amount of disrespect that the UFC is showing me on this card,” Hernandez told MMA Fighting’s We Got Next podcast. “We have to wait four months and then I’m on the early fucking prelims. I mean, that incites such a rage in me so I’m coming to make a statement. I’m so fired up about that. I’m so pissed off and I’m so motivated, so I’m really eager to make a statement.”
The fight ended up on the pay-per-view portion of the card and Moicano submitted Hernandez in the second round.
Don’t be surprised to see Hernandez on the early prelims in his next outing.
Sergey Morozov: Sergey Morozov had a great first round against Douglas Silva de Andrade, but the second round was a different story. Once Silva de Andrade started to land, especially to the body, Morozov’s cardio faded and with that, his defense lapsed as well. That was the beginning of the end for the 32-year-old.
Mike Mathetha: “Blood Diamond” fought the takedown attempts from Jeremiah Wells as best as he could, but he eventually went to the mat and the much more experienced Wells overwhelmed him on the ground. Wells was a tough matchup for Mathetha in his UFC debut, but this fight should be looked at as on-the-job training for Mathetha, who only had three previous MMA bouts. I’m sure Mathetha has had reps in the cage at City Kickboxing, but an actual fight in the UFC octagon is a unique experience. Now that Mathetha has the knowledge of what to expect with the promotion, he should be able to use that to grow and improve.
William Knight: I don’t know what William Knight was trying to do when he “apologized” for missing weight by 12 pounds for his light heavyweight turned heavyweight fight against Maxim Grishin, but blaming himself for the miss was not what he did.
“I tried my best on short notice definitely not the kinda fighter I am and it definitely won’t happen again….,” wrote Knight. “Crazy I turn into the bad guy trying to save a fight on short notice….. I’m happy the real snakes have shed their skin today I’ll remember this moving forward for sure…. God has blessed me with this as a lesson and I’ll definitely make sure I do better next time…. fight is still on tomorrow at 8pm it’s now a heavyweight fight.”
Playing the victim when you miss weight by 12 pounds is not a good look.
UFC matchmakers: If the UFC matchmakers knew what William Knight weighed (and it’s their job to know that) when he accepted the fight against Maxim Grishin, they should have not allowed him to sign on short notice to take the fight.
Asking a fighter to cut 37 pounds in two weeks is a dangerous thing. Yes, Knight is to blame as well, but the UFC’s “the show must go on at any cost” approach to matchmaking is not helping the health of fighters.
Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier: I’m not going to defend the referee who gave the nod to Roxanne Modafferi over Casey O’Neill, but I am going to call out the hypocrisy of Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier, who blasted the judge on the ESPN broadcast. These two, especially Cormier, regularly misrepresent the scoring criteria during UFC broadcasts.
Joe Rogan: Joe Rogan reportedly texted his injury report on Israel Adesanya to Jon Anik during the event. That report, according to Adesanya, was false. Do what you want with this information.
Dana White: Let’s be honest, the “Joe Rogan has a scheduling conflict” thing sounded suspicious when it was announced. UFC president Dana White said that it was “total bullshit” at the post-fight press conference and I respect White for his honesty. With that being said, I don’t know why White would do that. White saying that Rogan removed himself from the broadcast seems like passive-aggressive behavior.
White and Rogan had an out. While few believed the “scheduling conflict” reason that was floated, the entire thing was kind of shrugged off and turned into a winking joke. What White did by exposing the situation is put pressure on Rogan to explain his reasoning as to why he removed himself from the broadcast.
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