UFC 276 is all wrapped up, and after such a great start to the night with some outstanding prelims and a couple of impressive knockouts on the main card, I think it’s fair to say that it was the title fights that left the crowd wanting more.
Israel Adesanya had a cool walkout paying homage to The Undertaker — with WWE’s Vince and Stephie McMahon, Triple H, and Pat McAfee all sitting in attendance — but the actual championship bout between him and Jared Cannonier was forgettable. You really have to go back to the Paulo Costa fight to find Adesanya’s last exciting showing, and this is his fourth bout since then. Adesanya outstruck Cannonier by working his crisp jab, mixing in some kicks, and timing Jared with quality counters. Cannonier really just wasn’t aggressive enough and his best attacks were sporadic and immediately cut off by Adesanya before he could get any flow of power shots going. Attempts to wrestle Izzy proved unsuccessful, and fans were leaving the T-Mobile Arena before the fight was even over. It’s another Adesanya decision win but he has now firmly hit the stretch of his career that his fights feel like sparring matches. No denying that Adesanya is a terrific striker and it takes two to tango and all that jazz, but this stretch of cautiousness is absolutely going to turn fans off and I don’t blame them. Hopefully the UFC books him against Alex Pereira (more on that later) as it’s really the only fight in the entire division that I believe anyone would like to see him in.
As for the co-main event, sometimes a fighter just has your number. You may be able to beat just about everyone else but there’s that one foe you cannot solve. For Max Holloway, that foe is Alexander Volkanovski. The trilogy was a dud in terms of being competitive or dramatic, but it was a virtuoso display by the reigning featherweight champion and perhaps the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Volkanovski soundly outboxed the self-proclaimed best boxer in the MMA in a truly sensational performance. He was faster, sharper, more accurate, and by the end of the fight he’d busted open Holloway’s face with a nasty cut above his left eye, and blackened and swollened his right eye. Holloway has long been the fighter who drills opponents with constant offense and mesmerizing combinations, but Volkanovski limited him to single shots while piecing him up with his own combos. It was as futile a showing as we’ve ever seen out of Holloway, and that says way more about how superb Volkanovski is to shut down an all-time great like Max. The pro-Holloway crowd was almost stunned to silence watching Holloway get smashed up.
What’s next for Volk? Well a fourth fight with Holloway is not needed, but he has options. Josh Emmett could get the next crack at the belt. Yair Rodriguez (if he defeats Brian Ortega later this month) could get a shot even though he just lost to Holloway in his previous bout. Arnold Allen, Bryce Mitchell, and Movsar Evloev are all lurking without being a fight away from a title shot. I guess Henry Cejudo is an option but that doesn’t interest me at all. Volkanovski hasn’t cleaned out the division but man oh man does a vacant lightweight title bout between him and Charles Oliveira intrigue the hell out of me. If it’s another defense of his belt then I’m cool with that, if it’s a champ-champ opportunity I’m down for that too.
More thoughts below:
- I picked Sean Strickland off the idea that he would try and wrestle Alex Pereira instead of just stand at range in front of a truly elite kickboxer with one of the best left hooks in all of combat sports. Well he didn’t wrestle and he stood at range in front of the ex-GLORY champion. What do you think happened? Left hook knockdown, follow-up right hand, Strickland go night-night and can’t be obnoxious for a little while. Title shot time for Pereira. The storyline with him and Israel Adesanya is already built-in and he just demolished a top-5 guy in his third UFC appearance. Let’s see these two for the belt next.
- Bryan Barberena wasn’t too far removed from losing to Jason Witt. Now ‘Bam Bam’ can say he’s one of only three people to finish former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler via strikes. It was an outstanding, grueling, back-and-forth striking battle that pitted Lawler’s power against Barberena’s incredible volume. If Lawler was getting the better of the action for much of the contest, Barberena’s pace eventually wore Robbie down and he hurt the iron-chinned Robbie with a right hand that started the finishing sequence. The body shots and short elbows upstairs really bothered Lawler and Barberena’s relentlessness turned into ruthlessness against the ‘Ruthless’ one. It’s a great win for Barberena but for Lawler, whom I might say didn’t really look like a shot fighter in there, time is winding down on his memorable career.
- Can’t say I expected Sean O’Malley vs. Pedro Munhoz to not only be a bad fight but also end with a fight-ending foul. Munhoz took the first round almost exclusively by throwing low kicks, something O’Malley has been susceptible to in the past, and then just as O’Malley was slowly but surely starting to find his boxing range and timing he poked Munhoz in the eye. Crowd thought it wasn’t a poke (it was), Munhoz said he couldn’t see, fight’s over and O’Malley celebrated for some reason. We get a no contest in a surprisingly drab affair, and presumably a rematch. Hardly a fight anyone would be too eager to run back based on what we saw, and for O’Malley we don’t learn a whole lot about his upside at bantamweight.
- Jalin Turner is the real deal. In under a minute, Turner clipped Brad Riddell with a right hand and hurt him with a body shot that prompted Riddell to panic wrestle. In the blink of an eye, Turner had the neck and finished the City Kickboxing fighter with a mounted guillotine. That’s a super impressive win by the long and lanky lightweight against a top-15 opponent, and make it five wins in a row for the 27-year-old. Riddell has now dropped two in a row but to two studs in Turner and Rafael Fiziev. Wow!
- Jim Miller lost by head kick KO to Donald Cerrone back in 2014. In their rematch, Miller got hit by a Cerrone head kick but threw his own kick at the same time, knocking Cerrone off balance and creating the perfect opportunity to grab the neck and lock in a guillotine. Cerrone tapped and Miller became the first man to submit Cowboy since Benson Henderson way back in 2010. For Miller, his 40th UFC outing results in a third straight win and a record-setting 24th UFC victory. As for Cerrone, one of the most entertaining and larger than life figures in the sport, his fighting career is over. He announced his retirement to the fans, saying “I don’t love it anymore” and then said he’s going to be a movie star. Well I’ll tell you what, at his best Donald Cerrone was one of the best action fighters out there, and while he never won either a WEC or UFC lightweight title, he still challenged for belts and faced a who’s who of current and former champions and top contenders. Enjoy retirement, Cowboy! Not everyone has to be a champion to be considered a legend.
- On Irish welterweight prospect Ian Garry passed his biggest UFC test, taking a decision over a determined Gabe Green in what was a fight more compelling than the 30-27s suggested. Green’s pressure gave him some success and he connected on a couple of heavy shots that stunned Garry, but Garry is so sharp, fast, and accurate with his counterstriking that he just had far bigger offensive moments. The former Cage Warriors champion is now 3-0 inside the Octagon and at just 24 years old he’s got a lot of potential to be a contender.
- Almost nothing about Dricus du Plessis vs. Brad Tavares made sense! Not du Plessis basically throwing himself into a Tavares side control, not du Plessis’ bullrushing, awkward striking, not Tavares’ ridiculous chin, it was all so weird and yet so violent and entertaining. Tavares had a bright start but was bloodied and beaten up towards the end, and South Africa’s du Plessis gets the W on the scorecards over the Hawaiian middleweight mainstay. It’s the first time Dricus has gone the distance and now he’s got a win over a ranked fighter. Whether his style works long-term is up for debate but I do know he’s fun to watch.
- Jiu-jitsu specialist Andre Muniz has surely secured himself a top-10 ranking after defeating #9 ranked middleweight Uriah Hall by unanimous decision. Hall still has never been submitted in his career but he also landed no significant strikes in either the opening round or the final round. Muniz still dominated the fight and outgrappled Uriah, he just couldn’t get the finish. What he will get is another step up in competition after improving his UFC mark to 5-0.
- Maycee Barber made it three wins in a row with a unanimous decision over former women’s flyweight title challenger Jessica Eye, who was insistent on looking for takedowns and clinching up with Barber and managing very little success. Eye announced her retirement afterward, becoming the latest UFC fighter to take off their gloves in-cage. She exits the sport with a record of 15-11 (1 NC) and a UFC mark of 5-10 (1 NC).
- The curtain raiser didn’t even last a minute. Lithuanian women’s flyweight Julija Stoliarenko took Jessica-Rose Clark down and immediately advanced her way into an armbar, mangling Clark’s arm and surely dislocating her elbow in the process. On the fifth attempt, Stoliarenko finally has a UFC win, and it comes as the expense of Jessy Jess’ second straight opening round armbar defeat.
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