I suppose it really depends on what fight fans showed up for as to whether UFC 289 delivered or not. If the only fight they cared about was Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush then they got 4+ minutes of heaven. But fans who wanted to see a battle of skill and prowess between Amanda Nunes and Irene Aldana in the main event were instead treated to a completely non-competitive, one-sided landslide. Other bouts were fine, but not the kind of material that makes up a PPV offering.
So, is there any fight that could possibly lure Nunes out of retirement? Is the UFC going to balk at the idea of an Oliveira/Makhachev rematch? And can we get Dan Ige another brawl stat?
To answer those questions—but not that much else—I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
The champion has officially retired. Amanda Nunes gets the rare privilege in MMA of truly going out at the top of her game. She’s been a pro for 15 years, beat every possible challenger in the book, holds wins over all the women near her weight considered to also be in the conversation as all-time greats. Seriously, she beat Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Valentina Shevchenko; she not only beat all the top challengers out there, she beat every other former women’s bantamweight champ in UFC history. She’s clearly captured the title of most decorated woman in MMA history and it’ll probably be a long time until anyone can take that from her.
Still, there’s some little part of me thinking that the animosity is real enough and the draw of competition is deep enough that if Julianna Pena goes in and snatches up the empty crown, we’ll see Nunes right back in the Octagon in a year’s time, ready to prove that she really can beat Pena any day she wants, just like she claims she can. Setting that aside, however—and with Holly Holm already booked against Mayra Bueno Silva—looks like the next thing Nunes will be doing is watching Pena and Pennington fight for the vacant title sometime later this year.
Well that won’t go down in the hall of all time great title challenging performances. Anyone with eyes knew that there was a serious chance Irene Aldana would struggle here. Her takedown defense against Macy Chiasson was a mess, and her preference for fighting off her back foot seemed tailor made for a slow-paced out-fighter like Amanda Nunes to peck away at her from distance. But, this was the biggest fight of Aldana’s life, and it wasn’t such short notice that she couldn’t put together a plan for that kind of huge opportunity to cover for those known flaws, right?
Whether it was the quick camp, the size of the moment, or perhaps just a matchup so bad that no amount of time could fix it, I’m not sure. But, Irene Aldana was not ready and it was pretty obvious from the jump. She started the fight extremely jittery and overly reactive to everything Nunes did. Letting the champion lead the dance from range and shake her out of her shoes with takedown feints and dumps that Nunes didn’t even seem particularly invested in. Even when she got her own good shot in, and clearly clipped Nunes hard, she couldn’t find the grit to bite down and pull the trigger to put the ‘Lioness’ in real danger.
In something of a good news/bad news situation for ‘Robles’, Nunes retiring means she’s not entirely shut out of the title picture. A win or two would put her right back in the thick of things, especially if Pena ends up holding the title. Bad news is she very definitely won’t be in the contender’s picture for that vacant belt. This fight was bad enough that I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if Aldana’s next bout doesn’t even make the main card.
In the meantime, Aldana needs to find a fight or two she can win. She’s already fought Pennington and Holm and didn’t get the victory over either woman there. She beat Ketlen Vieira, and Yana Santos and Macy Chiasson; Pannie Kianzad is booked. So, that leaves Karol Rosa??? The real answer seems fairly obvious to me, honestly. Miesha Tate is returning to 135, she’s not in the title picture, but as a former champ, she’s still got plenty of cache and name recognition to lean on. If Tate wants a fast track and Aldana needs a bounce-back, then Tate vs. Aldana is the obvious booking.
An absolutely crushing win for Charles Oliveira. He had a hell of a lot to prove after his loss to Islam Makhachev. And with Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje booked out in the wings, and Conor McGregor hovering in the ether, the need for Oliveira to put on a show here was very real. ‘Do Bronx’ did just that. After struggling a bit with Beneil Dariush’s top control he popped up and absolutely slaughtered the man to put a hard and fast end to the Kings MMA fighter’s title hopes in the short term. That also gives life to Oliveira’s own goals of regaining his lightweight title belt.
The Brazilian couldn’t have made that plan clearer than he did on the mic after his victory, calling himself the champion of the world and making it clear that he was ready to face Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi. Dana White has been a little sheepish about actually codifying this bout as a set ‘no. 1 contender’ battle ahead of the PPV. Hopefully after seeing that display though, he’ll be convinced. Oliveira vs. Makhachev 2 is the lightweight title fight we need.
Beneil Dariush flew too close to the sun, and now he’s come crashing back down to reality. When he could put Charles Oliveira on the mat, he had great success. His grappling really is that good that he had no trouble at all being on top of Oliveira and letting strikes go. But, the moment Oliveira decided he didn’t want to be on his back, Dariush had to deal with the standup all over again—and that’s where the fight wasn’t even a little bit close.
Normally this is where I’d write a whole bunch of stuff about which fight might be just perfect for Dariush right now among a whole host of options. But that Rafael Fiziev fight is so clear and present. Rafael Fiziev vs. Beneil Dariush is fantastic.
Not the most dominant performance of Dan Ige’s career, considering that his cardio issues resurfaced in the third round. But, he did well to make Nate Landwehr pay for giving him a slow and steady pace for two rounds, landing big knockdown shots near the bell in each of them. Ige’s got real power and solid form in his boxing. As long he’s the bigger puncher he can be a difficult fight for a whole lot of guys…
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