UFC 294 has come and gone and it was as mixed of a bag as it gets. Islam Makhachev turned in one of the most lopsided title defenses we’ve seen for a fight that was expected to be close. After all, a lot of people believed Alexander Volkanovski won their first contest. Instead, Makhachev put a drubbing on the featherweight champion, finishing the job within a round with a perfectly placed head kick and slamming shut their rivalry.
Whether that was a pleasant outcome is up for debate as most anticipated a hell of a back and forth, much like their first encounter. We did get that with the co-main event as Khamzat Chimaev edged out Kamaru Usman, which surprisingly didn’t earn the FOTN. Unfortunately, the rest of the card was… well, mixed. There was some good, some bad, and some outright weird. There were several snoozer low-level fights. There were also some brilliant, highlight reel finishes. And then there were the no contests that didn’t produce an official winner or loser.
But who were the real winners and losers of the event? Sure, 11 UFC fighters officially had their hand raised in victory, but that doesn’t always mean they are the true winners of the night. Same with those who didn’t get their hand raised. Just like not all wins are created equal, not all losses are either. I’ll give you the lowdown on who the biggest winners and losers of the event were. I’ll limit it to three in each category, doing my best to avoid having the same combatants of a contest in both categories. Let’s dig in!
UFC 294 Winners
I fully expected to be listed Volkanovski in one of these columns as he would either claim his second title or be turned away definitively from fighting for the lightweight title again. While Volk is unlikely to ever fight for the lightweight title again, Makhachev turned him away in such a manner that there’s no debate who gets the better of the rivalry and solidifies himself as the top P4P fighter in the world. It may not have been as entertaining as we all hoped, but that wasn’t Makhachev’s goal. It was to shut up his detractors and he did that.
There will be debate over who Makhachev should fight next. Does the UFC try to re-schedule him and Charles Oliveira again, or do they pit him with recent BMF winner Justin Gaethje. What won’t be up for debate is who the favorite will be. Now that the rivalry with Volkanovski is over – and clearly in favor of Makhachev – the question now will be if he can exceed the legacy of his former teammate, Khabib Nurmagomedov. He may not have the zero in his record, but no one will be surprised if he doubles up the number of title defenses. That may be enough.
There are things that can be nitpicked about the final result. This was Usman’s first middleweight fight. He was champion at 170. Chimaev got tired. However, in the end, Chimaev not only managed to secure a victory over a former champion in Usman, he scored a unanimous 10-8 round over him as well. Even though Chimaev has managed to pass every test put before him thus far, he continues to have his score of doubters. Given they’ve been hanging around this long, this result won’t silence them all, but it should satiate some of them. Plus, Chimaev’s post-fight speech should only help too.
I’m not crazy about the UFC having made this a #1 contender fight – given his recent victory over current champion Sean Strickland, I prefer Jared Cannonier – but I also understand why the UFC did that. Either Chimaev or Usman would be far more likely to encourage PPV buys than any other middleweight candidate for the role. The arguments against Chimaev getting the shot are fair, but it might be said the reasons for him receiving it are just as valid. Regardless, Chimaev passed a big test against Usman and most would agree Strickland is a more favorable matchup for him.
I acknowledge there’s reason to temper the results of Aliskerov’s win. Warlley Alves has completely lost his shine; it isn’t a big deal to secure a win over him, even if the commentary team says otherwise. But once Aliskerov got his read on Alves, the fight didn’t last much longer. Aliskerov delivered the most exciting strike of the night, delivering on a devastating switch knee that Alves somehow managed to eat. Regardless, Aliskerov didn’t let up and the end came shortly thereafter and secured his second consecutive first round finish since coming to the UFC.
I considered Said Nurmagomedov instead, but given Nurmagomedov appears to be stuck on the fringes of the UFC rankings, I went with Aliskerov. The manner of the win justifies his earlier pairings with ranked talents Paulo Costa and Nassourdine Imavov. In fact, it’s plausible the next fight we see Aliskerov in could be a Fight Night main event. Abus Magomedov received that reward after one fight. Aliskerov has more hype than Magomedov did. Given his only career loss came to current #1 contender Chimaev, I anticipate Aliskerov gets a main event.
UFC 294 Losers
The MMA Gods have something against Ankalaev. His road towards the top of the light heavyweight division was delayed by having to rematch Ion Cutelaba after some funky antics from the Moldovan. Ankalaev finally got his chance to fight for gold, but was unable to wrap it around his waist due to errant judging. Instead of getting an immediate opportunity for gold, he was assigned Johnny Walker. While that isn’t particularly egregious, it was clear he needed to make a statement. It appeared he was on his way to doing so, but a confusing exchange between Walker and the ringside doctor derailed any chance of that.
I’m not going to lay all the blame outside of Ankalaev; he kneed Walker to the head when Walker was down. It’s clearly a foul. But Walker appeared ready to go after the infraction, indicating he wasn’t looking for a way out. I don’t know what the exchange between Walker and the doctor was, so I can’t say where the fault lies in those two. What I do know: for someone with such a no-nonsense demeanor, nonsense seems to follow Anakalaev no matter where he goes.
This has nothing to do with his performance in the cage. In the opening round of his contest with Javid Basharat, Henry was very competitive with the heavily favored Basharat. This has everything to do with the final result of the contest. Stopped after an errant kick to the groin of Henry, the American was being questioned by the ringside doctor – the doctor! — about whether he was really kicked in the groin. Fighters aren’t actors and the panic and pain in Henry’s voice as he talked with the doc sounded exceptionally real to me.
It was confusing to me that so many were questioning the validity of the dick kick. There was no doubting the kick went between the legs. Plus, any true fighter would be embarrassed to have their fight end in that manner. Fortunately, the questioning seemed to be limited to the crowd, Basharat’s corner, and the Abu Dhabi officials. For once, social media appeared to be on the side of sanity. The questions seemed to disappear after it was reported Henry was vomiting in the back. The only other time I remember a fighter vomiting from a dick kick was Chris Tuchscherer after taking one from Gabriel Gonzaga.
Don’t get me wrong, Jubli isn’t about to be cut or anything. In fact, his loss to Mike Breeden could prove to be the best thing for his development. After all, humans tend to learn more from their failures than they do their successes. And there’s plenty for Jubli to learn from the loss. After comfortably winning the first two rounds, Jubli mentally melted when Breeden didn’t go away. The fact Breeden began barking and screaming at Jubli played a factor in it as well, but that also will call into question the mental toughness of Jubli as the UFC looks to make him their first notable fighter out of India.
It’s too early to give up on Jubli, especially given there doesn’t appear to be another option they can push. But there’s no doubt this is going to temper their enthusiasm as it can’t be denied Breeden was being fed to Jubli. It’s hard to believe they can find an easier fight for Jubli than Breeden. If Jubli has learned from this experience, that may be a moot point as it can’t be forgotten that Jubli was winning the first two rounds comfortably. Regardless, the manner in which Jubli lost is going to be something that could very well stall his UFC career before it really begins.
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