The UFC’s keep on Combat Island is over, at the very least for now, however Saturday’s most important occasion between Robert Whittaker and Darren Until was a becoming ending to a memorable and entertaining stretch of fights.
Motion all through the 15-fight finale card could have far-reaching penalties throughout a number of divisions, most notably in Whittaker’s victory over Until, which is able to influence the remainder of the 12 months on the high of the middleweight division as soon as Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa combat for that title in September.
Saturday’s motion additionally had just a little little bit of all the pieces, from veterans like Fabricio Werdum knocking again Alexander Gustafsson in his heavyweight debut to newcomer Khamzat Chimaev’s second dominant win in 11 days.
There’s lots to unravel, and ESPN’s professional panel of Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi, Phil Murphy and Jeff Wagneheim breaks down all of Saturday’s motion, in addition to one of the best moments on Combat Island.
Who’s subsequent for Robert Whittaker?
Murphy: Jack Hermansson laid out his personal street map final week, which included him combating the Whittaker-Until winner. I disagree. This might not be widespread, however I consider Whittaker ought to combat for the middleweight belt subsequent.
The champion Israel Adesanya defends in opposition to Paulo Costa in September. A Costa upset sans controversy makes this simple: Costa-Whittaker headlines any card you need for the strap. If Adesanya wins, it complicates Whittaker’s subsequent step. Apart from a couple of exchanges within the opening minutes, Adesanya beat Whittaker handily at UFC 243. However huge image, it is a higher evil having Whittaker in a holding sample, choosing off future challengers. You do not wish to create a divisional bottleneck like Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes have at heavyweight.
Whittaker’s title shot would not have to be rapid. You may run Adesanya in opposition to Jared Cannonier this winter and provides Whittaker the winner, although I’d argue Cannonier presents no discernable distinction in marketability than the all-Oceania rematch. Whittaker returned Saturday to the shape that earned him the middleweight belt. The highest-ranked contender has nothing extra to show to earn it again.
Who’s subsequent for Darren Until?
Helwani: Robust setback for Until, who fought nice, however in the end I believe the fitting man received. So the place does Until go from right here? Nicely, subsequent weekend’s most important occasion options rising star Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Derek Brunson in an attention-grabbing middleweight combat. Each are on profitable streaks, although that is positively a showcase combat for the blazing scorching, undefeated Shahbazyan. If he wins, I might do Shahbazyan vs. Until subsequent. If Brunson wins, Brunson vs. Until works, too, however the marquee combat is clearly Shahbazyan vs. Until. And sure, I do know Until is coming off a loss, however that does not matter right here. Both Shahbazyan takes a large subsequent step over a reputation, or Until will get again on monitor by stopping a hype practice.
Who’s subsequent for Fabricio Werdum?
Fabricio Werdum reveals no mercy as he faucets out Alexander Gustafsson early in Spherical 1 with an armbar.
Wagenheim: There are loads of shifting components in making an attempt to return to grips with what’s subsequent for the previous UFC heavyweight champion. He broke out of a two-fight skid, however he did it in opposition to a light-weight heavyweight who was popping out of retirement. Werdum is 42, which is not essentially previous on this division, however it positively provides urgency for anybody hoping for one final title run. And most vital of all, this was the ultimate combat on the Brazilian’s contract with the UFC. He probably will draw curiosity from different promotions, however contemplating that the UFC might be shedding Daniel Cormier this summer season, holding Werdum within the fold looks as if a good suggestion.
For that to make sense, although, he’d need to be booked in a combat that gives the potential for upward mobility. I would not put him in with somebody excessive within the rankings, as a result of Werdum’s latest physique of labor doesn’t advantage that. How about one other veteran heavyweight searching for a high-profile opponent? How a few fourth go along with 40-year-old Alistair Overeem, who has received three of his final 4 and is No. 10 in ESPN’s heavyweight rankings? They tangled in 2006 (Werdum received), 2011 (Overeem received) and 2017 (Overeem once more). Can Werdum tie the rating in 2020?
Who’s subsequent for Alexander Gustafsson?
Raimondi: That was absolutely not how Gustafsson noticed that combat going. This was imagined to be his start line for a run at heavyweight. As an alternative, he was submitted by a 42-year-old Fabricio Werdum. It isn’t how he and his staff drew it up, however it additionally does not imply the experiment is over. Gustafsson is just 33,fairly younger for a heavyweight. Possibly somebody like Blagoy Ivanov could be a superb subsequent step. Werdum is elite on the bottom. Maybe Gustafsson simply bought caught. Let’s have a look at how he does in opposition to a sturdy Ivanov, who is not pretty much as good in a single class like Werdum is. Gustafsson may actually use some victories to lift his confidence.
What was most spectacular about Khamzat Chimaev’s performances on Combat Island and who ought to he combat subsequent?
Khamzat Chimaev’s TKO victory over Rhys McKee marks his second win in two completely different weight lessons within the span of 11 days.
Raimondi: It is extremely exhausting to have two straight fights like this to begin a UFC profession. Chimaev is a unicorn. He is one among solely two fighters in promotion historical past to land greater than 100 strikes in his first two UFC fights and soak up solely two. The opposite to do it? Former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. That is not horrible firm, eh? Chimaev is simply 26 years previous and has fewer than 10 professional fights, however it looks as if he is prepared for a rise in competitors based mostly on the sheer dominance of his wins. I would not thoughts seeing Chimaev combat a reputation subsequent. Not a top-10 man at welterweight. However possibly somebody like Mike Perry. That might be actually attention-grabbing.
Helwani: Chimaev goes to be a blessing and a curse for the UFC brass. A blessing as a result of, effectively, he is unbelievable. He received two fights in 11 days (a UFC file) in two completely different weight lessons (185 and 170). He outlanded his opponents a mixed 192-2 in each fights. On Saturday, he outlanded Rhys Mckee 68-0. That is simply absurd dominance. Afterwards, he mentioned he could be prepared to combat in an hour. And you already know what? I consider him. We’ve not seen dominance like this from a UFC rookie in fairly a while, and I would not be shocked if he is in welterweight title competition by this time subsequent 12 months. He is that darn good.
He is a curse as a result of, effectively, who on the earth will signal as much as combat this man? It is going to be tough discovering him opponents now. Good world, I might put him in there in opposition to a top-10 man. However should you’re a top-10 man, why would you combat him? For the sake of this train, let’s put politics apart. If I may e book him in opposition to anybody I might put him in there in opposition to the winner of subsequent week’s Neil Magny vs. Geoff Neal combat. If he wins that one, give him a top-5 man. Buckle up, welterweights.
Murphy: I can not inform if I hate this or find it irresistible.
It is simple to grow to be overeager in reserving Khamzat Chimaev. The Chechen-Swede held a 192-2 complete strike benefit throughout two weight lessons simply 10 days aside on Combat Island. It was gorgeous dominance. Welterweight appears his path ahead after shifting down from middleweight early final 12 months. Subsequent to light-weight, 170 could be the deepest division within the sport. With such lopsided wins, the temptation to quick monitor Chimaev builds. There are checks amongst unranked opposition with critical UFC expertise that higher reveal Chimaev’s rapid ceiling. He simply turned 26; there is no rush.
Surveying the names of the almost-ranked, there’s one I can not get previous — and it could be an excessive amount of of a bounce. Gunnar Nelson has critical grappling credentials. He received silver at Mundials in 2009. His solely losses within the final 5 years got here to Gilbert Burns, Leon Edwards, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Demian Maia. If Chimaev can beat Nelson, there is no doubt “The Wolf” is able to climb the welterweight ladder in earnest.
Wagenheim: Preventing twice in 11 days is spectacular, however it’s not as if Saturday’s look got here on the heels of a rugged night time of labor lower than two weeks in the past. The truth is, that is what was so spectacular about Chimaev’s run on Combat Island. In his second-round end of John Phillips in his UFC debut on July 15, he absorbed solely two strikes whereas touchdown 124. Then, on Saturday, he did even higher. He completed Rhys McKee within the first spherical, and whereas he dished out “solely” 68 strikes this time, he absorbed zero.
Earlier than anointing Chimaev as the following welterweight champion, although, we must always acknowledge that his two fights within the Octagon haven’t been in opposition to the stiffest competitors. Phillips is 1-Four within the UFC, and McKee was making his debut with the promotion. Nonetheless, relentless wrestling and a 192-2 edge in strikes are value celebrating. Subsequent cease for Chimaev: a step up in competitors in opposition to one other 170-pounder on the rise. How about Vicente Luque, who has received seven of his final eight fights, or somebody at that degree?
What’s the MMA legacy of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who indicated he’s retiring?
Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira decide up the place they left off of their earlier two fights as they commerce punches in Spherical 1 of their bout at UFC Combat Night time.
Helwani: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is a legend. Make no mistake about it. These are a few of the nice names he holds wins in opposition to: Kazushi Sakuraba, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem (twice), Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Man Mezger, Kaz Nakamura (twice), Vladimir Matyushenko. That is fairly the resume. He has nothing to be ashamed of. What an awesome profession, spanning 19 years.
That mentioned, we now have to be sincere: a part of his legacy is he did not have pretty much as good a resume as his twin brother, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who retired in 2015 and as soon as held the Pleasure heavyweight title and the interim UFC heavyweight title. Anybody who argues that time simply is not being sincere. Now, I hate to deliver this up on the day he seemingly introduced his retirement, as a result of that simply would not appear honest and delicate, however it’s the reality. A legendary run, nonetheless, and arguably one half of the best brother tandem in MMA historical past.
Raimondi: It isn’t an insult to say, however he’ll all the time be linked together with his twin brother Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, one among MMA’s greatest heavyweights throughout his period. “Massive Nog” was identified for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He was among the finest grappling huge males ever. “Little Nog,” who introduced his retirement Saturday, may go on the bottom — after all. However he was an excellent southpaw boxer with sneaky energy, which he confirmed but once more in an in depth loss to Mauricio Rua on Combat Island. Rogerio Nogueira’s resume, other than his brother’s, may be very spectacular by itself. He’ll greater than probably be part of his brother within the UFC Corridor of Fame sooner or later.
Murphy: If restricted to Pleasure years, Little Nog could be remembered for a handful of marquee wins over feared fighters. His historic upset loss to Sokoudjou would solely be a footnote. Nogueira’s legend was inbuilt Japan.
Anticipation adopted him to the UFC in 2009, however legacy-defining outcomes didn’t. Apart from a significant upset of Rashad Evans at UFC 156, Nogueira received the fights he ought to have received and misplaced these he was anticipated to lose. In hindsight, even beating Evans did extra to sign the start of the top for Evans than the beginning of a brand new starting for Little Nog.
A pair career-twilight sips from the Fountain of Youth led to knockouts of Patrick Cummins and Sam Alvey, however neither comes near supplanting the Pleasure accomplishments from Nogueira’s late-20s. Sadly, modern mainstream followers solely noticed an growing older veteran shedding championship rounds to Father Time, not the well-rounded blended martial artist as that very idea was in its infancy.
Wagenheim: Nogueira will all the time be remembered as “Little Nog” after toiling within the shadow of his twin brother, who was the primary heavyweight champion in Pleasure and in addition an interim UFC champ. Rogerio by no means wore a MMA championship belt, however he did co-author a combat of the 12 months with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2005. And he does personal victories over some elite competitors. The 44-year-old started his professional profession in 2001, so he’s of a special period. His retirement fell below the radar of many more moderen followers, however for old-timers, the profession of Nogueira is an occasion value celebrating.
What was one of the best combat on Combat Island?
Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade commerce vicious blows within the third and closing spherical of their strawweight bout.
Helwani: So many to select from right here; it was a extremely enjoyable 15 days for the UFC. In the long run, I am going with Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade, which received combat of the night time at UFC 251. There have been so many questions surrounding Namajunas’ type — each mentally and bodily — because the final time we final noticed her, and he or she seemingly put all these doubts to relaxation within the first spherical. Her hanging was lovely and on level. However hey, Andrade was recreation, too, with improved head motion, and he or she got here on very sturdy within the third after breaking Namajunas’ nostril. One wonders what would have occurred had it been a five-round combat, however it wasn’t, as Namajunas did sufficient to win two rounds to at least one. Regardless, it stood out to me as one of the best combat of the month.
Murphy: One of the best combat of the UFC’s two-week Abu Dhabi residency offered goal leisure within the second, important divisional influence within the rapid future and arrange an anticipated trilogy within the coming years, one with out an expiration date.
Rose Namajunas edging out Jessica Andrade by split-decision at UFC 251 provided all that. It was Thug Rose’s first look since her title reign abruptly ended through Andrade’s slam at UFC 237. The opening exchanges on July 11 proved Rose’s time away imparted the ever-desired “relaxation with out rust.” A robust end by Andrade generated sufficient scoring doubt for drama however not sufficient for debate that overshadowed the end result.
After 15 minutes of crisp boxing, neither fighters’ inventory dropped within the aftermath. Each stay obligatory members of any strawweight contender dialog. And it will be outright theft if a future trilogy bout fails to materialize. Their sequel was the right promotional storm.
Wagenheim: Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade 2 was not a most important occasion or perhaps a co-main. There have been three championship fights at UFC 251, and this was not one among them. However the pair of former strawweight champs placed on a present that in some methods resembled their first assembly, however had the added ingredient of a momentum shift. Namajunas as soon as once more seemed sharp in controlling the standup, however whereas the primary combat ended abruptly with Andrade’s slam, this time the Andrade withstood one of the best that Namajunas may throw at her, then turned issues round with an enormous punch and takedown. Namajunas, her left eye swollen almost shut, needed to dangle on to the top. It was a wonderful bout, fought at a excessive degree.
Raimondi: If we’re speaking about probably the most evenly matched and well-fought battle on the highest degree of a division, I might say Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade from UFC 251 was the highest of the meals chain. There have been many good fights this month. A really enjoyable one which stands out was the debuting Mounir Lazzez’s win over Abdul Razak Alhassan from July 15. That was back-and-forth, as each guys landed huge photographs and Lazzez earned some fashion factors. However Namajunas vs. Andrade was simply an unbelievable show of blended martial arts. It was violent, technical, tactical and had swings of momentum. Every little thing you’d wish to see in an MMA combat. What a 12 months it has been for the ladies’s strawweight division, which additionally boasts one of the best combat of 2020, for my cash, in Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk from UFC 249 in March.
Aside from Chimaev, who was probably the most spectacular fighter on Combat Island?
Deiveson Figueiredo punishes Joseph Benavidez, stopping him in Spherical 1 to seize the UFC flyweight title.
Raimondi: Deiveson Figueiredo. Look again on the lengthy, spectacular profession of Joseph Benavidez. He is been among the finest fighters at flyweight (and bantamweight earlier than that) for the higher a part of a decade. Nobody has ever knocked him down 3 times and completed him within the first spherical. It is exhausting sufficient trying good in opposition to Benavidez — Figueiredo was a destroyer. Benavidez had by no means earlier than been submitted. Figueiredo choked him out. On high of that, flyweight isn’t identified for fighters who’ve main energy. Figueiredo checks that field in an enormous approach and it appears like he has given the division new life. He’s supremely thrilling to look at and will give the 125-pound weight class — which was as soon as on the UFC chopping block — a much-needed rejuvenation.
Murphy: If I separate recency bias — the stunning newcomers — from the equation, and look purely at in-Octagon efficiency, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman stays probably the most spectacular Combat Island participant. It is a brief record of pound-for-pound fighters with a greater UFC resume than the Nigerian Nightmare.
Usman moved to 12-Zero in one of many UFC’s deepest weight lessons, and none have been terribly shut. That features the five-round beatdown of 2019 Fighter of the Yr Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251. Usman’s opponent modified on six days’ discover, and so did his gameplan. It didn’t faze the champion in any respect.
We grow to be desensitized to greatness. We anticipate this from Usman. However for me, it is each bit as spectacular — probably the most spectacular, the truth is — when his talent is visibly a lower above the opposite 101 fighters who made the stroll to the Octagon on Combat Island.
Wagenheim: I am tempted to go along with Kamaru Usman, as a result of combat IQ is my favourite martial artwork and combating would not get a lot smarter than what the welterweight champion did to completely neutralize Jorge Masvidal. Positive, followers would have loved watching “Gamebred” in a toe-to-toe slugfest, however that will not have been a brainy technique for Usman, wouldn’t it? With a title belt at stake, the 170-pound king placed on a efficiency worthy of a throne.
However there was a fair higher championship-level efficiency on Combat Island, and it was turned in by Deiveson Figiueiredo. He had lots to show after lacking weight previous to his first combat with Joseph Benavidez, after which profitable controversially following a conflict of heads. This time, there have been no asterisks connected to Figueiredo’s completely dominant first-round submission win. He now owns the flyweight title vacated by Henry Cejudo, and he poses a scary problem for any 125-pounder who steps within the cage with him.
Helwani: There is just one appropriate reply right here, and it is the brand new UFC flyweight champion (and the previous sushi chef and hair stylist) Deiveson Figueiredo. What a popping out occasion for the Brazilian. Think about how he felt in February when he beat Joseph Benavidez however did not get the belt that will change his life as a result of he missed weight the day earlier than, Then he needed to beat the identical man a number of months later and needed to hear time and again how he was a unclean fighter as a result of he headbutted Benavidez of their first combat, when in actuality it was actually Benavidez who initiated the contact. Figueiredo put all that noise to relaxation with a virtuoso efficiency final weekend. He was much more dominant and spectacular than the primary time round. I am actually curious to see what the Deiveson Figueiredo period seems like at 125. He could be the hardest-hitting flyweight we have ever seen within the UFC.
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