UFC 228 turned out to be a card that went well beyond expectations, giving MMA fans another lesson about judging a book by its cover while setting the course for a number of divisions for the next couple of months.
There are cards that, on paper, sell themselves. There are cards that, at first glance, look ho-hum until you recognize the potential many of the fights (and athletes) have. You know the ones we’re talking about. Nary a big name, but a Fight Night event that ends of with eleven finishes. And then there are the middle-of-the-road cards. The ones that aren’t stacked, but don’t feel like they’re going to surprise anyone. UFC 228 looked like one of those.
It didn’t help that it was topped by Tyron Woodley, a figure who could aptly be called Tyron Wooden in terms of showing personality on UFC broadcasts. UFC President Dana White seems perpetually at odds with his welterweight champ, but that should never be the litmus test (who isn’t White feuding with at any given moment?). But White had a few valid complaints, and fans as a whole hadn’t been sold on ‘The Chosen One.’
Strike one. Strike two, the lack of a ‘big’ draw on the card. The UFC countered by positioning a second title fight in the co-main event slot. The first title defense of Nicco Montano’s reign. Strike three came when she fell ill during her weight cut, was rushed to hospital, and stripped of her belt.
Plenty has been said on that subject. Yet when the smoke cleared, and opening riff to The Who’s Teenage Wasteland finally sounded, the card that unfolded was… pretty darn great, actually. Far beyond expectations.
Career performances from Tatiana Suarez, Jessica Andrade, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and others certainly helped make UFC 228 something special. With that in mind, let’s look at three of the takeaways from what turned out to be a critical event that will help shape several divisions for months to come.
There’s A Good Reason Why Nobody Wants to Fight ZaBeast
ZaBeast seems like such a silly name for Zabit Magomedsharipov, but with a name that would be at least a triple word score in Scrabble if nouns were allowed, it’ll do. And he is a beast. There’s a very good reason why nobody wants to fight the man: he doesn’t really have much in the way of weakness.
He’s good on the ground, good in the grappling department, his striking is brilliant, and he hasn’t shown any real cardio concerns. The path to victory against Zabit at this point would seem to involve a Tonya Harding-style kneecapping. That’s not to say he won’t lose, but it feels like a lucky punch or a true break-out style performance will be needed to derail this hype train.
Let’s face it: ZaBeast saw Aljamain Sterling pull off a rarely seen knee-bar from back mount at UFC 228. A move that had only been successful once before in UFC history. He saw that, went “I can do that even better,” then went out and did exactly that. With that effortless style that makes Magomedsharipov feel like featherweight’s answer to Gegard Mousasi. Laid back. At ease in the cage. Dangerous everywhere.
— GIF Skull (@GIFSkull) September 9, 2018
What’s next? Well, Yair Rodriguez still sounds fun, but it feels like that fight may never happen. So, whatever ranked opponent the UFC can find who is willing to face the man, basically.
Thug Rose Has No Shortage of Challengers
Fans of the UFC’s 115lb division have been saying it for a while: strawweight is stacked. One of the deepest divisions on the women’s side of the sport (which, if you look outside the UFC, includes atomweight to lightweight essentially). Within the UFC, it’s now the most exciting division there is, even with some of the talent migrating North to flyweight.
Two fighters stood out at UFC 228 when it comes to strawweight action: TUF 23 winner Tatiana Suarez went out and dominated former champion Carla Esparza for three full rounds. A statement victory, she announced her arrival as a title contender. Her wrestling is second to none in the division right now, and Esparza was no slouch in the grappling department herself.
Then, not to be outdone, Jessica Andrade outright mugged Karolina Kowalkiewicz in UFC 228’s co-main event. It was less of a fight than a beatdown. The comparisons to a young Wanderlei Silva were made almost instantly, and rightfully so. Andrade looked that fearsome, that dominant.
She’ll likely get the nod to face Rose Namajunas next. Meanwhile, with Suarez, former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Claudia Gadelha, and others still in the mix, ‘Thug Rose’ had better not let her guard down. The UFC’s smallest division is brimming with monsters.
Tyron Woodley’s Star Turn
Heading into UFC 228, many a UFC fan was no doubt rooting for a Tyron Woodley loss. His last several fights had been nothing to write home about. He was seen as a “difficult” champion. He lacked the promotional abilities of other top UFC stars. Heck, most had him as an underdog despite holding the title. That, against a Darren Till who didn’t exactly inspire the masses with his win over Stephen Thompson last time out.
Then something funny happened in the UFC 228 main event. Tyron Woodley stormed out of the gate. He was immediately more aggressive than he had been since winning the belt. He fought like how Tryon Woodley should, given his physical gifts. He did not back down, did not left up. Till landed barely a single strike in nearly nine minutes. Then found himself caught in a D’Arce choke and forced to tap.
Woodley isn’t about to become Conor McGregor, nor should he. What he can, and should, do, is continue fighting with that sort of fire under him. Combined with an upcoming single featuring Wiz Khalifa, as well as several movie projects, and it feels like this could be Woodley’s breakout moment.
Now, if the UFC can just start pushing him, or at least stop throwing him under the bus.