This year, UFC fans have been the beneficiaries of some truly outstanding cards on paper, and in practice. This past Saturday was no different as UFC 281 touched down in the Big Apple, with the lights of the fighting mecca, Madison Square Garden, shining the spotlight on some mesmerizing match-ups.
The main event saw a new champion crowned, and with that, Alex Pereira became the 100th champion in UFC history, also becoming the 18th Brazilian champion. Not only that, but 281 broke the record for the most first round finishes with seven. Let’s take a look what could be next for the winners of the history-making night.
The tale of these two foes culminated at UFC 281 with “And New” being chorused out. Pereira now becomes the third Brazilian UFC middleweight champion in history behind Murilo Bustamante and the great Anderson Silva.
There is no doubt that Israel Adesanya deserves a rematch. Despite already losing to “Poatan” twice before, that should not and cannot be regarded in this situation. On all three judges scorecards, “The Last Stylebender” was up 3-1 heading into the fifth round. An extremely similar situation to his close friend Kamaru Usman and his recent loss. The fight gave fans everything they wished for and expected, with the spectacle leaving questions on everyone’s mind. What happens now? Who’s next?
The former champion, Adesanya, said in his post-fight press conference that he has some health concerns that he has got to sort out before he thinks about getting back in there. Despite that, there is no one else who deserves the shot over him, with Robert Whittaker being the only one who comes close, but he is already booked for a fight in February.
It may be a while until we see the middleweight title up for defense as depending on how long Adesanya will be out for will determine when these two men run it back again.
Pereira’s Next Fight: Israel Adesanya
Just over a year since losing her strawweight strap, Zhang Weili recaptured it this past weekend, putting on a clinic against the two time champion, Carla Esparza. Since her two losses to Namajunas, Weili has gone back and worked on the minimal holes in her game, and that became clear in this match-up.
Before the fight, Esparza’s clear, and possibly only path to victory was her wrestling. Despite that, in the exchanges that played out, Weili seemed the better fighter no matter where the fight ended up. And that was highlighted with the finish. Weili managed to take the back of the former champion, and locked in a rear-mounted crucifix. Although we didn’t get a Gary Goodridge moment of terrifying elbows from the back crucifix, what we did get was a deep rear-naked-choke.
Now, there are several avenues the UFC could go down for Weili’s first title defense. The selfish side of me wants to see Weili vs Yan Xiaonan in China, as this would be the biggest women’s MMA fight, ever. Amanda Lemos though, may have something to say about that.
Although I believe Lemos may well deserve the title shot over Yan Xiaonan, the possible magnitude of the event alone sways my decision.
Weili’s Next Fight: Yan Xiaonan
Two frogs in a blender. That is the only way to describe the fight that went down between these two top lightweights, and that’s exactly how everyone expected it to play out. What was slightly unexpected, however, is the fact that Poirier submitted Michael Chandler.
The questions coming into this firework of a match-up, were whether Chandler was going to utilise his clear advantage in the wrestling department. Round one played out as a striking affair and lived up to the high expectations. Round two however saw Chandler finally showcase his high level wrestling, for the first time in his short UFC tenure. That became the staple of the round, especially as it levelled the fight going into the third.
That same wrestling that proved pivotal in round two though, got him into deep waters in round three. Due to both men being extremely slippy and bloody by this point, Chandler executed a big takedown, but Poirier managed to slip away from his grasp and take the back of “Iron” Mike, subsequently sinking in a rear-naked-choke. With that, Poirier became the first man to submit Michael Chandler.
There are a few possibilities for Poirier moving forward. It’s hard to imagine he sits out and waits for the culmination of the title fight between Makhachev and Volkanovski. Not only that, but he himself has questioned his desire to get stuck into another title-chasing fight camp.
With that being said, a match-up between himself and Beneil Dariush would make the most sense for the division to move forward. Failing that, absolutely no one would say no to Poirier vs. Gaethje 2.
Poirier’s Next Fight: Beneil Dariush
Chris Gutierrez’s win came as a bittersweet moment due to the man on the receiving end being Frankie Edgar.
The narrative around this whole fight was of course the fact that it was Frankie’s retirement fight and it being at MSG. Unfortunately for the legend that is Edgar, Gutierrez scored a picture perfect flying knee in a fight that will result in a lot of contenders keeping their eyes on him.
That is now four-in-a-row for “El Guapo,” and having a name like Edgar on his record will go a long way in the matchmaking for his next bout, especially as there will likely be a number by his name come Tuesday evening.
Pedro Munhoz is a name that makes a lot of sense in my opinion. He is going to have to defend his ranking.
Gutierrez’s Next Fight: Pedro Munhoz
The Kiwi got back into the winning column after back-to-back losses, with one of them being a stint down at featherweight. The move back up to lightweight is one that is sensible and suits the 32-year-old better.
The fight itself was extremely bizarre and one that took a lot of composure and concentration from “The Hangman.” Puelles came in with a big threat in the grappling department with three previous wins by kneebar since his emergence on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America Season 3. His game-plan didn’t change in this one, and the countless imanari rolls throughout the two rounds exhibited his one dimensional approach.
In the second, Hooker dug in a beautiful body teep kick sinking Puelles to his knees, putting him, and the fans, out of their misery.
Despite it being a low-action fight, that is not to the fault of Hooker, and he fought perfectly looking good in the victory.
There was another extremely impressive victor on the night, Renato Moicano. Although it may not be the best match-up on paper for Hooker, it is one that would be absolutely spectacular.
Hooker’s Next Fight: Renato Moicano