UFC 286 closed out the trilogy between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, with Edwards surprising many with shored up takedown defense that was able to neutralize the wrestling prowess of “The Nigerian Nightmare.”
What’s next for Usman, and the losing side of the UFC 286 main card? Let’s take a closer look.
Next to nobody expected Kamaru Usman to fall to Leon Edwards in the pair’s second meeting, and by the fifth round of that fight, it looked as if those predictions were spot on. Then came a stunning come-from-behind head kick KO landed perfectly by Edwards in the final minute of the fight.
Less than a year later came the rubber match of the trilogy (Usman had won their first meeting, a three-rounder, back in 2015). UFC 286, in London, home field advantage for Edwards if you believe in such things. Despite suffering a point deduction for a fence grab, Edwards managed to come away with a majority decision win, retaining the title and settling things with Usman.
Where does that leave Kamaru? In uncharted territory. He had all but cleaned out the weight class prior to Edwards, with perhaps the exception of Belal Muhammad and Shavkat Rakhmonov — two fighters expected to compete later this year. Jorge Masvidal faces Gilbert Burns later this month; Usman has already beaten both. Khamzat Chimaev has moved on to middleweight for the time being, leaving Usman in limbo, with no one clamouring for a fourth Edwards fight. With Israel Adesanya no longer champ, a move to 185 is an option, but Usman isn’t the biggest 170lb fighter, and could run into issues there with some of the bigger middleweights.
Colby Covington is getting the next title shot, and that leaves Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as the next highest-ranked fighter who is both available, and who Usman hasn’t actually faced before. If Chimaev changes course and sticks to 170, that’s real interesting, but a 9lb weight miss last time isn’t helping his case. Otherwise, book Thompson vs. Usman for the clash of styles.
Usman’s next fight: Stephen Thompson
“Ataman” was actually favored by many to get past Justin Gaethje at UFC 286. Then Gaethje went and reminded everyone exactly who he is: the most violent man in MMA history. After a close couple of rounds, Gaethje pulled away in the third, landing his jab seemingly at will and peppering Fiziev with uppercuts.
Fiziev was left bloody, eye swollen, momentum temporarily halted. Or maybe we should say slowed. The bout earned Fight of the Night for good reason, and Fiziev now has six straight post-fight bonuses: a very Gaethje-like feat.
Ranked just a couple of spots behind Rafael Fiziev at lightweight is Arman Tsarukyan. The Armenian is coming off a win over Damir Ismagulov, but the whole “winners vs. winners” thing falls by the wayside here. Lightweight is all killer, no filler. Fiziev is still a very formidable test for anyone in the division, and these two are neck and neck in the rankings.
Fiziev’s next fight: Arman Tsarukyan
Welterweight Barberena didn’t last long once Gunnar Nelson got him to the ground. That’s not too surprising, since on the ground is where Nelson excels. “Bam Bam” is more than capable of putting on some fun, explosive performances, as he did against Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler.
Barberena was on something of a “legend killer” tour prior to Nelson, with Brown, Lawler, and Rafael dos Anjos. Having lost to RDA and Nelson (a fight he took on short notice), let’s put him back on that tour. Tim Means fits the bill: “The Dirty Bird” has been around long enough to be considered part of the old guard at this point, puts on entertaining, violent fights, and has spent over a decade in the UFC (after debuting as a pro in 2004).
Both men are coming off two losses. Let’s see if Bam Bam can smash the Dirty Bird, or if the wily veteran has too many tricks under his wing.
Barberena’s next fight: Tim Means
“King” Casey O’Neill had the chance to insert her name into an increasingly crowded title picture at 125lbs — a title picture that changed overnight with Valentina Shevchenko losing to Alexa Grasso earlier this month.
Jennifer Maia had other plans.
What’s next for O’Neill? She still has plenty of time to develop as a fighter and work her way to a title shot, though Erin Blanchfield and Manon Fiorot are likely ahead of her among the new generation of women’s flyweights. For now, the loser of next week’s Maycee Barber vs. Andrea “KGB” Lee fight seems perfect, especially given the timing, and how close they all are in the 125lb rankings.
O’Neill’s next fight: KGB vs. Barber loser
Georgia’s Roman Doldize swung like Babe Ruth, but there was no home run knocked out of the park at UFC 286. Instead, Marvin Vettori weathered the storm and came away with a unanimous decision win, mainly because he was the more well-rounded fighter.
Dolidze’s power, and willingness to stand and trade bombs, well both are impressive. The problem he ran into Saturday at UFC 286 came when Vettori had enough of a chin with withstand the onslaught, then mixed in some leg kicks and generally proved to be the more technical fighter. Vettori is far from the most elusive tactician on the roster, and you can imagine the Adesanya’s of the world simply dancing around Dolidze.
The Georgian is going to need to work on a plan B; Andre Muniz could be the man to force that. He’s coming off a loss, close to Dolidze in the rankings, and his grappling could be a threat if the Georgian can’t land the KO. Not a huge step up, but at least one of them rebounds.
Dolidze’s next fight: Andre Muniz