After an incredible card at UFC 281, Adam Catterall reflects on the event and what comes next for some of its stars.
We’re sure to see a rematch, and you’d think Pereira will now be the betting favourite. But if you look at the three fights they’ve had, two across kickboxing and one across MMA, up until he wasn’t, Adesanya was winning all three.
The first fight, he lost by a decision, but I thought he won that fight and was unlucky not to get the decision. The second one he was winning until he got chinned after getting greedy, and in this one he was 3-1 up on all three scorecards going into the final round.
But for the first time in his UFC career, Israel Adesanya went into the final round of a fight trying not to get beaten. You look at the Kelvin Gastelum fight, before the fifth round when he said “I’m prepared to die” because he knows it’s 2-2 going to the final round and he’s got to go and win it.
Assuming he knew it was 3-1 going into this one, he also knew Pereira’s got the size on him and he’s felt his power and he’s been knocked out by him before, all those psychological demons came flooding back.
Having spent time around Adesanya I think he’ll like the fact he’s now the underdog, the challenger, and that people are writing him off. He’ll come back stronger, and I fully anticipate him going for the rematch.
People will say the same’s going to happen again, but I think Adesanya will get the job done next time.
What I will say is that having lost three times – as well as in MMA now – there’ll be even more doubt. Adesanya was 12 straight in middleweight and on the verge of matching Anderson Silva’s record.
They’ll stand across each other in the Octagon again and it’ll be there in those particular moments, but for 20 minutes, we saw Adesanya do Adesanya things - I thought he was brilliant.
Yes, he lost the second round, but he was there throughout the fight, until the final round where he was too tentative, and he had the kick checked and lost his base.
But even the finish – some people said it was early – which it wasn’t – he wasn’t smoked. He was stopped, and in his head he can look at it as ‘the referee’s done me there’ and come back stronger next time.
We saw Zhang Weili recapture her women’s strawweight title, and a trilogy fight with Rose Namajunas is on the cards – but I don’t think we’ll see it any time soon.
I want to see fresh blood breathed into this division. Amanda Lemos has been brilliant recently and I’d like to see her fight for the title next.
But the third fight with Namajunas has to happen. I thought Zhang won the rematch, but factually, Weili has lost twice.
She has to get rid of that shadow and Rose is a phenomenal fighter and a two-time champion who’ll be keen to get back in the mix.
I don’t know where her head’s at at the moment with her promoting her film, so regarding the roadmap, I think, while Lemos is not an easy fight, I’d back Zhang to come through that in the first quarter of next year.
Then hopefully a new contender emerges for International Fight Week, and then this time next year – maybe New York again – we see the trilogy fight, and if Zhang comes through all those fights, she’ll be a shoo-in for Fighter of the Year.
I think the first time she became champion it was raw and she burst onto the scene and was one-dimensional, but this now feels like the start of an era. I might be wrong – it’s MMA and someone might chin her – but I think she’s the girl at strawweight for the next year or two.
If you were to approach this from a sporting aspect, it absolutely has to be Dustin Poirier vs Beneil Dariush for the shot at the lightweight title, and with the performance we saw at the weekend, Poirier proved he’s still got the dog in him, and he should be in the picture.
The problem is, even though you’ve got two guys who deserve to be fighting for a number one contender spot, you’ve got two guys who hold different profile in the division.
Dariush is a very quiet guy. He doesn’t really resonate with the wider MMA fan base, whereas everyone knows Poirier. He’s got the Conor McGregor fights and the Conor McGregor money, and he might look at Dariush and think there’s nothing in it for him, while whoever the champion is would be keen to fight him as the money fight in the division.
If you’re Islam Makhachev, you look at Poirier and the fact your mentor beat him and expect to do the same. So, if Makhachev comes through the Alexander Volkanovski fight, Poirier makes perfect sense.
Michael Chandler on the other hand is in such a hard position. When he first came to the UFC, the thing was always about the title. “I’ve done it at Bellator, I’m coming here in the twilight of my career to prove I can hang with the very best guys.”
Ultimately, through his five fights, he’s been a fans’ favourite and I’ll always buy a ticket when his name’s on the card, but he has fallen short at the top level.
His debut was a brilliant knockout against Dan Hooker who at the time was going really well in the division, but you look at him since, he’s been all over the place. His victory against Tony Ferguson was against an ageing Tony Ferguson after Justin Gaethje sent him into retirement.
He’s also had a title fight with Charles Oliveira which he could’ve won. He was en-route to a 10-8 round before Oliveira pulled it out of the fire and stopped him in the second. And in the fight with Gaethje, he threw the third round away because of him want to entertain the crowd – as Gaethje himself has done since joining the UFC.
If he used his brain a bit and wrestled more – even against a great wrestler in Gaethje – he could’ve muddled himself through that third round and get his hand raised. Then at the weekend, there’s an argument he won the first two rounds – I don’t think he did, but there is an argument he did – and a mistake in the third cost him.
His will to entertain has cost him some big wins. What comes for him next is interesting because he won’t be short of offers.
Conor McGregor kind of makes sense. McGregor’s going to want to fight someone to come back, Chandler won’t be fighting for the title any time soon and he doesn’t want to fight the killers coming through at 155. He wants the money fights and maybe Michael Chandler is the man to welcome Conor McGregor back to the Octagon.
Molly McCann’s winning streak came to an abrupt end, but I expect she’ll be back on the UK card. We all knew going into the fight with Erin Blanchfield that this was a tough, tough test given the stylistic matchup. Erin’s a phenomenal grappler out of the Eddie Bravo Brazilian jiu-jitsu school, and Molly’s grappling isn’t on that level.
But Molly’s striking is better than Erin’s so if she could’ve kept it on the feet, it would’ve been an interesting exchange.
Blanchfield gave McCann a bit of confidence at the start of the fight before dragging McCann into her world and she was outstanding from there.
I’m excited to see what she does going forward. I think she’ll fight someone like Alexa Grasso, and because the champion is running out of contenders to fight, Blanchfield might be fighting for the title by the end of the year.
For McCann though, these losses in MMA don’t define anybody. People kept saying to me at the weekend ‘why did they put Molly McCann in with Erin Blanchfield?!’ – she was #15 and Blanchfield was #12. This is the UFC; you don’t get lay-ups in this game.
If you want to break the top 10, you’ve got to beat the top 12. There are people McCann would beat in the top 15 due to her style, but for now she’s got to go away, work on her grappling, work out how to keep those fights on her feet, and she will bounce back.