Greetings, fight fans! It's been a while, but I had to give you all a better-late-than-never piece just to let you know just what the hell happened at UFC 248! With two titles on the line, it was quite the special event, and both title fights were special in there own (very different) ways. With the exception of the much-hyped main event, the action was plentiful, so let's get right to it.
THE MAIN CARD
Adesanya edges Romero in yawn-inducing chess match
UFC Middleweight Championship
Israel Adesanya (c) def. Yoel Romero by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)
It will be remembered as one of the worst UFC title fights in recent memory; partly because it was actually a bad fight, but also because there was understandably so much hype leading up to the fight. Both had come off of rousing battles; Adesanya in his second round drubbing of Robert Whittaker to unify the middleweight strap, and Romero in a war against Paulo Costa that netted him a narrow decision loss. People expected fireworks. In retrospect, the fight we got really wasn't all that unexpected, and maybe we were too blinded by the hype to see the potential snoozer that the style match up could produce.
The key component to this is a rather common one in uneventful fights: both men are at their cores counter strikers. Despite their rousing finishes and ample highlight reels, they find a lot of their success on the strength of capitalizing on opponents creating openings. Adesanya uses a multitude of feints to get his opponents to open up, and is adept at meeting attacks with pivots off the center line to attack at odd angles. Romero likewise employs feints, though not as high a volume of them, and he tends to use rhythmic movement as a means to lull opponents into a false sense of security before exploding and catching them off guard. Both men played their games, and the result was far from pretty because neither game worked particularly well against the other.
Adesanya used his feints, parries, and movement to get reactions out of Romero and capitalize on his reads, but he often found that at range Romero still reacted quickly enough to defend. For example, there were a couple times when he would advance forward a bit and throw feints, and this would lead to Romero stepping back and and dropping his left hand. However, when he tried to capitalize on this with a right high kick, Romero still had the wherewithal to get his left arm back up to block the kick. This was a frequent problem for Adesanya until he started to lean on low kicks, which turned out to be his safest bet due to his long reach. When he attempted to move in close, he was in Romero's wheelhouse, and it would often get him hit or scared off with punches. As such, Romero's objective was to get inside of Adesanya's range, and as mentioned previously, he is normally able to almost hypnotize opponents with his movement before exploding forward and getting inside on them when they commit to anything. This was naturally an issue for him because not only did Adesanya have a pronounced height and reach advantage on him, but the constant feints made him hesitant to close the distance unless he was absolutely sure he saw an opening. As a result he spent stretches of the fight just shelled up at range, which also limited Adesanya's effectiveness at that distance, and while Adesanya was the busier of the two it led to both men just not landing much of anything.
Too late, you already had your chance to make it exciting!
This was how things played out in a broad sense through the fight, but especially through the first two rounds, where really the only significant action was a single big left hand from Romero in the opening round that was arguably the best shot of the fight, and a good moment for him in round two where he was able to trip Adesanya up with a low kick and use that opportunity to blitz him into the cage with some solid punches; though he seemed to escape no worse for wear, largely because Romero curiously let him off the hook and backed away from what you would think was an ideal situation for him. I think that's when Adesanya got more of a sense of urgency when it came to not allowing a close-range fight with Romero, and then started to fall back on low kicks, which turned out to be his most effective tool and what ultimately won him the fight.
Romero had some big moments, but they ultimately weren't enough to win him the fight.
It has becoming annoyingly common for me to have to stress that close fights aren't robberies, and that has definitely been applicable when it comes to the back-and-forth regarding this decision. Neither man did a whole hell of a lot to put a clear stamp on the rounds, and as a result you're going to get some subjectivity in the scoring. Romero definitely landed the heavier punches, but I don't care how well he's moving on that leg after the fight; Adesanya's low kicks definitely affected him in the latter half.
Yeah, yeah, we already know you're not human, Yoel.
He buckled after a few of them, perhaps sabotaged himself by having a couple overreactions that shifted focus to the leg kicks, and you could see a notable shift in his body language when Adesanya went southpaw beause he realized that meant he might get his lead leg beat up more. When it comes to who had the more effective offense in this fight, it's hard to speak in absolutes and look reasonable or level-headed. Neither man gave the other a lot to work with, at least not until late in the fight when Romero got more aggressive, and by that time Adesanya was more focused on keeping his distance.
Not even a missed Rolling Thunder could coax Adesanya into a brawl.
In the end, the decision went to the champion, and as much as I loathe the mentality of "To be the champ, you have to beat the champ," Romero most likely would have been viewed in a more positive light by the judges if he didn't spend so much of the fight in a defensive shell while Adesanya employed more round-winning strategies that could push him over the hill if things get close. You don't want to "go for it" as much as Whittaker did, because we've seen that it's exactly what Adesanya wants; but Romero did himself no favors by being so timid. Next up for Adesanya should certainly be the main originally pegged to challenge for his title in Paulo Costa, and that fight certainly won't be as tepid as this one. Costa doesn't know how not to pressure and throw heat, and it's even more clear after this fight that Romero opened up more in their fight simply because he had to. We'll see if Costa brings exactly what the champ wants him to, or if Adesanya's preference for aggressive foes gets him into trouble against such an offensive powerhouse. As for Romero, he's now lost three straight and although this was a close fight, it's hard to justify giving him another title shot anytime soon. There's been some talk of Darren Till, and I can behind that one, although Romero's three-fight skid makes me want to pit him against someone coming off a loss like Kelvin Gastelum a bit more.
And before I move on, I have to comment on Dan Miragliotta's inserting himself into the fight. I don't take issue with him warning the two fighters for inactivity; there were plenty inactive stretches that gave him reason to do so. However, insinuating that they're not giving the judges anything to score and continuing to goad them on during the fight is a bit unprofessional in my opinion. It's actions like this that can affect fighters mentally and cause them to react recklessly, and it stands to reason that Romero's surge of aggression at Miragliotta's urging opened him up to some hard significant low kicks. Warn the fighters, that's fine; but after that let them do their thing and don't be a distraction.
Calm down there, Big Tan Dan.
Zhang rises to the occasion, takes close split over Joanna in Fight of the Year front runner
UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship
Zhang Weili (c) def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
What a fight this was! A high volume affair was more or less to be expected, but the way these women hung in the pocket and traded shots with tight technique was awe-inspiring stuff. Coming into the fight I really waffled on who I gave the advantage too, but in the end I slightly favored Joanna due to her championship experience and proven cardio, not just in the sense that she can go five rounds, but that she tends to actually increase her volume and pressure in the championship rounds. Zhang had yet to provide evidence that she could do the same, and with her aggressive, powerful style it stood to reason that she would have a tough time hanging in there late in a championship fight. She proved that assertion dead wrong and showed that she really is something special in the division.
However, let’s not allow that to diminish the closeness of the fight. This was a razor-thin back-and-forth affair that could have easily gone the other way, and in fact in my second viewing of the fight I did actually lean in the direction of Joanna getting nod. Joanna was similarly on point, and although she did get wobbled a couple times and her usual vulnerability to left hooks was still present, she showed a level of durability and persistence in the face of taking damage that she really hadn’t shown before. The two women were almost as evenly matched as I’ve seen two fighters demonstrate in the cage; the only real exceptions being Joanna’s higher and more consistent accuracy, and Zhang’s natural power. These were the difference-makers in the fight that could sway someone scoring the fight in one direction or the other. Although they had some very even rounds in terms of strike totals (they astonishingly had a three rounds where the significant strikes were equal, and head strikes were close in every round), Joanna ultimately landed more strikes and had better accuracy. Meanwhile, it was clear that there was a power differential in favor of Zhang.
Zhang was clearly the more powerful striker of the two.
Over the course of the fight both women were very active and displayed a high level of diversity in their striking. In once again stressing how evenly matched they were, both women landed the same amount of head and leg strikes in the fight (96 and 58 respectively). The total difference came in Joanna’s consistent body work; frequently throwing stiff front kicks to the body to manage the distance. However, that’s not to say she preferred to stay at distance, as she often opted to reset before plotting her entries into punching exchanges with feints and lateral movement. As the fight wore on and she felt more confident in taking Zhang’s power shots, she began to stay on her front foot and pressure more, which both worked for and against her because although she was able to mitigate some of Zhang’s pressure and land with more power, she got as well as she gave.
Joanna actually did better than I thought she would through the first 10 minutes; I thought Zhang’s power and athleticism would give her issues early, but she was able go tit-for-tat with the champion and late in round two countered an inside low kick with a left high kick from the southpaw stance that landed with the toes, but clearly stunned Zhang. That actually appeared to be the beginning of a turning of the tides in the fight, as Zhang appeared stunned by the kick and fatigued going to her stool.
This beauty of a kick initially appeared to change everything.
Round three was arguably the clearest of the fight, and Joanna’s best round. She looked to be the fresher woman, and although Zhang was able to match her volume and accuracy, this time it was Joanna landing the cleaner, harder shots. Zhang’s offense was still palpable though, as it was in this round that her right hand produced the now infamous hematoma Joanna sported through the rest of the fight, delighting MMA meme lords abound.
Yup, looks like she was hit in the head a few times.
Coming into the championship rounds I thought we were getting a textbook Joanna championship fight where she turns it up and her opponent struggles to keep up with her, but surprisingly Zhang was able to not only keep up, but actually throw considerably more volume than the former strawweight queen. This had a visible effect on Joanna, as it was clear she wanted to put it on Zhang like she does all her opponents late, but she was still being met with power shots and volume in return. At times she actually looked at a loss for how to approach the fight because she just wasn’t prepared to not be the fresher fighter. With this close affair, Zhang proved herself as a legitimate championship level fighter, and it’ll be interesting to see how long she stays on top and how she performs against the rest of the division. As interesting as it would’ve been to see Joanna recapture gold, I think Zhang retaining the belt creates a lot more intrigue in the division for the immediate future.
There is plenty reason for these two warriors to run it back in hopes of a much more definitive result, but aside from not being the biggest fan of immediate rematches unless they’re really needed, there are other options that I feel are more fitting. Some point to a super fight with women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, but I’m not sold on that idea just yet. Former titleholders Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade are booked to rematch next month and if Namajunas walks away with the victory, I’m very interested in seeing her clash with Zhang. If Carla Esparza gets past Michelle Waterson she might also be a viable contender. One of the most deserving options in the division is the undefeated Tatiana Suarez, who could really test Zhang’s wrestling resolve, but unfortunately a rash of injuries have made it so she hasn’t fought since June, so she’ll probably need to return to another fight before getting a title shot. I might suggest that her return fight actually be against Joanna. Being able to handle Joanna would be a good sign for her potential in a title fight. Joanna has lost four of her last six though, so I’d understand if they UFC wanted to give her a bit softer of a touch to keep her in the title picture. In that case, Nina Ansaroff would be the perfect next opponent for her, or she could take on the Marina Rodriguez, should she get by Claudia Gadelha. Either way, I feel whoever either of these women fight next will garner some intrigue after the war they showcased in this fight.
Let's just appreciate the awesomess.
Dariush sparks Klose in wild slugfest
Beneil Dariush def. Drakkar Klose by KO via punch (1:00, R2)
This was not a Klose fight by any means (sorry, I had to). It played on my trepidation in favoring Dariush but ultimately confirmed why I settled on favoring him in the fight. Dariush’s chin is always a concern against an opponent who comes forward and strikes aggressively, but historically Klose hasn’t shown much to convince me he has the punching power to finish the job, and this fight proved that to be true. He mostly gets the job done through his strong clinch work, but Dariush is a capable clinch fighter himself, and grappling is his bread and butter. After stunning Dariush with a right hand early Klose came forward to land another and was met with a takedown from the King’s MMA rep. After getting back to his feet and grabbing the fence a handful of times, Dariush was able to jump onto his back and attempt to lock in a standing rear-naked choke. Klose’s submission defense proved substantial, as he was able to stave off several attempts for the majority of the round, including a face crank that looked awfully tight.
Before dislocating his mouthpiece, Dariush came close to dislocating Klose's mouth.
Round two was essentially the polar opposite, with Klose landing a couple low kicks before cracking Dariush with an overhand right that rocked him. Another right hand put him on wobbly legs, and Klose, sensing the end, swarmed him with wild punches. This proved to begin his undoing, as Dariush landed a counter right hand that in turned had Klose doing the chicken dance in an attempt to retreat. The tide turned and it was Dariush who then gave chase, running down Klose with big punches. Klose didn’t mind his defense when trying to counter back, and he received a crackling overhand left for his troubles that had him looking like Stephen Curry playing with his mouthpiece as he careened backwards into the fence, eyes eerily wide open.
Just in case you needed to see that mouthpiece dislodge in slow motion.
Klose has achieved the majority of his success from being physically strong, tireless, fearless, and impossibly tough, so it’ll be interesting to see how suffering his first stoppage loss by way of brutal knockout affects him going forward. Dariush has a lot of options for his next fight, and I think his next fight could be a rematch with Diego Ferreira, who he beat back in 2014, or he could be a good test for Gregor Gillespie, who like Klose would be returning from his first career loss via brutal knockout. As for Klose, he can take on Nasrat Haparast, who is coming off a recent TKO loss to Drew Dober.
Magny returns with a vengeance, shuts out a surging Li
Neil Magny def. Li Jingliang by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
I guess that'll teach us for doubting Magny. I thought this might have been the easiest fight on the card to predict, but Magny clearly had other plans. On paper it made perfect sense for Li to be the favorite; he just came off an incredible performance in a rousing third round knockout of Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in a fight that was widely thought of as a stepping stone for the latter, and his skills just really seemed to be coming together. Magny in the meantime had been out of action since November of 2018, by far the longest layoff of his UFC tenure, and was coming off a brutal fourth round knockout at the hands of Santiago Ponzinibbio, which capped off a bit of a trend of him getting blown out of the water against worthwhile competition. Li was expected to have the tireless pressure, wrestling, and punching power to take Magny out as several have done before him, but that was not to be.
This was probably the most success Li had in the fight.
The story of the fight revolved around Magny just not letting Li into the fight. He kept Li guessing with constant feints, frequent jabs to disrupt Li's attempts to set up strikes, and steady pressure. He tried his best to get his wrestling going, but surprisingly it was Magny who had more success in that department as the fight wore on. Li generally has solid cardio, but once again displayed why he's the cardio king at 170, as he upped his output in each round while Li struggled to play catch up. Round two was especially dominant, as Magny outlanded Li 26-to-1 in significant strikes, and just teed off on him in at distance and in the clinch. Round three saw Magny have a bit more extended control on the ground as he landed several hard left hands from half guard and on Li's back.
It was a dominant, consummate performance from Magny, and one that immediately brings some intrigue to his return. For a while I had wondered why he hung around in the welterweight rankings so long while he was inactive and coming off a loss, but even though he's no longer ranked, this performance showed that maybe he can work his way back there. For his next fight we've already had talk of pairing him with Michael Chiesa, who is coming off a big win over Rafael dos Anjos, and makes for a pretty intriguing matchup. Alternative he can take on the winner of Vicente Luque vs Randy Brown; Luque in particular would pose a lot of the problems of Magny's past opponents who ran through him. As for Li, it's a tough setback for him just when he was really gaining some serious momentum. Warlley Alves or the loser of Belal Muhammad vs Lyman Good might be good fits for him.
Opportunistic wrestling carries Oliveira to a decision win
Alex Oliveira def. Max Griffin by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Oliveira put an end to a career worst three-fight skid with a much-needed victory over Griffin. The difficulty in picking this fight mostly came from the inconsistency of both men and the fact that they both hit hard and are prone to brawls. Griffin started off quickly, coming out aggressive and throwing right hands. Although Oliveira started finding a home for uppercuts up the middle, it was Griffin who landed the first big shot of the fight: a big right hand that stunned Oliveira had caused him to change levels for a takedown. This was quickly thwarted and he found himself taken down (something Griffin's corner told him not to do, then hilariously changed their minds once they saw that he did a good job of controlling the action). He tied Griffin up enough to avoid significant damage, but would find himself getting outwrestled for the rest of the round.
In round two the momentum shifted in favor of Oliveira, starting with a punch that cut Griffin's eyelid. From then on he was mostly in command of the stand up exchanges, and Griffin curiously didn't go to the wrestling again until later in the round, and by then he was much more fatigued. The final round saw both men not wasting too much time before working toward the clinch, but it would be Oliveira who would land the only successful takedown of the round and jump right into mount, where he would land a couple big shots to a bloodied Griffin. However, later in the round Griffin was able to take advantage of Oliveira trying to jump on his back as he scrambled to his knees, and would end up on top. Unfortunately for him, he only did enough to steal the round on one judge's scorecard (the always disappointing Sal D'Amato, of course).
As mentioned, this win came at the end of a three-fight losing streak for Oliveira, so it was much needed. Since he's just getting back on the winning track, he shouldn't jump too far up in competition. Perhaps he could take on Jake Matthews next. It's a tough loss for Griffin, who shows to be extremely tough and generally entertaining, but tends to come out on the wrong end of decisions (including a loss to Thiago Alves that he absolutely should have won). I've been a fan of the guy since his Tachi Palace days, so it's disappointing to see how his UFC run has played out, but hopefully he gets another shot. If so, his next fight should be against Siyar Bahadurzada or Alan Jouban, both of which would be fireworks.
Sean O’Malley def. Jose Quinonez by TKO via strikes (2:02, R1)
Looks like the Sugar Show 2.0 is in full force with a phenomenal performance by O'Malley. He mowed down Quinonez without eating a single strike, and landed 18 of his 22 attempts in what was essentially a flawless victory. He set the tone right away by knocking Quinonez off his feet with a push kick to the body, and after keeping him away with more kicks he simultaneously landed a hard overhand right and threw Quinonez to the ground. When he got to his feet, an O'Malley high kick was partially blocked, but got through enough to put him right back down, and an uppercut sent him into the turtle position, where O'Malley landed hammerfists until the ref intervened. O'Malley couldn't have asked for a better return from a two-year layoff, and what's better is that he looked much improved. His accurate, tricky striking was in place, but with a better sense of defense and an impressive mindfulness toward shot selection. Until now I wasn't too sold on O'Malley, but here he looked like someone to really keep an eye on at bantamweight.
Mark Madsen def. Austin Hubbard by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Wrestle, rinse, repeat for two rounds; survive for one more. Madsen's Greco-Roman wrestling is certainly impressive (he's an Olympic silver medalist, after all), but the other facets of his game definitely still need work, and he should continue to be matched up carefully for continued success. Through two rounds he was dominant, mostly positionally, but in round three he was tired and Hubbard showed all the urgency he should have, stunning Madsen with knees up the middle and really trying to score that come-from-behind victory. It was not to be, but a more capable fighter might have launched an impressive comeback here.
Rodolfo Vieira def. Saparbeg Safarov by submission via arm triangle choke (2:58, R1)
This fight had the widest odds on the card for a reason; that reason mostly being that Safarov isn't very good. He landed early with a front kick to the face that stunned Vieira, but it wasn't long before he was bulldozed to the ground and caught in a tight arm-triangle choke to end his night. It was the most expected result of the night, and it delivered.
Gerald Meerschaert def. Deron Winn by submission via rear naked choke (2:13, R3)
Winn's limitations are definitely showing with this second-straight loss after starting his career a perfect 6-0. While I certainly give him props for fighting bigger men, but at 5'7" he's simply too small to be fighting at middleweight (and can you believe he actually fought at light heavyweight before the UFC?!). The biggest narrative through this fight was just that Meerschaert, an improving but still rote striker, frequently landed on him at range simply because he had such a pronounced height and reach advantage. Winn was the quicker man, but he had to cover way too much distance to land, and he'd often have to eat shots to do it. After being more or less dominated in the second round, he was tired and essentially a sitting duck for Meerschaert to pick apart and hurt on the feet, and once the fight hit the ground Winn was too fatigued to fight off the submission attack. It was a solid win for Meerschaert, who is still showing worthwhile improvements, but Winn needs to drop to 170 where his size won't be such a burden on him.
These things happen when you look like a 7th grader compared to your opponent.
Giga Chikadze def. Jamall Emmers by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
This was a solid fight. Much like Zabit Magomedsharipov, Chikadze is a slick, flashy striker who is fun to watch for a couple rounds, but tends to slow down due to that style and lose the latter part of the fight big. Chikadze in particular is clearly used to finishing fights early. As such, it was a close fight that Emmers had a case for winning, but it all came down to a pretty even round two. Either way, both men acquitted themselves well and put on a good fight.
Danna Batgerel def. Guido Cannetti by KO via strikes (3:01, R1)
I'm never sure what to expect from Cannetti, as he's surprisingly managed to stick around the UFC since 2014, though I imagine that might not be the case if he had been more active over his tenure. At 40 years old I expect he'll fight for as long as the UFC will continue to have him. This fight might be the nail in the coffin, as it was not only his second-straight stoppage loss, but his first pro knockout loss (he was knocked out on The Ultimate Fighter by Alejandro Perez). Batgerel was on top of him from the beginning, timing Cannetti's kicks and cracking him with counter right hands early and often. That success culminated in a left hand that absolutely waylayed Cannetti and sent him violently to the canvas, where Batgerel swarmed him with punches before the referee stepped in. Great way to start off the night!
And that about does it for UFC 248! It's been a while since I've done a recap, but I figure I have to show up for the pay per views at least! This will likely be a trend from now on, but I'll make sure to get a recap in for a notal Fight Night as well every now and then. For the PPVs, it helps when they're good, and this one pretty much delivered overall. Next up is UFC Fight Night 170, where Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira will clash in the main event. It's a solid card on paper, so I may just end up doing a recap for that as well. Either way, sado out!