Greetings, fight fans! UFC 260 has come to a close, and we have a brand new "baddest man on the planet" with Francis Ngannou avenging his first failed title bid against Stipe Miocic in brutal fashion to become the new heavyweight champion.
Outside of that, the card was considerably weakened by the now-postponed featherweight title tilt between champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega, and the rest of the card didn't provide a very strong or compelling lineup to support the loss of that fight. Fortunately, and as is often the case with cards that are weak on paper, this one delivered some solid fights, even if only a couple held any notable relevance. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty to talk about though, so let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
An improved Ngannou demolishes Miocic to finally claim the heavyweight crown
Francis Ngannou (No. 1) def. Stipe Miocic (C) via KO (0:52, R2)
Yeah, good fucking luck beating a composed Ngannou https://t.co/PWEOeIFdaZ— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) March 28, 2021
What happened?: Ngannou showed that he had indeed improved since their first encounter, denying an early takedown attempt from the champion and even landing one of his own, but largely controlling the distance and rendering Miocic hesitant to strike. After a commanding first-round from Ngannou, Miocic began to show a bit more urgency, which ultimately led to his downfall in the form of a blistering left hook that ended his night.
How did that happen?: Ngannou pretty much had command of the fight from the very onset, establishing his presence with a hard low kick that immediately got Miocic's attention. Ngannou smartly used them at range and when Miocic circled away, just to chip away at his base. Low kicks were almost all Miocic threw in the round, but they were mostly probing inside low kicks without any real power on them. Ngannou made the first real statement of the fight when he landed a flush overhand right to the temple of the now-former champion, who inexplicably just ate it and circled away. However, it re-established that Ngannou had the speed to catch him unaware; Ngannou closed the distance with a double jab, and a jab to the body before coming over the top with the right hand, and Miocic was barely able to react to any of it. Immediately following the land, Ngannou collided with him, then pushed off and separated with a quick left hook, which is exactly the kind of adjustment you'd want to see from the man who went in swinging like a mad man in their first fight as if he was guaranteed a knockout. Just in that short of time, with one single exchange, Ngannou showed the kind of adjustment that bore concern from Miocic.
Francis uses the double jab to close the distance, then change level jab to the body to set up the right hook upstairs, collides with Stipe and immediately separates, exits safely with a check hook and resets.— Sweet Punch Memories (@SweetPmemories) March 28, 2021
This is good. pic.twitter.com/Px1MMWCMwW
This sequence alone showed how ill-prepared Miocic was for what Ngannou brought to the table this time around.
In what was a smart response to this, Miocic sought to go to what worked in their first fight: he timed an attack from Ngannou, and changed levels for a single leg takedown. Ngannou denied the majority of Miocic's takedowns in their first fight so the fact that he stuffed this attempt was no real surprise, but his ability to sprawl Miocic out as he persisted with the attempt and then spin around to his back, grab the rear waist lock as Miocic stood, and drag him down to the canvas, where he rifled off right hands as Cleveland native looked to rise to his feet came as a slight shock. When he did make it upright, Ngannou continued to drive for the takedown, which was ill-advised, but short-lived as Miocic was able to separate.
A Ngannou takedown? This wasn't supposed to happen.
A more patient Ngannou seemed to almost throw Miocic off a bit as he just sort of circled around on the outside almost bracing himself for an oncoming attack. A big left head kick was mostly blocked by by him, but even though it barely connected it was clear he felt the power. Ngannou mostly stalked and stayed patient through the remainder of the round, a major contrast from how much energy he expended in the first round of their initial encounter, and although he didn't land much more besides a couple hard low kicks in the second half, he clearly controlled the round and the momentum was firmly on his side.
After a few explosive sequences, Francis stay in the center of the cage and stay in front of Stipe, saving energy.— Sweet Punch Memories (@SweetPmemories) March 28, 2021
From Southpaw, Francis hand fight which cause Stipe to walk away from what he thinks will be an overhand but walk right into the left headkick as he circled away pic.twitter.com/mMzNmuydtj
Ngannou essentially did whatever he wanted.
Miocic showed a bit more urgency in the second round, and tested mid range against Ngannou. Speed once again became a problem, as Ngannou effortlessly closed the distance with a straight right to lead Miocic to his right, and a step-in jab/left straight hybrid followed it up, tagging him right on the jaw and dropping him on his seat against the cage. Ngannou grabbed him punished him with left hands and a right uppercut before Miocic could break away and retreat, but ate a counter right as he gave chase and whiffed on a huge right hand. Miocic thought he had him hurt, so he immediately changed gears and sloppily rushed at Ngannou with a jab, only to be met with a tight counter left hook that caught him on the button and sent him sailing backward and landing awkwardly on his left leg. He was pretty much already out when he hit the ground, but massive hammerfist managed to land and make doubly sure he was out cold before the referee could intervene. It was a brutal knockout to cap off a dominant, and more importantly intelligent performance from a man who already looked scary enough before this fight.
Other thoughts: I think most people agreed that more patience and better takedown defense were what Ngannou mainly needed to win this fight, but the brevity of the fights in his current win streak didn't provide the sort of sample size that instilled trust that he had those adjustments in tow yet; though he had definitely shown a more patient style in pretty much every win but that wild Jarzinho Rozenstruik knockout. Tonight proved that he can maintain that level of composure in a high pressure situation, in addition to showing slightly cleaner striking technique overall. He's always been a natural counter puncher, and his newfound ability to be more measured when the style match up calls for it only makes those skills more dangerous. He's a fighter that is incredibly dangerous when he comes at you, but can be just as dangerous when you come at him, which leaves opponents often stuck between a rock and a hard place before that hard place smacks them in the face and puts them away.
That plays into a psychological component of fighting Ngannou that I've pointed out before in past breakdowns of him, about how a striker so feared earns so many of his finishes by countering aggressive opponents. It's been very interesting to watch many of his opponents range from patient to downright hesitant to engage with him too much, but then they suddenly decide to put it on him and end up getting knocked out for their troubles. It was very evident in this fight and I think there are a couple things that can lead to it, both of which were present this time around. For one, we all know Ngannou has otherworldly power, so it's not at all hard to imagine that experiencing that power first hand could shake you up a bit, even in a division teeming with hard hitters. Sure you have Derrick Lewis, who may have comparable power, but Lewis is so low output minute-to-minute that he actually comes across a lot less threatening despite that power. He's someone that as long as you mind your Ps and Qs, you can often avoid his power and get the better of him (now doing that for the better part 15 or 25 minutes is where the issue lies). With Ngannou, the threat is always imminent because he's active and he pressures. His pressure and activity only increase the more momentum swells in his favor, so what's the most straightfoward way to keep him from getting into too much of a groove? You show some urgency throw a wrench in his pressure; try to push back and get his respect.
It's not an uncommon dynamic in MMA, but it's really only against Ngannou that this response nearly always ends in a Ngannou finish shortly thereafter. Miocic started round two a bit more aggressive and stuck around in range a bit longer to exchange because he knew he would get nowhere fighting the way he did in the first round and Ngannou's confidence would only increase. The way he basically dropped all pretense of technique when he rushed in suggested desperation; he lunged past his own feet, body squared to Ngannou, with his right hand down by his chest in no position to guard the oncoming counter left hook. It's a bit ironic considering this type of overzealousness in the face of Miocic's veteran composure was what ultimately cost Ngannou their first fight.
The second factor is a simple underestimation of Ngannou's chin and ability to fire on a hair trigger. Miocic landed a solid counter right hand as Ngannou chased him down that stopped him in his tracks and caused him to take a quick step back, but that aforementioned urgency and the fact that he himself had already been hurt caused him to get overzealous. He landed a good shot that stopped Ngannou from coming after him, so he probably figured that was his one window to capitalize and make the finish happen. Unfortunately for him, he came at a much quicker, much harder-hitting, and much more effective counter puncher who wasn't nearly as hurt as he thought he was, and for that he paid the price. You can't just run at someone who wins most of his fights landing huge shots on fighters who run at him, but that almost panicked urgency leads them to do it anyway, even in spite of their own best judgement. When you feel too much of Ngannou's power, you get desperate, and when you get desperate, you make mistakes.
So with that, Ngannou becomes the third African-born UFC champion beside Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya. It's pretty crazy what they've all been able to do in a relatively short amount of time, but I remember watching Senegalese wrestling with my dad, and he always said that if African fighters get the right exposure and training then they'd be champions, and here we are. Pretty crazy to think that just a few years ago Africa wasn't even really on the map in the sport other than Extreme Fighting Championship out of South Africa, which has produced a good number of UFC fighters ranging from middling to plain awful. As it turns out, the best African fighters don't actually come up in the African fight scene, which makes sense because who knows how ready Ngannou would have been if he was fighting the Ruan Potts's of the world prior to signing with the UFC?
Lastly, did anyone else see the way Miocic landed on that left leg and immediately get flashbacks to Cro Cop's leg when he was knocked out by Gabriel Gonzaga? Is that a Croatian thing?
Next for Ngannou: The whole narrative was pretty much covered in the commentary booth right after the fight. Yes, Derrick Lewis makes a lot of sense. He just knocked off Curtis Blaydes to become the rightful next guy in line, plus he's the only other man to beat Ngannou. But Jon Jones is coming to heavyweight, and you know that's what people want to see. Hell, I personally think immediate title shots shouldn't be granted to fighters moving up or down a division unless they're current champions in another division, and I still want to see that fight. The fact that the first Lewis vs Ngannou fight was terrible also makes me less excited to see it, though I know that chances are it wouldn't be nearly as boring the second time around. Either fight works, but Jones already expressed interest in the Twitter-sphere, so it will probably be made so unless negotiations crumble (because I'd want hazard pay too if I had to step in there with Ngannou).
UPDATE: Apparently according to Dana White, the fact that Jones said "Show me the money" means he doesn't really want the fight, and Jones should be moving to 185 after seeing what Ngannou did. I absolutely loathe how White tries to strong arm fighters into thinking that not fighting who they want for whatever they feel like paying you means you're scared or not motivated to fight, but that's another conversation for another day.
Next for Miocic: It was a very rough outing for the former champ because he didn't just get caught, he looked lost out there and was thoroughly outdone. He shed a lot of size and leaned down for speed, but in the end was still the much slower fighter out there, and probably could've used that extra size to better work his wrestling. But hey, he's still one of the best heavyweights ever, and even this flat performance doesn't convince me that he can't get back to the top. I guess that starts with what would be a pretty interesting fight with Curtis Blaydes. Neither man spends much time fighting strong wrestlers (who actually use it), and I'd be curious to see how that plays out.
Luque blasts an aggressive Woodley, becomes the first man to submit the former champion
Vicente Luque (No. 10) def. Tyron Woodley (No. 7) by submission via D'Arce choke (3:56, R1)
What happened?: Woodley came out of the gate uncharacteristically aggressive, and actually had early success, showing to be the faster fighter of the two and and stunning Luque with big punches. However, just when things were looking up for him, a counter right hand from Luque wobbled him badly and he was never able to recover before he found himself ensnared in a D'Arce choke with no choice but to tap out.
How did that happen?: It was a wild fight while it lasted; a rare one for Woodley. As mentioned, the former welterweight champion roared out the gate launching a right hand and crashing into the clinch, pushing Luque back to the cage. Luque proved pretty adept in the clinch, as he was able to reverse and show superior head positioning. Upon separating, Woodley started to let his hands go, throwing big punches that mostly landed on Luque's high guard, but their thudding power was visible. After a right hand got through, he shot a double leg takedown that was easily rebuffed, and led to another clinch exchange that Luque was able to control. Immediately on separating, Woodley landied a big right hand behind Luque's ear that briefly stiffened up his legs, and from there he continued to open up with big punches until a big counter right hand from Luque took him off balance and sent him wobbling over to the cage. He fired back, but his legs were stiffening up and it was clear that he was still hurt.
Several right hands over the top left Woodley bent over against the cage and struggling to get a hold of Luque, who gave him a knee to the body for his troubles and threw him aside, sending him stumbling all the way to the other side of the cage and grabbing the fence for stability. Woodley fired a desperation right hand on an approaching Luque that actually landed and stunned him briefly, but he quickly recovered and went right back to meet against the cage and throw down. Woodley tried to swing back, but he was clearly the more compromised of the two and throwing much wider punches that were missing the mark.
Woodley never really recovered from the first right hand.
A tight left hook counter caught Woodley overextending on a right hand and sent him falling forward looking to grab a leg. Luque immediately sprawled out and wrapped up a D'Arce grip, then rolled Woodley back to circle into him and tighten the choke. Unfortunately for Woodley, he ended up in such a position that the cage prevented him from scooting his hips away from Luque's, essentially trapping him in the choke. He briefly tried to fight it, but with nowhere to go he tapped just before losing consciousness.
Other thoughts: As devastating a loss as it was, I do have to commend Woodley for saying he was going to fight differently and was more motivated, and actually showing it this time around. It seems like he did more offensively in this fight than he'd done in his last three fights combined, and even though it eventually led to his defeat, he showed much more willingness to keep fighting than to just concede defeat like he's done lately. Woodley coming out at least somewhat aggressive really isn't anything new, but where he faltered in the past was that as soon as he'd meet some adversity or intense pressure, he'd revert to a defensive shell and allow his opponent to control the fight. Here he didn't let that happen, and even after Luque hurt him badly, he kept firing back. As much as I'm not for health-damning macho displays, it was a bit endearing to see Woodley finally fight to go out on his shield instead of accepting defeat and surviving (when his rib allows it). This fight simultaneously showed that he's still got what it takes to be dangerous and that he's just no longer a top guy. MMA is a cruel sport, and declines like this tend to happen suddenly; one minute you're on top of the world as champ, and the next you're on a potentially career-ending skid.
Although it came against a pretty much already broken Woodley, this was a great win for Luque, who is poised to work his way into the title mix. Although hittability and relying on a stationary high guard are still issues for him, he's proven durable, can counter pretty well off that guard, and is a finishing machine on the feet and on the ground. The way the UFC has matched him up has been odd and honestly a bit of a disservice to him, as he's tended to be matched up with opponents who are ranked a good deal below him, but this was a solid win to get him entry to more notable names. Even this match up was odd since if you know me you know how much I balk at the prospect of putting fighters on winning streaks against fighters on losing streaks, and with Woodley on a three-fight skid, some steam is admittedly removed from this win in terms of determining where Luque really is in the division. As impressive as he is, he does tend to have to rely on his durability; he was stunned a couple times by Woodley, fought way too close with Mike Perry and Niko Price (before getting the finish), and was absolutely carved up by Stephen Thompson. He's definitely on a respectable run since that loss, but I think I would feel stronger about it if his other two wins beside this one were against fighters that were at least around the top 15.
Next for Luque: I thought Thompson was too big a step up in the rankings for Luque when they made that fight, and that proved true. He's not too far removed from that loss, and now he finds himself almost back at that spot. I still don't think the quality of his latest streak dictates that he's ready, plus I think most of the top guys in the division have potentially better plans than fighting him. Jorge Masvidal is getting the next title shot, Thompson was angling for a title fight, but since he's not getting that I'm sure he'd much rather go for a Leon Edwards (who was also angling for a title shot) fight. I doubt he'd want to fight his teammate Gilbert Burns (who I believe cornered him for this fight), who along with Colby Covington are ranked too high for him. This just leaves one man: Michael Chiesa, who is ranked #6, one spot ahead of the number Luque will likely have next to his name soon. Since Chiesa has similarly not proven he's up there with the top five yet, it makes a lot of sense for the two of them to fight for the chance to take on someone in the top five for a title eliminator.
Next for Woodley: Prior to this fight I said I could see Woodley just retiring if he loses badly. Well, he lost badly. Otherwise, it's possible the UFC could cut him following his fourth loss in a row, but they did also give him Fight of the Night for his efforts, so maybe his newfound aggression convinced them to give him another chance. He's a former champion after all, and hey, Marion Reneau is getting another shot off a four-fight skid to welcome Miesha Tate back to the octagon. If Woodley does get another shot, I think they really need to match him with someone outside of the top 10 who isn't on a winning streak. Unless they want to do a Demian Maia rematch, which might be the most winnable fight for him at this point. Alternatively, as sad as it is, it might be time to rebook that Robbie Lawler rematch; these men once fought each other for the title, and now are at the end of their ropes. But on the other hand, it's pretty crazy that all four of his recent losses have come to guys fighting out of Florida; Covington was a former teammate at American Top Team (kinda...we know Woodley did a lot of his training out of the St. Louis affiliate gym and Roufussport), and the other three associated with the ever-name-changing
Blackzilians Hard Knocks 365 Sanford MMA. If he fights Lawler again that'll tick both boxes, as he not only trains out of Sanford MMA, but was also a former teammate at ATT when they fought the first time.
O'Malley outclasses Almeida and takes him out late after early walk-off flub
Sean O'Malley def. Thomas Almeida via KO (3:52, R3)
What happened?: O'Malley essentially ran a clinic on a game, but outmatched Almeida, nearly finishing him in the opening round before finally putting him away in vicious fashion late in the third round.
How did that happen?: O'Malley was his usual unorthodox self, frequently switching stances, throwing out feints, and looking to shift angles while Almeida for the most part stayed patient on the outside, no doubt wary how O'Malley's unpredictable attack could punish him for opening up too much. This led to the early going being a lot of target practice for O'Malley with kicks, even landing a nice spinning back kick to the body. Once Almeida did open up a bit more, he ducked to his right directly into a left high kick that somehow didn't put him away immediately, and a lunging left hand snaked around his guard and dropped him against the cage. We probably should've been in for a short night right there, but O'Malley, no doubt in the pursuit of a stylish walk-off knockout for his highlight reel, saw fit to just start walking away and allowed Almeida to scoot back to his feet against the cage. O'Malley followed up with a wheel kick that was blocked, and Almeida actually recovered surprisingly quickly, especially give how shaky his chin has been. From there it was back to target practice, as O'Malley just wouldn't allow Almeida into range and kept him at bay with all manner of kicks.
Almeida just couldn't get in range.
Round two was the only one resembling any closeness. Almeida found his second wind and started to focus more on low kicks, something all of O'Malley's opponents will undoubtedly do after his loss to Marlon Vera. Over time they actually did appear to bother him. O'Malley's rangy attacks still won the day though, and he still showed some neat tricks like shifting angles moving in to thread stiff jabs through Almeida's guard. Late in the round he did get a little too excited, perhaps due to frustration from the low kicks, and found himself on his back after whiffing a flying knee. Almeida was able to land a couple nice kicks to his legs in Ali-Inoki position, but nothing else before the horn.
It was O'Malley who opened up the final round with a hard low kick that spun Almeida around. He followed with a couple side kicks to his lead leg that Almeida definitely didn't like and had to shake his leg out a bit. Almeida still found himself mostly at the end of O'Malley's range, and when he was able to rush in he was met with a Thai plum and a knee to the body for his troubles. After eating a steady stream of long punches, he rushed in again, and this time it was short left hook that dropped him to a knee, and O'Malley just threw him to the side as he crashed into him. Figuring the second time was a charm, O'Malley again sought the walk-off knockout, but again the referee did not see fit to stop the fight. Almeida rolled over to his back clearly all out of sorts and not even looking at O'Malley, and at that point it looked like maybe stopping the fight was the better thing to do, because O'Malley strolled up to him and landed a brutal right hand to his prone foe that removed him from consciousness.
Other thoughts: Whether you love or hate O'Malley's frankly ridiculous persona and recent opinions (still undefeated!), you can't deny that he's very talented in the cage. While his style does leave certain openings (I think he'll always be susceptible to low kicks), his management of distance through his long strikes, feints, and his overall unpredictability is pretty great to watch. He always looks so comfortable and in a flow state on the feet that it's really hard to get a pin on what he's going to do because he's so relaxed and his strikes come from odd angles. As much guff as he gets from fans for not having fought anyone to justify his attitude, at this point he's shown that he's pretty skilled in the cage and it's time to start testing him more.
It's been a sad, precipitous fall for Almeida. Once seen as a future title contender or even champion at bantamweight, he's now lost four-straight and five of his last six. He's a fighter that has always been an offensive force at the expense of defense, and stepping up in competition revealed all the pitfalls of that game. Even when he was winning he'd often take at least a little punishment to get there, and his is just not a style that is sustainable at this level. He's offensively anemic at range and tends to just throw up a high guard in the face of offense coming his way, and he'll open up when he gets close, but often throw defense out the window. This was a big problem against slicker, more rangy strikers like O'Malley and Rob Font who didn't easily let him inside, more well-rounded strikers like Jimmie Rivera and Jonathan Martinez who can meet him with better defense and a more nuanced attack in close, and quicker, harder hitters like Cody Garbrandt who can just beat him to the punch (literally) with more power. "Thominhas" has failed to evolve from his straightforward Chuteboxe style of fighting, and likely also suffers from some waning confidence due to all the losses, but he is definitely in need of some changes and soul searching if he doesn't want to fade into obscurity at just 29 years of age.
There was some talk over the stoppage about how the referee shouldn't have allowed that last shot to land, but upon watching it again I've cooled on that sentiment. It's unfortunate that he had to take the punch and I would've rather it had been stopped prior, but it all happened pretty quickly, and it really wasn't too clear Almeida was completely out of it until he had already rolled onto his back, at which point the referee really had a short time to assess that he was done and beat O'Malley to the punch (pun intended that time). Almeida could have rolled to his back and still been with it, so there wasn't a definitive reason to step in prior to that. It's an unfortunate situation for Almeida, but I can't pile on the referee much for it.
Next for O'Malley: I think it's time to re-test him in the top 15. I don't normally like to suggest fights that will derail a prospect no matter what, and I definitely don't like matching someone above fighters that recently beat them (which I guess isn't a problem because O'Malley's still undefeated), but I'd love to see the creativity that would ensue in a fight between him and Kyler Phillips. Plus there's the added bonus of me finding both guys obnoxious to varying degrees. Alternatively, what I really want to see is how O'Malley handles wrestling; he's been exclusively matched with strikers other than Vera, who still isn't a wrestler, but more of a striker/grappler. It's time to put him in there with someone who actually threatens takedowns, which could expose a lot of holes in his game given the way he loves to spin and bring his feet close together. The winner of Merab Dvalishvili vs Cody Stamann, or even the loser of that fight (Dvalishvili will deserve a better ranked opponent with a win) will fill that void nicely.
Next for Almeida: It's hard to imagine him being kept by the UFC after this loss, but if that does happen, Guido Canneti might be a proper test to see if he can stick around, and the loser of that fight would definitely be sent packing.
Maverick's conditioning and pressure too much for Robertson to handle
Miranda Maverick def. Gillian Robertson (No. 15) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
What happened?: After a good first round, some of Maverick's inexperience showed through and led to a harrowing second round, after which she was able to adjust well and convincingly take over the fight in the third to secure a clear decision win.
How did that happen?: Maverick's strength and top control as well as her increasing comfort and assertiveness on the feet gave her some expected advantages throughout the fight, but it was her superior conditioning, resolve, and composure after facing adversity that were also integral to her victory here. Both women tested their striking early in what was quite frankly a pretty awkward kickboxing contest with plenty of second-guesses, pulling strikes, and defensive gaffs. Neither of them are natural strikers so it was a bit to be expected though. Things picked up when Maverick caught a kick and took Robertson to the mat. Being the more credentialed grappler of the two, Robertson is right at home on the ground, but Maverick did a good job early stifling her with heavy top pressure. Robertson managed to get back to her feet, but once there Maverick turned up the aggression and did well to fire off combinations consistently, even if much of it didn't land. Late in the round she was able to barrel Robertson to the ground with a power double leg, and landed a nice shot as Robertson got to her feet before the horn.
Maverick became more comfortable on the feet in round two, firing off a high kick to start and a nice 1-2. Unfortunately for her she got a bit too comfortable, as Robertson was able to time an ill-advised superman punch with no setup that Maverick had actually thrown a couple times before, duck under for a takedown attempt, move around to her back, and drag her to the ground where she settled into side control. Robertson showed to be a more effective top position grappler, as Maverick tried to initiate scrambles and elevate her but Robertson was frequently able to to flow with her and maintain position. Maverick finally got to her knees and managed to stand, but Robertson grabbed a rear waist lock and just sat back to return the fight to the canvas. She was consistently one step ahead, but Maverick showed great composure throughout, and when she managed to get to her feet with 30 seconds left she let loose with strikes, swarming Robertson until the horn in a move that apparently convinced two judges that those last 30 seconds were more significant than Robertson thoroughly outgrappling her for most of the round.
Apparently these days this is enough to steal around after being outworked on the ground almost the entire time.
In the final round she picked up right where she left off, though she inexplicably tried another superman punch and nearly got taken down again off of it. Robertson started to show fatigue at this point and shot again, but this time Maverick sprawled on her, got around to her back, and dragged her down to look for the rear-naked choke. She transitioned to mount briefly, but Robertson was quickly able to get to half guard and attempt a sweep. This was where we saw a key difference between their ground games in Maverick's willingness to strike. Though Robertson controlled most of round two and was certainly effective in her grappling, she didn't throw many strikes when she had position, instead focusing on strictly advancing position and looking for submissions; it's an issue a lot of technical grapplers have in MMA. When Maverick got on top though, she was more mindful of landing shots than just looking for submissions. As Robertson looked for the half guard sweep, Maverick laid into her with punches, forcing her to look for a single that got her sprawled on and put back on her back. There, Robertson actually had her most significant offense of the fight, a close armbar attempt that she actually managed to roll through on, and although Maverick escaped it gave Robertson top position. She managed to get Maverick's back, but couldn't get both hooks in and Maverick eventually exploded back to her feet and separated.
After that exchange it was clear that Robertson was tired and Maverick was the much fresher woman. The latter successfully landed a double leg, and Robertson couldn't do much but hold onto a futile guillotine and eventually shoot a last-ditch takedown from the butt-scoot position before the horn. She still has some holes to clean up, as would be expected from a young fighter, but it was an impressive performance that definitely gave some insight into how far Maverick has been coming along.
Other thoughts: Maverick has been a solid prospect for a while now and is progressing quite nicely, but that "still developing" tag is an issue in her division, as was pointed out by Joe Rogan on commentary. Hell, it's actually a problem in all women's divisions except potentially strawweight. That problem is that the skill gap between the champion and everyone else is far too large, and said champion Valentina Shevchenko has already run through much of the division. Ideally we'd like to see Maverick brought along at a reasonable pace and continue to develop, but with Shevchenko running roughshod on the division, it seems fairly likely that if Maverick continues to be successful she'll end up in a title fight she's not at all ready for. This particular problem is probably worse at flyweight than anywhere else because featherweight barely has fighters, let alone prospects, and bantamweight is mostly composed of established fighters, some of which like Aspen Ladd have already had "too much-too soon" prospect losses. Maverick has a lot of potential, so hopefully it's fostered the right way.
Robertson is still a talented fighter who has put in a lot of work in the UFC (she now has the most fights in the division), but her front runner tendencies still need some work. Once she finds success she essentially needs to find a finish or stay ahead or else there's visible deflation in her game. Her reliance on a kamikaze grappling game is also a liability because she's clearly discouraged when she can't get the fight to the ground, and against other good grapplers she sometimes finds herself without much recourse during fights. But although she's not as young as Maverick, she's still plenty young at 25, so she does have time to shore up her game.
And how about those scorecards? Hey, I know the popular hot take these days is to beat the "damage over control" drum really hard, but like with a lot of things, it's been overdone in a many cases. If a fighter holds their opponent up against the fence and attempts takedowns for long swaths of time, but gets beaten up in the first/last minute or 30 seconds, then it makes sense to lean toward the other fighter for the damage they exacted. But when you have a fighter dominating the grappling exchanges and positions for significant portions of the round and threatening submissions, but then getting swarmed in the last 30 or so seconds (without being significantly stunned or rocked), I think you favor the fighter that displayed the more effective grappling for most of the round. You shouldn't be able to be outworked on the ground for over three minutes, but then run forward winging shots at the end of the round and turn the entire thing around...unless you really put the other fighter in danger, which Maverick didn't really do.
Next for Maverick: With this win, Maverick should have a spot in the top 15, and her next fight should stay within that range. A fight with the winner of Andrea Lee vs Antonina Shevchenko should put her in position to challenge a top 10 opponent.
Next for Robertson: There are several options for her at this point. She can fight the loser of the Mayra Bueno Silva vs Poliana Botelho or Montana De La Rosa vs Ariane Lipski fight, or if they go further down the ranks she can fight Molly McCann or Ji Yeon Kim.
Mullarkey left hand renders Khama unworthy
Jamie Mullarkey def. Khama Worthy def. TKO (0:46, R1)
What happened?: Well...Mullarkey wasted no time landing a huge left hand that put Worthy down, and follow up punches put him out.
How did that happen?: There really wasn't much more to it than that. Mullarkey came out pretty aggressive and quickly landed a nice counter right hand to a Worthy low kick. Worthy began pumping his jab to mitigate the pressure, but Mullarkey was mostly unperturbed. Shortly after, he stepped in with a right hand feint, got Worthy to react with a lazy left hook moving backwards, and blasted him on the point of the chin with a left hook that caused him to do the chicken dance and fall forward to the mat. Mullarkey followed him and laid in right hands until he Worthy was out and the referee stepped in.
Other thoughts: Worthy has been around a while and cultivated an awkward, unorthodox style that in general has been successful. In reality his style has mostly consisted of hand-waving and bad technique that's padded with athleticism and just random enough that it can work. When it doesn't, he tends to go down in flames, which is evidenced by the fact that all of his eight losses have come by way of stoppage and seven of them by knockout. He does things out there that might throw his opponent off, or might get him tagged. In this instance he bit on Mullarkey's feint and responded with a left hook, which the most damning thing in and of itself, but if his fundamentals were better he would have thrown that hook while bringing his right hand up to his face to defend against potential oncoming counters. Instead for some reason he dropped his right hand to his waist just before throwing the hook and stuck his chin out, leaving himself as wide open as possible for a counter.
It's a consequence of the incessant flailing arm movements he does in mid range that he seems to employ to confuse his opponent. As often tends to be the case with your "herky jerky" style of unorthodox fighter, the best way to get to them is often just to ignore the smoke and mirrors and come right after them, whereas more thoughtful fighters tend to get flustered. It's why Keith Jardine could beat Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera, draw with Gegard Mousasi, and fight curiously close with Rampage Jackson, but then get blitzed by worse fighters that were no-nonsense aggressive punchers like Wanderlei Silva, Houston Alexander, and Thiago Silva.
Not much to say about Mullarkey. It was good to see him snag his first UFC win in such explosive fashion after two wrestling-heavy decision losses. In usual quick fight fashion, he looked impressive but there wasn't a ton to glean from such a quick knockout; especially one over someone was finish-able as Worthy. Still, it was a solid win in a situation where he was likely on the chopping block.
Next for Mullarkey: With his aggressive, relentless but low-accuracy wrestling approach, I'd like to see how a fight with Clay Guida would play out. It'd be frantic if anything.
Next for Worthy: You can throw most guys around his standing that are coming off losses against him. I think I'd like to see Roosevelt Roberts in there. He's not afraid to strike and usually keeps it rangy, but his bread and butter is grappling, and it'd be a nice test for either man.
Alonzo Menifield def. Fabio Cherant by submission via Von Flue choke (1:11, R1)
Another quick win, this time on the ground by way of the always-welcome Von Flue/OSP choke, or my personal favorite name, the Von Preux. Menifield wasted little time getting a hold of Cherant and ragdolling him to the ground into side control, and Cherant make oh-so ill-advised decision to continue holding onto a guillotine in spite of the position. At this point everyone should be drilling it into their heads that if they don't let go of a guillotine while side mounted, that choke is delivered on a silver platter. Cherant didn't break the grip before Menifield locked his hands underneath Cherant, Menifield applied shoulder pressure, and got the tap just like that.
Abubakar Nurmagomedov def. Jared Gooden via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
I came into this fight thinking Nurmagomedov was too highly favored due to his last name, but he really proved me wrong here with a dominant win over Gooden. I thought he'd be at a disadvantage on the feet and would need to employ his wrestling to really take over the fight, but it turned out he didn't truly need it, as he ended up being the quicker, sharper striker at every turn. Gooden did a ton of jabbing and throwing out of range, and really had a hard time finding Nurmagomedov with any regularity. Nurmagomedov threw nice, straight combinations and was always keen to throw knees up the middle whenever they'd get in close, while Gooden was just a step behind. In the final round he finally decided to use his wrestling, and although Gordon was able to pop back up and fight off a few takedowns, once Nurmagomedov was able to get him down and establish position, he was there to stay, racking up over four minutes of control. He's much more conservative and less dangerous than his more famous cousin Khabib when on top, but he was able to stay busy enough to stay on the ground for most of the round. Kabib's retirement must have really lit a fire under his stablemates; both Islam Makhachev and now Abubakar have exceeded expectations since, and the former is poised to enter the top 10 at lightweight. I was never very high on the welterweight Nurmagomedov but this fight has definitely gotten my attention more.
Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Modestas Bukauskas via split-decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
This was quite a fun, close fight where both men had their moments but ultimately it was Oleksiejczuk's aggression that won the day. Oleksiejczuk had a fast start, but Bukauskas had a pretty successful early going of the fight, stunning him with a right hand. It was one of those difficult rounds to score live because Oleksiejczuk got the worse of the striking volume , but he also consistently seemed to land a bit harder and was more aggressive. The second round was also relatively close, but Bukauskas started to find his groove and show more initiative. The final round was similarly close, but Oleksiejczuk had one of the more significant moments in the fight when a left hand to the body visibly hurt Bukauskas and had him backing up. Oleksiejczuk didn't seem to realize how hurt he was though, and failed to capitalize. In the end I thought Bukauskas might get the decision, but the fight was pretty close and Oleksiejczuk was more aggressive and arguably landed harder in fight that was mostly even.
Omar Morales def. Shane Young via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
In a not-so-close affair Morales essentially just outworked Young for three rounds. The first round was very cautious and pretty uneventful, with Morales just edging it out with a couple well-placed knees, but the following rounds were much clearer. Young actually managed a takedown early in round two, but made the mistake of dropping back for a leglock and losing position, allowing Morales to return to his feet. Young was the aggressor through most of the fight, but he often found himself moving forward without throwing or coming up short and eating shots in return. All in all it was a fairly predictable outcome; Morales' size and straightforward fundamental kickboxing game proved to be too difficult a puzzle for Young to solve.
Marc-Andre Barriault def. Abu Azaitar via TKO (4:56, R3)
The event opened with a brutal comeback beatdown that illustrated just how important conditioning is in this sport. Azaitar came out hyper-aggressive and swarmed Barriault constantly, landing an astonishing amount of knees to the body that he pretty much threw anytime he was in close range. He came out of round one firmly ahead, and began to carry that success into round two, but his constant blitzing and attacking took a toll on his cardio, and midway through the round Barriault started to turn up the pressure while Azaitar was clearly fatiguing. Azaitar was game and consistently threw back, but Barriault's punches had a lot more pop on them, and Azaitar's defense was pretty much nonexistent as the round was drawing to a close. In the third round he had little left in the tank, and in an awkward moment, Barriault landed a shot that knocked Azaitar's mouthpiece out, and continued landing as he bent over to pick it up, which very much looked like he was out on his feet (and honestly he might have been). That led to a bit of a false stoppage where referee Jerin Valel ran in and Azaitar tripped over his foot onto his back, but then Valel decided the fight was still in progress.
Maybe worry more about your face, less about the mouthpiece?
From there Azaitar suffered a pretty brutal beating, frequently giving up mount and back mount, and eating big punches and elbows, but moving just enough for Valel to believe he was in the fight. The stoppage finally came with four seconds left in the fight, but it really could've been stopped long before that because it was clear Azaitar had nothing left.
Turns out that wasn't it, Joe.
And that's it for UFC 260! Like just about every other card this year it was negatively affected by COVID-19, but in the end it delivered some worthwhile action, and we have a terrifying new heavyweight champion. Ultimately it was a solid show, and we'll have a break next week until Darren Till and Marvin Vettori clash on April 10th, and the next major offering will be UFC 261 where Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal will rematch for Usman's welterweight title. It'll supposedly be in front of a full crowd, so that should be interesting. Until then, sado out!