Monday, August 15, 2022

9 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC 276

On Saturday, the MMA leader returned for arguably its most stacked pay-per-view card of the year so far, UFC 276.

Nothing beats a UFC PPV night, not least when they boast the lineup that the promotion’s 14th Las Vegas live event of 2022 did. The card had everything fans could hope for. Two title fights? Check. A number one contender’s matchup? Check. One of the fastest rising stars in the sport? Check. Two of MMA’s most notable vets? Check. Hot prospects in multiple divisions? Check.

Ticking off those boxes inside the T-Mobile Arena were the likes of middleweight king Israel Adesanya, featherweight titleholder Alexander Volkanovski, the always-entertaining Max Holloway, surging bantamweight Sean O’Malley, fan favorite Donald Cerrone, and former champ Robbie Lawler, as well as a host of other exciting names throughout the blockbuster event.

So, did all those stars come together to deliver an appropriately memorable International Fight Week headliner? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC 276.

Positive – A Snapping Start

Okay, so Jessica-Rose Clark’s elbow was seemingly dislocated, rather than her arm being broken, but I’m not changing the heading because I like the alliteration. Snapped, dislocated — same thing.

Adding this as a positive may make some think that I’m a sicko who enjoys limb breaks. I can assure you, I’m not. However, in a martial arts world, we’ve got to appreciate how said limb became damaged. In this instance, it was a slick and technical armbar submission from Julija Stoliarenko.

The pair went at it right from the word go, with Clark appearing to have the Lithuanian hurt early. But after firing back, Stoliarenko changed levels beautifully. From there, it took just seconds for her to isolate her Australian foe’s arm before twisting and wrenching until it bent a way that arms shouldn’t.

While it’s back-to-back armbar defeats for Clark, her delivery on the promised Shaun Michaels-inspired walkout and the way that she managed to keep a smile on her face even with a serious injury still likely enhanced her reputation as a fan favorite and a badass.

Positive – A Legitimate MW Threat Emerges

While most of the middleweight attention was on two main-card showdowns, one rising 185lber put the division on notice at UFC 276.

André Muniz made an impact in his first four Octagon appearances, most notably by breaking the arm of legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza at UFC 262.

In going 5-0 on Saturday, “Sergipano” made his biggest statement to date, dominating perennial contender Uriah Hall across three rounds en route to a unanimous decision win. With it, the Brazilian can expect a top-10 spot in the rankings come the next update.

With a striking-heavy picture towards the top of the middleweight ladder, the elite contenders will no doubt be warily looking below them as the masterful BJJ of Muniz moves ever closer…

Positive – Wild, Wild, Wild

In the words of Rihanna, Dricus du Plessis had “wild, wild, wild thoughts” at UFC 276…

Has anyone ever secured a place in the rankings with such a crazy, bizarre, and almost technical-flawed performance?

For a long time, du Plessis was one of the most promising names yet to be well-known across the Atlantic. A second brutal UFC knockout victory at UFC 264 last July undoubtedly changed that. And after a long wait for his third outing, the South African, who is a former EFC double champion, KSW titleholder, and K-1 kickboxing champ, delivered another memorable display.

This time it didn’t end in a finish, and his first decision in MMA wasn’t without adversity. But despite a rocky start and body language that suggested he had gassed within one round, du Plessis didn’t slow, and began to piece ranked middleweight Brad Tavares up on the feet en route to a clear 29-28 score.

Of course, if he is to get anywhere near the belt, du Plessis will need to show more technique. While he constantly landed on Tavares, counter-strikers like Israel Adesanya likely won’t have any issue handling his entries, which are practically telegraphed with a phone call warning beforehand.

But he’s fun, he’s wild, he’s powerful, he’s entertaining, he’s 3-0 in the Octagon, and he’s earned a ranking. Remember his name and remember it well (and correctly!). “Stillknocks” is here and he’s here to stay.

Positive – The Future

At UFC 276, promising welterweight prospect Ian Garry moved to 10-0 as a professional and 3-0 inside the Octagon in what was the stiffest test to date.

We’ve seen highly-touted fighters go all in on finishes as they rise the ranks, only to fall to experienced campaigners when they near the top of the ladder. Middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan comes to mind. With that said, it’s impressive to see the patience Garry has at such a young age, something that perhaps the surroundings of Sanford MMA has helped to mould.

Against the tough Gabe Green, “The Future” bided his time before unleashing some technical and wide-ranging combinations. At one point, he threatened to deliver a repeat of his debut knockout of Jordan Williams, slipping a strike before dropping Green with a nasty right hand.

When the only thing that your early detractors are saying is ‘he can’t be compared to Conor McGregor‘, you know you’re doing something right.

Positive – “The Tarantula” Makes A Statement

How is this man a lightweight?

If Jalin Turner’s consecutive finishes of Joshua Culibao, Brok Weaver, Uroš Medić, and Jamie Mullarkey didn’t put the 155-pound division on notice, his 45-second submission of #14-ranked contender Brad Riddell certainly has.

“The Tarantula” looked unstoppable, first on the feet, where he rocked a man who went toe-to-toe with the highly touted Rafael Fiziev for two-and-a-half rounds, and then on the ground, where he locked in a tight guillotine choke for the tap.

While I questioned whether anyone has ever entered the rankings with as wild a performance as du Plessis, has anyone ever done so more emphatically (who isn’t named Khamzat Chimaev) as Turner did on Saturday night?

Given that only last week did we witness a lightweight barnburner between two rising contenders, and with the entertaining names atop the 155-pound mountain, it’s hard to deny the division a place among the most stacked in the UFC, from top to bottom.

Negative – A Terrible Start

Well that sucked.

Fights ending in fouls are always a bummer, but PPV main-card openers ending in such an anti-climactic way is unbelievably frustrating.

Pedro Munhoz and Sean O’Malley’s bantamweight clash began tentatively, with the Brazilian securing the opening round with his leg kicks. Just as the bout began to pick up in the second, “Sugar” caught Munhoz in the eye as he backed up to avoid the charging attack.

From there, Munhoz told the doctor that he couldn’t see and referee Jason Herzog was forced to wave it off. While he certainly shouldn’t, “The Young Punisher” will receive the brunt of the blame. MMA fans love nothing more than slamming someone who’s been fouled. Not that it needs to be entertained, but the idea that Munhoz would look for a way out while winning a fight is absurd.

Ultimately, one of the most highly-anticipated matchups on the card came up short and certainly stalled the momentum from an entertaining set of prelims. Also, a bonus negative — O’Malley doing his dribble celebration after eye-poking his way to a no contest.

Positive – “Bam Bam” Re-Rails The Main Card

What did we need after the disappointing O’Malley vs. Munhoz result? A slugfest. We got absolutely that courtesy of Bryan Barberena and Robbie Lawler.

This was everything that some thought Nick Diaz vs. Lawler was. Like that UFC 266 contest, this one saw fighting in a phone booth, a relentless pace, and non-stop action. But this time, “Ruthless” was being met with equally hard shots and a more than willing dance partner.

After nine minutes, I was expecting to be praising Lawler for a vintage performance. He looked great for most of the fight and, despite the seemingly oblivious commentary, was blocking and deflecting most power shots. That changed in the final minute of round two when a visibly wobbled Lawler was rendered out on his feet by an onslaught of punches.

The fact that this was nearly on the prelims is a travesty. Thank goodness Barberena and Lawler were there to save the day after the opener.

Positive – Pereira Justifies His Push

Erm, Sean Strickland? Hello? As far as gameplans go, Strickland’s at UFC 276 is up there with the most questionable.

“Tarzan” was facing former GLORY kickboxing champion Alex Pereira, who is well-renowned as one of the best strikers in the world. And Strickland knew that. The #4-ranked contender admitted that if he got hit, he’d happily resort to “humping” the Brazilian. It’s safe to say that Strickland tested how well he could hang with Pereira beyond his limits.

If someone asked me how a fighter would perform if they’d bet on themselves getting knocked out, I’d be describing Strickland’s strategy in response. He closed range, displayed little movement, threw very little, and stood straight in front of Pereira. I’m not sure “Poatan” has ever been offered a KO on a silver platter quite like that. Perhaps Strickland’s ego got the best of him.

But even so, Pereira put his scary power on full display again with a brutal hook, ensuring his rise towards the top of the division and the next title shot. In a middleweight division that is 50/50 when it comes to quality and entertainment, Pereira adds both.

Positive – There’s Your Featherweight GOAT

If Alexander Volkanovski’s 2-0 record over Max Holloway lacked a definitive win, his now-3-0 slate over “Blessed” doesn’t.

There’s not much to say about the champion’s performance other than perfection. If the Australian’s evolution in recent years needed context beyond his pair of title defenses against Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie,” his 50-45 dismantling of one of the greatest 145lbers of all time does it.

There are few performances that make you stop and think about the greatness being performed in front of us. As he metaphorically played with his food through a clear edge in speed and power, it was clear that we were watching one of the best to ever do it.

As far as legacy goes, Alexander “The Great” cemented a memorable one at UFC 276. Whether through a pursuit of champ-champ status or extending his featherweight reign with more defenses, anything from here is just adding to an already-illustrious résumé.

Negative – Where Does Holloway Go From Here?

While Volkanovski’s performance was one of UFC 276’s best moments, seeing a defeated and bloody Holloway inside the Octagon was sad to see.

“Blessed” has long been a mainstay in the featherweight title picture, and not long ago was regarded as the clear best. Now, he’s lost three times to the champ, and convincingly in the trilogy. While he was able to work his way to a third opportunity at handing Volkanovski his first middleweight blemish, it doesn’t seem like a fourth fight with the Aussie is on the table.

With that, the future is uncertain for one of the sport’s universally loved fighters, and that’s not what anybody wants.

Positive – Adesanya Channels His Inner-Deadman

As a UK native who was struggling to stay awake at 5:30 AM, I wouldn’t have expected a slow walkout to please me, but Israel Adesanya managed it.

From the opening gongs to the first image of Adesanya’s Undertaker attire, the champ’s walkout was the kind of showmanship that’s rarely seen in MMA. From the iconic music to the urn reading “Jared” to the fan telling “The Last Stylebender” that he’ll see Adesanya at the “murder scene” (which there was ultimately no such thing), Adesanya’s walkout was an added bonus.

I think it’s fair to assume who Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H were rooting for Octagon-side…

Negative – A Main Event Dud

While many had suggested that Volkanovski vs. Holloway 3 should have headlined over Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier beforehand, the evidence now certainly doesn’t lie.

Adesanya is quickly approaching an undesired reputation when it comes to his reign. While he rode the wave of finishes and entertainment to the throne, we’ve seen little of either since. Aside from the stoppage win against Paulo Costa, the champion has defended the belt in an incredibly dull contest with Yoel Romero, a lackluster five-rounder with Marvin Vettori, and a rematch with Robert Whittaker that’s entertainment perhaps derived from the Australian’s efforts.

At UFC 276, Adesanya’s fifth defense peaked at his walkout, as did his popularity among the fans, who were left booing after 25 minutes of what can only be described as missable action.

This negative by no means criticizes or downplays the talents of Adesanya, who once again looked untouchable as he cruised past another contender. But the fact that one of the most skillful champions in the UFC has some branding his reign a “snooze fest” is not good to see. Not least when his CKB teammate continued to mold one of the all-time great title reigns in the co-main event.

Adesanya has all the attributes to be a superstar. But if his reign continues in this manner, he could fall short of where he once looked destined to reach.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC 276?

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