Even if fans had been required to shell out $70 bucks for UFC 267, they would have gotten their money’s worth. Getting the event for the price of a subscription to ESPN+ made it an absolute steal. Khamzat Chimaev picked up right where he left off with his hype train after an extended absence, Islam Makhachev made his strongest case yet as heir apparent for the lightweight throne, Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen lived up to the hype surrounding their fight, and Glover Teixeira topped it all off by becoming the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. To say it was a satisfying card would be an understatement. Nonetheless, in hopes of covering some of the less glorified storylines — and further touching on some of the popular themes — here are my Unofficial Awards.
Biggest Jump in Stock: This is hard to figure out as nearly all the favorites on the card won and there weren’t any transcendent performances. Though I don’t really like picking the best fighters on the card, it comes down to picking between Makhachev and Teixeira. Given the title win completely rewrites the legacy of Teixeira, I’ll lean in that direction. Prior to his crowning performance, he was going to go down as one of the greats of his generation who never claimed gold. While there is nothing wrong with that legacy, it’s something that stings any fighter who ends up with that, coming thisclose to accomplishing the ultimate goal, only to come up just short. Well, he doesn’t have to worry about that any longer after wresting the belt from Jan Blachowicz.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This is also a hard spot to figure out. Blachowicz wasn’t the most respected champion, at least not from the typical fanbase, so I wouldn’t put him here. Even though it wasn’t the most shocking loss, I’ll go with Li Jingliang. The Chinese representative was ragdolled by Chimaev and put to sleep when he was supposed to be a stern test for the hyped Chechyn. There’s a large swathe that won’t hold that against the longtime veteran as Chimaev appears to be a generational talent at this point, but there’s others who will refer to him as a bum, especially if Chimaev meets any type of resistence in his next fight. Throw in the fact that Li could very well suffer greatly in terms of his confidence and it’s plausible we’ve seen seen Li climb as high as he’s going to climb. I’ll admit there’s a lot of hypothetical to sliding him in here, but it’s the best I can do on a card where things largely played out the way they were supposed to.
Best Newcomer: There were only two debutants, but Benoit Saint Denis got more attention for all the wrong reasons (more on that a little later). However, Allan Nascimento clearly found more success, dropping a split decision to Tagir Ulanbekov that very easily could have gone in favor of the Brazilian. It’s good to see Nascimento finally get to the big stage several years after he was thought to be one of the best prospects at flyweight, if not the best at one point. Flyweight is still desperate for more bodies, so Nascimento’s presence is more than welcome.
Start Typing a Resume: If it was up to me, Makwan Amirkhani wouldn’t be cut loose... at least not yet. I get that he has lost three in a row, but Mr. Finland was absolutely winning his contest with Lerone Murphy until he wasn’t. Amirkhani isn’t going to advance beyond being a gatekeeper, but there is value in a gatekeeper with some name value. Amirkhani isn’t a superstar by any means, but he’s better known than just about all the other featherweights in his range. But three losses in a row – and four in his last five appearances – is hard to justify.
Hu Yaozong now possesses as many career losses as he does career wins, none of those wins coming in the UFC. I acknowledge the youngster has some raw tools to work with and should continue to improve, but he never should have been signed to the UFC when he was in the first place. Hu needs experience more than anything else at this moment and he’s only fought three times in four years in the UFC. For the sake of his own career, he should be released.
Saved Their Job(s): There usually aren’t too many in this category for PPV cards (I’m counting this event as a PPV card since it’s a numbered event) and there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the card who saved their UFC employment. Even though a few may end up being cut loose, it’s an indication of how good the quality of the card.
Never Seen That Before: Paul Felder referred to it as a teepee triangle, but I had never seen it myself. Given Felder had a name for it and several others on the Twitterverse posted pictures and videos of it being performed previously, it’s clear it wasn’t quite the anomaly Daniel Cormier made it out to be. Nonetheless, it’s likely the first time many viewers saw the maneuver when Amanda Ribas threw her legs around the neck of Virna Jandiroba, putting on a hell of a squeeze. It didn’t elicit a tap, but it was an interesting visual and one that could realistically been seen more now that it’s shown itself in the world’s preeminent MMA organization.
Biggest WOW Moment: This is a tricky category to award. As a whole, Teixeira claiming the belt at the age of 42 is a massive WOW, making him the oldest first-time champion in UFC history, Randy Couture being the only other former champion of any sort to hold the belt at an older age. It doesn’t get any easier for an in-cage moment that requires no context as Chimaev’s mauling of Li Jingliang dropped some jaws too. But I’m going with Lerone Murphy deading Amirkhani with a knee as Mr. Finland dove in for a takedown. Amirkhani went to sleep immediately and even though Murphy said he knew Amirkhani was out, he still landed a few hammerfists for good measure. Featherweight is one of the organization’s deepest divisions, often leading to Murphy being a forgotten man. That KO will make it very difficult for anyone to forget about him now.
Best/Worst Referee Decision: Hands down, the worst refereeing of a contest that I’ve ever seen came from Vyecheslav Kiselev. The job of a referee is to protect fighters and he absolutely did not do that for the aforementioned Saint Denis, allowing the newcomer to eat untold and unnecessary punishment from Elizeu dos Santos. There were countless opportunities for him to step in and stop the fight as dos Santos teed off on Saint Denis. I guess because Saint Denis didn’t drop, the referee saw no reason to stop the action, seemingly unaware that a standing TKO is a completely acceptable stoppage. He also allowed the fight to continue when it seemed Saint Denis claimed he couldn’t see. Fighters know to never tell a referee they can’t see if they want the fight stopped... and Kiselev allowed the fight to continue anyway! Some may complain about his taking a point from dos Santos, but I could care less about that as I wish more refs would take points. But the utter lack of regard for the health and safety of Saint Denis was appalling.
Quiet Efficiency: Completely lost in all the hoopla of the event was the understated performance of Magomed Analaev. The Russian efficiently picked apart the always dangerous Volkan Oezdemir, quietly extending his win streak to seven. It’s not like Ankalaev didn’t threaten with a finish either. Outside of Jiri Prochazka, is there another light heavyweight that can definitively say their resume is more deserving than Ankalaev’s is at the moment? Arguments can be made in favor of Anthony Smith and Aleksander Rakic, but I wouldn’t say those arguments would be any stronger than those for Ankalaev. As for Blachowicz, he just barely lost the belt. Let’s have him win a fight before making those arguments.
Turn Up the Volume: Fighters need to be loud sometimes in order to get the attention they deserve. Khabib was mostly understated throughout his career, but made noise as he approached the top of the heap. I’m not just talking about using his words either. His former teammate and current protégé, Makhachev, is doing the exact same thing. Typically grinding out his opposition with efficiency, Makhachev wasted no time securing a takedown and going on the attack against Dan Hooker, nabbing an excruciating kimura in the process. He was then loud in his post-fight interview, calling for a title shot after Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier settle their business. He’ll be hard to deny, especially if Khabib adds some influence. Can’t help but feel for Beneil Dariush....
Russian Route: Russians went 7-2 on the evening, one of those losses coming against a fellow Russian when Albert Duraev upended Roman Kopylov. Make no mistake, Abu Dhabi serves as a pro-Russia location when it comes to who they cheer for and they made their presence known. I got a feeling as the UFC begins traveling more frequently around the globe, that will be a returning trend. For example, after the UFC returned to Brazil in 2011, it was a death knell for the success of American fighters whenever they opted to fight there for the next little while. The amount of Brazilian success tapered after a while, but given absence only makes the heart grow fonder, expect American’s to be reluctant to face opposition in their home countries... or at least in a venue with strong rooting interests that aren’t American.
Legitimacy: I gotta admit, I underestimated Ribas. While her win over Mackenzie Dern was impressive, it was also against an undisciplined and just off maternity leave version of Dern. Her other wins came against opposition that have seen their star vastly diminished even before getting to Ribas. However, she held her own on the mat with Jandiroba and outside of a flash knockdown at the end of the first, Ribas completely controlled the standup with ease. I had claimed because her personality was so utterly likeable, she was getting a push she wasn’t ready for. I’m happy to say, Ribas proved me wrong.
Best Callout: I wasn’t sure whether to include this – so many fighters passed on the opportunity – but I’ll give it to Makhachev. I was convinced he was going to need one more win if he got past Hooker before earning a title shot. Now, I’m not so sure. He was emphatic in asking for a title shot and it’s hard to say he doesn’t deserve one after this performance. After all, a win over Hooker was good enough to get Michael Chandler a title shot. Why not Makhachev when he has so many other wins behind him to support him?
Doing it with Swag: I was concerned about Chimaev when he wasn’t saying much in the weeks leading into the event. He did pick it up on fight week, but I feared it could have been a false confidence. Nope. Chimaev was talking to Uncle Dana as he hoisted Li around the cage, asking for a fight with Brock Lesnar. Chimaev may be a large welterweight, but he’s still a welterweight daring to ask for a heavyweight. In most cases, I’d say it was just talk, but I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if Chimaev was serious. The man is fearless.