With UFC 276 behind us, we’re left to ponder the title fights at the top of the card and what they did for each division. To be more blunt, I wonder if those fights left fans satisfied. Or if, in the event’s aftermath, MMA enthusiasts are looking forward to what’s next for the winners of the two title bouts that headlined the pay-per-view event instead of looking back at what those fighters accomplished on Saturday night.
In the main event, Israel Adesanya extended his run as the UFC middleweight champ by earning his 12th consecutive win in the promotion’s 185-pound division with a decision over Jared Cannonier. The champ’s title defense likely sets up a matchup with Alex Pereira, who knocked out Sean Strickland earlier on the UFC 276 card.
In the co-main event, Alexander Volkanovski defeated Max Holloway for the third time and defended his 145-pound UFC title for the fourth time. After his win, it seems as if Volkanovski has his eyes on fighting for the vacant UFC lightweight strap.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and contemplate matchups that have yet to be spoken about inside the UFC’s “war room,” it’s time to look back on the entire UFC 276 fight card and discuss the winners and losers from that event.
Israel Adesanya: A few years ago I was in New Zealand and I spoke to Eugene Bareman. This was before Israel Adesanya won the interim UFC middleweight title. One thing that Bareman told me was that he did not like when his fighters took undue risk or undue damage. He made that point in relation to Adesanya. It’s taken a while, but it seems as if Adesanya has fully bought into that message from his coach at City Kickboxing.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In a sport where the fighters take all the risks and the ownership group gets almost all the rewards (read: cash), it’s a wise fighter who prolongs their run at the top of the division by fighting in a style that limits the damage they take while prolonging their run at the top of the division.
However, I suspect that there are a lot of fans who put their entertainment above the physical and financial well-being of the fighters they watch and I can understand why those fans might have an issue with Adesanya.
Alexander Volkanovski: A masterpiece. That’s what Alexander Volkanovski painted at UFC 276. With questions still in the air regarding the legitimacy of his reign as UFC featherweight champion, Volkanovski went into UFC 276 with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He showed he is a better fighter than Max Holloway. With that out of the way, Volkanovski should be able to rid himself of all the doubters and naysayers who were holding onto the idea that his first two wins over Holloway were flukes. They weren’t.
I should add that I think those who hesitated to give Volkanovski his due might have been the driving force behind his performance at UFC 276 and that includes the UFC, who seemed to want to give Holloway every chance it could to regain the 145-pound title.
Alex Pereira: If Alex Pereira wanted an opponent who was willing to showcase his striking talent on a big stage, he found a willing partner in Sean Strickland. Strickland played with fire in standing with his more powerful opponent and Pereira rewarded Strickland’s foolhardy approach to their middleweight matchup by knocking him out.
Robbie Lawler vs. Bryan Barberena: The fight that felt like the people’s main event delivered. In the first round, Bryan Barberena seemed to want to put so much volume on Robbie Lawler that Lawler would be unable to find space to land with power. That approach did not fully work, as Lawler still found Barberena’s chin.
The second round was a different story as Barberena hurt Lawler with punches, elbows and pressure, earning a TKO win.
The fight promised violence on paper and it delivered that in practice.
Jalin Turner: Wow. Jalin Turner made an enormous statement at UFC 276. Unranked at lightweight heading into UFC 276, Turner picked up his fifth straight stoppage win by submitting Brad Riddell in 45 seconds.
Turner entered the UFC with an impressive striking game, but his grappling is developing into a threat as well, as he has earned three submissions in his past four outings. When you add in his ability to use his height and reach to his advantage, the 27-year-old Turner looks to have an incredibly high upside at lightweight.
Jim Miller: The UFC disrespected Jim Miller by allowing him to enter UFC 276 without a secure future. Miller went out in his UFC record 40th fight, which he won via submission over Donald Cerrone, earned his UFC record 24th victory, secured his 16th UFC finish (tied for second all time with Cerrone) and picked up his 11th UFC submission (tied for second all time with Demian Maia).
According to Aaron Bronsteter, the UFC righted its wrong after the ceremonial weigh-ins on Friday and signed Miller to a four-fight extension. Hopefully that contract came with a raise.
Donald Cerrone: Donald Cerrone announced his retirement after his loss to Jim Miller. If Cerrone does indeed no longer love the sport, which he told UFC commentator Joe Rogan was the case, now is an ideal time for him to leave the sport as he is getting opportunities outside the octagon, via acting, that might not be there if he does not focus on them right now.
Dricus du Plessis: If the UFC matchmakers were testing the 28-year-old Dricus du Plessis against the ranked — and much more experienced — Brad Tavares, they saw some good and some not so good out of the South African fighter.
Du Plessis made an unforced error in the first round while going for a takedown. He also seemed to throw every strike he attempted with 100 percent effort. Last, he seemed to have some cardio issues in what was his first fight to go the distance.
Du Plesis should break into the rankings with his decision win over Tavares, but his team and the matchmakers might be wise to hold off on booking him against someone ranked higher than Tavares was (No. 12) ahead of this contest.
By no means am I saying this was a poor performance from Du Plessis, it wasn’t, but he needs work, especially in adding subtleties to his all-power striking game, before he is ready to face elite competition.
Andre Muniz: It’s hard to get a read on the effort Andre Muniz put in against Uriah Hall. Yes, it was a dominant win and it should move Muniz into — or adjacent to — the top 10 of the UFC middleweight division, but it seemed to lack something. There are a few reasons I’m torn on Muniz’s performance.
The first is that this was an important fight for Muniz. A win, safe or not, was a win against a highly ranked veteran. The second was that Hall seemed out of gas by the end of the first round, which might have allowed Muniz to take things easier than he normally would have. Third, and this is the one that concerns me, is there is a chance the Muniz was looking for a specific finish instead of pursuing a less spectacular technique like a rear-naked choke. That’s a dangerous game to play and one that could cost him against a foe with the ability to take advantage of openings and opportunities.
The MMA world should remain high on Muniz, but his next bout should be one that gets highly dissected.
Maycee Barber: The move to Team Alpha Male is starting to pay dividends. Barber was effective in the clinch, especially with her elbows. Barber picked up a win over Jessica Eye on Saturday in a contest where she showed she is progressing in her overall game.
It’s still far too early to call Barber a future champ or even a future title challenger, but she seems coachable, confident and capable. She still needs work, but at 24, she has plenty of time to figure things out. Saturday was a good step in the right direction
Jessica Eye: Jessica Eye told UFC commentator Joe Rogan that she was retiring following her decision loss to Barber. The setback was her fifth straight defeat.
What I liked about Eye’s retirement speech was that she seems to have a plan for her post-fight career.
“I’d like to see what the rest of the world looks like,” said Eye.
Julija Stoliarenko: Julija Stoliarenko ran over Jessica-Rose Clark. Stoliarenko ended a three-fight losing skid in a slick and violent manner by securing an armbar that looked like it did an enormous amount of damage to Clark’s left arm. The sub was Stoliarenko’s 10th career win and ninth via armbar. The win likely saved the former Invicta FC’s champ UFC job. This finish was incredibly impressive and it opened the card in a big way.
Jared Cannonier: After he defeated Jared Cannonier, Israel Adesanya gave his opponent’s coaching team props for their game plan and approach to the fight. While I agree with the champion, to a point, I don’t know if Cannonier’s team had a plan 1A.
Cannonier was never in great danger during the fight, which seemed to be plan A, but he also never put Adesanya in danger, which would have been the second — and most important — piece of Cannonier getting the win.
Max Holloway: With three losses to Alexander Volkanovski, it’s hard to know what’s next for Max Holloway. The chances that he’ll get another shot at Volkanovski are slim. If he moves up to lightweight, the odds are the UFC matchmakers will throw him right into the deep end of the pool and not give him a chance to work his way into the division. At 30, Holloway’s career is far from over, but he has some tough decisions ahead of him.
Sean Strickland: Sean Strickland is not Jon Jones. He cannot fight to his opponent’s strength when that fighter is a devastating striker. Strickland found that out when Alex Pereira cracked him and ended his six-fight winning streak.
Sean O’Malley: Sean O’Malley poked Pedro Munhoz in the eye to end the fight and then celebrated with a post-fight basketball shot pantomime. Not a great look.
Brad Riddell: Brad Riddell’s time inside the top-15 of the UFC’s lightweight division likely came to an end when he tapped to Jalin Turner’s guillotine choke, 45 seconds into their UFC 276 matchup.
Riddell had been on a 4-0 run in the UFC and was coming off a “Fight of the Night” bonus-winning decision win over Drew Dober before losing to Rafael Fiziev via knockout in December. The loss to Turner puts him on the first losing skid of his career. At 30, Riddell has time to get back in the mix, but he cannot afford a loss in his next outing.
Uriah Hall: There are two ways a Uriah Hall fight can go. His bout against Andre Muniz was one of his misses.
Jessica-Rose Clark: Jessica-Rose Clark started her fight opposite Julija Stoliarenko with confidence. She was aggressive and moved forward, but her inability to stop the takedown attempt of Stoliarenko put her right in her opponent’s wheelhouse on the mat. The armbar submission defeat marked the second straight first-round submission setback for Clark.
Sean O’Malley: Sean O’Malley’s matchup opposite Pedro Munhoz was supposed to show just where he stands in the bantamweight division. We learned nothing by the time the fight ended because of an O’Malley eye poke.
O’Malley seemed to fight more reserved than normal and with Munhoz refusing to bite on his feints, we saw little from the rising bantamweight as far as his striking is concerned. On a positive note, O’Malley seemed able to handle the leg kicks of Munhoz. With that, if they run this one back, I think O’Malley will open up his striking.
Ian Garry: My “must improve” list on Ian Garry heading into his fight opposite Gabe Green were his defense and his willingness to allow his opponent to lead the dance. He improved a little on giving up position, but his defense still needs a lot of work. Garry fights with his hands low and relies on his ability to lean out of the way of his shorter opponents too much. Neither of those approaches is one I would recommend.
As for the positives, Garry is a very good technical striker with a deep well of techniques to draw from, especially noteworthy was his use of varied combinations. In fact, Garry might be served to throw some grit and grime on his striking, just for the sake of mixing things up and giving his opponent’s a different look.
Garry is young and learning and he remains a work in progress. He didn’t make enough progress between his last fight and UFC 276 to force me to put him in the “winner” category on this card.