I’m not sure how to label UFC 276. It most certainly wasn’t a failure. The preliminary fights delivered on all accounts and couple of the main card contests went as well as could be reasonably be expected. But the anticlimactic title fights coupled with a disappointing no contest between Sean O’Malley and Pedro Munhoz put a bit of a cloud over the event. That isn’t to take anything away from the dominance of Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski – I’ll touch on some of that later – but it did take a bit of the luster off an otherwise fabulous evening. I’ll explain a bit more, but you’ll have to continue with my Unofficial Awards....
Biggest Jump in Stock: Because that leap to being the P4P best is so difficult to make, I very strongly considered putting Volkanovski in this spot, but the leap Alex Pereira made going from a middleweight on the fringe of the official UFC rankings to the fringe of the top five. Sure, Sean Strickland fought the dumbest fight he could have fought, but Pereira did what he was supposed to do and blasted Strickland into another dimension. That in itself is a difficult proposition given Strickland’s durability. The speed in which Pereira has risen is worth mentioning. Adesanya’s rapid rise is always mentioned. It took 16 MMA fights, six in the UFC, before Adesanya received a title shot. And that was an interim title fight. If Pereira were to get the title shot as we’re all expecting, he’s at 7 MMA fights, three in the UFC. Damn.
Biggest Fall in Stock: Many would say Strickland belongs here for fighting a stupid fight. While his stock is definitely hurt, Strickland lost fighting the same fight that put him in that position in the first place. Thus, even if his strategy was stupid, I can kind of see where he’s coming from. Thus, I’ll go with Brad Riddell. Going into his fight with Rafael Fiziev back in December, Riddell looked like a dark horse contender for the lightweight crown down the road. Now, after two consecutive losses, including being submitted by Jalin Turner in just 45 seconds, it looks like he may have already peaked. Riddell is just 30, so my guess is he will work back into the official rankings. But I’m also not sure of that and the manner he lost to Turner is high problematic for his future.
Start Typing a Resume: There was a strong feeling that this was going to be Donald Cerrone’s last fight, but it was still a bit jarring to hear. Cerrone said what we were all thinking when he said he didn’t love fighting anymore. The fire hadn’t been seen since his fight with Tony Ferguson. Cerrone retires with the second most wins in UFC history, several wins over former champions, and was the ultimate anytime, anyone, anywhere fighter for a long time. Sure, he never did get over the hump and win a big one, if that’s what you’re remembered for, it also means that you accomplished pretty much everything else. Cerrone will be missed. Here’s hoping for the best for him in his future endeavors.
I get the feeling it was a bit of a “you can’t fire me, I retire!” situation given Jessica Eye had lost four in a row and five of her last six, but the ultimate result is the same: Eye will no longer be on the UFC roster. Eye has been a target of fan vitriol for quite a while. Whether it was her perennial underachieving or combative personality, she never got much love. It can’t be said that she didn’t have a notable career, fighting for the title at one point and competing against a who’s who in terms of the top fighters at the time. Regardless of her reputation, I wish her nothing but the best as I’ve never seen any signs that she’s actually a bad person.
I’m of the opinion Jessica-Rose Clark will be back, but I should acknowledge there’s a reasonable chance she’s on her way out as two consecutive losses to two unranked fighters in the most shallow division in the UFC (let’s be honest, there is no featherweight division) doesn’t bode well. However, Clark is also reasonably popular, especially given the level of success she has been able to find. Plus, the fact the division is shallow could work in her favor. Does the UFC really want to cut loose a person who has been able to pick up some wins in a division desperate for bodies? I think she’ll be back.
Saved Their Job(s): Given he entered the event without a contract extension to the best of everyone’s knowledge, it was thought Jim Miller maybe needed a win to keep his job. It turned out Miller had signed an extension the day before, which wasn’t revealed until after Miller subbed Cerrone. Thus, while some believe Miller could have been skating on thin ice, it doesn’t appear to be the case on further inspection.
I’ve been frustrated with Julija Stoliarenko for a while. Entering her contest with Clark, Stoliarenko had dropped all four of her UFC fights, including three consecutively. The reason for the frustration is the talent was far better than the results. Stoliarenko finally made it a priority to get the fight to the mat and do what she does best: snatch arms. It was pretty damned gruesome, but Stoliarenko dislocated Clark’s elbow looking for an armbar to secure her first UFC win and hold onto her job. It will be interesting to see if she can build on her momentum.
Biggest WOW Moment: There’s no contest for this spot: Pereira landing a clean hook flush on the chin of Strickland. Pereira successfully lulled Strickland into a false sense of security before catching him with the hook and a couple of follow up shots called it a night for Strickland. It wasn’t a surprising finish to the fight, but it was a startling end and probably launched him into a title shot. We all know the UFC was happy about it too as they get the desired outcome they were hoping for from the moment they signed Pereira: a match between Pereira and Adesanya.
Most Crippled Legacy: This could very well go to Holloway as few would be willing to include him in the debate of the greatest featherweight of all time. That space is now limited to Volkanovski and Jose Aldo, though I admit Aldo’s legacy is fading in the face of Volkanovski’s current dominance. I’m looking at Adesanya here. I acknowledge this is a tricky wire to walk, so bear with me. Adesanya talks about his legacy being the most important thing. In one of the promo videos leading into the event, he talked about not even caring about being champion anymore, pointing out how Conor McGregor is the biggest name in the sport and has never defended a belt once he obtained one. That gives off the impression Adesanya is interested in creating moments in the cage, not just in his walkouts. He doubled down on that sentiment in the cold open. And yet... he fought like he was most interested in keeping his belt than in creating a moment or showing off. This isn’t to say Adesanya isn’t a great fighter. He very much deserves to be in the P4P best in the current moment. But now he’s providing empty promises. I repeat, Adesanya is a great fighter at the peak of his abilities, an all-time great. But he’s falling short of producing the magic moments he’s always talking about. I’m not saying he needs to do that every time he steps in the cage, but only one of his five title defenses has created the aura and vibe he’s looking to establish. There’s more than enough time for Adesanya to regain his previous aura, so this is hardly a death knell, but I’ve seen comments about Adesanya being a boring fighter. That’s not the legacy Adesanya wants.
Best Breakthrough Performance: I’ll admit breakthrough might be a bit hyperbolic, but there were five fighters the UFC were looking to set up for victories on the prelims: Maycee Barber, Andre Muniz, Dricus Du Plessis, Ian Garry, and Jalin Turner. That type of matchmaking is hardly a rarity – almost every card has several fights like that – but what’s rare is when all those fights go according to the UFC’s hopes. It isn’t just that they all won, they all won in impressive enough fashion to justify the UFC’s push behind them. But who stood out the most? In my opinion, that’s an easy choice: Turner. It could be argued he had the toughest opponent out of the five and he tore through Riddell in less than a minute. Given his size is something that can’t be taught, he has an edge over everyone else.
Most Underrated Ground Fighter: It feels weird giving praise to a fighter who landed very little meaningful offense in his contest, but nobody ever thinks about Uriah Hall as someone who knows what their doing on the mat. Granted, I am talking solely about his defensive grappling, but not only did Hall go the distance with Muniz – a man who had submitted each of his last three opponents via armbar, including Jacare – he has never been submitted in his professional career. Perhaps it’s just me, but we give all sorts of credit to fighters who never seem to suffer KO’s while ignoring those who spend their career avoiding being tapped. For all the talks of Hall being a head case, that’s an astonishing accomplishment.
Most Surprising Resurgence: For some, Barber’s ability to rebound from two consecutive losses isn’t a surprise. Not only is she still extremely young at 24, she’s still extremely talented. No doubt there were concerns following her controversial win over Miranda Maverick, but the last two wins she has picked up since then has allowed her to regain much of the luster she lost in her losing stretch. With the emergence of Manon Fiorot, Casey O’Neill, and Erin Blanchfield, she’s no longer the it prospect of the flyweight division, but she’s certainly deserving of being in those talks once again.
Greatest Featherweight of All Time: I did say earlier that I’m open to arguments about Aldo, but for my money, Volkanovski has solidified himself in that status. Even if you want to give Holloway the second fight in their trilogy, it gives Volkanovski a 2-to-1 edge in victories over Holloway. Officially, Volkanovski is 3-0 against Holloway and many tend to forget he has a victory over Aldo. I know Volkanovski is looking at the lightweight title, but I’m sick of the champ-champ movement. One guy owning two belts holds up both divisions, creating logjams. There are other fights out there for Volkanovski at 145 that hold intrigue. Josh Emmett is a perfectly acceptable next challenger. Yair Rodriguez and Arnold Allen could be a win away from that point. Calvin Kattar might be two wins away. Who’s to say Brian Ortega couldn’t claw his way back into a rematch either. After all, Ortega came the closest to beating Volkanovski. Plus, the likes of Bryce Mitchell and Movsar Evloev look like they aren’t too far off from entering title talks. I’m anointing Volkanovski the featherweight GOAT, but I don’t think he’s done building his legacy in the division.