What mattered most at UFC 277 at American Airlines Center in Dallas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
5. Ankalaev’s title case hurt by Smith’s injury
[autotag]Magomed Ankalaev[/autotag] has done enough to warrant a title shot in the UFC light heavyweight division. Let’s make that much clear. Whether he’ll actually get it, though, is an entirely different debate.
Ankalaev (18-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) had an opportunity to break through against fan favorite and former title challenger [autotag]Anthony Smith[/autotag]. He left the cage with a second-round TKO win, but it was partially deflated by Smith (36-17 MMA, 11-7 UFC) suffering a leg injury at the end of Round 1, causing him to get punched into a second-round stoppage.
Based off what we saw before the injury, I would feel confident in saying Ankalaev was going to win. We didn’t get the clear image of it, however, and I wonder how that could impact his case to fight champion Jiri Prochazka next compared to either Glover Teixeira or Jan Blachowicz, who are both in the conversation.
If we’re being honest, both of those other names are more known and marketable than Ankalaev because they are former UFC champions. If I were Prochazka, I would certainly prefer and see the upside to those fights.
The nature of Ankalaev’s win unfortunately didn’t make him undeniable, and that’s the frustrating part of this result. He might still get it, but at the moment, he seems far from the clubhouse leader.
4. Derrick Lewis’ best days might be over
Jul 30, 2022; Dallas, TX, USA; Derrick Lewis (red gloves) leaves the octagon after losing to Sergei Pavlovich (not pictured) in a heavyweight bout during UFC 277 at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Even if you’re the sternest critic of Dan Miragliotta’s stoppage that awarded [autotag]Sergei Pavlovich[/autotag] a 55-second TKO win over [autotag]Derrick Lewis[/autotag], you can’t argue it would’ve taken a special type of turnaround for “The Black Beast” to win that fight.
If there’s anyone capable of turning a bout on its axis in the snap of a finger, it’s Lewis (26-10 MMA, 17-8 UFC). He’s shown it multiple times, but it feels like the way it all went down marked a definitive negative turning point in Lewis’ career.
Although we still don’t know how good Pavlovich (16-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is or is going to be, I’m confident in saying this is a fight where Lewis wouldn’t have lost – or at least been hurt so quickly – at a different stage of his career.
After losing two of his past three against Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa, Lewis said all the right things coming into this fight week. He said he was enjoying training after switching teams and really seemed to be soaking in this stage.
But watching him fight – albeit briefly – felt like this was a diminished version of the UFC knockout record holder. Does that mean there still aren’t a lot of heavyweights out there who Lewis could obliterate for an awesome highlight? Of course not. There are plenty.
But there are some valid questions to be asked about Lewis after making 25 octagon appearances since his 2014 debut and being stopped in all eight of his losses during his stretch. I have some concerns about how things are going to continue to go against the top 15 of the weight class, so we shall see what happens.
3. Moreno botches post-fight exchange with Figueiredo
[autotag]Brandon Moreno[/autotag] might be the first true star in the UFC flyweight division. His endearing personality, his overwhelming support from Latino fans and his thrilling fighting style give him a combination no 125-pounder has had before, and it’s really amazing to see for a fighter who was infamously cut from the UFC.
With that said, though, Moreno (20-5-2 MMA, 8-2-2 UFC) dropped the ball in his in-cage exchange with [autotag]Deiveson Figueiredo[/autotag] after he halted Kai Kara-France with a body kick in the third round of their bout to become interim flyweight champion.
Far be it for me to tell fighters how to conduct themselves – and I respect Moreno saying he didn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of his daughter – but that moment with Figueiredo (21-2-1 MMA, 10-2-1 UFC) could’ve been so much more than it was. The fact it wasn’t only hurts everyone in the long run.
Moreno will unify the 125-pound titles with Figueiredo at some point this year or early 2023, and it’s going to be an unprecedented fight. It will be the first time in UFC history a pair of fighters have a fourth meeting inside the octagon, and with Moreno and Figueiredo having split the series 1-1-1 at this point, the rubber match should be treated as the unique scenario it is.
Instead of charging it up with some tension, though, Moreno and Figueiredo shared respectful words, hugged it up and treated each other as if they were buddies. I’m all for being professional, but the UFC almost never lets fighters face off in the octagon, and it felt like a wasted opportunity for the pair to fuel their fight, drive more pay-per-views buys when it does happen, and in turn put more money in their pockets.
It didn’t unfold that way, though. And while Moreno vs. Figueiredo 4 will be a marquee fight, I fear it won’t have the exposure it deserves.
2. Julianna Peña is otherworldly tough
DALLAS, TEXAS – JULY 30: Julianna Pena takes a punch from Amanda Nunes of Brazil in their bantamweight title bout during UFC 277 at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
We already knew prior to the main event that [autotag]Julianna Peña[/autotag] had a grit and determination that few can match. She proved her durability is just as strong in surviving five rounds in the rematch with Amanda Nunes, most of which was spent taking a beating.
It’s not usually a good sign when the post-fight narrative around a particular fighter revolves around their toughness. Save for a few dramatic submission attempts, there aren’t many other redeeming elements for Peña (11-5 MMA, 7-3 UFC) in this particular bout.
The fact that Peña kept pushing forward after being knocked down three times and sustaining a nasty gash on her forehead was impressive, but ultimately she failed to defeat Nunes again and prove her victory at UFC 269 in December was no fluke.
That’s likely how many people are going to frame it. There’s no taking away what she accomplished in the first meeting, but the rematch proved that was indeed one of the biggest, most shocking upsets in UFC history, and not a changing of the guard.
To her credit, it’s clear the gap between Peña and Nunes is much closer than everyone else in the division. That might not be saying much given how this fight went, but many other fighters would have ran for the door at multiple points in that fight, whereas Peña tried her best until the bitter end. She deserves the ultimate respect for that.
1. Nunes reassumes her position
I’m glad [autotag]Amanda Nunes[/autotag] stopped short of calling her loss to Peña a fluke in the aftermath of winning the rematch to regain the women’s bantamweight title. She did call it “lucky,” though, and that’s probably more of an apt term.
Seeing how that rematch played out in her unanimous decision win, it’s pretty clear Nunes is the superior fighter to Peña. It’s pretty hard to argue that. It’s also pretty hard to argue all the reasons Nunes shared as to why she was upset in the first encounter.
The critics will call them excuses, but how can you accuse Nunes of pulling fake narratives out after seeing what went down? In the first fight, she was plagued with a knee injury, the lingering effects of COVID-19 and clearly some insecurity about her team and preparation.
With a change in team, a proper training camp and a confident mindset, we saw exactly what happened when Nunes and Peña step in the octagon as the best versions of themselves. For Nunes, that’s a competitor who is levels above her peers.
Although Nunes would probably prefer to never have the blemish on her record that came with the loss to Peña, the result is looking more and more like a blessing in disguise for “The Lioness.” She knows she can’t take anyone lightly going forward, and if she can put together some more dominant years on the back of regaining this title, her legacy is going to reach untouchable heights.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 277.