SHARE


UFC
263
was a great night for Mexican MMA and its first homegrown
UFC champion, Brandon
Moreno
.

After decades of courting its boxing-mad southern neighbor — and
the Spanish-speaking U.S. fan base — with Mexican-American stars
ranging from Tito Ortiz to
Cain
Velasquez
to Henry
Cejudo
, the Ultimate Fighting Championship today is flush
with contenders who actually hail from Mexico and the rest of
Spanish-speaking Latin America. But that’s a narrative about the
UFC and the sport in general: Saturday’s biggest story was the
27-year-old “Assassin Baby” who put on a shockingly dominant
performance in his rematch with UFC flyweight champ Deiveson
Figueiredo
on his way to a second-round submission win. It
completes an unlikely character arc that began with Moreno as a
“TUF” afterthought and onetime UFC washout, and leaves him now in
need of a first challenger.

While Moreno’s title win was the emotional climax of UFC 263, it
wasn’t even the main event. Israel
Adesanya
capped off the title doubleheader with a one-sided win
over Marvin
Vettori
, reestablishing his dominance over the middleweight
division and showing that his loss to 205-pound champ Jan
Blachowicz
earlier this year was not a game plan the average
185-pounder is going to be able to emulate. “The Last Stylebender,”
despite having just 10 middleweight fights in the UFC, is looking
down at a Top 10 strewn with the wreckage of fighters he has
already defeated. In the wake of UFC 263, here are some matches
that ought to be made:

Israel
Adesanya
vs. Robert
Whittaker
:
After Adesanya’s crushing defeat of
Whittaker to win the title 20 months ago, it seemed fair to ask how
much “Bobby Knuckles” would need to do before anyone was ready to
see a rematch. It turns out that the answer is: win three straight
fights over Top 10 opponents, while Adesanya cleans out the
division to the point that he tries to win a second belt. Whittaker
will likely be a serious underdog against the champ, but that isn’t
really the point; so will everyone else at middleweight for the
foreseeable future. Until someone like Jared
Cannonier
or Jack
Hermansson
can string together enough solid wins to merit a
title shot, Adesanya may be stuck granting second chances to
fighters he’s already beaten convincingly. It’s legacy time.

Brandon
Moreno
vs. Askar
Askarov
:
Even before the rear-naked choke finish,
Moreno’s performance against Figueiredo was simply stunning. He
appeared to be moving at twice the speed of the Brazilian, stinging
him repeatedly with a lightning jab, outwrestling him and getting
much the better of the scrambles that are normally Figueiredo’s
wheelhouse. Because the win was so dominant, and because it might
point to serious problems making the flyweight limit for “Deus da
Guerra,” I’m projecting — and hoping — that the UFC does not book
an immediate rematch. If not Figueiredo, then whom? Assuming he has
put his own weight issues behind him, Askarov is the obvious
choice. The undefeated Dagestani has won three straight since a
draw with Moreno in his UFC debut.

Leon
Edwards
vs. Kamaru
Usman
Colby
Covington
winner:
It was a weird fight, and Edwards
detractors and Nate Diaz
apologists will make much of Diaz having him in serious trouble in
the final minute of the fight, but the main story of Saturday’s
feature fight was Edwards outgunning Diaz badly in every phase of
MMA while Diaz goofed around. It might not be a title
shot-clinching performance if not for the fact that Edwards
deserved the shot even before this fight. Now on a 10-fight
unbeaten streak since losing to Usman and with the champ himself
saying Edwards has earned his shot, all would seem to be in place,
except that the UFC appears to be planning to have Usman and
Covington rematch first. Unless Edwards wants to risk his place in
line to do something like conclude his unfinished business with
Jorge
Masvidal
, he should stand pat and get his long-delayed shot at
the belt.

Belal
Muhammad
vs. Neil
Magny
:
“Remember the Name” added a big name to his
résumé, taking a unanimous decision over legendary grappler
Demian
Maia
. While Maia is clearly near the end of his road at 43, he
remains a dangerous foe who has only lost to the very elite of the
division. Muhammad is just outside that select club, looking in,
unbeaten in his last five fights. He probably needs one more win
before a true top contenders’ fight is undeniable. Magny, who
defeated Geoff Neal
last month at UFC on ESPN 24 and is peaking at age 33, finds
himself in a similar place. Let them sort out who is Chicago’s best
welterweight, and give the winner a Top 5 opponent.

Paul Craig
vs. Ovince St.
Preux
Maxim
Grishin
winner:
Craig had one obvious route to victory
on Saturday, and damned if he didn’t take it. Faced with an
undefeated rising knockout artist in Jamahal
Hill
, “The Bearjew” pulled guard, then chained together several
nasty-looking submission attempts from his back before securing an
armbar that contorted Hill’s arm in one of the most grisly finishes
of the year. Thanks to a miserable showing by the referee, the
fight dragged on at least 10 seconds longer than it should have,
but that should not reflect on Craig, who clearly did not want to
inflict undue damage on Hill despite the bad blood between the two
ahead of the fight. Craig is now 4-0-1 in his last five fights, and
is nearly two years removed from his last loss. He is emerging as a
fringe contender at light heavyweight, and has earned a fight that
will at least catapult him the rest of the way there. St. Preux and
Grishin face off in two weeks at UFC Fight Night 190. The winner
would be a suitable next step for the surging Scot.


LEAVE A REPLY