Last night (Sat., March 18, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) traveled to The O2 in London, England, for UFC 286. It’s not everyday that UFC has an English champion, so bringing the belt to the United Kingdom and putting it on the line was definitely the right move. Even outside of the main event and champion Leon Edwards, there was lots of local talent on display, and the United Kingdom fans made sure there was an incredible atmosphere for some great scraps.
Let’s take a look at UFC 286’s best performances and techniques:
Rocky Stands Tall
Leon Edwards did what needed to be done opposite Kamaru Usman to retain his title. Going by the current criteria that prioritizes damage above all else, I think there’s an argument to be made for “Rocky” winning every round. He did a bulk of his damage with the kicks, and those strikes really broke Usman down like we’ve never seen previously. All the work to the legs and body in the first three rounds left Usman looking wobbly and shooting for takedowns in the fifth, despite it feeling clear that “The Nigerian Nightmare” needed a knockout to take back the title.
For more on the fight itself, check out my recap HERE.
Moving forward, UFC President Dana White said that Colby Covington will receive the next title shot opposite Edwards. At first glance, it sounds like a mirror match up, but that’s not exactly the case. Covington being a Southpaw will force Edwards to adjust his kicking strategy, and he’s simply a better chain wrestler than Usman. Edwards did a great job of really limiting the wrestling exchanges against Usman by separating the hands, but Covington can string together takedowns more effectively as well as put together better punching combinations.
Of course, Covington also hits nowhere near as hard as Usman, nor is he as massively strong. My central point here is this: Edwards vs. Covington is a very intriguing new match up, even if it’s not the one many of us expected to materialize.
Lightweight’s Old Guard Holds
It wasn’t all that long ago that fans were accusing Justin Gaethje of ducking Rafael Fiziev. Fortunately, the fight itself proved that a rather absurd notion.
Fiziev is so darn quick. In the first round, he was beating Gaethje to the punch, rocketing forward with powerful combinations and ripping kicks. Gaethje was getting his own digs as well, but it was clear that the younger athlete had some significant physical advantages. Gaethje’s advantage lies in experience in brutal brawls, and in that realm, he is a true master.
Slowly, Gaethje started to land heavier and heavier. Fiziev’s speed is dynamic, but it comes at a cost. Each of his shots is full power, and particularly for a fighter who kicks so often, that’s an exhausting style. He does slow down over time, which is less a knock on his conditioning and more a reality of his fighting style.
Put simply, Fiziev was vulnerable in the third, and Gaethje made him pay. “The Highlight” started sticking Fiziev with constant jabs, and his uppercut punished the would-be rolls of Fiziev, much easier to read in the third round than the first. In five minutes, Gaethje pulled far ahead, turning his opponent’s face to mush to change a competitive fight to a clear-cut win.
Gaethje says he has one more run left in the tank, and Dustin Poirier’s coming off a win. It’s time for the rematch.
Lethal On The Mat
Is it too late for a Gunnar Nelson run at the top?
Bryan Barberena is not an elite Welterweight, but he’s tough. He’s a good scrapper with a ton of experience, and Nelson cut through him like butter. He moved really fluidly around the Octagon before starting a clinch battle, at which point the takedown come soon afterward. Once on top, Nelson methodically worked his elbows before advancing into mount.
Nelson took mount, and then 13 seconds later, Barberena was frantically tapping to an armbar. That is RUTHLESS jiu-jitsu!
Historically, Nelson’s troubles have come with getting outwrestled or getting blitzed. His kickboxing has always been dangerous, but it still seems to be improving. Plus, since his 2022 return from a three year layoff, it’s clear that Nelson’s strength and conditioning routine has become a much more serious focus.
At 34 years old, maybe it’s not too late for “Gunni” to climb higher up the ranks than ever before. If he can maintain a higher pace and wrestle well at an elite level, few men are more dangerous finishers at 170 pounds.
Mokaev Guts Out The Win
Muhammad Mokaev defeated replacement opponent Jafel Filho in the final minute of the third round to remain undefeated after four UFC fights, but that’s not to say it was easy!
Once again, Mokaev used his wrestling to really control his opponent. The problem remains that he’s not able to do a ton of damage with his control — the significant strike count only totaled 25 strikes combined! That’s wildly low-volume for a Flyweight fight, and it means the opponents stuck beneath Mokaev can focus on counterattacks like the knee bar that tore apart “The Punisher’s” leg.
It’s hugely impressive that Mokaev survived the damaging submission to lock up his own strangle, but it’s time for a slow roll. Though Mokaev has been calling out elite Flyweights left and right, this fight shows that he probably needs a little more time before trying to break into the Top 10.
Either way, he’ll need some time to recover from this one.
- Jack Shore defeats Makwan Amirkhani via second-round submission: It’s hard to read too much into Shore’s Featherweight debut, seeing as it went the same way as most Amirkhani losses. Amirkhani’s gas tank remains a massive issue; he just deteriorates at about the seven minute mark! Shore did his job, surviving the first then taking over once “Mr. Finland” crumbled, but it remains to be seen how high he can climb the Featherweight ladder.
- Yanal Ashmoz defeats Sam Patterson via first-round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): It’s hard to beat a 75-second knockout for a debut win. Patterson was the much taller man, but he threw a naked low kick from too close. Ashmoz crashed forward with a monster right hand and timed a left hook immediately after, cracking Peterson twice before he hit the floor. Nasty!
- Jake Hadley defeats Malcolm Gordon via first-round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): There was a lot of controversy and hype surrounding Hadley back around his debut, but the highly underrated Allan Nascimento shut him down. The hype immediately evaporated, but perhaps it’s building back up? The 26-year-old English talent won his second consecutive fight via finish, and though he’s known for his submission grappling more than anything else, his boxing was on display. Aggressive from the first bell, Hadley’s counter uppercut to the bread basket was a well-timed and unique shot that created a slick finish.
For complete UFC 286: “Edwards vs. Usman” results and play-by-play, click HERE.