What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 38 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Lightweight showcase delivers
Everyone knew when the UFC booked Mateusz Gamrot and Arman Tsarukyan for a five-round main event that this would not be a fight that would draw in the casuals. It’s too bad for them, honestly, because it proved to be one of the more compelling contests of the year.
Gamrot (21-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) vs. Tsarukyan (18-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) didn’t fit the mold of what the UFC traditionally puts in its headliners. Both men were ranked outside the top 10 at lightweight coming in, and they only have a handful of UFC fights each to their credit. Still, though, the hardcore fans knew from the outset we were in for a treat.
Two of the best names on the rise at 155 pounds got to showcase their stuff for five rounds, and it was glorious. Gamrot came out on the winning end by unanimous decision.
Was it the right call by the judges? I don’t know. And I don’t have the energy to get into another judging debate on the back end of a close, high-level fight. It should’ve been 48-47 regardless of who got his hand raised, and I don’t have many issues with Gamrot being the winner. Moreover, I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw this one again before both men hang up the gloves.
2. Is Shavkat Rakhmonov the top rising star at 170?
Shavkat Rakhmonov made Neil Magny eat all the crow in the co-main event. After Magny said earlier in the week that he was going to show the undefeated welterweight that “there are levels” to the game and claimed he’d dominate from beginning to end, it was Rakhmonov who did the dominating.
This one wasn’t even close. Rakhmonov (16-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) had Magny (26-9 MMA, 19-8 UFC) on the defensive from the opening moments of the fight until he locked in a guillotine choke to finish the job in the final seconds of Round 2. It looked remarkably easy for Rakhmonov to get the win against Magny, who has rightfully established a reputation as a strong litmus test at 170 pounds.
Rakhmonov passed that test with flying colors, and his streak of beating and stopping everyone opponent to share the cage with him in MMA competition continued.
The questions now revolve around what type of ceiling Rakhmonov has, and whether he’s the best surging name in the division. For much of the past two years all the hype has surrounded another name in Khamzat Chimaevand deservingly so because Chimaev (11-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is an absolute beast.
Is it possible Rakhmonov is even better, though? It’s too soon to know for sure, obviously. Chimaev has a certain edge and roughness to him that has been very effective, and his broken English has allowed him to connect more strongly with fans. His win over Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 in April outweighs any win on Rakhmonov’s resume, too, but there’s something about Rakhmonov’s demeanor that just looks smooth as butter out there. He never seems to be rattled by anything.
No matter who you think is better, it’s clear Rakhmonov and Chimaev are going to be problems in the division for years to come. And it wouldn’t be shocking if we eventually saw them fight each other with a UFC title on the line. And if they can both get there while staying undefeated, it would be a monumental fight.
3. Nurmagomedov already seen
Nurmagomedov’s (15-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) grappling is utterly insane, and it was so strong that Maness (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) got blown out on the scorecards with tallies of 30-27, 30-26 and 30-25. Was it the most entertaining thing in the world? Not quite. But just like Khabib, I fully expect Umar to flourish and add more wrinkles to his game as the competition gets stiffer.
At just 26, logging an additional 15 minutes of cage time is only going to be beneficial for Nurmagomedov as he starts to enter the upper tier of the bantamweight division, which is a total shark tank and arguably the deepest weight class in the sport right now.
It’s amazing how eerily similar these Nurmagomedov family members are with their cadence and approach to the sport. Given what he’s shown us thus far, it would not surprise me at all to see Umar follow in the footsteps of Khabib by eventually capturing UFC gold.
4. Carlos Ulberg’s City Kickboxing kickoff
Carlos Ulberg got one of the most important seven-day stretches in the history of the New Zealand-based City Kickboxing gym off to a great start when he ripped through Tafon Nchukwi for a 75-second TKO.
Ulberg’s (5-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) teammates Israel Adesanya, Alexander Volkanovski and Brad Riddell – all of whom fight Saturday at UFC 276 – were cageside and absolutely hyped up by the effort of their teammate.
It was a solid win for Ulberg, too. He’s still very young in MMA career and finding his footing in there, and with a strong, supportive team around him, he’s putting himself in a good position to succeed.
5. A perfect UFC 276 table setter
Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski
This event put a bow on the UFC’s June schedule and we can now turn attention to the biggest event of the year Saturday with UFC 276 in Las Vegas. It’s going to be an exceptional event at T-Mobile Arena, with two championship fights and some of the biggest names in the game scheduled to compete.
I’ll be on-site with Ken Hathaway for this one, and my excitement is genuine. Just take a look at this lineup. Salivate what’s coming our way in just six more sleeps. Let’s go.
MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view, ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier – for middleweight title
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway – for featherweight title
Alex Pereira vs. Sean Strickland
Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O’Malley
PRELIMINARY CARD (ABC/ESPN/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
Brad Riddell vs. Jalin Turner
Bryan Barberena vs. Robbie Lawler
Ian Garry vs. Gabe Green
Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller
PRELIMINARY CARD (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
Uriah Hall vs. Andre Muniz
Maycee Barber vs. Jessica Eye
Dricus Du Plessis vs. Brad Tavares
Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Julija Stoliarenko