It’s been a big week of headlines in mixed martial arts, as the last five days have included the end of Francis NganouFree agency and return of the famous BMF title of the UFC.
You are (17-3) sent a shockwave through the game On Tuesday he announced that he will sign a multi-party agreement with the PFL – an agreement that includes the top position in the PFL Africa, which should be established in 2025. Later that day, the UFC announced. Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje to meet at UFC291 on July 29 for the BMF belt.
Also, according to UFC President Dana White, Aljamain Sterling they will meet Sean O’Malley to UFC 292 in Boston. And (!!) the UFC will return to Australia for a second pay-per-view in 2023, when it takes over UFC 293 to Sydney on Sept. 9 (US time).
What should we make of some of the recent fights and signings in the game? ESPN’s MMA writers Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim break it all down, including a look back at the history of Robbie Lawler.
Which fight are you most excited for this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night?
Wagenheim: Maybe I’m stubborn, but when I see a young fighter who looks promising, it takes a lot for me to look away. Therefore Edmen Shahbazyan‘s co-main event vs Anthony Hernandez he has my attention.
Shahbazyan dropped three straight fights after starting his career 11-0, but snapped out of the skid with a TKO victory in December. Is the 25-year-old ready to live up to his “Golden Boy” title?
Okamoto: A big event, because it matters to Mackenzie Dern. It’s important to both, don’t get me wrong, but since Dern signed with the UFC in 2018, there’s been a lot of attention on her roof because of the ace card she brings to the table with her jiu-jitsu. Every night, Dern can send anyone. There is always the question of whether the rest of his sport will catch up to him and put him in a position to be used in international jiu-jitsu.
He’s five years into his UFC career, and the jury is still out. If they lose here, they will have lost three out of four. That doesn’t mean it would end the way for him. I still think he has time (at age 30) to grow, but the loss will lower his ceiling in the eyes of many.
If Jones and Ngannou are the top heavyweights in the world, who is number 3?
Okamoto: SERGEY Pavlovich. Pavlovich is almost the same as what Ngannou was a few years ago, during his rise as a champion. They are dangerous. He has otherworldly powers. He is fighting with unparalleled confidence. How can you answer this question with anyone but Pavlovich? To keep things interesting, for a long time, I still like it Tom Aspinall‘s talent, and I believe he will be one of those guys who shines in different ways as his career unfolds. But we will see. It’s hard to be perfect in heavyweight MMA, where one second can add you to someone else’s control.
Wagenheim: It must be Pavlovich. His last two wins were first round TKOs of top five heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Pacific Ocean, and the 18-1 Russian has won six in a row — all first-round knockouts. Yes, Stipe Miocic he’s still out there, and he’s the greatest of all time. But it’s been two years since Miocic’s last fight and almost three since he won. I’ll take the big scared guy.
What is the best fight for the upcoming PPVs in June and July?
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Wagenheim: Two-thirds of the PPVs in those months are headlined by title fights, but I’m more interested in the main event of other premium card — UFC 291 on July 29, featuring a match between Poirier and Gaethje. The results of the topic are not clear, since the June 10 meeting of Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush he just has a chance to make the next lightweight championship Islam Makhachev. But I will follow the Wagenheim Rule of Ranking MMA Fights: Gaethje’s fight is always No. 1. Adding Poirier to the mix makes it a slam dunk.
Okamoto: Alexander Volkanovski vs. No Rodriguez. Meanwhile, anything involving Volkanovski is a must see. He’s working at a level we’ve never seen before in MMA. The way this guy competes right now – the physical and mental preparation, the confidence, the transitions, the intelligence, the little things – it’s great. It’s very well done.
And yet, this is a game where success ends and always loses. Because it takes one shot, one minute that belongs to another athlete. Rodriguez now feels like a formidable and formidable opponent. That’s it to hear if he is not rejected in July. This is as good as it gets, on the same level as Volkanovski’s attempt to step up to lightweight against Makhachev earlier this year.
I am Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus Du Plessis The next big fight at middleweight?
Okamoto: From layout view, it makes sense. Whittaker (No. 2) faces Du Plessis (No. 6). That’s pretty self-explanatory. A good fight. If you’re looking to find your best professional, Israel Adesanyanew matchups — no, it doesn’t make sense.
Adesanya has already beaten Whittaker twice. That doesn’t mean Whittaker can’t come and beat him in the third fight, but it also doesn’t mean Whittaker can’t get another shot at the title because he’s 0-2 against opponents. However, from the point of view of the news and excitement, the victory of the trilogy in the competition 2-0 does not sound as attractive as new blood. However, I think we just saw why this fight was booked, and that is the UFC announcing UFC 293 in Sydney. Because if Whittaker can defeat Du Plessis and set up a third fight, this trilogy will be well received in Sydney. So, it’s a win-win for the UFC. Maybe a new blood champ (Du Plessis) or a blockbuster Aussie challenger (Whittaker) gateway to Sydney.
Wagenheim: I like the booking and love that this fight is ranked as the No. 1 eliminator. Yes, Whittaker has lost twice to the champion, Adesanya, but how long will the contract No. 2 middleweight still in limbo? He has already been beaten Marvin Vectors and Jared Cannon, who meet on June 17 in another clash of the top five at 185. Now, if Whittaker can stop Du Plessis’ seven-fight winning streak, then he will find gold again. And if Du Plessis becomes the first batsman in nine years not named Adesanya to beat Whittaker, he will have achieved a huge feat.
With Robbie Lawler taking the summer off, what’s your favorite ‘Ruthless’ moment?
Wagenheim: The longtime MMA fan has his favorite Lawler moment. It was July 11, 2015, and the horn had just sounded to end Round 4 of Lawler’s UFC welterweight title defense. Rory MacDonald. The first 20 minutes were violent, as each man was about to die. And now, instead of going back to their corners to rest, Lawler and MacDonald just stood in the middle of the cage and stared at each other. Their swollen, swollen faces wore masks of blood as they glowed for three or four seconds that felt like forever. Lawler won by TKO one minute into the fifth round, ending one of the UFC’s greatest fights. But the fifth fight between the two has gone down as one of the most famous in MMA history.
Okamoto: Wagenheim did this. There is nothing more to say. It’s not just the best moment of Lawler’s career, it’s one of the best in the sport.
Wagenheim: Plus, I’ll go back a little later to recognize Lawler’s defining moment — when “Ruthless Robbie” won the first MMA fight I ever witnessed. You were at UFC 45 in 2003, years before I started covering the sport. I was surprised by Lawler winning a tough fight with Chris Lytle from my balcony seat at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. I used to watch some MMA on TV, but seeing it live was an experience that left me unimpressed. And later that night, as I was standing by the door to the arena, Lawler came out. When I saw him up close, I couldn’t believe that a 21-year-old would fight with such ruthlessness. Understand that fighters are different from the rest of us.