What mattered most at UFC 267 at Etihad Arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Glover Teixeira achieves the unthinkable
Even if you are the biggest [autotag]Jan Blachowicz[/autotag] fan on earth, it’s hard not to have a soft spot in your heart for [autotag]Glover Teixeira[/autotag]’s title-winning performance.
The most optimistic of Teixeira (33-7 MMA, 16-5 UFC) supporters couldn’t have fathomed things going so perfectly en route to the 42-year-old becoming the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. The Brazilian put it on Blachowicz (28-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) from the opening bell, then took the belt with a second-round submission to complete one of the most improbable title runs in the sport’s history.
It would’ve been so easy to write Teixeira off a few years ago, when he was piling up more losses than wins. Most of us did. But somehow, Teixeira managed to keep his focus, get the necessary wins and put himself in position for the opportunity to challenge Blachowicz. And boy, did he ever make the most of it.
Teixeira shouldn’t be here. MMA’s history and norms dictate this type of thing only happens once in a blue moon. Somehow, someway, though, Teixeira left the main event with that gold belt around his waist. It’s one of the top feel-good moments of all time, and even if his reign doesn’t last beyond a title defense against Jiri Prochazka, anyone watching will remember the night Glover Teixeira claimed UFC gold.
2. Yan and Sandhagen deliver the goods
The interim bantamweight title fight between [autotag]Petr Yan[/autotag] and [autotag]Cory Sandhagen[/autotag] was circled by many as the likely “Fight of the Night” going into the card. It turned out to be just that, plus much more.
Yan (16-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) and Sandhagen (14-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) went tooth and nail in one of the most high-level, technical fights you’ll ever see inside the octagon. It was enthralling from beginning to end, but only one man could leave with that interim belt, and it was rightfully Yan via unanimous decision.
Yan’s screw-up against Aljamain Sterling that cost him the belt seemingly caused some people to lose sight of how damn good he is. Yan has been a total force since the moment he debuted, and if that error against Sterling didn’t happen, we’d be talking about a man who is unbeaten in the UFC and ranked among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Luckily for him, he’s going to have the chance to regain it all in a title unification fight. As dismissive as Yan is about Sterling, this fight absolutely has to happen, and it’s going to be the crown jewel in an epic 135-pound division.
If Sterling can beat Yan clean it would be a remarkable feat. If Yan wins, he’ll be back to where he should’ve been before that title-costing mistake.
3. Islam Makhachev could get the next title shot
If [autotag]Islam Makhachev[/autotag] wanted to put himself in the running for a UFC lightweight title shot in the near future, he needed to deliver the exact type of performance he did against Dan Hooker.
Makhachev (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) completely overwhelmed Hooker (21-11 MMA, 11-7 UFC) on the mat for a first-round submission win via kimura, pushing his winning streak to nine and putting him high in the conversation to fight for the belt next.
The question is, though, how does he get there?
Makhachev might need a bit of good fortune. In his perfect world, Michael Chandler beats Justin Gaethje at UFC 268 next week, while Charles Oliveira defends the title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269 in December. The UFC won’t book an Oliveira vs. Chandler rematch after they just fought for the vacant belt in May, so Makhachev would be the likely candidate to slide in.
A Chandler win and a Poirier win could still make it happen, but if Gaethje wins, he might get the the next shot regardless. Makhachev needs to cross his fingers for the best case scenario, but even if nothing goes his way, he’s one fight away from leaving no doubt he deserves the chance.
It’s been a good run for Makhachev in 2021 after he struggled to find consistency over the past few years in terms of activity. Now he just has to play the waiting game.
4. Khamzat Chimaev flawlessly smashes … again
What can you say about [autotag]Khamzat Chimaev[/autotag]? This guy is the real deal. There was justifiable desire to want to see more from him after all the attention he got from recording a record three UFC wins in a record 66-day stretch to start his tenure with the promotion, but he validated it all against Li Jingliang.
Chimaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) put forth another flawless performance when he took Jingliang (18-7 MMA, 10-5 UFC) to the ground in the opening seconds, plastered him with strikes and then choked his Chinese foe out cold. He absorbed just one significant strike in the contest, and has been hit just ONCE through four octagon appearance. That’s a record that probably will never be touched.
It’s a wonder to think where Chimaev would be right now if he didn’t have a bad case of COVID-19 that cost a year of his career. Would he have beaten Leon Edwards this dominantly? If so, he likely would have found himself in a title fight right now.
Fortunately for Chimaev, it seems his health issues didn’t take away from his abilities in the octagon. He’s still super young at just 27 years old, and the future seems infinitely bright. How far up the ladder with the UFC be keen to push him? We’ll have to see. The bigger question might be: Will any ranked fighter sign on the dotted line to face him?
5. Amanda Ribas rebounds
I have to be honest and say I was a little concerned [autotag]Amanda Ribas[/autotag] was being exposed before our very eyes after the first round of her strawweight fight with Virna Jandiroba.
After suffering a somewhat surprising defeat to Marina Rodriguez in January, a lot of the hype around Ribas (11-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) cooled off after her incredible start. She said all the right things coming off that loss, but then she got in the octagon with Jandiroba (17-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC) and was taken down and hurt with a big punch inside the first frame.
If Ribas was not meant for this, she could’ve folded in that moment. Instead, though, she gathered herself, listened to her expert corner advice and executed her game plan over the final two rounds. That consisted of outstriking Jandiroba, which did for the unanimous decision win to get back on track.
We often learn more about these fighters in the moments of adversity than we do in the times of success. Ribas showed something important here, and while the hype around her before may have been a little much in hindsight, she is a very solid, top-10 worthy fighter at 115. Now she just has to keep pushing the ceiling.