The latest instalment of UFC brought plenty of excitement and unexpected finishes, with contenders emerging and long-time ones falling.
In the main event, between the number one and two contenders in the women’s bantamweight division, Valentina Shevchenko fought off the grappling threat posed by Julianna Pena and won with the most unlikely of manoeuvres.
Given her Muay Thai and kickboxing background, a Shevchenko victory was predicted to be earned on the feet, but the Eastern European capitalised on an overzealous Pena’s ground-and-pound attempts late in Round 2 to pull off a perfect armbar off her back.
In the co-main event, hometown boy Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone had the Denver crowd rocking during the introductions for his fight with the tough Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal, but it was the latter who created noise in the welterweight division with his victory.
Cerrone’s kicks had Masvidal’s lead leg heavily bruised halfway through the opening round, until Masvidal was able to time his counters to those kicks, leading to an attack that left Cerrone on the mat, dazed and in danger, but ultimately saved by the bell at the end of Round 1.
In what was a poor decision in hindsight, Cerrone was let out for the second round by his experienced corner team and ringside doctor, while still clearly showing the effects of the barrage of punches at the end of the previous round. Another counter combination to a Cerrone high kick put Masvidal in the position to have the fight stopped moments later, after a flurry of punches to Cerrone’s head and body.
In the other main card bouts, surging heavyweight Francis Ngannou extended his UFC record to 5-0, all via stoppage, with a first round TKO of veteran Andrei Arlovski. Ngannou put Arlovski away off the back of a sweet two-punch combo, while both fighters were trading shots.
The opening bout of the main card also saw Jason Knight upset Alex Caceres, ending an exciting fight in the second round via rear naked choke.
Fights to make next
Shevchenko vs Amanda Nunes
As the number one contender going into her match with Pena, the only fight left is a rematch with current champion Amanda Nunes, this time for Nunes’ bantamweight championship.
The pair faced off less than a year ago, on the main card of UFC 196, with Nunes taking a split decision. Most felt the Brazilian took the first two rounds and Shevchenko the third after a slow start.
Both Shevchenko and Nunes are now at the peak of their abilities, and with five full rounds to decide the outcome, fans will be in for a treat.
Masvidal vs Lorenz Larkin or Dong Hyun Kim
Masvidal’s huge victory over number five ranked Cerrone is bound to shoot him up the welterweight rankings from his current ranking of 12.
In May of last year, Masvidal lost a razor-close split decision to the currently sixth ranked Lorenz Larkin, and a rematch with Larkin offers Masvidal the chance to avenge a close loss, while also fighting another top ten ranked opponent.
If the UFC is not that way inclined, then a fight with number seven ranked Dong Hyun Kim of South Korea makes sense. Kim and Masvidal even have prior history, with a fight scheduled in November of 2015 that ultimately never took place.
Kim is also on a three-fight win streak, after defeating Tarec Saffiedine at UFC 207.
Ngannou vs Ben Rothwell
It is time for a serious step up in competition for Ngannou. Arlovski brought the name recognition but a long-suspect chin made their contest more of a formality than an even contest.
Dana White has stated that Ngannou can be a long-reigning heavyweight champion, but he is still a fight or two away from a title shot, even in the thin heavyweight division.
Rothwell is currently the only fighter from number three rank to number nine without a fight scheduled, as he is recovering from an injury that will have him out of action until April, which also gives Ngannou time to rest after two fights in two months.
A victory over Rothwell would propel Ngannou to the top of the heap of contenders, with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum knocking on the door for a number one contender bout or title fight.
Jason Knight’s submission victory of Alex Caceres brings his win streak to three after losing his UFC debut. A fight with someone at the lower end of the top 15 bantamweights, like an Andre Fili or Renan Barao, would be welcome.
Donald Cerrone is now out of title consideration in two divisions. Given his reluctance to even spar due to concerns over head trauma, ‘Cowboy’ may even flirt with retirement.
After a long and storied career it is now time for the UFC and Greg Jackson to instil thoughts of retirement in Andrei Arlovski’s mind before he takes long-lasting damage in the octagon.