International Fight Week is always a success for the UFC, and they always close out the week with one of, if not the best card of the year. This year was something even more special though.
UFC 290 closed out the week with one of the best cards in recent memory. From top to bottom, this past Saturday was a spectacular night of fights. Two title fights, a number one contender fight, and much, much more. So without further ado, here are my five key takeaways from UFC 290.
“The Great” is King at 145
Heading into UFC 290, featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski had to try and pull off something that he has never had to do in his UFC career: he had to bounce back from a loss.
After failing to beat Islam Makhachev in a razor close fight for the lightweight title, he returned to the division he reigns over to face the new interim featherweight champ, Yair Rodriguez. It was Volkanovski’s chance to prove he is still the best at 145 lbs and the best fighter in the world. For Rodriguez, it was his first ever UFC title fight (excluding the interim title fight). He’s been in the UFC since 2014, so it’s been a long time coming.
With Rodriguez being the most dangerous stand-up fighter in the featherweight division, Volkanovski was forced to go to a side of his game that he’s never had to totally rely on, and that’s his wrestling. Volk proved in his fight against Makhachev that he could could wrestle, but wrestling had never been the focal point of Volkanovski’s game plan. Rodriguez once again needed to prove that he could handle a wrestler that could get him to the ground. Heading into the fight, Rodriguez’s only UFC losses were to future Hall of Famer Frankie Edgar and former featherweight champ Max Holloway.
Volkanovsi took control from the beginning. He took Rodriguez to the ground and battered him, landing seven of his twelve attempted takedowns while landing 37 of his 66 significant ground strikes. And when Volkanovski hurt Rodriguez in the third round, he got him up against the fence, took him down, and finished the fight with ground strikes for a third round TKO.
After vanquiching Rodriguez, there isn’t a clear opponent for Volkanovski at featherweight. The undefeated Ilia Topuria was in attendance, but for him to be next in line the UFC might want him to have another fight. Topuria is only ranked fifth in the division, and he’s never faced anyone ahead of him in the rankings. If Topuria isn’t next, it could make sense for Volkanovski to go back up to 155 and challenge Makhachev for the lightweight title, which is a fight both competitors seem interested in running back.
Don’t Sleep on the Flyweight Division
When the UFC’s first and longest reigning flyweight champ, Demetrious Johnson, lost the flyweight title to Henry Cejudo back in 2018, the UFC’s 125 lbs men’s division was at risk of being scrapped. However, it was brought back to life when Cejudo beat then-bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw in a fight where Dillashaw tried to become a two-division champ. Since then, the four-fight rivalry between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno has ruled the division. Moreno came out on top in the rivalry as UFC flyweight champ, with familiar foe Alexandre Pantoja ready to challenge for the title.
As I mentioned in my UFC 289 recap, Moreno and Pantoja had already faced each other two previous times, with Pantoja coming out the victor in both bouts. Their third foray into the octagon at UFC 290 was absolute fireworks, winning Fight of the Night and going way off kilter from their two previous fights. The first fight between the two was on season 24 of the UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter, and it was a pretty sloppy fight. Their second fight was a one-sided victory for Pantoja. Yet this third fight was an all out back-and-forth war, with Alexandre Pantoja coming out victorious once more, this time in a split decision to become the new flyweight champion. It was a great victory for Pantoja, who waited on the sidelines for his well-earned title shot for almost a year while Moreno did battle with Deiveson Figueiredo.
The picture to determine Pantoja’s first challenger now becomes extremely interesting, especially considering Figueiredo’s previous win over “The Cannibal.” After losing in his fourth fight to Moreno, it looked like Figueiredo would be heading up to bantamweight. That may no longer be the case, and Figgy could look to get his old title back from a champion he has previously defeated. However, you can’t forget about rising flyweight Amir Albazi, who is 17-1, has yet to lose in the UFC, and most recently knocked off former interim title challenger Kai Kara-France. There’s also the possibility that Moreno could get himself another fight against Pantoja, but he may need another win or two first.
Israel Adesanya’s Next Title Challenger
The biggest fight at UFC 290 outside of the two title fights was the middleweight number one contender fight between former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker and Dricus Du Plessis, who is undefeated in the UFC. Heading into the fight, it was known that the winner would get a middleweight title fight against Israel Adesanya, who was in attendance for this contest.
A Whittaker win would net him a third chance to finally beat Adesanya, while a Du Plessis win would set up a fight between Adesanya and Du Plessis that could potentially get real ugly during the build up. Du Plessis looked really good from the get-go, his recent nose repair allowing him to keep moving without hitting a wall. In the end, Du Plessis made a statement by earning a second-round knockout win over Whittaker.
The UFC allowed Adesanya to step into the octagon post-fight to promote the eventual fight between himself and Du Plessis. The confrontation got ugly, broaching some racial and ethnic overtones that were already mentioned multiple times before this matchup was ever made official. Du Plessis, who is South African, has taken issue with the decision of Adesanya, who is from Nigeria, to officially fight out of Auckland, New Zealand. This appears to be more than a fight, but a matter of continental pride. This fight is particularly exciting when you consider not only what could happen in the octagon, but also the possibility that it may take place in Australia, giving Adesanya a potential home-field advantage.
UFC 290 Was Amazing
UFC 290 was great, but it wasn’t just the three big fights on the main card. It was great from the first preliminary fight all the way to the main event. Here are some other notable headlines from UFC 290.
Bo Nickal is a Monster
Bo Nickal is one of the best amateur wrestlers to ever enter the UFC, and his wrestling accolades speak for themselves. Nickal was a three-time Division I National Champion at Penn State, and was the US National Champion and U23 World Champion in 2019. He has five pro MMA fights (including his fight at UFC 290), all of which have ended inside the first three minutes of the first round (3 submissions, 2 knockouts), with four of the five lasting less than 65 seconds. His fight at UFC 290 was against 7-0 UFC debutant Val Woodburn after Nickal’s original opponent, Treseasn Gore, had to pull out with an injury. It didn’t matter. Nickal won by TKO in 38 seconds, once again looking impressive inside the octagon.
Robbie Lawler is a Legend
Everyone knew that UFC 290 was going to be the last fight of Robbie Lawler’s career, and it didn’t disappoint. The former UFC welterweight champion started off International Fight Week by being inducted into the Fight Wing of the UFC Hall of Fame for his UFC 189 fight against Rory McDonald. Lawler ended the week with a 38-second knockout of Niko Price, ending his career perfectly by notching a win without taking any damage. In Lawler’s post-fight interview in the octagon, the UFC played a tribute video to recognize the 41-year-old’s legendary career, putting the bow on an emotional night and week for Lawler.
Four Fights Ending within One Minute
UFC 290 featured a group of fighters that didn’t want to stick around for long, with four fighters earning victories within the first minute of action. In addition to Lawler and Nickal earning 38-second victories, Jesus Aguilar defeated Shannon Ross by TKO in 17 seconds and Denise Gomes defeated Yazmin Jauregui by TKO in 20 seconds.
Out of all the other fights that haven’t been discussed, Dan Hooker pulled off a win despite breaking his arm against Jalin Turner in a lightweight fight that was tabbed for Fight of the Night until Moreno and Pantoja topped it in the co-main event. Alonzo Menifield also secured a win over Jimmy Crute in their light heavyweight bout with a guillotine, and undefeated light heavyweight Vitor Petrino moved to 9-0 by defeating Marcin Prachnio with an arm triangle.
Looking Ahead to UFC 291
With UFC 290 now in the rear view mirror, it’s now time to look ahead to UFC 291 which is only a couple weeks away on July 29.
The main event will be two top three lightweights going at it, with Dustin Poirier facing off against Justin Gaethje for the BMF (baddest motherf***er) title. Yes, that thing exists, and it’s stupid. Jorge Masvidal won the title, which was supposed to be a one-time gimmick, against Nate Diaz back at UFC 244 and held onto it ever since. Now that Masvidal has retired, the UFC is putting it back up for grabs in a fight between two guys who have already fought each other and should once again produce fireworks. A title like Most Violent Fighter would probably make more sense for two guys like Poirier and Gaethje, but whatever.
As much as the main event isn’t an actual title fight, potentially hurting the card, the card for UFC 291 is extremely deep. Former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz welcomes former middleweight champ Alex Pereira to the light heavyweight division in a title eliminator. Tony Ferguson returns to the octagon in what could be a potential Fight of the Night contender against Bobby Green. Seventh-ranked middleweight Paulo Costa faces off against Ikram Aliskerov, a former combat sambo world champion in his second UFC fight. Michael Chiesa will also face Kevin Holland to round out the main card.
The prelims are solid too, with former welterweight title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson facing off against the always entertaining Michel Pereira. The card will also feature names such as Derrick Lewis, Trevin Giles, Gabriel Bonfim, Jake Matthews, Miguel Baeza, Joanne Wood, and more.
The UFC always makes sure to pull out all the stops for International Fight Week, and UFC 290 was an amazing way to cap it off. Also, congratulations to the entire UFC Hall of Fame Class of 2023, including Donald Cerrone and Jose Aldo going into the Modern Wing, Jens Pulver and Anderson Silva going into the Pioneer Wing, Robbie Lawler and Rory McDonald going into the Fight Wing for their UFC 189 fight, and Rodrigo and Rogerio Nogueira receiving the Forrest Griffin Community Award.
If you have any thoughts on UFC 290, let us know by tweeting it out and tagging me @derrik_maguire and @BleacherBrawl.