UFC 286: 10 Things We Learned (Extended Edition)

NewsLONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 17: (L-R) Opponents Leon Edwards of Jamaica and Kamaru Usman of Nigeria face off during the UFC 286 ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on March 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Detailing the outcomes from UFC 286 at The O2 Arena in London and delivering instant analysis of what those results could mean for the competitors and their divisions, as well as fans and observers

And Still!

Leon Edwards retained his welterweight title with a majority decision win over Kamaru Usman in an outstanding, close battle to close out Saturday’s pay-per-view.

The champ and his team put together and excellent game plan and Edwards executed extremely well, stinging Usman with a high volume of kicks, hurting him with a couple big knees up the middle, and defending the takedowns more often than naught. The former champion had moments as well, hurting Edwards with a few big shots over the five-round affair, but “Rocky” was the more active, more effective fighter throughout.

A third-round point deduction contributed to the draw on one scorecard, as Edwards was docked a point for grabbing the cage to stop a takedown, but it didn’t impact the overall result, as Edwards rightfully claimed victory to successfully defend his title.

This was an excellent overall performance from Edwards, who has continued to level up since claiming the title last summer. He fought with more confidence, more assuredness from the jump and it allowed him to weather the rough moments that came his way.

One other thing: why the hell are we even entertaining the idea of Colby Covington fighting Edwards for the title next? Sure, he weighed in as the back-up on Friday and was in the building, but how does a win over Jorge Masvidal a year ago after suffering a pair of championship losses to Usman put this cringe machine at the head of the list of contenders, especially when we have a tailor-made fight between Edwards and Belal Muhammad sitting right there?

Justin Gaethje Isn’t Human

Rafael Fiziev landed a right hand on Justin Gaethje at the start of the third round that would have put just about anyone else in the division on the canvas, and caused mere mortals to evaporate upon impact. Gaethje ate it, steadied himself, and won the rest of the round en route to claiming a majority decision win in the UFC 286 co-main event.

Over a career forged in these kinds of fights, the 34-year-old American has proven himself to be a different breed — someone capable of taking the best his opponents have to offer and responding in kind, time and again. He takes punishment and fires right back, orchestrating physical car crashes each and every time he steps into the Octagon.

Fiziev looked two steps quicker out of the chute and had plenty of success early and overall, but Gaethje just stays steady, stays working, stays landing, and continues to get it done.

He said he’s working toward one final championship shot, and a win like this certainly gets him closer, and means we should get a couple more high level demolition derbies in the lightweight division before “The Highlight” hangs up his four-ounce gloves.

Gunni’s Still Got It

After an uninspiring win last March in London, Gunnar Nelson returned to The O2 Arena and showed he’s still a menace on the ground at UFC 286, working to mount before submitting Bryan Barberena in the middle of the main card.

The 34-year-old from Iceland methodically worked to close the distance and get in on Barberena’s hips, eventually switching off to a high crotch and elevating “Bam Bam” before dumping him on the mat. From there, Nelson patiently progressed to mount before a series of elbows and submission looks before attacking and finishing an armbar in the final 10 seconds of the opening stanza.

This was the kind of performance I wasn’t sure Nelson was capable of any more, but boy was I wrong. He looked smooth from start to finish, unbothered by anything Barberena threw his way, and continued to dominate competitors in that “Second 15” in the welterweight division. He’s probably never going to get back to being a Top 15 fighter, but Nelson clearly still has plenty left to offer for as long as he wants to continue competing.

Veteran Topples Prospect

Brazilian stalwart Jennifer Maia out-worked Casey O’Neill on Saturday evening, handing the Scottish-Australian upstart the first loss of her career.

Maia came out moving well and working behind continually improving striking, making O’Neill pay for crashing forward by greeting her with persistent right hands. Though O’Neill found success of her own, especially in the third round, and showed her tenacity throughout, Maia did a good job of intercepting her advances over the first 10 minutes and never letting her build enough momentum to really pursue a finish in the third.

Much like the middleweight opener, this is another fight that, for the time being, maintains stasis in the flyweight division. This was O’Neill’s opportunity to shake things up a little and take a big step forward, but Maia was having none of it. She remains a Top 10 fixture and a dangerous test for anyone looking to advance in the 125-pound ranks, even gritty hopefuls nearly a decade her junior.

Middleweight Remains the Same

Marvin Vettori scored a unanimous decision win over Roman Dolidze in the UFC 286 main card opener, landing at a much higher clip while still having impact moments over the course of the three-round fight.

We saw a little something more out of Vettori on Saturday, as he deployed more kicks against Dolidze than he had probably thrown throughout his UFC career, ultimately battering the inside of the Georgian’s lead leg. While Dolidze responded with power shots and landed crisp multiple times throughout the contest, Vettori’s ability to weather it all and have a great deal of success himself carried him to victory.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the result the division needed.

Having already lost to Israel Adesanya twice and Robert Whittaker once, it’s hard to see Vettori rising above his current position in the middleweight ranks, which is fine, but means things will remain the same and fairly stale in the 185-pound weight class. He’s clearly good enough to best an ascending threat like Dolidze and is bound to be competitive with fellow vets like Jared Cannonier or his occasional sparring partner Sean Strickland.

At some point, we need a few new names to truly emerge or else we’re going to be stuck with the same group of fighters that have already faced one another camped out at the top of the middleweight ranks.

Shore Shines in Featherweight Debut

Fighting at featherweight for the first time, Jack Shore looked sharp in Saturday’s final preliminary card fight, collecting a second-round submission win over Makwan Amirkhani.

The Welsh grappler got taken down and controlled on the canvas in the first, but came out more aggressive in the second, taking the fight to Amirkhani on the feet and clearly doing damage. When he finally decided to grapple, Shore quickly transitioned into mount and started chasing down the finish, initially looking for an arm-triangle choke before ending up on Amirkhani’s back, squeezing out a tap to make an expedient return to the win column.

What I’m about to say isn’t meant to detract from Shore’s effort in any way, but it’s difficult to forecast where he fits in the division after this one because Amirkhani has that “Derek Brunson Energy,” in that he’s sharp for five minutes and starts to go to hell after that. “Tank” has never been a physical specimen, so judging him for his physique is a mistake, but I do still wonder how he’ll manage against more athletic, more explosive, better conditioned competitors in this division.

For now though, he’s got a quality win to celebrate and has things moving in the right direction again.

Ashmouz Goes Boom

Yanal Ashmouz scored a savage knockout win over Watford’s Sam Patterson in their shared debut on Saturday afternoon, hurting him with a heavy left hook while he was falling backwards before battering him on the canvas to the point that he was still trying to battle referee Marc Goddard in the corner a minute after the fight ended.

This was a brilliant effort from the Israeli newcomer, who had no trouble dealing with Patterson’s considerable size advantage, using a caught kick to close the distance and start the finishing sequence. Now 7-0 as a pro, it’s going to be interesting to see who Ashmouz is matched up with next, as he’s had limited experience, but grabbed a little piece of the spotlight at UFC 286 and will have far more eyes on him going forward.

While I think Goddard is one of the very best officials in the sport, this was a late stoppage. Patterson was clearly hurt and while I understand wanting to give him every opportunity to recover and show he’s still there, Ashmouz was all over him and it felt in the moment that it went on a couple ticks too long.

Mokaev Survives, Submits Filho

Muhammad Mokaev could be facing an extended stay on the sidelines after getting stuck in a deep, gnarly kneebar against Jafel Filho in the first televised prelim at UFC 286.

Despite appeared primed to be bounced from the ranks of the unbeaten, Mokaev refused to tap and then rallied, wrestling Filho back to the canvas, climbing on his back, and squeezing out a finish in the waning moments of an ultra-competitive fight. Two of the three judges had the fight even heading into the third, and the near-finish for Filho could have earned him the nod had Mokaev not rallied.

This was a high-risk, low-reward assignment for the 22-year-old flyweight, and it showed that he still has plenty to work on in order to reach his absolute upside. He’s an outstanding wrestler and has good finishing instincts, but he lacks comfort on the feet right now, and will need to develop those skills if he aims to continue climbing the ranks undeterred.

Murphy Still Unbeaten, Santos Certainly Belongs

Lerone Murphy got pushed to the limits by former LFA champ Gabriel Santos in his return to the Octagon, narrowing coming away with a split decision win to remain unbeaten for his career.

Originally scheduled to face fellow Brit Nathaniel Wood, Santos was tapped in when Wood was forced out with a leg injury, and the Brazilian showed he belongs at this level by running even with Murphy for 15 minutes. It was a quality back-and-forth, with Murphy getting the better of things on the feet and Santos showing he was game by hanging on the feet and looking solid on the ground.

Murphy’s experience and full camp tilted the fight in his favour, but there is no shame in Santos losing his own undefeated record in this one. The 31-year-old Murphy is a dark horse to track in the featherweight ranks, but we’re certainly going to be hearing more from Santos in the not too distant future.

“CLD” Debuts, Wins By Injury Stoppage

Former Cage Warriors middleweight champ Christian Leroy Duncan made his highly anticipated debut at UFC 286, coming away with a first-round stoppage win, but not in the manner he would have preferred.

Paired off with Dusko Todorovic, “CLD” showed good movement early in the first round, switching stances and looking comfortable on the feet before the two clinched up along the fence. As Todorovic looked to twist Duncan off the fence, his right knee buckled, causing him to collapse to the canvas, clutching at his leg, with referee Lukasz Bosacki waving it off immediately.

This certainly wasn’t how Duncan wanted his debut to go, but it’s a win nonetheless and allows him to get the nerves of a first appearance out of the way. Additionally, the injury stoppage should allow him to get back into action quickly and remain at this level, rather than getting a step up in competition straight away. The unbeaten 27-year-old has loads of upside, and should be someone people are paying close attention to from here on out.

Hadley Makes a Statement

It’s as if Jake Hadley listened to me on One Question this week because “White Kong” did exactly what I suggested on Saturday, striding into the center of the Octagon and dispatching Malcolm Gordon in a hurry before calling out Muhammad Mokaev.

Whether it was because he knew Gordon struggled with his weight cut and kidney issues heading into this contest or just because he likes working the body, Hadley attacked the Canadian veteran’s midsection immediately, stinging Gordon right out of the gate. He went back to well straight away, putting Gordon on the deck with consecutive heavy lefts to the guts before using his time on the microphone to take aim at Mokaev.

This was the kind of statement win Hadley needed in order to put himself in that conversation with the unbeaten rising star and on the rankings radar in the talent-rich 125-pound weight class as well. His debut loss to Allan Nascimento will limit how quickly he will climb, but further efforts like this will get Hadley moving forward quickly again, because in addition to his obvious skills, the 26-year-old has the confidence and swagger to captivate the crowd going forward.

Veterans Need Better Exit Strategies

Joanne Wood got back into the win column on Saturday with a split decision victory over Luana Carolina, ramping up the output and impact down the stretch to cinch her first win in more than two years.

There were good moments in the fight for Wood, but at 37 years old, it’s clear that her best days are behind her and the next few outings are going to be really curious to watch. Carolina is a limited fighter coming off a brutal knockout loss in The O2 Arena last year against Molly McCann, and Wood needed a late push in order to get passed her. She still has her technical base, but the conditioning has waned and the reflexes are a little slowed, which makes her an obvious target for hopefuls looking to climb the divisional ladder.

Here’s what I’d like to see, for Wood and others in the same spot going forward: more fight between veterans in comparable positions or continued matchups against athletes at this level, rather than sticking them in there with ascendent names.

I know the tendency is to have established names put emerging talents over on their way out, but this isn’t professional wrestling and the veterans deserve better as they wind down their careers.

Welcome Back, Veronica Hardy

Veronica Hardy (nee Macedo) fought for the first time in three years on Saturday night and looked much improved, taking the fight to TUF 30 winner Juliana Miller, earning a unanimous decision win.

Hardy controlled the fight in all phases, touching up Miller on the feet early, holding her own in the clinch, and making the raw newcomer pay for mistakes on the ground and overcommitting to submission attempts. While there were a couple tricky moments, Hardy came through them without issue and continued to pour it on down the stretch, hammering Miller with a high kick in the final 90 seconds that had her wobbled.

I made a real bad read on this fight, favouring Miller’s tenacity and pressure over Hardy’s experience and more developed game, and the 27-year-old made me regret it from the jump. Hardy looked good here, showing clear improvements since her earlier appearances inside the Octagon, and has room to keep building and developing. Her size will always be a slight issue, but her movement and solid overall approach will serve her well going forward.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.

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