It’s been nearly 48 hours since the culmination of the end of the year spectacle that was UFC 269. From the emergence of new contenders, to grizzled vets showing us they still had some left in the tank, as well as one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, 269 delivered that chaotic pageantry we have all come to know and love. There was a lot to digest. From the prelims to the main card, almost all the fights had a competitive allure about them. It was as if each individual knew the ramifications that came from performing on the last big event of the year. With that said, lets breakdown some of the key moments from this weekend’s event as well as what may come next for the fighters involved.
Starting with the prelim bouts, the ESPN2 broadcast showcased several divisional contenders. Two who, in my opinion, should seek top 15 opponents in their next fights and one who should arguably be granted a top 10 bout? Those two who should seek out top 15 challenges immediately are Erin Blanchfield and Andre Muniz. Blanchfield took on streaking fan favorite and highly touted Miranda Maverick. For three round Blanchfield dominated Maverick on the ground. She controlled every single position up until the final bell, not giving Maverick a moment to recover or recoup. This win over Maverick catapults Blanchfield ahead in the ranks this week. Maverick was, and still is held in high regard amongst her divisional peers along with Dana White. This win for Blanchfield however, takes most of that praise and momentum for Maverick and makes it her own. For the Brazilian Muniz, his last two wins have been nothing short of flawless. The Jujitsu black belt went out and did what was expected of him against a B level fighter like Eryk Anders. Muniz coming of a career defining win by submission over one of the best grapplers in the history of the sport in Jacare Souza. He promptly picked up where he left off with another effortless first round submission victory. Back to back dominant performances for an oversized middle weight should propel Muniz for a top 15 contention fight.
The individual deserving of their top ten opportunity is none other than “Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa. Tuivasa has become arguable one of the top 10 biggest draws and or fan favorites in the UFC in the last year and a half. The FTA slugger has now amassed two back to back devastating knock out finishes while showing improvements in footwork and wrestling defense. Now training out of AKA in San Jose, the fruits of Tuivasa’s labor are beginning to flourish. His newly honed skill set comes with a personality that is irresistible for the camera. He said it best in his post-fight presser; “Fans come to see me knock people out and do fucking shoeys”. Yes Tai, yes we do. Which is why we want to see you in the top 10!
Also on the prelims, we got to see a face we haven’t been able to see fight for free in a while now. Dominick Cruz returned to action against one of the heavier hitters he’s faced in Pedro Munhoz. Munhoz would put it on Cruz early dropping him in one of the first exchanges. Cruz though showed us all why his is still considered one of, if not the, greatest Bantamweight of all time. Cruz’s poise, footwork, and counter striking would end up being the difference in his split decision victory over the Brazilian. What was compelling about this fight was Dom’s willingness to exchange in the fire. There were several times in the bout were Cruz stopped his patented movement and planted his feet to the ground to bang it out with Munhoz, even after being dropped. That showed the viewers like myself that Cruz is still game and is still looking for the nod towards the title.
The main card of 269 reminded fans that no matter how predictable the sport can seem at times, that is still never the case. There were two fights on the main card I found easily predicable. Starting with the most lopsided matchup from top to bottom, Raulian Paiva vs “Suga” Sean O’Malley. Suga did what we expected him to do. An effortless first round KO over a lesser opponent. It is brilliant to watch exactly what O’Malley is doing. Racking up the highlights over easier competition on his current contract so that his stock is undeniable when the next contract comes across the table. How can we blame him? As uncle Chael Sonnen would say, “It’s about fighting the easiest guys, for the most amount of money”. Well, Sean O’Malley is a millionaire and he hasn’t cracked the top 15 of the Bantamweight division. I think it’s all pretty self-explanatory when we look at the future of the Suga Show’s career.
The second fight I found predictable for some reason was Neal vs Ponzinibbio. When I looked at the fight I inferred a back and forth brawl that would go the distance. That is exactly what happened. Both men left it all in the cage but neither had the finishing ability they thought they had. The fight itself was relatively anticlimactic leading to no real outlook for either fighter’s future in the Welterweight division.
As we all saw, there were some absolute shockers on the night as well. The first being the knockout of “No Love”. Kai Kara-France may have had the biggest pop from the crowd on the night in Vegas before the women’s title bout that followed. Kara-France coming of a buzzer beater KO in his last bout had the task of welcoming former Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt to the 125 lb. flyweight division. A lot was made of Cody’s decision to drop the extra 10 lbs. Kara-France is a natural 125 lb. fighter whereas it took Cody years of preparation to even attempt to make the cut. With that in mind, the results for Garbrandt on the night showed what most believed to be a combination of the weight cut, years of physical deterioration, and a lack of improvement, culminated in yet another KO loss for the former champion. Some argue we are watching a shell of what Cody used to be and that we may never see the “No Love” of old again. In the meantime Kai Kara-France has placed his name at the top of the Flyweight division. Back to back KO’s and performance bonuses gives the Kiwi all the confidence in the world to make a run at the champ Brandon Moreno.
The two title bouts at the top of the bill Saturday night were contested with mounting anticipation and ramifications. One led to the solidification of ones reign as a champion and the other gave the fans the one of the greatest upsets in the history of combat sports. Starting with that upset; the women’s Bantamweight title was on the line between arguably the most dominant female fighter of all time in Amanda Nunes against the Venezuelan vixen who has been waiting for her opportunity not just at the title, but at Amanda herself, Julianna Pena. Pena showed clear disregard for the champ’s proven power. The first round saw a concurring theme of trading blow for blow in the pocket. Pena stood toe to toe with the double champ winning some of the boxing exchanges, even rocking Nunes at one point. As the second round came we could see the separation of will between the two ladies. Nunes got up off her stole with the clear look of fatigue in her eyes. Pena however looked like she knew exactly what was about to happen. As the second round began Pena turned it up one notch higher than Amanda. Nunes’s punches had lost their pop and Pena was still landing heavier shots. Pena would secure a takedown into the center of the cage where she would finish Nunes with a rear-naked choke. Nunes was so exhausted that Pena didn’t even have to put hooks in to secure the choke. Nunes broke. Pena made history. Pena now joins the likes of Holm, Rousey, and Tate to hold the Bantamweight title, and becomes the first woman to beat Nunes since Cat Zingano in 2014. Not only was this Nunes first lost in seven years, it may have possibly fumbled a super-fight with free agent and rumored UFC signee Kayla Harrison.
The main event played host to the Lightweight title fight between the champ Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira vs Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier. This fight would be Do Bronx’s first defense since defeating Michael Chandler back in May of this year. For El Diamante this would be another opportunity at that coveted brass ring he so ruthlessly worked towards.
The fight played out much like its predecessor in the evening between the two women in the co-main. Both men traded exchanges with Dustin landing the heavier blows. Poirer would even drop Oliveira early in round one and had him on the back foot for most of the first two rounds. In the third round though we saw a switch in Do Bronx. It was as if Charles said to himself “okay it’s time to go home now”. He came out in the third round and drowned Dustin. Do Bronx would take DP’s back effortlessly during a clinch situation and dig in his hooks, securing a standing rear naked choke for the victory. A heart breaking loss for the Diamond, and a convicting one for the champ. The level change when it came to the grappling was a clear indicator on who would win this fight and it showed. This now sets up a matchup between the Champ, Oliveira and the number one contender, fan favorite, Justin Gaethje. As for Dustin, his options are always open, but at this moment in time, maybe it’s time for the Diamond to get polished off a bit.