The UFC returned to London tonight for an epic rematch between two welterweight rivals. It was an epic third showdown between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman but it was actually the co-main event that shined brightest on a great night of fights.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the night and break down the three fights we looked at in our UFC 286 preview.
12th-ranked Muhammad Mokaev came into his bout against Jafel Filho with a shoulder injury, but that didn’t stop him from putting on an absolute grappling clinic. He took Filho down repeatedly and controlled him until the middle of the third round when Filho managed to lock in a knee bar. It was incredibly tight and gave us a big time cringe moment as Mokaev’s leg was bent the wrong way, but he refused to tap out. Amazingly, Mokaev escaped the submission attempt and even managed to get back to his feet and score another takedown. Shortly after that Mokaev locked in a choke and won the fight by submission. It was an incredibly showing of skill and toughness. Hopefully he won;t be dealing with too severe a knee injury as he was badly limping after the fight.
In a battle of UFC newcomers, there was a whole lot of hype for both Sam Patterson and the undefeated Yanal Ashmouz. Patterson was the home favorite and he looked to be able to use his distance to keep Ashmouz at range and land strikes. It didn’t take long though for Ashmouz to catch a kick and land a devastating left hook that really hurt Patterson. Ashmouz pounced and landed huge ground and pound for a tad too long before the ref finally stepped in and stopped the fight. It was an incredibly impress performance for Ashmouz in his debut.
In the final fight before the main card, Jack Shore moved up to the featherweight division to take on Makwan Amirkhani. A huge betting favorite, Shore opened up a bit slow as Amirkhani scored a takedown in the middle of the first round and controlled the position until the horn. It was a different story in the second though as Amirkhani appeared to be fatigued and Shore began to land some strikes. He then scored a takedown and controlled his opponent for several minuted before eventually securing a choke and earning a submission victory. It was a big win and the featherweight division has a new contender.
Main Card Highlights
Opening up the pay-per-view, two middleweight contenders stepped into the octagon with a lot on the line. Fourth-ranked Marvin Vettori took on ninth-ranked Roman Dolidze in what amounted to an absolute slugfest. Vettori stayed composed and fought a technical fight while Dolidze flung punches and tried to goat Vettori into a brawl. Despite the difference in technique, it was Dolidze who was the aggressor and was getting the better of most of the exchanges. He landed several big shots that seemed to hurt Vettori, but Vettori always managed to regain himself and fire back. It was an exciting fight that went the distance and resulted in a very close decision win for Vettori. It was a bit of a questionable decision but it was certainly a close fight.
In another very close fight, Jennifer Maia and Casey O’Neil represented the women’s flyweight division very well. It was all Maia in the early going as she simply controlled the striking exchanges and landed frequently. O’Neil did manage to open up a bit late in the second round though and started to turn the tides. O’Neil controlled the third round, winning those exchanges Maia was winning in the first. It was a great showing for both fighters but in the end, it was Maia who was awarded a hard-fought decision victory.
Gunnar Nelson def. Bryan Barbarena
In a very interesting clashy of styles, the technical grappler Gunnar Nelson took on the iron-willed brawler Bryan Barbarena. It was a bit of a feeling out process early, with Barbarena scoring some points in the striking game. It didn’t take more than a few minutes though for Nelson to score his first takedown and he never let Barbarena back up. Nelson patiently advanced his position and eventually worked his way to mount with just about 30 seconds to go. After landing a couple of tough elbows, he swung over for an armbar and locked it in with 10 seconds to go in the round, forcing Barbarena to tap out or risk breaking his arm. It was a very impressive performance for Nelson, who doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get back into the octagon anytime soon.
My pick: Nelson via decision
Result: Nelson via 1st round submission
Justin Gaethje def. Rafael Fiziev
The co-main event had fight of the year potential and it delivered in a big way. Justin Gaethje has been in some absolute wars and has built his popularity because fans know when they see his name on a card, they’re going to be in for a show. Rafael Fiziev has been tearing through the lightweight division, stopping everyone in his path. He almost did the same to Gaethje in the first, looking incredibly explosive and landing some huge shots. Gaethje has always displayed a granite chin though and tonight was no different. In the second round, Gaethje opened up a bit and walked through some more huge shots in order to land his own and win exchanges. In the third, Fiziev exploded once again and landed a huge combination that looked for a moment like it had won him the fight. Again though, Gaethje could not be stopped and he fired back, taking control of the last few minutes of the fight. It was an absolutely wild war between these two lightweight contenders and it was Gaethje who was awarded the majority decision victory. Fiziev will only get better after this fight.
My pick: Fiziev via decision
Result: Gaethje via decision
Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman
The energy was special for this main event. Coming off of a win that not only earned him the championship but also completely shocked the world and gave us a moment that will go down in UFC history, Leon Edwards had this London crowd firmly in his corner.
We knew this was going to be a different fight between these two for a number of reasons. Edwards now had the confidence, knowing he is the best in the world and not just thinking he could be one day. On the Usman side, he had to know in the back of his mind that Edwards could end the fight at any moment. And those differences showed up right from the beginning, with Edwards looking very sharp on the feet and getting better of a very cautious Usman. The second saw some more of the same but Usman did begin to open up with some strikes of his own and starting pressuring in the grappling game. The third is where things really got interesting as Usman scored a takedown and almost got a second if not for Edwards grabbing the fence. That infraction led to referee Herb Dean taking a point away from the champ which only made things more interesting.
Edwards came back in the fourth and put together some more combinations but Usman went right back to the grappling and made it another very close round. Going into the fifth it was anyone’s fight. Edwards still showed some very fast hands and Usman continued to push his grappling but the story of the fight was the takedown defense of the champ. Usman was just four of 15 in his takedown attempts and was never really able to hold the champ down for long.
At the end of the fifth, there was not a person in the arena who was sure what the result would be but in the end it was Edwards that earned a very close majority decision victory and remained UFC welterweight champion. After the fight, it seemed very clear Colby Covington will be his next challenger as Edwards addressed him sitting cageside. Meanwhile, Usman made it clear he will be back in the octagon in the future.
My pick: Usman via decision
Result: Edwards via decision
The UFC will return to ESPN+ on Saturday, March 25th for UFC Fight Night: Vera vs. Sandhagen. Be sure to check back for a preview of the event.