Here are the main takeaways from UFC 227:
Conor vs. Khabib – the biggest fight in UFC history
After Conor McGregor’s absurd attack on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s bus in Brooklyn earlier this year, I called for the UFC to be brave and punish its biggest star sufficiently. Inevitably, in a business so evidently ruled by money, this did not happen. Instead, McGregor is walking straight back into a title fight. Ethically, that is extremely disappointing, but it does mean that fans will soon witness what may be the biggest fight in UFC history.
McGregor opens as the betting underdog, but online polls all foresee the Irishman overcoming the Russian Eagle. This seemingly shows the divide in opinion between ‘informed’ followers of the sport, and ‘casual’ fans. That is not to suggest that McGregor has no hope; on the contrary, he has been underestimated too many times in similar situations, and the aforementioned ‘experts’ are overestimating the effect of McGregor’s two year absence from the octagon.
Moreover, whilst someone like Kevin Lee would have a better chance of matching Khabib’s greatest strength – his wrestling – no one is better equipped to directly capitalise on the Dagestani’s flaws than McGregor (other than Tony Ferguson, possibly). Nurmagomedov is indefatigable in his pressure, but advances with his chin up and without much defence. If anyone can catch the lightweight champion, it is his predecessor, McGregor.
Is Cody Garbrandt’s time up as a bantamweight contender?
In November last year, TJ Dillashaw reclaimed his bantamweight title by knocking out his bitter rival, Cody Garbrandt, at Madison Square Garden. At UFC 227, history repeated itself, as Cody ‘No Love’ was once again humbled by his former teammate. For all of Garbrandt’s assurances of “adjustments”, the brash fighter ultimately exposed his own critical flaw: an inability to adapt. Other than throwing a few kicks, Garbrandt fought the same fight that he did eight months ago, and predictably, the outcome was no different. Not only was Garbrandt put away by the same shot as last time, but he allowed Dillashaw to land that very same right hook three times in one exchange. That is almost unfathomable for a fighter of Garbrandt’s supposed level.
However, therein lies the question: what is Garbrandt’s level? He is still young, and will undoubtedly fight for the title again at some point in his career, but he will have to work for it. In this instance, Garbrandt was granted an immediate rematch against Dillashaw, despite losing his belt in his very first defence. Contrastingly, Dillashaw had to clean out the entire division to earn a title shot after losing his crown in controversial fashion against Dominick Cruz. That does not add up, and next time there will be no such luck for ‘No Love’.
After the rivals’ first clash, Daniel Cormier made a seemingly accurate assessment: both competitors were evenly matched, and if they were to fight 10 times, the result could well differ each time. However, UFC 227 revealed a different reality. TJ Dillashaw is on his own level as possibly the greatest bantamweight ever. Perhaps the best-rounded fighter in the company, he constantly exhibits impressive improvement, whereas Garbrandt seems to be little more than a fast pair of hands. Admittedly, he is very fast, but that is not enough for a champion. Anyone’s fight IQ would seem inadequate in comparison to Dillashaw, but Garbrandt’s is worryingly lacking. If he is to challenge for the belt again, that is the adjustment that he really needs to make.
An end to the never-ending title-reign
Since the inception of the UFC’s flyweight division, there had only been one champion: Demetrious Johnson. ‘Mighty Mouse’ successfully defended his belt 11 times in six years, and when a rematch against Henry Cejudo was announced earlier this year, few believed the champion’s reign was any closer to ending. DJ had already beaten the Olympic gold medallist two years ago, and he did so via a first round stoppage.
However, Cejudo had clearly improved since the pair’s previous meeting, and at UFC 227, the two athletes produced the most competitive fight of Johnson’s title reign by far. Cejudo’s display earned him a split decision victory, and thus the Olympic wrestler wrested away the belt from DJ’s seemingly unbreakable grasp. The contest was incredibly close, but those claiming a robbery are mistaken. After the fight, Cejudo declared a desire to move up to 135 lbs to challenge TJ Dillashaw for the bantamweight title, but there is no doubt that Johnson deserves an immediate rematch, such was the nature of his defeat and his title reign.
Indeed, following his defeat at UFC 227, many flyweights praised what ‘Mighty Mouse’ has done for the division, but ironically, suggestions that DJ did a lot for the division are actually somewhat misguided. The champion batted away so many contenders with such remarkable ease that the division has actually lacked credibility for quite some time. Johnson’s achievements have been incredible for him, but not for his division. Cejudo’s victory might be exactly what was needed, and it might just inject some life into the flagging flyweight fold.