UFC 286: Five Things We Learned
UFC 286 is the books and Leon Edwards is still the UFC welterweight champion. ‘Rocky’ defeated Kamaru Usman via majority decision and proved that the headshot heard worldwide at UFC 278 was more than a fluke. Outside of that, the co-main event between Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev delivered an outstanding fight. Now, all we have to do is recap the best action from UFC 286. Here are five things we learned at UFC 286.
Leon Edwards proves UFC 286 was not a fluke
Leon Edwards cemented his legacy at UFC 286. At UFC 278, Edwards was able to win the belt which was a special moment for him. With that being said, beating Kamaru Usman a second time reduces the questions surrounding his status as the welterweight champion.
Edwards made a lot of improvements at UFC 286. First of all, he did a lot better defending Usman’s takedown attempts. Per the UFC Stats, Usman went four for 15 on takedown attempts. More importantly, Edwards held the former champion to two takedowns on ten attempts in the championship rounds. On the feet, Edwards was efficient and dangerous as he landed 123 of 164 strike attempts which is an impressive 74 percent hit rate.
In my opinion, the most impressive part of Edwards’ performance was the technical adjustments he and Team Renegade made in preparation for the trilogy fight with Usman. It was a great idea to come out with kicks to the legs and body considering the damage he did with a head kick coming in. In a sense, those strikes were already set up after the work he did in the previous fight. I also really enjoyed the work he did in the clinch. The best example of that is the massive knee he landed. Not to pat my own back, but those were both things I highlighted as keys to Edwards finding a victory in the film study I did earlier in the week.
It is now time to see how long Edwards can rule the welterweight division. The hardest test of the bunch in Usman is finished and Khamzat Chimaev has moved up to middleweight. Now, potential challenges against the likes of Colby Covington, Belal Muhammad, Shavkat Rakhmonov, and Gilbert Burns, would all be competitive fights. Nonetheless, Edwards is walking away with the belt after UFC 286.
Kamaru Usman is regressing
Life comes at you fast. Kamaru Usman went from being on the verge of tying Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive wins to losing to fight in a row. Even worse, it looks like Usman is regressing. At one point in time, it looked like Usman was unbeatable. Now, it looks like his wrestling is not as efficient, his cardio is not as strong, and his suspect striking defense has been made public. The future for Usman does not look bright.
This would not be a massive issue, but Usman is 35 years old and has a bunch of health issues. I am not sure how Usman can continue to fight at a high level or fight back to the belt if he regresses any worse. I would not be opposed to seeing Usman retire. This would be a good time to head out before things get bad. That is not an insult to Usman because that has been a reality to many legends before him. I will not pressure that angle too heavily yet though because it feels condescending to say a fighter should retire while they are still one of the best in the world.
Justin Gaethje is still at his peak
Man, Justin Gaethje looked to be in top form at UFC 286. The former title challenger prevent the predicted changing of the guard against Rafael Fiziev. This fight was the war that everyone expected it to be and Gaethje took advantage of that. Once the fight got tough, Gaethje was able to pour on volume and landed a lot of massive hooks to secure the victory. The leg kicks at the start of the fight added to his late-round success as well.
The most impressive aspect of Gaethje’s performance was that he did not show any skill regression. Simply said, Gathje is 34 years old, has been through a ton of crazy fights, and was coming off a loss where he was knocked down. It would not be abnormal for a fighter to lose a step, or have a suspect chin. Gaethje once again proved to be an anomaly as he is still at the top of his game.
Marvin Vettori keeps his top-five rank
Marvin Vettori had an interesting challenge on his hands at UFC 286 as he was booked against Roman Dolidze. Furthermore, he had a lot riding on this one as his top-five rank was on the line. Vettori came to fight and was able to etch out a close decision win.
As far as the scorecards go, I think you could justify scoring this bout for either fighter. It felt pretty clear that Dolidze won round one while Vettori won round two. The third round was a genuine toss-up so I would not complain about that round being scored in either direction.
Still, Vettori got the win which was a great way for him to get back into the win column. I will say, I think Vettori is getting better. He is only 29 years old and he has made some noticeable improvements in his skills. The most obvious was his kicks. If Vettori can continuously grow that part of his game and become a more dangerous striker he could elevate his skills and give the top guys trouble. I am not saying he is there, but I see the path.
Gunnar Nelson does it again
Gunnar Nelson did what everyone expected him to do at UFC 286 against Bryan Barberena. On the feet, he was very patient and eventually found the takedown. On the ground, he remained patient and slowly advanced position until landing the armbar finish. Despite that being what everyone expects, it is easier said than done.
It will be interesting to see how the UFC approaches matchmaking Nelson moving forward. Sure, he is 10-5 in the UFC but those losses have come against Edwards, Burns, and other really solid fighters. I would not doubt that he can make another run toward the rankings in the future.
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