What mattered most at UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Does Israel Adesanya deserve criticism?
I will never, ever blame a fighter for prioritizing victory over all else, especially at the UFC championship level when there’s so much on the line, and the difference between being a champion and a contender is so vast when it comes to pay and other perks of the role.
With that said, [autotag]Israel Adesanya[/autotag] set himself up for fan backlash after a relatively uneventful fight with Jared Cannonier, which he won by lopsided unanimous decision. He said over and over leading up to and during fight week that he was going to do something “spectacular” and would throw caution to the wind in order to give the pay-per-view audience and fans who paid hefty ticket prices to attend during International Fight Week something they would remember.
That didn’t end up being the case, and Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) instead ended up employing the counter-striking style he utilizes so well to shut down Cannonier (15-6 MMA, 8-6 UFC) and prevent any dramatic moments from happening. Again, I’m not going to crap on the guy for taking that approach, but he promised something different, even if it was an “off night.”
I know everything Adesanya said pre-fight is ultimately just promotional hype, but it seems unwise that he would promise that then turn around and call the fans “dumb f*cks” for being bothered when it didn’t materialize. It already happened once before against Yoel Romero in the same arena a little more than two years ago, and to a lesser degree in his rematch with Marvin Vettori in June 2021.
It must be noted that this isn’t a one-way street, either. Adesanya’s opponents play a major role in this, too, because they either fail to implement a good enough game plan, or are too risk-averse because they can’t figure out how to deal with Adesanya’s skill set.
As long as Adesanya holds that belt, he holds power. But a few more of these types of fights and he might have a problem on his hands. Fortunately for him, he has a next test in former kickboxing opponent Alex Pereira who should provide him with a highlight one way or another after his knockout of Sean Strickland at the same event.
2. Is Volkanovski the best in the game?
There’s a real discussion to be had right now about whether [autotag]Alexander Volkanovski[/autotag] has usurped Kamaru Usman as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. I’m not quite ready to make a definitive declaration, but there is a valid argument after the featherweight champion earned a third win over rival Max Holloway.
Volkanovski (25-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) put a beating on Holloway (23-7 MMA, 19-7 UFC) like no one before him en route to a blowout unanimous decision win. It was by far the most lopsided fight of the trilogy, and Volkanovski largely made Holloway look like he didn’t belong in there, which is especially remarkable because “Blessed” seemed supremely motivated and in-tune for this one.
It speaks to the greatness of Volkanovski that he was able to do that. He’s now won an amazing 22 consecutive fights, including the ultra-rare 12-0 start to his UFC career that has only been done by Usman, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Anderson Silva and Royce Gracie. That’s some exquisite company.
I would not be mad at anyone who places Volkanovski at No. 1 on the pound-for-pound list next week. It’s a debate with valid arguments on both sides, and though it’s important not to be a prisoner of the moment, it’s kind of hard not to give the edge to Volkanovski.
Usman, for his part, has the more spectacular wins. Volkanovski has never put anyone away like Usman did to Jorge Masvidal for example, but Usman has also never been an opponent as decorated as Holloway – let alone three times. And that’s to make no mention of how Volkanovski handled multi-time title challengers Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung.
Right now, the day after UFC 276, I’m inclined to put Volkanovski at the top of my list. But this could easily be revised in seven weeks when Usman rematches Leon Edwards at UFC 278.
3. Did Pedro Munhoz quit vs. Sean O'Malley?
The short answer is no. The long answer is still no, and anyone insinuating [autotag]Pedro Munhoz[/autotag] looked for an easy way out against [autotag]Sean O’Malley [/autotag]– including O’Malley himself – is fooling themselves.
Did the eye poke Munhoz (19-7 MMA, 19-7 UFC) received from O’Malley (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) that ultimately led to a no contest in their bantamweight main card opener look that bad in real time and on replay? It did not. There are routinely much worse looking stabs and fights have continued, but that doesn’t really mean anything.
I hope I don’t have to actually sit here and explain to people how sensitive the eyes are. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, and for no one can pretend to know how bad Munhoz was feeling in the moment. He said himself his vision was gone for 20 minutes after he finally left the cage, so this was something serious.
Moreover, for anyone to accuse Munhoz of actually bailing on the fight because he was somehow afraid he was going to lose, or O’Malley had him in that bad a spot, is beyond comprehension.
Munhoz was by no means dominating when the foul happened, but he was hardly getting blown out, either. The momentum of the bout was evolving as time came off the clock, and to pretend there wasn’t a path to victory available for the Brazilian is an outright lie.
I’m not saying Munhoz was definitely going to win, but he was in the fight and it would make zero sense for him to quit. Let me remind you this is a man who has the most fights in UFC bantamweight history and has shared the octagon with the likes of Aljamain Sterling, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Cody Garbrandt and Rob Font. But somehow Sean O’Malley had him so shook he went running for the hills? Give me a break.
4. 'Cowboy' rides off into the sunset
There were two notable retirement announcements on the preliminary portion of this card. I’ll address both, but [autotag]Donald Cerrone[/autotag] should of course be first.
I’ll admit: I was a little surprised in the moment that “Cowboy” decided to call it a career after his submission loss to Jim Miller. He seemed genuine about his desire to reach 50 fights under the Zuffa banner, and despite getting submitted in the second round, this wasn’t a fight in which he looked terrible or took a ton of damage.
When Cerrone (36-17 MMA, 23-14 UFC) got backstage to the media room, though, it all made perfect sense, and it’s clear he made the right call. Cerrone said outright that his passion has been waning for some time now and he simply doesn’t have the hunger and love to compete that he did being the most active fighter in UFC history over the past decade.
Those feelings have been lingering with Cerrone since before he fought Conor McGregor in January 2020, he said, and if all that’s true, we should be thankful he got out when he did before he got seriously hurt. Nevertheless, it’s a sad and significant day, and truly the end of an era.
We don’t have enough time or column space in this format to appropriately honor Cerrone and what he’s meant to the UFC and sport as a whole. He’s a rare breed who will never be replicated, and his plethora of UFC records speak for themselves.
Although he never became UFC champion, Cerrone is a legend and is a shoo-in to land in the UFC Hall of Fame one day. If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking the time to watch his post-fight exit interview, because he was extremely thoughtful in explaining all the elements that led to him walking away from active competition.
5. Jessica Eye bounces before she can be cut
In a vastly different circumstance from “Cowboy,” [autotag]Jessica Eye[/autotag] said in the aftermath of her retirement decision that she felt like she would be cut from the UFC after her loss to Maycee Barber, so she decided to move on from competition “before they could kick me out.”
I respect the mindset, and she was probably in the right mind of thinking doing so. Eye (15-11 MMA, 5-10 UFC) had some solid moments during her octagon tenure, but the winning results just weren’t there and she probably got a longer leash than most others in her position would’ve.
What kind of legacy does Eye leave behind? Not much of one, if we’re being brutally honest. She deserves credit for reaching the level of a UFC title shot, but it was more so a product of her being in the right place at the right time in a thin women’s flyweight division.
In all fairness, though, she was always willing to take the hardest fights against the best, whether she was fighting while outsized at women’s bantamweight, or during her final run at 125.
Eye said afterward she’s interested in pursuing a career in professional wrestling after this. We’ll see how that plays out. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if we see her fighting in a cage again outside the UFC. This felt like a very spur-of-the-moment decision.