What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 225 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore? Here are a few post-fight musings …
* * * *
Erin Blanchfield thrives through adversity
Erin Blanchfield took on a sizable test in former title challenger Taila Santos, and despite things looking grim after the first round, she managed to come out with her hand raised and stay undefeated inside the octagon.
It’s hard to overstate how important a moment like this was for a surging prospect/contender like Blanchfield (12-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) at this stage of her career. We’re all so used to seeing her blow through the competition that many believed that would happen again. Santos offered a reminder that she’s not here to roll over for anyone, but that’s what made Blanchfield’s ability to come out with a unanimous decision win all the more impressive.
Her pace, pressure and refusal to back down wore Santos down as the rounds went on. In the end, it was a sixth straight victory for Blanchfield, who called for a 125-pound title shot against the winner of champ Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas.
The victor in the Manon Fiorot and Rose Namajunas bout next weekend in Paris might have something to say about that, but it’s hard to deny Blanchfield’s case. Even if she doesn’t get it, her future seems to have a title coronation laying in wait, and it’s probably just a matter of time.
Giga Chikadze is back in the mix
Although you could poke some holes in Giga Chikadze’s performance against Alex Caceres, I think it’s fair to overlook the minor flaws. He’s endured the longest layoff of his combat sports career and serious injury in the 18 months since he suffered his sole octagon defeat against Calvin Kattar, and it wasn’t easy to get back in there.
Chikadze finally returned to the cage and got a scorecard sweep in his unanimous decision victory over Caceres. That puts him back in the mix in the featherweight division. He might still be several wins away from being regarded in title contention like he was coming into the lopsided defeat to Kattar, but he’s a compelling matchup for a lot of the top names in the weight class.
At minimum, Chikadze set himself up to face a fellow top-10 name, and if he can win that one, he’s certainly back in business.
Anthony Smith squeaks out a career-saving win
Ryan Spann should be rightfully pissed off at himself – and probably the judges, too – for not getting his hand raised against Anthony Smith in their light heavyweight rematch.
Much of the onus certainly falls on Spann, however, because he did not take advantage of Smith (37-18 MMA, 12-8 UFC) when his eye was badly mangled for part of the second round and the entirety of the third. That opened the door for Smith to keep the fight close, and secure a split decision win to snap his two-fight losing skid.
After defeating Spann with a quick first-round submission in their initial meeting, Smith had a much tougher time in the second encounter. He was doing well until a hard shot caused significant swelling to the eye, and it seemed a defeat would follow soon after. He protected himself well and stayed in it, though, which was yet another example of his toughness and experience.
Spann was stunned by the outcome, but in the end, Smith needed this win more. He’s the older fighter who has had some very tough losses recently, and given his prominent position as a UFC analyst and podcast host, he needed to get this done to extend life in his career.
“Lionheart” has made no secret that he only continues to compete out of the belief he can eventually be the 205-pound champion. This performance didn’t exactly inspire a ton of hope that’s going to happen for him, but still, coming off this win is much better than the opposing reality of sitting on three straight losses.
Max Holloway has perfect perspective from weird position
If anyone needed another reminder, Max Holloway displayed once again that he’s a tier above everyone else in the featherweight division outside of champion Alexander Volkanovski when he knocked out Chan Sung Jung in highlight-reel fashion.
Time after time, Holloway (25-7 MMA, 21-7 UFC) shows the world he’s one of the best to do it by wrecking shop against established names at 145 pounds. In most cases, what he did to Jung would put him in pole position to get a title shot. However, we know the deal. His three losses to Volkanovski are going to be very tough to overcome, and it’s going to take a herculean effort to convince both Volkanovski and the UFC brass to make a fourth fight.
Everyone involved is aware of as much, but Holloway isn’t going to allow that to deter him. He provided some inspiring post-fight quotes in declaring he will keep winning until he’s “undeniable.” What the path looks like, however, isn’t as simple as some catchy comments. Unless Volkanovski loses that belt to someone else or makes a permanent change of division, Holloway is stuck.
Don’t expect the 32-year-old to just sit on the sidelines in hopes someone else will do his dirty work for him. There’s no doubt the competitive side of him wants to avenge those losses to Volkanovski and prove he can overcome the kryptonite of his career to this point, and Holloway will do his best to keep on holding up his end of the bargain until that happens, which is very respectable.
'The Korean Zombie' says farewell in fitting fashion
It goes without saying that Chan Sung Jung would’ve rather won than lost his fight with Holloway and had a glorious late-career moment to retire on top. But if he was going to go out on a defeat, then man, he couldn’t have done it more spectacularly.
After nearly being finished in the second round, Jung (17-8 MMA, 7-5 UFC) threw caution to the wind in the most “Korean Zombie” fashion imaginable by going all-out in attempt to hurt Holloway, only to get caught and viciously knocked out. There was no sense of self-preservation and repercussion, and that’s what has defined his career and made him one of the most beloved fighters in MMA history.
From the war with Leonard Garcia under the now-defunct WEC banner that put him on the map of many, to epic UFC highlights that include a seven-second knockout, the first-ever Twister finish in the octagon and more, there are few more reliably entertaining fighters than Jung. He delivered every time in victory or defeat, and that will be his lasting legacy.
It was a touch heart-wrenching to hear Jung reflect on what he considered a “failure” to accomplish his ultimate goal of being UFC champion, but to be honest, he doesn’t need it. He is going to be remembered more fondly than many of the fighters who have had a title wrapped around their waist, and he should take solace in that fact until his final days.
Jung is the very definition of a fighter who was able to connect with fans through his actions in the octagon, and there are countless fighters who could only dream to have a career that encompasses a sliver of the success he found for himself. And with that, we wish him happy trails and a peaceful retirement.