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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 238

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The end of Saturday’s war between Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone seemed to indicate another problem with the latest rendition of the MMA rules.

The show was in Chicago’s United Center, meaning Illinois rules. In those rules, like in most jurisdictions, a referee can use instant replays. But once he does so, the fight is automatically over. The idea is that replays can only be used to determine if the finishing blow of a fight was a legal blow.

Constantly using replays, or doing so while action is going on, would interfere with the flow of a fight. But it’s also backwards in this day-and-age to settle for referee mistakes or even questionable calls on fouls, when in many cases replays will provide the answers to.

The crowd was at first mad when the fight was stopped at the end of the second round, but there was no real choice. Cerrone’s right eye was swollen completely shut after he made the cardinal mistake of blowing his nose, that was bleeding badly and appeared to be broken. It’s one of those things you are taught never to do, and it was evident in seconds as to why.

The problem is right before Cerrone blew his nose and his eye immediately swelled shut, Ferguson, who had put together a masterful second round, had nailed Cerrone hard with a punch after the horn sounded the end of the round.

Referee Dan Miragliotta, who seemed furious at the late blow, went to the replay to determine whether that clearly illegal blow resulted in the finish. He was using the replay to check whether the punch that was late landed on the right eye, causing it to swell shut. The replay showed the punch landed on the nose. So in hitting the nose, not the eye, it was ruled since the fight was stopped over the eye injury, that the illegal punch didn’t cause the fight to end.

But that seemed to make no sense. It was the damaged nose that at least in part led to the eye swelling shut.

It was a tough call. Ferguson put so much pressure on Cerrone and fought at such a fast-pace that Cerrone, and few if any fighters in the UFC’s deep lightweight division, would have been able to keep up. Ferguson was clearly taking over and dominating the fight and it didn’t appear Cerrone would be able to last much longer. Then again, this is MMA, and improbable comebacks are a regular part of the sport.

But did that late blow lead to the fight being stopped? Just because didn’t hit the eye didn’t mean it didn’t. It probably did.

But not being able to use a replay on a close call unless the fight is over seems like a rule that makes no sense. Nor did the idea that when it was clear that Cerrone’s blowing his nose was what led to the swelling and ended the fight, the idea that unless the punch connected with the eye it had no bearing on the outcome makes even less sense.

The win was Ferguson’s 12th in a row, the sixth longest streak in UFC history.

A key aspect of the streak is that the five fighters ahead of Ferguson, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Max Holloway and Demetrious Johnson are five of the greatest champions in UFC history. Ferguson, on the other hand, has not only never held the championship, but never even gotten a shot at the lightweight belt. Ferguson did once, in 2017, beat Kevin Lee, to win the interim title, but even then, due to an injury, had that interim title taken from him and never got a title shot.

The big fights delivered at UFC 238. Ferguson vs. Cerrone, while not the main event, may have been the most-looked forward fight on the show since it matched up fighters who have a history of delivering fireworks. And the fight lived up to those high expectations, if not exceeded them.

But the main event also delivered big. In the battle for the vacant bantamweight title, flyweight champion Henry Cejudo beat Marlon Moraes via third round stoppage. The other big bout, Valentina Shevchenko’s women’s flyweight title defense against Jessica Eye, ended with what will be in every discussion for the 2019 Knockout of the Year.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changes for Five Stars of the show.

HENRY CEJUDO - Cejudo (15-2), tried to promote himself as not only the pound-for-pound best fighter in the UFC, but also as the greatest combat sports athlete of all-time.

Cejudo’s credential of winning an Olympic gold medal in one sport, freestyle wrestling, combined with holding two UFC championships at the same time, is unprecedented historically. Yoel Romero won a world championship in wrestling and an Olympic silver medal, but never won a UFC title. Daniel Cormier held two UFC belts at the same time, but his best Olympic finish was fourth. Perhaps, as far as dominating two different sports, Holly Holm, with a UFC championship and multiple world boxing titles would be in the conversation as well

Cejudo after the fight even talked about moving up to featherweight and trying to become the first three-division champion in history.

As fast as what is next, with two belts, there are two different directions.

The much-beleagured UFC flyweights have been aced out of title matches since Cejudo upset Demetrious Johnson last August. Cejudo’s lone title defense was against T.J. Dillashaw, the bantamweight champion, moving down.

With the possible exception of Ferguson, there probably isn’t a fighter who has deserved a title shot for as long as Joseph Benavidez (27-5). Benavidez lost a second time to Johnson in 2013. For most of the last five-plus years, Benavidez has been the second-best flyweight on the planet. He even beat Cejudo in 2016 and has only lost once in the last five years.

Benavidez is scheduled to face Jussier Formiga (23-5) and the winner of that fight should get a shot at Cejudo.

Ironically, what would be the biggest flyweight fight in UFC history, Johnson getting a rematch with Cejudo, looks like it will never happen with Johnson now with ONE.

On the bantamweight side, while Cejudo mentioned names like Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber and Cody Garbrandt, the most logical title defense there would be against Aljamain Sterling (18-3), for Sterling’s win over Pedro Munhoz on Saturday’s undercard.

Given the flyweights have waited long enough to be back in the title picture and Benavidez in particular, Cejudo should either defend that title next or relinquish it.

MARLON MORAES - Moraes (22-6-1) had Cejudo hurt several times in the first round. By the second round, the tables had turned. Moraes should next face Petr Yan (13-1), who defeated Jimmie Rivera earlier in Saturday’s show.

VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO - The flyweight champion (17-3) seems to be in a class by herself at 125 pounds. If Liz Carmouche (13-6) can beat Roxanne Modafferi on July 20 in San Antonio, she would seem like the next in line. The only exception would be if Amanda Nunes wants to try and win a third belt, which she has talked about and has beaten Shevchenko twice in bantamweight fights.

If Carmouche loses, and Nunes is defending one of her other belts, Katlyn Chookagian (12-2) would make the most sense.

TONY FERGUSON - It’s long beyond due. Ferguson (26-3) should fight the winner of the Sept. 7 flyweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0) and Dustin Poirier (25-5) in Abu Dhabi. Ferguson should not be fighting anyone at this stage except the lightweight champion.

There was talk of a Cerrone rematch, but Cerrone took a bad beating coming back so quickly after a five-round war with Al Iaquinta. Perhaps down the line they could do that rematch, but the title match is years overdue.

TATIANA SUAREZ - Suarez (9-0) defeated Nina Ansaroff (10-6) in a fight that led to more questions than answers.

Suarez has been bothered for years by injuries, a neck issue plagued her in training for this fight. In the third round, the pace caught up to Suarez and she was in trouble and exhausted. Move that to five rounds and the outcome could have been very different. A title fight is five rounds.

New champion Jessica Andrade (20-6) has different options. Right now her fight on the table looks to be Weili Zhang (19-1) for an August show in China. Former champion Rose Namajunas (8-4) looked great in with Andrade before being slammed on her head, which led to her losing the title.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-3) has a solid win over Andrade and could also get a title fight.

If Andrade is to face Zhang or Namajunas, Suarez should face Jedrzejczyk for the next title shot.