Two title fights garnered vastly different reactions after UFC 248 ended on Saturday night.
While Israel Adesanya successful defended his belt against Yoel Romero in the main event, no one seemed to be very enthusiastic about the lack of action that took place over 25 minutes. Adesanya did more damage, but he was reluctant to get too aggressive as Romero essentially refused to engage for a big part of the fight.
That’s a far cry from what unfolded in the co-main event.
Strawweight champion Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk engaged in an absolute war in their fight, trading shots until both of them were bruised and bloodied. Zhang managed to hold onto her belt following a razor-close split decision, but Jedrzejczyk definitely had a lot to be proud about with her performance as well.
With UFC 248 now in the books, let’s look back at what passed and what failed from the third pay-per-view card of 2020. This is Making the Grade for UFC 248: Adesanya vs. Romero.
Hall of Fame Fight
It’s impossible to predict how a fight will play out before it happens but there was something in the air that made everyone believe Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk were going to do something special on Saturday night.
What resulted can hardly be described by words alone.
Jedrzejczyk was a woman on a mission to reclaim her strawweight title and she looked better than ever during the five-round fight. Again and again, Jedrzejczyk connected with multiple strike combinations as she showcased her world-class kickboxing in a very technical performance.
In return, Zhang threw with knockout power behind every punch as she simply invited Jedrzejczyk to come forward and trade shots with her. Even in the moments when it appeared that Zhang might be slowing down, she took a breath and then just began winging shots with bad intentions behind every punch or kick.
When it was over, Zhang retained her strawweight title but Jedrzejczyk certainly shouldn’t hang her head in shame. She pushed the champion to the limit and back again in arguably one of the greatest title fights in UFC history.
There’s no way to say for certain if these two will meet for a second time, and it’s virtually impossible that any rematch could ever live up to the original, but Zhang and Jedrzejczyk certainly deserve a lot of praise after that fight and there’s no chance the entire MMA world wouldn’t pay to see that one again.
Heart of a Champion
It’s hard to imagine what Zhang Weili had to go through just to get to UFC 248 and then putting on that kind of performance in the co-main event.
It’s been well-documented the tragedy that has befallen Zhang’s home country of China following the outbreak of the coronavirus. More than 3,000 people have died from the disease and Zhang was forced to move her camp as a result.
The reigning strawweight champion first went to Thailand after uprooting her entire training camp while in the middle of her preparations for Jedrzejczyk. After the number of people infected with coronavirus spiked there, Zhang was then moved by the UFC to a new training facility in Abu Dhabi instead.
She was eventually granted a visa and allowed to travel into the United States where Zhang wrapped up her last few days of preparation in Las Vegas at the UFC Performance Institute.
Considering everything Zhang had to endure just to get to UFC 248, it would be completely understandable if she came up short in her first title defense. Instead, Zhang didn’t look like she missed a step as she put on a battle for the ages with Jedrzejczyk over five rounds.
Zhang may or may not go onto defend her title multiple times after UFC 248 but hopefully this awe-inspiring performance along with the circumstances surrounding the fight will long be remembered.
With a stunning second-round knockout over Drakkar Klose on Saturday night, Beneil Dariush notched his fourth win in a row as well as his third finish during that stretch.
Dariush has been a stalwart of the UFC’s lightweight division since 2014 and after posting a 6-1 record through his first seven fights including victories over Jim Miller, Diego Ferreira and Michael Johnson, he was viewed as a serious threat to the top 10 fighters in the division.
Unfortunately, Dariush suffered though a roller coaster ride over his next six fights including two wins, three losses and one draw. He didn’t necessarily lose a step but Dariush was struggling to maintain any kind of momentum while competing in arguably the UFC’s deepest division.
It turns out, Dariush was actually suffering from a bulging disc in his neck that was giving him all sorts of problems during training camps. In fact, Dariush has previously admitted that preparing for fights nearly became torture to him because he was dealing with so much pain and anguish.
Following extensive therapy and work with his doctors, Dariush finally got back to full health and the results have shown in his fights. He’s torn through his past few opponents including a submission finish against Drew Dober and then the knockout over Klose on Saturday night.
The UFC’s lightweight division has long been considered a snake pit but it appears an alpha predator has returned to the ranks following Dariush’s latest knockout victory. With a four-fight win streak at his back, Dariush can now start climbing towards that top 15 ranking he previously held as he sends notice to all of those fighters positioned ahead of him that he’s coming for their spot.
Two to Tango
Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero have both produced more than a few highlight reel performances, but it’s not likely they’ll look back at their fight at UFC 248 with fond memories.
Outside of a few exchanges, Adesanya and Romero did a lot more posturing and moving around the cage than actually trading shots in the center of the Octagon.
It was clear that Romero was trying to force Adesanya into a more aggressive game plan as he avoided the counter striking offense from the middleweight champion. The same kind of tactic was often employed against Anderson Silva during his reign as champion after opponents started figuring out that moving forward on him was like walking willingly into a wood chipper.
You might survive but the odds aren’t good.
Still, Romero had to know after eating several stiff leg kicks from the middleweight champion that the scorecards might go against him. Instead of altering his game plan, Romero doubled down on his strategy and ultimately ended his night with a unanimous decision loss to Adesanya.
At the post-fight press conference, Romero complained — a lot — about Adesanya supposedly running away and how he came to give the Las Vegas crowd a show. Unfortunately, Romero’s actions inside the Octagon told a much different story because he never did much to press the action any more than Adesanya did.
Listen, not every fight is going produce an epic battle or a jaw-dropping finish. Sometimes one fighter does deserve the blame more than the other. In this case, neither Adesanya or Romero seemed all that interested in a wild slugfest just waiting to find out which one of them would fall down first.
That’s why Romero’s complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears because his criticism of Adesanya didn’t make much sense considering the man staring back at him in the mirror was just as much to blame for a less than stellar main event.
Lost Time Is Never Found Again
Sean O’Malley and Neil Magny both returned from long layoffs to get wins at UFC 248 on Saturday night. For O’Malley it was a two-year journey to finally get back into action while Magny had been shelved for the better part of 16 months.
What did these two fighters have in common that kept them sidelined for so long?
One word — USADA.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency, who oversees the UFC’s anti-doping program, has been administering drug tests for the better part of the past four years to try and eliminate as much cheating from the sport as possible. Since first being employed to drug test UFC athletes, USADA has weeded out a lot of fighters who have used illegal substances like steroids and even human growth hormone.
For the most part, USADA has done a good job catching cheaters and the majority of fighters welcome the additional testing to ensure a level playing field inside the cage.
Unfortunately, O’Malley and Magny found out the downside of an elaborate drug testing program because each of their situations kept them from earning a living for the better part of two years due to potential doping violations with USADA.
Magny probably got the worst of it because he was pulled from a fight in March 2019 after one of his drug tests was flagged for a banned substance. It took several months for an investigation to take place but Magny was finally cleared of any wrongdoing late last year and faced no punishment from USADA whatsoever.
As for O’Malley, he got flagged for using the banned substance ostarine in 2018 and again in 2019. Both times the amount of ostarine found in his system led USADA to believe he was the victim of a contaminated supplement but he was still issued two separate six-month suspensions.
USADA eventually adjusted its rules for situations just like those that affected Magny and O’Malley but sadly neither one of them will get the time back for their respective careers.
No one is saying that the fighters shouldn’t be caught and punished when cheating but the fact that O’Malley had to miss two years of his career just seems egregious. The same thing can be said for Magny, who was actually exonerated without facing any sanctions whatsoever for his positive drug test.
Overall, USADA has done an admirable job enforcing the UFC’s anti-doping policy but O’Malley and Magny have real identifiable grievances that have to be addressed. Seeing O’Malley nearly brought to tears after returning with a win this past Saturday night following the ordeal he went through to get cleared — not to mention the financial investment he made to finally break free of the charges against him — was heartbreaking to witness.
Changes have been made to the anti-doping policy to hopefully address situations like these in the future but there has to be a better way to expediate this process or more fighters are going to suffer the same fate as Magny and O’Malley.