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Making the Grade: UFC 267: Blachowicz vs. Teixeira edition

UFC 267: Jingliang v Chimaev Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Two title fights and an absolutely stacked main card highlighted UFC 267 on Saturday from Abu Dhabi with ageless wonder Glover Teixeira capping off the show with an improbable win to become champion at 42 years of age.

It was an awe-inspiring performance from Teixeira, who was written off long ago as a serious threat to the 205-pound title, but he never stopped believing and his dream to become champion was made reality following a second-round submission win over Jan Blachowicz.

In the co-main event, Petr Yan once again captured a piece of the bantamweight title with a stellar performance over five rounds against Cory Sandhagen, who gave the Russian everything he could handle and more. Yan had to exorcize at least one demon from his last fight where he was disqualified for throwing an illegal knee against Aljamain Sterling and now he’s got a title wrapped back around his waist with hopes of unifying the belts in early 2022.

The card also featured a trio of fighters — Islam Makhachev, Khamzat Chimaev and Magomed Ankalaev — who are almost universally recognized as future title contenders. All three picked up statement wins including Makhachev and Chimaev earning first-round submissions.

With that said, there’s a lot to unpack from the event so let’s talk about what passed and what failed from Saturday’s card in Abu Dhabi. This is Making the Grade for UFC 267: Blachowicz vs. Teixeira.

PASSES

Feel Good Story of the Year

When Glover Teixeira lost a lopsided decision to Corey Anderson back in 2018, it appeared any chance he had at becoming champion just slipped away. The loss dropped Teixeira to 2-3 over five fights and with his 40th birthday fast approaching, no one was betting on him to eventually claw his way back to title contention.

Over the next three years, Teixeira began a slow and steady climb back up the 205-pound ranks that eventually culminated in back-to-back wins over two former title contenders in Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos. Suddenly, Teixeira was standing on the precipice of a title shot against reigning champion Jan Blachowicz but he was still a sizable underdog as he scored his second opportunity to become a UFC champion after falling short in his previous bid back in 2014.

Then at UFC 267, Teixeira did the improbable — he came out and set the tone right away by taking Blachowicz to the ground and dominating him throughout the first round. A notoriously slow starter at times, Teixeira came out guns blazing in keep Blachowicz on his heels and the Polish powerhouse just never found a way to recover.

Following another takedown in the second round, Teixeira shredded Blachowicz’s defense and then locked on the fight ending rear naked choke that saw him crowned as the oldest first-time champion in UFC history.

While Teixeira has never been the biggest star much less the most prolific draw at the box office, he remains one of the most beloved figures in the entire mixed martial arts industry. Teixeira is legitimately a nice guy, who rarely has a bad word to say about anybody, and he’s a guy who’s paid his dues to get where he’s gotten.

Nothing has ever been handed to Teixeira. He’s earned all of the opportunities afforded to him — and Teixeira has faced plenty of adversity along the way.

When most people first learned his name, Teixeira’s claim to fame was being the main training partner who helped Chuck Liddell become one of the greatest light heavyweights in UFC history. Now nearly 20 years after his fight career started, Teixeira has finally realized his dream to become a UFC champion and it will be nearly impossible to find a better story to make you smile in all of combat sports in 2021.

Mercy is For the Weak

No one will soon forget the illegal knee that ended the bantamweight title fight at UFC 259 back in March, not the least of which is Petr Yan.

That foul cost him the bantamweight title and he’s waited seven months for the chance to right the wrong he committed. Unfortunately, Aljamain Sterling underwent neck surgery shortly after their meeting earlier this year and he won’t be ready to compete again until early 2022.

With Sterling unavailable, Yan instead faced off with Cory Sandhagen in an interim bantamweight title fight at UFC 267. Sandhagen has been touted as possibly the most dangerous fighter in the division after he laid waste to Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar while also battling former champion T.J. Dillashaw to a split decision with most believing he deserved to get the nod.

The bantamweights engaged in an absolute war over five rounds with Sandhagen sprinting out of the gates and then Yan showcasing his boxing acumen combined with huge power behind every punch. Sandhagen didn’t make it easy on him by any means but Yan really turned up the heat starting in the third round while displaying fast hand speed, nasty combinations and arguably the best boxing in the division.

When it was over, Yan was victorious and he once again owned a part of the UFC bantamweight title.

Many will argue that Yan has already proven he’s the best 135-pound fighter in the world with definitive wins over the likes of Sandhagen and Jose Aldo but he still needs to vanquish the ghosts from the past, which means booking the rematch with Sterling next year.

Until then Yan will almost certainly call himself the real bantamweight champion and there aren’t many outside of Sterling who will attempt to tell him different.

The Wolf of Maul Street

Hype is a funny thing.

For some fighters it can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things but others get crushed under the weight of it all. In 2020, no one got as much attention over a shorter amount of time than undefeated prospect Khamzat Chimaev after he burst on the scene with two wins inside 10 days and then demolished veteran middleweight Gerald Meerschaert with a blistering 17-second knockout.

That’s when COVID-19 wiped out Chimaev’s plans to conquer the top of the welterweight division after he contracted the deadly disease. He got so sick from his bout with COVID that Chimaev was contemplating retirement but thankfully he got healthy again and plotted his course for a return to action 13 months after his last win inside the octagon.

This time around, Chimaev got matched up with Li Jingliang — a proven commodity in the UFC with a much better resume than any of his past opponents. Li was supposed to be Chimaev’s first true test since joining the promotion except for one problem — the fight ended at 3:15 in the first round without the Chinese welterweight landing a single strike.

Chimaev mauled Li from start to finish, wrapping up his fourth UFC win by knockout or submission and now he’s truly earned his place among the best welterweights in the sport. Chimaev’s return couldn’t have come at a better time either considering the kind of dominance reigning champion Kamaru Usman has displayed over the past couple of years.

Usman is already staring down a slew of rematches in the division, which includes his upcoming fight against Colby Covington at UFC 268. If Usman wins that fight, his next option includes another possible rematch with Leon Edwards and there hasn’t been another clear cut contender emerge at 170 pounds until now.

Chimaev could be the last man standing in Usman’s way of proclaiming himself the greatest welterweight champion in UFC history. Add to that, the interest around Chimaev only seems to be building with each performance, which means another win or two for him leading into a title fight could make the eventual showdown against Usman one of the most monumental fights the UFC has ever promoted.

FAIL

Apexed

This isn’t a fail as much as it’s a question about the UFC’s plans for pay-per-views and Fight Night broadcasts heading into 2022.

Lately, the UFC Fight Night broadcasts, you know the ones that primarily air on either ESPN or ESPN+, have been lacking to say the least. Now that’s not to say late changes to main events haven’t harmed them but the UFC has really gone out of its way to raid the cupboard for pay-per-views while leaving very little behind when it comes to the Fight Night cards.

Now it’s entirely possible that the UFC has plotted out this course considering the pay-per-view cards are taking place in arenas where fans can finally attend events again while the Fight Night shows are still happening in the UFC APEX.

Perhaps the lack of crowd noise finally drove UFC president Dana White mad and he just couldn’t take the silence of the APEX any longer so the PPV’s are getting the lion’s share of big fights right now.

If that’s not the case and the UFC is planning to hit the road again in 2022, the Fight Night cards will definitely need better attention.

There’s nothing wrong with showcasing prospects but when the entire card is filled with them and no one else, it’s not nearly as enticing to the audience watching at home. Featuring one meaningful fight in the main event and then a whole lot of fighters drawing the reaction of “who is this exactly?’ doesn’t seem like the best way to build a card.

To be clear, this could all be part of the UFC’s grand plan to return to local arenas in 2022 when fans can attend events again but for now it looks like the PPV’s are going to remain an embarrassment of riches while the Fight Night cards are scrambling for the scraps left behind.

EPIC FAIL

Protect Yourself at All Times

UFC 267: Zaleski dos Santos v Saint Denis Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

If you didn’t know the name Vyacheslav Kiselev prior to UFC 267, you probably know him now.

He’s the referee who allowed Benoit Saint Denis to absorb 149 significant strikes over three rounds in his fight against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in a welterweight fight that should have ended in the second round.

With Saint Denis essentially trapped against the cage, dos Santos was just unloading on him with a huge barrage of punches. Saint Denis showed incredible toughness and durability by eating the shots and never going down but he was offering little to no resistance as the Brazilian was using his head for target practice.

There were a couple of moments where even dos Santos had to glance at the referee as if to say “are you kidding me right now?”

Then in the third round, Saint Denis suffered an accidental eye poke and actually told the referee that he couldn’t see, which is well known as the universal sign that a fight won’t continue. Rather than bring in the ringside physician to check on the fighter, Kiselev inexplicably just asked Saint Denis if he could continue and then the fight got restarted!

A few moments later, dos Santos tagged Saint Denis with another accidental foul, this time a low blow, and without hesitation Kiselev issued a one-point deduction without a single warning.

When the fight ended, dos Santos won a very lopsided decision and he later berated the referee for not doing his job and actually protecting his opponent in the cage. Then dos Santos was joined by a huge number of fighters also watching UFC 267 as they bombarded the referee with criticism for failing to do the first requirement of his job — protecting the fighters.

It’s been well documented that fighters are some of the toughest people on Earth but there are times that they need to be saved from themselves. Kiselev failed in that regard in just about every way possible as he watched Saint Denis get battered from one side of the cage to the other without ever really looking like he was about to stop the fight.

Thankfully, Kiselev was removed from his duties for the rest of the card where he was actually scheduled to oversee one more fight later that night. While there’s a lot to be said about the UFC officiating its own events when traveling to places like Abu Dhabi, where athletic commissions don’t exist, but this was once instance where it really paid off as the promotion was able to quickly pull Kiselev and ensure nobody else suffered under his masochistic watch.

Overall Grade for UFC 267: A