Well, that happened. The year’s final UFC pay-per-view was supposed to provide some clarity to the light heavyweight division; instead, Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev fought to a split draw, the belt remained vacant, and suddenly a brand new title matchup has already sprung to life for January. The bizarre result capped off a roller-coaster night at UFC 282 that also saw Paddy Pimblett eke out a controversial win over Jared Gordon, Ilia Topuria rocket into contention with a monster finish of Bryce Mitchell, plus much more.
With so much to discuss, let’s hit our five biggest takeaways from UFC 282.
1. Has any UFC belt ever felt like more of a superfluous prop than the light heavyweight title does on this Sunday morning? If so, I can’t think of one.
There’s really no other way to frame it following the oddity that was UFC 282’s main event: The 205-pound division is a rudderless mess. And it happened overnight. Just six months ago Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira gifted us with one of the greatest UFC title fights of all-time. The MMA world was giddy, salivating at the glorious era the mad Czech would surely bring to the throne. And now? The UFC is effectively just throwing darts at the dartboard, blindfolded, merely hoping that something is eventually going to stick. Even UFC president Dana White couldn’t be bothered to fake any excitement for his 205-pound division. In all my years of covering this sport, I can’t recall seeing a more flaccid title fight announcement than how White threw out Teixeira vs. Jamahal Hill on Saturday night.
In a way, it was fitting — 2022 was a year defined by outlandish upsets, carnival-style judging, main events after main events that ended in untimely injuries, and really just a whole lot of weirdness at every turn. At least it saved its weirdest weirdness for last.
So let’s briefly touch on UFC 282’s main event, even if the UFC is apparently just going to act as if it didn’t happen. I scored the bout as most people did — 48-47 for Magomed Ankalaev, giving him rounds one, four, and five. It may not have been the second coming of Prochazka vs. Teixeira, but Ankalaev has every reason to be upset. He persevered through certain defeat after Blachowicz’s early barrage of leg kicks, made the necessary adjustments, pivoted to his wrestling, and gutted out what should’ve been a defining moment of his career — a championship performance in the championship rounds.
Instead, he flew home as one of the night’s biggest losers, second only to poor Anthony Smith, who had the misfortune of learning about the sudden cancellation of his March bout with Hill while literally working live on-air for the ESPN broadcast. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson, you could actually pinpoint the second when the man’s heart ripped in half.
The only big winner of this whole silly saga (other than Hill) is Glover Teixeira. The 42-year-old ex-champ somehow pulled off the full Nate Diaz by ending up with the most unlikely yet most favorable outcome after the UFC tried to screw him over. There’s a real chance now that Teixeira saunters into Brazil next month as a heavy favorite and recaptures his belt in front of his countrymen then rides off into the sunset forever.
Only in MMA.
But let’s spare a few words to applaud Blachowicz as well. Not only did the pride of Poland win hearts and minds the world over with his Skyrim-themed walkout (for real, how cool was that?), he also handled what was obviously a supremely awkward and uncomfortable situation post-fight with far more class and grace than anyone could reasonably ask for.
As we shift into the New Year, let’s all try to be a little more like Jan, eh?
2. Look, I don’t use the R-word often. In a world where every vaguely close decision in MMA gets lambasted as a sign of the end times, I generally try to keep a level head and maintain some perspective. But Paddy Pimblett’s win over Jared Gordon? Nah, son. That’s a robbery. Plain as day. The minds at MMADecisions.com, Verdict MMA, and seemingly every other human being with a pair of eyeballs (aside from three judges and Pimblett himself) agreed.
Just look at some of these responses from Pimblett’s fellow UFC fighters.
“The worst decision in @ufc history.”
“I’ve lost all faith in this sport.”
Yikes. MMA fighters barely ever agree on anything.
If you want to fault Gordon for taking his foot off the gas in Round 3, as White did post-fight, that’s fair. A wiser game plan would’ve left no room for any reasonable doubt. But here’s the thing: It wouldn’t have even mattered! Because the method by which we landed at unanimous 29-28 Pimblett scores was even more inexplicable than that. Somehow, two — count ‘em, two! — judges watched that fight and decided Round 3 was actually the only round Gordon won. No joke. At the very least, Chris Lee’s scorecard of Pimblett winning the final two rounds made a tiny lick of sense; in no world can the same be said about the beauts Ron McCarthy and Doug Crosby turned in.
(Yes, that Doug Crosby. The same judge who scored a 50-45 for Danny Sabatello at Bellator 289 on Friday. Think about that. Crosby somehow turned in two of the worst scorecards of 2022 in back-to-back days on opposite sides of the country. What a weekend this man had.)
I was robbed everyone knows it i… I can cry about it but I been back from worst and gods plan is the best plan so I know there’s something big to come from it— Jared Gordon (@JFlashGordonMMA) December 11, 2022
Perhaps even wilder was Pimblett’s total lack of self-awareness. In his post-fight media rounds, the 27-year-old repeatedly scoffed at the mere mention that the fight could’ve been close. For better or worse, he was the biggest story of UFC 282 — both during fight week and on fight night. It’s just that neither were for reasons one would hope.
The villain arc of Pimblett’s story is officially in full swing. But hey, plenty of prizefighters have made gobs of money off a fan base’s desire to see them get their comeuppance, and Saturday’s bank heist will likely be the best possible outcome for Pimblett in the long run. If the Scouser had won with a dominant showing, the UFC’s promotional push would’ve been cranked into overdrive and Pimblett may have found himself staring down the barrel of a matchup against the top 15 of the division. After watching his performance against Gordon, it’s not a leap to think that would’ve ended poorly for him. But now Pimblett can take a lateral (or backward) step and who really is going to complain?
If I’m a UFC matchmaker, I’m giving him the Clay Guidas of the division 100 times out of 100 before the I throw him against the Damir Ismagulovs and Jalin Turners of the world.
In more ways than one, “The Baddy” dodged a major bullet on Saturday.
3. Speaking of Scousers, it’s always foolish to write off any athlete still in their twenties, but it’s also fair to say I think we’ve seen the peak of the Darren Till experience.
The one-time UFC title challenger lost once again on Saturday, this time at the hands of a late rear-naked choke by Dricus Du Plessis after getting massacred for the opening five minutes. That’s six uninspiring performances in a row now — and a 1-5 record — since Till was crowned as the heir apparent to the welterweight throne in early 2018, and the story at UFC 282 remained the same. Du Plessis, who went 0-for-7 on takedown attempts in his previous win over Brad Tavares, racked up a perfect 6-for-6 mark against Till despite barely being able to lift his arms after the first round. When Dillon Danis is landing zingers like this on you without really trying, that’s not where you want to be in your career.
Realistically, Till is who he is at this point — a charismatic but deeply flawed fighter with exploitable holes, a plateaued skill set, and an increasingly worrisome injury history. (He may have suffered another knee injury on Saturday, this time a torn ACL. If that’s the case, it only adds to the growing list to have chipped away at the 29-year-old’s physical gifts.)
Till still has a big name and ample time to turn his career around. Perhaps he can mount an unexpected renaissance like his countryman Michael Bisping. He certainly shouldn’t be leaping to fight a ranked foe anytime soon. But at this point, if his fate is to get upset by an unknown in the first round of a PFL tournament by 2024, would anyone really be surprised?
4. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Ilia Topuria is a future champion.
The man is terrifying. His physical intensity is a genuine sight to behold. Topuria throws every ounce of himself into his punches, and his grappling is some of the most underrated in the UFC today. Consider this: Topuria willingly danced in the danger zone with Bryce Mitchell and Ryan Hall and not only lived to tell the tale, but actually got the better of both men. It’s impossible to overstate how impressive that is. Between Topuria, Arnold Allen, and Movsar Evloev, the future of 145 pounds is stupidly bright, with a combined 21-0 UFC record held between the trio. Yet Topuria may be the best out of all of them. Can you imagine the scenes he’d inflict on Pimblett if the UFC ever actually booked that fight?
But I digress. Because Topuria’s callout of Brian Ortega? Right on the money. I love the matchup. It’s only a matter of time before this 25-year-old monster is in the title picture, and if Ortega is able to return from his shoulder injury anytime soon, he’s exactly the kind of big name that could catapult Topuria into the conversations he already belongs in.
Topuria is a top-5 featherweight in the world. He just needs the chance to prove it.
5. We should probably use this last remaining space to heap superlatives upon the debut of Raul Rosas Jr., who at 18 years old, became the youngest winning fighter in UFC history with a poised-beyond-his-years destruction of Jay Perrin on the prelims. But Rosas’ story is just beginning — there will be plenty of chances to give him his plaudits. Instead, let’s focus on someone who handed out some quality advice to Rosas Jr. on Saturday night, because not too long ago he existed in the same ethereal, next-big-thing space.
Having once aimed to be the youngest UFC champion himself, @edmenshahbazyan has advice for 18-year-old Raul Rosas Jr.— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) December 11, 2022
“Don’t fall into your hype too much, to think you could be invincible.”
Full #UFC282 scrum ▶️ https://t.co/XaWJrRpy4E pic.twitter.com/8dQg8IFpsp
Edmen Shahbazyan’s message to the teenager after UFC 282: “Don’t fall into your hype.”
The kid would be wise to listen. Few up-and-coming talents have seen their ascension derailed in as soul-destroying fashion as Shahbazyan, whose 4-0 UFC start ran headfirst into a brick wall after three straight reality checks courtesy of the middleweight top 15. Confidence is king in the fight game, and we’ve seen a downward spiral like the one Shahbazyan endured sink plenty of prospects in the past. (The ghost of Brandon Thatch waves hello.) But young fighters should also pay attention, because everything about how Shahbazyan handled the past 13 months? Chef’s kiss. That’s how you do it.
Rather than stubbornly bang his head into that same brick wall, Shahbazyan overhauled virtually every aspect of his life. New management. New coaches. New caretakers for his career. Most importantly, he took the necessary time off to refresh and retool his game, and didn’t rush back into the deep end of the pool. Shahbazyan’s second-round destruction of Dalcha Lungiambula at UFC 282 was exactly the type of tune-up fight the UFC rarely affords its prospects — and it’s easy to forget that a “prospect” is exactly what Shahbazyan remains.
We’re talking about someone who just turned 25 years old. On Saturday, “The Golden Boy” was able to showcase improvements in his takedown defense, add a little slice of green atop his Wikipedia page for the first time since 2019, and take the first step to rebuilding his confidence, all without getting hurled back into the middleweight elite.
Shahbazyan is young enough to still turn things around, without question. If he winds up being a middleweight who matters by the time all is said and done, we’ll likely look back at UFC 282 as further proof of why tune-up fights are so widely deployed elsewhere in combat sports. All in all, it was perfect matchmaking and perfect execution on 13-month plan to revive one of the division’s bright young talents. Fighters and managers, take note.