There was a different feel to the second card on Fight Island. Saturday’s UFC 251 featured three title fights and star power across the card. Wednesday’s event had a must-see main event and 11 other fights that offered a true showcase on the future of the UFC. The prospects seized their moments and in another significant difference from the weekend’s event, finishes were everywhere. Not just ordinary finishes, but unique and impressive finishes that got the MMA world talking.
Ariel Helwani, Phil Murphy, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim look at the outstanding debut of Khamzat Chimaev, performances of other top prospects, the most memorable finishes and debate what’s ahead for the main event standout.
Who’s next for Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige?
Helwani: So, the champion Alexander Volkanovski just fought, and the word is they want to book Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung vs. Brian Ortega. So, let’s assume they get those done.
Kattar is now right below those guys, including the former champ Max Holloway, whose stock didn’t drop after the Volkanovski fight last weekend. Obviously, Kattar is a little banged up after that five-rounder, so he’ll probably need a little bit of time off. I think if Jung wins, they’ll do him vs. Volkanovski, so then maybe Kattar gets Ortega or the winner of Magomedsharipov vs. Rodriguez? I know he recently lost to Magomedsharipov, so maybe that wouldn’t make sense, though. Point is, he’s in the mix. Is he going to fight for the belt next? I highly doubt it. But he’s in the mix.
As for Ige, its back to the drawing board, but he should get a solid name next. How about Shane Burgos, who is also coming off a hard-fought loss?
Murphy: Calvin Kattar called out featherweight king Alex Volkanovski in Wednesday’s post-fight interview. It’s admirable — and Kattar seems to have championship mettle — but he won’t jump the queue, especially having lost to contender Zabit Magomedsharipov within the last year.
Kattar joins a list of contenders who all seem one statement win from earning a title shot: Brian Ortega, Chan-Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez, Max Holloway and Magomedsharipov, in no particular order.
By my count, that’s five fighters plus Kattar. Zabit and Yair will reportedly meet in late August. Ortega and Korean Zombie have marinating beef. That leaves Holloway.
It’s admittedly terrible matchmaking: Holloway is a fan favorite who desperately needs a win, and Kattar has upward momentum. But in fairness, there are zero easy-outs atop 145.
For Ige, why not Shane Burgos next? Burgos is fresh off a close decision loss to Josh Emmett and needs a decent name to get back to climbing the ladder. Ige-Burgos is a guaranteed Fight of the Night contender the UFC can plug into any main card to add depth.
Raimondi: Featherweight is getting really crowded at the top. There are plenty of fighters deserving of big fights, names like “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov. It seems like that quartet will be matched up in some permutation against one another this year. If that is indeed the case, how about Kattar fights Max Holloway next? Holloway, the former champion, is coming off an incredibly close loss to current champ Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 251 this past Saturday. It’s unclear when Holloway might want to return and surely Kattar wants to keep this momentum going. But that would be an incredible fight. Kattar already fought Ige, who was behind him in the rankings. He definitely wants someone he’s currently looking up at next. Holloway fits that bill.
As for Ige, he doesn’t lose a ton of stock here. He came in on a six-fight winning streak and is still just 28 years old. Shane Burgos would be a fun matchup for him next. Or maybe even someone like Jeremy Stephens. There aren’t many foes at this level of 145 pounds who wouldn’t produce a potential action fight.
Wagenheim: I don’t have a name, just a direction: upwards. That’s where the UFC needs to look when searching for Kattar’s next opponent. He did the UFC a solid by agreeing to headline a Fight Night against a fighter well beneath him in the featherweight pecking order. So now Dana White & Co. need to pay back Kattar with a fight against someone ranked above him. He’s No. 8 in the ESPN 145-pound rankings, and if you set aside the champion (it’s not Kattar’s time yet) and the one Bellator fighter in the top 10, you’re left with a choice of Max Holloway, Brian Ortega, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung. All except Holloway are rumored to be matched up with someone, so perhaps Kattar will have to wait a few weeks in order to find a match. But whoever it turns out to be, it needs to be a step up for him. Kattar has earned that.
As for this night’s opponent, Ige, I’d watch him fight Josh Emmett, but he’s likely out a while with an injury. Shane Burgos is a strong option, but if the UFC wants to slow his roll just a bit, how about Arnold Allen?
What was your finish of the night?
Helwani: Lots to choose from Wednesday, as there were several strong finishes, but I really liked the strength Lerone Murphy showed in TKOing Ricardo Ramos from guard position in the first round of their fight. That was vicious stuff and not something you see every day. I think most people figured Murphy would want nothing to do with Ramos’ guard, but he was undeterred and just bullied the Brazilian on the ground. It was a very impressive finish for “The Miracle.”
Murphy: Watching flyweight Liana Jojua torque Diana Belbiţă‘s arm at every angle gave me flashbacks to UFC 111 when Georges St-Pierre spun Dan Hardy‘s arm repeatedly — without getting the tap — in a successful welterweight title defense. Midway through Jojua’s first round Wednesday, “She Wolf” coerced a submission.
It created a visceral reaction, unable to look away and miss the conclusion while every natural urge feared I was about witness a grotesque fracture. Graciously, Jojua rolled it into a belly-down armbar to obstruct the worst visuals.
Jojua lost her promotional debut at UFC 242 as the betting favorite against Sarah Moras. This was a more favorable matchup; six of Jojua’s eight wins came by tap, while four of Belbiţă’s losses are submission — three of which were a result of armbars.
Technical groundwork, commitment to a finish and the tinge of fear Jojua’s handiwork stirred up are why hers was my favorite finish of the night.
Raimondi: Lerone Murphy absolutely blasting Ricardo Ramos with vicious ground and pound. You don’t see ground-and-pound finishes that much anymore, especially from guard. It’s a lost art in many ways. But Murphy landed some hammers that would make Mark Coleman proud. Ramos is a really talented fighter and was the favorite coming in. But Murphy, who performed well in a draw against Zubaira Tukhugov last year, got the better of him — decisively. That was really impressive, and the undefeated Murphy seems like the real deal at featherweight, with several ways to win fights.
Wagenheim: I loved how Modestas Bukauskas used every last second before the horn to get the job done. With just 10 seconds remaining in Round 1 of their light heavyweight prelim, Andreas Michailidis shot for a takedown that could have swayed the judges’ sentiment after a close first five minutes. Bukauskas remained upright against the cage, though, and with four seconds to go, he landed an elbow to the side of the head. And another. And another. In those final four seconds, Bukauskas managed to unload seven hard elbows. When the horn sounded, Michailidis slumped forward on hands and knees. When he sat up, he nearly fell over, and the ref waved off the fight. For Bukauskas, a 26-year-old former Cage warriors champ, that sure was an impressive UFC debut. Or at least those four seconds were.
What did you think about Khamzat Chimaev’s debut?
Helwani: That debut could not have gone any better for the highly touted prospect. That was darn impressive. How about these stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info: Chimaev outlanded Phillips in total strikes 118-2 in the first round (40-1 in significant strikes). He’s the first UFC middleweight in the modern era to land at least 100 total strikes in the first round. That is incredible by the Swedish fighter. He’s intense, dominant, confident, strong and skilled. I don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself by stating he is going to be a contender in a couple years. I’d move him along relatively slowly, get him a few more impressive wins and then unleash him. It will be fun to see him climb the ladder, and that is exactly what I expect we will see him do. So, in short, I was very impressed.
Murphy: UFC debutant Khamzat Chimaev beating John Phillips in the featured middleweight prelim was the likeliest outcome. In fact, “Chimaev by submission” had minus-odds. To see it play out in such lopsided fashion, though, with Chimaev holding a 118-2 striking advantage through five minutes, was dumbfounding.
Armchair scorekeepers spent the minute break debating the merits of a 10-7 round. The judges, not surprisingly, were never needed. Throw in details like Chimaev accepting the fight on 7 days’ notice and up from his natural weight class, then it becomes one of the more impressive UFC debuts this year.
This was a page right from Khabib Nurmagomedov’s playbook. The Chechnyan-born Swedish welterweight shares more than facial grooming preference with the undefeated lightweight champion. Chimaev deployed Khabib’s “Dagestani handcuffs” before mercifully sinking in a D’Arce choke. He even called for his next opponent — anyone — by saying, “Give me one guy. I’m gonna smash him.”
Perhaps we’ve found a welterweight Khabib, a terrifying proposition for the UFC’s other 170-pounders.
Raimondi: How quickly should the UFC push Chimaev? To the moon. OK, maybe we can temper that just a bit. But the guy is extremely legit. Chimaev’s manager Ali Abdelaziz told me last month that Chimaev is like Khabib Nurmagomedov version 2.0. And you know what? He looked that way against John Phillips on Fight Island. The bout was a Khabib-like mauling. Chimaev is a blue-chip prospect in the welterweight division, though his UFC debut Wednesday was at middleweight. He trains with Alexander Gustafsson at AllStars Training Center in Stockholm. Chimaev is just 26 years old, has finished all of his pro fights and has oppressive wrestling and grappling to go along with power in his hands. Yikes. Watch out for this man.
Khabib 2.0 was an accurate statement. Chimaev is an animal! #UFCFightIsland1
— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) July 16, 2020
Wagenheim: You walk into the Octagon for your promotional debut with a heavy-handed brawler like John Phillips (20 KOs in 22 career wins) standing across from you, you know what you have to do to remain undefeated. And Chimaev wasted no time in utilizing his wrestling to put himself in full control, taking the fight to the canvas five seconds in. He kept it there for the rest of the round, delivering an unrelenting ground-and-pound, then went right back to his bread and butter just a few seconds into Round 2. The finish was just a matter of time. Chimaev won the physical matchup and also showed off a fight IQ that will serve him well as the UFC competition ramps up.
Which prospect (outside of Chimaev) impressed you most?
Helwani: I’m really high on Lerone Murphy, who beat the tough Ricardo Ramos via first-round TKO. Murphy survived getting shot twice in the neck six years ago. The exit wound was in his cheek and he actually spat out the bullet. How wild is that? Six months after that, he started training in MMA to change his life’s path, and now here he is thriving in the UFC.
His UFC debut was a bit of a letdown as it ended via split draw, but I feel like we got to see the real Murphy on Wednesday. He’s a U.K. prospect on the rise and a name to keep an eye on, no doubt.
Murphy: This one was tough. Modestas Bukauskas faced a more difficult challenge — look no further than the closing odds — but I saw more from Jack Shore. Over two and a half rounds Wednesday, Shore showed adeptness on both the feet and ground against an opponent making his third appearance in the Octagon.
The 25-year-old Welshman was an amateur boxing champion in his youth and has trained extensively in kickboxing. He held a 29-6 advantage in significant strikes, with another 13 landed from close proximity.
On the mat, Shore holds a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt. He took down Aaron Phillips three times before neatly working his way to the decisive rear-naked choke.
Bukauskas proved he possesses power to end a fight, but we knew that. His end-of-round knockout was almost identical to the one that earned him a contract. Shore seemed comfortable everywhere and looks ready to join a deep, versatile stable of UFC bantamweights. Shore gets my vote.
Abu Dhabi You’ve been a dream 🙏🔥 pic.twitter.com/1sAdqroR7I
— Jack ‘Tank’ Shore (@jackshoremma) July 16, 2020
Raimondi: It would have been easy for Jack Shore to get roped into a striking battle with Aaron Phillips. It was the opener of the card on Fight Island, live on ESPN. Shore surely wanted to produce some fireworks. Instead, though, he stuck to the game plan. He used his wrestling and grappling to ground Phillips and eventually choke him out in the second round. Shore, the former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion, is just 25 years old, but he’s incredibly poised and technical. The Welshman puts that stereotype that U.K. fighters don’t have great wrestling to bed. Shore is the real deal and I very much look forward to him getting a higher level of competition in a very fun 135-pound division.
Wagenheim: Jack Shore was the biggest favorite on the card, so I suppose he just did what was expected of him. But I came away from the evening’s first bout impressed beyond my expectations. He got strong resistance early on from Aaron Phillips, who was making his UFC debut on a five-fight win streak and was making it clear he was determined to not allow the opportunity to slip away. Shore didn’t get frustrated when a finish didn’t come easily for him right away. He patiently smothered Phillips with his grappling for the first round, and when Shore got the fight to the canvas at the start of Round 2, he showed off an efficient progression to the submission. I’m not going crazy with hype for a guy in his second UFC fight, but he’s 13-0 and has my attention.
What was your favorite out-of-Octagon moment?
Octagonside ➡️ Locker rooms!
— UFC (@ufc) July 15, 2020
Helwani: Hard to pick against Paul Felder leaving the broadcast booth to corner his friend Jared Gordon. That was fun stuff. Good on Felder for volunteering to do it once Gordon’s corner failed to make the trip to Abu Dhabi after testing positive for COVID-19. Also, I have to mention Jimmie Rivera shouting out beloved, longtime UFC employee Suzy Friton, who is currently battling cancer. Rose Namajunas did the same on Saturday, and it’s really nice to see so many fighters use the post-fight interview platform to support one of the key behind-the-scenes employees of the UFC.
Murphy: For a mid-week card with a handful of promotional debutants, there were a surprising number of unique out-of-Octagon moments. I’m a sap for people using their platforms for a greater good, so the most indelible of those for me was Jimmie Rivera’s call-to-action for the fundraiser in support of UFC makeup artist Suzy Friton.
Friton is battling Stage 4 breast cancer, and a number of high-profile fighters have helped promote a GoFundMe fundraiser that has generated more than $137,000 of support. Dustin Poirier, Jon Jones and Tyron Woodley have made significant contributions, among others.
During her post-fight interview with Jon Anik at UFC 251, former strawweight champ Rose Namajunas encouraged contribution to Friton’s treatment. After his decision win Wednesday night, Rivera did the same.
Nothing against the other funny or unique moments this event offered, but Rivera’s gesture was the by far the most heartwarming. And that makes it my favorite.
Raimondi: It has to be Paul Felder leaving the broadcast position during the prelims, going to the locker room to change from his suit into Reebok gear, and then corner his good friend Jared Gordon. The last few weeks have been awful for Gordon. During his post-fight interview, he revealed his fiancé suffered a miscarriage, then tested positive for coronavirus. Gordon had to go quarantine alone in another apartment so he could stay in the fight, but before leaving for Abu Dhabi, Gordon found out all of his corner people tested positive for COVID-19 and none could make the trip. Gordon flew out thinking he’d have no corner. But when he got to Yas Island, he messaged Felder, the UFC lightweight who was going to be working as an analyst. Felder agreed to corner his longtime pal. And Gordon ended up winning a lopsided unanimous decision over Chris Fishgold. Felder is a great fighter, a broadcaster who has an extremely bright future and a pretty darn good friend, too. Cool moment.
Wagenheim: It was the most obvious twist of the night, but I loved seeing Paul Felder leave the broadcast position and go Superman on us. The UFC lightweight and TV analyst shed his Clark Kent suit and put on a Reebok kit to corner his friend and sometime training partner Jared Gordon.
The wardrobe change was a fun attention getter, but what Felder brought to Gordon’s fight was some seriously smart support. Felder wasn’t the only cornerman, but he was the loudest. And he gave clear, concise instruction. Felder sure set the bar high for when Jon Anik decides to leave the microphone behind some night and go corner someone.