One of the best cards in recent memory (on paper) delivered right up until the clusterf*** that was its primary selling point
Fans of the sport have been looking forward to the stacked UFC 248 card for quite some time - two intriguing title fights, plenty of closely matched bouts between talented fighters, and the return of a budding star.
Starting with the prelims, the card opened with a bang as Mongolian Danaa Batgerel floored his opponent in the opening frame with a casting left hook.
A solid featherweight scrap involving former Glory kickboxing standout Giga Chikadze followed, before Daniel Cormier protege and comically undersized middleweight Deron Winn was rocked and submitted by the unheralded Gerald Meerschaert in the third round of an entertaining scrap.
Next up highly decorated BJJ specialist Rodolfo Vieira was nearly spoiled by the enigmatic Dagestani Saparbek Safarov when Safarov landed a front kick early on that rocked the Brazilian. Vieira desperately dragged Safarov to the mat and once he finally did, quickly locked in a slick arm triangle for the finish. It's good that Rodolfo was able to secure the tap, because if the fight had lasted another two minutes, Vieira would have suffered a TKO by doctor's stoppage; his left eye had suffered a bad cut and had already swollen completely shut courtesy of that early front kick.
In the penultimate prelim undefeated Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling Mark Madsen picked up a workmanlike victory that took quite a bit of wind out of his sails.
Though he did hit an excellent belly-to-back suplex early on, Madsen's surprisingly low output and aversion to throwing strikes left a lot to be desired, especially compared to his prior performances. His dedication to grappling in the fight saw him gas by the time the third round came, his poorly timed shots and stiff defense leaving him open for repeated knees to the face and hard shots by Austin Hubbard.
Madsen was able to survive the late onslaught and won on the scorecards, but it was hardly the performance expected from him - in the post-fight interview he stated that he had suffered from a staph infection and a shoulder injury prior to the bout which would explain his lacking cardio and aversion to throwing strikes, so hopefully that was indeed the issue and his next performance marks a return to form.
In the final prelim, Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series star "Sugar" Sean O'Malley finally returned to the Octagon after a two year absence. While two years out is a lot of time to sit on the shelf, for a now-25 year old prospect that's quickly evolving, it's a ton of time to make improvements and evolve behind closed doors.
The result was nothing short of impressive as the lanky bantamweight's speed and surprising power was now complemented by a much more measured, confident approach rather than his somewhat hectic and sloppy form prior to the layoff. It didn't take long for the undefeated fighter to take out his outgunned prey - after a solid right hook pushed Quinonez off-balance, a glancing head kick returned his victim to the mat only for a nasty uppercut caused Quinonez to go fetal and led to the finish.
O'Malley remarked as he celebrated that it was "too easy" and it certainly was as his opponent turtled at the first sign of trouble, but after two years away it was the perfect fight to get O'Malley back on fans' radars. Here's hoping he faces a stiffer test next time out though.
The Main Card
UFC 248's pay-per-view offering started off with a well-matched and extremely close scrap between the Brazilian "Cowboy" Alex Oliveira and Max "Payne" Griffin. Oliveira's striking looked sharp throughout, but after falling in love with the lead uppercut (something that led to Junior Dos Santos' demise not to long ago) Griffin turned the opening frame around with a counter hook that had Oliveira reeling and earned him the opening frame.
The second round saw Oliveira take over with his superior striking, with one of his powerful uppercuts opening up a sizeable gash on Griffin's forehead. The third was also largely won by Oliveira, however his regularly lacking fight IQ saw him slip off the back and end up on bottom, where he would spend the last two minutes of the fight. Luckily for him Griffin was too tired and beat up to steal the round on all but one judge's scorecard.
The next bout saw a triumphant return after an extended layoff for Neil Magny, much to the chagrin of surging Chinese striker Li Jingliang.
Oddsmakers and bettors alike saw Jingliang as a strong favourite - once a pure brawler with solid takedown defense, Jingliang had recently made vast technical strides in his striking technique. A winner in seven of his last eight and riding a three-fight winning streak that included a shellacking of the excellent Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos, Li's power and improved striking should have proved fatal for Magny.
Early on Jingliang did show flashes of that power as a shot off a clinch break rocked the wily vet, but Jingliang accepted Magny's clinches and whenever he had the chance to separate and look to land his heavy hands, Jingliang instead opted to drop down and look for takedowns. It was an absolutely bizarre showing from Jingliang, who gassed himself out clinching and grappling with a better grappler en route to a lopsided decision loss.
After all the technical strides he had made in recent showings, his performance at UFC 248 was a major disappointment and exposed his lacking fight IQ.
The next fight started off as one would expect, with grappling standout Beneil Dariush managing to take prospect Drakkar Klose's back early in the round and work hard for a rear-naked choke submission, which was defended well by Klose.
It made for a rather dull opening round, but the two men more than made up for it in the second.
After Dariush had seemingly tired out his legs courtesy of a body triangle he applied for the majority of the first round, some sluggish combos were countered repeatedly by sharp right hands by Klose. One such right hand wobbled Dariush and sent him backing up into the cage, eating several big shots that had him on the ropes. Klose's reckless aggression cost him however, as Dariush landed a sharp southpaw left that stunned him.
Returning to attack once more, Klose left himself open and a stinging right hand wobbled Klose and sent him backing up to the opposite side of the Octagon. Klose kept swinging back in an attempt to keep Beneil at bay but to no avail as Dariush continued to land his left hand, backing Drakkar up into the cage.
A sickening overhand left cracked Klose clean and sent him tumbling to the canvas with his mouthguard hanging halfway out of his mouth. It was a beautiful walk-off knockout and the entire 30-second sequence needs to be seen in full to be appreciated.
As many fans and even Daniel Cormier said Dana White had to get out his checkbook and write those men the Fight of the Night checks, the women in the co-main event would soon steal the show.
To say it was a great weekend for women's MMA would be an understatement - on Friday night at the Invicta Phoenix Rising Series 3 event in Kansas CIty, Julija Stoliarenko and Lisa Verzosa quite literally painted the canvas with their blood in an epic 5-round war for Invicta's bantamweight title. Both women threw down and had the other hurt at multiple points, each opening multiple cuts with Stoliarenko in particular opening a gaping wound on Verzosa's forehead with a series of beautiful elbow strikes.
It was an epic battle of grit and toughness and if you have UFC Fight Pass, you owe it to yourself to check out the replay now. Below is an image taken at the end of the fight - keep in mind that the canvas was completely clean prior to the two women entering the cage.
A day later at UFC 248, the lone women's bout on the card would not only give Stoliarenko-Verzosa a run for its money as the early front-runner for 2020's Fight of the Year, but would easily surpass it thanks to the incredible skill and ridiculous output the two strawweights would showcase (though there was a lot less blood).
Weili Zhang, the first and only Chinese UFC champion, made her first title defense against former strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a highly anticipated clash of styles - power and strength versus speed and technique.
In reality, both women showed off impeccable speed, technique, power and toughness throughout the five-round affair. Joanna's sharp one-two's stunned Zhang on multiple occasions while Weili's powerful hooks wobbled Joanna just the same. Words fail to do the fight justice - it was a back-and-forth war of attrition that saw both women seemingly take over only to have the other quickly rebound and claw their way back.
Both women's faces were battered and bruised from the avalanche of strikes they absorbed, with Joanna's forehead sporting a hematoma so large it looked like she was hiding a VR headset under her skin.
At the end of the 25-minute war in one of the best fights in MMA history, Weili Zhang retained her title by way of split decision. Many fans and fighters had scored the bout 3-2 in favour of Joanna, including names like Valentina Shevchenko and Conor McGregor. While Joe Rogan's biased commentary once again had him praising Zhang early on and missing seemingly everything Joanna did, by the end he did recover and called the bout more fairly, though he no doubt influenced some of the more casual observers.
It's hard to call it a robbery considering how close the bout was, but one can't help but feel sorry for Joanna - twice now she has sought to reclaim her former throne, and both times very strong arguments can be made that she did more than enough to have UFC gold wrapped around her waist once more, yet both times the judges have left her leaving the Octagon empty handed.
Regardless of the highly debatable decision, their fight will go down as one of the best in MMA history and I don't think anyone would complain if the UFC booked a rematch.
After all the excitement, there was still the massive main event - Israel Adesanya versus Yoel Romero.
It may not draw the PPV numbers as say Conor McGregor's comeback fight against Cowboy Cerrone, but for hardcore fans, this match up was one of the best the UFC has put on in quite some time. I for one was more hyped for this fight than any in recent memory - a thrilling striking battle between two of the most dynamic and tactical fighters in MMA history.
The fight started off funnily enough, with Romero quite literally standing still in the cage and even doing a little Ali shuffle, the savvy Cuban destroyer immediately playing mind games with the undefeated champion.
Fans quickly grew restless, though fans of both men expected a slow start - Adesanya typically takes most of the first round to analyze his opponents, while Yoel regularly starts off with long sequences of inaction and defensive posture, laying traps for his opponents that he looks to capitalize on later in the fight (typically the third round).
When Adesanya did finally summon the courage to initiate against the "Soldier of God", Romero landed an overhand left bomb that instilled fear in the champion - it would be the most significant strike of the fight even some twenty minutes later.
Official Fightmetric stats had Romero landing four out of his six striking attempts in the very timid opening frame, while Adesanya landed just two out of his eleven attempts - by far the most significant strike of the round (alongside a jumping kick to the body by Romero at the end), Romero's big left hand won him the bizarre opening frame.
To put their limited engagement into perspective, Joanna and Zhang both landed 30 strikes a piece in the opening frame of their title tilt.
The second round saw much of the same - both men reluctant to throw, both largely feinting and faking strikes at a distance for much of the round. Adesanya threw more strikes overall (though he landed at a much lower rate) and looked to land kicks from outside of Romero's range as Romero looked to counter, with Romero landing the harder shots when he did connect.
The second stanza is what ultimately was the "swing" round for many - with Adesanya landing four more strikes (11 to 7) but Yoel landing the more significant shots, it comes down to what one views as more important in such a low-output fight.
The third and fourth rounds arguably swung Israel's way as he chopped away at Romero's lead leg at a distance, running away any time Romero sprang forward to attack. Romero did have a few moments, and in the fifth, he opened up a bit more which saw him arguably win the round against a retreating Adesanya, outlanding him 14 to 12 in the most active of the strange 25-minute staring contest.
The fight ended with Yoel chasing after Israel and yelling in his face while raising his arms in the air in celebration - unfortunately, while many scored the bout for Romero, the three judges awarded Adesanya the victory (one judge even awarded him four rounds, which is simply wrong).
In truth, neither man really has a strong case for winning - with such little output, a score of three rounds to two in favour of either man is completely justified.
Both men proceeded to blame the other for the lackluster bout which ended up unseating Ngannou-Lewis for the most disappointingly bad fight in recent MMA history. A stark contrast to the fight that took place right before it, the two men officially combined to land 88 strikes over 25-minutes (48 for Adesanya to 40 for Romero) - over the same amount of time the co-main event delivered 366 landed strikes (196 for Joanna, 170 for Weili) with nearly 800 strikes thrown between the two strawweights.
While both fighters share some blame, it's hard not to put more of that blame on Adesanya, who not only boasted about not being afraid of Yoel and insisted on fighting him despite Yoel riding a two-fight losing streak (albeit both coming in highly controversial decisions), but then proceeded to quite literally run away from the challenger at many points in the fight.
Both men are known for liking the counter, particularly Adesanya - the difference in this bout is that when Israel attacked, Yoel stood his ground and looked to throw back. When Romero attacked, Adesanya turned tail and ran.
The incredibly disappointing fight marred what was a great night of fights and tarnished the rising star the UFC is pushing in Israel Adesanya - when you publicly pick your own opponent and ensure a knockout, you probably shouldn't run away from said opponent and then claim you have no fear.
Many had called Adesanya the Anderson Silva of this generation - this fight actually lends more credence to that claim, as although Silva was a sublime finisher, he was also known for a handful of remarkably tepid and boring affairs during his tenure as the UFC middleweight champion.
Silva was known to highly dislike leading in a fight and preferred to exclusively counter - when a fighter refused to lead, Silva would peck away with safe leg kicks from a distance and taunt his opponents to get them to come forward. Adesanya had previously shown much more willingness to lead against his prior opposition, but thanks to the brutal power Romero carries and the big left hand that landed in the opening minutes, Adesanya showed a reluctance to lead that mirrored Silva in his worst moments.
Some have defended Adesanya by claiming that he fought Romero "smartly" and avoided danger, which in some aspects is true - for the most part he did avoid danger - it's hard to argue that Adesanya fought a smart fight when many viewed Romero as the victor and he was a razor-thin coin-flip decision away from losing his title.
Thankfully, with a date against Paulo "Borrachinha" Costa looming, Adesanya will have every opportunity to erase his lackluster performance from fans' minds. Costa is an unrelenting pressure fighter that will bring the fight to Adesanya until someone falls - whether he will beat Adesanya is up in the air, but one thing is for sure, Costa won't allow Adesanya's next fight to be a boring one.