Words by Will Vo
Like a martial artist, biding their time before unleashing their most potent offence, the UFC struck with a powerful one-two, as numbered events 267 and 268 more than made up for the weak succession of fight nights that came before it. Such is the nature of the fight game, the events combined drama straight out of a Yuri Boyker script with displays of technicality that could be likened to a game of chess between two grandmasters; and then mixed in the sort of gritty toughness and heart that sets the sport apart from anything else in the world.
The Stories: In 2018, when a 38-year-old Glover Teixera had lost 3 of his last 5 fights, it would have taken a very brave human with access to a crystal ball to have bet on him 3 years later becoming the champion of the world. But alas, following a 5 fight win streak, the fan favourite Brazilian took former champion Jan Blachowicz down, and locked in a rear-naked choke to fulfill his lifelong dream, and cement himself as the best light heavyweight in the world. For now. Part of the beauty of the journey for Glover was that every fight seemed like a microcosm of his career at the time, being dropped and hurt badly by Santos, Roberson, and Cutelaba, the “Brazilian Pitbull” showed no quit and instead went to his grappling, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. A week later, Usman showed that striking power has benefits beyond the immediate knockout, as he turned the high output Colby Covington into a low output fighter for 3 of the 5 rounds, which was enough for him to retain his world welterweight title.
The Technicalities: When Cory Sandhagen was announced as Petr Yan’s opponent, there was simply no way in the minds of the fans that this fight would cease to deliver. The length and unorthodoxy of the flashy Sandhagen would pose the sort of challenge that the pressure and ability to adjust of Petr Yan had yet to see in the Octagon thus far. The fight lived up to all expectations, as Petr Yan calibrated to the hand fighting and stance switching that saw Sandhagen win the first round, and utilized his kicking game and combination boxing to pull away as the fight wore on, with his spinning back kick and back fist into left hand the icing on the proverbial cake. The very next week, Weili Zhang and Rose Namajunas went 5 rounds, and we saw “Thug Rose” put on a masterclass in neutralising the right low kick, as she hopped in and out of range. Both women scrambled at a furious pace when the fight hit the mat, and showed just how technical the division can be.
The Ones to Watch: A first-round submission is always impressive, particularly when done in the first true test of one’s UFC career. At UFC 267, this happened twice, as Islam Makhachev and Khamzat Chimaev finished Dan Hooker and Li Jingliang respectively. Both grapplers had previously shown immense promise, but it is safe to move them both, particularly Makhachev, out of the prospect class and into title contention. Both fighters made their opponents pay the ultimate price for strategic missteps in the first round, as Hooker’s inside low kick was ill-advised in an open stance matchup, whilst Jingliang threw a squared up one-two against a fast starting wrestler, leaving him open to a quick level change. 7 days later, they would be joined by a very different type of prospect in the light-heavyweight division by the name of Alex Periera, aka the last man to knockout Israel Adesanya, back in their kickboxing days. He won via flying knee, stepping up through the guard of his opponent.