July 24, 2024
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Leon Edwards and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 286

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: (L-R) Opponents Leon Edwards of Jamaica and Kamaru Usman of Nigeria face off during the UFC 286 ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on March 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    They did it two weeks ago. They’ll do it again in three more.

    But the UFC wasn’t quite through with its pay-per-view magic.

    The mixed martial arts conglomerate packed up the production and flew it across the Atlantic for a Saturday night show at a jam-packed O2 Arena in London, marking both the sixth title fight in the United Kingdom and the 17th trilogy in the promotion’s history.

    The principals responsible for both numbers are welterweights Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, who topped UFC 286 in the third meeting of a rivalry that began in 2015 and continued last year with one of the most shocking one-shot knockouts in history.

    The fifth-round head kick earned Edwards the 170-pound title last August and prompted the third fight when it leveled the series at 1-1. The bout topped the night’s five-bout PPV portion that came at the tail end of a 15-bout card that got started at 12:30 p.m. ET.

    The B/R combat team was in place for every punch, kick and takedown and put together a definitive list of the event’s real winners and losers. Take a look at what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

Winner: Justifying a Claim

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - AUGUST 20: (R-L) Leon Edwards kicks Kamaru Usman in their Welterweight title bout during the UFC 278 at the Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States.
(Photo by Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Go ahead, look at him now.

    Leon Edwards lost his first fight with Kamaru Usman and was on the way to losing the second one before landing the head kick heard ’round the world.

    And it turns out he wasn’t quite ready for it to be over.

    The underdog Englishman arrived to the trilogy fight with Usman as an underdog yet again, but he exited the cage with both a belt and a series lead—capturing a majority-decision over five narrow rounds.

    Two judges gave him 48-46 margins on the scorecards even with a point deduction because of a fence grab, and a third saw it even at 47. All three judges gave him the first and fifth rounds, and two out of the three gave him both the second and the fourth as well.

    B/R’s card slid the other direction and had it 3-2 in Usman’s favor, translating to 48-46, but the still ex-champion had no significant beef with the scoring—even suggesting the series isn’t over.

    “I think I did enough to win the fight, but I knew it was a close fight,” he said. “He had a great game plan, and I always said it from the start, I knew I’d see Leon again. And we’re not done. I’ll see him again.”

    Speaking of that game plan, Edwards’ path to victory was again centered on kicks. He strafed Usman to the body and legs throughout, attempting to set up another game-changing head kick, but it never came. He also thrived in most situations where the fighters were in close and repeatedly either defended Usman’s takedowns outright or was able to get up quickly without significant damage.

    Nevertheless, Usman did maintain steady pressure and landed heavy strikes of his own, occasionally rendering Edwards stiff-legged but never to the point of an immediate knockdown or finish.

    And as mentioned, he wasn’t able to keep Edwards down and dole out heavy punishment on the mat.

    “He didn’t get the takedowns. I landed more cleaner shots. Look at his legs,” Edwards said. “I was setting him up with the body kicks and the leg kicks. I knew it was a close fight. I had to go out there [in the fifth and] land the cleaner shots. Not much happened. So I was confident.”

Winner: One Last Run

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Rafael Fiziev of Kazakstan reacts after the conclusion of his lightweight fight against Justin Gaethje during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Rafael Fiziev was faster, sharper and he was pressing.

    And as the third round began with him landing laser-guided right hands to Justin Gaethje’s head, it seemed the lightweight guard—Gaethje entered as the third-ranked contender to Fiziev’s No. 6—was fixing to change.

    Until the veteran of 10 UFC fights and two title shots decided it wasn’t.

    Drawing on a reserve of strength it didn’t appear he still had, Gaethje, at 34, found a way to reverse the tide down the stretch and strafe his weakening foe down the stretch, turning Fiziev’s right eye into a ghastly mess while rescuing an unlikely majority-decision victory.

    Two judges gave Gaethje a 2-1 edge in rounds for a 29-28 score, while the third had Fiziev up two rounds before giving the older man a two-point edge in the third to make it 28-28.

    “He’s the perfect opponent. There’s no way that wouldn’t be a great fight,” Gaethje said. “These guys are young and hungry, and that’s a dangerous motherf–ker right there.

    “I figured being outside with him and being slightly outside of range would serve me well. Then when he was on his back foot I had to continue to keep the pressure on.”

    It was Gaethje’s seventh UFC win and could set him up for another title shot or certainly another high-profile fight that’ll put him on the verge of one.

    “I’m taking one more run at the title,” he said, “but I ain’t gonna be around much longer.”

Winner: Taking Your Time

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: (L-R) Gunnar Nelson of Iceland secures an arm bar submission against Bryan Barberena in a welterweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    The time was ticking away.

    And as Gunnar Nelson was mounted and raining down elbows on Bryan Barberena’s forehead, it seemed the finish he was patiently pursuing would have to wait until Round 2.

    He disagreed.

    The Icelandic veteran quickly transitioned from striking to submitting as his foe flailed to stop the torrent of strikes, allowing Nelson to seize his left arm and quickly turn it into the armbar that prompted a surrender with just nine seconds to go in the first.

    It was Nelson’s seventh submission as a UFC welterweight, most in the division’s history.

    The fighters had contested most of the round on their feet before Nelson initiated a clinch along the cage and ultimately got Barberena to the floor with a single-leg attempt that evolved into a slam takedown.

    The win lifted Nelson to 10-5 in the UFC since 2012, all but two by submissions.

    “Everything we worked on in camp clicked. I was super, super calm in there,” he said.

    “I wanted to take my time. I wanted to keep that pace and that feel. I was expecting him to explode a little bit more.”

Loser: Reading the Room

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Marvin Vettori of Italy reacts after his victory over Roman Dolidze of Georgia in a middleweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    It wasn’t the war that was expected.

    Highly ranked middleweights Marvin Vettori and Roman Dolidze had been training partners, and Vettori was upset when Dolidze, ranked five spots beneath him at No. 9, issued a challenge.

    But rather than engaging in a slugfest to settle the score, the 185-pounders were tactical and patient throughout three clinical rounds to open Saturday’s main card.

    It was compelling enough for the fans. And they seemed pleased.

    Right up until the decision came.

    Though Vettori did have statistical edges in strikes attempted and landed in an exclusively stand-up fight, the crowd booed lustily at the unanimous decision he was awarded after three rounds.

    He earned a 30-27 shutout on one card and 29-28 on two others, which flew in the face of the 29-28 in Dolidze’s favor on the B/R card that seemed the match the fan sentiments.

    Nevertheless, the win was Vettori’s ninth in 14 UFC fights and reaffirmed his place among the top middleweights.

    “It was good,” he said. “It’s the first time my mom has seen me fight in the UFC, and I couldn’t lose in front of her. I’m around. Cannonier, Pereira, Adesanya. Line them up and I’m ready.”

Winner: Doing for Dad

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Jack Shore of Wales reacts after his victory over Makwan Amirkhani of Kurdistan in a featherweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    The Jack Shore momentum had slowed.

    The Welshman won his first 16 fights as a pro, five in the UFC, before a shocking submission loss to Ricky Simon on a Fight Night show last July.

    And after a hard first round against Makwan Amirkhani, it wasn’t going much better.

    That’s when his father, Richard, stepped in.

    Shore went out and put his old man’s between-rounds instructions to good use, got the fight back to the floor and soon locked in the rear-naked choke that prompted his once-in-control foe to tap out at 4:27.

    The win came in Shore’s return to 145 pounds after 10 straight fights, including the Simon loss, at bantamweight. He attributed his ability to maintain energy this time to the reduced weight cut and predictably declared himself a fighter to watch at the new weight.

    But the credit went to dad, who was diagnosed with cancer last year and is continuing medical treatments while still working with his son.

    “That guy over there,” Shore said, pointing to his corner. “Two weeks ago he finished chemo, and here he is working with me. If he f–king tells me to do something, I’m going to do it.”

Loser: Pulling the Plug

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    Yanal Ashmoz fancies himself a Mike Tyson-level puncher.

    But it’s likely the ex-heavyweight champ never had a more terrifying KO than the one the New Jersey-based lightweight dished out to Sam Patterson.

    Making his UFC debut after six fights elsewhere, Ashmoz began the decisive sequence about a minute in when he took a body kick but replied with a looping right-hand punch that missed and follow-up left hook that didn’t.

    Patterson tumbled backward to the floor, and Ashmoz immediately pounced, battering his man with more than a dozen unfettered blows to the head before referee Marc Goddard finally intervened and the beaten man’s head rattled off the canvas one last time.

    Goddard hunched over Patterson as the stricken fighter flailed with his arms and legs, and the suffering continued when Patterson was walked back over to his corner but continued to grab and swing at both Goddard and his own training team members.

    “I consider Marc Goddard the gold standard [of refereeing], but that was way too long a leash, in my humble opinion, for Sam Patterson tonight,” ESPN blow-by-blow man Jon Anik said. “One of the most electrifying debuts I’ve seen UFC debuts. They don’t get much better.”

Winner: Building a Rivalry

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Jake Hadley of England reacts after his TKO victory over Malcolm Gordon of Canada in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Score rivalry round one to Jake Hadley.

    The 26-year-old Englishman banged drums for a fight with domestic rival Muhammad Mokaev with a body shot TKO over Malcolm Gordon, then started the verbal firefight.

    “I treated him like breakfast,” Hadley said. “Mokaev took three rounds to do it.”

    Indeed, Hadley’s 61-second erasure was quicker than Mokaev’s when he’d finished Gordon with an armbar in October. And after pointing that out, he dismissed his nemesis.

    “Muhammad Mokaev don’t want to see me,” Hadley said. “He’s trying to start fights with me in the hotel because he’s too scared to get it in the cage.”

    Mokaev prepped to respond three fights later but emerged from a choke-out of Jafel Filho with more pressing issues.

    He secured his finish after escaping peril of his own when Filho scrambled on the mat and neared a submission by kneebar. The Brazilian was locked in to the point where Mokaev’s knee joint was bending backward.

    The tap never came, and the fight ended soon after.

    But the winner could do no more than limp.

    “I wanted to put on massive show for the English fans around the world,” he said. “The knee was cracking every second.”

Loser: Taking it Away

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Jai Herbert of England reacts after the conclusion of his lightweight fight against Ludovit Klein of Slovakia during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    For much of his 15 minutes with Ludovit Klein on the card’s early prelim portion, it seemed Jai Herbert would parlay his training bond with Leon Edwards into a win of his own.

    Until the third round—and referee Rich Mitchell with it—arrived.

    Herbert landed a low blow early in the third to prompt both a brief intermission for Klein and a warning from Mitchell about the shot. Herbert landed another with his left knee soon after, though, prompting another stoppage as Klein recovered and this time deducted a point.

    All seemed fair. Until the replay was shown.

    Upon further review, it looked as if Herbert’s knee had struck Klein closer to the hip than the groin, but Mitchell didn’t consult the cage-side replay official and his decision to take a point without doing so immediately grated on ESPN analyst Michael Bisping.

    Had the point not been taken, Herbert gets a unanimous verdict.

    Instead, it’s a majority draw.

    “That’s the wrong call all day long,” Bisping said.

    “I don’t know about you, but I don’t pee out of my hip. [Mitchell] should have checked the replay. That’s the wrong decision all day.”

Winner: Turning the Page

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Veronica Hardy of Venezuela reacts after the conclusion of her flyweight fight against Juliana Miller during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Veronica Hardy’s first UFC chapter didn’t read so well.

    She’s gone 5-0-1 with other promotions, arrived to the Octagon with some swagger and proceeded to win just one of five fights, including a loss by KO and another by choke.

    But she was determined to provide some new content.

    Appearing competitively for the first time in three years after concussions and other health issues, Hardy found herself against a submission-chasing jiu-jitsu ace in Juliana Miller.

    And rather than again falling victim when a ground finish seemed possible, Hardy subtly tweaked her position, responded with a steady stream of punishing strikes and cruised to a shutout unanimous decision over the heavy pre-fight betting favorite.

    It was Hardy’s first fight since 2020, her first win since 2019 and it improved her career record to 7-4-1 while simultaneously dropping Miller, who’d won The Ultimate Fighter’s women’s flyweight title in her most recent fight seven months ago, to 3-2 as a pro.

    “I feel a bit of relief that the things I worked on worked tonight,” Hardy said. “A little more self-belief because those things worked.”

Full Card Results

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: (R-L) Luana Carolina of Brazil kicks Joanne Wood of Scotland in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Main Card

    Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman by majority decision (48-46, 48-46, 47-47)

    Justin Gaethje def. Rafael Fiziev by majority decision (29-28, 28-28, 29-28)

    Gunnar Nelson def. Bryan Barberena by submission (armbar), 4:51, Round 1

    Jennifer Maia def. Casey O’Neill by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

    Marvin Vettori def. Roman Dolidze by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

    Preliminary Card

    Jack Shore def. Makwan Amirkhani by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:27, Round 2

    Chris Duncan def. Omar Morales by split decision (27-30, 29-28, 29-28)

    Yanal Ashmoz def. Sam Patterson by TKO (punches), 1:10, Round 1

    Muhammad Mokaev def. Jafel Filho by submission (neck crank), 4:32, Round 3

    Early Preliminary Card

    Lerone Murphy def. Gabriel Santos by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

    Christian Duncan def. Dusko Todorovic by TKO (injury), 1:52, Round 1

    Jake Hadley def. Malcolm Gordon by TKO (punches), 1:01, Round 1

    Joanne Wood def. Luana Carolina by split decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)

    Jai Herbert drew with Ludovit Klein (29-27, 28-28, 28-28)

    Veronica Hardy def. Juliana Miller by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)