Cease doubting Oliveira, 2022 may very well be the yr of O’Malley, Blanchfield a legit prospect

Charles Oliveira had one thing to show on Saturday night time in Las Vegas. Certain, he was already the UFC light-weight champion, however many nonetheless doubted his standing, opting to consider that Dustin Poirier was the most effective light-weight on the planet. Not.

With a third-round submission victory over Poirier, Oliveira safe his place as top-of-the-line fighters on the planet, probably transferring up ESPN’s pound-for-pound checklist within the coming days. He additionally confirmed his coronary heart, not backing down regardless of getting rocked time and time once more within the first spherical.

Sean O’Malley additionally confirmed us one thing. As did Kai Kara-France, Dominick Cruz and Erin Blanchfield. UFC 269 was a card crammed with standout moments and some head-turning surprises that may positively lead us to a memorable 2022.

Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi react to the motion in Las Vegas.


Charles Oliveira is not any quitter

Okamoto: It is type of ridiculous that this must be said, nevertheless it does. Charles Oliveira shouldn’t be a quitter. That is been the narrative on him for years, and it traces again to a couple outcomes he had again at featherweight. However not solely has he established himself as, unquestionably, the No. 1 light-weight on the planet now — he is additionally put that narrative to relaxation for good. He was pressured to return again from knockdowns in each of his championship fights this yr, in opposition to Michael Chandler and now Poirier. He may have taken quite a few outs at UFC 269 on Saturday, and ended up profitable the battle in dramatic style within the third spherical.

One of many fighters who pounded this drum essentially the most was Justin Gaethje, who figures to be Oliveira’s subsequent opponent. Time will inform, however I am unable to think about Gaethje maintaining this concept of Oliveira quitting. However in Gaethje’s protection, he wasn’t the one one. I spoke to quite a few coaches and fighters forward of this battle, who agreed Oliveira lacked some “canine” in his combating capability. On the very least, it was agreed on that nobody may “out-dog” Poirier. When a battle turns ugly, is when Poirier shines.

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That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Oliveira landed a number of key strikes, a lot of them to the physique, and that turned the tide of this battle. He fought intelligently within the second and third rounds, when his grappling got here into play. And he seemed to be getting stronger because the battle wore on, as Poirier pale — which nobody would have predicted.

This champion came from the favelas of Sao Paulo, Brazil, so the thought of him ‘quitting’ ought to have all the time been absurd. He informed me this week he by no means had a task mannequin who confirmed him good issues had been potential in life. His mom informed him to dream large, however that is what it was — desires.

He needed to visualize all of this himself, and in doing so he is grow to be a reputable champion in arguably the game’s most tough weight class.


MMA world is O’Malley’s oyster in 2022

Raimondi: Sean O’Malley has this nice gimmick working the place he calls himself the “unranked champion.” It is a glib response to followers’ criticisms that he has not overwhelmed any ranked opponents and stays unranked himself. Effectively, the “Suga Present” would possibly want a brand new moniker starting in 2022. After his lights-out TKO win over Raulian Paiva within the first spherical at UFC 269, O’Malley has a big likelihood to be ranked subsequent week. And at this level, should you do not assume he is one of many prime 15 bantamweights on the planet, I would say you may be placing your biases in entrance of your logic.

Look, not everybody goes to get O’Malley. His multi-colored, curly hair appears to be like like cotton sweet. His demeanor is extra SoundCloud rapper than MMA fighter. However he faucets right into a demographic that many others do not within the UFC: Technology Z. And final I checked, that era is the one which’s going to be essential from a advertising and marketing and monetary perspective within the very close to future. O’Malley’s attraction to youthful followers shouldn’t be dissimilar to what Jake Paul has occurring proper now in boxing. Paul is polarizing, too, however the proof is within the pudding. The man is drawing new, younger followers to boxing. O’Malley has an opportunity to try this for the UFC in 2022 and past.

The tough half now could be to determine who the UFC will give O’Malley subsequent. They’re rightly transferring him alongside pretty slowly, particularly since his misplaced to Marlon Vera final yr. UFC president Dana White mentioned final week that O’Malley was not prepared but for that elite-level of competitors. That is OK. Perhaps White is correct. The UFC has invested in O’Malley since Dana White’s Contender Sequence. Promotion brass is aware of his success can equal greenback indicators, so he will probably be put in the most effective place to succeed.

There will probably be a step up in competitors, although, beginning subsequent yr. And if O’Malley can begin knocking out these guys in one of many hardest divisions on the planet like he has been, the UFC may have its subsequent large star on its palms.

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Cody Garbrandt drops weight, then will get dropped

Wagenheim: Smaller shouldn’t be all the time higher. Cody Garbrandt ought to have been aware of that plotline.

He little question was watching (and possibly having fun with what he noticed) again in 2019 when his former teammate/good friend TJ Dillashaw, the person who had dethroned him as UFC bantamweight champ, lasted all of 32 seconds in a problem of then-flyweight champ Henry Cejudo.

And within the leadup to his personal 125-pound debut, Garbrandt skilled with ex-lightweight titlist Frankie Edgar, who in recent times moved first to featherweight, then to bantamweight — and has misplaced 4 of his final 5 fights, 4 by KO.

Be part of the membership, Cody.

He seemed larger and stronger than pure flyweight Kai Kara-France. He seemed crisp in his motion and hanging early on. However when the Aussie clipped him with a proper hand halfway via Spherical 1, it was downhill from there. Garbrandt obtained off the canvas and waved him opponent in, and Kara-France obliged with a vicious KO.

The place does Garbrandt go now, after shedding for the fifth time in his final six fights, all however one by knockout? Effectively, he did do plenty of jawing at battle week’s press convention with Sean O’Malley, who received the primary card opener and will use a step up in competitors. Regardless of this outcome, Garbrandt would fulfill that want after which some.


Kai Kara-France is formally a contender

Contreras Legaspi: With quite a few highly effective pictures, Kara-France ended Garbardt title shot aspirations. Garbrandt was alleged to be the flyweight challenger a yr in the past and now that may most likely by no means occur, his chin an actual drawback even in a smaller weight class.

Kara-France is named a really technical striker, however he confirmed uncooked energy along with his proper hand a number of instances in opposition to the previous bantamweight champion earlier than knocking him out. The Metropolis Kickboxing fighter proved himself as an actual contender along with his second consecutive win, which is ideal timing win since Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo are dealing with one another once more subsequent month.

Kara-France had a detailed battle in opposition to Moreno again in UFC 245 and he is now on the brief checklist, together with Alexandre Pantoja and Askar Askarov, for a future title alternative. The three of them have a historical past with the present champion and now that the fan favourite Garbrandt is out of the image, it is all about being prepared.

Even in his loss to Brandon Royval, Kai put a battle of the night time efficiency and is usually a good match of types in opposition to whomever is the champion after UFC 270. If the promotion decides to offer him one other battle earlier than going for the belt, Alex Perez, the previous challenger who was alleged to face Matt Schnell on this may very well be a superb possibility.

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Cruz as related as ever in bantamweight division

Raimondi: Demise. Taxes. Dominick Cruz being close to the highest of the bantamweight division.

Cruz, a surefire future UFC Corridor of Famer, first received a title at 135 kilos within the WEC again in 2010. Greater than a decade later, Cruz is each bit nearly as good in a division that continues to get higher and higher. At 36 years outdated, “The Dominator” does not appear to be going wherever any time quickly.

Cruz defeated Pedro Munhoz, one of many hardest and most battle-tested fighters within the division, by way of unanimous choice. He got here again after taking a ton of harm from Munhoz within the first spherical to placed on a classic Cruz efficiency — heavy on footwork, angles and punching combos — within the second and third rounds. Cruz has now received two straight after falling to Henry Cejudo in a bantamweight title battle in Could 2020. He is most likely just one or two wins away from a shot on the belt that he has held twice earlier than, which is outstanding contemplating he has fought simply 3 times since 2016 as a consequence of accidents.

It will be an unimaginable dream battle if Cruz had been to be matched up subsequent with Jose Aldo, a bout between two of the most effective lighter weight fighters within the historical past of MMA and a throwback to the WEC days. The UFC might need different plans — Aldo desires former champ TJ Dillashaw subsequent — however it will be a disgrace if we do not see Aldo vs. Cruz in some unspecified time in the future. Different potential choices for Cruz subsequent could be Merab Dvalishvili and Marlon Vera.

However no matter who’s subsequent, Cruz is simply as related at bantamweight now going into 2022 as he was in 2010. Only a few can say that. Cruz needs to be on the brief checklist of greatest 135-pound fighters ever.


Erin Blanchfield is the most effective prospect within the flyweight division, and a severe future title challenger

Okamoto: One of many perfect prospects in all of MMA. If she’s not No. 1, she’s within the High 5, straightforward. When you think about the age — 22 — the expertise she’s already earned, the composure, confidence, battle IQ, versatility. This feminine flyweight division has some excellent younger expertise. It is most likely the most effective division in feminine MMA in that regard. And proper now, Blanchfield clearly stands out as the most effective up-and-comer.

She simply dominated Miranda Maverick. Proper now, I would give her the next ceiling than Maycee Barber and Casey O’Neil. She strikes me as the total bundle already, with nothing however time to get higher. She has an amazing grappling base to construct on. The flexibility and mechanical consciousness she confirmed in varied takedowns on this battle was really spectacular. High management was excellent. She’s forward of the curve when it comes to what she’s achieved at a younger age. Her prime might be at the very least — at the very least! — six years away. That is terrifying.

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