There was plenty of action across MMA over the weekend with Bellator 296 in Paris on Friday night and UFC Fight Night in Charlotte on Saturday.
Rising UFC heavyweight contender Jailton Almeida notched a first-round submission win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik to extend his UFC unbeaten streak to five in Saturday’s main event. And in Friday’s main event, Fabian Edwards, brother of UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards, picked up a unanimous decision win over former Bellator 185-pound titleholder Gegard Mousasi in a No. 1 contender fight.
Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Andres Waters break down the most interesting and best moments from a dramatic Friday and Saturday in MMA action.
Okamoto: Heavyweights need to challenge Jones’ legacy
It will be a question we ask ourselves all year: Will any of these heavyweights other than Stipe Miocic be enough to keep Jon Jones in the fight game?
We asked it last month, when Sergei Pavlovich demolished Curtis Blaydes and presumably punched his way to a future title fight. I ask again after watching Almeida easily breeze through Rozenstruik on ABC network television. These kinds of performances make me want Jones to stick around and face all comers. Will he? That answer is unclear at the moment.
And that’s what I mean when I refer to this as the biggest storyline coming out of this weekend. These heavyweights need to not just win — They need to dominate and call out Jon Jones. And yes, I know Jones is expected to face Miocic at the end of the year, and that’s a considerable uncertainty in and of itself in terms of result. Still, he’s already hinted at a potential retirement after that, and I hope that’s not the case. And it’s up to the Almeida’s of the division to keep him around.
Pavlovich, Almeida, Tom Aspinall, these guys can’t only win the rest of the year. They need to win big and then talk big. They need to target Jones and demand he sticks around to face them. They must challenge his legacy and ask if that’s all he wants in his career. “A win over Miocic, and you’re done? You’re 35, Jon. Stick around, don’t run. Beat me.” That’s what I want to hear from these guys.
Any fan of MMA I’m sure can relate — I want more Jones fights. I want more out of Jones’ heavyweight title reign than a quick win against Ciryl Gane and one matchup against Miocic — who is the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, but is also 40 and hasn’t won since 2020. I want Jones vs. the heavyweight new blood. So, use these main events, guys. Call out the GOAT. Take your shot. The worst that can happen is he says no.
Raimondi: Can Fabian and Leon be the next Nick and Nate?
Fabian Edwards beat former champion Mousasi on Friday at Bellator 296 in Paris to earn a Bellator middleweight title shot against Johnny Eblen. The promotion wasted no time booking that fight, too, as it was already announced for Sept. 23 in Dublin.
Leon Edwards, of course, is the UFC welterweight champion, the man who dethroned Kamaru Usman shockingly last August and followed that up with a clinical performance in a trilogy bout versus Usman at UFC 286 back in March. Fabian is nowhere near as heralded as his brother, but he did something no one has been able to do in 20 years – hand Mousasi his first career losing streak. Leon was right there in his younger brother’s corner, too.
Fabian had a rough pandemic era. He lost two in a row to Costello van Steenis (Mousasi’s protégé) and Austin Vanderford. But he improved his game working with his brother and their team in Birmingham, England. Now, he has won three straight and is the rightful No. 1 contender.
There is a long history of brothers competing in MMA. Most of the time, though, one brother is a star or contender and the other is several steps below. The Diazes and Nogueiras bucked that trend, and the Edwardses seem to be next in line. With the title fight happening in Dublin, you’d have to imagine many English fans will make the trip to root on Fabian, as well — big things for two kids who grew up in squalor in Kingston, Jamaica.
Okamoto: Who’s next for Garry and Almeida?
Who should be next for Jailton Almeida? Derrick Lewis
Almeida is an interesting addition to the heavyweight landscape, which is suddenly looking competitive in the coming years. You’ve got the emergence of Pavlovich, Aspinall and now Almeida. There’s youth here and legitimate skill sets. Still a lot of familiar names, of course — Jones, Miocic, Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa — but how things shake out with this younger crop of talent is going to be super, super interesting.
For now, I like having the newer names face off against the more familiar ones and see where things stand when the dust settles. Pavlovich is ready to fight for a title now. Aspinall is facing Marcin Tybura in July. How about Almeida against a fan favorite in Lewis? Lewis is on the worst skid of his UFC career, but he’s still dangerous to anyone in the division. He’s also experienced and knows what Almeida will look to do against him. Almeida would be favored in that matchup, but a motivated Lewis with his back a little against the wall? It’s intriguing and throws another spotlight on Almeida to potentially shine.
Wild card: Tai Tuivasa
This was Almeida’s callout, and I’m all for it. I prefer the Lewis one slightly more. I feel like it’s a nice matchup for Lewis to do something special against a guy with a lot of hype. If Lewis wants that kind of fight, and it’s a challenge he’d be up for, he deserves to be the one to potentially stop this Almeida hype. But the UFC can’t go wrong with Tuivasa.
Who should be next for Ian Garry? Bryan Battle
In August, in Boston, if that’s where the pay-per-view lands. Garry called out Neil Magny, which I was pretty surprised by. Historically, Magny is not an opponent people like to call out. He’s tough, he’s lanky, and he has excellent cardio. Even if you beat Magny, it’s not always pretty. I respect the callout, and I understand Garry is looking up in the rankings. That’s what good, ambitious, hungry fighters do. But the number is only one of the crucial things in this case. There is plenty of time for 25-year-old Garry to ascend the ranks and win a championship if that’s what his ceiling turns out to be. At this point in his career, you don’t have to follow numbers. He doesn’t have to fight someone ranked higher than him, just because he’s likely to crack the Top 15.
Battle is coming off a super memorable performance in Charlotte. Battle wants that fight. He’s calling for it. There’d be heat and intrigue in the buildup. A fight week between Garry and Battle would be far better than one between Garry and Magny. There’d be interest in the fight, which is all Garry needs right now. Interesting fights. This is the one to do next.
Wild card: Magny, or winner of Sean Brady vs. Jack Della Maddalena
In February, I wrote I’d be interested in Della Maddalena vs. Garry, and that’s only more true now. Usually, it’s bad business to book two young prospects together so early in their careers, but in this case, combining both of their fan bases would draw a lot of eyeballs to this one fight. If it’s Magny, that’s fine. He has a fight booked in June and is always fond of staying active. If Brady were to defeat Della Maddalena, that would be a fun one, too. My vote is Battle No. 1. If Della Maddalena beats Brady, which will be a competitive fight, that would be my second choice.
Raimondi: Stock up, stock down in MMA
Ian Garry’s head kick leads to exciting TKO finish
Ian Garry connects with a head kick and finishes the fight to take a TKO win.
Rising: Ian Garry
Facing his toughest challenge yet, Garry was at his most impressive Saturday at UFC Charlotte. The Ireland native stopped the sturdy Daniel Rodriguez via TKO in the first round, a sequence that started with a beautiful right head kick. Rodriguez had never been knocked out in his career. Garry is 12-0 and still just 25 years old. It’s hard not to see him as a perennial contender at welterweight before long. Garry called out Magny in his post-fight interview, a shrewd move. Magny is the man who guards the gates of the welterweight elite. If you can beat him, you’re top tier. Magny faces Philip Rowe on June 24, but win or lose, that’s a nice step up in competition for the budding Garry.
Falling: Gegard Mousasi
The time might be up soon for Mousasi, who had a lackluster performance at Bellator 296 on Friday in Paris. Edwards, his opponent, is a good fighter. But he’s the kind of foe a prime Mousasi would have eaten up without a problem. Mousasi is 37 years old now, and he’s had 60 career pro MMA fights, not to mention some kickboxing and boxing bouts as well. This was his second straight loss — remarkably, the first losing streak of his phenomenal career. If the end is near, Mousasi should be remembered for being one of the world’s best middleweight or light heavyweight fighters for more than a decade. He won titles in Bellator, Strikeforce, Dream and Cage Warriors and left the UFC on a five-fight winning streak in 2015. Mousasi is an out-and-out legend. Full stop.
Waters: Best finishes and tweets of the weekend
Battle puts on a show at home
Bryan Battle stuns opponent with 14-second KO
Bryan Battle catches Gabe Green with a right hook to take a knockout victory 14 seconds into the fight.
Bryan Battle wasted little time getting the biggest win of his career at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night. In front of his hometown crowd, Battle put on a show as he needed only 14 seconds to knockout Gabe Green. Battle’s knockout is the fifth-fastest finish in the history of the UFC welterweight division.
“Charlotte, I love you,” Battle said in his post-fight interview. “I was made by Charlotte, I’m never going to lose in Charlotte. Not in front of my people, my friends, my family.”
Brown’s record tying finish
Matt Brown amazes with one-punch KO
42-year-old Matt Brown gets a walk-off knockout on Court McGee to take home a win.
At 42 years old, Matt Brown continues to live up to his nickname, “The Immortal.” Brown beat fellow longtime UFC veteran Court McGee by first-round KO to get his 17th career knockout. With the finish, Brown tied heavyweight Derrick Lewis for the most knockouts in UFC history (13).
The Rock’s stunt double?
Carlos walked out to The Rock theme song . Buddy actually looks like the rock stunt double 😂😂😂 #UFCCHARLOTTE
— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) May 13, 2023
Carlos Ulberg channeled his inner The Rock during his entrance at UFC Fight Night, as he made the walk to the ring with the WWE legend’s theme music playing in the background. The entrance was so impressive that fellow UFC fighter Derek Brunson thought Ulberg could have a future performing stunts for the movie star.
Ulberg lived up to The Rock’s famous entrance, getting a first-round knockout over Ihor Potieria.