A historic night it was from The Big Apple.
Saturday’s UFC 281 from Madison Square Garden in New York City saw eleven finishes tying both UFC Fight Night 55 in November of 2014 and UFC 224 in May of 2018 for the most stoppages at a single promotional event. This included eight straight finishes from the preliminary card to the night’s memorable main event.
In the end, two championships changed hands and a veteran of the octagon ended his career on the unfortunate side of a a highlight-reel knockout. Three lightweight contenders found victory that should result in big opportunity ahead. What lies next for these athletes?
Here are five fights to make after UFC 281.
5. Chris Gutierrez vs. Song Yadong
Former UFC lightweight champion and future Hall of Famer Frankie Edgar hoped for a much better outcome in his retirement fight than what he received. A perfectly timed knee up the middle landed flush for Chris Gutierrez who secured the knockout victory just two minutes and one second into the first round. This extended his impressive win streak to seven in-a-row starting after his promotional debut defeat to Raoni Barcelos in late 2018.
Gutierrez took advantage of the big stage against such a seasoned veteran, and a top-ranked bantamweight opponent should be in the works. A return will likely be soon for Song Yadong who last left the cage suffering a doctor stoppage in his September main event with Cory Sandhagen. Yadong is a youthful 24 years old and his next appearance will be his twelfth already with the UFC.
A “Fight Night” main event would be just right for Gutierrez and Yadong who both are looking for further progress in their current tenure.
4. Dan Hooker vs. Renato Moicano
Sitting 1-4 in his last five fights, Dan Hooker stepped into the octagon last night in need of something special. Events played out well in his favor as his opponent, Claudio Puelles, spent a majority of the fight searching for a leg before ultimately getting finished by a front kick to the body. The technical knockout came late in the second round, Hooker’s first finish since a knockout of James Vick in July of 2019.
Another victorious lightweight from the night came on the preliminary card as Renato Moicano showed dominance in his first-round submission of Brad Riddell. The finish came by rear-naked choke, a finish in all ten of his career stoppage wins, and he sits 2-1 in the calendar year with a lone five-round loss in March to Rafael dos Anjos.
Intriguingly enough, Hooker and Riddell are teammates at City Kickboxing. Could Hooker avenge the loss of his fellow New Zealander, or would Moicano add another top-ranked contender to his win list?
3. Dustin Poirier vs. Beneil Dariush
Fan-favorite Dustin Poirier showed grit and heart throughout his thrilling meeting with Michael Chandler to ultimately finish off the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion by submission in the third round. The former title challenger adds another name to his already impressive resume of wins including Conor McGregor (x2), Max Holloway (x2), Eddie Alvarez, and Justin Gaethje among many others.
Although it could be justified for “The Diamond” to get another shot at lightweight strap, the likelihood is slim. Also waiting in the wings is Beneil Dariush who, after a skid of knockout defeats and looked to be spiraling down, has since won eight straight with four finishes. His October pay-per-view unanimous decision of Mateusz Gamrot sits the most recent performance to his name.
Let a pairing between Poirier and Dariush be a title elimination bout for the winner of UFC 284’s Islam Makhachev versus Alexander Volkanovski championship fight in February. Five rounds is a must.
2. Zhang Weili vs. Amanda Lemos
Zhang Weili is a strawweight champion once more. The belt had first been taken away after a shocking sub-90 second loss to Rose Namajunas in April of 2021. A debatable rematch defeat and a spinning backfist knockout over Joanna Jedrzejczyk led her to the newer-crowned Carla Esparza. A one-sided bout it was, Weili taking advantage of scrambles and size to overwhelm Esparza until eventually securing a rear-naked choke in the second round. Weili has now secured the only two titles for China in UFC history.
Two weekends ago, Amanda Lemos found her eighth career knockout in a main event slot against Marina Rodriguez. The Brazilian has won seven of her last eight since moving to 115 pounds from bantamweight, a 20-pound jump, with her only defeat coming to former champion Jessica Andrade earlier this year.
Andrade, although a likely candidate for Weili, will be fighting Lauren Murphy at flyweight in January. It is time for a change of competition near the top, and Lemos would be the right test (and one of the few) for Weili as we head into 2023.
1. Alex Pereira vs. Israel Adesanya II
In April of 2016, kickboxers Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya met in China for the very first time. The Glory of Heroes bout would go in favor to Pereira who edged out a three-round unanimous decision. The two would rematch less than twelve months later in Brazil and, although Adesanya had started strong, would see Pereira win the fight after a brutal third-round knockout.
Fast-forward to November of 2022 where, after only eight professional mixed martial arts fights, Pereira is victorious once more. Adesanya had Pereira significantly rocked to close the first round and looked to be heading towards a unanimous decision victory until getting tagged and finished with strikes in the final round. The win ended Adesanya’s dominant run as middleweight king that saw five title defenses including two this year over Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier.
Although immediate title rematches are sometimes undeserved, the history between these two competitors and the dominance Adesanya showed in his run as champion make it hard to not want this run back as soon as possible. The excitement is high as we can only wait for this hopeful announcement.
Ryan Spann vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Erin Blanchfield vs. Viviane Araujo
Carlos Ulberg vs. Dustin Jacoby