Derek Brunson shone this weekend against Darren Till, but despite Brunson’s incredible run and dominating finish over a legitimate contender, a shot at the middleweight title against champion Israel Adesanya may not come as quickly as Brunson hopes. . Does Brunson accept another fight or is he willing to wait? Someone likely to have a title shot next, Dustin Poirier, could take his last ride into the Octagon the night of that title fight, even if he wins.
Also, Dana White’s Contender Series will be different in 2021, could we see a major change in the outcome of the show this season? And how great is Alexandre Pantoja’s threat to Brandon Moreno if they meet again? Don’t be surprised if things are different now.
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi prepare you to expect the unexpected. This is what you need to know.
Don’t be surprised if … Brunson has to fight again before the title shot
Raimondi: Derek Brunson has done more than enough to earn a title shot in the UFC middleweight division. He’s won five fights in a row, and he really put a stamp on things Saturday afternoon with a third-round submission win over a popular fighter like Darren Till.
Few have the résumé of Brunson, who has fought top 185-pound fighters for the past nine years, including champion Israel Adesanya, current top contender Robert Whittaker, legend Anderson Silva, rocky Yoel Romero and more. Brunson lost those bouts, but at 37 he’s in his prime, and he deserves that recognition in the form of a shot at the belt.
However, there is a strong chance that time will be Brunson’s enemy in this situation. Adesanya is likely to defend against Whittaker, the man from whom Adesanya removed the belt in 2019 and early 2021. At least four months to go. Add time to recover for the winner of that fight, and if Brunson waits, which he said he was willing to do, that could bring his title shot closer to sometime midway through 2022.
That is a long time from now. And there is another factor: Jared Cannonier. Two weeks ago, Cannonier looked strong by beating Kelvin Gastelum, and has won four of his last five bouts. Brunson might be in a slightly better race, but he’s close enough. Cannonier is surely in the title conversation too. In a situation like this, it seems like the most logical response is for Brunson and Cannonier to fight. Maybe they’ll put that fight on the Adesanya vs. Whittaker. If something goes wrong with Adesanya or Whittaker, Brunson or Cannonier can step in. And even if not, the two winners will be on the same timeline and can meet in a mini-tournament final.
Brunson clearly wants the title shot and is willing to wait until next spring to get it. I understand that perspective. He is closer to 40 now than he is to 30. His window of opportunity during his peak years will not be open forever. But with the way the schedule works now, Brunson is sure to have to extend his impressive winning streak to six in a row to get his second shot at the UFC middleweight championship.
Don’t be surprised if … Dustin Poirier retires if he wins a UFC championship
Okamoto: I decided to get bold here. If Poirier dethroned Charles Oliveira (that fight could happen in December, but it’s not official), what would happen if he retired? He would be the second lightweight champion to do so, in his prime, in the past two years. For the record, I’m not predicting this to happen, I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if it happens.
The only thing that has eluded Poirier during his 12-year professional career is an undisputed title. It is the only box left for you to check. He has described how important it is to him in multiple interviews. If he did finally pull it off in his next fight … would he be so motivated to stick around and defend it against Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler, Beneil Dariush or Islam Makhachev?
Honestly, I’m not really sure. Of course, there are also two possible fights for Poirier in which titles are not the central focus: Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. It would be difficult to put down the paychecks for those fights, but is it possible that Poirier will leave them on the table if he has accomplished everything he wanted in his career? I think it is entirely possible.
Don’t be surprised if … Contender Series produces more UFC contracts this season than ever before.
Wagenheim: We only have one episode to go on, but what a start: five contracts awarded after just four fights. But it’s not just the numbers that augur well for those who will compete for UFC deals in the remaining nine weekly episodes of Season 5. What also stood out in Week 1 were the types of performances that caught the attention of UFC bosses.
Two of the contracts were for knockout providers, and that’s a no-brainer. But another fighter was rewarded with a UFC deal after he ended his fight by fouling his opponent and having a point deducted. The other two contracts were for both fighters in a close fight. That is new: losing. Now, this is not to suggest that any of these five fighters did not deserve a ticket to the Octagon. They all fought very well. It’s just that in seasons past it took more than that to get you to the door.
The most famous example of a no-deal is Brendan Loughnane, who was ignored after a notable victory in 2019 (and ended up in the PFL, where he fell within a win of this year’s $ 1 million championship fight). But he’s not the only one who shows skills at least on par with a UFC preliminary fighter, and then they are turned away. For the first four seasons of the show, it was mostly knockouts and introductions that were the keys to the front door. Others came the distance and were still chosen to enter, but only after explosive or dominating performances.
Season 4 last year saw 37 contracts awarded, more than in any other season. Season 5 is off to a great start in terms of beating that pace, although there is a long way to go. We are not likely to see five contacts delivered each week, but something tells me that the entrance exam will continue to be more flexible. The last 18 months have been difficult for all of us, but among the hardest hit are the small regional MMA promotions that are the breeding ground for future big league talent. With the power system still not working at full throttle again, the UFC has to find its fighters somewhere.
Don’t be surprised if … Brandon Moreno beats Alexandre Pantoja in his third fight
Legaspi: Pantoja was right in his post-fight interview after defeating Brandon Royval on August 21. He claimed that he made Brandon Moreno a better fighter with his two wins over the reigning flyweight champion, in 2016, on The Ultimate Fighter, and again in May 2018.
After the dominating performance he had over Moreno in his second fight three years ago in Chile, Moreno learned the extent of his weaknesses in boxing.
Unlike many Mexican fighters, Moreno was successful with his jiu-jitsu and wrestling, which is comparable to almost everyone in the division he has faced since coming to the UFC. He proved it by subduing two ranked opponents in his first three fights, right after being eliminated from The Ultimate Fighter by Pantoja.
But that 2018 fight was crucial. Moreno was pulled from the UFC after that loss, and the 125-pound division as a whole was in jeopardy.
Pantoja pushed Moreno to add tools to his set, and Moreno began developing his boxing skills from scratch. Training in his native Tijuana with Javier “Drift” Cortez – who was part of Antonio Margarito’s corner and working with fans at Erik Morales’ gym – changed Brandon’s approach to the game and made him a very confident fighter. feet. He improved head movement and combinations, helping him beat dangerous punchers like Kai Kara-France and former champion Deiveson Figueiredo.
Moreno’s confidence has grown as he built his seven-fight undefeated streak since Pantoja’s second loss.
Pantoja looked explosive against Royval, and will put pressure on Moreno, who wants to leave those two losses in the past. If Pantoja recovers from a left knee injury to fight before the end of the year, he will be a dangerous contender. But when it comes to getting better, the current champion seems like a completely different fighter than the one he dismantled three years ago.