UFC 295: 7 biggest takeaways from an unforgettable night in New York

Alex Pereira did it again. The former UFC middleweight champ ascended to rarefied air on Saturday, knocking out Jiri Prochazka with a second-round barrage inside New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden to capture the vacant light heavyweight belt and become a two-division king at UFC 295. Pereira’s victory headlined a violent night that also saw Tom Aspinall smash through Sergei Pavlovich on short notice to claim the interim heavyweight belt.

With so much to discuss, let’s dive right into our seven biggest takeaways from UFC 295.

1. Four months ago, I wrote in this space that Alex Pereira was speed-running a potential Hall of Fame UFC career in record time. And now, wouldn’t you know it, he’s done just that.

That this actually happened in the manner it did remains an utterly surreal feat — that someone with just seven UFC fights to his name, who kicked off this second act well into his mid-30s, and who compiled legitimate Hall of Fame credentials during a decade-long kickboxing career right before this, is now one of nine two-division champions in the 30-year history of the UFC. And hey, those eight other champ-champs? None of them filled their trophy cases at nearly the same pace. The only two who came even close to matching the new light heavyweight king’s three-year sprint were Randy Couture (who did it in his 11th MMA win) and B.J. Penn (12), but even those runs came in a far different era where rankings didn’t exist and divisions were treated far more flippantly than they are today.

Break it down any way you want, none of this makes sense. Pereira smashed the rules that are supposed to govern MMA into a million tiny pieces. He owns nearly as many MMA fights against UFC champions (5) as he does fights against against non-champs (6), and that’s including his time on the regional scene. That’s absurd! And somehow he’s even still racking up wins in his rivalry with Israel Adesanya. Just think about it. Seemingly everything Adesanya tried to accomplish in the UFC, Pereira actually did. Double champ? Check. Beat Jan Blachowicz? Check. Brutally knock out Sean Strickland? Check. And yes, regardless of however many memes Adesanya posts, Pereira is still up three out of four in that series as well. He’s also headlined two of the top three gates ever at Madison Square Garden and is the only MMA fighter with an undefeated 3-0 record at the world’s most famous arena.

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. We’re looking at a singular career, folks. A true one of one. It’ll be a long while before anyone replicates what Pereira pulled off from 2021-23.

My big hope now is that the UFC doesn’t sideline the new champ strictly to wait for Jamahal Hill. Pereira is 36 years old and will likely be 37 by the time Hill functionally heals from his torn Achilles. That’s a bad injury with a long recovery period. “Poatan” doesn’t have time to waste, and it’s not as if Hill was some dominant titleholder beforehand. Light heavyweight finally makes some semblance of sense. To borrow a phrase from an old friend, it’d be promotional malpractice to sideline a champion with Pereira’s momentum just to wait for Hill. Either book Walker vs. Ankalaev 2 tomorrow and let’s keep this train chugging or give Pereira the winner of Blachowicz vs. Rakic 2 once those two rematch in January.

This division is begging for an active champion. Please, UFC, allow Pereira to be that guy.

On that point, though, I also wrote this in July:

It very much feels as if some mystical forces are barrelling us toward an inevitable conclusion to the Adesanya-Pereira storyline, doesn’t it? This game works in mysterious ways, and right now seemingly every unseen power in MMA is conspiring to make a Return of the Jedi epic final chapter to one of the wildest and most unique UFC rivalries in recent memory. We’re just two results away from Adesanya vs. Pereira 3 for the 205-pound belt. That’s plenty left to go, but I’m just sayin’, the blood gods tend to get what the blood gods want.

Y’all heard the first name on Pereira’s lips after winning at UFC 295? That’s right. Adesanya clearly doesn’t seem to want the trilogy (and realistically, who can blame him?), but at the risk of repeating myself, the blood gods tend to get what the blood gods want.

I doubt it happens next — or even anytime soon — but one way or another, this rubber match feels predestined. It’s going to happen before all is said and done.

2. I’m already pre-mad that Tom Aspinall is never going to get a chance to face Jon Jones, because gosh darnit, that would be — by far — the most compelling Jones fight since Jones’ first meeting with Daniel Cormier, which was somehow a staggering eight years ago.

(We are all getting very, very old.)

By now, it’s clear that Aspinall is a special talent. The precision with which the Englishman throws and his ability to cover great distances as quickly as he does is so remarkably unique for the heavyweight division. He’s an athlete through and through. And then to find out what we discovered post-fight, that Aspinall not only took on this challenge on less than two weeks’ notice, but also badly injured his back and was unable to train for the past 10 days, to the point that he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to fight until literally Saturday night, yet still came in straight off the couch and colded the UFC’s heavyweight boogeyman in 69 seconds? Y’all, we may be looking at the man to finally carry the consecutive UFC heavyweight title defense record past Stipe Miocic’s vaunted mark of three.

That’s why it’s such a bummer that The Fight We Should Actually Be Seeing isn’t going to happen. Because I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Jones is almost certainly going to retire alongside Miocic whenever those two return in 2024. Jones’ entire championship run has been about calculated risk. He’s very good at it. We’re talking about a man who waited out Francis Ngannou before making his long-promised heavyweight move — a man who, even in his absolute prime, refused to face a middleweight Chael Sonnen on short notice. Jones has manicured the heavyweight chapter of his career to a tee. He faced a layup of a stylistic matchup in his debut, and now insists on fighting a 41-year-old coming off a three-year layoff as his first title defense. You and I both know he’s going to beat an aging Miocic then ride off into the sunset claiming he’s the best ever in two divisions. And ultimately, hey, that’s fine. It’s the smart play. But nothing about the past 11 years of the Jon Jones experience tells us that he’s going to needlessly take on the risk Aspinall presents.

My prediction: Aspinall gets the Robert Whittaker treatment post-Bisping era and gets his interim title elevated to the real belt sometime next summer after Jones and Miocic both retire. I hope I’m wrong. (God, I hope I’m wrong.) But I don’t suspect I will be.

2b. Really, there are three heavyweight matchups we as a community deserve to see right now — Jones vs. Ngannou, Jones vs. Aspinall, and Ngannou vs. Aspinall — and we’re probably not going to see any of them. Blah. Fight sports are so dumb sometimes.

UFC 295: Pavlovich v Aspinall

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

3. It’s never wise to write off any fighter at age 30, but man, it certainly feels as if Saturday was the final coffin nail in Mackenzie Dern’s potential as a future UFC champ, no?

We’re on year five of this UFC experiment and yet we’re still having many of the same conversations we were having on day one. Dern’s striking has regressed significantly from where it was even in May, at least if UFC 295 was any indication. But most crucial of all, the jiu-jitsu phenom still lacks a reliable takedown or Maia-esque trip-against-the-cage sequence to get fights where she needs them to be. Dern is still inhumanly tough, hence why Jessica Andrade was able to set a new octagon record as the first woman to score four knockdowns in a single fight in just eight minutes, but that toughness only goes so far (and almost works against Dern on a night like UFC 295 when the damage is racking up).

Dern is still young enough and still carries a superior skill into every fight with her jiu-jitsu, and plenty of established UFC veterans have defied expectations by figuring things out much later than usual and mounting a last-ditch title run. But Dern has been doing this long enough to where she no longer falls in the prospect category, and UFC 295 felt like the strongest indication yet that she may ultimately just be who she is — a damn good specialist who’s capable of beating anyone on any given night, but also someone who will never find the kind of consistency that it usually takes to capture a UFC belt.

4. Benoit Saint Denis, however — that man is going to challenge for the UFC lightweight title by the end of 2026.

That is all.

(It should be sooner, but few divisions are more clogged at the top than 155 pounds.)

(Also? He may very well win it.)

UFC 295: Prochazka v Pereira

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

5. How has your 2023 been? Hopefully delightful. But there’s still a good chance it hasn’t been as good as the year Diego Lopes is having. Over the past nine months, Lopes nearly upset a top UFC contender (Movsar Evloev) in his octagon debut, helped coach Alexa Grasso to a shocking UFC title win over one of the most dominant champions of the past decade, and on Saturday, he brutally sent Pat Sabatini to the land of wind and ghosts to notch his second straight first-round UFC finish. Talk about a hot streak. Good lord.

It’s still early and I haven’t done my full deep dive yet, so it’s possible I’m missing an obvious name, but Lopes is in pole position to get my Rookie of the Year vote. He’s been nothing short of sensational inside and outside of the cage in 2023. Featherweight was already bursting with incredible young talent jostling for positioning among the old guard — go ahead and add Lopes to that mix. The future of 145 continues to look exceptionally bright.

UFC 295: Prochazka v Pereira

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

6. Speaking of incredible, within a 30-minute span on Saturday night, we watched judge Bryan Miner decide that a round that in which Nazim Sadykhov nearly murdered Viacheslav Borshchev didn’t deserve a 10-8, and that a fight everyone in the world either saw as a 30-27 for Loopy Godinez or 29-28 Godinez was somehow really a 30-27 for Tabatha Ricci.

(Oh, Miner then scored Round 1 of Andrade vs. Dern a 10-9 in favor of Dern. Yes, you read that right.)

I honestly don’t even know what to say anymore, because none of this is going to change. Judges are going to continue turning in indefensible scorecards and then just jettisoning into the night without a hint of accountability or recourse floating their way. At the very least, it’s still worth acknowledging when it happens, if only to keep some sort of informal record of incompetency — Mr. Miner, you did a very, very poor job on Saturday night — but I can’t be the only one tired of repeating the same points week in, week out. It’d be nice to hear Miner explain what he saw, but alas, we all know that’s obviously too much to ask.

(Also, this is more of a reminder for myself than anything else, but pencil in Sadykhov vs. Borshchev as a dark horse to land on a few Fight of the Year lists next month once award season rolls around. What a scrap. I have no idea how Borshchev survived Round 2, but there’s a 95 percent chance he won’t remember it tomorrow. These two crazies combined to throw one strike every two seconds for three rounds straight. We tend to focus only on the sexiest names when it comes time for year-end lists, but if you missed Sadykhov vs. Borshchev, go back and give it some of your time. I promise you won’t regret it.)

7. Maybe it’s cliche to celebrate a good thing happening to a good person these days, but considering the hurdles Jared Gordon has dealt with in his life, I really don’t care if we end our time here by leaning into some cliches.

Gordon has held the belt as one of MMA’s unluckiest men for a while now. Just within the past 12 months, he watched a life-changing win over Paddy Pimblett get ripped away from him in 2022’s Robbery of the Year, then watched Bobby Green lap him in the lightweight pecking order after Gordon was knocked unconscious by a brutal clash of heads. Again, that’s just the past year. Trace further back and there are plenty of others. The time Gordon had to enlist a UFC commentator to his corner because his whole team caught COVID at the worst possible moment. Or the time Gordon suffered a grisly hand injury that required 21 stitches by being in the wrong place at the wrong time ahead of a scheduled UFC bout.

Trust me, we could go on. How about the night his family business burned down in one of the most disastrous fires in New York state history? Or the $100,000 reality show tournament that was supposed to change his life but only left a penniless prospect with more handfuls of regret and broken promises? And that’s without even mentioning the more self-inflicted wounds — the drug overdoses, the relapses, the arrests, the homelessness, more brushes with death than one man should ever have on his ledger.

There’s a reason why, flabbergasted by his story, I dubbed Gordon “The Unbreakable Man” the first time I met him in 2015, well before any of this UFC business had even begun.

Yet Gordon never stopped picking himself up and dusting himself off after every backward step, so it was heartening to see the New York native get a genuine moment on Saturday in his long-awaited hometown return. Fighting in The Big Apple for the first time in his UFC career, in the same building his grandfather — the late professional boxer Sal Ferello — competed in multiple times, Gordon pulled off one of his finest octagon performances, knocking out three-time Olympian Mark O. Madsen with a savage combination in the opening round on UFC 295’s undercard to finally put the Green result behind him for good.

“My grandfather fought in this stadium four times. I used to shoot heroin in Penn Station underneath this building. Now I’m fighting in it and knocking guys out,” an emotional Gordon told his New York faithful post-fight. “You can do anything you want.”

There are few happy endings in combat sports, but there are plenty of happy nights if you’re good enough and lucky enough to chase them down. Gordon was long overdue for his. Congrats “Flash,” you’ve come a hell of a long way from where you first started.

Fonte: mma fighting