UFC 271 Review and Post Fight Matchmaking

UFC 271 is in the books and despite a slow main event, the card still had its share of significant moments including the introduction of a new top contender at Heavyweight and a clear number one contender at Middleweight.

Israel Adesanya

Israel Adesanya’s methodical victory over Robert Whittaker marked his fourth consecutive defence of the Middleweight title. Adesanya’s use of leg kicks and his first-round knockdown of Whittaker set the tempo for the rest of the bout as Whittaker failed to truly find his mark with his striking. While Whittaker did show effectiveness with some of his wrestling, Adesanya was able to return to his feet with relative ease and showed that the success that Blachowicz had at Light Heavyweight will be extraordinarily difficult to replicate at Middleweight. Moving forward, the only logical contender for Adesanya is Jared Cannonier who is the sole fighter in the top five of the division that Adesanya has yet to face.

Robert Whittaker

With his second loss to Adesanya, Robert Whittaker finds himself in no man’s land, with no foreseeable return to a title fight outside of Adesanya losing the title. While Whittaker’s demise in his bout with Adesanya was his tepidness and lack of output, he did show that his offensive wrestling is becoming a more viable weapon that could be utilized against some of the other top contenders in the division. For the time being, the most sensible fight for Whittaker is against the number two ranked Marvin Vettori. Vettori, like Whittaker, has two losses to Adesanya and has no clear path back to a title fight either. Vettori’s aggressive striking and wrestling approach may also prove a solid test for Whittaker’s counter striking and wrestling defence as well.

Tai Tuivasa

Tai Tuivasa was arguably the biggest winner of the night as he dispatched the third ranked Heavyweight Derrick Lewis in the second round. In this bout, Tuivasa proved that he can overcome adversity, having been taken down and rocked in the opening round by the KO record holder before rallying to finish Lewis with a hellacious elbow. The win for Tuivasa marks his fifth straight victory, with all of them coming via strikes. He has also notched three performance bonuses in a row and is likely looking at a number one contender matchup next. While matchups with Ciryl Gane or Stipe Miocic make sense from a rankings perspective, I have my eye on the winner of the March matchup between Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall. With all sorts of moving pieces with regard to Ngannou’s title and a potential Interim title, Tuivasa against the winner of Volkov/Aspinall would set up a fresh contender for whomever stands atop the Heavyweight division when the dust settles.

Derrick Lewis

 Derrick Lewis has had a rough time in Houston as of late, having lost two bouts via strikes in the city in the past six months. Lewis’ loss to Tuivasa really sets him back in the contender’s picture and at 37 years of age and with six losses via strikes, his top form may be behind him. Lewis is still always a KO threat and a bout with the twelfth ranked Augusto Sakai would provide Lewis with the perfect opportunity to get back on track. Sakai is currently riding a three-fight losing streak with all of those losses by way of strikes, however, with a style revolving around volume, he still poses a significant threat to Lewis.

Jared Cannonier

Jared Cannonier made it extremely clear that he should be next in line for a crack at Adesanya’s belt with a brutal KO over Derek Brunson. In the opening stages of the bout, Cannonier appeared to be struggling with Brunson’s takedown heavy strategy. While he eventually began to stop Brunson’s takedowns, he left himself open to a counter hook from Brunson which floored Cannonier and nearly led to the end of the bout. However, Cannonier rallied in the second and unleashed a thunderous combination which led to some heavy elbows from top position putting Brunson out. As the sole fighter in the top five of the Middleweight division that has yet to face Adesanya, Cannonier is clearly the ideal next title contender. His heavy leg kicks and powerful hands should create an interesting matchup with the dominant Adesanya.

Derek Brunson

This loss has to sting for Brunson who was so close to earning himself a title fight opportunity. The loss to Cannonier snaps a five-fight win streak for the 38-year-old and he will likely find himself in a retirement bout his next time out. While Brunson still showed significant power in his strikes and solid wrestling ability, his gas tank seemed to fade after a high-action opening frame.  For his retirement bout, a fight against a returning Chris Weidman (who is still somehow ranked) has the hallmarks of a well-matched bout. However, with no concrete timeline for a Weidman return, a bout with Jack Hermansson makes sense from a technical perspective as both will look to find top position against the other and have different offensive abilities from those positions.

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