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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday stayed close to home with UFC 250 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, where reigning women’s featherweight titleholder and pound-for-pound queen Amanda Nunes risked her 145-pound crown against Felicia Spencer in the main event. Some stocks rose, and others tumbled.
Cody Garbrandt: All it took was one well-timed right hook at the second-round horn for the former UFC bantamweight champion to release the frustration associated with his last three losses; and just like that, he finds himself back in the mix at 135 pounds. Garbrandt’s more measured and cautious approach was a breath of fresh air, and while his incredible speed remained evident, it was clear rather quickly that “No Love” had matured during his time away from the sport. With most other Top 10 contenders already booked, a showdown with onetime World Series of Fighting titleholder Marlon Moraes makes sense, both in terms of meritocracy and box-office appeal.
Aljamain Sterling: The Serra-Longo Fight Team star staked his claim as the No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division, as he took Cory Sandhagen’s back, slithered his arms around his neck and secured the rear-naked choke for the tapout just 88 seconds into the first round. The win figures to make Sterling one half of the fight to determine the fate of the bantamweight championship—a seat recently vacated by Henry Cejudo. “Funk Master” has rattled off five consecutive victories against opponents with a cumulative record of 87-14-1. All signs point to Sterling rising to meet the great expectations that greeted his arrival in the UFC six years ago.
Sean O'Malley: While taking on his first tenured veteran in his run toward contention, “Sugar Sean” passed a legitimate test with flying colors and cut down former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Eddie Wineland in a fantastic first-round knockout. Much like Conor McGregor, O’Malley seems to possess what Tristar Gym trainer Firas Zahabi refers to as “the touch of death.” He wields the kind of knockout power few bantamweights carry, and coupled with his marketability, the Dana White’s Contender Series alum looks like a dream come true for the UFC from a promotional standpoint. Up next for O’Malley: his first crack at a Top 15 opponent, perhaps someone like Rob Font.
Felicia Spencer: The former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder had a rough time, from bell to bell. Spencer fell woefully short in her first UFC title fight, as she was brutalized by the incomparable Amanda Nunes for five full rounds. She had no answer for the champion’s well-rounded skills and spent 25 minutes in survival mode. The Florida-based Canadian can hang her hat on the toughness and durability she displayed, but the gulf between her and Nunes was evident for all to see, and it was massive. Where Spencer goes from here, considering the lack of depth present at 145 pounds, remains to be seen.
Raphael Assuncao: At 37 years of age and having come out on the losing side in each of his last three bouts, it appears as though Assuncao’s time as a perennial contender in the bantamweight division has come to an end. The Brazilian was 11-1 in the 135-pound weight class at one point, but his skills have diminished with age and the speed and power the division requires are no longer present. While it remains unclear if Assuncao will fulfill his UFC contract or opt for retirement, he has enjoyed a long and distinguished career. Should he choose to move forward, he might be best served by seeking out fights with aging veterans in a similar position.
Chase Hooper: Alex Caceres was a case of too much too soon for Hooper, who found himself exploited on the feet by a cagy, far more experienced veteran. With no means with which to drag the fight to the floor, the 20-year-old grappler looked like a fish out of water in striking exchanges. Hooper has a long way to go in his development before he can be considered a significant threat in the featherweight division. His grappling skills are undeniable, but he has a clear ceiling until he makes strides in the standup and wrestling departments. Fortunately, time remains on his side. Hooper should hunt fights on the lower end of the featherweight spectrum while he gains more experience, rounds out his skills and fills out his frame.
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