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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Friday made its way to the TD Garden in Boston for UFC on ESPN 6 -- an event anchored by a pivotal light heavyweight clash between the undefeated Dominick Reyes and Chris Weidman. Some stocks rose, and others took a tumble.
Dominick Reyes: “The Devastator” was cool, calm and collected as he walked to the Octagon for his first UFC main event. It translated inside the cage, as he worked his way back to his feet from Weidman’s early wrestling onslaught, decked the former middleweight champion with a laser-guided left hand and followed with a volley of hammerfists that shut out the lights out and touched off Reyes’ campaign for a title shot. Afterward, Reyes called for a fight with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and with an unbeaten record that includes six wins inside the UFC, he seems to be the most likely candidate for a shot at the throne. Reyes’ composure under the lights was most impressive. The 29-year-old has been a pro for just five years, but his combination of mental fortitude, athleticism and boxing skill may just allow him to give Jones a run for his money.
Yair Rodriguez: “El Pantera” and Jeremy Stephens did not disappoint when they finally squared off without incident in the co-main event, making for a “Fight of the Night” performance that put Rodriguez’s diverse striking attack on full display and saw him solidify himself as a potential contender. Rodriguez owns a 10-1 record with one no-contest across his past 12 appearances, losing only to former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. With his combination of flash and legitimate skill, he has likely earned a shot at a Top 5 opponent in the not-too-distant future. Rodriguez’s relationship with the UFC can only be described as shaky at best, but he continues to have the look of a potential elite fighter the company can push.
Maycee Barber: At just 21 years of age, Barber has emerged as one of the most electrifying prospects to ever hit the strawweight division. Her combination of aggression, power and diverse standup skills has made her a tough out for the women she has seen thus far, and while the UFC must be careful not to push her too quickly, it appears she already deserves a Top 15 opponent. Barber has been relentless in her pursuit of a fight with Paige VanZant, but with VanZant’s lack of recent activity, it makes more sense for Barber to set her sights on a ranked opponent who could kickstart her campaign to title contention.
Chris Weidman: In the leadup to Weidman’s light heavyweight debut, the former champion seemed transfixed on a potential fight with the aforementioned Jones, and it may have ended up costing him, as he suffered his fifth knockout loss in six fights in a first-round setback against Reyes. No one can dispute that Weidman’s chin has become his biggest flaw. He is still as technically skilled as any fighter in the UFC, but he simply cannot take a shot anymore, and while he dispelled any talk of retirement in the immediate aftermath of his defeat, it is not ridiculous wonder whether or not Weidman needs to reconsider his stance. Gone are the days of “The All-American” as a title contender. Where he goes from here remains murky at best.
Jeremy Stephens: The co-main event was not lacking bad blood between Stephens and Rodriguez, but the former failed to make good on his promise of a knockout and instead picked up his third consecutive loss -- a setback that knocks him out of contention altogether. Body strikes continue to be a problem for Stephens. Rodriguez went to the body early and often and had Stephens in serious trouble throughout the second round after delivering a hard kick to the midsection. By the time the final frame arrived, Stephens was in need of a finish win but was intent on riding out the round from top control, showing a serious lack of fight IQ from a tenured UFC veteran. It was a disappointing performance from Stephens after such heated buildup, and the Alliance MMA representative will likely have to pick up several impressive victories if he ever wants to return to the title chase.
Manny Bermudez: At the start of 2019, Bermudez was a promising undefeated prospect, but he has since missed weight twice and took home back-to-back losses that have put him in dangerous territory going forward. The 25-year-old was once considered one of the most compelling young talents in the bantamweight division, but even after being forced to move featherweight, the same issues have continued to plague him. With two straight losses, Bermudez’s once bright future is beginning to look bleak. The young grappler will need to go back to the drawing board and make some serious changes to his approach if he ever wants to fulfill the potential he displayed early in his career.