More than almost any other Ultimate Fighting Championship event in recent memory, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 180 featured a slew of current or former contenders with major questions hanging over their heads. There was a former title challenger coming back from his first career defeat, a former champion debuting in a new weight class and a onetime Top 10 fighter returning after more than two years away from the cage.
Add in the expected batch of newcomers making their Octagon debuts—including an undefeated two-division champion from another promotion—and you have a card rich with opportunities for fighters to make a statement. Here are some who did just that.
Brian Ortega: “T-City” was coming off the first loss of his career, a beating at the hands of Max Holloway in which he absorbed a horrific amount of punishment, followed by a 22-month layoff. With Alexander Volkanovski the new king of the featherweight mountain, Ortega had the opportunity on Saturday to position himself as an immediate factor in the title picture, or take a step back into the general pool of contenders. Ortega did the former, and in resounding fashion, dominating Chan Sung Jung from pillar to post in the best performance of his career to date. Beyond simply showing no signs of ring rust, Ortega displayed a diverse new striking arsenal and delivered it with confidence, as he kept “The Korean Zombie” reeling and reacting for five rounds. Still just 29 years old, the fighting pride of Torrance, California, may just have jumped the line of featherweight title challengers entirely.
Jessica Andrade: Former strawweight champion Andrade made her 125-pound debut in Abu Dhabi and like Ortega, certified herself as an imminent—perhaps immediate—title challenger. “Bate Estaca” was thrown right into the deep end of the flyweight pool, drawing Katlyn Chookagian, a recent title challenger and one of the tallest, longest fighters in the division. While it was reasonable to assume that Andrade’s brute strength would carry over to her new weight class, considering she once fought at 135 pounds, the question remained of how well she could employ it when faced with such a disadvantage in height and reach. The answer: just fine, as Andrade slammed Chookagian around, bullied her against the fence and, finally, destroyed her with a first-round body shot, finishing the former title challenger more emphatically than even Valentina Shevchenko had managed to do. In a division desperate for challengers who will be less than a 10:1 underdog to Shevchenko, Andrade may have done herself more good than any other fighter on Saturday’s card, and it would not be surprising to see her waiting for the winner of the Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia title fight next month.
Guram Kutateladze: While a solid prospect in his own right, Kutateladze was clearly brought in to be the “other guy” for former two-division KSW champion Mateusz Gamrot, as evidenced by his status as a 4:1 underdog. Instead, Kutateladze edged out Gamrot by split decision in a “Fight of the Night” barnburner. Along the way, the “Georgian Viking” showed a few flashes of the kind of in-cage moxie that helped propel his teammate Khamzat Chimaev to next-big-thing status this year. In one of the deepest divisions in the UFC, a big first impression can go a long way towards determining future bookings. Just ask Chimaev.
Chan Sung Jung: As spectacular as Ortega looked on Saturday, it may have been asking too much of anyone to slow him down. However, “The Korean Zombie” looked hapless in a way he never had previously, even in defeat. He never found his rhythm on the feet, his aggression caused him to run headlong into another no-look elbow strike, he was unable to come up with any useful adjustments between rounds and by the time a late clash of heads opened up a cut near Jung’s eye, he was already in the midst of losing a fourth straight round. Jung is unquestionably the biggest name in the post-Conor McGregor featherweight division; after all, we’re talking about a fighter who had Dana White wearing his t-shirts when he had not yet even entered the Top 10. However, he may have a tough time making his way back into the title picture anytime soon, as Ortega and Yair Rodriguez are definitively ahead of him in line.
Thomas Almeida: Just a little under five years ago, Almeida was a 24-year-old phenom, 21-0 and rocketing up the bantamweight ranks after winning his first three fights in the UFC. He then lost three of his next four fights, which derailed the hype train, but Cody Garbrandt, Jimmie Rivera and Rob Font were all Top 10-quality fighters. Returning to the Octagon at featherweight after nearly three years away, there was still good reason to be excited about Almeida’s ceiling in his new weight class. No longer, as he was soundly defeated on Saturday by Jonathan Martinez, who is a solid up-and-comer but nowhere near the Top 10. “Thominhas” may or may not be on the pink slip list after losing his third straight fight, but whatever magic he had during his spectacular rise seems, sadly, to be gone.
Claudio Silva: Almost by definition, anytime a fighter snaps a 14-fight win streak, their stock has taken a palpable hit. For Silva, who had won his first six fights in the UFC, the last three by stoppage, the stock isn’t so much falling as crashing. More important than just the “L” is the way in which Silva’s fight against James Krause played out, however. “Hannibal” found himself, for lack of a better word, outclassed. Krause seemed relaxed and confident, touching Silva up on the feet as the Brazilian loaded up on power shots that missed entirely or were largely wasted on Krause’s guard. His takedowns felt slow and telegraphed, preventing him from bringing the fight to the ground with any regularity. The one notable success Silva had, damaging Krause’s left leg with kicks, started paying dividends too late in the fight to turn the tide. Now 38 years old and with the undefeated mystique gone—his lone previous loss, in his debut fight, had been a disqualification—Silva instantly becomes just another welterweight.
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