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It’s going to be a crowded weekend for mixed martial arts. The Ultimate Fighting Championship runs its biggest show of the month on Saturday, while Bellator MMA returns with an intriguing welterweight title fight on Friday and one of the most accomplished boxers to ever enter the sport debuts for Professional Fighters League on Thursday. There’s plenty to talk about and plenty we’ll learn from the events. Here are some of the key questions leading into the cards from the top three American MMA promotions:
Was the Jan Blachowicz Fight Good or Bad for Israel Adesanya?
Adesanya’s fight against Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title was the biggest fight of either man’s career. The hook of Adesanya moving up in weight and trying to become a double champion made it the highest-grossing pay-per-view he has headlined. Of course, it didn’t turn out as Adesanya hoped and now it remains to be seen how that will affect his future at middleweight.
From a star standpoint, it’s possible that Adesanya won’t be hurt by the loss because the fight boosted interest in him either way. That was the case with B.J. Penn when he moved up to welterweight for a champion-versus-champion superfight with Georges St. Pierre. His fights after the defeat to St. Pierre were bigger than those before. The luster might be off Adesanya a little right now, but it won’t be hard to regain that with some electric performances at 185 pounds. The bigger question is the competitive effect the defeat will have on Adesanya.
Last time out, Adesanya had the chance to do something historic, moving up a full 20 pounds in a bid to win a second title. Now, he finds himself fighting Marvin Vettori—an opponent he already beat—at UFC 263. He went from a fight with massive upside for him to a fight with little to no upside and plenty of downside. That’s a difficult psychological challenge. In addition, all opponents now have a successful game plan to emulate for Adesanya. On the flip side, Adesanya might come out more motivated than ever by his first career loss. It will be interesting to see how one of the most captivating fighters in the sport reacts.
Can Nate Diaz Help Make Leon Edwards a Star?
To this point, Edwards has struggled to capture the public imagination. Edwards has been frustrated that an eight-fight winning streak has not yet netted him a title shot, but a big part of that has been how little his wins have resonated. Well, Edwards can no longer say the UFC never did anything for him. At UFC 263, he gets Diaz, whose fights always move the needle and who has elevated many an opponent over the years. Now, after his memorable BMF fight with Jorge Masvidal at Madison Square Garden, he returns to take on Edwards.
With five rounds with which to work in front of a sold-out crowd, things are set up for Edwards to shine and then to fight for the title next. Of course, he needs to not only win but to do it in a way that leaves fans thinking about him rather than Diaz. This is Edwards’ best shot yet to emerge as not just a high-quality fighter but as something of a star. If he can’t do that against Diaz even in victory, he might never make that leap.
Just How Good is Yaroslav Amosov?
It’s exceedingly rare any MMA fighter is able to attain a 25-0 professional record given all the different ways there are to win—or lose—an MMA bout. It’s even rarer when a fighter reaches the top levels of the sport unbeaten, as Amosov has with six Bellator wins thus far. That has earned him a title shot against the perpetually underappreciated Douglas Lima at Bellator 260. Given the opposition Amosov with which has been matched thus far in Bellator, it doesn’t feel too soon to put the multi-time sambo champion in such a prominent position. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to defeat his toughest opponent yet.
Lima is surely highly motivated after falling short against Gegard Mousasi in his middleweight debut. Since Lima emerged as a force with his Bellator season 5 tournament win, he has rebounded from every defeat by winning his next impressively. Moreover, he did it against big names in the sport: Andrey Koreshkov, Paul Daley and Jacob Ortiz (OK, not that Jacob Ortiz). If Amosov can break that trend, it will signal the emergence of another Eastern Europe Bellator star on the heels of Vadim Nemkov’s ascent.