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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday brought UFC 240 to Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: COUNT THE BLESSINGS
Max Holloway’s unsuccessful experiment at 155 pounds almost made us forget one very important fact: He is the undisputed featherweight champion of the world. With that being said, watching Dustin Poirier put heavier hands on him while slowing down his signature pressure attacks also made it easy to completely space on the idea of Holloway being arguably the greatest featherweight of all-time. Holloway did a fantastic job of stating his case against Frankie Edgar. Looking faster and more durable than you’d expect for a 37-year-old, Edgar seemed to confuse Holloway with his movement -- until the Hawaiian got a sense for his timing and went to work. Holloway, who is always sharp offensively, appeared to be much more defensive-minded this time around and avoided the wild wars and turbulent exchanges for which he has been known at times.
In a patient and measured way, Holloway managed to add a win over yet another legend to his resume. Edgar, who is without a doubt a first ballot hall of famer, is the last of the long-established 145ers with a legitimate claim for a title shot that Holloway had yet to face. Finishing Aldo twice and earning a clear-cut decision over Edgar should firmly pass the baton to Holloway without a remaining question mark. Even if you still consider Aldo to be the greatest featherweight in history, it’s hard to deny that Holloway is slowly but surely closing that gap.
THE BAD: THE BUZZING OF FLIES
Much has been made about the flyweight division lately. Ever since the writing on the wall indicated that the smallest men’s weight class would be phased out of the UFC, the calls for saving it have been loud and consistent. As soon Henry Cejudo dethroned longtime titleholder Demetrious Johnson and set his sights on the bantamweight elite, all while “Mighty Mouse” jumped ship for One Championship, it seemed clear the 125ers would go the way of the dodo bird.
With Johnson gone, Cejudo occupied and the rank-and-file fighters in the division being unceremoniously dropped from the roster, it just seemed like the wheels had turned too much to go back. Somehow, the UFC appears to be reversing course and rededicating itself to the flyweights. Beyond Cejudo’s success in sending self-proclaimed killer of the division T.J. Dillashaw packing while claiming the vacant bantamweight belt much of that change in fortune is because of fights like Deiveson Figueiredo-Alexandre Pantoja.
As seems to be the tradition, the flyweight showcase was an incredible action-packed affair that combined diverse skills with blinding speed and agility. Figueiredo and Pantoja thrilled audiences enough to earn the “Fight of The Night” bonus and were the clear high point of the event as far as overall pure entertainment goes. Figueiredo’s decision win was packed to the brim with back-and-forth exchanges, wild striking and a frenetic full-throttle pace from bell to bell.
With such an obvious style matchup inviting such beautiful chaos and two men ranked so highly in the division, why was Figueiredo-Pantoja so low in the bout order? The two flyweight contenders were paired in the first televised preliminary fight but deserved so much more. Yes, those prelims were on the flagship ESPN network, so that’s worth mentioning, but their placement on the card betrays that timeslot and the importance of the fight itself.
To be quite frank, UFC 240 wasn’t exactly a thrill ride loaded with the most exciting names and intriguing matchups. Aside from the top fights, this card was hardly PPV-worthy. It begs the question: Why wouldn’t a bout with real stakes featuring two men who could certainly quench the bloodthirst of the general public be buried under fringe Top 20 fighters, largely untested prospects and veterans clinging to relevance?
There is a reason why the live crowds at combat sports events don’t get there early. There is a reason why the stands are normally fairly empty during most of the undercard bouts. That’s because people have been conditioned to believe that only the fights that are later in the card have any significance. That’s one reason why card placement is so important. The more dedicated fan knew what could transpire between Figueiredo and Pantoja. The fans who pay attention to the hierarchy of the 703 fighters currently listed on the official UFC website know to tune in early. However, the casual fans you’re hoping will buy the pay-per-view at the last minute or decide to check out some fights while channel surfing aren’t aware of such things. It’s important for the UFC to genuinely commit to the 125-pound weight class if it is indeed sticking around. Otherwise, the self-fulfilling prophecy of flyweights not moving the needle continues when they’re hidden in between a host of fights that have no bearing on pecking orders.
Remember the outcry about the Germaine de Randamie-Aspen Ladd main event a couple of weeks ago? Well, a large part of that involved the fact that Ladd had never fought on a main card prior to that event. Despite being a red-hot prospect with an impressive resume who was closing in on reaching the top of the mountain, many people were crying foul simply because they had been given little indication by the UFC that she was important enough to headline at all. If and when Figueiredo finds himself in front of Cejudo or current No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez, it would be nice if the average person watching knew beforehand why he belonged there.
THE UGLY: FEATHERS FLOATING AWAY
Despite two of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time being at the top of the heap, women’s featherweights haven’t been given much of a chance to thrive. There just simply isn’t enough of them on the UFC roster to form anything resembling a real division. Well over two years after the 145-pound weight class was officially introduced, only the champion is listed for its rankings.
Cristiane Justino’s victory in the co-main event was impressive. She pummeled Felicia Spencer throughout their 15-minute encounter, bouncing back after she surrendered her title to Amanda Nunes in December. Spencer should be commended, as well. Even though she was dominated, Spencer was composed, consistently tried to stick with her game plan and ate everything “Cyborg” threw at her. What makes this ugly is that it truly exposes the dearth of female featherweights in the UFC and casts a serious shadow on the division’s future. Nunes is vocal about her desire for a rematch with “Cyborg.” UFC President Dana White is also actively campaigning for it. That is indeed the only fight that should be made for the featherweight championship right now. Whether it happens or not is an entirely different story. However, that’s not to say that White’s claims of “Cyborg” not wanting the fight are true. The truth of the matter is that Justino’s contract with UFC ended upon the final horn in Alberta. Her relationship with the promotion has been strained many times, with a few regrettable public statements from White added to the mix. Additionally, she is a notoriously tough negotiator who is very aware of her brand and is unlikely to relent to the whims of the company when figuring out what her final paydays will look like.
On the bright side, coach Jason Parillo believes “Cyborg” will close out her career in the UFC. Apparently, “Cyborg” and her camp were seen sporting shirts advertising a hypothetical rematch, and White was optimistic about making it happen. However, before we start booking our flights and getting excited, let’s remember a lot of things have been said after fights that didn’t prove true in the long run. Even if it does take place, it doesn’t say much for the future of the weight class. Both Nunes and “Cyborg” have stated they don’t intend on sticking around much longer. With Spencer getting turned away and Megan Anderson falling short of expectations, there aren’t many true featherweights on the radar who can carry the torch. Having more and more bantamweights move up also seems like an unsustainable model.
If I was forced to call Miss Cleo and give you an answer, I’d say that “Cyborg” will end up in Bellator MMA to face off with Julia Budd. The lure of sponsorship money and the friendly relationship with Bellator President Scott Coker might be the deciding factors. Either way, it’s highly unlikely that there will be women’s featherweight division in the UFC in the future.