UFC 267 Takeaways: Old man strength, dominant Russians prevail

UFC bantamweight star Petr Yan. (John Locher/AP)

The UFC returned to the aptly named Fight Island on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island for the first time since January and Saturday’s stacked UFC 267 card had an international flavour that delivered a slew of memorable results.

Eleven countries in total were represented at Etihad Arena on the 14-fight card on which Russian fighters went 8-1 against non-Russian opponents.

The preliminary card concluded with four consecutive knackering knock-arounds where the eight competitors landed a combined 764 strikes in one hour of in-cage fight time.

That set the tone for a thrilling six-fight main card that saw a new light-heavyweight champion crowned and an interim bantamweight title awarded.

Teixeira reaches pinnacle almost 20 years after MMA debut

At their best, sports can simultaneously entertain and inspire and Glover Teixiera’s performance in the main event ticked both boxes. The Brazilian earned the biggest win of his career with a second-round submission over Jan Blachowicz.

The 42-year-old is the second-oldest champion in UFC history behind Randy Couture, who won the heavyweight title from Tim Sylvia in 2007 several months before his 44th birthday.

The improbable achievement comes after Teixiera worked his way back into title contention following a previous title fight loss to Jon Jones plus knockout losses to Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson.

Teixiera, who debuted in 2002 and holds wins over former UFC champions Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rcco Rodriguez, has now won seven consecutive outings over the past three years.

Teixeira literally cried tears of joy as the gentle giant exited the Octagon following his inspiring post-fight remarks.

It’s the type of title victory that can be collectively celebrated by anyone in the MMA community. Those types of wins are few and far between in this brutal sport.

Chimaev sends message in anticipated return

Khamzat Chimaev burst onto the UFC scene in 2020 with three dominant victories in a three-month span before a bout with COVID-19 and subsequent lengthy recovery resulted in him being out of action for 13 months. Well, the Chechen who lives and trains in Sweden returned with an emphatic first-round stoppage victory over Li Jingliang and reminded anyone who might’ve forgotten that he appears to be a legitimate future title contender.

Chimaev rendered Jingliang unconscious with a rear-naked choke and it only took him a few breaths beyond the three-minute mark of the first round to do so.

Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is the only fighter riding a longer active finishing streak than Chimaev’s run of four in a row.

In fact, Chimaev has been a statistical anomaly, landing 254 total strikes in his four UFC bouts while absorbing only two. A 127:1 strikes landed-to-absorbed ratio is unheard of.

Chimaev has barely broken a sweat on his way to a 10-0 pro record and his rise to contender status is unlike anything UFC fans have seen in years. Prior to his year-plus layoff he was in line to face top-three welterweight contender Leon Edwards last December but it fell apart after Chimaev’s COVID diagnosis.

Fewer than half of Chimaev’s 10 pro wins have been at welterweight – he also regularly competes in the bigger middleweight division – so scheduling him against a top-three contender so early in his career speaks to his immense talent and potential.

The 27-year-old claims he’s capable of beating any welterweight on the planet right now and, realistically, between this latest performance and his overall momentum, there’s a chance he’d be listed as the odds-on betting favourite over any active welterweight not named Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington.

Yan’s title worth more than other interim belts

If you appreciate the intricacies of elite-level MMA then you undoubtedly loved UFC 267’s co-main event. Petr Yan had his hand raised thanks to a unanimous decision over Cory Sandhagen, earning an interim bantamweight title and Fight of the Night performance bonus for his efforts.

Yan was originally scheduled to fight reigning 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling in a rematch of their controversial UFC 259 fight this past March in which Sterling became the first fighter in UFC history to win a title on a disqualification after Yan landed an illegal knee late in the fourth round of a fight he was winning handily.

The UFC has far too frequently over the years handed out interim titles haphazardly either as a marketing tool or as a punitive way to send a message to an undisputed champion. There are no qualms with this one, though.

Sterling was replaced by Sandhagen one month ago after not receiving medical clearance to fight. Considering how the first fight between Sterling and Yan unfolded, an interim title fight involving Yan was a fitting solution.

Yan was outstruck by Sandhagen in opening round but relentlessly built momentum throughout the fight – just like he did against Sterling as a matter of fact.

“Everyone knows I am the real champion,” Yan said though his translator during his post-fight interview before adding that he expects his next fight will either be against Sterling or former champion T.J. Dillashaw.

Dillashaw returned from an extended layoff following a two-year drug suspension in July, narrowly defeating Sandhagen in another five-round thriller. Dillashaw never lost his title to another fighter – he was stripped of it – so he also has a legitimate claim that he’s the best 135-pound fighter in the sport.

If a Sterling-Yan rematch isn’t next, Yan-Dillashaw would be as exciting and technical a style matchup as you could piece together in any weight class.

Makhachev enters lightweight title conversation

Islam Makhachev is the perceived heir apparent to his teammate, friend and former 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

A scintillating submission victory over Dan Hooker moved him one step closer to the belt Nurmagomedov, who was in Makhachev’s corner on Saturday, officially vacated earlier this year.

Makhachev has now won nine in a row following his first and only loss back in 2015. He said after the win he’s ready for a title shot.

Charles Oliveira is the current champion. He is set to defend his belt against Dustin Poirier, the No. 1 contender and consensus top active lightweight in MMA, at UFC 269 in December.

No. 2 Justin Gaethje and No. 4 Michael Chandler meet at next week’s UFC 268. The winner of that fan-friendly scrap will remain in the mix and No. 3 Beneil Dariush can’t be forgotten.

The UFC lightweight division is often a hectic hierarchy. Makhachev was the No. 5-ranked contender coming into UFC 267. Regardless of which number he has beside his name, what matters most is Makhachev is fighting as well as anyone in the division at the moment.

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