UFC 267 was filled with amazing storylines. On a card in which Glover Teixeira became the oldest first-time champion and Petr Yan established himself as the world’s finest bantamweight, an unranked fighter with only three fights to his name stole the show.
What Khamzat Chimaev did in destroying Li Jingliang on Saturday was like a cornerback in the NFL vowing pregame to intercept Tom Brady four times and take two of them to the house, then going out to do it while also sacking him twice on the blitz.
Chimaev entered Saturday’s fight 3-0 in the UFC, with two bouts at middleweight and one at welterweight. Now, he looms as perhaps the most logical contender for the winner of Saturday’s welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Colby Covington.
Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the current rankings, Gilbert Burns, Leon Edwards and Vicente Luque, all have cases of varying degrees of strength for being next.
But what Chimaev has done in his four UFC fights is sort of what Ronda Rousey did when she joined the UFC in 2013.
Usman already has victories over Covington, Burns and Edwards, though to be fair, his win against Edwards was six years ago and Edwards has won nine in a row since.
Chimaev, though, is making good fighters look like they’re chunky kids in the gym who need to be encouraged to work out a bit. He plays with them. He shot on Jingliang seconds into the fight, lifted him into the air and carried him over to where UFC president Dana White was seated.
This was seconds into the fight, and Chimaev was already calling for the likes of ex-heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. He’s not only filled with talent, but also bravado. Some fans will love that and others will hate that, but there’s a big market for it.
Which fight would be bigger for Usman were he to win again than Chimaev? I don’t think there’s any doubt that would be the biggest one in terms of fan interest, ticket sales and PPV buys. The others would make great fights; that would make a great event.
There’s a difference.
On to my other thoughts on an eventful UFC 267:
Teixeira’s feel-good win
Glover Teixeira, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Thursday, celebrated by submitting Jan Blachowicz in the second round with a rear-naked choke to win the light heavyweight championship.
Everyone who knows him likes him and there was a lot of people in MMA happy to see Teixeira finally getting to the top after 20 years in the sport. One of them was his friend, ex-UFC champion and Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell.
They were teammates and when Teixeira had visa issues and couldn’t get into the UFC, Liddell was constantly talking him up. He watched the show like a proud papa on Saturday.
“For so much of his career, he was stuck in Brazil because of the visa issues and it sucked, because you were worried he would never get the chance,” Liddell told Yahoo Sports. “He’s such a great guy and always so positive and he works so hard. He’s a guy who always kept getting better and never would give up.”
Liddell said that because Teixeira worked so hard, he made himself into a very capable striker.
But that wasn’t how he was when he joined the team.
“[In the second round] he caught him with that hook and took him down again and when you let Glover get your back, it’s trouble,” Liddell said. “People forget how good his jiu-jitsu is, but when he came to us, he was a jiu-jitsu guy.”
Yan establishes himself
Petr Yan’s unanimous decision win over Cory Sandhagen was impressive enough in its own right. But Yan had to adjust after Sandhagen had a strong first round, and he did, sweeping the last four rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
In the process, he won the interim bantamweight title and established himself as the No. 1 bantamweight in the world. He’ll fight champion Aljamain Sterling next in a unification, but the biggest challenge on the horizon for Yan is T.J. Dillashaw.
Yan’s boxing is better than Dillashaw’s — it might be better than anyone in the UFC’s outside of Max Holloway’s — but Dillashaw has great footwork and strong takedowns. Sandhagen couldn’t get Yan down at any point.
One has to imagine Dillashaw will. That’s when we’ll learn how good Yan really has become.
Makhachev nearing a title shot
As it has been for years, the lightweight division is crowded with elite fighters. Champion Charles Oliveira will face Dustin Poirier in December, and No. 2 Justin Gaethje will meet No. 4 Michael Chandler at UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden next week.
No. 5 Islam Makhachev, who submitted No. 6 Dan Hooker in the first round, is also in that mix.
Makhachev is now 20-1 and will be a handful for any of the elite lightweights. Maybe a bout with No. 3 Beneil Dariush is in order, but Makhachev needs a big fight and he needs it soon.
Solid B+ to Amanda Ribas, who rebounded from a loss with an impressive win over Virna Jandiroba. Most impressive were the adjustments she made when she came out for the second. … I generally don’t believe in banning an official for one bad outing, but in a sport where the fighters’ lives are at risk, it’s different. Hopefully, Vyacheslav Kiselev has worked his last fight after completing messing up the Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos-Benoit St-Dennis fight. … I liked what I saw of Anthony Petroski and would gladly watch him again. … Lerone Murphy is quickly becoming a name to know in the featherweight division.