The UFC will visit Madison Square Garden for the sixth time in the promotion’s history on Saturday (main card Sportzshala+ PPV at 10pm ETpreviews on Sportzshalaews/Sportzshala+ at 8:00 pm) with a middleweight title bout between Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira.
New York is used to the UFC bringing deep cards to MSG. This fight is no different, including a strawweight title fight between Carla Esparza and Zhang Weili, and Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler at lightweight.
Here are some notes and nuggets related to UFC 281 pay-per-view and sports in general.
At 155 pounds the changing of the guard is coming.
The lightweight division has a new champion in Islam Makhachev, but other than that, the division is about to be transformed. Over the past five years, the top names have essentially been the same: Poirier, Chandler, and Justin Gaethje. Before: Tony Ferguson. Plus Conor McGregor, of course, always looms large despite just one UFC lightweight win. And most recently: Charles Oliveira.
However, things are likely to change. All those names that I just mentioned, for the most part, have already fought. So, for the sake of fresh matches and rejection of newbie opportunities, they are going to have fight down in rank. This makes Saturday’s Poirier vs. Chandler fight a very important fight, as the loser will inevitably be in a much tougher position for their next booking.
One of the new names looking to fight is Rafael Fiziev. The UFC is interested in reserving Fiziev against Gaethje, but Gaethje did not jump on it. You have to wonder if that might change after Makhachev toppled Oliveira last month. If the UFC tells Gaethje that he can get a title shot against the new champion after defeating Fiziev, it will be a great incentive.
Speaking of lightweight title fights…
Right after UFC 280 last month in Abu Dhabi, it looked like we were all ready to see featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski move up in weight to challenge Makhachev for a second belt. But if you look at their social media feeds lately, that contest is in jeopardy.
Volkanovskiy asked Makhachev to be a man of his word and accept the fight, and Makhachev replied that it was not for him to choose the next opponent. Behind the scenes, the UFC has doubts, and those hesitations are in line with their outlook on the business. Champion versus champion is great, except for the fact that one of those champions has to lose. And if it’s Volkanovski, the UFC probably doesn’t like the idea of (perhaps) diminishing his appeal as a featherweight champion. For the record, I think Volkanovski deserves this opportunity and I hope the UFC accepts the fight.
For now, though, it looks like it could be Makhachev versus another opponent in March, while Volkanovski takes on a featherweight contender in Perth in February. At the moment it is still up in the air.
Last Ride with Frankie Edgar
When the UFC considered booking Edgar’s final fight, there was serious talk that he would be against Adrian Yanez. Personally, I’m glad they went to Chris Gutierrez. Both fights are difficult for Edgar, but obviously Janez known like a heavy hitter. And while Edgar is perfectly capable of winning this fight, he would also have a higher chance of being knocked out, which literally no one wants to see.
My favorite fight of all time is Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II when he went through probably the worst round of his career to open the fight and then fight to a draw. By the way, I really thought he won that fight, and I thought he won a rematch against Benson Henderson in 2012 that would have made him a two-time lightweight champion. And my favorite strike is Edgar’s sprint to “Kick in the Door” by The Notorious BIG. I look forward to his last strike and the sport will miss him.
I believe one of the reasons people fall in love with mixed martial arts is because it is so private. Spectators get to know the athletes in ways you just can’t get in other sports. There is a better understanding of what these athletes are sacrificing and risking, which makes their wins and losses so much more meaningful.
The two fighters at UFC 281 that fans will love the most are Dan Hooker and Dominick Reyes. In an interview recently given to Australia’s Submission Radio, Hooker called his first-round losses “ego death.” it is impossible to break away from two losses. But at the same time, he also said that two losses would not hide him from the holes in his game.
Saturday’s fight against Claudio Puelles is an important one for Hooker. Since October 2021, he has lost two fights in a common cage under five minutes. Amid the pandemic, few UFC fighters have donated as much as Hooker as he has regularly been subject to New Zealand’s COVID-19 quarantine requirements. As a viewer, regardless of the outcome, you want Hooker’s sacrifices to be rewarded with better performance.
The same goes for Reyes, who has lost three fights in a row, two by knockout. The 32-year-old athlete took a break for more than a year, partly due to the health of his brain. He moved his camp for this fight to Connecticut to train with Glover Teixeira and Pereira. This is the same Reyes who nearly defeated Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title shot in 2020. Win or lose on Saturday, you want to see a performance that looks like what Reyes.
monosodium glutamate baby
I’ve been lucky enough to cover UFC events around the world and I tell you there really is nothing like a Saturday night in midtown Manhattan with all the history in that building. It feels like everything is up to par. I really felt it on the night of the first UFC 205 event in 2016, but it keeps happening every time. Feels like a big fight.
So, in conclusion, before we get to this weekend’s fights, my three best UFC moments at Madison Square Garden:
3. TJ Dillashaw knocked out Cody Garbrandt, 2017
As far as MMA beef goes, it was about as real as it gets. The emotions associated with this went beyond just the two men involved. It’s been a fighting week for camps, families, and everyone around Dillashaw and Garbrandt due to history, leaked knockout footage from camp, and animosity between trainers Urijah Faber and Dwayne Ludwig. And then the momentum changes, in a two-round fight. Unforgettable.
2. McGregor becomes a two-time champion, 2016
Obviously, one of the main reasons McGregor is such a star is because he completed at the most important moments of his career. Lately it has fallen, but in his run to the top he didn’t just win, he performed. Making history the way he did, during the UFC’s first trip to New York, is what made him a global star, even more so than the knockout of Jose Aldo.
1. Rose Namajunas upsets Joanna Jedrzejczyk, 2017
I don’t think anything will ever top this. If I don’t think McGregor’s double championship moment will surpass him, then what? Anyone who has watched the Namayuns get upset knows that it doesn’t get any better. Nobody believed that Namajunas would win this fight. Jedrzejczyk watched her during the weigh-in while Namajunas silently recited the Lord’s Prayer. And the image of Namayuna crying as the belt wrapped around her waist, straight out of the movie.