What mattered most at UFC on ESPN+ 36 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. ‘Chaos’ from Covington
It’s hard to digest everything we saw from Colby Covington on Saturday. He put on the performance that many thought he would have against Tyron Woodley if the fight was going to go his way, but then afterward it got really crazy.
Covington’s post-fight interview, if you can call it that, with Jon Anik was not out of tone with what’s to be expected. But that was just the start. His interview with Megan Olivi on the post-fight show shortly thereafter was interrupted by a phone call from President Trump, which was just a wild moment to watch play out in real time. For the better or worse of both of them, that type of interaction puts MMA in a unique light.
That moment, unfortunately, was rapidly washed away by Covington’s behavior at the post-fight news conference. He had some highly divisive words about Woodley’s alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement and a number of other political issues, and it was troubling to watch play out.
That is, however, exactly what Covington wants. He feeds off of stirring the pot, and it appears both Covington and the UFC brass are more comfortable than ever with allowing him to say whatever he wants. And sadly, it’s likely to only get more controversial from here.
Within the bubble of MMA, Covington is doing what he feels is in his best interest to build his profile and financially lucrative fights for himself with the likes of Kamaru Usman, Jorge Masvidal and more. But in broader stokes, it’s uncomfortable to see Covington’s character fueling more hate at a time where that’s the last thing needed in our world.
2. The downfall of Tyron Woodley
Tyron Woodley was given a golden opportunity in his headliner with Covington. After two abysmal performances against Usman and Burns, he got a main event spot against a contender ranked higher than him at welterweight with the chance to change his fortunate at the drop of a time.
The former UFC champ was not able to take advantage, though. Woodley once again was unable to get out of first gear against Covington, succumbing to a lopsided TKO that ended with Covington doing exactly as promised: Getting pulled off as Woodley laid down in a pool of his own blood.
It was a pretty sad scene to watch play out. It took just a few minutes for Woodley to fall into the patterns that have led to back-to-back defeats coming in, and the writing was on the wall after the first round. Woodley hung tough against Covington’s pressure, but then it came to a conclusion with his body betraying him in the form of a rib injury.
No one – perhaps sans Covington – likely took much joy out of seeing one of the top 170-pound fighters of all time struggle while in agony. Perhaps it was a moment that was needed for Woodley to realize this is the end, though.
Only Woodley can decide what’s best for his future, but it’s safe to say he won’t be presented with a fight holding anywhere of the upside of Covington, should he decide to continue competing. After losing 14 straight rounds then succumbing to his first finish, he’s going to have to fight with someone where he has more to lose than gain.
It’s hard to imagine Woodley pushing forward when it seems like there are so many signs telling him to let go. We’ll see what happens, but if this was the end, he has nothing to be ashamed of.
3. Khamzat Chimaev’s hype train hits overdrive
All confidence in Khamzat Chimaev’s ability to beat Gerald Meerschaert prior to their middleweight bout was justified, but no one could have expected one of the sweetest one-punch opening sequence knockouts we’ve seen in some time.
It’s all aboard the Chimaev hype train after he throttled Meerschaert in just 17 seconds, and it really seems to be the case that this man is as legitimate as they come. There’s still some questions to be answered, such as what happens if he takes a clean strike on the button, or faces some other time of adversity, but so far that’s been a non-issue.
Chimaev seems to have the skill and mindset to take this thing the distance, and the world is his oyster at this point. Recording three UFC wins in 66 days (a record, by the way), is a remarkable accomplishment. There appears to be no end in sight to it, either.
Many are on board with pushing Chimaev to the moon immediately, but right now this is a whole lot of fun. The promotion can’t go backward in terms of giving him a lesser opponent, but the gimmick of fighting in rapid fashion while alternating weight classes is something that can go on for a while longer.
The potential Demian Maia fight is definitely an interesting challenge, but allowing Chimaev to slow the burn a touch and build up his record and highlight reel isn’t a bad call, either.
4. Donald Cerrone’s future
It’s a curious case with Donald Cerrone after going a fifth consecutive fight without a winning result against Niko Price in the co-main event.
“Cowboy” fought Price to a majority draw in a bout where he had to overcome a little early adversity to get the fight even. It would’ve been a loss, though, if not for the point deduction to Price in the first round for multiple eye pokes.
UFC president Dana White said post-fight he wants to have “the talk” with Cerrone, and that’s never a good thing. The record looks terrible on paper, but it only takes a little examination to see he lost to Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor and Anthony Pettis in that stretch before the draw with Price.
An argument can be made Cerrone should’ve won the Pettis and Price fights, too, so perhaps it isn’t so bad. How much longer is this going to go on, though? Cerrone has given his mind, body and soul, and at this point it’s clear what he is and will be for the remainder of his career.
There’s certainly room in the sport for Cerrone at this point. He needs to actually get his hand raised eventually, and with added desperation every time it doesn’t go his way, but it doesn’t feel like this is the end.
5. Mackenzie Dern takes advantage
Everyone was thinking the same thing when Randa Markos jumped into top position on Mackenzie Dern after the jiu-jitsu sensation slipped on the ground off a kick. It was some version of, “What are you thinking?”
Even upon reflection, it’s hard to understand exactly what Markos was going for by engaging with Dern on the ground early in the first round, especially because it panned out with a submission finish moments later.
Markos’ mistake was to Dern’s benefit, though, and now the surging strawweight prospect is 4-1 in the UFC, and tied for the most submission wins in the history of her division. It was hard to tell how seriously Dern was taking this sport in the early going, especially when she temporarily walked away to have a child when she still had an unbeaten record, but now she seems locked in.
Dern’s grappling is always going to be an asset that tips the scale in her favor. She teamed up with notable striking coach Jason Parillo ahead of this one, though, and despite not having the chance to show it, all signs point to her working hard on that aspect of the game.
By no means should Dern be tossed into the title conversation just yet, but she appears to have turned a corner where things are becoming extremely promising.