UFC London takeaways: Resetting the heavyweight title mix after Blaydes-Aspinall

MMA

What were the biggest moments at UFC Fight Night in London? Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi offer up their takeaways from an action-packed event in England.

What does the UFC do next with Blaydes, heavyweight division?

Raimondi: The UFC has had a pair of excellent main events for the last two weeks. Both fights — Brian Ortega vs. Yair Rodriguez and Curtis Blaydes vs. Tom Aspinall — were designed to bring clarity to the top of their respective divisions, featherweight and heavyweight. Unfortunately, neither fight could deliver that due to regrettable injuries suffered by Ortega and Aspinall in the first rounds.

On Saturday, in the opening seconds, Aspinall suffered a knee injury during an exchange with Blaydes. He went down after throwing a leg kick, clutching the joint and clearly in a lot of pain. It seemed to be just an accident that wasn’t caused by anything in particular. But Blaydes was awarded the TKO win due to the injury.

ESPN had Blaydes ranked No. 4 at heavyweight and Aspinall No. 6. The headlining fight in London — Aspinall is from England — was supposed to hash out one of the next top contenders for the UFC heavyweight title. Francis Ngannou is still out due to knee surgery. Many believe former champion Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones could fight later this year for the interim belt, though it’s dependent on Ngannou’s recovery.

Blaydes vs. Aspinall could have set up the next contender after the Miocic vs. Jones winner. A fight at UFC Paris in September between Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa is also crucial in the heavyweight hierarchy. But Ngannou has already beaten Gane and Blaydes. The fight Saturday was supposed to be a big test for the 29-year-old prospect Aspinall to see if he could make that move up to the elite tier of the division. Now, it might be a while to find out if he can do that.

While the way this fight ended dashed the UFC’s plans, all is not lost. Miocic vs. Jones makes sense for the interim belt, with Ngannou likely out until 2023 and still in a contract dispute with the UFC. Ngannou could very well leave the promotion next year and go box. Jones is the greatest light heavyweight of all time and Miocic is the most successful heavyweight of all time. That is a very marketable matchup with history on the line for both men.

Meanwhile, the UFC can match Blaydes up with the Gane vs. Tuivasa winner as the situation with Ngannou, Jones and Miocic gets cleared up. Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov are in the mix, too, a step below. Lewis owns a knockout over Blaydes, while Lewis and Blaydes have beaten Volkov.

The outcome Saturday is unfortunate for Aspinall and Blaydes, too. But Blaydes shouldn’t be discredited. He has a terrific résumé, and his only losses in the UFC going back to 2016 are to Lewis and Ngannou twice. Blaydes should still be in a strong position coming off this not-so-satisfying win with potential fresh matchups with Miocic, Jones, Gane or Tuivasa ahead of him.


There’s substance behind Paddy Pimblett’s hype

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Paddy Pimblett emotionally discusses dedicating his win to two friends who died this past week.

Okamoto: It pays to stand out in mixed martial arts. Every day, fighters try to do it however they can. The best are the ones who don’t have to try. It comes naturally. Pimblett is a fantastic example of that right now. He’s getting a “UFC push,” and building some “hype,” but that’s not stemming from any concerted effort by Pimblett himself. He’s just doing him.

He’s blowing up to arguably unhealthy weights between his fights because that’s what he wants to do. He’s dropping his pants to the haters and cameras at a weigh-in because he wants to. Most importantly, his victories in the Octagon are legitimate, because that’s what he really wants. He’s been matchmade appropriately, he’s faced some adversity, and he’s 3-0 with three finishes. Add in the message he delivered on suicide prevention Saturday after the fight was nothing short of beautiful. In back-to-back fights now, Pimblett has addressed mental health (on Saturday) and said no child in Liverpool will ever go hungry if he ever makes superstar money in MMA (in March). He didn’t do either of those things for attention.

Yes, Pimblett is becoming a star because he’s getting a push. But he’s also turning into a star because he’s authentic, and that’s something any brand can get behind.


McCann has star potential, let’s give her a real test

Raimondi: Molly McCann is one of the pound-for-pound most entertaining fighters on the UFC roster. She had another exciting finish on Saturday in London, bludgeoning Hannah Goldy with strikes, including a spinning back fist. Four months ago, the Liverpool-born fighter beat Luana Carolina with a spinning back fist in London. It’s clear to everyone that the UFC can put McCann’s name on a card in the United Kingdom, she’ll sell tickets and, against the right opponent, she can create highlights and moments. After her finishes, she often jumps out of the cage to celebrate with the fans. In March, she grabbed a replica UFC title from a fan and brought that back with her to the Octagon.

Now, it might be time to see if she can go after the actual UFC title. McCann is on a three-fight winning streak in the women’s flyweight division and it’s time for a step up. Maybe before the end of the year, the UFC can bring McCann to the United States and give her a big fight on a pay-per-view card. No one is saying for McCann to fight champion Valentina Shevchenko right now; McCann lost to Lara Procopio just last year, after all. But the UFC has something in “Meatball Molly.” She has a ton of charisma and all of her fights are exciting. If she can pick up a win over someone like Jennifer Maia, Amanda Ribas or Andrea Lee, it could cement her as one of the biggest stars in the women’s divisions.

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