On Saturday night we witnessed a huge shuffle in the middleweight, welterweight, and heavyweight divisions. In the Fight of the Night of UFC 241, Yoel Romero battled to a close unanimous decision with Brazilian Paulo Costa, welterweight’s Anthony Pettis and the returning Nate Diaz also went the distance, while Daniel Cormier suffered his first defeat at heavyweight, in a fourth-round knockout loss to Stipe Miocic. Below I breakdown each fight and outline the potential opponents for both the winning and losing parties.
Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa:
In the three-round main card clash, Perrenial contender Yoel ‘Soldier of God’ Romero attempted to earn possibly his final professional title opportunity, while Brazil’s Costa eyed his first title tilt. In the closely contested back and forth, Costa narrowly edged out the Cuban via a 29-28 unanimous decision. Both men scored knockdowns in the opening minute, although Costa landed the more heavy and pressuring shots. Despite rolling with the majority of the strikes, Romero lost the opening round due to Costa’s forward pressing and advancing. The second round took a different pace, as Costa took somewhat of a breather. Landing a sharp jab and a lead left uppercut, Romero began to tot up some points and some significant strikes as well as a late takedown. The third round was judged in Costa’s favor as he landed multiple right kicks to the body and began to turn up the pace. With just his second loss in the promotion since 2013 Romero needs to evaluate what’s left for him in the UFC.
With Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya meeting at UFC 243 to determine the undisputed champion, the loser of said clash could find themselves meeting with Olympic silver medalist Romero. The winner of the contest in Australia will more than likely face a title defense against Paulo Costa. Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero obviously have a storied history, twice clashing for UFC gold, with Whittaker taking two decision victories, the rematch albeit controversial. Another possible route to title contention for Romero is a well overdue rematch with Jacaré Souza. The pair were scheduled to meet at UFC Fight Night Fort Lauderdale recently before a bout of pneumonia forced Romero from the headliner. Both grappling aces fought to a split decision back at UFC 194 almost five years ago, with an all-important spinning back-fist knockdown swaying the judges in Romero’s favor.
Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz:
Ending an almost three-year hiatus from the sport, Nate Diaz returned in scintillating form as he outstruck and out grappled Anthony Pettis consistently over three rounds. Displaying superior striking and wrestling, Diaz set the pace early and during the advertised grappling showdown, took Pettis’ back on multiple occasions. With two 30-27 and a bizarre 29-28 decision announced by Bruce Buffer, Diaz issued a callout to recent welterweight riser, Jorge Masvidal. In attendance, Masvidal seemed to welcome the fight as well as the entire crowd in the Honda Centre, explaining last week how he and his team would accept a fight with Diaz if it was offered.
Another name floated around by Diaz in the post-fight press conference, was former lightweight and featherweight champion, Conor McGregor. The score currently sits level at one apiece between Diaz and the Dubliner, with Diaz taking home a second-round rear-naked choke triumph at UFC 196, and McGregor scoring a close majority decision in their UFC 202 back and forth. The trilogy has some momentum once more, particularly with Diaz coming off a victory and McGregor in desperate need of a win. An interesting pairing for Pettis would be a possible rematch with Rafael dos Anjos, this time at welterweight, particularly with both men coming off decision losses. With Santiago Ponzinibbio undefeated in his last seven Octagon walks and on the road to recovery from illness, a match up with Pettis may also pave a clear path to title contention with a win.
Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic II:
The landscape at heavyweight is hugely different since Saturday night’s main event. After claiming the opening three rounds, Daniel Cormier fell victim to a masterstroke comeback from Stipe Miocic. Absorbing countless left hooks to the body over and over, Cormier eventually succumbed to strikes in the fourth round as Stipe unloaded against the fence. The narrative for Cormier since winning the heavyweight championship and achieving ‘champ champ’ status last summer was that ultimately, his next fight may be his last. In my opinion, a rubber match between Stipe and ‘DC’ is the most realistic possibility if Cormier decides against retiring. Cormier holds a knockout over Miocic, Miocic now holds a knockout over Cormier, there’s unfinished business.
If Cormier does decide to hang up his gloves, a rematch between Miocic and Francis Ngannou is a must. Ngannou has once again established himself as a top contender, with three consecutive knockout victories over Curtis Blaydes, and former champions Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.