Saturday’s UFC 212 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Jeunesse Arena.
1 – Max Holloway
Beating the greatest featherweight of all-time in his backyard while earning undisputed champion status and a post-fight bonus pretty much seals the deal for Max Holloway as last Saturday night’s big winner. And Hawaii’s first UFC champion since Hall of Famer BJ Penn didn’t just beat Jose Aldo in Rio; he stopped him in emphatic fashion, signaling the start of a new era in a division Aldo ruled for years, with the only hiccup being a brief stretch when he was dethroned by Conor McGregor in 2015. So what’s next for “Blessed?” First off, don’t expect him to be complacent or wonder how he will get up for the next fight. As he told me before the fight, “It’s not going to be ‘Now what?’ It’s going to be ‘Who’s next?’” So the next and best option is likely Frankie Edgar, considering that Holloway has already defeated Ricardo Lamas (#3) and Cub Swanson (#4), as well as No. 8-ranked contender Jeremy Stephens. But what about the last man to beat Holloway, one Mr. McGregor? Sure, the Irish superstar has spent the last year fighting at 155 and 170 pounds and he is currently negotiating a boxing match with future Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr., but if he wants to regain the title he never lost in the Octagon, why not tackle Holloway? Ah, to be a 25-year-old champion with options upon options. Welcome to the big time, Max.
1a – Frankie Edgar
Frankie Edgar was in Brazil Saturday night, but he didn’t put the gloves on, so why is he one of Saturday’s big winners? Because if Aldo defeated Holloway, the odds of “The Answer” getting a third title fight against the Brazilian sat somewhere between slim and none. And the New Jersey veteran knew it too, even though he kept any rooting interests to himself in the lead-up to UFC 212. So after bouncing back from his last loss to Aldo at UFC 200 with victories over Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez, there is no man with a greater claim to a title fight against the new champ than Edgar. And putting all that aside, that’s a heck of a great style matchup as well.
2 – Claudia Gadelha
When a fighter switches camps, it’s seen as part of the game. But when a fighter at the top of the sport with everything to lose in every fight does it, that’s a little more newsworthy. Claudia Gadelha left the Nova Uniao team she had spent her entire career with after her second loss to strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk last July. And while she picked up a win over Cortney Casey in her first fight with her new team in November, it was last Saturday that she showed the true bonding with her squad as she submitted Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a little over three minutes. The number one contender at 115 pounds took a risk in changing course midstream and leaving Brazil for America, but it looks to be paying off, as she finished the No. 2-ranked contender in less than a round, something Jedrzejczyk couldn’t do in her UFC 205 bout with Kowalkiewicz. But is it time for a third fight with Jedrzejczyk? Outside of Rose Namajunas, there’s no one with a solid case for a title shot at this point, so why not? I’d love to see it.
3 – Yancy Medeiros
On a huge night for Hawaiian MMA, Yancy Medeiros did his part with a second-round stoppage of Brazilian vet Erick Silva. It was the typical Medeiros fight, as he took his share of shots before roaring back to finish. Yet unlike those other wins, this one takes Medeiros to a different place in his career, as he is now 2-0 at welterweight with two finishes, and he can start getting the kind of fights that can put him in the rankings and start moving him up to the top. Who wouldn’t love seeing Medeiros fighting guys like Matt Brown, Donald Cerrone or Tim Means? The kid always puts on a show, and now there can be a purpose behind it.
4 – Paulo Borrachinha
If it wasn’t clear before Saturday night, after Paulo Borrachinha stopped Oluwale Bamgbose, there is no denying that the Brazilian prospect is the fighter with the biggest upside and star potential from that nation in a long time. Is he a finished product? No, not yet. But as he gets moved up the middleweight ladder, he will put on some fun fights while having the ability to end matters with one punch – or in the case of UFC 212 – several of them. In terms of excitement, there’s no substitute for an offensive-minded fighter, and Borrachinha believes he can knock anyone out on fight night, and he’s willing to put it all on the line to make those thoughts reality. Skeptical? You want to see him fight again soon, don’t you?
5 – Brian Kelleher
If you picked Brian Kelleher to win his UFC debut against Iuri Alcantara last weekend, you are either from his hometown in New York or you’re someone I’d like to select Powerball numbers for me. Everyone else assumed that the late replacement for Felipe Arantes was going to get beaten by the Brazilian contender and then come back with a full training camp and show what he could really do. Then the Octagon gate closed, and Kelleher pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year, submitting Alcantara in less than two minutes. Then “Boom” gave an entertaining post-fight interview as he verbally jabbed with the stunned Brazilian crowd, and by the end of the night, you knew his name. That’s called a successful UFC debut.