UFC 236 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
If it feels odd for a sporting competition to serve as a palate cleanser to the actual sport, well, welcome to MMA.
UFC 236 was a great card. Not a good one. A great one. One of the best fighters in the world at any weight class, featherweight champion Max Holloway, moved up to 155 pounds to face a streaking and very dangerous Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight title. Both men are well-rounded and aggressive, making this a tough one to call. The fact that Poirier submitted Holloway with a spectacular armbar from mount was clearly a moment to keep in mind, but with it occurring seven years ago, how much of a harbinger could it really be?
In the co-main event, the electrifying Israel Adesanya faced pressure fighter extraordinaire Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight strap.
The UFC would appear to be cutting off its nose to spite its face by using interim titles of questionable value to add short-term intrigue at the expense of its own long-term integrity, but what else is new? Throw it on the concern pile along with Conor McGregor, TJ Dillashaw, BJ Penn and the rest. Heck, throw Ronda Rousey in there too.
Maybe for one night, though, the sport could have itself a night off from the drumbeat of scandal and oddity. Wouldn't that be nice? And the loaded UFC 236 card looked like just the ticket.
So what happened? As always, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers from UFC 236, which just so happened to be the company's first pay-per-view on ESPN.
Winner: Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier's signature walkout song is an old James Brown track: "I paid the cost to be the boss," Brown croons. And that's just about perfect.
It's been a long road, much of it unpaved, but Poirier is here, and he is your new UFC interim lightweight champion after taking a hard-earned unanimous decision over Max Holloway.
The dynamic was obvious from the get-go. Both men are razor-sharp strikers who look to lead the dance. Holloway goes primarily for volume; Poirier aims for power. Who would impose their will? Poirier answered the question early with huge shots, including enough to the side of Holloway's face that it partially closed his right eye. Whenever he hurt Holloway, he continued to charge after his opponent. He landed big shots but couldn't get the big-hearted Hawaiian to the canvas.
In the middle rounds, Holloway rallied. Poirier took damage of his own and appeared to get tired. Holloway never dialed down his pressure and began to find the mark with punch combinations, even if the partially closed eye took a bit of the starch out of his shots.
Still, the tide never fully turned, and in the fourth, Poirier opened a hellacious cut on Holloway's forehead, big enough to compel the ringside physician to come in for a closer look. Holloway fought on, but that sealed the deal, with Poirier essentially getting conservative down the stretch to preserve the unanimous-decision win.
"It's been a long time, brother," Poirier told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "This is my 23rd or 24th fight. I fell down, I got back up. I earned this. I paid for this in blood. ... There was a time in the third round when I got hurt and I felt the fight was slipping away, man, but I said f--k it."
Poirier deserves the shine. He truly did all of this the hard way. Since returning to lightweight in 2015, the 30-year-old has gone 9-1 (1), with six performance bonuses along the way. His last three before meeting Holloway were Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. That has to make this that much sweeter.
Holloway's going to be just fine. The featherweight champion will return to his division. He didn't rule out competing in any division, but one has to imagine he'll go back to 145 pounds at least for the time being.
Arguably the bad news for Poirier: Now he probably has to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated Russian who might be the pound-for-pound scariest fighter on earth. But if anyone can beat Nurmagomedov, it might just be the pride of Lafayette, Louisiana.
Winners: Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum
The metaphor was apt: the bull and the matador. In the run-up to the fight, both men used it, both knowing full well which role he held, both meaning it as a nod toward their own advantage.
In what is certainly the early favorite for 2019 Fight of the Year, the matador outdueled the bull, with Israel Adesanya overcoming the first true adversity he's known in the UFC to defeat Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision and capture the interim middleweight title.
The roles were clear throughout. Gastelum is one of the greatest pressure fighters in the UFC today. He pushes—some might say "bulls"—his way forward, swings with awful intentions and never gets tired. Adesanya is the long-range sniper, seeking the perfect moment to put something stiff right on the point of your chin.
It would take far too long to chronicle the substantial offense. There was a lot of it. In the first, Gastelum served Adesanya his first UFC knockdown. It looked like Adesanya might wilt as Gastelum continuously put himself squarely in his face, swinging for the fences at every turn.
But then Adesanya gathered and began to find his range. The advantage swung back and forth. When Gastelum was in control, Adesanya looked fragile and tentative. When Adesanya grabbed the reins, Gastelum seemed wild and sloppy. They traded big shots and knockdowns, with Gastelum favoring big swings and The Last Stylebender mixing in low and high kicks, the occasional knee and even a spinning elbow or two.
As the championship rounds began, Adesanya began to wear the damage, with the side of his face swollen and bruised. But he's tougher, far tougher, than his thin frame might suggest to the uninitiated.
In the fifth, Gastelum's gas tank appeared to finally empty. Adesanya came on and finally forced some blood from the bull. A frenetic grappling exchange and a few knockdowns nearly forced a stoppage win for Adesanya before the final horn sounded.
Adesanya won the fight, but Gastelum was as tough and as talented as advertised. He's also still only 27 years old and will be back, even if he was on the wrong end of this memorable bullfight.
Meanwhile, the interim champ moves up another rung. Even as they put the belt around his waist and tears streamed down his face, you couldn't help but think about Adesanya's next step. He's a perfect 17-0 and 6-0 in the UFC after surviving the toughest test of his career. A unification bout with lineal champ and fellow Oceania resident Robert Whittaker is already percolating and all but a done deal for Adesanya's next engagement.
Winner: Khalil Rountree
When Khalil Rountree recently went to train in Thailand, he didn't come back empty-handed. Oh, no. He returned bearing gifts.
A +140 underdog heading into his fight with Eryk Anders, Rountree brought those gifts. A more accurate illustration would be of a man springing a trap. Rountree injured Anders with relentless leg kicks that slapped home time after time. He fired them with no windup, meaning Anders had little to no chance of checking them.
After he had his opponent hobbled, Rountree went in for the finish. Behind a hissing right and left hook, Rountree dropped Anders no fewer than four times in the second round. Each time, improbably, Anders returned to his feet—though it probably didn't hurt that Rountree insisted on trying to be Mister One-Shot Walkoff instead of following up and going in for the stoppage. Though the former University of Alabama linebacker is as tough as they come, he may have been too tough for his own good here. While he never once sought a way out, it was clear Rountree's newly polished skill set had him hurt and befuddled. He had no answer.
The third round was better for Anders, but this was Rountree's fight, and he took the unanimous-decision victory. He was always a dynamic striker but this was another level. With Rountree and other talents like Johnny Walker, the light heavyweight division is suddenly alight with talent and great matchups.
Loser: All Those Unused Judges' Scorecards
With Nikita Krylov, the pleasure, as always, is with the fans.
Few fighters are associated with the same level of sustained hyperaggression as Krylov. The judges have no idea who he is. They eat hot dogs while he fights. Is he very skilled? Nah. How long does he sustain his onslaught? Historically, maybe four minutes. But don't let skills get in the way of a good scrap.
Taking on a solid opponent in Ovince Saint Preux, everyone's favorite cult-hero light heavyweight made his second UFC walk after an 18-month stint in the MMA hinterlands. His return fight was a loss, but this one wasn't.
Krylov showed much improved grappling and cardio to earn a second-round chokeout of OSP. He appeared to stay within himself just a bit more than he once did, and that made all the difference because he wasn't burned out before the end of the first round. It also avenges the submission loss he suffered to OSP back in 2014.
These are encouraging developments for any MMA fan who likes entertainment. For the record, Krylov is now 25-6 as a pro, with no contest—not a single one—going the distance. To the dismay of activist judges everywhere, he's back.
Winner: Referee George Allen
Tired of the endless warnings over infractions? Tired of watching referees plead with fighters to follow the rules, like a frazzled parent trying to convince someone, anyone, to eat some vegetables? Tired of seemingly endless sequences of inactivity where no one is making any discernible effort to improve their position?
So is George Allen.
We all spend plenty of time bellyaching about bad refereeing. That should cut both ways. Allen made a big impression Saturday by making a conscious effort to separate and restart fighters who had stalled out. And in the coup de grace, he took a point from undercarder Zelim Imadaev for fence-grabbing early in the first round.
No one wants an overly active ref, but Allen did a great job walking the line Saturday. (Daniel Cormier, with the cageside broadcasting team, was certainly a fan.) Here's to a guy who's willing and able to actually enforce the rules, to the benefit of fans and fighters alike.
Loser: Boston Salmon
Welcome to the UFC, Boston Salmon.
Salmon (pronounced SAUL-mun, this isn't a seafood restaurant) has long garnered attention for his dynamic knockout-seeking style, first on the smaller circuits and then on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series. In a juicy slot opening the ESPN broadcast against action-oriented but relatively unknown Khalid Taha, Salmon's UFC debut proper had everything but confetti and mini quiche.
Then Taha landed a two-piece combination in the opening moments that put Salmon on the mat. A few quick ground shots ensured he never got back up. Salmon protested, but it was a clear stoppage, and it came just 25 seconds into the contest.
According to the broadcast team, it was the fifth-fastest knockout in UFC bantamweight history. Mama said there'd be days like this. Sorry, Salmon.
Loser: Curtis Millender
Two fights, two months, two lopsided losses for Curtis Millender.
A charismatic kickboxer, Millender was 17-3 overall and 3-0 in the UFC coming into 2019. In March, jiu-jitsu ace Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos exposed Millender's grappling (offensive and defensive) by taking him to the mat and choking him out less than three minutes into the opening round.
That was the main event of UFC Fight Night 146. On Saturday, he was the featured bout on the UFC Fight Pass portion of the program. This time, against Belal Muhammad, Millender started fast with sharp striking, but when Muhammad put him on his back, he stayed there. Muhammad didn't need a stoppage to get a statement win, pushing the pace and seeming to rob Millender of his desire to be in the building.
If Millender wants to get back on track, he'll need to figure out how to contend with higher-level grapplers. If he wants to really cash in on his talent, sooner or later he'll need to shore it up.
UFC 236 Full Card Results
Dustin Poirier def. Max Holloway by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)—wins UFC interim lightweight championship
Israel Adesanya def. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision (48-46, 48-46, 48-46)—wins UFC interim middleweight championship
Khalil Rountree def. Eryk Anders by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Alan Jouban def. Dwight Grant by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Nikita Krylov def. Ovince St-Preux by submission (rear-naked choke)—2:30, Round 2
Matt Frevola def. Jalin Turner by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Alexandre Pantoja def. Alexandre Pantoja by TKO—2:58, Round 1
Max Griffin def. Zelim Imadaev by majority decision (29-27, 29-27, 28-28)
Khalid Taha def. Boston Salmon by TKO—0:25, Round 1
Belal Muhammad def. Curtis Millender by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 30-26)
Montel Jackson def. Andre Soukhamthath by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-27)
Poliana Botelho def. Lauren Mueller by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Brandon Davis def. Randy Costa by submission (rear-naked choke)—1:12, Round 2
Scott Harris covers MMA and other sports for Bleacher Report.