The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 248

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2020

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 248

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    It had classics, and it had duds. It had favorites winning, and it had upsets.

    Yes, indeed, there was a little something for everyone from the time the UFC 248 extravaganza got started with early prelims all the way until Bruce Buffer announced the final results. And Bleacher Report was there for every kick, punch, decision and stoppage.

    At any rate, to say that the 11 fights that ran from early Saturday evening to early Sunday morning—including two bouts in which champions were defending titles and pound-for-pound statuses—were chock-full of winners and losers would be an understatement.

    With that as a backdrop, we compiled our list of the most significant Ws and Ls out of T-Mobile Arena, including some that may fuel conversation in the days and weeks ahead.

    Sorry, no spoilers here.

    You'll have to click through to get them and to see whether your impressions match ours.

Winner: Girl Power

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    It's almost too appropriate to be a coincidence.

    Strawweights Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk put on a championship fight so compelling, so competitive and so breathtakingly violent that it's only fitting that it ended early Sunday morning, right as the East Coast of the United States greeted the arrival of International Women's Day.

    "It had everything. Talent. Skills. Toughness. This was as good as it gets," said ESPN+ broadcaster Joe Rogan. "I think we can safely say this was the greatest title fight in women's MMA history."

    And for the record, Zhang won it.

    The defending champion found herself fighting past the third round for the first time in her professional career, but nevertheless, she found a reservoir of late-stage energy just in time to offset the former titleholder and escape with a split-decision victory in the 115-pound instant classic.

    Official scores were 48-47 twice for Zhang and once for Jedrzejczyk.

    Bleacher Report agreed with the majority, giving the champion Rounds 1, 2 and 5.

    Statistically speaking, Zhang carved out a 104-75 margin in head strikes, while Jedrzejczyk had a 50-19 advantage in body strikes and a 62-46 edge in leg kicks.

    But the most memorable image of the bout in its aftermath will surely be the gruesome swelling on the challenger's forehead that began in the middle rounds and, coupled with nicks and abrasions under her eyes, left her face looking as if it endured serious damage.

    "It bothered me. My head was going on and off," Jedrzejczyk said. "It doesn't matter. I carry myself as a champion. I'm very happy that we gave a good fight, and I'm proud of myself and my team."

    Zhang largely carried the fight in the first two rounds and landed the cleaner, sharper and more memorable blows while coming forward and controlling space in the Octagon. She landed a pair of big right hands in succession in the second round that sent Jedrzejczyk reeling backward to the fence.

    Jedrzejczyk rallied in the third and fourth, and the champion seemed to slow down a bit, which allowed the challenger to score with left hands that occasionally wobbled Zhang. 

    The fighters walked to the center of the mat and hugged prior to the start of the fifth round as the crowd delivered a standing ovation. Zhang seemed to feed off the energy and began pressing the action again and fighting well on the inside until Jedrzejczyk scored with a spinning elbow in the final 15 seconds.  

    It was Zhang's 21st consecutive win overall and her fifth straight among UFC strawweights, the second-longest streak in the division's history behind Jedrzejczyk's eight between 2014 and 2017. 

    "I wasn't really sure that I got it," Zhang said. "We're all martial artists here. We're all champions."

Loser: Main Event Magic

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    It arrived with so much main event promise.

    UFC President Dana White sounded sure it would be the fight of the century. The weigh-in saw one man stomping on a Cuban cigar as the other, a Cuban native, taunted him. And the entrance from the locker room featured the incumbent champion striding in confidently as rose petals were dropped at his feet.

    Little did anyone know, though, that those would be the best parts.

    Middleweights Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero shucked, jived and gestured their way around the Octagon on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but they did precious little else as the crowd groaned its way through their tedious five-round championship bout—won by Adesanya by unanimous decision.

    Two judges scored it 48-47, and one had it 49-46 for the winner, who defended his title for the first time and improved a pristine professional record to 19-0. 

    Bleacher Report agreed with the majority scores and gave it to Adesanya by the 48-47 count.

    "It wasn't the best fight," Rogan said.

    Not surprisingly, each combatant blamed the other for the lack of fireworks.

    "It's cliche, but I did what I had to do," Adesanya said. "He touched me in the first round, and I knew I could take his best shot. I picked him apart, and I did what I had to do to win the fight. My corner wanted 25 minutes of sharpness. I touched him up. And still."

    The win gives Adesanya the third-longest middleweight win streak in UFC history with eight fights.

    The champion landed 48 strikes to Romero's 40 over five rounds, landing more in the second (11), third (12) and fourth (11). The challenger landed in double figures in only the fifth round, notching 14.

    In contrast, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk combined to land 366 strikes over five rounds, and neither landed fewer than 23 in any one five-minute session.

    Even referee Dan Miragliotta tried to cajole more action, telling Adesanya and Romero before the fourth, "You're getting paid for a championship fight. You've got to give the judges something to score."

    Romero, who'd lost an interim middleweight title shot in 2017, was unmoved.

    "That's my victory," he said, responding to fan cheers when he criticized Adesanya. "The people paid on pay-per-view for a real fight, not for this. I wanted a fight. That's what we wanted to see here. He's running and running and running. You want to see running, go see Usain Bolt."

    The 42-year-old Romero, who was a silver medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics, was turned aside on all three of his takedown attempts.

    "It was also on him to engage more and make it into a fight," ESPN+ broadcaster Daniel Cormier, himself a wrestler turned UFC fighter, said of Romero. "He didn't do that."

Winner: Suga Show 2.0

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    He's taller, lighter and younger. But when it comes to moving the needle as an "it" guy, Sean O'Malley looks a bit like Conor McGregor.

    The outspoken 25-year-old returned from a two-year Octagon absence in headline-making style on Saturday night, using a blinding combination of punches and kicks on the way to scoring a decisive first-round TKO of rugged veteran Jose Quinonez.

    "It couldn't have gone any better for Sean O'Malley," Cormier said. "You can see that something extra with him. He has that flash, that something exciting. The Suga Show is back in action in full force."

    A pair of failed drug tests and the suspensions attached to them led to the extended hiatus for the Montana native, who'd built his brand with a flashy and chatty demeanor. But he was noticeably emotional and teared up when approached in the center of the cage for a post-fight interview.

    "It's hard to put into words," he said.

    O'Malley landed well and moved effectively in the early going against Quinonez, then began the final sequence with a right hand that sent his foe reeling back toward the fence. He landed a high right kick that dropped Quinonez and a follow-up right uppercut as he began to regain his feet.

    Quinonez dropped all the way to the floor following the uppercut and was pounded by a series of hammer fists until O'Malley was pulled away by referee Miragliotta.

    "I had so many more tools and so much more tonight," O'Malley said. "I wanted to show more, but it is what it is."

Winner: Old-School Wrestling

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    If wrestling is your thing, Mark Madsen might just be your man.

    The much-heralded Danish import, who has three Olympic appearances and a 2016 silver medal on his resume, found himself in a tough matchup with a talented, successful foe in Austin Hubbard in an anticipated prelim bout.

    And after 15 grueling minutes, he found himself hungry for more.

    "This is exactly why I'm in the UFC," Madsen said. "I want to be pushed. I want to fight the best fighters out there. I had to go through hell to beat him."

    Madsen did get the victory—winning a unanimous decision with three matching scores of 29-28—but he indeed went through some adversity on the way to having his hand raised.

    The veteran mat man took Hubbard down repeatedly in the first two rounds and never let the American get his striking game going. The fatigue of constant grappling wore him down, though, allowing Hubbard to finally force the action in the final five minutes.

    Madsen was on the receiving end of several punishing high knees and right hands in the third, but he managed to elude serious danger and successfully stayed vertical until the final horn.

    Madsen scored all eight of the fight's takedowns and clearly won the first two rounds, but he was on the short end of the strike count by a 43-19 margin.

    Bleacher Report agreed with the 29-28 margin and also scored it for Madsen. 

    "I'm here to fight. I'm here to perform the best I can," he said. "I have the potential to become one of the best MMA fighters in the world."

Loser: Social Media Antagonists

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    Relative UFC novice Deron Winn was a self-proclaimed trash-talker on Twitter as he engaged would-be opponent Gerald Meerschaert prior to a fight against Eric Spicely last summer, and he was a willing participant when Meerschaert rejoined the chatty fray following Winn's loss to Darren Stewart in October.

    So when their fight was eventually made for Saturday night, both men were eager to let their fists cash checks that their keyboarding fingers had written.

    As it turned out, Meerschaert's account had a bigger balance.

    The mammoth Wisconsin middleweight shook off the effects of a big right hand from Winn early in the third round, then responded with a short inside left of his own that started a decisive sequence leading to a rear-naked choke submission victory at 2:13 of the third.

    "He gave me everything I could handle and a little bit more," Meerschaert said. "He brought out the best of me. It wasn't good. I was doing the chicken dance for a second."

    Meerschaert followed the left hand with a series of shots from both sides that left Winn reeling across the cage before he tumbled to the mat. Meerschaert immediately pounced, gained control of Winn's back and wrapped his left arm under the chin to lock in the choke that drew the tapout.

    "I'm a black belt," he said. "That's all she wrote."

    As for the internet chatter, the winner said the fighters made their peace afterward.  

    "It was done after the fight was over," Meerschaert said. "All done."

Winner: Early Trips to the Snack Stand

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    Schedules, schmedules.

    If you're a stickler for carving start and end times in stone, Saturday night wasn't your night.

    UFC 248 was delayed for 45 minutes before the first strike was thrown, thanks to the scrapping of a strawweight matchup that was meant to start off the early prelim show on ESPN+.

    Subsequently, the prelim portion got going a couple minutes late over on ESPN, after extended time beyond the scheduled 8 p.m. start was devoted to a men's college basketball game.

    And once the fights got under way, the combatants acted as if they had planes to catch.

    Four of the first six bouts at T-Mobile Arena ended ahead of schedule, including a KO, TKO and submission in the first round of three fights, alongside a submission in the third round of another.

    In fact, out of a possible 90 minutes of early prelim/prelim combat, only 50 minutes, 14 seconds occurred.

    O'Malley's frenetic stop of Quinonez was the quickest of the whole show, ending in 122 seconds.

Loser: Guido Cannetti's Chin

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    Argentine bantamweight Guido Cannetti was revved up and ready to go.

    He reverentially dropped to one knee to salute his nation's flag upon being introduced by Buffer, then moonwalked his way back to the fence upon receiving pre-fight instructions from refereee Chris Tognoni.

    The next time Tognoni intervened, however, Cannetti's mood had decidedly changed.

    The 40-year-old was in the process of delivering a blow when he was clipped by a turned-over counter left hand from Mongolian native Danaa Batgerel, then tumbled to his back and was rescued by Tognoni as Batgerel charged in with a series of fight-ending hammer fists.

    "He did a fantastic job," Cormier said. "From the start of the fight, he was the one leading the dance. He was the one going forward."

    It was the first win for Batgerel in two UFC bouts and the eighth of his career in 10 outings.

    "I trained very hard for this fight," he said. "I'm glad I got the victory."

Winner: Playing the Odds

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    It's the stuff that Fight of the Night bonuses are made of—in non-title fights, that is.

    Turns out a first round full of takedowns and near-submissions merely whetted the appetite, because once the second round arrived, it was a full-on feast for those who love action.

    Lightweights Beneil Dariush and Drakkar Klose weren't separated by much when it came to the oddsmakers—who'd installed the former as a mere minus-170 favorite—and matters were every bit as up for grabs once the punches started flying in the second five-minute session.

    Klose, who'd spent the initial round fighting off chokes and neck cranks, took the initiative right away in the second and landed a series of powerful shots to the jaw of a suddenly heavy-legged Dariush. But just as it seemed Klose was on the verge of a possible finish, he walked into a right hand that changed things.

    The shot drove him backward across the cage as the two flailed away before Dariush dipped low and unleashed a decisive left hook that caught Klose right on the chin and instantly rendered him helpless as he toppled backward to the floor.

    Referee Jason Herzog immediately waved the fight off, just 60 seconds into the round.

    The win was Dariush's fourth in a row.

    "I didn't think I was burning off a lot of [leg] energy [in the first round]," he said. "But I got back to the corner, and I started to feel it. So I thought, 'OK, time to use the arms. Time to throw some heat.' Sometimes it's in my favor, and today it was. I thank the Lord for that."

    Dariush became the sixth favorite in the first nine fights to win, according to odds posted at UFC.com, joining Alex Oliveira (-145), O'Malley (-360), Madsen (-210), Rodolfo Vieira (-650) and Danaa Batgerel (-140).

    Champions Zhang (-220) and Adesanya (-300) followed up with wins in the card's two title fights.

    Only Neil Magny, Meerschaert and Giga Chikadze were able to break through from the underdog position, potentially winning their supporters a combined $510 for three $100 wagers.

    The eight winning favorites would have returned $800 for a combined $2,195 in bets.

Loser: Emily Whitmire's Weekend

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    Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana weigh-in
    Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana weigh-inJeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Las Vegas resident Emily Whitmire arrived at UFC 248 fight week in need of momentum.

    She'd won her first two fights in the promotion after participating in The Ultimate Fighter, via decision and submission, respectively, but was last seen eight months ago being choked out by Amanda Ribas on the undercard of an ESPN show.

    Turns out the flyweight-turned-strawweight did make headlines this weekend, but not for the reasons she'd hoped.

    Instead, the 28-year-old was initially forced to forfeit 20 percent of her guaranteed $14,000 pursethat's a cool $2,800, for those keeping score—after weighing in Friday night 1.5 pounds above the contracted 116-pound limit for her preliminary kickoff bout with Polyana Viana.

    Her thumbs-down gesture from the scale indicated how she took the weigh-in news.

    But things got worse for her.

    Just hours before the cage was to swing open Saturday, the fight was cancelled and the paydays waved off for both women when Whitmire was taken to a nearby emergency room.

    Cormier said the hospital trip was connected to a grueling weight cut.

    Viana, incidentally, had been guaranteed $10,000 for the fight. There was no time to bring in a suitable replacement, so the overall show was trimmed from 12 bouts to 11.

    Still, Viana took to social media (link via Bloody Elbow) after receiving word and was gracious.

    "I just heard that Emily is out of the fight with me today," she wrote. "I also heard she had to be taken to the ER. I hope she is all right and I wish from the bottom of my heart that she recovers from whatever it is that she is suffering from."

UFC 248 Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Israel Adesanya def. Yoel Romero by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46).

    Weili Zhang def. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47).

    Beneil Dariush def. Drakkar Klose by KO, 1:00, Rd. 2.

    Neil Magny def. Li Jingliang by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

    Alex Oliveira def. Max Griffin by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

                  

    Preliminary Card

    Sean O'Malley def. Jose Quinonez by TKO, 2:02, Rd. 1.

    Mark Madsen def. Austin Hubbard by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).

    Rodolfo Vieira def. Saparbek Safarov by submission (arm triangle), 2:58, Rd. 1.

    Gerald Meerschaert def. Deron Winn by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:13, Rd. 3.

    Giga Chikadze def. Jamall Emmers by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

    Danaa Batgerel def. Guido Cannetti by KO, 3:01, Rd. 1.