All one wanted of a fight between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler was a war “as long as it lasted”, and somehow, despite the outcome requiring the determination of the judges, the two lightweight contenders exceeded expectations at Madison Square Garden. For 15 minutes, Gaethje and Chandler fought a dizzying and tension-filled fight. It wasn’t a botched fight, either. The two demonstrated excellence on the feet, throwing calculated bombs at each other and taking them in stride. A few grappling scrambles were sprinkled in, and the two former college wrestlers also showed off their prowess on the mat. In the end, Gaethje got the nod, but both men earned everyone’s respect for a fight no one will long forget.
Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez (UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Rodriguez)
Much of the narrative leading up to the prolonged build-up of the fight between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez revolved around question marks. On the one hand, Holloway didn’t necessarily need to fight in the eyes of some people as he had already secured a third crack for Alexander Volkanovski with his dominant performance against Calvin Kattar to open 2021. On the side of Rodriguez, the Mexican contender hadn’t fought since 2019, so more than a few people wondered what he had to offer against the former champ. All of those things were put aside the moment the two started to shake hands, however, and a clash that offered a lot of potential was delivered in a very entertaining way. For five rounds, Holloway and Rodriguez faced off and pulled their best on each other, and in the end, “Blessed” claimed another victory to bolster his resume for another chance to regain his throne. .
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega (UFC 266)
Nothing creates more tension between opponents than training against each other on The ultimate fighter, and Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega are no exception. After the two got annoyed upon returning from the show, they had to settle all the grievances at UFC 266 in Las Vegas and thus delivered one of the best featherweight title fights in recent memory. The biggest moment came in the third round when Ortega ripped off a mounted guillotine that even made the champion wonder if he was on the verge of losing his title. Somehow Volkanovsky refused to exploit. Moments later, however, Ortega returned his signature triangular choke, and once again Volkanovsky managed to escape with a vengeance. “The Great” almost sidelined Ortega to end Round Three, but “T-City” showed his heart and fought until the end of Round Five. In the end, the score was settled and the respect deserved, and Volkanovsky seemed to have won everyone’s recognition as the world’s best featherweight for at least one night.
Dominick Reyes vs. Jiri Prochazka (UFC Fight Night: Reyes vs. Prochazka)
Few were knocking on doors to fight Jiri Prochazka, the Czech contender who scored a knockout against Volkan Oezdemir when he made his UFC debut in 2020. Dominick Reyes, however, needed a win of the worst. manners, and “The Devastator” entered the main event rejuvenated and highly motivated to right the ship after nearly winning the light heavyweight title in 2020. The 205ers traded heavily and often in their main event, each man hurting the other with his best punches. Prochazka had the last word with an incredible turning elbow that sent Reyes crashing to the mat in the third round. It was a weird and wonderful finish at the same time, and it earned Prochazka a place at the top of the shooting line for the title.
Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen (UFC 267)
A few unconventional factors led to a clash between Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen, many believed it was coming anyway after Sandhagen scored a clean, flying knockout against Frankie Edgar in February 2021. At the time, Yan was the champion ready to defend his title for the first time against Sterling. However, an illegal knee forced Yan to give up the belt and a rematch was scheduled for later in the year. Sterling had to withdraw from the fight more than a month past due due to injury. Sandhagen, despite losing close to TJ Dillashaw, secured the interim title against Yan as Dillashaw was not healthy enough to intervene in the short term.
After all that, the two bantamweight staged a five-round punching clinic in Abu Dhabi. Sandhagen came out furiously in the first round, showcasing the volume and diversity that got him so excited. As the fight grew, Yan also built himself up, making the right adjustments to fully sway the momentum in his favor. “No Mercy” finally got the green light from the judges and solidified a possible rematch with Sterling that will soon unify the bantamweight title.