Glover Teixeira finally did it. At 42, the perennial light heavyweight contender defeated Jan Blachowicz by second round submission via rear naked choke in the main event of UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
Teixeira became the 14th undisputed UFC champion in the division and the oldest first-time champ in UFC history. So how did he pull off the upset and what does it mean for his career?
In the co-main event, Petr Yan edged past Cory Sandhagen to win the UFC interim bantamweight title in a very entertaining fight, and he once again displayed that he is the elite fighter of the bantamweight division. The last time he faced Aljamain Sterling, he made a mental mistake that cost him his title; in the rematch, will he stay on track and regain the title that many believe should still belong to him?
Khamzat Chimaev (10-0) made a big return with a dominant first-round submission victory over Li Jingliang. It was another stoppage win for the welterweight contender in his first fight in more than a year. All of his victories have come before the final bell, but will that trend continue when he faces a top-5 contender in the division?
The late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov’s plan for the lightweight division continued to take shape with Islam Makhachev‘s first-round victory over Dan Hooker. Is it time for a title shot? And on the undercard, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos defeated Benoit Saint-Denis by decision, but the biggest loser wasn’t Saint-Denis — it was referee Vyacheslav Kiselev, who failed to protect the fighters. Did the UFC do the right thing by removing him from refereeing other fights on the card?
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim react to the biggest stories from Saturday’s card.
Glover Teixeira, a feel-good story that shouldn’t overshadow a great performance
Wagenheim: As feel-good moments go, they don’t get much more feel-good than this one.
Glover Teixeira becoming a UFC champion at age 42, seven years after he fell short in his first shot at the light heavyweight title, is in itself an inspiration for all to try and try again. But those who wish to draw inspiration from the new champ ought not to lose sight of the way Teixeira reached his lifelong goal.
The lead-up to Saturday’s UFC 267 main event in Abu Dhabi was all class, thanks in part to Teixeira and also to the champ he was challenging, Jan Blachowicz. They showed respect for each other at every moment, just as the co-main event competitors, Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen, had done prior to and during their bantamweight interim title bout. These two matchups defied the common belief that combat sports is all about grudges and mean-spirited mind games.
Teixeira actually demonstrated what makes him a champion in multiple senses of the word — in both fighting prowess and classy approach to the game — during one telling moment in the fight. After taking Blachowicz to the canvas in the opening minute and controlling him there throughout Round 1 while landing elbows at every opportunity, Teixeira heard the horn sound and didn’t just stop fighting. He reached out his hand and helped Blachowicz to his feet.
That’s Glover Teixeira. And that, as much as his age and fight history, is what makes this a feel-good story.
Of course, it surely does not feel good for Blachowicz. He never got going in this fight. But that was because of Teixeira, who made Blachowicz more cautious than dangerous. Getting taken down in the first minute and being smothered and smacked by an immovable opponent can take a fighter out of his game.
Blachowicz tried to fight through his hesitation. He landed some strong punches early in the second round and fended off several takedown attempts. But the takedown tries kept coming, and when Teixeira succeeded in getting the bout back to the canvas barely a minute into the round, it seemed to be just a matter of time.
Teixeira is used to being patient. The Brazilian waited for years to get a U.S. visa that would allow him to compete in the UFC. He again waited for years, after losing to then-champ Jon Jones in 2014, to earn another chance at a belt.
But at this moment there would be no waiting. Teixeira quickly seized a dominant decision and clamped on the rear-naked choke that made him the new champion. The first thing he did? He hugged the old champion.
In his postfight interview in the cage, Teixeira spoke kindly of Blachowicz, saying he loves him. Then he pointed out Jiri Prochazka in the crowd and humbly welcomed his challenge, which would appear to be next. Prochazka simply held his hands in prayer position and nodded, showing respect. As he should be.
Petr Yan is the best bantamweight fighter on the planet — without a real belt
Raimondi: Petr Yan dug one heck of a hole for himself, but he’s now one step closer to digging himself out.
After a win over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267, Yan can absolutely lay claim to being the best bantamweight fighter in the world. He probably is just that. But he’s the interim champion now, not the undisputed one. And the only person to blame for that is Yan himself.
Yan was making a bantamweight title defense against Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 on March 6, but late in the fourth round, Yan landed a blatantly illegal knee to a kneeling Sterling and was disqualified. Sterling was awarded the title. Whether you like that call or not, Yan was the one who created the quandary. He lost focus and blasted Sterling with a knee that was so clearly a foul it was absolutely stunning.
Yan and Sterling were supposed to have a rematch Saturday, but Sterling, who remains the UFC bantamweight champion, withdrew four weeks ago because he wouldn’t have been ready in time following neck surgery. Sandhagen looked like a classic trap fight for Yan as he tried to work himself back to the belt. But Yan was the superior fighter. After the first round, he took over and landed big left hands over and over — so many that the right side of Sandhagen’s face turned a different color than the left side. Yan was brilliant in an excellent, entertaining stylistic matchup.
But he shouldn’t have been fighting for the interim title here. He should still be the UFC bantamweight champion. He should probably be preparing for a big-time matchup with former champ TJ Dillashaw next. Instead, he’s holding a meaningless belt and looking at a rebooked bout with Sterling. The whole thing is surely not ideal. But hopefully Yan learned his lesson, though that is unclear. He joked about the illegal knee at his open workout earlier this week.
The fact remains, though, that Yan is very likely the best 135-pound fighter on the planet. He just doesn’t yet have the real belt to prove it, the one he lost due to his own mistake. It’s surely been a frustrating chapter in his career. Against Sandhagen, he was able to keep that concentration and see the victory through until the end. He’ll have to do that again versus Sterling if he is to get back that belt that many feel is rightfully his.
Give Khamzat Chimaev a top welterweight contender — he’s ready
Raimondi: Remember late last year and early this year when Khamzat Chimaev was booked several times in a fight with top UFC welterweight contender Leon Edwards? The fight never happened — Chimaev ended up with long-haul COVID-19 complications — but there was a sentiment that Chimaev just wasn’t ready for that type of push. He had only fought three times in the UFC and his first two opponents were not especially good. Yes, Chimaev finished all those bouts and looked terrific. He appeared to be one of the best prospects to come along in some time. But Edwards? He was on a long winning streak and his most recent loss was in 2015 against current champion Kamaru Usman.
Combine that lack of certainty in how good Chimaev actually was, with him nearly retiring due to lasting COVID-19 issues, and there were a ton of questions coming into his return at UFC 267 against Li Jingliang. Those questions turned into full-fledged red flags when it looked like Chimaev was trying to game the scale to make weight Friday.
All of those concerns can be put to bed now. On Saturday, Chimaev absolutely destroyed Li, finishing with a rear-naked choke submission in the first round. Chimaev picked Li up right away for a takedown and yelled at UFC president Dana White while he was holding Li off his feet. The whole thing was an absolute spectacle — and an insanely impressive display of dominance over another human being. Chimaev got Li down, of course, landed big punches and then choked him until he was unconscious.
Li, by the way, is considered one of the toughest guys at welterweight. Few fighters look good against him. He had only been finished one other time in his career. Chimaev just straight-up destroyed him. If this is the kind of performance he can have against a stalwart like Li, I’m not sure there’s anything the welterweight division can offer him that Chimaev would not be ready for. I’m not saying Chimaev should go out and fight Usman next. But would anyone be surprised if that fight was competitive if it happened?
In any case, Chimaev should get a top contender next. Bring him a Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson or a Vicente Luque. Yes, Chimaev’s ready. And having him fight anyone who is not at the top of the division would be detrimental to his opponents’ health.
Referee Vyacheslav Kiselev didn’t do his job
Wagenheim: Referees have a difficult job. Let’s start there. That is the case in all of modern sports, where the athletes and the action between them are faster and more explosive than ever. In combat sports, this evolution brings into the equation a factor that a ref in one of the so-called ball sports does not face. In MMA and boxing, these fast, explosive athletes are trying to hurt each other. That’s their job. The ref’s job is to protect the one who gets hurt.
Kiselev did not do his job. As referee of a welterweight prelim between Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Benoit Saint-Denis, he failed to see Saint-Denis get badly hurt in the second round. The fighter was sagging against the cage, barely defending himself, throwing no offense back at Zaleski dos Santos. Saint-Denis was done. The fight should have been stopped. It was shameful that Kiselev did nothing, just as it was shameful that Saint-Denis’ corner allowed him to go back out for Round 3.
But let’s move on to focus on who did do their job: the UFC regulators. They met right after the bout and pulled Kiselev from his later fight assignment. The circumstance surely called for that unusual move, and I am absolutely, positively sure that not every athletic commission would have acted so swiftly. It is admirable that the UFC regulators were nimble enough to do what needed to be done.
There’s an inherent conflict of interest when the UFC self-regulates, which happens whenever the promotion holds events in locales with no commissions, usually outside the United States. One can imagine the uproar if UFC regulators were to intervene in a fight in a way that appeared to favor an athlete who’s a big earner for the company. But that’s a hypothetical conflict, and what UFC regulators faced on this night in Abu Dhabi was as real as it gets. A fighter needed to be protected from his own toughness. The UFC did what was right. The referee did not.
Let’s add one more positive. In the bout right after the Kiselev debacle, referee Jason Herzog spotted middleweight Roman Kopylov grab the cage to prevent an Albert Durev takedown and break free from a clinch. Herzog immediately halted the action, issued a warning to Kopylov and, most importantly, put the fighters back in clinch position against the cage. Duraev then completed his takedown, dominated the rest of the fight and got his hand raised by Herzog, who should consider himself also a winner in this bout.
One hopes Kiselev was backstage watching on a TV screen and taking notes.
Islam Makhachev is a lightweight title challenger
Raimondi: Father’s plan is very much still on track. Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, the father and coach of the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov, had a strategy laid out for the UFC lightweight division. Khabib was the best champ in the history of the 155-pound weight class in MMA. And the idea was always for Khabib to retire undefeated and pass the torch to Islam Makhachev, Khabib’s longtime training partner and another one of Abdulmanap’s star pupils. Abdulmanap died last year of COVID-19 complications. But his dream has lived on. Khabib is retired and now acting as a coach, following in his father’s footsteps. Makhachev has now put himself in position for a title shot.
There’s not much else for Makhachev to prove after stopping Dan Hooker via Kimura submission in the first round at UFC 267. He has won nine straight and finished his last three opponents via submission. Some would argue that Makhachev could use another win over a ranked opponent — maybe someone like Rafael dos Anjos, who was the originally scheduled foe Saturday before getting injured — to bolster his résumé. That’s nonsense. We know everything we need to know about Makhachev. And objectively speaking, that man is a title challenger. Likely the future champion, too. Just like Abdulmanap laid it out.
Now, I’m not saying Makhachev should jump the line necessarily. Charles Oliveira will defend the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269 on Dec. 11 in Las Vegas. The winner of that could face the winner of a matchup between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, which is scheduled for next week at UFC 268. If Gaethje wins, he should be the next guy in line. But let’s say Chandler and Oliveira both win. We saw that one already, back at UFC 262 in May. In a scenario like that, Makhachev should get the call.
The only thing one could say for sure is that call is coming at some point. It should be soon. But at this point, Makhachev and a date with the UFC lightweight title seem inevitable.
Magomed Ankalaev is a legitimate problem at light heavyweight
Okamoto: Feels like Ankalaev is going to be one of those guys where it takes a while for him to get traction as a title challenger, but he’s a real threat at 205 pounds. In a way, it already has been a slow build for Ankalaev. It’s not like he just got here. He’s been in the UFC since 2018 and his victory on Saturday over Volkan Oezdemir was his seventh in a row.
He’s far from a household name, however, probably because of his reserved personality — but he is efficient. His striking defense is outstanding. Oezdimir has his faults as a fighter and his ceiling has lowered, in general, since he came up short in a UFC title fight against Daniel Cormier in 2018. But he’s a veteran with power and Ankalaev completely neutralized him. I think an appropriate next fight for Ankalaev would be against Thiago Santos. We’ll see. But we can’t ignore him in this division.