On a card with two huge title fights, who would have thought that it was the ascension of future title contenders that stole the show at UFC 267? That’s not to say the main and co-main events were not incredible, they were, but my main takeaway was that there were a lot of guys fighting in Abu Dhabi that are done fighting on the undercard.
But before we get to the future stars, we have to mention a fighter on the opposite end of the spectrum. Glover Teixeira won his first UFC title at the ripe old age of 42. He didn’t just squeak by former champion Jan Blachowicz or outlast him in a split decision win. Teixeira manhandled Blachowicz, notching over five minutes of control time in a fight that only went a little over eight minutes.
Teixeira ended the fight by locking in a rear-naked choke after taking Blachowicz’s back and giving the Polish fighter his first submission loss in the UFC. Teixeira was already a hugely well-respected fighter in mixed martial arts but having a belt around his waist for the first time in the promotion is a huge moment for him. It was a star-making performance in a sport where stars usually aren’t made past the age of 40. That is the beauty of sports, especially UFC, anything can happen, and Teixeira reinforced that on Saturday.
If it wasn’t for Teixeira’s incredible championship victory, Khamzat Chimaev probably would have been the biggest story coming out of the weekend. He returned from an extended absence with a dominant win against Li Jingliang, moving to 10-0 overall and 4-0 in the UFC. Dominant wins have been the only wins Chimaev knows, he has only absorbed one significant strike in four UFC fights, good for an average of 0.08 per minute.
Chimaev was previously unranked in the welterweight division but it is hard to envision him having another but a single-digit number next to his name. Would you really pick Neil Magny, Belal Muhammad, or Geoff Neal over him right now? I wouldn’t. This card will obviously go down as the Glover Teixeira coronation but it wouldn’t surprise me if we also look back at these fights in a few years and recognize that night in Abu Dhabi as the launchpad for Chimaev’s stardom. He is still probably a few fights away from challenging Kamaru Usman for the top prize in the division, but if he gets to that point it will be something to watch for sure.
Another young star who had a dominant win on Saturday was Islam Makhachev. He took down lightweight stalwart Dan Hooker in dominating fashion with a submission via kimura in the first round. Makhachev has been trained by former champion and undefeated fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has lauded the up-and-coming lightweight as a real contender in the division. He was able to control Hooker for 1:48 of the 2:35 of the fight, successfully taking him down before looking for and locking in a dangerous submission.
Makhachev was appropriately heralded, coming into the fight as the fifth-ranked lightweight contender, but this statement win against Hooker has vaulted him into the conversation with guys like Michael Chandler, Beneil Dariush, and even Justin Gaethje. There are a lot of guys deserving of title shots in that division and Makhachev’s name is now firmly added to that list. He has a long way to go to be the next Nurmagomedov, which he is definitely not right now, but it is possible that he becomes the closest thing to Khabib that we will see in a long time, with the deadly ground game and lethal submission ability.
The third of the young stars to ascend over the weekend was the one who entered the octagon first of the trio. Magomed Ankalaev, the seventh-ranked contender in the light heavyweight division, started the main card with a unanimous decision victory over fellow top-eight contender Volkan Oezdemir. The outcome was never really in question, with Ankalaev winning eight of the nine rounds across the three judges’ scorecards. He outstruck Oezdemir 76-56 while also landing one takedown and notching 1:45 of control time.
The light heavyweight division is one of the weakest divisions in the sport, lacking some of the huge names that other weight classes boast. But Ankalaev will certainly be in the top five when the rankings are updated. He is one of the most interesting names in a division with a new champion on top. If Teixeira is able to get past another surging star in Jiri Prochazka, Ankalaev could be waiting in the wings following one more win over another highly ranked opponent.
With all that said about the entertaining UFC 267 card, it is surprising that I haven’t even mentioned the fight of the night from Saturday. The interim bantamweight championship bout pitting No. 1 ranked Petr Yan against No. 3 ranked Cory Sandhagen absolutely delivered as the strikefest we all knew it would be. There were 324 significant strikes landed in the 25-minute fight that ended with a Yan unanimous decision. Sandhagen actually landed 14 more total strikes than Yan, but Yan was much more effective with his striking, visibly hurting and wobbling Sandhagen.
Yan has regained his status atop the division after losing the belt to Aljamain Sterling via disqualification earlier this year. He looked like an unstoppable force ready to run through the bantamweight division just like he has been doing. It is unclear if Sterling will be healthy enough for a rematch with Yan, who called out the champion after the bout, or if former champion TJ Dillashaw will be the next man to step up. Either way, it is sure to produce another enjoyable fight because that is simply the nature of what Yan does when he steps inside the octagon.
This card was not full of a ton of name brand fighters or hugely anticipated fights but it certainly delivered. And better yet, we got it for free on ESPN+ and didn’t even have to wait until late at night since it took place in Abu Dhabi. And even better yet, we get another stacked card this upcoming weekend with UFC 268 featuring Usman-Covington 2 taking place on November 6. It is a great time to be a UFC fan as there are plenty of upcoming cards to look forward to for the rest of the year.