In just 48 hours, UFC 294’s card went from good to great-ZoomTech News

Possibly each main UFC card must be left clean till a few weeks earlier than battle night time. Final-minute matchmaking certain has labored wonders for UFC 294.

For months, the promotion had been constructing a potent lineup for Saturday’s return to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The principle occasion can be a rematch between UFC light-weight champion Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira, who owned the belt till Makhachev took it away the final time the UFC was in Abu Dhabi, a 12 months in the past at UFC 280. The co-main can be the primary look in over a 12 months for once-skyrocketing-but-lately-grounded-not-in-the-good-way Khamzat Chimaev, transferring as much as middleweight to face onetime title challenger Paulo Costa. It appeared we have been in for an entertaining conclusion to a night of fisticuffs.

However final Wednesday, 11 days earlier than the primary punch was to be thrown, each headlining fights evaporated into skinny air. Oliveira revealed he had suffered a foul lower above his proper eye in coaching. Costa reported that he had undergone surgical procedure on his proper elbow. Each have been out. A lot for constructing our hopes up.

By no means concern, battle followers. UFC matchmakers went proper to work with their patch-up-the-holes package. And inside hours, that they had pieced collectively a good mightier 1-2 punch for the highest of the UFC 294 marquee (ESPN+ PPV, 2 p.m. ET; prelims on ESPN+, 10 a.m.).

Makhachev will transfer from one rematch to a different, this time with a much more aggressive two-to-tango associate, Alexander Volkanovski. The final battle ended with the featherweight champ on prime of a knocked-down, tuckered-out Makhachev, dropping punches because the horn sounded to finish Spherical 5 of their light-weight superfight at UFC 284 in February. Moments later, Makhachev was the one getting his hand raised because the winner of a unanimous resolution to retain his title. However Volkanovski had been so spectacular that he, not Makhachev, sits on prime of the ESPN males’s pound-for-pound rankings. Cannot wait to see Spherical 6 and past from No. 1 and No. 2.

This weekend’s co-main occasion skilled a good grander improve, because it now incorporates a fighter who spent a substantial time in that No. 1 pound-for-pound slot. Kamaru Usman, the previous longtime welterweight champ, stepped in to supply Chimaev what appears to be like just like the stiffest take a look at of his undefeated profession. And Chimaev vehemently accepted the problem. A lot respect to each of them for agreeing to a last-minute matchup in opposition to an unknown, in a conflict that appears certain to redirect at the least certainly one of their careers abruptly.

And in addition a lot respect to the matchmakers who overcame not one, however two, main battle cancellations. Speak about battling by way of adversity and developing huge.

Let’s break down this weekend’s narratives:

Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2: A greater predominant occasion

Makhachev-Oliveira 2 may have been thrilling. Earlier than dropping his belt to Makhachev, Oliveira had gained 11 fights in a row and was coming off finishes of Michael Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. The previous champ has extra UFC submissions (16) than anybody ever, making him among the many most harmful grapplers within the recreation. However we can’t ignore what we noticed when he tussled with Makhachev. The Dagestani took Oliveira down repeatedly, battered him bloody, and completed him by way of make-it-look-easy submission.

In contrast, Makhachev’s battle with Volkanovski ended with the Aussie trying like a winner. Do not get me improper: Makhachev deserved to be the one getting his hand raised. He was in command for many of the battle’s 25 minutes, constructing a lead on the judges’ scorecards with takedowns in every of the primary 4 rounds and much-accumulated management time. However Volkanovski stored coming. And here is the visible that lingers from the battle’s conclusion: a heavy-breathing Makhachev holding on to outlive an onslaught by his tireless challenger. No sooner did the ultimate horn sound when social media lit up with “Encore! Encore!” And now we’ll have it.

Usman vs. Chimaev: A manner higher co-main

Even when Costa have been at full energy, as a substitute of being just some weeks faraway from surgical procedure, Usman nonetheless can be a major improve. He’s MMA historical past’s biggest 170-pounder this facet of Georges St-Pierre. Earlier than dropping his title to Leon Edwards final 12 months, Usman had gained 15 fights in a row, the longest streak ever for a UFC welterweight and the second longest general in promotion historical past. He can strike and grapple. Similar to Chimaev.

They’re combating at middleweight, a division Chimaev has fought a number of instances. The strapping Costa, who competed at mild heavyweight simply two fights in the past, would have put Chimaev to a heftier take a look at. However Usman, a profession welterweight, additionally has a very good measure of physicality in him. And he has the abilities and savvy to place Chimaev in deeper waters than he is ever swam in.

Glass half-empty: Quick discover may make performances come up brief

Eleven days’ discover doesn’t imply fighters have almost two weeks to organize. Severe health club time got here down to 5 days, ending Monday morning. From right here on out, fighters will commit a lot of their time to carrying round enormous jugs of water as a part of a weight lower whereas they fulfill fight-hyping obligations in interviews with MMA media and information conferences. I would not want both of these duties on anybody.

Makhachev and Volkanovski have tangled earlier than, so there’s motive to imagine — and hope — they will choose up the place they left off. However there is a lingering concern {that a} short-notice reserving won’t provide us the perfect encore we may get. Are we losing one of many nice rematches of our time by not permitting it to totally marinate? Or by not letting the fighters put together accordingly for such a fierce contest?

The stakes for Chimaev and Usman, even with no belt on the road, could possibly be extra dramatic. Will Chimaev’s full-tilt rise towards what appeared an inevitable title shot run right into a brick wall? Will Usman, who dropped his belt to Edwards in August 2022 and in addition misplaced the rematch in March, see his skid attain three in a row? Settling such pivotal issues with little preparation appears ill-advised, even foolhardy. However the present should go on.

Glass half-full: Quick-notice variables ramp up the intrigue

The purist in me needs each title battle to pit No. 1 in a weight class in opposition to No. 2 in that very same division, for them to battle at a impartial website that is not far above sea degree, and for every participant to enter the cage having had a fruitful, incident-free coaching camp.

Yep, that is what I would like. Safe each guys in bubble wrap throughout battle week simply to ensure.

If I held to my requirements, although, are you aware what number of huge fights I might see? Zero.

Stuff occurs. Virtually each main battle has some type of playing-field-tilting X-factor. And I reluctantly should acknowledge that sudden twists add to the drama of the game.

I am no fan of the manufactured, WWE-style melodrama of weigh-in shoving and press convention verbal sparring, particularly when the insults veer in ugly instructions. I am extra within the drama that unfolds organically, corresponding to what we have already seen with UFC 294. Nothing was scripted about Oliveira’s eyebrow lower throughout a daily sparring session, Costa’s elbow surgical procedure, the chest-thumping step-ups by Volkanovski and Usman, the never-say-no welcoming by Makhachev and Chimaev.

The drama surrounding these two fights transcends the matchups and the way they fee in opposition to the unique ones. The drama surrounding these two fights is intensified by the circumstances of 4 athletes, every taking over a career-defining problem with little time to organize for it.

If these have been typical fights with typical readiness, these of us who comply with the game may have fairly knowledgeable opinions about who will win. However the last-minute matchmaking has added a disorienting variable.

Will the in poor health results of the brief discover grow to be obvious throughout both battle? In whose efficiency? And who will personal the night time?

We’d suppose we all know, however we do not. We are able to solely stand again and watch, able to be stunned.

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