UFC 300 takeaways: Pereira’s triple-champ aspirations, Holloway holds all the keys

On a historic night in MMA history, UFC 300 delivered throughout its loaded 13-fight card with big finishes, strong debuts and drama throughout the night.

Alex Pereira leaves Las Vegas with no doubt as to who is the UFC’s best light heavyweight. Zhang Weili and Yan Xiaonan made China proud with their historic moment as well with a five-round thriller in the co-main event. Plus, the BMF title fight allowed fight fans to witness one of the greatest knockouts in the history of the sport. Also, what does Kayla Harrison’s debut mean for not only her new division, but for women’s MMA as a whole? Andreas Hale, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim react to the biggest moments of the night.

Wagenheim: Let’s begin with a hard truth: Alex Pereira vs. Jamahal Hill was not the first choice to headline the milestone event that was UFC 300. But because the matchmakers could not put together a star-studded blockbuster to headline, that’s what we ended up with. And guess what: The fans won.

They got a night full of championship-level fights, with 11 current or former UFC champions in action. (Titleholders past and present went 7-4.) The BMF gimmick had its greatest moment, with Max Holloway delivering one of the most legendary knockouts in MMA history. There was the much-anticipated debut of Kayla Harrison and a showcase for the sport’s top prospect, Bo Nickal. It was a thrill a minute through almost all of the 13 bouts.

Would we have gotten all that if the UFC had assembled a Conor McGregor or Jon Jones main event for 300? Not a chance.

And a tremendous night of fighting ended with a tremendous first-round knockout, one that had both scary and comical elements. The funny part was when Pereira absorbed a shot to the groin (not funny to him, I’m sure), and as Herb Dean stepped in to pause the action, Pereira pushed the referee aside so he could deliver some punishment back. He then stepped forward and landed a short left hook that had Hill knocked out before he even hit the canvas, giving Pereira the first defense of the light heavyweight title he won in November. The end of the fight displayed the scary power of a man competing at a weight class 20 pounds heavier than the division he called home before last summer.

It was Pereira’s eighth UFC fight, and he has been a champ in two divisions — light heavy and middleweight. He came to MMA after being a world champion in kickboxing. And he might not be done seeking out bigger challenges. In his interview after the fight, Pereira spoke of wanting to take a heavyweight fight. Would his power follow him there? It sure has so far.


Holloway raises iconic status with dramatic BMF win

Raimondi: Max Holloway is simply one of the best fighters ever to put on a pair of gloves.

He’s one of the greatest featherweight champions of all time. Now he’s the BMF titleholder after perhaps the most iconic knockout in UFC history. Holloway won 13 in a row at one point at featherweight, the longest winning streak in division history. And now, 12 years into his UFC career, he’s still putting on performances like the one he had Saturday night at UFC 300, sleeping Justin Gaethje with one second left in the five-round fight. Legendary stuff. Iconic stuff. Hall of Fame stuff.

Afterward, Holloway called out Ilia Topuria and Islam Makhachev, two UFC champions. Topuria holds the featherweight title and Makhachev is the lightweight champ. The funny thing is, after mollywhopping Gaethje, Holloway legitimately has a case for either title shot.

It’s kind of absurd to consider, especially since people were worried about Holloway in this fight. They were concerned that Gaethje, an absolute monster of a striker with big-time power, would be the first to stop Holloway in the Octagon. In fact, the opposite happened. This is the fight Holloway wanted, as he called for it back in October on social media. He got it and cemented his legacy as an all-time great on one of the biggest cards of all time, UFC 300. That’s storybook stuff. Movie stuff. Blessed stuff.


Zhang retains, but Yan exposes potential cracks for future challengers

Raimondi: Zhang Weili’s win over Yan Xiaonan at UFC 300 was a matter of perspective. She basically choked Yan out at the end of the first round. When the bell sounded, the two fighters got up, and Yan was visibly wobbled, barely able to stay on her feet. That could have been the end, but referee Jason Herzog allowed the fight to continue.

In the second round, Zhang teed off on Yan from back mount, smashing her with big punches to either side of the head. It was a dominant stretch. But then, Zhang seemed to have punched herself out. Or maybe her arms were toast from the long choke attempt. Yan knocked Zhang down a couple of times and lasted the full 25 minutes.

Zhang won by unanimous decision, and it was mostly a one-sided performance. But it wasn’t the spectacular performance that Zhang likely wanted against her Chinese countrywoman. Interestingly, Zhang looked much more comfortable on the ground than on the feet, similar to her fight against Amanda Lemos.

As good as Zhang can look during stretches — she’s as athletic and explosive as any woman to ever fight in the UFC — she has vulnerabilities that can be exploited. If Tatiana Suarez can stay healthy, a title fight between her and Zhang would be a must-see clash.


Harrison 1, Scale 0

Wagenheim: Kayla Harrison faced a formidable opponent at UFC 300. It was the scale she had to step onto at Friday’s weigh-in, where she had to make the 136-pound bantamweight limit after competing for nearly her whole career 20 pounds north of that. As expected, Harrison looked gaunt and depleted — but she made weight like the pro she is.

And when she stepped into the cage on Saturday, Harrison appeared to have rehydrated to an approximation of her old lightweight self. Then she dismantled Holly Holm, a former UFC champion who became a superstar almost a decade ago by crushing Harrison’s old judo teammate and fellow Olympic medalist, Ronda Rousey. Holm, now 42, did not stand a chance on this night. The 32-year-old version of “The Preacher’s Daughter” might not have had a prayer against Harrison, either.

If Harrison can get used to the weight cut, there’s no stopping her in the UFC. She’s too brawny for women’s bantamweight champ Raquel Pennington, and the same goes for everyone else in the division’s top tier. I wrote this the other day and still believe it: Harrison’s toughest competition resides in the PFL with Cris Cyborg and Larissa Pacheco. But that ship has sailed, so there’s no stopping Harrison from taking over the UFC’s 135-pound division.


The non-champion storylines to watch after UFC 300

Hale: On a star-studded fight card, not all of the biggest moments involved a title belt. Here are a few other angles to follow as the lights go down in T-Mobile Arena.

  • Kayla Harrison put all of women’s MMA on notice: What Harrison did to Holm at UFC 300 shook up women’s MMA in several ways. Harrison outclassed Holm, tossed her around like a ragdoll and looked gigantic in the Octagon. One wonders if this performance paused Alexa Grasso or Valentina Shevchenko from the idea of climbing up a weight class for potential champ-champ status. You can’t blame them for that, either. On the other hand, Harrison injecting adrenaline into a weight class in desperate need of it could be the bait that lures Amanda Nunes off the couch and back into the Octagon, which would bring a superfight for women’s MMA not seen since the Ronda Rousey era. If Nunes passes, could the UFC chase down Larissa Pacheco and offer the only woman who holds a victory over Harrison a big enough bag to accept the fight? There are many possibilities, and none of this happens without the menace known as Kayla Harrison.

  • Jiří Procházka is far from done: Procházka is cut from a different cloth. One of the most unique personalities in the UFC is equally unique in his approach in the Octagon. He’s unorthodox and unrelenting. The man bun that sits atop his head indicates that he’s unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. And in his return after being stopped by Alex Pereira in November, he walked down Aleksandar Rakic, weathered a storm of leg kicks and hand grenades and eventually smashed through his rival with a brutal second-round knockout. None of it made sense. He shouldn’t have been able to walk through that kind of punishment to his legs for as long as he did. He didn’t change his approach and kept coming forward until he trapped his prey. And in a division where the champion has no interest in taking the fight to the ground and a bunch of contenders wholly uninterested in the same, Procházka could find himself with a chance at gold around his waist again.

  • Arman Tsarukyan’s tenacity could be Islam Makhachev’s kryptonite: It’s one thing to survive a submission attempt by the most prolific finisher in UFC history, but surviving two in the same fight and winning with a split decision? That’s exactly what Tsarukyan endured against the leader for most submissions in UFC history, Charles Oliveira. The guillotine choke that opened the fight was deep, and the Brazilian’s arms were fresh. Somehow, Tsarukyan muscled out of it and fought back. And then the end of the bout came, Tsarukyan found himself in a deep D’Arce choke with seconds left in the fight. Now, he was fighting against exhaustion against an opponent that made him work every second of their 15-minute affair. Guess what? He did it again. In between all of this, he gave Oliveira trouble with takedowns, violent elbows, and sharp standup. Tenacity may be the key to beating someone like Makhachev, and if Tsarukyan manages to land the rematch, he certainly won’t go easily. The fans might boo him, but he deserves all of the respect for surviving twice against a man who doesn’t miss when he has his opponent lined up for the finish.

  • Diego Lopes is the new blood 145-pounds needs: Just a year ago, Lopes dropped a unanimous decision to Movsar Evloev in his UFC debut. However, the fact that he secured a Fight of the Night performance suggested that the former DWCS alum could be one to watch in the featherweight division. He has since reeled off three consecutive first-round finishes, with his latest coming courtesy of an absolute steamrolling of Sodiq Yusuff. These aren’t just first-round finishes; they feel like eviscerations ending in around 90 seconds. The featherweight division needs some new blood, and Aljamain Sterling‘s debut helps, but Lopes is more of a live wire who can shake things up and is incredibly fun to watch.

  • Bo Nickal is human (sort of): The hype was always going to be unfair to Nickal, who entered his fight with Cody Brundage as the biggest betting favorite of the night and landed a spot on the main card ahead of multiple former champions. There was destined to be backlash, and there was a smattering of boos in the crowd upon his entrance. He won with a rear naked choke in the second round but gave himself two thumbs down and said he was “embarrassed” by his performance. He wasn’t as dominant as Lopes or Harrison, but he still made it look relatively easy. The fact that he entered the second round for the first time in his professional career likely helped more than harmed. It didn’t look as easy to get the finish as it had been in previous fights, but while his stock may have gone down slightly from an astronomical high, it may have taken a little pressure off of the Penn State wrestling champion. He still has all the tools of a future champion and is determined to win fans over with his next performance. As long as the UFC isn’t in a hurry to put him in the title picture, he’ll be fine as he continues developing and adding tools to his game.

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