5 Rounds: Title shot subsequent for Ortega-Rodriguez winner? Usman to 205?

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The UFC is amid a busy summer season schedule, coming off Worldwide Struggle Week two weeks in the past. Subsequent up is UFC on ABC this weekend (Saturday, main card on ABC/ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET, prelims on ESPN/ESPN+ at 11 a.m.), with a big-time principal occasion between Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez. From there, the Octagon strikes to London for UFC Struggle Evening after which Dallas for the Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes rematch at UFC 277 on July 30.

There’s a lot happening within the sport. Kamaru Usman desires to win a second belt, however at gentle heavyweight? Talking of the 205-pound division, who ought to Jiri Prochazka combat for his first title protection? Plus, might Shavkat Rakhmonov be the following large star at welterweight?

Listed below are 5 storylines I am pondering as we press ahead on the UFC calendar.


Brian Ortega or Yair Rodriguez? The important thing phrase at featherweight proper now could be ‘enchancment.’

Once I have a look at the UFC’s featherweight division — which, as I’ve made clear in earlier installments of “5 Rounds,” is my favourite weight class within the sport — the theme that involves thoughts is enchancment. The gold commonplace of that’s, after all, champion Alexander Volkanovski. Probably the most spectacular factor about Volkanovski over the past three years is how a lot he is improved. The model of Volkanovski who took the belt from Max Holloway in 2019 is nowhere close to pretty much as good because the 2022 version. And Volkanovski managed these enhancements throughout a pandemic and a busy combat schedule (three title defenses) over the past 12 months.

However past the champ, this idea of enchancment has been great at 145 kilos. Ortega regarded positively misplaced in his first title combat towards Holloway in 2018. After that combat, he took two years off, blew up his complete coaching camp, discovered nearly all new coaches and coaching companions, and returned as Ortega 2.0. Rodriguez was suffering from inactivity from 2019 to 2021, a lot in order that he went into his combat towards Holloway as a 5-to-1 underdog. However then we noticed enhancements to his sport in a five-round Struggle of the 12 months candidate.

I recall all of this as a result of it is enchancment we’ll be in search of when Ortega and Rodriguez meet in the primary occasion. Who has added extra wrinkles to his sport for the reason that final time we noticed them? Each of them have had time to do it. That is Ortega’s first combat in 10 months, Rodriguez’s first in eight months. These two have confirmed past a doubt they’re top-five on this division. In the event that they wish to give Volkanovski a problem, they should present higher variations of themselves on Saturday.


Kamaru Usman desires to leap to gentle heavyweight, and… I find it irresistible?

When Usman first talked about this concept, I did not put a lot inventory in it, as a result of why would I? A champion leaping two weight courses has by no means occurred within the UFC. It would not make a ton of sense. Champions who rise in weight and win a second title are uncommon. They are not as uncommon as they was once, however it’s nonetheless a feat that not many champions have achieved. Shifting up two weight courses is nearly asking to fail. The dimensions distinction between fighters at 170 kilos and 205 kilos is actually huge. However after speaking to Usman more this week, I imagine he is critical about it.

This is the factor: I would not put it previous the UFC to let him strive. For one, UFC president Dana White respects and admires Usman. There have been previous examples exhibiting White is open to what Usman desires to do together with his profession. He wasn’t excessive on the thought of Usman boxing Canelo Alvarez, however that is a special situation. Usman is, proper now, ranked No. 1 within the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings. He is been lively, and he is taken on each challenger the UFC has thrown at him. He is purchased some goodwill with the corporate, which might permit him to do one thing outdoors the field.

And light-weight heavyweight, ever since Jon Jones left the division, has been fairly huge open. It is ripe for one thing like this. I am not saying we’ll see this occur, however I believe it is throughout the realm of chance. And you recognize what? I prefer it. If Usman beats Leon Edwards, let’s have a look at what the 2 divisions appear to be. A two-class bounce would undoubtedly give us one thing to debate.


Jiri Prochazka desires Glover Teixeira in his first title protection, however what about Jan Blachowicz?

Prochazka has mentioned he’d wish to combat Teixeira in a rematch in his first title protection, basically as a result of he wasn’t completely satisfied together with his efficiency when he took the title from Teixeira final month at UFC 275. I perceive this sentiment, which we all the time see on this sport, as fighters could be their harshest critics. It isn’t shocking to listen to Prochazka say one thing like, “I’ll present you why I am the champion.” He would not need there to be any doubt.

However I disagree with the decision. Teixeira was not a long-reigning champion who warrants a direct rematch. Blachowicz’s document is simply as spectacular as Teixeira’s in recent times, if no more so (though Teixeira acquired a victory over him final 12 months). As well as, it is a misguided choice by Prochazka. He mentioned Blachowicz is the more durable matchup, and calling for a combat with anybody aside from the hardest matchup would not align with Prochazka’s professed code towards MMA. Blachowicz was fast to level this out, and rightfully so. The following 205-pound title combat must be Prochazka vs. Blachowicz, and I will not be shocked if that is the route the UFC chooses.


On the lookout for a reputation to observe? It is UFC welterweight Shavkat Rakhmonov.

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Shavkat Rakhmonov makes fast work of Carlston Harris with a formidable spinning wheel kick at UFC Struggle Evening.

Whereas Khamzat Chimaev receives all of the “up and comer” love within the sport, some imagine Rakhmonov is equally good. The Uzbekistan-born welterweight is 16-0 with 16 finishes. His supervisor, Daniel Rubenstein, believes the UFC may not have absolutely realized what it had in Rakhmonov initially, as he got here to the promotion as a part of an settlement with Russian promoter M-1 International. Rakhmonov was an M-1 International champion and was moved to the UFC after efficiently defending his belt in 2019. It took awhile for him to get a UFC debut due to the pandemic, however he is 4-0 now.

Coming off final month’s end of Neil Magny, Rakhmonov is ranked No. 10. He would not carry a lot title recognition, however the UFC signed him to a brand new contract earlier than his final combat, and his stage of opposition ought to enhance.

“Ability for talent, I might take him over Khamzat,” Rubenstein mentioned. “Magny is a superb barometer for any fighter; we have seen that over the past 5 or 6 years. Now, we’re in search of fights towards Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Belal Muhammad. We’re prime 5 within the division. We have not been supplied something, and who’s leaping up and right down to combat Shavkat or Khamzat proper now? No one. However he finishes guys. Although he would not discuss trash, the UFC will get behind him as a result of they’ll promote him as a killer.”


One combat I might wish to see booked: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Miesha Tate

I am not overlooking Tate’s combat towards Lauren Murphy this weekend. Individuals have neglected Murphy prior to now, and he or she’s made them pay for it. However Murphy has already misplaced to Shevchenko, and there is not any must see that combat once more. So, for the division’s well being, it would not be the worst factor if Tate went out in her 125-pound debut and regarded terrific.

If that occurs, Tate could have injected a lot life right into a division working out of viable title challengers. And with Shevchenko coming off her closest combat in years final month towards Taila Santos, there’s at the least a path to victory towards Shevchenko laid out for Tate, if she will care for enterprise on Saturday. I wish to see Shevchenko in a giant, marketable combat, and this is able to qualify.

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