What were the biggest moments from the first UFC pay-per-view of 2023? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim offer up their final thoughts after the 15-fight card in Brazil.
It was an entirely different scene from what had unfolded minutes earlier. In the co-main event, Brandon Moreno had reclaimed the flyweight belt but had to then cover his head on his way to the dressing room, as the Mexican fighter was pelted by debris showered down upon him by “fans” at Jeunesse Arena. Moreno’s offense? He had dethroned Brazil’s Deiveson Figueiredo by third-round TKO following a doctor’s stoppage.
That classless display was unacceptable to the Brazilian fighter who was defeated in the main event. After taking a beating from American fighter Hill for five rounds, a bruised-up Glover Teixeira had two things to say to the crowd.
First, he announced his retirement at age 43, a little over a year after becoming the oldest first-time champion in UFC history. “It’s an honor to retire on the same night as ‘Shogun’ Rua,” he said.
Teixeira’s second message for the crowd was delivered in Portuguese: He said he was going to walk out of the cage with the new champ.
“You guys, I saw you were throwing popcorn and drinks at the last champion,” Teixeira said, his arm slung around Hill’s shoulders. “I want you to respect him. He’s going to walk back with me. He’s the champion.”
Pure class in a sport that desperately needs it. MMA will miss Teixeira.
But this was Hill’s night. He is now at the top of the heap among 205-pounders, and while his performance was masterful on this night, it’s fair to wonder whether he is the king or a placeholder. The title belt has been a hot potato of late.
Jiří Procházka vacated the championship in December because of a shoulder injury that forced him out of a scheduled defense against Teixeira. Then Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev tussled for the belt — and fought to a draw, leaving the top of the mountain unoccupied.
Now the 31-year-old Hill resides there. Will he settle in as a homeowner or is it a short-term rental? If he fights as he did on Saturday, Hill has a chance to stick around. But there’s a long line of qualified challengers waiting to move in on him. — Wagenheim
The flyweight rivalry is finally over
There’s no controversy here. Brandon Moreno is the legitimate, undisputed UFC flyweight champion. The damage done to Deiveson Figueiredo, which ended up finishing the fight due to doctor’s stoppage, came from a Moreno left hook. Figueiredo might have left like it was a finger, but as soon as he watches the replay, he’ll see it was from a closed fist that just landed in a perfect — or not so perfect, for the Brazilian fighter — place on the eye.
After four fights, Moreno has proved himself the best flyweight fighter in the world. Some could argue there’s still a bit of unfinished business between him and Figueiredo, but Figueiredo said in his postfight interview that he is moving up to bantamweight. So this four-fight series is over, and it was a damn good tetralogy, the first of its kind in UFC history. The initial fight in 2020, a draw, was one of the best of that year. In the second bout, Moreno became the first-ever Mexican-born UFC champion. The trilogy, almost exactly one year ago, was razor close, but Figueiredo edged it out to get revenge. And now, Moreno has gone up 2-1-1 over his rival, someone Moreno will always be tied to as his career wears on.
There is more to come for Moreno, though. He is just 29 years old. It looked like he worked well with coach Sayif Saud, whom Moreno teamed up with after upheaval in his training camp following his coach James Krause getting suspended due to a betting scandal. Alexandre Pantoja is probably next in line, and he already owns two wins over Moreno.
The Figueiredo series will be a chapter in Moreno’s book, but it won’t be the only chapter. Moreno is now a two-time champion — the second ever in the division, after Figueiredo — and has a chance to continue to carve out a legacy in the 125-pound division.
Moreno also is primed to headline a big event in Mexico this year, if the UFC chooses to make that happen. It could be a tremendous year for Mexican MMA, with Alexa Grasso getting a UFC women’s flyweight title shot against Valentina Shevchenko, and Yair Rodriguez fighting for the interim featherweight belt next month against Josh Emmett. Moreno, though, is still the man leading the way for the sport south of the border. The UFC is set to open a Performance Institute in the country over the next two years or so, further cementing Mexico as an area in which the promotion sees growth potential. Moreno’s rise to stardom is one of the reasons, and that rise will only continue after Saturday. — Raimondi
Who’s next for Figueiredo, new champs and more
Brett Okamoto highlights who the top stars from UFC 283 could face next after Saturday’s festivities.
Deiveson Figueiredo, bantamweight
Who should be next: Umar Nurmagomedov
I love the move to 135 pounds, and most of us saw it coming. Figueiredo is huge for 125. Now, he’ll be at a far more comfortable weight, and there’s a good chance his power will translate.
Bantamweight is already a loaded division, so adding Figueiredo puts it over the top in terms of great matchups. I like the Nurmagomedov idea right away. Many bantamweights don’t want to fight Nurmagomedov right now because he isn’t as well-known, but his skills are legit. If Figueiredo were to face him, it could legitimize him as a true bantamweight in one fight. At the same time, it also could be an opportunity to get Nurmagomedov in front of a lot of eyes with an opponent who is a former champ.
Especially if Yanez wins, the UFC will be looking to give him a big opportunity. He is an up-and-comer who would crack into the top 10 for the first time with a win. The same goes for Font, as he is a fun fighter who has competed with the best. Stylistically, either one would offer a dynamite fight.
I still like Nurmagomedov as the No. 1 option because it represents plenty of upside for both parties, but this is a close second.
Brandon Moreno, men’s flyweight champion
Who should be next: Alexandre Pantoja
Pantoja is the next man up, as the Brazilian fighter has won three in a row. He has never fought for the belt, but he has always been in the conversation. He is 9-3 in the UFC and holds several signature wins. One of those wins, by the way, is over Moreno from 2018. He also beat Moreno when the two were contestants on “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2016.
Wild card: Matheus Nicolau
If, for some reason, Pantoja were unavailable, Nicolau is a fun option. The 30-year-old is firing on all cylinders and competing with confidence. He is a marketable contender on a six-fight win streak. This also would be an entertaining fight stylistically, as both of these guys possess technical boxing skills.
Jamahal Hill, light heavyweight champion
Who should be next: Magomed Ankalaev
I’m not sure how popular this suggestion is going to be, but I was one of those who felt Ankalaev got somewhat robbed in his title fight against Jan Blachowicz. In my eyes, Ankalaev has a bit of a claim to the title, and I feel he deserves a shot. I also believe if this fight were made, Ankalaev would be favored to win going in.
Ankalaev is a dangerous fight for anyone, as is Hill. This is a fight that could end at any moment, and it’s one where some might doubt the new champ. Beating Ankalaev would be a great way for Hill to further assert himself as the man at 205.
Wild card: Jiří Procházka
The former champ is the one who deserves a shot the most, as he never lost his title. The only reason I have him as the wild card instead of the next opponent is that I don’t think he will be ready in the near future. Prochazka is doing everything he can to be ready as soon as possible, but the UFC isn’t going to wait. It’s already been seen that the company is moving this division forward.
I expect there to be at least one more title fight in his absence, but if Prochazka does arrive healthy ahead of schedule, this is his fight.
Gilbert Burns, welterweight
Who should be next: Jorge Masvidal
This is an easy, easy call. The UFC wants this fight, and it even looked into making it last year. Burns and Masvidal have gone back and forth on social media, and Masvidal offered, at one point, to fight Burns in March.
If it happens, this is a heck of a fan-friendly fight, and it makes perfect sense in the rankings. Burns is still hunting a title, despite going into Saturday’s fight on a 1-2 mini-skid. Masvidal has lost three in a row, but he has history with the current champ, Leon Edwards, and a win over Burns would be a massive boost for Masvidal’s title aspirations.
It’s a fight with a story, and stylistically it’s a 10 out of 10. I believe we’ll get this fight.
Wild card: Colby Covington
Covington has been quiet since he beat Masvidal in March. Covington remains in the title conversation, as well, but I believe he’ll need to take one more fight before he gets a shot. This one would make a lot of sense.
Belal Muhammad also would make sense for Covington, but if Masvidal isn’t available as an opponent for Burns, I could see the UFC turning its attention to this matchup. It would be well-received by fans — and Burns. He called Covington out after the fight.
Jessica Andrade, strawweight/flyweight
Who should be next: Carla Esparza
Consider: 216 … to 85. That was the strike differential from Andrade’s win over Lauren Murphy. Fights like this can happen when you’ve got a contender like Andrade who happens to be a 1B to the 1A champions of Valentina Shevchenko and Zhang Weili. There is a pretty clear gap between Andrade and the other contenders, but she has come up short in big fights against Zhang, Shevchenko and Rose Namajunas.
Andrade vs. Esparza would be a fight similar to the one we saw on Saturday. Esparza is higher ranked, but Andrade would be a significant betting favorite. I think the UFC should go ahead and do this fight, in which a win would potentially set up Andrade with a title shot. Plus, these two have never fought.
Wild card: Manon Fiorot
Shevchenko’s next title fight is already being finalized against Alexa Grasso. Fiorot has a lot of momentum and a fun style. I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC didn’t want this fight, as it might hurt Fiorot’s status as a potential title challenger against someone who already has lost to the current champ.
But if Andrade wants to fight at 125 pounds, this is the fight that makes sense, and it would be a super intriguing one.
After 21 years, we say goodbye to Shogun
Raimondi: MMA is not a nostalgia sport. It could be because it hasn’t been around long as compared to the others. The UFC is attracting new fans every year, especially since the pandemic, after which the sport and the promotion have grown quite a bit. The UFC only occasionally caters to the fans who have been around a long time because it’s constantly chasing the new hype train and, of course, pay-per-view buys. It’s been like that since the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
And that’s fine. That’s business. The UFC is doing it pretty damn well.
But for anyone somewhat new to the sport, even someone who started watching within the past 10 years, if there’s one person you might want to go back and research, it’s Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Some of his accolades have been lost to time.
Rua is a former UFC light heavyweight champion and one of the best 205-pound fighters of all time. But to appreciate just how good Shogun was, you’ll have to go back to the aughts, to Pride. The man was an absolute menace, a buzz saw of punches, elbows, knees, and soccer kicks. He was violent — the man has more than one TKO via stomps — but not just violent. His striking out of Brazil’s famed Chute Boxe was ahead of his time. Cue up UFC Fight Pass and check out Rua’s work in the 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix, during which he beat Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem in the span of four months. He stopped Rampage with soccer kicks and Overeem with punches. Incredible.
Shogun fought his final bout on Saturday at the age of 41, a loss to Ihor Potieria. After 21 years in the sport, including 16 with the UFC, the Brazilian fighter isn’t the same guy he was. And in the UFC, he was very good, beating Lyoto Machida to win the light heavyweight title in 2010. But to better understand the sport and one of its innovators of violence, it’s best to fire up those grainy, standard-definition videos from Japan that might or might not be in letterbox format. That’s where you’ll get the truest sense of who Shogun was and what he meant to mixed martial arts.
Bonfim brothers put the UFC on notice
Wagenheim: Pressure was on the Bonfim brothers in multiple ways at UFC 283. Gabriel, 25, and Ismael, 27, were each making a UFC debut, which in itself is a challenge that can be packed with nerves. Compound that with the fact that they were both doing it on the same fight card, which, even for training partners, is a circumstance fraught with extra emotions. So imagine how it was for these Brazilian siblings jointly going after this milestone on a fight card held in their homeland.
But they handled all of this like seasoned veterans, without losing any of the edge an athlete carries into an opportunity to step up. After Ismael controlled every second of his lightweight bout against Terrance McKinney — no easy first Octagon foe — and finished the fight sensationally with a flying knee knockout, Gabriel had a lot to live up to. For one thing, Gabriel walked into the cage with an undefeated record. And less than a minute after his welterweight bout with Mounir Lazzez began, Gabriel walked out with his perfect record still intact following an explosive submission win.
Their performances could not have gone any better for the duo. Whether they live up to the lofty goal Gabriel spoke of following his win — “The Bonfim brothers are here to become champions — one at lightweight, one at welterweight” — is a matter for another time. (But I’m not doubting them.) At this point, the MMA world stands in awe of these brothers and how they bashed down the Octagon door on a night to remember in Rio de Janeiro.