The UFC’s most recent card in Denver showcased high-level matches and spectacular finishes; but more important, it displayed a changing of the guard in the growing MMA scene.
In the three most talked about fights of the evening, we saw relatively newer faces steal the limelight from their more widely recognized opponents.
Down goes Cowboy
First of all, in the welterweight division, Jorge Masvidal brilliantly dispatched of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone via 2nd-round TKO.
Cerrone, who’s been a fixture in the UFC’s lightweight division and now at welterweight, entered Denver to continue his streak at 170lbs. He had won four straight bouts over top competition, winning all via stoppage.
Masvidal, however, derailed Cerrone’s run by bettering the Jackson-Wink standout with his striking, getting the 2nd round finish after “Cowboy” was saved by the bell in the first round.
Masvidal is no new-comer to the UFC’s competitive roster, but this no doubt signals his arrival in the upper echelon of the division. He’s now won three straight matches, with his latest win being over the high-profile contender in Cerrone.
What the heavyweight division needs
The UFC heavyweight division is in short supply of new, up-and-coming heavyweights, but Francis Ngannou is here to change that. He made quick work of former UFC champ Andre Arlovski, getting the TKO win in the very first round. This victory also gave him his second consecutive Performance of the Night bonus.
Ngannou has now won five in a row under the UFC banner, and nine straight as a pro. With a record of 10-1, with 6 finishes via TKO/KO and 4 via submission, this massive fighter boasts a well-versed game that has people buzzing about his championship potential.
The bullet that killed the vixen
With her looks, fighting skill, and outspokenness, Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Pena has quickly become one of the women’s division’s must-watch fighters. Her journey from The Ultimate Fighter reality show to her rise up the rankings have been well documented, and it seemed to be her time to shine as the next female star. Obviously, Valentina Shevchenko had other plans.
“The Bullet” Shevchenko has had one heck of a run, handily beating former champ Holly Holm with her superb striking last July. Then she entered the Octagon against Pena, and instead of showcasing more striking prowess from her kickboxing background, she went on to win the match via first-round submission (armbar). With that, Shevchenko is now the next challenger to Nunes’ bantamweight title.
Clearly, times are changing, and if you take your eyes off of the sport for just a few days, you could come back to an entirely new landscape, where favorites are victims of upsets and where new stars are on the rise. And if UFC Denver is an indication, then we might see even more instances of a changing of the guard.
Photo courtesy from Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC