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USA Today Sports Media Group

5 biggest takeaways from UFC 298: Did Alexander Volkanovski’s quick return aid in Ilia Topuria’s title win?

What mattered most at UFC 298 at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.? Here are a few post-fight musings …

Did Henry Cejudo damage legacy with return from retirement?

Henry Cejudo (16-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) went out on top in May 2020 in a way few ever have. Two UFC titles. An Olympic gold medal. It was a special way to walk away from the sport, despite many thinking it came prematurely.

It’s hard not to look at him a little differently now, though. He took three years off from competition and came back to lose a split decision to then-champion Aljamain Sterling this past May, then dropped a unanimous decision to Merab Dvalishvili in a fight that might signal the end of his career.

Cejudo said coming in that this was “all or nothing” and he would “100 percent” retire with a loss. He took his gloves off and exited the octagon, and it seems like this could be the end for him.

This 0-2 stint is going to reflect poorly on him in the history book. He’s still a legend, and one of oonly nine fighters in company history to be a two-division champion, and he’s one of just four to hold two titles simultaneously. But when it all is said and done, if this truly is the end, he’s going to rate on the lower end with his peers in that group.

Merab Dvalishvili's long overdue title shot

It’s time, everyone. I don’t care if Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera at UFC 299 next month ends in one-sided fashion, a controversial finish or a draw – Merab Dvalishvili (17-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) absolutely needs to be challenging the belt-holder after that fight, and in short order.

No one has ever done to Cejudo at bantamweight what Dvalishvili did against the former two-division champion en route to a unanimous decision. He landed big strikes, big takedowns and attempted submissions to get the nod for his 10th straight win, and anything other than him fighting for the belt would be an absolute travestry.

Nothing more needs to be said.

Was Ian Machado Garry gifted a win?

Ian Machado Garry (14-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) did nothing to turn the fanbase back in his favor with a largely ho-hum performance against Geoff Neal that saw him escape with a split decision win.

Still unbeaten, Garry finds himself as perhaps one of the most hated men in MMA. That’s largely by his own doing, and he’s embracing the role. Did that cloud many people’s judgment when watching this fight and feeling he shouldn’t have won, let alone get multiple 30-27 scorecards from the judges? Perhaps.

It was a close fight, I’ll say that much – kind of a coin toss. Neither man did a whole lot over the course of 15 minutes, and when that happens, you can’t cry about the decision. Neal and Garry each could’ve done a whole lot more.

Garry’s polarizing presence is going to get him bigger opportunities going forward, though. Will Colby Covington take a matchup against him? That remains to be seen, but if it’s not that, he’s going to get another marquee name at welterweight.

Did Alexander Volkanovski set himself up for failure?

The worst fear of any Alexander Volkanovski (26-4 MMA, 13-3 UFC) fan came true when he was badly chin-checked and knocked out by Ilia Topuria to see his illustrious featherweight title reign come to an end.

The key narrative coming into the fight was whether Volkanovski was doing himself a disservice by returning just four months after he was finished by lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in their short-notice rematch at UFC 294 in October. Volkanovski said all the right things coming in, but there was some lingering doubts about his durability given the relatively quick turnaround.

To Volkanovski’s credit, he refused to allow this concept to be an excuse of his loss. He openly admitted that the shot Topuria hit him with to finish the fight would’ve likely put his lights out even if he had taken several more months off before stepping back in the octagon, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from speculating.

Taking more time certainly wouldn’t have hurt Volkanovski, but maybe he’s right. This is a question no one will truly know, but it does put a grim outlook on his future. Volkanovski rightfully demanded an immediate rematch with Topuria, but if and when that happens, he’s just going to be an older and more worn version of himself, while Topuria is going to carry even more confidence than he did for this fight.

If Volkanovski is able to reclaim the belt, it would arguably be the biggest achievement in a career loaded with them, because right now, all the things seem to be trending against his future success.

Ilia Topuria's superstar potential

Ilia Topuria (15-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) backed up every bit of his pre-fight trash talk when he demolished Volkanovski to become the fifth undisputed featherweight champion in UFC history.

The amount of brashness coming out of Topuria was stunning to a degree, just because the claims of what he was going to do to Volkanovski were unprecedented in the featherweight division. Clearly he knew something many others didn’t, though, because his delivered a spectacular knockout that makes him just the 11th undefeated male champion in company history.

This result essentially straps a rocket to Topuria’s back in the direction of superstardom within the MMA space. It’s just a question now if he can continue winning and capitalize. The fact the UFC is keen to take an event to Spain shows that it is aware of Topuria’s potential.

Between his outspoken demeanour, stylish presentation, violent style and ability to carry the Hispanic market, Topuria is a dream champion for the UFC. The fights ahead aren’t going to be easy, but Topuria has the world at the palm of his hand, and it’s going to be a fun ride to see what his title reign looks like.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 298.

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