Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group

5 biggest takeaways from UFC on ESPN 42: Should Rafael dos Anjos win the Conor McGregor sweepstakes?

What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 42 in Orlando, Fla.? Here are a few post-fight musings …

5. Veteran lightweights thrive on prelims

Michael Johnson and Clay Guida both entered their preliminary-card matchups as sizable underdogs. Experience often can be underestimated, though, and the pair of veteran lightweights used poise to emerge victorious.

After getting slightly outgunned by Marc Diakiese in the first round, Johnson (21-18 MMA, 13-14 UFC) settled in to his groove in the second and third frame. He racked up points to get the unanimous decision, coming out with a much-needed win to push his octagon record closer to .500 than it’s been in some time.

We know the story of Johnson’s career, and how good he’s looked in memorable wins against the likes of Dustin Poirier and Tony Ferguson. At 36, the days of thinking those victories will be parlayed into a title run are over. What Johnson still can do, however, is give competitive fights to the next wave of lightweights.

The 41-year-old Guida (38-22 MMA, 18-16 UFC), meanwhile, didn’t prove quite the same point as Johnson in terms of the matchmaking. He got a split decision over a version of Scott Holtzman who came into the fight with designs on retirement, and although he looked solid, there wasn’t much surprising about the way in which Guida won – using his wrestling.

After seeing Darren Elkins get mauled to a bloody pulp by Jonathan Pearce in the fight prior on the card, it was nice to see Johnson and Guida come through with their hands raised.

4. Roman Dolidze arrives at 185

I’ve been praising Roman Dolidze as a surging threat in this column after his past few wins, and he took the next step in living up to that with an impressive finish of Jack Hermansson.

Hermansson is one of the most experienced names in the UFC middleweight division. He’s fought many of the best, so it was a big ask from Dolidze (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) to step into this matchup on just 11 days’ notice. He pounced on the opportunity, then pounced on Hermansson in the octagon.

Not only did Dolidze look more than deserving to be in the octagon with Hermansson, but he looked a level above, too, in putting the Swede in a dead-to-rights position to end it. Dolidze’s trap of the leg using the calf slicer technique was beautiful, and his awareness to pin Hermansson to the mat while delivering the finishing blows was a big statement.

Dolidze seems like he’s going to be a factor at 185 pounds in the near future, and hopefully the UFC gives him another entrenched top-10 name so we can get a further read on his ceiling.

3. Sergei Pavlovich is the real deal

Similar to Dolidze, streaking heavyweight contender Sergei Pavlovich is someone I and many others have been keeping an eye on. Four first-round knockout wins in a row got him the fight against fan favorite Tai Tuivasa, and he extended that run to five by melting his opponent in just 54 seconds.

Pavlovich (16-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) looks like a real force inside that octagon right now, and he’s only gaining confidence. He’s not a wild brawler by any stretch, either. The power and precision he brought in the brief contest with Tuivasa is going to cause a lot of problems for the upper tier of this weight class.

The biggest issue with someone like Pavlovich is his lack of drawing ability. A lot of the names in the top five are not going to see a ton of upside in fighting him right now. Tuivasa, thankfully, was willing to take the assignment, but he brings an attitude that differs from many of his contemporaries.

Hopefully UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard can find the right solution to guide him toward the top, because as of right now, it feels like Pavlovich has the potential to be champion.

2. Should Rafael dos Anjos get the Conor McGregor fight?

Rafael dos Anjos held serve in his position as a sizable betting favorite against Bryan Barberena when he earned a second-round submission win in his return to the welterweight division.

At 37, dos Anjos (33-14 MMA, 21-12 UFC) admitted prior to the event that he is entering the final chapter of his career, and he wants to maximize it. To him, that means giving up on any hopes of regaining the UFC lightweight belt and focus on delivering good performances at 170 pounds.

He did just that against Barberena and controlled his bigger and stronger opponent until he got the rear-naked choke. Once the fight ended, it was obvious dos Anjos had something on his mind, and that was to once again call out Conor McGregor, whom he’s been angling to fight for years.

The lost matchup between dos Anjos and McGregor (22-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC) is one of the great sliding door moments in MMA history. If dos Anjos hadn’t suffered a broken foot that canceled their UFC 196 fight in March 2016 on roughly 10 days’ notice, what would’ve happened if they actually met in the octagon?

Would dos Anjos have turned back McGregor’s quest to become the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion? If he did, what would his bank account, career trajectory and overall popularity look like at this point? And on the other hand, how would potentially losing his title to McGregor have changed things for him?

It was a champion-vs.-champion fight at the time and made all the sense, but what about now? That’s the question UFC matchmakers will have to ask if they give any serious thoughts into granting dos Anjos’ wish to welcome McGregor back to the octagon in 2023.

There are a lot of dynamics at play here as to why it does and doesn’t make sense. For dos Anjos, the fact he’s fought 14 times to McGregor’s six since the original date fell apart means a lot more miles on his body. He’s also not a massive welterweight, and doesn’t seem to have the same power in his strikes as he did earlier in his career.

The grappling prowess of the Brazilian, should he choose to lean on it, would likely be quite a challenge for McGregor to overcome. But maybe that’s the best way to ease him back into competition?

Right now, it’s a lot of unknowns. This whole conversation is a non-starter until McGregor gets back in the USADA testing pool and gets through his six months of testing to be cleared for active competition. If he does it soon, then dos Anjos’ proposed timeline of International Fight Week in July lines up.

At worst, dos Anjos put himself in the running to win the McGregor sweepstakes. Names like Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson and more have been floated out there, and dos Anjos seems like as good an option as either for McGregor’s return.

1. Stephen Thompson still has something to give

Hey, how about that? Even at nearly 40, the UFC can get a Fight of the Year contender out of Stephen Thompson when he’s given appropriate matchmaking for this stage of his career.

To be blunt: No one liked the way UFC was handling Thompson (17-6-1 MMA, 12-6-1 UFC) in recent fights. We knew Gilbert Burns was going to take him down in their matchup, and we definitely knew Belal Muhammad would when they shared the octagon, as well.

This isn’t exactly a criticism of the UFC. I get it. Thompson is highly ranked in the welterweight division, and you can’t forever treat him with kid gloves. If “Wonderboy” wants to become champion as he claims he does, then there’s no way he can avoid facing opponents who want to take and hold him down. It’s not realistic, and it wouldn’t be fair.

That said, if you can find a willing participant in a primarily standup fight with Thompson, more often than not you’re going to get some magic. His main event showdown with Kevin Holland, which Thompson won by fourth-round TKO due to a corner stoppage after his opponent sustained a hand injury, was one that’ll be a late addition to every outlet’s list of best fights from 2022.

We want more of that going forward, because as much as Thompson may claim he feels very young and has plenty more years left in him, the history of fight sport indicates that’s not true. He has limited time in this phase of his career, and it would be nice to see UFC make the most of that both for his sake and that of the fans.

No one wants to see Thompson fighting Colby Covington, Sean Brady or Shavkat Rakhmonov. We want to see him in there with Jorge Masvidal, Michel Pereira or Li Jingliang and make things compelling. So let’s make that happen, please.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 42.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.