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USA Today Sports Media Group

5 biggest takeaways from UFC on ESPN 49: Is this the end for Holly Holm?

What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 49 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

Terrance McKinney just might not turn the corner

There was a lot of hype around Terrance McKinney after he entered the UFC with a seven-second knockout win and followed it up with a submission finish in two minutes. Since then, however, it’s been tough times.

McKinney (13-6 MMA, 3-3 UFC) has lost three of his past four inside the octagon and been finished in all of them, including a second-round submission defeat to Nazim Sadykhov on Saturday. He was winning the fight, too, before a tactical error allowed his opponent to get on his back and choke him out.

Through 19 fights, McKinney still has yet to see a decision result. No one is doubting his ability to entertain, but if you have followed his interviews and social media comments, it’s clear being mediocre isn’t his goal. He wants greatness. There’s all the potential there to make that happen, but it’s on him to put it together, and the evidence is starting to build up against that possibility.

Is Norma Dumont enough to keep 145 alive?

When Amanda Nunes retired from MMA in June, it seemed inevitable the UFC women’s featherweight division would go out the door with her. That still seems likely after the promotion removed the divisional “rankings” from its official website this past week, but is there a case to keep it around?

If there is, it would be because of Norma Dumont, who defeated Chelsea Chandler by unanimous decision in their grudge match and continues to be the most consistent presence the weight class in the UFC has ever seen. She became the first to reach five wins in the octagon at 145 pounds, and afterward made a case for the UFC to reinstate the belt and give her an opportunity.

I don’t really know how I feel about that. Dumont (10-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) has definitely earned … something, with her run of six victories in her past seven fights. But it’s a tough sell. It would be one thing if Dumont was super exciting and her fights were appointment viewing. You could build around her and, just like former champions Cris Cyborg and Nunes, people would be content with seeing her pop up in a title fight every so often, even if the divisional infrastructure isn’t really there.

That’s not really Dumont, though. And I say that with the utmost respect. All of her UFC victories have come by decision, and she has nary a highlight on her reel. That’s not going to do much to convince the UFC you should be the face of a division that’s already on life support, but perhaps the powers that be see it different.

Did Jack Della Maddalena's hype get derailed?

This is a tricky one. Jack Della Maddalena was expected to torch short-notice newcomer Bassil Hafez in the welterweight co-main event after the latter stepped in on just five days’ notice to take on the Australian, who had won his previous four octagon appearances by first-round knockout.

It didn’t play out that way at all, though. Hafez came out of the gates on fire and did some excellent work in the first and second rounds. In the eyes of many it was enough to seal the fight in his favor if he could avoid being finished in Round 3, which nearly happened, but he made it to the final bell. Then the judges turned in a split decision, with two going for Della Maddalena (16-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) and the other scoring it for Hafez.

Although Della Maddalena was the first to say he wasn’t surprised by Hafez’s performance and he expected a very tough fight, it might not be viewed as such a positive moment by his critics. And perhaps even by some of his supporters. Della Maddalena could’ve very easily come out on the losing end of this one, and that would’ve been real bad for his brand.

Even with the win he lost some of his edge, but is that fair? I’m not so sure. We have to take into account that Della Maddalena did back-to-back weight cuts after he hit welterweight for UFC 290 last week, only to have his fight fall apart on weigh-in day. He said it had no impact on his effort, but optically, he didn’t look the same as his previous UFC bouts.

Della Maddalena should just be happy he got away from this one by the skin of his teeth. He fought three rounds in the UFC for the first time and was tested under challenging circumstances, and that’s only going to be a pillar for the 26-year-old to evolve. He’s likely going to return to action just eight weeks from now at UFC 293 in Sydney, and if he can a definitive win, it’ll put memories of this fight well into the the past.

Mayra Bueno Silva makes her case for vacant gold

We don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining why Mayra Bueno Silva is a clear candidate to be one of half of the vacant UFC women’s bantamweight title fight. Beating Holly Holm in a main event is a huge achievement, and submitting the former UFC champion in the manner she did is the cherry on top.

Bueno Silva (11-2-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) does not play around in there like some other fighters. She’s looking to finish her opponents from the jump, and that’s the type of tenacity the UFC brass appreciates. She’s got a corky personality and isn’t afraid to talk trash, as we saw in her hilarious response to Julianna Peña after the event.

Barring some unforeseen surprise, Bueno Silva is one of three candidates to fight for vacant gold, along with Peña and Raquel Pennington. One of them is going to be the odd woman out whenever the fight is made, and I struggle to think Bueno Silva is going to be the one snubbed.

An opportunity lost for Holly Holm – possibly forever

The stage seemed so perfectly set for Holly Holm. Nunes retired. The title was vacant. She has the championship pedigree, name value and following to get a spot in the next title fight. All she had to do was beat Bueno Silva , and the world was her oyster.

Nope. It didn’t happen. For perhaps the first time, Holm looked like all the years of combat sports had begun to catch up to her. Even in producing a solid first round, Holm looks just a touch slower and off her game than previous fights. Should that be a surprise at 41? Probably not. The decline was going to start to come eventually, but the question now is whether she still has enough to make a run, or if we’ve arrived at the start of a steep decline.

Only Holm truly knows the answer to that deep down. She got caught in a wild standing submission from Bueno Silva, but she didn’t get embarrassed by any stretch. If Bueno Silva is going to rise to the top and take that vacant belt, though, it’s going to put her back in a familiar situation she had with Nunes and Cyborg in not being able to overcome the reigning titleholder.

Holm has long said she would only continue in the fight game if she maintained the belief she could be UFC champion. For perhaps the first time, she’s going to have to be extremely honest with herself about what the future looks like from here.

There’s still a path that could be etched out for her. Maybe Bueno Silva doesn’t get put in the vacant title fight and it’s Peña and Pennington instead. Holm has never fought Peña, and she already holds two victories over Pennington. It’s a bit of long shot, but there’s scenarios still in play for Holm. We’ll see if she hangs on to that, or if she comes to a realization all of her greatest combat sports achievements are already behind her.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 49.

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