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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Justin Barrasso

Alex Pereira Stands Out as Jamahal Hill's Most Compelling Challenger

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SI’s MMA notes, quotes and anecdotes run every Monday morning.

Jamahal Hill is exactly what the UFC’s light heavyweight division needs in a champion.

Extraordinarily talented, articulate, young, and healthy, Hill defeated Glover Teixeira in dominant fashion to win the title.

Jiri Prochazka won the belt in similar fashion, and appeared to be the one to lead the division until suffering a debilitating shoulder injury that forced him to vacate the title. But opportunity now exists for Hill to seize the division for the foreseeable future.

Hill’s next opponent has not been announced yet, but Magomed Ankalaev, Jan Blachowicz and Anthony Smith represent the top choices. Considering Hill was initially scheduled to fight Smith in March, and Ankalaev and Blachowicz could use a rematch after they fought to a draw, a bout against Smith would be a compelling start to his title reign.

But looking long term, the division will continue to be built around Teixeira. Except, it will be the newly retired Teixeira in the corner of Alex Pereira, pushing him to the light heavyweight title.

There is no reason for Pereira to remain in the middleweight division after he is finished fighting Israel Adesanya. Depending on whether they fight one or two more times will dictate Pereira’s schedule. It may not be until closer to the end of the year, but a bout pitting Hill against Pereira would be a massive encounter.

Figueiredo Moving to Bantamweight, but for How Long?

Does anyone else feel like Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo are destined to fight for a fifth time?

Moreno outfought Figueiredo for the majority of their three rounds at UFC 283, which was scored, 2-1, in his favor by the judges. But the fight wouldn’t enter the championship rounds, as a leaping left strike from Moreno closed Moreno’s right eye and effectively ended the fight.

Following the loss, Figueiredo confirmed his intentions to move weight classes and compete at bantamweight moving forward. And while that could certainly be better since he will have to cut less weight, he is going to morph from one of the strongest fighters among the flyweights to an undersized bantamweight.

Even if Aljamain Sterling leaves the division and moves to featherweight, at least six fighters would still be favored against Figueiredo in Sean O’Malley, Petr Yan, Merab Dvalishvili, Chito Vera, Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font. That doesn’t even include Henry Cejudo or Dom Cruz, or, for that matter, Pedro Munhoz or Umar Nurmagomedov. Figueiredo does not possess the wrestling or striking power to consistently compete among the top bantamweights, which makes you wonder if he will eventually return to familiar stomping grounds as a flyweight.

The top of the flyweight division remains wide open. Alexandre Pantoja attempted to force his way into the title picture on Saturday night, taunting Moreno after his title win, but it felt scripted and hollow. So it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Figueiredo was back in the division by the end of the year, maybe even angling for a title shot against … Brandon Moreno.

Will Power Slap Win Over Viewers?

Power Slap: Road to the Title premiered last Wednesday on TBS. The show generated a lot of responses online, with the vast majority of it negative.

There were positives to the show. I enjoyed learning about Darius Mata-Varona and Ron Bata, two of the best slap fighters in the world. The fact that Mata-Varona is the greatest of all time is a fascinating story, and his fights in Russia and Poland must have led to some truly unforgettable moments.

The parts of the show that allow the viewer to see behind the scenes is also worthwhile. This is Dana White, Hunter Thompson and Co. attempting to build a second fight brand—this time under the leadership of Frank Lamicella—more than two decades after starting to take UFC to new heights. Getting to know the athletes is also a highlight, as there are plenty of colorful personalities.

My only issue with the show–and perhaps it is yours, too–is when the competitors drill each other across the face. I’m not sure I will ever warm up to that concept, especially considering they are defenseless in that moment. It is interesting to compare Power Slap to the grainy, underground footage of the slap fights that took place in Europe. There is no doubt that the production level is infinitely better on TBS—it wouldn’t even be fair to compare—but some birds simply aren’t meant to be caged. Maybe what made the sport so intriguing was its underground nature.

I’ll keep watching Power Slap, curious to see if some of the top minds in combat sports can overcome those obstacles and find that elusive receipt for success.

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