Takeaways: Who’s next for Covington? Is it time for the UFC to cut Greg Hardy?

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Colby Covington utilized a clear strategy to wear down Jorge Masvidal over five rounds and earned a unanimous decision victory at UFC 272. Covington’s wrestling was simply too much for Masvidal, resulting in most of the fight being contested on the mat. Masvidal did have his moments, but they were few and far between and even though they didn’t shake or hug after the fight, there was a clear ending to the friends-turned-rivals storyline.

Covington once again emerges as a clear contender in the welterweight division, even after losing to champion Kamaru Usman twice already. However Covington, in his postfight interview, called out Dustin Poirier. What’s the right next step for him? And does Masvidal, who just signed a new UFC contract, have another big fight in his future?

There were a number of standout performances before the main event. Rafael dos Anjos nearly stopped Renato Moicano a number of times, but ultimately won by unanimous decision. Bryce Mitchell continued his run with a dominant win over Edson Barboza. Kevin Holland made a few mistakes, but his welterweight bout was successful with a second-round knockout and Serghei Spivac handed Greg Hardy another knockout loss. On the prelims Marina Rodriguez continued to make her case for a strawweight title shot.

So what did we learn? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi react to an action-packed UFC 272.

Who’s next after UFC 272?

Who should be next for Colby Covington: Winner of expected fight between Gilbert Burns and Khamzat Chimaev on April 9

Over the last six years, Covington has given the champ, Kamaru Usman, his toughest two title fights to date — and beat up everyone not named Usman. How do you matchmake him moving forward? It’s one of two options. You either go by rankings, and just keep booking him against the top 5 of the division, potentially eliminating some of the options for Usman along the way … or you acknowledge it’s unlikely he’s going to fight the champ again any time soon and look for more “fun, sellable” fights. I’m always going to side with making the best, most competitive fights possible.

It’s unfortunate Covington really can’t go up right now with Usman ahead of him — similar to the situation at middleweight with Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker — but I still want to see him fighting the best. Usman is expected to face Leon Edwards in his next title defense. Burns and Chimaev are expected to fight in April. Covington vs. the winner of that fight is the one to make.

Wild card: Dustin Poirier

This was Covington’s call out and it’s easy to understand why. He’s right on the cusp of stardom, if not already there. He knows people care about him. Keep that momentum going. If he can’t win the championship right now, the next best thing is to build his name and become a legit pay-per-view draw. The fight to do that, right now, is another American Top Team opponent in Poirier.

Will this fight happen? Depends how much the UFC wants it. Poirier has said he won’t do it but money talks.

Who should be next for Jorge Masvidal: Nate Diaz

Everyone remembers the BMF title fight in November 2019. Not everyone remembers that Diaz did Masvidal a favor before that fight in putting him over. Masvidal was on fire in 2019, knocking out Darren Till and Ben Askren. But he went through the roof in popularity in the buildup and aftermath of fighting a legitimate superstar in Diaz. It was Diaz who extended Masvidal that opportunity. And after Diaz didn’t like the way the first fight ended — a doctor’s stoppage in the (arguably) cautious jurisdiction of New York — Masvidal said he’d run it back. But he hasn’t to date, which hasn’t sat well with Diaz.

Diaz wants to fight. He’s on the last fight of his UFC deal. The UFC wants that last fight to be a big one. This would be a big one and it makes sense for all parties. Personally, it’s not a rematch I’ve ever felt absolutely had to happen, but it’s the best option for both guys right now and still a massive fight.

Wild card: Winner of Vicente Luque vs. Belal Muhammad on April 16

We’ll see what the UFC wants to do with Masvidal now. He’s lost to the champ, twice. Now, he’s lost his rivalry fight to Covington. He has one more “grudge match” that’s obvious and out there, against Leon Edwards. But that doesn’t make any type of sense right now, even though it was booked as recently as December (Masvidal withdrew with a rib injury).

Masvidal is still very popular and still a top 10 welterweight. Luque and Muhammad are that next wave of contenders. Whoever wins between them in April is probably looking at one more big fight before a title shot. Masvidal would be the perfect foe for someone like that. He could raise the profile of a potential title challenger. And he’s not done. I still want to see him in fights against the top welterweights.

Who should be next for Bryce Mitchell: Josh Emmett

That was impressive. Edson Barboza has been out-wrestled before, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. This is a legit win against a very dangerous featherweight, with a ton of experience fighting at the highest level. I’m not sure exactly how high Mitchell will climb in the rankings, as there are still a lot of very established names ahead of him, but he’s got my attention and I can guarantee he’s got theirs as well. I see him as basically in the same tier now as Emmett, who currently doesn’t have a fight lined up. Emmett is an intriguing contender at 145, who is probably two fights away from a title shot. Makes sense to me to book these two against one another, with the winner moving on to a top 5 matchup.

Wild card: Winner of Dan Ige vs. Movsar Evloev on June 6

Stylistically, I would love to see this matchup. Whether it’s Ige or Evloev — both are good grapplers. Evloev especially is known for it. Ige is hunting a big win here against a rising prospect.

If Ige wins, this matchup would make sense in the rankings and would be very interesting stylistically. If Evloev wins, you’re talking about a matchup between, potentially, two of the very best grapplers in the division. I love this idea, but June 6 is so far away.

Rafael dos Anjos is a wild card in two divisions

Legaspi: RDA is back, and that’s good news. After a long streak of cancellations, he proved this week that he was willing to fight anyone between 155 and 170 pounds. The former lightweight king was dominant against the last-minute replacement Renato Moicano.

There were no surprises on his performance. He had solid striking, good takedown defense and the stamina to go for five rounds. Referee Marc Goddard could have stopped the fight in the third round, where the three judges saw a 10-8 round in his favor.

Dos Anjos was planning on fighting Islam Makhachev, but that fight failed to come to fruition for the third time. So now the promotion can book him with the original opponent for UFC 272, Rafael Fiziev, in a fight that can put him back in the top 5 of the division, or put him against someone ranked at welterweight — even someone like Jorge Masvidal, who he called out after his win.

Kevin Holland wins at welterweight, but mistakes were made

Wagenheim: Kevin Holland looked big at welterweight, which should come as no surprise considering that Saturday’s fight against Alex Oliveira was his first at 170 pounds in nearly five years. Holland went winless in his last three bouts at middleweight, so a move down in weight seemed prudent.

Less prudent was the lackadaisical approach he took against Oliveira. It’s great to see a fighter perform with poise, but Holland took that to a level of recklessness that nearly came back to bite him in this fight. Holland needs to remember that whatever edge in strength he might bring down from 185 pounds, he loses some of the speed advantage he was used to. Oliveira caught Holland’s lazy advances a couple of times, and the first round ended with the Brazilian in a dominant position, threatening a submission.

Of course, Holland then calmly came out for Round 2 and knocked out Oliveira just 38 seconds in. So he did show he can do damage at 170. But we already knew that about him when he was campaigning at 185. Up a weight class, he was susceptible to being outmuscled; in his new division, he has to watch out for the speed.

Greg Hardy doesn’t belong in the UFC anymore

Okamoto: Yeah, it’s officially time to close this chapter. It’s done.

It was easy to attack the decision to sign Hardy in 2017, but it wasn’t hard to understand why they did it. In addition to the attention Hardy’s transition into MMA would command, he also looked like he could be a real prospect at first. A freak athlete, obviously, who looked comfortable in a fist fight from the very beginning.

Did he deserve to be in the UFC that early in his career? Of course not. Did he deserve an opportunity to be in professional sports — period — given some of the details of his past? Debatable. But the fact of the matter was, someone was going to sign Hardy back in 2017, and that the time, it seemed very possible he could be good at this.

Hardy repeated often he respected the sport and would train appropriately. Fast forward to now, I have my doubts on that. His cardio issues are well documented — and that’s even if you give him somewhat of a pass for having asthma. He hasn’t had the easiest time making weight. His lack of grappling skill is blatantly apparent. That’s not showing respect for the sport. He’s taking up a roster spot he clearly does not deserve. There is nothing to even be intrigued by here anymore.

It’s over. Call it.

Rodriguez made her case, but will have to wait

Raimondi: Marina Rodriguez is one of the best women’s strawweight fighters in the world. That was fairly well known coming into UFC 272 and her split decision win over Yan Xiaonan only cemented it. However, when it comes to a potential title shot, Rodriguez didn’t make an emphatic enough statement to jump the line.

Rodriguez vs. Yan was very close. Some even thought Yan was the rightful winner. Yan got the better of Rodriguez early, but Rodriguez came on late. The fight would have been much more definitive had it gone five rounds, like Rodriguez’s fight last year with Michelle Waterson. But instead we’re left with Rodriguez just slightly edging Yan. Afterward, Rodriguez asked for a title shot saying she proved she was ready. Maybe she is in, indeed, but she’s going to have to wait.

UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas will more than likely defend the title next against former champ Carla Esparza. That would be a rematch of the first-ever strawweight title fight in 2014, won by Esparza. Esparza has beaten Rodriguez, so it would be a difficult argument to make that she deserves a shot over Esparza.

Rodriguez could wait for the Namajunas vs. Esparza winner. But that fight isn’t even booked yet and it’s unclear when it could be. Definitely not until June or July, at the earliest. It seems like Rodriguez will need to win one more, maybe against the winner of an April 23 matchup between Jessica Andrade and Amanda Lemos.

Rodriguez has a solid showing Saturday. It was good enough to get the win. She just did not put enough of a stamp on things to make her undeniable as a title challenger next.

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