Saturday’s UFC Glendale event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Arizona, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Gila River Arena.
1 – Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier knew what he was getting himself into when he signed to fight Justin Gaethje last weekend. But he still put pen to paper, stepped into the Octagon and went to those dark places only a select few fighters will go to willingly. What resulted was a no brainer for Fight of the Night in Glendale and the biggest win of Poirier’s long career, one that didn’t come easy, making it perhaps the most satisfying of all. Did it earn “The Diamond” a shot at the lightweight title recently won by Khabib Nurmagomedov? I sure hope so.
2 – Justin Gaethje
As a New Yorker, I’m skeptical by birth. So, if I’m being honest, I never expected Justin Gaethje to live up to his previous body of work when he stepped into the Octagon for the first time against Michael Johnson last year. He did. Then he did it again when he faced Eddie Alvarez. No way could he do it a third consecutive fight, right? Wrong. Three UFC fights, three epic battles that soared to the top of the best fights of the year list. I will never doubt Gaethje’s ability to stop the MMA world whenever he fights again, but I will hope that the UFC’s version of Arturo Gatti will do what “Thunder” did in 2002, and that’s adjust his game just enough to start building up the wins again. Gatti didn’t lose what made him Gatti when he decided to show off his boxing ability; he just evolved his game.
3 – Alex Oliveira
It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years since Alex Oliveira arrived in the Octagon with a cowboy hat, a wild fighting style and the willingness to fight anyone at a moment’s notice. But 12 fights later, here he is, and in a comforting turn of events, nothing has changed. He still sports the hat, is still wild and unorthodox and he is still fighting all comers. The latest, on two weeks’ notice, was Carlos Condit, and in submitting the former interim UFC welterweight champ, Oliveira made it three straight post-fight bonuses and his eighth UFC win. Yes, “Cowboy” has been erratic over the years, but he’s earned his place in the welterweight top 15.
4 – Antonio Carlos Junior
Most expected that if Antonio Carlos Junior got Tim Boetsch to the mat, his black belt-level ground game would end matters. And it did. But it’s how Carlos got there that was so impressive. Pushing the pace on the feet and making Boetsch back up, Carlos now looks to have the confidence in his standup attack to make the move from prospect to contender, and in a wide open middleweight class, the Brazilian – winner of five in a row (four by submission) – has to be considered a serious threat to the 185-pound elite.
5 – Gilbert Burns
Yeah, Gilbert Burns had some issues with the scale that scrapped a fight with Olivier Aubin-Mercier in February, but once “Durinho” did step into the Octagon against Dan Moret on Saturday, we got to see why he may be one of the most exciting up and comers in the 155-pound weight class. If you missed it, let me recap: world-class ground game, knockout power, willing to stand and trade, and…well, you get the picture. And yes, putting Burns and “The Quebec Kid” together again would be a helluva scrap, but for my money, how about Burns and the man he was originally scheduled to meet in Glendale, Lando Vannata? Now that’s a bonus winner right there.