What a way to kick off the main card, locking two finishers in a cage together under the bright lights in Brazil! This Light Heavyweight bout seemed to have big implications for Paul “Bearjew” Craig, allowing him to redeem himself after his extremely odd and underwhelming performance against Volkan Oezdemir. With a win over Johnny Walker, the Scotsman would effectively move forward among the division’s top contenders. Let’s not forget Craig’s resume to this point: with wins over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Kennedy Nzechukwu, Nikita Krylov, Jamhal Hill, and his buzzer-beater submission against Magomed Ankalaev.
Paul Craig has DANGEROUS jiu-jitsu, however, Johnny Walker has hands that are just as dangerous. Once a stripper in Brazil, Walker is an amazing athlete and a wild man, yet with two losses in a row - the most recent of which was a brutal KO loss to Jamahal Hill - his standing in the division seemed uncertain. Despite this, the 30-year-old is fighting his way back to the top 10, headlined by a spectacular submission win over the intimidating Ion Cutelaba in September.
Now Paul Craig and Johnny Walker lock horns in a first-round war. The end sequence: Craig goes for a single-leg takedown and is KO’d by Walker’s unorthodox striking and crazy power. The fight was a spectacular glimpse into the violent mind of vintage Johnny Walker.
My desired matchups for both men would be Johnny Walker v. Anthony Smith and Paul Craig v. Khalil Rountree Jr.
Jessica Andrade vs Lauren Murphy
This fight was simply a forgone conclusion to Lauren Murphy’s hype train. Murphy is simply not athletic enough to hang with these upper-echelon female fighters. Valentina “The Bullet” Shevchenko showed us that disconnect when she TKO’d Murphy in September. Regardless of her poor athletic ability, the 39-year-old can still outwork girls like Joane Calderwood and - the reason for the hype - Miesha Tate.
After out dogging a version of Tate that has not truly been active, Murphy felt unstoppable. Unfortunately for her, Jessica Andrade, the former champion holding the only female slam KO, came to remind Murphy not to listen to the hype because “it’ll gas you up”. Andrade went on to completely outclass Murphy and win a very dominant decision.
Now, that is three consecutive wins for her. The first-round TKO of Cynthia Calvillo, the first-round STANDING arm-triangle choke finish of Amanda Lemos, and now this complete masterclass over Murphy, Andrade is a treat to watch.
My desired matchups for both women would be Jessica Andrade v. Talia Santos and Lauren Murphy v. Jennifer Maia.
Gilbert Burns vs Neil Magny
If you enjoyed the “Fight of The Year” last year (Gilbert “Durinho” Burns v. Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev), you were throwing your money at the TV when this fight was announced. After such a close loss to Khamzat, and Jorge Masvidal not being so “Gamebred” and refusing to fight, we all missed Burns. And Neil Magny was the perfect man to reintroduce the Brazilian to the cage. Magny - the most winningest fighter in the Welterweight division after such a fantastic performance - and D’Arce choke finish over a slick prison boxer in Daniel Rodrigues.
The stakes for this fight were incredibly high in shaping the contender rankings of the Welterweight division. Despite my deep fandom for both fighters, only one got his hand raised, and that was Gilbert Burns. Burns threw a right overhand that disguised his single-leg entry, getting Magny down on his back.
From there, Magny put up a great fight to keep Burns from passing his guard, but against a jiu-jitsu practitioner of the caliber of ‘Durinho’, this resistance was futile, and Burns secured an arm-triangle choke finish.
My desired matchups for both men would be Gilbert Burns v. Belal Muhamed and Neil Magny v. Michel Pereira.
Brandon Moreno vs Deiveson Figueiredo
Now let’s get to the meat and potatoes here. This is the first-ever quadrilogy in UFC history and not to mention the belt has been on the line EVERY TIME! Brandon “Assassin Baby” Moreno - every fan's favorite Flyweight fighter - against the infamous Deiveson “God of War” Figuredo. Moreno has incredibly fast boxing, class wrestling and submission skills, and an unbreakable chin. He “has that DOG in him”. Figueiredo has an unprecedented knack for spacial awareness, leading to his lethal pull counters, great power, great ground game, and a high fight IQ.
Leading to this fight, the scoreboard was: a majority draw in 2020, a submission win for Moreno in 2021, and a decision win for Figuredo in 2022. 1-1-1. With each of their fights, it seems Moreno’s comfortability in exchanges rises, and Figuredo’s fight IQ grows proportionally.
It seemed Figuredo was having trouble starting since, in the first and second rounds, Moreno simply seemed one step ahead. Moreno’s lateral movement and unorthodox boxing combinations seemed to be neutralizing Figuredo’s power punches. Toward the end of the third round, Figuredo offered a body kick. Lightning fast, Moreno blocked the shin and sprung with a leaping left hook that caught the ‘God of War’ directly on his right eye.
Discombobulated, Figuredo began to protest, thinking it was an eye poke, but replays showed that it was Moreno’s knuckle that connected to his orbital bone. This hit caused immense swelling, eventually leading to a doctor’s stoppage. It was an unfortunate conclusion to the epic quadrilogy they've had. Both shared the octagon for a cumulative 1:27:26, but I think we all share Derreck Brunson’s thoughts in saying, “Respectfully. I’m ready to see them both fight somebody else!” (Via Twitter @DerekBrunson).
My desired matchups for both men would be Brandon Moreno v. Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo v. Brandon Royval.