UFC 248 results, takeaways: Two title fights surprise in dramatically different ways in Las Vegas

The two title fights on top of the UFC 248 card in Las Vegas barely looked as though they took place in the same sport. While Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Weili Zhang tore the roof off the T-Mobile arena in a thriller for the women’s strawweight title, Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero had fans leaving the arena during their middleweight title fight. If Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk had the makings a perfectly directed Hollywood fight scene, Adesanya vs. Romero was like something out of a VHS of an Ed Wood film that had been partially melted by a kid with a magnifying glass.

Both of the title fights were memorable in their own ways, for better or worse. But with neither belt changing hands, there’s plenty to look back at after a wild night in Vegas. Let’s run down five of the biggest takeaways coming out of the night.

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A setback in victory for Adesanya: A fighter’s first and primary job in the cage is to do what you have to do to score the win. In that respect, Adesanya did what he was supposed to do. He came out, fought cautiously and did enough to edge out Romero on the scorecards and he did it without ever truly being in any immediate danger. There may be an argument that Romero deserved the decision — it wouldn’t be an argument I agree with, but it could be made — but Adesanya’s leg kicks were the most consistently effective tool used by either fighter throughout the fight and were enough to win three of five rounds. So, yes, Adesanya operated in a way that achieved the primary goal of a fighter.

What Adesanya did not do, however, is brighten his star. He has been a force of nature over two years in the Octagon, blazing through opponents before taking out Kelvin Gastelum to become interim champ in an absolute war and dancing his way to the cage before knocking out Robert Whittaker to become undisputed champion. That guy was nowhere to be found in T-Mobile Arena Saturday night. Adesanya engaged in a subdued walk to the Octagon and was content to lay back while Yoel Romero stood statue still in the center of the cage to open the fight. It’s on to the next one for the champ now, but without any of the excitement that has accompanied him to the cage as he became the best middleweight in the world. For now, Adesanya can be called a great fighter — but he’s not yet a star.

This should be Romero’s final title opportunity: Romero has a wild kind of charisma. The kind of charisma that could earn him most of the blame for the lack of action in the main event, yet receive cheers from the fans while giving a passionate post-fight speech about how Adesanya didn’t give the fans what they paid for. That charisma and the feeling that “anything can happen with that guy” allowed Romero to become the second man in UFC history to receive a title shot while on a two-fight losing skid. But this loss should be the official end of Romero as a title challenger.

Romero is now 1-4 in his five most recent fights. He has missed weight twice and failed to win a championship despite being booked in four title fights. Then Romero and Adesanya fought such a passive fight that the referee had to plead with them to fight after three rounds of non-action. If there’s any fight that should mark the point where Romero is removed from the title picture, it’s this one. But after his hard-fought loss to Paulo Costa at UFC 241 and lingering beef between the two, it’s not hard to see a world where Costa beating Adesanya leads to one more dance for Romero.

Zhang and Jedrzejczyk do it right: There may not have been a worse fight to precede Adesanya vs. Romero than Weili Zhang’s epic war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Romero and Adesanya looked far worse when following one of the greatest fights in UFC championship history. Where Romero and Adesanya did everything possible to avoid danger, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk fought with all the intensity of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. With the title on the line, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk blasted away at each other for almost every second of the 25 minutes they spent in the cage with each other. Where Romero and Adesanya were timid, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk were brave. Where the middleweights avoided taking damage, the strawweights left the Octagon with their faces rearranged.

Fight sports are sports first. But they’re also entertainment. When people feel like their hard-earned money was well spent to see fighters ply their trade, they elevate them to superstar status. Jedrzejczyk was a known commodity, but in Zhang, she found the perfect dance partner. The two were equally matched, equally tough and equally technical. In putting on a fight that showed the absolute best of what MMA can be in a stirring battle, they both raised their stock in ways the men in the main event did not.

Gatekeepers doing their job: Beneil Dariush and Neil Magny are names that have been on UFC cards for a long time while building respectable careers. Both flirted briefly with runs that placed them near title contention before settling into the role of gatekeepers. Gatekeeper shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word, it’s a valuable position in the fight game to be the person who is good enough to separate pretenders from contenders. Dariush had to survive a violent assault from Drakkar Klose, but Klose couldn’t stand the return fire before Dariush put him to sleep and halted his rise up the ranks. Likewise, Magny’s standard workman-like performance to wear down and turn away Li Jingliang showed that Jingliang was not ready to take the next step up in opposition. It’s better to learn these lessons now than on a bigger stage against better fighters.

A redemption story: No matter your thoughts on the place of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, what happened to Sean O’Malley was unfair. O’Malley was flagged for failed tests that everyone — including USADA — seemed willing to accept were the result of tainted supplements. Rather than move forward based on the minuscule traces of the drugs found in his system, O’Malley was left to sit on the sidelines while trying to clear his name. After two years out of the Octagon, O’Malley returned in the night’s featured preliminary fight to knock out Jose Quinonez. O’Malley has a bright future in the sport and it was good to see him back in the cage and looking as good as ever. But he was cheated out of valuable time in his career and the sport was not improved because of it.

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