The 15-fight UFC 286 fight card was a top-heavy event, with the most anticipated and meaningful fights in the co-main event and main event spots. Those matchups did not disappoint.
In the headlining bout, Leon Edwards answered any questions that may have been lingering about his late knockout win over Kamaru Usman at UFC 278. In what might have been the finest performance of his lengthy UFC career, Edwards moved his unbeaten streak to 12 straight with a majority decision win over the last man to beat him – Usman on the early prelims of UFC on FOX 17 in 2015.
In the co-main event, Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev put on a lightweight scrap worthy of the “Fight of the Night” bonus the two competitors earned and then some. The victory put the 34-year-old Gaethje back on the path toward another shot at the UFC lightweight crown while serving as an education for the 30-year-old Fizeiv.
Before the two headlining bouts, Gunnar Nelson scored his UFC welterweight record seventh career submission win, stopping Bryan Barberena late in the first round.
Read on for the winners and losers of UFC 286, which took place at 02 Arena in London, England. The main card streamed on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNews and prelims on ESPN+.
Leon Edwards: Leon Edwards looked like a different fighter at UFC 286 – a better fight – perhaps the best version we have ever seen of him.
In his trilogy fight opposite Kamaru Usman, Edwards’ confidence seemed higher, his striking output was more than double that of his UFC 278 matchup opposite Usman, his takedown defense was more robust, his ability to get back to his feet and not get controlled on the mat was better, his striking defense was higher. In every respect, besides losing a point for grabbing the fence, Edwards showed improvement over his welterweight title-winning victory at UFC 278.
Any lingering doubts about Edwards being lucky in August — and those arguments have always been BS — were silenced on Saturday night when referee Herb Dean raised Edwards’ hand in victory in London. Even if Edwards had ended up retaining his UFC crown with a draw because of the point deduction, it would have been clear that he was the superior fighter on Saturday.
Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev: This was a fantastic fight. Rafael Fiziev’s speed and bodywork carried him through the first half of the battle, while Gaethje’s ability to absorb punishment early and then adjust to fighting behind the jab in the second half of the contest was enough to give him the fight on the scorecards.
Gaethje’s output and landing rate in the third round sealed his victory. He landed 53 of 87 his significant strike attempts for a landing rate of 60 percent during those five minutes. That increase came compliments of his jab and his ability to exploit Fiziev slowing down and his tendency to keep his head on the center line.
Like with many Justin Gaethje fights, this one was memorable, and a rematch at some point would be fine in my book.
Gunnar Nelson: Gunnar Nelson exploited the suspect takedown defense of Bryan Barberena at UFC 286 and it only took him one takedown to set up the eventual armbar that finished the fight at 4:51 of the first round.
The submission win was Nelson’s first since he stopped Alex Oliveira in 2018. Despite that gap between submission victories, Nelson’s stoppage on Saturday gave him seven UFC welterweight submission wins – the most in the division’s history. Entering UFC 286, Nelson was tied with Demian Maia and Chris Lytle.
Jennifer Maia: Jennifer Maia had a good game plan for her flyweight bout opposite Casey O’Neill. Maia allowed O’Neill to dictate the pace and location of the fight and then used her forward motion against her, countering well and exploiting O’Neill’s tendency to leave her head on line. The win put Maia on a two-fight winning streak following a two-fight losing skid in early 2022.
Marvin Vettori: Marvin Vettori’s output and accuracy earned him the win over Roman Dolidze. That will allow him to keep his spot in the top five of the UFC middleweight rankings.
I don’t believe Vettori will hold UFC gold, but he has established himself as a gatekeeper to the top three of the division and that’s not nothing.
Jack Shore: This was a good matchup for Jack Shore in his first fight at 145 pounds after moving up from bantamweight because while Marwan Amirkhani has some good wrestling skills, he doesn’t have a bottomless gas tank and that allowed Shore to get the submission in the second round.
Now that Shore has a featherweight camp under his belt, he should dial things in better for his second bout at 145 pounds because he had a rough go of things in the first stanza.
Am I sold on Shore at 145? No, but I’d rather see a fighter avoid the dangers and consequences of weight-cutting if it makes them more comfortable.
Yanal Ashmoz: The 27-year-old Yanal Ashmoz had himself an impressive UFC debut at UFC 286. His foe, Sam Patterson, who was a -265 favorite over the +225 Ashmoz, landed two significant strikes before getting blasted to the mat with a left hook. Following that strike, Ashmoz teed off with a flurry of ground strikes that put Patterson out 75 seconds into the lightweight scrap.
Muhammad Mokaev: Muhammad Mokaev has mat skills. We know that. We don’t know what he’ll do against an opponent who can stop his takedowns and force him into a striking battle on the feet for a full 15 minutes. That’s a worry because heading into UFC 286, no ranked UFC fighter landed fewer significant strikes per minute than Mokaev’s 1.15.
Mokaev gets points for fighting his fight, working through a nasty submission attempt and then securing the tap, but the jury is out on the upside of the 22-year-old flyweight.
Lerone Murphy vs. Gabriel Santos: This was an excellent featherweight scrap to end the early prelims. Lerone Murphy got the win, remained unbeaten and moved his record to 12-0-1. However, I was more impressed with the underdog in the contest, Gabriel Santos.
The 26-year-old Santos agreed to face Murphy on short notice at UFC 286. The Brazilian fighter put on an excellent showing. He was aggressive on his feet, slick on the mat and showed no octagon jitters. Santos might have lost his first career fight on Saturday, but he is someone to keep an eye on at 145 pounds.
Jake Hadley: Jake Hadley targeted Malcolm Gordon’s body on Saturday and two solid shots to the body were all it took for him to get his second straight UFC win. The first body blow Hadley landed came in a little high on the left side of Gordon, but the second one was a direct shot to the liver. That blow ended Gordon’s night 61 seconds into the catchweight bout. Speaking of catchweight, Hadley took 30 percent of Gordon’s pay after Gordon came in at 129.5 pounds for the scheduled flyweight scrap.
Joanna Wood: Joanna Wood went from fighting in a co-main event in March 2022 to competing on the early prelims of UFC 286. The UFC vet — she’s been with the promotion since 2014 — picked up a meaningful win on Saturday with a decision win over Luana Carolina. The victory ended a three-fight losing skid for the 37-year-old.
Veronica Hardy: In her first fight in over three years, Veronica Hardy showed no signs of cage rust in getting a clear unanimous decision victory over the heavily favored (-400) Juliana Miller.
Hardy’s movement and positioning on the feet were much better than her opponents, allowing her to connect on most of her strikes — she landed a whopping 80 percent of her significant strike attempts!
If there was one knock against Hardy in this matchup, it was her awareness of submission attempts and defense of those techniques.
UFC 286 viewers and UFC welterweight fighters not named Colby Covington: The fact that the UFC seemed focused on shoving Colby Covington down the throats of its viewers to convince them that a man who is 1-1 since November 2021 — and whose only win came against the ghost of Jorge Masvidal in March 2022 — is a legitimate welterweight title contender was heavy-handed and obvious.
Covington deserves his No. 2 ranking in the official UFC welterweight rankings about as much as he deserves the next shot at Edwards’ belt, which is to say, not at all. He hasn’t been in a non-title fight against an opponent coming off a win since he faced Rafael dos Anjos in 2018!
I won’t say Covington is a lousy fighter. He’s not. I would call him a great fighter, but he’s been out of action for over a year while other welterweight competitors have been active and working toward getting a title shot. So the right thing to do would be to have Covington get a win under his belt and allow another challenger their shot at Edwards. After that? Revisit the situation and see where the division stands.
Will that happen? I very much doubt it.
Kamaru Usman: Kamaru Usman did not fight poorly against Leon Edwards at UFC 286, it was more that he didn’t make the adjustments and improvements that Edwards made ahead of Saturday night.
Usman’s accomplishments before his two recent losses to Edwards should not be forgotten in a sport that eats its own. Remember, not long ago, Usman was discussed in the same breath as Georges St-Pierre as an all-time UFC welterweight great.
Roman Dolidze: Roman Dolidze’s style might have cost him the decision against Marvin Vettori. Had he been more active and employed more straight punches rather than so many hooks and overhands, the judges may have given him the nod against Vettori.
UFC 286 should serve as a learning experience for Dolidze, the top of the middleweight division tends not to succumb to pure power strikes. It will be interesting to see the adjustments Dolidze makes when he returns to the octagon.
Marwan Amirkhani: Marwan Amirkhani dropped to 1-5 since October 2020 with his loss to Jack Shore at UFC 286. His three most recent losses came via stoppage in the second round and his only win was a first-round sub. Judging by social media, Amirkhani’s second-round collapse on Saturday was the expected outcome of this contest.
UFC matchmakers: If a UFC fighter is knocking on the door of the top 10, like Muhammad Mokaev is, perhaps give him a fight against competition with UFC experience. That did not happen at UFC 286.
Michael Bisping: Once again, the UFC commentary team called out the UFC stat keepers for blowing a call — and once again, they were wrong. At UFC 286, Michael Bisping was sure that Gabriel Santos should have received credit for an armbar attempt even though he never got Lerone Murphy’s arm extended to lock in the technique. For a submission to be logged by the team that does stats for the UFC, the submission technique must threaten the limb (in this case). So the fact that Murphy prevented Santos from extending his arm means it was not a submission attempt.
The UFC commentary team needs to understand the stats they are tasked with reporting on, but that seems too much to ask of them in 2023.
Christian Leroy Duncan: The former Cage Warriors middleweight champ looked confident and relaxed in his UFC debut. Sadly, that fight was cut short when his opponent suffered a knee injury that left him unable to continue just 48 seconds into their 185-bout.
Daniel Cormier: During his post-fight interview with Christian Leroy Duncan, UFC commentator Christian Leroy Duncan if he thought his leg kicks were at all responsible for the knee injury his opponent, Dusko Todorovic suffered. The problem with that is that Todorovic’s right leg was injured and all of Duncan’s kicks landed to his foe’s left stem.
Jai Herbert: Some UFC fighters get favorable matchups from the UFC, Jai Herbert, who joined the UFC after winning and defending the Cage Warriors lightweight title, has not been one of those fighters. At UFC 286, he was once again (four out of five career UFC fights) the underdog on fight night opposite Ľudovít Klein.
Unfortunately for Herbert, who fought very well and should have had his hand raised in victory, he cost himself a second straight UFC victory with two low blows in the third round.