UFC 284: 10 Things We Learned Last Night (Extended Edition)

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 11: (L-R) Opponents Islam Makhachev of Russia and Alexander Volkanovski of Australia face off during the UFC 284 ceremonial weigh-in at RAC Arena on February 11, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Delivering instant insights and examining the ramifications of the results from UFC 284 at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia, where Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski squared off for the UFC lightweight title.

And Still!

Islam Makhachev successfully defended the UFC lightweight title with a unanimous decision win over Alexander Volkanovski in the main event of UFC 284, showing the full complement of his skill set in an ultra-competitive battle to close out the show.

The lightweight champ hurt Volkanovski with shots throughout the contest, including a sharp knee in the fifth round that opened up a gnarly cut over his left eye. He also flashed his outstanding takedown skills throughout, chaining together attempts and securing moments of control in a couple different rounds. He also showed some tenacity and grit, navigating a late surge from Volkanovski and eating some big shots from the featherweight kingpin, which is something that he just hasn’t been forced to deal with much throughout his UFC career.

This was an outstanding fight and the kind of fight that highlights just how skilled and dominant these two men are and can continue to be in their respective divisions. Volkanovski is as tough a challenger as Makhachev could potentially face, and he ventured to his backyard and came away with a victory, while the featherweight champ put forth an outstanding effort against a fighter that has been blowing through the competition.

The Australian will return to the 145-pound weight class and square up with the new interim titleholder, while Makhachev will wait to see who emerges as the next in line to challenge for the lightweight title.

Saturday’s main event lived up to expectations, and these two men showed they’re amongst the very best on the planet today.

Yair Rodriguez, Interim Champ

Yair Rodriguez is your new UFC interim featherweight champion after kicking the absolute piss out of Josh Emmett.

The read on this fight was that Emmett’s power would always be a factor, but all things being equal, Rodriguez has more avenues to victory overall, and that’s exactly how it played out. In the opening stanza, the Mexican standout showed his dynamism, hurting Emmett with body kicks and clean punches, only to be dropped by a power shot from the American. He navigated things on the ground well, got back to his feet, and went back on the offensive before taking the fight to Emmett in the second.

Short elbows, more body kicks, and a punishing flying knee had Emmett busted up, bleeding, and struggling to have success. He dumped Rodriguez to the canvas off the knee, but hung out in top position without doing anything serious for too long, leading to “El Pantera” wrapping up a triangle choke to secure the tap.

This was the kind of performance everyone has long expected and hoped to see from the creative, supremely talented Rodriguez, who has been a mercurial figure for the last several years, limited to just six appearances since starting his UFC run with six straight victories. This version of Rodriguez is scary, and if he can stay healthy, stay active, and channel this every time out, he could become a true force atop the featherweight division.

Goddamn Della!

Jack Della Maddalena took a major step up in competition at UFC 284, jumping into the Octagon with surging veteran Randy Brown, and he got him out of there without much trouble.

While Brown worked from range to start, Della Maddalena took full advantage of the first chance he had to pin Brown against the fence, clipping him with a right hand that took the feet out from under the Queens, New York native. When he flopped to the floor, the local boy followed him to the mat, dropping hammerfists until Brown gave up his back before sinking in the fight-ending rear-naked choke.

The 26-year-old from Perth is now 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes in 13 months. He’s won 14 consecutive bouts overall, and thus far, he’s made it look easy inside the Octagon. Calm, technical, and surprisingly powerful with his hands, Della Maddalena could land a place in the rankings next week and at the very least should be facing someone with a number next to their name whenever he returns later this year.

It’s not likely going to keep being this easy for Della, but he’s been electric thus far and he’s still just getting started.

Jens Pulver, Hall of Famer

The UFC announced on Saturday night that former lightweight champion and early pioneer of the lighter weight classes Jens Pulver would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.

If you follow “Lil Evil” or his management team at SuckerPunch Entertainment, you now how much this means for the well-respected former UFC titleholder. And if you don’t, that’s okay, because Pulver was taking part in the UFC Watch-Along when the announcement was made:

I have two pieces of art by Evan Shoman hanging just inside the door of my office: one of Wanderlei Silva and the other of Pulver. He was my favourite fighter before I had fallen all the way in love with this sport, and he remains one of the most under-appreciated pioneers of the sport.

You saw Saturday night how much this man is respected within the MMA world, and this induction is long overdue.

Let’s Be Honest with One Another

The fight between Jimmy Crute and Alonzo Menifield was not great, Bob!

Crute came out leading with his face, opted to wrestling because he was getting pieced up, and then couldn’t do much against the hulking Menifield on the deck. When the American got to his feet, he resumed busting up the returning Australian before things flipped in the second round, with Menifield starting well and Crute surviving and wrestling down the stretch. In the third, the two were gassed, and Crute’s wrestling (and a point deduction for a fence grab) highlighted the tepid, exhausted action.

The bout was rightfully scored a majority draw, but the larger takeaway — at least for me — was that this was an ugly fight, and if I were a middleweight that struggled to make 185 pounds without issue, I’d consider moving up to light heavyweight after this one. Crute entered stationed at No. 12 in the rankings despite a two-fight slide and a year on the sidelines…

I don’t need every fight to be a technical, highly-skilled affair in order to enjoy it. I like a brawl as much as the next person. But this was ugly, and I won’t hear otherwise.

Welcome Back Modestas Bukauskas

A three-fight losing streak and a busted up knee ushered Modestas Bukauskas out of the Octagon in September 2021, but Saturday night, “The Baltic Gladiator” not only returned to the biggest stage in the sport, but he returned to the win column as well.

Bukauskas secured a unanimous decision win over Tyson Pedro in the final preliminary card bout of the evening, navigating some rough waters in early in the first to pull away as Pedro faded over the remaining 10 minutes. Neither man really showed out, but Bukauskas was clearly the fresher of the two and the more active in the final two rounds, looking far more comfortable in the cage than he did in his first tour of duty.

This was a solid win for the returning Cage Warriors champion, who earned wins at the start of November and on New Year’s Eve last year, and now has three victories in 14 weeks at the top of this resume. Bukauskas is still young for the division and this one gets him heading in the right direction to start his second run on the UFC roster. He’ll need to avoid the stumbles that followed his debut victory last time he got called to the Octagon, but Saturday’s performance is a solid building block and should serve him well after some well-earned time off to savour this victory.

Culibao Keeps Rolling

Late in the first round, Joshua Culibao got clipped with the kind of low blow that makes you feel like throwing up even when you’re sitting at home, watching 10,000 miles away in British Columbia. A couple minutes later, he was celebrating atop the Octagon fence, having squeezed out a tap from Melsik Baghdasaryan.

Culibao ate a spinning back kick to the junk with just over 10 seconds remaining in the opening stanza. It seemed like he was destined to take the full five minutes, but instead, he took just two minutes, returned to his corner, and continues recovering. When he stumbled Baghdasaryan with a jab early in the second, Culibao hustled to get his arm under the neck, securing the choke before anything else, and collecting a third straight win.

The 28-year-old Australian is one of those underrated, under-the-radar guys in the featherweight division. He’s now 3-0-1 in the 145-pound weight class after losing his debut at lightweight to standout finisher Jalin Turner, and continues to show improvements each time out. This was a fight that was trending in the wrong direction for “Kuya,” and he managed to create an opening for himself and then take full advantage of it.

Wins like this don’t necessarily resonate, especially on a card of this magnitude, but this is an impressive performance that should be remembered next time Culibao steps into the UFC cage.

Okay Mr. Rodrigues, We See You

Kleydson Rodrigues wasted zero time in his flyweight pairing with Shannon Ross, running through the Australian veteran in 59 seconds.

Rodrigues blew through Ross, landing a spinning back kick very early on, cranking up the pressure and output from there. As soon as he recognized that he had Ross hurt along the fence, “KR” stomped on the gas, unloaded a storm of unanswered punches, and secured the finish.

After dropping a split decision to CJ Vergara in his debut last time out, Rodrigues put himself on the flyweight radar with this one. He was quick, sharp, and varied, mixing up his weapons while refusing to give Ross an opportunity to get space and potentially recover. It’s the kind of effort that makes me eager to see him in there again soon, and one that could make him an interesting addition to the collection of talent assembling in the 125-pound weight class at the moment.

Mullarkey Shines, Calls out ‘The Baddy’

Jamie Mullarkey fought a smart, patient fight against powerful newcomer Francisco Prado en route to a unanimous decision win on Saturday.

The 28-year-old Australian mixed things up well against his 20-year-old foe, timing takedowns in the first and third while picking apart Prado with measured output on the feet throughout. There was nothing rushed or forced from Mullarkey — just a tactical effort from a more experienced fighter that knew how to play to his strengths and avoid critical mistakes against a heavy-hitting rookie.

After the official decision, Mullarkey called out Paddy Pimblett, telling Michael Bisping he’d like to test Pimblett’s theory that Scousers can’t get knocked out. It’s a fight I’ve been calling for since “The Baddy” scored a victory in his promotional debut, and while I still doubt it happens, you have to tip your cap to Mullarkey for having a quality call-out locked and loaded ahead of UFC 284.

Strong Debut for Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins continued the trend of Australian graduates of Dana White’s Contender Series earning victories in their promotional debuts, taking the fight to Don Shainis to close out the early prelims and walking away with a unanimous decision win.

Throughout the contest, the 29-year-old featherweight was a step ahead of his American counterpart, out-landing him on the feet and mixing up his strikes well before having success with takedowns and displaying a solid scramble game. While there were technical mistakes on the canvas, Jenkins was in charge throughout, hurting Shainis with low kicks, mixing his targets nicely, and showing positive early pieces on the ground while cruising to a clean sweep of the scorecards.

Jenkins looked good in collecting a victory on DWCS and should be able to matriculate up the ranks a little quicker than most. He’s at ease inside the Octagon, has outstanding conditioning, and showed he doesn’t need to spend too much time mucking about in the lower tier of the division. This was a good effort, and a decent step up in competition should follow.

Loma Looks Good

Thai strawweight Loma Lookboonmee displayed continued improvements (and room to grow further) on Saturday’s prelims, securing a second-round submission win over Elise Reed.

Lookboonmee got the better of things on the feet in the early stages of the contest, creating a welt on Reed’s lead leg and busting up her nose before closing the distance and looking for a judo throw. While she completed the hip toss, Reed quickly swept to top position and closed the round by dominating Lookboonmee on the canvas. Undeterred, the 27-year-old came out and dumped Reed to the canvas almost instantaneously to begin the second, sinking her hooks, finding the choke, and securing the finish.

While there are still decision-making question that need to be addressed, but Lookboonmee is clearly developing between each fight. She arrived in the UFC with limited experience, but has garnered five wins in seven starts, with her only losses coming against more seasoned, more skilled competition. As she continues to improve, Lookboonmee could mature into an interesting member of the strawweight class.

Not The Start You Want

The opening fight of the evening went the distance, and when the final horn sounded, just about everyone believed Zubaira Tukhugov had done enough to garner the victory. As it turned out, two of the three judges didn’t feel that way, awarding the split decision win to newcomer Elves Brener.

I don’t want to knock the Brazilian here because he did a good job for a debuting fighter against a tenured veteran, but this really felt like one of those instances where the judges got it wrong, especially the fella that scored things 30-27 in favor of Brenner. You want to argue 29-28? Sure, I have time for it, but all three rounds? Naw, son.

Here’s the other thing that sucks about this scoring, beyond Tukhugov getting jobbed out of a victory: it sets the tone for the evening to where Dominick Cruz and Michael Bisping will spend the duration of the event speaking about the poor scoring of the opening contest, suggesting that you can’t trust the judges to get it right.

And this time, they might be right.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.

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