UFC 287: 10 Things We Learned (Extended Edition)

MIAMI, FLORIDA – APRIL 07: (L-R) Opponents Alex Pereira of Brazil and Israel Adesanya of Nigeria face off during the UFC 287 ceremonial weigh-in at Kaseya Center on April 07, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Delivering instant analysis from UFC 287, addressing the results and ramifications from Saturday’s 13-fight pay-per-view at the Kaseya Center, headlined by the middleweight championship rematch between Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya

Two-Time Champion

Israel Adesanya is the new middleweight champion after knocking out Alex Pereira in the main event rematch to close out UFC 287 in Miami.

The rivals ran level through the first round, both men finding some moments of success, but neither grabbing control of the contest. It was much of the same in the early stages of the second, with Adesanya showing more aggression and forward pressure than he did in the first fight, and Pereira chopping at his legs. When he buried a couple heavy kicks into Adesanya’s lead leg, “The Last Stylebender” shelled along the fence, inviting the Brazilian to come forward and open up.

And when he did, Adesanya fired back, stiffening Pereira with the first right hand and dropping him with the subsequent right. The hammerfists on the ground were academic — “Poatan” was on the ancestral plane and Adesanya was celebrating.

Re-claiming championship gold is difficult, and doing it in that kind of fashion is impressive as hell, which should quiet some of the criticisms that have been levelled against Adesanya over the last several fights. He turned up, turned it on, and put Pereira out in stunning fashion, and now he’s the two-time UFC middleweight champion.

Burns Victorious, Masvidal Bows Out

Gilbert Burns picked up his second win of 2023 in Saturday’s penultimate pairing, outworking Jorge Masvidal over three rounds.

The first was close before Burns found some success late, while the second was contested largely on the ground and in the clinch. Burns started having landing more in the third, taking the fight to Masvidal, who tried to rally back, but didn’t quite have the goods to hang with the highly-regarded Brazilian, who earned scores of 30-27 twice and 29-28 to secure the victory.

Burns called for the winner of the presumptive welterweight title fight between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington next, saying he wasn’t taking any more fights. The same is true for Masvidal, who took off his gloves and announced his retirement following the contest. “Gamebred” goes out at home in Miami, but on a four-fight slide, bringing an end to a 20-year career that saw him make the absolute most of his talents and personality, and turning in a major star late in his run.

Things are getting awful tight at the top of the welterweight division, with Covington expect to challenge for gold, Burns now content to sit back and wait for the winner, Belal Muhammad riding a nine-fight unbeaten streak, and Shavkat Rakhmonov closing in on Top 5. It’s going to be interesting to see how things shake out and when everything comes together.

Font Flattens Yanez

Returning for the first time in nearly a year, Rob Font got the “Y’all musta forgot” moment he was after, collecting a first-round stoppage win over surging prospect Adrian Yanez in the UFC 287 featured bout.

Both men came out slinging, and Font appeared to be getting the worst of it to start, immediate showing damage after a couple good shots from the talented Texan. But Font continued pumping his jab, and once he stung Yanez, the New England Cartel member stepped on the gas and chased down the finish.

This was a reminder of how dangerous and skilled Font is when he’s healthy and firing, but also a result that shows the difference between the ascending set and the established tier in the loaded 135-pound weight class. Yanez had been rolling, but this was a clear step up in competition, and Font made him pay.

Highlight Reel Win for Holland

Kevin Holland collected the biggest victory of his UFC career on the UFC 287 main card, stopping Santiago Ponzinibbio in the third round of a competitive fight.

The talkative “Trailblazer” stung Ponzinibbio late in the first, dropping him with a backfist while the Argentinian veteran had his left leg elevated. The second round was close and Ponzinibbio was having success in the third as well before Holland unleashed a right hand that put the Top 15 staple face-down on the canvas. A quick follow-up landed and the fight was halted, which prompted Ponzinibbio to dispute the finish, which was crazy because he was out-out.

Holland looked good here, mixing things up early and continuing to be successful despite rarely throwing his right hand, which he seemed to suggest he hurt again. I’ve said it throughout his career: when he’s focused on fighting and not worried about all the peripheral nonsense, Holland is skilled and dangerous, and we saw that on Saturday.

For the love of all things holy, I hope this is a sign of growth and maturity for Holland and the start of a more measured, professional approach from the 30-year-old welterweight.

Rodriguez Shows His Upside, Defeats Rosas Jr.

Christian Rodriguez turned in a patient, professional victory on Saturday night, handing Raul Rosas Jr. the first loss of his career.

After fending off a bunch of submission attempts in the opening stanza, Rodriguez took the fight to the exhausted 18-year-old, putting him on the deck before spending the final two rounds dominating him at every turn. It looked like exactly what it was — a 25-year-old with far more experience taking on a promising youngster to the woodshed, showing his class, his poise, his superior understanding of what it takes to have success inside the Octagon.

I said throughout the week that Rodriguez is an outstanding prospect and that if he was fighting just about anyone else, we would have been talking about him as the gifted emerging threat in the bantamweight division. He lost his debut on short notice, up at featherweight, against Jonathan Pearce, and gave “JSP” hell in the final round, before making quick work of Joshua Weems last time out.

Rodriguez is a legitimate prospect, and Rosas Jr. showed he has a lot of learning to do in order to become a long-term fixture in the UFC.

Gastelum Gets Back in the Win Column

Fighting for the first time since August 2021, Kelvin Gastelum picked up his first win since defeating Ian Heinisch in February of that year, posting a unanimous decision win over Chris Curtis in the final preliminary card bout of the evening.

The middleweights went shot-for-shot for much of the contest, with Gastelum clearly winning the opening stanza before things tightened up between the two. An accidental clash of heads dropped Curtis in the second, but he returned to his feet and seemed to land the better blows of the two the rest of the way, although the judges didn’t see it that way. Two had the fight 29-28 for Gastelum, while the other somehow awarded Gastelum the third as well, which is one of the grossest scorecards of the year.

Twitter lit up with the usual “He’s Back!” talk that follows an established name securing a good win, but I’m far from convinced, and not just because I picked Curtis and thought this fight was closer than the scores even indicate. While Gastelum looked great in the first five minutes and solid the rest of the way, let’s not go crowning him a contender again just yet. This was a good win over a game opponent, but he’ll need to keep up this level of performance through a couple more fights (while staying healthy) in order to convince me he’s back in the mix.

Pinheiro Pushes Forward

Luana Pinheiro picked up the biggest win of her career on Saturday night, collecting a split decision victory over Michelle Waterson-Gomez in a fun back-and-forth battle.

The Brazilian did well to attack Waterson-Gomez’ lead leg, deadening the calf to where the veteran was unable to fight orthodox for fear of getting blasted once again. That limited Waterson-Gomez’ output somewhat, but she certainly had success at times, including landing a beautiful spinning back elbow in the first round. On the whole, this was another example of damage and immediate impact swinging the cards, as Pinheiro clearly landed the bigger shots throughout, and despite Waterson-Gomez delivering a ton of volume, two of the three officials rightfully scored the contest for the ascending DWCS grad.

Pinherio has now won eight straight overall, including each of her first three UFC starts, and should continue to move forward in the rankings and earn another marquee assignment next time out.

Pyfer Keeps Coming Through

Joe Pyfer was thrust into the spotlight following his win on Season 6 of Dana White’s Contender Series, with the UFC President singing his praises and advocating for more athletes on the annual talent-search series to follow his lead.

After blasting through Alen Amedovski in his promotional debut, Pyfer made it two-for-two with first-round finishes on Saturday night, clipping veteran Gerald Meerschaert with a left to the chin before dropping him with the right to the temple that followed. The follow-up blows were academic, as “GM3” wanted no part of the incoming onslaught, and the fight was waved off just after the three minute mark.

This was a good win for Pyfer, who continues to be someone to keep tabs on in the middleweight division. He’s going to get opportunities because Dana White liked what he saw last year, and he’s putting up the type of efforts that continue to garner attention. There is always room to move up in the middleweight ranks, and Pyfer should get another significant step up in competition next time out after a dominant effort like this one.

Commentary Continues to Struggle

Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier continued to get stuck in a lane on the mic on Saturday, locking into praising Cynthia Calvillo in her fight against Loopy Godinez, which was a close, competitive fight where the latter appeared to be landing with greater impact for much of the contest. Godinez won the fight by split decision, with lead announcer Jon Anik working hard throughout to highlight the Mexican-Canadian’s efforts.

This has been ongoing issue for this tandem specifically, as Rogan has a tendency to focus in on one fighter and what they’re doing, and Cormier climbing on board to back up what his teammate is saying. Even with Anik prompting them to recognize the superior impact of Godinez’ blows, Rogan and Cormier would acknowledge it, and then get right back to talking about the amount of volume Calvillo was putting out there and the optics of her being the one throwing more shots.

They did it again ago the tail end of the scrap between Pinheiro and Waterson-Gomez as well, praising her output in the third, despite the fact that Pinheiro busted her up early in the frame and controlled the action in the clinch.

At a time when the scoring criteria is being discussed more frequently than ever, it’s alarming having what is widely considered the UFC’s lead pay-per-view tandem continuing to focus on the wrong things, lock in on individual fights (instead of just straight up breaking down the action), and keep sharing ideas and thoughts that don’t factor into scoring, but contribute to people misunderstanding how fights are scored.

Comeback City

Steve Garcia was almost out after catching a thunderous right hand from Shayilan Nuerdanbieke early in the opening round. He crashed to the canvas and ate some follow-up blows on the deck, but the Jackson-Wink MMA representative weathered the storm and found a way to rally back.

After nearly finishing Nuerdanbieke in the waning moments of the first, Garcia came out and put it on the Chinese “Wolverine” in the second, getting him out of there 36 seconds into the round with a series of punishing attacks to the body.

This was an outstanding come-from-behind win for the 30-year-old, who looked on the brink of being finished when Nuerdanbieke connected in the first. He started finding success off his back in the first, recognized that his opponent was fading, and stomped on the gas pedal, sending him crashing to the canvas after following a front kick to the guts with a left hand to the same place. Great work from Garcia, and a disappointing drop-off from the previously streaking Nuerdanbieke.

Sam Hughes Shines

While she was forced to defend a couple deep choke attempts in the first round, Sam Hughes turned in a standout effort in the opener, rallying to dominant newcomer Jaqueline Amorim.

The Fortis MMA representative spent the first round with Amorim on her back, threatening with several deep rear-naked choke attempts. Each time, “Sampage” fought the hands and got herself free before stepping on the gas and smothering Amorim the rest of the way. Somehow, none of the judges felt like scoring either of the final two rounds 10-8, even though Amorim was exhausted, offered almost no offence, and got beaten up from bell-to-bell.

This is one of those instances where regional experience should have been the deciding factor in handicapping this fight, and I’m angry with myself for missing this read. Amorim hadn’t fought anyone of substance, and Hughes is a tough out, making this a clear opportunity to play the underdog against the debuting fighter. I know that’s easy for me to say now that the fight is over and Hughes was victorious, but that was the better betting read and I missed it.

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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