9. A career-defining night for Justin Gaethje
Ever since Justin Gaethje (23-4) joined the UFC back in 2017, all he has done is put on some of the greatest fights in UFC history. Despite the 6-4 UFC record fans like to hold over his head, there is no doubt that Gaethje is the most electrifying athlete in the whole UFC roster, having won ‘Fight of the Year’ honors on three separate occasions and always against top contenders. As fun as he is to watch, that 6-4 record does stand out like a sore thumb, and whilst you can forgive the losses given that they are all against former UFC lightweight champions, they are still blemishes on his record.
Gaethje now finds himself in an uncomfortable position. He’s already fought most of the top five at 155 pounds bar champion Islam Makhachev and given he’s lost his last two title fights, it’s not surprising to see the UFC book him against one of the best up-and-coming talents of the division. Rafael Fiziev (12-1) is on an absolute tear, winning his last six, which includes five performance bonuses in a row, that has seen him rise all the way up to no. 6 in the lightweight rankings.
He has been so convincing during his winning streak that most sportsbooks have the former Muay Thai champion as a slight favorite heading into the fight despite being ranked lower than his opponent. Whilst Gaethje presents the opportunity of a lifetime for Fiziev, the same cannot be said for the former title challenger.
A win for Gaethje ensures he stays in touching distance of a third shot at the belt but likely won’t be granted to him with just a win over Fiziev. A loss would not only drop his UFC record to an underwhelming 6-5 but also begins to shoehorn him into the gatekeeper category. He is no longer fighting up but fighting to stay in and one slip-up against such a dangerous opponent could begin to spell the beginning of the end for Justin Gaethje’s UFC career.
10. Kamaru Usman's retirement fight?
Back in August of 2022, it seemed that Kamaru Usman (20-2) had all but wrapped up another title defense. He might have lost the first round against Leon Edwards (20-3, 1 NC) but he was well on his way to a sixth straight defense of the welterweight strap, as well as tying Anderson Silva’s winning streak of 16 in a row in the UFC.
One head kick later with a minute left on the clock and the whole trajectory of the UFC changed. We now have the two men heading into a trilogy fight, where the score is even at one apiece, in an event held in Edwards’ backyard. How quickly things change in the world of MMA.
A rematch was always evident given how the second fight went and the potential of a trilogy fight, however, can we be so sure that we will see Usman in the octagon after this Saturday? Fans on social media have long been speculating about his retirement given his knee problems and other injuries that have hampered him during and outside of training camp. Turning 36 in just two months, Usman has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest UFC welterweights, he’s fought the best of the best and defeated them all soundly. If it wasn’t for one perfectly timed head kick, he’d surely be in the G.O.A.T conversation.
With his history of injuries plus the temptation to be more at home with his family and young daughter, win or lose, don’t be surprised if one of the greatest 170-pounders calls it quits after UFC 286.