Fights to make for Leon Edwards, Justin Gaethje and other UFC 286 winners.
The UFC made a triumphant return to London this Saturday, hosting an action-packed event that kept fans on the edge of their seats from the first fight all the way to the main event. The welterweight title, along with the conclusion of a trilogy, were on the line as Britain’s only current champion Leon Edwards faced off against former pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman.
Thankfully for the partisan crowd, they were treated to eight British wins throughout the night, culminating in the most significant result when Edwards would win a convincing yet close affair to retain his 170-pound title. With UFC 286 in our rearview mirror, it’s time to play matchmaker for all the fighters who picked up a victory in the O2 Arena.
Matches to make for UFC 286 winners
Marvin Vettori vs. Khamzat Chimaev
The no. 4 ranked middleweight managed to defend his spot in the ranking with a convincing win over the dangerous Roman Dolidze. Marvin Vettori controlled the pace of the fight throughtout, and outside of a few big swings from his opponent, seemed to be in control for all 15 minutes they spent in the octagon.
Vettori is still pushing to become the first ever Italian born champion and his win allowed him to remain in contention. If he wishes to fast track his way into a title fight, facing the extremely dangerous Khamzat Chimaev would certainly do that. It appears that Chimaev is completely done with the 170-pound division and a fight with Vettori would truly show where Chimaev stands, especially in the stacked middleweight division. A win for either man would almost guarantee a title shot.
Jennifer Maia vs. Taila Santos
It seems that somebody forgot to mail Jennifer Maia the script for UFC 286. Coming up against the Scottish-born and undefeated Casey O'Neill, who was making her highly anticipated return to the octagon following an ACL-tear which sidelined her for 13 months, not many fans in the London crowd gave the former Invicta FC flyweight champion much of a chance.
Instead, Maia looked comfortable and a step ahead of her much younger opponent, winning by unanimous decision and looking considerably fresher at the end of the fight. If Maia wishes to challenge for the 125-pound belt again, she'll need to look into the top five to make a statement in a division that is currently in flux .
Taila Santos was scheduled to face Erin Blanchfield before suffering an injury late in her camp. She, much like Maia, gave former champion Valentina Shevchenko quite the test and will be looking to get another shot sooner rather than later. A win for Maia continues her career renaissance, and could secure a fight against the champion.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Given the reaction that Gunnar Nelson received when he made his way into the octagon, you'd think he was one of the many British fighters competing on home soil. The UFC's only Icelandic fighter was back in London and looking to win his second straight since returning to action in 2022 following a three-year layoff and he sure made a statement.
The man who can now be considered the greatest submission artist in welterweight history following his eight submission win, a UFC 170-pound record, made easy work of Bryan Barberena, who was coming into the fight on short notice. After a slow two minutes, Nelson found the takedown and remained poised until he found the perfect armbar to end the fight right before the first round concluded.
It seems that Nelson might have his sights set on his future out of the sport, stating how much he enjoys teaching MMA now that he is close to the end of his career. It seems fruitless to pit him against a fighter in the rankings so why not match up with who he was meant to face at UFC 286 anyways? Barberena replaced Daniel Rodriguez for this event so it makes sense to book the original fight again, giving Rodriguez a chance at a marquee win whilst not thrusting Nelson straight back into the spotlight just yet.
Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier 2
Amidst retirement rumors and lots of uncertainty, Justin Gaethje returned to the win column with another fantastic war. He thankfully had the dance partner to tango with in Rafael Fiziev and the two men left with the deserved 'fight of the night' bonus at the conclusion of the event.
Gaethje stated he wishes to make one more run at the title before retiring so why not give UFC fans the most entertaining fight possible? Him and Dustin Poirier already had a fight of the year winner back in 2018, and with both men seemingly on their last chance to win the title, it just makes too much sense for us to see these two run it back one more time.
Leon Edwards vs. Winner of Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal
He did it. Not many people thought Leon Edwards would walk away with the belt after many believed he was extremely lucky to land his now iconic head kick on former champion Kamaru Usman to walk away as champion back at UFC 278. Many expected Usman to neutralize Edwards' standup with his elite wrestling and probably grind his way out to a unanimous decision victory.
Instead, Edwards looked like a champion with vast experience, having an answer for everything Usman offered and then some. In the end, he left the O2 Arena just like he entered it, as the welterweight champion of the world.
Although Colby Covington was the official backup for the title fight, it seems like Edwards is anything but interested in that, citing Covington's lack of activity as the main reason to not give him the fight. He did hint that he has his eyes set on UFC 287, where Gilbert Burns will face Jorge Masvidal in Miami in a highly anticipated match.
Given Burn's activity, and the history between Edwards and Masvidal, it wouldn't be the most surprising thing in the world to see Edwards' make his second title defense against the winner of next pay-per-view's co-main event.