UFC 270 takeaways: Francis Ngannou’s gamble paid off, but his biggest fight still lies ahead


Francis Ngannou is still the Baddest Man on the Planet, though few could’ve foreseen the route he’d take to get there. With his standoff against the UFC taking center stage, Ngannou wrestled his way to a unanimous decision victory over Ciryl Gane to defend his UFC heavyweight title in Saturday’s main event in Anaheim, Calif. Between Ngannou’s win and uncertain future, the latest masterpiece by flyweights Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, and an all-around action-packed night, there’s plenty to discuss from UFC 270.

Let us take a look at our top five lessons learned.

1. Let us start with the performance, because ultimately, everything about the story that’s destined to dominate 2022 depended on it. UFC 270 meant more to Francis Ngannou than a simple title defense, that is no secret. There was a reason Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick likened it last Wednesday to the champion’s Jerry Maguire moment. Ngannou was Rod Tidwell. Rod Tidwell was Ngannou. He was high-stakes, high-roller and the one who bet it all. Take a look back at history to see the list of fighters that dared challenge UFC’s business practices during peak earnings windows. This is not a list for the working class. This phrase was mentioned by Ariel Helwani, my MMA Fighting colleague, several times last week. It’s a simple statement that the UFC always wins when you play against it.

That is what Ngannou was up against heading into UFC 270 — the same cacophony of outside noise and internal pressures that has cut down countless names before, along with an apparent knee injury Ngannou suffered three weeks ago which left his MCL and ACL in need of immediate surgery. The champion said post-fight that his doctor advised him not to fight because he could’ve suffered “irreversible damage.” Yet with the deck stacked against him — and in many ways, his career on the line — the most dull win of Ngannou’s MMA run also proved to be his most important, and most ballsy.

The champion cannot be described as one-dimensional anymore. He can no longer be asked if he is capable of winning the fight. Ngannou earned more cage time Saturday than his five previous victories, and he was the first person to wrestle Ciryl Gane on his back. He did this repeatedly on one leg, but the most important thing is that he left the cage still with his UFC heavyweight title wrapped around his waist.

Perhaps Saturday’s performance wasn’t the most exciting showcase of Ngannou’s skills, but if there was ever moment to give the champion a pass, it’s now. He gambled on himself on multiple fronts, and though things looked dicey in the early going, he actually pulled it off.

He still holds the most important card.

We also have …

2. It’s still early, so we’re in the speculation hours, but it’s hard not to read into Dana White’s absence on Saturday for any of the usual post-fight fanfare. The UFC boss wrapped the belt around Deiveson Figueiredo’s waist after the co-main event but was conspicuously nowhere to be seen to do the same for Ngannou. White then skipped his usual post-fight interviews with the UFC’s partner media and even no-showed the post-fight press conference for the first pay-per-view of the year — which, by the way, considering how much fun UFC 270 ended up being, would’ve been a golden chance for White to bust out his favorite refrain and boast about how YOU GOOFS CAN NEVER JUDGE A CARD UNTIL IT HAPPENS.

All in all, on a night where the discontent swirling around Ngannou dominated the discussion of UFC 270, and the combined purse payout for a 22-athlete card headlined by two championship bouts totaled more than 16 times less than Tyson Fury earned to face Deontay Wilder last October, White’s absence was deafening. It was quite telling.

Ngannou was decidedly less invisible. At his post-fight press conference, the reigning champion was open about his uncertain future and how he is being treated by UFC. “I don’t feel it’s fair,” Ngannou said at one point. “I don’t feel like I’m a free man. Ngannou said, “I don’t feel that I’ve received good treatment, which is unfortunate.” It could have been much easier to make this deal happen, but Ngannou went into a position of power and made everyone frustrated. This got me discouraged, which caused me to stop wanting to do things .”


All along, Ngannou’s team has maintained a belief that the terms of their champion’s contract will be fulfilled at the end of 2022. Ngannou reiterated that stance Saturday when asked. It is difficult to determine if Team Ngannou is right, due to the murky nature UFC contracts. However, we may be heading towards a confrontation like none before.

A long-awaited matchup with Jon Jones dominated much of the post-Saturday matchmaking about what could be next for Ngannou, but because of the champ’s injuries and his inevitable knee surgery, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Ngannou will be sidelined for most of 2022 anyway. We could soon see the Baddest Man on the Planet trying to quit the UFC in search of better pastures and larger paydays, with the title belt still on his chest.

Can you visualize?

The heavyweight division left Saturday’s show with more questions than answers. Things are only likely to get even more exciting from now on. Buckle up, folks, because 2022 could be a wild ride.

3. Remember where we were with the flyweights at the end of 2018? The writing was already on the wall. A gradual trickle of 125-pound names had been cut, the GOAT had been stunningly shipped out to ONE Championship, and after six years, the experiment of the UFC’s lightest men’s division was seemingly dead. Officials at UFC saw it as a failure. Officials didn’t think fans were caring, which may have been right. It was clear that there was enough evidence from the anecdotal to support this notion.

It is crazy to think back.

On this Sunday morning, it’s a different world. The 125-pound division is in a healthier place than ever before, thanks in large part to Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, two kindred spirits who were seemingly born to fight one another for the rest of time. Each step in their three-fight series has been thrilling, with Saturday no exception. Just as last summer’s rematch was Moreno’s chance to learn and evolve from the lessons of his first outing, UFC 270 became Figueiredo’s time to reciprocate and make amends. Figueiredo changed his country, teams and coaches. He reemerged striking a new balance between patience and his patented aggression, and ultimately he pulled off the upset he needed to drag the series back into a 1-1-1 split just as he was being counted out most.

It was a spectacular piece of theatre. But more than that, the tapestry being woven by these two men over the past 14 months has elevated 125 pounds in a way Demetrious Johnson’s brilliance never managed to do. Imagine what’s happening. Moreno was received like a genuine star by the Anaheim faithful. Figueiredo and Moreno will likely fight at least four times in succession, which is totally appropriate. Not only are the majority of the fan base supportive of it — they’re genuinely excited by the idea. It’s unlike anything in UFC history. Figueiredo and Moreno could fight 20 times in a row and I’d be among the first in line to watch the chaos. Everything about this is crazy.

For what it’s really worth, Saturday’s comain event was won by Figueiredo three to two. I’m sure some people disagreed. But give all respect to the champ either way, because in his moment of glory, Figueiredo not only called for fight No. 4 as soon as fight No. 3 concluded, he actually asked for it to be held in Mexico, of all places. If Figueiredo, that madman, thought he was drowning in boos in Phoenix or Anaheim, just imagine what Mexico City could be like. The scenes. I love it. Book it tomorrow. I can’t wait.

( In case you are wondering, an order of four is called a Tetralogy. The obscure vocabulary you learn following this sport never ceases to amaze. )

4. I just want you to know that for one brief, glorious moment, I considered devoting this entire column to be a lovefest to Said Nurmagomedov, because holy hell did that man do justice to his surname on Saturday night. Cody Stamann likely isn’t topping many people’s lists of favorite fighters, but he is still a beast of a grit-and-grind competitor who has faced a murder’s row at 135 pounds, and more often than not, lived to the tale.

In other words, Stamann is no one’s easy mark — and he knew he had his back against the wall.

So whenever you feel like it, go out and fight for the title of third fastest submission in UFC bantamweight history. This is the kind of win that makes people’s eyes light up in an instant.

From the wicked diversity of strikes in his early barrage, to his sweep off a single-leg defense into the perfect power guillotine, Nurmagomedov’s 47 seconds was basically a flawless victory. No has ever handled Stamann like that — not Song Yadong, not Merab Dvalishvili, and not even the current UFC champion Aljamain Sterling.

Nurmagomedov is on Year 13 of his MMA run, but he’s still only 29 years old. After being out-of-sight, out-of-mind during the last 15 months, he’s suddenly one of the most intriguing members of Dagestan’s second wave. Marlon Vera was his next request. Although it may not seem very appealing to Chito, I don’t mind the idea.

5. On a card where almost 40 percent of its athletes were making their UFC debuts, Saturday wasn’t exactly the kind of pay-per-view night we’ve come to expect, especially after the monster run that closed out 2021. The UFC isn’t absolved of blame for that, but one look at the War and Peace length of UFC 270’s list of canceled fights at least allows for some sort of understanding. Let’s take our last spot and go NHL-style with this. We will highlight three fight stars who might not be familiar to many fighter fans.

Our first nod has to go to Matt Frevola, who made history by tying the UFC record for knockdowns in a single round (4) with one of the gnarliest three-minute stretches you’ll ever see. Frevola’s victory over GenaroValdez was pure lunacy. It was also a prime example of just how difficult it can be to referee MMA. Even with the knockdowns, Valdez defended himself throughout most of the onslaught. You can easily take to Twitter and complain about Mike Beltran’s actions after the event, but it’s much harder to call such a sequence in real time.

Our second star was made for Australia’s Jack Della Maddalena, the much-ballyhooed 25-year-old whose knockout of Pete Rodriguez was basically a work of art. I don’t understand the first thing about NFTs, but if I did, I’d snap up that slip-and-rip right hand post-haste. Maddalena will cause a lot more problems than welterweight, which is why it is always considered a shark tank.

Lastly, it’d be a disservice to forget Vanessa Demopoulos, the 33-year-old strawweight who sealed an early entrant for Submission and Comeback of the Year with her first-round absurdity against Silvana Gomez Juarez. Demopoulos admitted it herself: She was out from Juarez’s grenade of a right hand before waking up, somehow turning the tables, then getting joyously carried around the octagon in Joe Rogan’s arms.

Demopoulos came to the sport late but explained post-fight that she recently quit a 13-year run of being an exotic dancer in order to focus on her UFC career. She said that a lot of her jiu jitsu comes from her experience as a pole dancer.

Only in MMA. It is so beautiful.