As a fan of the sport of mixed martial arts, it’s hard to believe things can get much better than what we saw on Saturday. From the opening bell to the final bout, the T-Mobile Arena featured incredible action at UFC 290. By the nature of the drama and excitement inside the cage, the card moves into my top spot for 2023. Let’s talk about what went down.
The action kicked off in Vegas with a great scrap between Esteban Ribovics and Kamuela Kirk – a fight that may have been in the running for Fight of the Night honors if it featured on a different card. The bout set the tone for the event and was immediately followed by a fantastic 17-second knockout courtesy of Jesus Aguilar.
With two thrilling fights in the book, it seems other fighters felt the pressure to rise to the occasion. Cameron Saaiman and Vitor Petrino closed out the early prelims with finishes of their own. Though the UFC had to scramble to fill gaps thanks to the limited amount of time spent in the cage, fans in the building already felt the special energy of the night.
UFC 290 ESPN Prelims
The finishes didn’t stop with the early prelims. Jimmy Crute and Alonzo Menifield picked up where they left off in their last fight by brawling. However, Menifield secured a guillotine choke in round two giving this bout a definitive winner, unlike the draw in their first bout. Denise Gomes chose not to waste any time following up Menifield. The Brazilian swarmed Yazmin Jauregui from the opening bell and secured a twenty-second TKO win.
Tatsuro Taira and Edgar Chairez then went on to have a tight battle with Chairez rocking Taira with strikes early on before Tatsuro managed to rally with his ground game. Though I enjoyed the grappling exchanges in this one, it probably provided a bit of a comparative lull.
Thankfully, MMA legend Robbie Lawler brought the crowd to their feet in the next fight. Wrapping up his legendary career that dates all the way back to 2001, “Ruthless” came to put on a show in his final fight.
It took just 38 seconds for Lawler to knock out his opponent Niko Price. The victory put a stamp on an incredible career and sent the legend out with a victory – a rarity in this brutal sport. The feel-good moment added a lot of positive emotion to UFC 290 heading into the PPV Main Card.
UFC 290 PPV Main Card
When a second 38-second knockout in a row is arguably the most forgettable part of the main card, you know an event cemented itself as truly special. It didn’t take fast-rising prospect Bo Nickal long to dispatch his opponent. A swift left hook and some follow-up strikes ended the night early for the former Penn State wrestler.
Nickal’s spectacular KO was followed up by an absolute war between Jalin Turner and Dan Hooker. The instant classic saw both Turner and Hooker nearly finished in Round Two. I’m not sure how either fighter remained standing but the bout felt like a surefire Fight of the Night winner. Hooker managed to take the decision in a fight in which many felt he was the underdog.
Next up? A number one contender bout between previous 185lb title holder Rob Whittaker and South African sensation Dricus du Plessis. Dricus shocked many by looking incredibly impressive en route to a stoppage win over Whittaker.
With du Plessis punching his ticket to a title fight against Israel Adesanya in the future, we moved on to the two title fights on UFC 290. Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Moreno treated UFC fans to yet another classic fight on this card.
A Pair of Classic Title Fights
The two went to war for the 125lb title and ended up snatching Fight of the Night honors from Turner and Hooker. Pantoja rocked Moreno early in round one and though Moreno would have his moments, the fight felt like a clear victory for the Brazilian in my opinion. Though one judge disagreed, Pantoja ended up with the split decision victory and the title.
Finally, in the main event, 145lb champ Alexander Volkanovski hoped to cement his legacy against Yair Rodriguez. Volk dominated the first two rounds using his striking to close the distance and take Rodriguez down. The champ’s smothering ground-and-pound offense damaged Rodriguez and prevented the challenger from using his flashy offense.
In round three, Yair finally started to see some success with his striking. Rodriguez landed a handful of strikes that caught Volkanovski’s attention. Unfortunately for Yair, all this did was lead to Volk landing a massive counter right hand in an exchange. That punch marked the beginning of the end as Alex sensed Rodriguez was rocked. Volk followed up with massive strikes against the cage before taking Yair down and finishing the fight with ground-and-pound.
The win for Volkanovski cemented his place atop the all-time featherweight rankings in my opinion. With Volks’s legacy-securing win to cap off an incredible night of fights, UFC 290 immediately vaulted to the top of my favorite cards list for the year.