UFC Fight Island has come and gone… for now! The initial first wave of events has concluded. Starting out with the big UFC 251 showcase on July 12, three fight night events would rapidly follow. With plenty of great fights and performances witnessed, new stars were born and champions were crowned. Here’s who gained the most from the trip to Yas Island, UAE.
10. Carla Esparza
Getting the opportunity to compete on one of the first cards back since the pandemic began, Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza made the best of it.
Picking up a split decision over Michelle Waterson, the first-ever UFC strawweight champ looked to get right back in action afterward. Thus leading to a matchup with the unbeaten Marina Rodriguez – a contender who missed out on a fight with another top contender in Claudia Gadelha due to the worldwide situation.
At UFC Fight Island 3, Esparza utilized her superior grappling as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing en route to another split decision win. That made it a very quiet four in a row for the former champion. She now finds herself closer to UFC gold than she’s been since last holding it in 2015.
9. Fabricio Werdum
Like Esparza, her fellow former UFC champion in Fabricio Werdum also fought on one of the opening wave of Jacksonville, Florida events. However, his fight didn’t quite go as well for him as Esparza’s did for her.
Werdum was returning to action after a two-year layoff due to a USADA suspension. In his bout with an equally experienced Alexey Oleynik, Werdum looked like a 40-plus-year-old fighter that had clearly been out for some time.
Despite having his moments here and there and making the fight close enough to be a split decision, the BJJ master appeared to be a far cry from his days as a titleholder. Winding up on the wrong end of the decision, it put Werdum on his first and only losing streak to date.
Fast forward to UFC Fight Island 3 and Werdum was matched with former multi-time light heavyweight title challenger, Alexander Gustafsson. “The Mauler” was making his debut in the heavyweight division. Unfortunately for him, the Brazilian felt like spoiling the party.
“Vai Cavalho” only needed two minutes and 30 seconds to sink in a vintage armbar to force the tap. It was a classic showing for the heavyweight division’s all-time greatest submission artist. And with the big win, it gives him the perfect amount of momentum and intrigue as he looks to test free agency.
8. Rafael Fiziev
Rafael Fiziev’s great talent was known to those who had been paying attention to him during his rise before reaching the UFC. However, he had yet to truly have a proper coming-out party in the UFC after suffering a highlight reel defeat in his debut then rebounding in a satisfactory fashion.
UFC Fight Island 2 was where Fiziev competed for the third time inside the Octagon and taking on Marc Diakiese allowed for him to shine.
After a slight skid himself, Diakiese got back on track and came into the fight expected to hold his own. And he did so enough to earn the Fight of the Night honors with Fiziev, but his Kazakhstan representing counterpart was just one step ahead for the majority of the bout. Fiziev displayed flashy and sharp striking attacks accompanied by Matrix-like defense which left him easy to remember for viewers who were just introduced to him.
7. Taila Santos
At UFC Fight Island 1, Taila Santos competed in a bout that on paper never should have been made.
She was matched with the streaking top 15 contender in Britain’s Molly McCann who rode a three-fight winning streak. For Santos, she is the owner of perhaps the most padded record in MMA. Her 15-1 prior to this fight saw the combined record of her wins’ records equaling out to 13-12-1. Seven of those victories belonging to a single opponent.
Santos’ first career defeat came in her UFC debut when she fell to the 20-fight veteran from Italy, Mara Romero Borella. Therefore oddly leading her to a big opportunity against McCann. None the less, Santos shined brighter than anyone could have expected.
She would dominate the entirety of the fight as she outstruck and outgrappled the ranked McCann. It continued to prove that flyweight definitely has some deceiving contenders waiting in the wings.
6. Jack Hermansson
UFC Fight Island 2’s co-main event bout was one that flew deeply under the radar. It was two top middleweights looking to get back in the win column, and man did Jack Hermansson make the best of that meeting.
“The Joker’s” rise in 2018-2019 was surprisingly impressive as it saw him earn big finishes over the likes of David Branch and Gerald Meerschaert. This coming before outscoring Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in a five-round contest.
Having his momentum halted by Jared Cannonier to close out the year of 2019, his first 2020 bout saw him waste no time righting the wrong.
Hermansson became the fastest man to finish Kelvin Gastelum when he secured a heel hook in a minute and 18 seconds. The loss extended Gastelum’s streak to three while showing that Hermansson remains a very dangerous and viable contender at 185-pounds.
5. Deiveson Figueiredo
Deiveson Figueiredo, much like the No. 4 entry, doesn’t need much explanation. He became a world champion on Fight Island.
Booked for a rematch with Joseph Benavidez after knocking him out in their first title matchup, the Brazilian missed weight. Meaning that he was ineligible to win the title. So with that, it remained vacant until the two met again.
Well, if there were any controversies the first time around, whether from head clashes or weight advantages, they were silenced swiftly in the rematch.
Figueiredo absolutely put the stamp on the flyweight staple for as long as the fight lasted. Knocking Benavidez down on three separate occasions, a rear-naked choke would spell the end 12 seconds before the opening round ended. Figueiredo became only the third UFC flyweight champion in history as well as the first from Brazil in his division.
4. Petr Yan
Both of Henry Cejudo’s titles found new homes on Fight Island. The first heading to Brazil with Figueiredo while the other went back to Russia in Petr Yan’s hands.
The man known as “No Mercy” showed exactly that in an excellent battle with the legendary Jose Aldo at UFC 251. Over the course of four rounds, both men went at it looking to claim the label of the new 135-pound king.
For three of those rounds, Yan was seen as the better man, and going into the fifth and final, he left no doubt instantaneously.
Dropping Aldo in a matter of seconds, Yan would pound away on his opponent until the referee mercifully stopped the beating a hundred unanswered blows later. With the win, Yan planted himself firmly atop the fastest-growing division in the sport.
3. Jiri Prochazka
Finally, Jiri Prochazka made his UFC debut at UFC 251.
The former king of RIZIN as the light heavyweight titleholder, Prochazka was given his earned respect and thrown right into the mix of the UFC top 10. Welcoming him would be former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. A man who himself wasted little to no time getting to the top upon his arrival in the promotion.
The pair put on a very fun first round that saw both have their moments being tested by the other. Though, it was Prochazka’s very unique and unorthodox striking style that caught the attention of spectators around the world.
Only 49 seconds into round two and “Denisa” would land the kill shot which added to his already stellar highlight reel. The 24th knockout win of his career was his biggest as he officially launched himself into the top 10 UFC ranks with only a single victory.
2. Amanda Ribas
Now, Amanda Ribas was already well on her way to being a star prior to UFC 251 and Fight Island. But competing during these festivities seriously helped take her to new heights in terms of popularity.
Perhaps one of the most likable personalities that the sport has ever seen, Ribas remains an absolute savage when competing.
Entering into UFC 251, Ribas rode a strong and continually impressing four-fight winning streak. The recent three of those coming in the UFC. One of which as an upset over the hot prospect Mackenzie Dern and another being a dominant showing against the seasoned vet, Randa Markos.
With no finishes since her UFC debut, Ribas changed that at UFC 251 and didn’t beat around the bush.
Taking on Paige VanZant in the main card opener, Ribas got the action to the mat quickly after they first engaged. Eventually, she found herself attacking the arm of the former Dancing with the Stars star. Technically outmatched, VanZant submitted and was likely sent packing as the bout was the last on her contract.
Despite not having any reason to remain on Fight Island after her big win, Ribas stuck around for the next card after UFC 251 and continued to get some understandable spotlight from the UFC and the media.
1. Khamzat Chimaev
Khamzat Chimaev literally performed as flawlessly as you possibly could during his time on Fight Island… not in one fight, but two.
Making his UFC debut at UFC Fight Island 1 in a middleweight bout, Chimaev pummeled John Phillips for the full first round before submitting him with a d’arce choke in the second. Phillips was outlanded by a whopping 124 to 2 strikes.
10 days later and Chimaev got the chance to fight again at UFC Fight Island 3 as per his request.
Now welcoming Rhys McKee to the Octagon, Chimaev did not do so kindly… Oh, and he also dropped to welterweight for this time out.
After three minutes and nine seconds of smashing his foe, the referee had seen enough and Chimaev became the fighter with the quickest successful turnaround in UFC history. He outstruck McKee 68 to 0.
Thanks to his Fight Island showings, Chimaev went from an unknown prospect to the majority of the MMA world to what looks like a terrifying welterweight threat in the form of Khabib Nurmagomedov 2.0.
The craziest part is, he legitimately could have fought multiple times on both of the cards that he fought on.