15 May - 
Fortunes changed for five at UFC 237

Rose Namajunas was putting on one of the most impressive striking displays in the history of women’s MMA on Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But one of the great things about this sport is its multi-dimensions. Jessica Andrade got underneath Namajunas and gave her one of the scariest-looking slams in many years. Namajunas was instantly knocked out on impact. From the angle, it looked like she could have broken her neck. Fortunately it looked far worse than it was, and Namajunas only lost her championship. It could have been far worse.

Andrade started her UFC career off as a far too short bantamweight, fighting at 135 pounds while being only 5-foot-2, because at the time UFC had no other women’s weight class in 2013.

Andrade was never going to make waves at bantamweight, so dropped down two weight classes to strawweight, since at that time, there was no flyweight division. She’s gone 6-1 at strawweight, with her only loss in a title fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so she came in clearly a threat to the title.

Then the fight started and this was a very different Namajunas. She moved better. Her striking was more precise. Andrade was game and she had enough power that the fight was exciting enough even though she was largely being lit up. She tried a slam once and Namajunas grabbed a Kimura to block. In the second round, Andrade went for the same move, Namajunas used the same block, but in doing so, when she was slammed, it bent her head at a horrible looking angle upon impact and the fight was over.

After the fight, there seemed to be two big stories, and neither of them were about Andrade as champion.

One questioned whether such slams should be legal. Another was whether Namajunas would ever fight again.

There is not a question the slam was legal, as there was enough of an arch that it couldn’t be called a direct spike. There is inherent danger in MMA fighting, and there have been worse slams that people have gotten up from. Namajunas didn’t even have to go to the hospital.

But the sport should be both exciting, multi-faceted, but also be as safe as such a sport can possibly be. The modern rule set is a disaster given that there are different rules in different states. Making rule changes, while well meaning, have often ended up with things being worse than when they started.

Slamming people so hard it knocks them out has been part of the sport since its inception and if such a thing happens, whether it’s head-first or not, it’s inherently dangerous. But that slam being legal does bring up questions whether allowing such a move is the wrong side of the line between excitement and safety.

As for Namajunas, there is a rule that you should never take fighters too seriously when they are young and talk retirement after a frustrating bout. Namajunas is 26. She very clearly would have a great shot at winning a rematch. But based on things she’s said previously, this may be a decision to take seriously. This is not a sport that anyone should be in that doesn’t want to be. But Namajunas has developed a skill level that you don’t get without extreme dedication to the craft.

The other theme of Saturday’s UFC 237 show in Rio de Janeiro were the losses by one-time dominant legends of the sport Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo and B.J. Penn.

Silva, at 44, was considering a contract extension. But after suffering a knee injury that left him screaming in pain, one wonders if coming back to fight at this point is a good thing. Aldo is only 32, but has already talked retirement. Penn, 40, looked better than he has in recent fights, and even took the fist round over Clay Guida, before getting tired and dropping the second and third.

But this was Penn’s seventh loss in a row, a number that nobody reaches in the UFC because they aren’t usually booked once they hit four or five. He hasn’t won a fight since 2010, and a Hall of Famer who is now opening prelims tells you how far his name value has fallen. There doesn’t seem any point in him continuing.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday’s show.

JESSICA ANDRADE - The new strawweight champion (20-6) should clearly defend next against Jedrzejczyk (15-3), since Jedrzejczyk owns a dominant title win over her in a fight two years ago.

One could argue against it, saying Jedrzejczyk is coming off a loss to Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight title. But that’s a different division, and as a strawweight, Jedrzejczyk has only lost twice, both times to Namajunas.

ROSE NAMAJUNAS - If Namajunas (9-4) decides to continue, she should face the winner of the June 8 Chicago fight with Tatiana Suarez (7-0) vs. Nina Ansaroff (10-5). Such a fight should clearly determine the No. 1 contender in the division and a title fight before the end of the year.

JARED CANNONIER - Cannonier (35-9, 1 no contest) scored a first-round finish over Anderson Silva (34-10, 1 no contest).

There are a slew of middleweights available right now that Cannonier can face next, including Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-7), Chris Weidman (14-4), Jack Hermansson (20-4) or Kelvin Gastelum (15-4).

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI - Coming off a win over Aldo, Volkanovski (20-1) seemed to clearly earn a title shot at featherweight king Max Holloway. But the UFC made clear quickly that it is looking at Frankie Edgar (23-6-1) in that position.

Edgar is the bigger name, and in a professional sport where box office is king, Edgar does have more name recognition. But really, Edgar isn’t a pay-per-view major difference maker. Volkanovski’s suggestion of facing Holloway on the same show a Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya in a monster show in Australia makes sense. But the UFC needed a main event for Edmonton on July 27 and that’s where Holloway vs. Edgar fell into play.

Volkanovski either has the choice to sit on the sidelines, or fight again. Barring an injury to Holloway or Aldo, Volkanovski’s best next opponent looks to be Brian Ortega (14-1) or Zabit Magomedsharipov (17-1). Ortega is the more marketable fight, but Ortega is coming off a loss to Holloway and it’s not a good idea to put a top contender at risk unless the other guy can walk into a championship fight.

JOSE ALDO -Aldo has also talked of retirement for the past year. The loss clearly takes Aldo out of the championship picture . If he is going to fight, Ortega would be the fight unless Ortega were to face Volkanovski. In that case, Aldo vs. Magomedsharipov would be the way to go.