Five Rounds — Title shot next for Ortega-Rodriguez winner? Usman to 205?

The UFC is in the midst of a busy summer schedule, coming two weeks ago from International Fight Week. Next up this weekend is UFC on ABC (Saturday, Main on ABC/ESPN+ at 2pm ET, Prelims on ESPN/ESPN+ at 11am), with a great main event between Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez . From there, the Octagon will head to London for UFC Fight Night and then to Dallas for the rematch between Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes at UFC 277 on July 30.

There is so much going on in terms of sport. Kamaru Usman wants a second belt, but at light heavyweight? Speaking of the 205lb division, who should Jiri Prochazka fight for his first title defense? And could Shavkat Rakhmonov be the next big welterweight star?

Here are five storylines to keep me thinking as we move forward with the UFC calendar.


Brian Ortega or Yair Rodriguez? The keyword at featherweight right now is “improvement.”

As I look at the UFC’s featherweight division—which, as I’ve made clear in previous episodes of Five Rounds, is my favorite weight class in the sport—this topic comes to mind improvement. The gold standard for this, of course, is champion Alexander Volkanovski. The most impressive thing about Volkanovski over the past three years is how much he’s improved. The version of Volkanovski who took the belt from Max Holloway in 2019 is nowhere near as good as the 2022 edition. And Volkanovski has made those improvements amid a pandemic and a hectic fight schedule (three title defenses) over the past 12 months.

But beyond the champion, at 145 pounds, this improvement concept was huge. Ortega looked positively lost in his first title fight against Holloway in 2018. After that fight, he took two years off, blasted his entire training camp, found virtually all new coaches and training partners, and returned as the Ortega 2.0. Rodriguez was plagued by inactivity from 2019-2021, so much so that he went into his fight against Holloway as a 5-to-1 underdog. But then we saw improvements to his game in a five-round contestant’s fight-of-the-year.

I remember all of this because when Ortega and Rodriguez meet in the main event, we’ll be looking for an improvement. Who has added more wrinkles to their game since we last saw them? Both had time for it. This is Ortega’s first fight in 10 months, Rodriguez’s first in eight months. These two have proven beyond a doubt that they belong in the top 5 in this division. If they want to challenge Volkanovski they have to show better versions of themselves on Saturday.


Kamaru Usman wants to jump into light heavyweight and…I love it?

When Usman first mentioned this idea I didn’t put much stock in it because why should I? There has never been a champion who skips two weight classes in the UFC. It doesn’t make much sense. Champions who gain weight and win a second title are rare. They’re not as rare as they used to be, but it’s still a feat not many champions have accomplished. Rising up two Weight classes calls for failure. The size difference between 170 pound and 205 pound fighters is really huge. But after speaking to Usman more this week, I think he means business.

Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t trust the UFC to let him try. For one, UFC President Dana White respects and admires Usman. There have been examples from the past that show White is open to what Usman wants to do with his career. He wasn’t keen on the idea of ​​Usman Canelo Alvarez boxing, but that’s a different scenario. Usman is currently ranked No. 1 in the UFC pound-for-pound rankings. He’s been active and has taken on every challenger the UFC has thrown at him. He bought goodwill with the company, which could allow him to do something outside the box.

And the light heavyweight division has been pretty wide open since Jon Jones left the division. It’s ripe for something like this. I’m not saying we’ll see that, but I think it’s within the realm of possibility. And you know what? I like that. If Usman beats Leon Edwards, let’s see how the two divisions look. A two-tier jump would undoubtedly give us something to discuss.


Jiri Prochazka wants Glover Teixeira in his first title defense but what about Jan Blachowicz?

Prochazka has said he would love to face Teixeira in a rematch in his first title defense, essentially because he wasn’t happy with his performance in taking the title from Teixeira at UFC 275 last month. I understand that feeling we always have in this sport, see how fighters can be their harshest critics. It’s not surprising when Prochazka says something like, “I’ll show you why I’m the champion.” He doesn’t want to leave any doubt.

But I disagree with the call. Teixeira wasn’t a long-time champion that warranted an immediate rematch. Blachowicz’s record over the past few years is as impressive as, if not more so than, Teixeira’s (although Teixeira clinched a win over him last year). It is also a wrong decision by Prochazka. He said Blachowicz was the tougher matchup, and demanding a fight with anyone other than the toughest matchup was not consistent with Prochazka’s professed code towards MMA. Blachowicz was quick to point this out, and rightly so. The next 205-pound title fight should be Prochazka vs. Blachowicz, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the route the UFC chooses.


Looking for a name to watch? It’s UFC welterweight Shavkat Rakhmonov.

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Shavkat Rakhmonov makes short work of Carlston Harris with an impressive spinning wheel kick at UFC Fight Night.

While Khamzat Chimaev gets all the love from the “climbers” in the sport, some believe Rakhmonov is just as good. The Uzbekistan-born welterweight is 16-0 with 16 finishes. His manager, Daniel Rubenstein, believes the UFC may not have fully realized what they initially had in Rakhmonov when he came up for the promotion under an agreement with Russian promoter M-1 Global. Rakhmonov was an M-1 Global Champion and was transferred to the UFC after successfully defending his belt in 2019. It took a while for him to make a UFC debut because of the pandemic, but he’s now 4-0.

Rakhmonov was 10th when Neil Magny finished last month. He’s not widely known, but the UFC signed him on a new contract ahead of his last fight and his opposition should improve.

“Skill for skill, I would choose him over Khamzat,” said Rubenstein. “Magny is a great barometer for any fighter; we’ve seen that in the last five or six years. Now we’re looking for fights against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Belal Muhammad Division. We weren’t offered anything, and who’s jumping up and down to fight Shavkat or Khamzat right now? No one. But he kills boys. Even if he doesn’t talk trash, the UFC will have his back because they can promote him as a killer.”


A fight I would like to see booked: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Miesha Tate

I’m not overlooking Tate’s fight against Lauren Murphy this weekend. People have overlooked Murphy in the past, and she made them pay for it. But Murphy has already lost to Shevchenko and there is no need to watch this fight again. So it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the health of the division if Tate went out and looked great on her 125-pound debut.

By the time that happens, Tate will have brought plenty of life to a division that has no viable title challengers left. And with Shevchenko coming off her closest fight in years against Taila Santos last month, Tate at least has a path to victory against Shevchenko if she can get down to business on Saturday. I want to see Shevchenko in a big, marketable fight and that would qualify.

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34244811/ufc-brian-ortega-yair-rodriguez-all-improvement-kamaru-usman-light-heavyweight-tease-more Five Rounds — Title shot next for Ortega-Rodriguez winner? Usman to 205?

Emma Bowman

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