That result followed Adesanya’s teammate Alexander Volkanovski closing the door on his rivalry with Max Holloway, with the featherweight champion outpointing the Hawaiian in a title fight for the third time.
Elsewhere on the card at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, Alex Pereira knocked out Sean Strickland in the first round to increase interest in a clash between the Brazilian and Adesanya, whom Pereira beat twice during the pair’s time as professional kickboxers. Meanwhile, a highly-anticipated bantamweight bout between Pedro Munhoz and Sean O’Malley came to an unfortunate end when the former was unable to continue after suffering an accidental eye poke, marking the second time that rising star O’Malley’s momentum has been halted.
Below, Indy Sport plays matchmaker for the protagonists of UFC 276.
Israel Adesanya vs Alex Pereira
There was no guarantee that Pereira, who is a relative newcomer to MMA, would overcome Strickland. But the American got his gameplan all wrong, choosing to strike with former kickboxing champion Pereira, who put Strickland out cold in the first round after a bolt of a hook.
It took Pereira’s record to 6-1 (3-0 in the UFC) and will likely fast-track the Brazilian to a title shot; he has an intriguing history with Adesanya, who is without any other obvious challenger, and the smartest move is to pair the old foes rather than risk Pereira losing before such a contest can be made.
Pereira defeated Adesanya (23-1) twice during the pair’s kickboxing days, knocking out the UFC middleweight champion the second time they fought. The narrative is there, fans are onboard, and Adesanya even called for the fight after UFC 276.
Alexander Volkanovski vs Josh Emmett
Admittedly this is not the most enticing match-up on paper, but there are clear reasons to make it.
The most interesting scenario would see Volkanovski (25-1) move up to lightweight, as he has expressed a desire to, and face Charles Oliveira for the vacant title. However, Indy Sport has already made the case for Oliveira vs Islam Makhachev, and seeing Volkanovski defend the featherweight belt while that lightweight contest plays out would make sense.
Australian Volkanovski would be favourite to beat Emmett (18-2), who is on an impressive five-fight win streak, and could challenge the victor of Oliveira and Makhachev’s potential clash next spring. Volkanovski has said he wants to stay active, and a title defence against American Emmett would help him to do just that while the lightweight title picture is resolved between the top two 155lbers in the promotion.
Pedro Munhoz vs Sean O’Malley
O’Malley, 27, is a fighter who seems to have more crossover potential than most on the UFC roster, though this No Contest was far from what the American needed – especially after a very successful 2021, in which he bounced back from the first loss of his professional career with three stoppage wins.
This was a sensible match-up for both O’Malley (15-1, 1 NC) and Munhoz (19-7, 2 NC), and it was interesting enough for the round-and-a-half that it lasted.
The obvious next move is to rebook this match-up, which on paper represents the toughest test for O’Malley so far as he looks to vindicate suggestions that he is a genuine contender at 135lbs.
Sean Strickland vs Paulo Costa / Luke Rockhold
Strickland had won six fights in a row prior to Saturday night, and his exchanges with Adesanya at Thursday’s press conference suggested that the build-up to a clash between the middleweights would make for interesting viewing.
The American only made it through half-a-round with Pereira, though, and must now regain momentum if he is to ultimately challenge for the title. Now ranked seventh, Strickland (25-4) could face the winner of fifth-ranked Costa’s upcoming bout against former champion Rockhold.
Costa (13-2) and Rockhold (16-5) are due to square off at UFC 278 in August. Costa has already been stopped by Adesanya and lost in his only outing since then, so he has some way to go to re-establish himself as a challenger. Rockhold, meanwhile, has not fought since his ill-fated move up to light heavyweight in 2019. At 37, he must overcome Costa to mount one last title charge, and even then he would likely need at least one more victory to close the gap to the champion.