The power of the fighting spirit was on full display this past Saturday in San Diego, as Zion Clark won his MMA debut.
Clark defeated Eugene Murray by unanimous decision in a Gladiator Challenge bout, a remarkable feat for a man born without legs. Despite suffering from a rare birth disorder, the 25-year-old Clark has turned himself into an athletic phenomenon. He owns two different Guinness records—the highest box jump on two hands and running 20 meters in 4.78 seconds—and wrestled collegiately at Kent State.
Looking ahead, will a major state athletic commission ever sanction his fights in a bigger, more established promotion? Considered a downed opponent, Clark cannot be legally kneed or kicked in the head. Missing a limb typically means a fighter is not allowed to compete.
This Saturday’s fight took place without the approval of the California State Athletic Commission, so there are always other options for Clark. But it will be fascinating to see whether he can continue to advance in the sport, further overcoming every alleged limitation placed in his way.
Following this weekend’s final UFC card, there is still a lot to look forward to in the final couple weeks of 2022, most notably the Bellator-Rizin supercard on New Year’s Eve. But there is plenty to discuss before then, including …
• Israel Adesanya still runs the middleweight division.
That was evident Saturday during UFC Fight Night when Jared Cannonier defeated Sean Strickland by split decision. Despite losing the title last month to Alex Pereira at UFC 281, Adesanya remains in a position of power. The division has no choice but to wait until he gets his rematch against Pereira, which will be a career-defining fight for Adesanya. If he wins, finally getting a victory against Pereira, then there would likely be a trilogy bout.
That puts a whole list of contenders in a difficult spot. Robert Whittaker could defeat Paulo Costa in February, or Marvin Vettori could win in March, but they will be in championship purgatory until Adesanya gets his rematch. If Adesanya regains the title, he has already defeated Whittaker twice, as well as Costa, Vettori, and Cannonier. And there is ample reason to believe he can defeat Pereira, which he was precariously close to doing last month.
Until Pereira defeats Adesanya again, the middleweight division will continue to be under Adesanya’s control, with or without the title.
• Anthony Smith did more to raise his profile over the past week than he could have in a fight against Jamahal Hill.
While on the air for the UFC 282 post-show, Smith learned in real-time that he had lost his upcoming main event in March against Hill, who was being moved into a title fight against Glover Teixeira for the vacant light heavyweight championship. Instead of making the moment all about himself, Smith handled himself with poise and grace.
Smith was certainly angry for losing the chance to fight Hill, which is the latest in a string of cruel obstacles and setbacks. But he turned a negative into a positive, offering new layers of his personality that make his pursuit of the belt even more compelling. Now he will train with Hill in preparation for Teixeira, and weigh in as the backup to the Hill-Teixeira title fight. If Hill wins the belt at UFC 283 in Brazil, then Smith sets up perfectly as his first title defense.
• UFC 283 is a better card with the addition of Teixeira-Hill, but I would have preferred to see the flyweights headline.
In a title unification bout, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno will fight for a fourth time at 283. Their first bout was a draw, followed by a spectacular win by submission for Moreno, then a controversial unanimous decision victory for Figueiredo. The two have brought new life to the flyweight division, and their next meeting–in Figueiredo’s native Brazil–should be extremely intense.
This should also be their last fight against one another for the considerable future. It will make Moreno the opponent for Figueiredo in four straight fights. But unfortunately, it will not be the headline bout.
• A flyweight who will be in the main event next year is Demetrious Johnson. He headlines ONE Championship’s debut in the United States at ONE on Prime Video 10, defending his title against Adriano Moraes in their trilogy bout.
Johnson attended his first-ever NFL game last Thursday in Seattle, which ended in defeat for the Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers.
“The game went by a lot faster than if I were at home watching,” says Johnson. “I enjoyed it. There was so much entertainment during the game. For me, it’s always about the company you’re in, and I was with my brother Ezekiel. That made the moment that much more special.”
Johnson played football in high school. He was primarily a running back, but also played center. Had he ever had the opportunity to play in the NFL, he would have been severely undersized at center—but he could have been an explosive back.
“I’d still play running back,” says Johnson. “Those guys on the line are massive, so I could hide behind them.”
• Derrick Lewis is back preparing for his next fight, a rescheduled bout against Sergey Spivak set for UFC Fight Night in Feb. 4 at the Apex.
Lewis has been away from the cage since a loss to Sergei Pavlovich in July. His frustrations have only been magnified since then, as he has watched his Houston Texans struggle mightily this season. The Texans have only won once this season, and currently own the worst record in the league.
“They beat me up every Sunday,” says Lewis. “I watch every week. They’re not doing anything since [Deshaun] Watson, [DeAndre] Hopkins, and [J.J.] Watt all left. It’s been hard to be a fan. But I’m a diehard. We have a good running back in [Dameon] Pierce, but we need a new quarterback. We’ll see what happens during the draft.”
Will Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic fight in 2023?
I don’t even mean fight each other–I mean compete in the UFC over the next 12 months. Neither Miocic nor Jones competed this year. Jones last fought in 2020, and we are still waiting to see him make his heavyweight debut. Miocic lost the heavyweight belt to Francis Ngannou in March of 2021, and he is awaiting his championship rematch.
Hopefully we have an answer soon. Jones headlining UFC 285 in March against Francis Ngannou makes the most sense for Jones, the UFC, ESPN, and Ngannou. Miocic could fight the winner in July or August. And Sergei Pavlovich or Ciryl Gane would be waiting for whomever emerges.
Recent history suggests that Jones won’t fight, but there is reason for hope. He would be the biggest draw possible for the pay-per-view this March, and finally seeing him battle Ngannou would be a major moment for the sport.