After seventeen consecutive weekends with fights, the UFC will be dark for the first time since May. In fact, it's a quiet weekend across every major MMA promotion, outside of a PFL Europe event headlined by former kickboxing champion Cédric Doumbé.
But there was plenty of action during the weekends leading up to this much-deserved break. The UFC crowned a new middleweight champion and bantamweight champion in Sean Strickland and Sean O'Malley, respectively. Tom Aspinall made his highly anticipated return to the Octagon and Justin Gaethje knocked out Dustin Poirier to claim the UFC's BMF title. Bellator MMA had four champions successfully defend their belts in Vadim Nemkov, Sergio Pettis, Logan Storley and Johnny Eblen. The promotion also introduced its new men's flyweight division, and the PFL held the 2023 PFL Playoffs to finalize the championship matchups in its six divisions.
Here are five topics on my mind as the sport takes a bit of a break to close out September.
This sport needs more 10-8 rounds, not less
I hope this doesn't become an unfortunate side effect of the judging controversy from this month's UFC women's flyweight title fight between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko. I can't speak for Michael Bell, the judge who scored the fifth round of that fight a 10-8 for Grasso, but my guess as to what happened was simply human error.
I know Bell. He is one of the most experienced judges in the sport, and I consider him one of the best. But he's human. He just turned in a bad scorecard. I understand that people want answers and accountability when that happens. I want that, too. But it's unfair to ostracize the guy to this extent. Dana White suggesting he should be investigated for one questionable scorecard is a bit much.
A potential byproduct of it all is that judges see this fallout and get gun-shy with 10-8 rounds, which would be a step backward in the sport. This scoring system is already outdated and doesn't give enough credit for dominant rounds. I know it might not feel like it right now, but I'm telling you: We need more 10-8 rounds in MMA.
Life is hard for a UFC lightweight
I wouldn't want to weigh 155 pounds if I were in the UFC. Sometimes, we talk about division "log jams," which usually applies to a lack of opportunities for a title shot. An inactive champion or something. At lightweight, there's not only a lack of title fight opportunities but also a lack of chances to fight an opponent ranked in the top five of ESPN's divisional rankings.
I legitimately feel for guys like Matheusz Gamrot and Rafael Fiziev, who headlined last weekend's UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The fight's result was unfortunate, thanks to a knee injury suffered by Fiziev, but even if it had not gone that way, where would either fighter go from here?
Islam Makhachev is fighting Charles Oliveira, in a rematch of a fight we saw one year ago. Gaethje has already fought for a title twice and is waiting in the wings. Poirier is still in the top-5, with no incentive to fight anyone ranked below him. Michael Chandler is waiting for Conor McGregor. And on top of all that, Alexander Volkanovski is holding a ticket for another lightweight title shot that he is expected to cash in at some point in 2024. That should be concerning for any lightweight ranked from No. 6 and beyond. Most of these guys could do nothing but win for the next 18 months and still get roadblocked from a top-five ranking. There's no solution to this problem, but it's worth pointing out. Lightweights, you have my sympathy.
And speaking of roadblocked lightweights...
With one second remaining, Grant Dawson gets the TKO victory via punches vs. Leonardo Santos.
Grant Dawson is set for his first UFC main event against Bobby Green on Oct. 7 at the UFC Apex, and we might be looking at a future mainstay in the top-5 rankings. Eventually, familiar names like Gaethje, Poirier and Oliveira will hang up their gloves, and the new crop will move in. Most fight fans believe that the new crop will include Gamrot, Fiziev and Arman Tsarukyan -- it might also include Dawson.
The 29-year-old is 8-0-1 since earning a UFC contract on "Dana White's Contender Series" in 2017. That nine-fight unbeaten streak has happened quietly, especially for a Contender Series alum. The UFC usually can't wait to promote DWCS fighters, but Dawson has flown under the radar. If he beats Green next weekend, he's already shown his hand. He intends to call out Dan Hooker, who was just cleared to resume training from a broken arm. I like Dawson's chances of booking that fight with a win.
The most underrated fight on the rest of the 2023 schedule is in Bellator MMA
Sergio Pettis vs. Patchy Mix for the Bellator bantamweight championship at Bellator 301 on Nov. 17 is a phenomenal fight. Will anyone know about it when the time comes? Its event on Nov. 17 is very strong. Yaroslav Amasov, Pettis, Mix, A.J. McKee -- all on one main card. Great matchups. This event is one that Bellator president Scott Coker should be out there bragging about, but we'll see if he does.
The 135-pound division is beyond stacked across the sport. On any given night, the best bantamweight in the world might be Sean O'Malley, Aljamain Sterling, Henry Cejudo, Merab Dvalishvili or Cory Sandhagen. Or it might be Pettis or Mix. I think that highly of these two. Pound for pound, on paper, this matchup is absolute fire and I can't wait to see it. But because it's in Bellator, it will likely be overlooked.
Khamzat Chimaev's hype train continues rolling with an incredible win over No. 2 Gilbert Burns.
The UFC's next pay-per-view, UFC 294 on Oct. 21 in Abu Dhabi features the return of Khamzat Chimaev against Paulo Costa. It'll be the first appearance of the year for both fighters and hopefully, it will answer some questions about Chimaev long term. As entertaining and as good as Costa is, the greater intrigue lies with Chimaev.
We still don't know the ceiling for Chimaev. We've been waiting to find out since he debuted with the UFC in 2020. We don't even know what weight class he's truly part of. The purpose of Five Rounds is to list the five things on my mind this week, and Chimaev is on that list. I hope we get some answers about where he's been and, more importantly, about his future. How frequently will we see him moving forward? At what weight? And will we ever see the guy who seemingly fought every weekend again?