5 biggest takeaways from UFC 290: Bracing for the build to Israel Adesanya vs. Dricus Du Plessis

Published on:

What mattered most at UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

A ‘Ruthless’ career comes to a perfect end

You literally couldn’t have scripted a more perfect retirement moment than Robbie Lawler put together with his 38-second knockout of Niko Price in his farewell fight.

So often we are used to seeing out legends go out in a saddening manner. It’s happened too many times to count, and it never gets easier to witness. Lawler (30-16 MMA, 15-10 UFC), however, forged his own path and hung up his gloves on the heels of a performance that was his best in recent years.

It was an emotional scene, and the UFC honored Lawler in a brilliant fashion with an in-cage video package that tugged on the heartstrings. There’s so much that can be said about Lawler in his spectacular career. All the wins. All the knockouts. All the wars.

But Lawler himself wouldn’t want me to write a lengthy essay praising him. If you’re reading this, you’re probably more than familiar with his body of work and legacy he left behind in the sport. Lawler always preferred to keep it short and sweet, though, so in honor of the “Ruthless” one, we’ll keep his final tribute brief.

Is Bo Nickal ready for the big time?

It’s hard to not want to see Bo Nickal fight superior competition after he completely destroyed short-notice replacement Val Woodburn for a 38-second knockout to stay undefeated.



Although he’s still very much in his MMA infancy, the way Nickal is running through his opponents brings the strong urge for something more. Yes, Woodburn isn’t exactly a barometer for greatness, but the way Nickal is putting his opponents away makes it feel like it’s time to pull the trigger.

I want to see it, you want to see it, but the UFC doesn’t appear quite ready. UFC president Dana White indicated the promotion will continue to slow-play the standout prospect, which is understandable but somewhat underwhelming.

That said, UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard knows what he’s doing, and although it might require more patience from the MMA community, it’s likely going to pay off in the end because Nickal truly does have UFC title potential.

Did Israel Adesanya mishandle Dricus Du Plessis faceoff?

After Dricus Du Plessis shocked the world with a second-round TKO of former UFC champ Robert Whittaker in the featured bout, Israel Adesanya entered the octagon for a faceoff with the new top middleweight contender and proceeded to show why this could be the most divisive build to a title fight since Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor.



Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m an expert on the intricacies of South African history. There’s a lot of deep-seated issues when it comes to that dating even further back than apartheid, and whether UFC president White wants to dismiss it or not, that’s now a real part of the storyline in this heated matchup.

It’s more than fair for anyone to point to Du Plessis (20-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC) as the one who prompted this whole thing with his comments earlier this year about being the UFC’s “real African fighter” because he still lives in South Africa, whereas Adesanya has spent the majority of his life living in New Zealand despite his Nigerian heritage. He decided to go down that path, and Adesanya (24-2 MMA, 13-2 UFC) took exception to it and has increased the narrative tenfold.

Even though Du Plessis is worthy of the shot at gold based entirely on merit after finishing Whittaker, this is going to be the overarching narrative going into this fight, and it’s bound to get uncomfortable for a lot people.



We saw a slice of that when Adesanya got in the cage to face off with Du Plessis and brought up DNA tests, hurled the N-word and was very emotionally charged due to his disdain for Du Plessis and what he stands for. Whether those emotions got the best of Adesanya and reflected poorly on him is open to interpretation, but in that moment, he certainly wasn’t worried about acting gracefully.

It’s not my place to claim to be the moral authority on whether this belongs, and it’s clear the UFC has no interest on taking that role, either. It’s likely to get worse and not better as we get closer to their title fight, whenever it happens, and that means we should all brace ourselves for what’s to come.

Alexandre Pantoja’s crowning moment

[lawrence-related id=2657921]



Alexandre Pantoja took the hard road to the UFC flyweight title, which made his split decision win over Brandon Moreno to claim gold an even more significant and gratifying moment for the Brazilian.

From being the forgotten man in the division over and over as Moreno (21-7-2 MMA, 9-3-2 UFC) and Deiveson Figueiredo played out their four-fight series, to being pegged as an underdog at UFC 290 despite holding two previous wins over Moreno, Pantoja (26-5 MMA, 10-3 UFC) is one of those guys who had to scratch and claw for everything.

He’s finally at the top of the mountain, though, and is a very worthy champion. Pantoja is humble outside the cage and extremely exciting inside of it, which is the traits most people should want out of a champion.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what Pantoja’s title reign is going to look like. There are some interesting challenges on the horizon for him, but a rematch with Brandon Royval could the frontrunner.



Pantoja has to feel pretty good about getting his reign off a promising start, because he finished Royval with a second-round submission less than two years ago, and he’s a better fighter now than he was then.

Alexander Volkanovski is the greatest featherweight ever

Alexander Volkanovski wouldn’t say it in the aftermath of his dominant title defense over Yair Rodriguez in the 11th annual International Fight Week headliner, so I will: He’s clearly surpassed Jose Aldo as the best featherweight in MMA history.

If you want to base your assessment on who is No. 1 purely on title wins, then Aldo is still ahead by two. He had eight, and Volkanovski (26-2 MMA, 13-1 UFC) now has six. But all you need to do is dig one layer deeper and it’s pretty clear Volkanovski has the superior resume.



The competition Volkanovski has been facing through his tenure on top of 145 pounds is simply just better than what Aldo encountered during his run. The prime of Aldo’s run was almost 10 years ago now, and I don’t need to explain to you how much the sport has evolved since his prime, and how the fighters are better now. That goes without saying.

This is not to disparage Aldo by any stretch. It’s more an appreciation of Volkanovski’s greatness. He just seems to be a tier above everyone else in the division right now, and the only thing that could potentially slow him down is his body betraying him.

Volkanovski bluntly stated that no featherweight is beating him pillar-to-post, and the only way he’s losing that belt is if someone catches him with a wild shot and puts him out cold. I’m inclined to believe that, which is a daunting task for anyone hoping to get their hands on that belt.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 290.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie

- Advertisement -