Is Dana White right about Merab Dvalishvili?

What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 221 at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas? Here are some post-fight thoughts…

Happy Paths, Raphael Assuncao

Raphael Assuncao

One of the greatest fighters in UFC history to never compete in a championship fight said goodbye to MMA when [autotag]Raphael Assuncao[/autotag] announced his retirement after a third-round loss to Davey Grant.

Assuncao (29-9 MMA, 12-7 UFC) was never the flashiest fighter or spectacular finisher, but he was a workaholic and knew how to use his skills to his advantage. This has allowed him to rack up a dozen wins in the UFC bantamweight division over his career, and the only people with more wins in the weight class are current champion Aljamain Sterling and former champion TJ Dillashaw – both beaten by Assuncao inside the octagon.

It’s a shame that Assuncao never got his title opportunity in his prime as he put together a seven-game winning streak in the promotion. Unfortunately for him, poor timing, a reluctance to be too vocal, and a general difficulty selling his brand caused more hurdles than if he were anyone else. But this is part of the history of Assuncao. He did it his way and stuck to it from start to finish, and that’s extremely admirable.

At 40, Assuncao seems to have chosen the right moment to hang up the gloves, and we wish him the best for the next chapter of his life.

Mario Bautista comes out of his shell

March 11, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Mario Bautista (red gloves) reacts after defeating Cuido Cannetti (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Virgin Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

[autotag]Mario Bautista[/autotag] continued to garner a bit more attention around his name in a busy bantamweight division after he quickly dispatched Guido Cannetti to extend his winning streak to four.

Usually one to avoid being too outspoken, Bautista (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) was bolder than ever following his first-round finish. He made it clear he wanted a top 15 name and also mentioned a potential fight with former UFC champ Cody Garbrandt next.

That’s exactly the attitude someone like Bautista needs to bring to the table if he really wants to step up to 135 pounds, because there arguably isn’t a tougher split to make right now.

Jonathan Martinez quietly continues to win

March 11, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Jonathan Martinez (blue gloves) reacts after the fight against Said Nurmagomedov (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Virgin Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Take everything I just said about Bautista and double it on [autotag]jonathan martinez[/autotag]who earned his fifth straight win with a unanimous decision over Said Nurmagomedov.

After beating Cub Swanson in his previous outing, Martinez (18-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) had a matchup with the highly touted Nurmagomedov. He can be quiet and clumsy when the cameras are on him outside the octagon, but when it’s time to prove inside the octagon and the lights are bright, he continues to show better version of itself.

Martinez is never going to send the crowd into a frenzy over a bold or eloquent post-fight interview, but he is going to knock them out of their seats with entertaining bangers in the bantamweight division.

With five straight wins under his belt, Martinez deserves a step up and should rightfully get it.

Nikita Krylov makes amends

March 11, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Nikita Krylov (red gloves) fights Ryan Spann (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Virgin Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After illness forced him to cancel his originally scheduled main event with Ryan Spann two weeks ago, [autotag]Nikita Krylov[/autotag] showed his takedown only served as a reprieve when he scored a first-round submission to extend his winning streak to three fights.

The fight was booked at a catchweight of 215 pounds, so he technically doesn’t count towards Krylov’s light heavyweight records. However, it still matters in the sense that we all know Spann is in the 205-pound division and came in with some momentum.

It’s like Krylov has been in the UFC for ages, because he kind of made it. He made his octagon debut in August 2013, and due to some poor performances in his past, it almost seems like he has consistently neglected to participate in many of his fights.

However, it is time for everyone to wake up. Krylov has finished his opponent in the first round in 22 of his 29 career wins, and he seems to be losing some of his flaws and adding to his strengths with each fight. Could he one day become a champion? I don’t think the odds are in his favor, per se, but in such an open weight class where the belt is always a hot potato, it’s not impossible.

Friends always fight, says Dana White

Merab Dvalishivili

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a teammate vs. teammate dynamic like the one that exists between [autotag]Aljamain Sterling[/autotag] and main event winner [autotag]Merab Dvalishvili[/autotag] after his one-sided domination over Petr Yan.

There’s a lot to do after the fight itself. Dvalishvili’s conditioning and relentless approach (16-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) was beyond impressive, and he seems to have the stronger “why” to win this one over Yan, even if you don’t like his reasoning for beefing up between them before the fight.

The most compelling discussion, however, is the predicament Dvalishvili now finds himself in after recording a ninth straight win. Dvalishvili and Sterling (22-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC), who are both part of the Serra-Longo team and have spent years as each other’s primary training partners, were able to Avoid taking this conversation seriously, but the walls are closing.

That’s largely thanks to UFC President Dana White warning Dvalishvili after the fight. White said Dvalishvili better think long and hard if he wants to draw a line in the sand about not fighting Sterling, saying it would be a “really bad idea” that would turn out badly for him.

I’m not going to sit here and act like I know about the personal relationship between Dvalishvili and Sterling. From everything I’ve seen of them both on camera and backstage at events, it’s genuine. They consider themselves among the best friends in the world.

In White’s view, Dvalishvili is doing nothing wrong by chasing Sterling’s belt and it shouldn’t have any impact on their relationship, but it rarely works out that way. Maybe it’s just not worth the sacrifice for either side, and while that might bother White, he’s also taking the leap.

It’s not a real conversation yet, and that’s why White should sit on his hands a bit before venting his frustration. First and foremost, Sterling has a title defense scheduled against Henry Cejudo on May 6 at UFC 288. If he loses that, all of that is moot. If he wins, the UFC has already promised Sean O’Malley the next shot.

Assuming Sterling is also able to get past O’Malley, with Dvalishvili likely to win another fight in the meantime, then it becomes more real. But that’s no less than nine months to a year. Then it would be up to the UFC to try and book the match in good faith.

White can say what he wants about Dvalishvili’s position, but the reality is that he has yet to make an honest attempt to talk him out of it. If all the pieces fall into place and we reach a point where Sterling vs. Dvalishvili is the only sensible title fight and neither man wants to switch divisions as has been teased then let’s see the UFC their give both of them a good enough offer that they are enticed to pay more attention to it.

Until we get to this place, none of those other noises really matter.

The story originally appeared on MMA Junkie

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