Cormier and Felder: Making sense of two completely different title fights

MMA

LAS VEGAS — Israel Adesanya is still the UFC middleweight champion, escaping a bizarre battle with Yoel Romero by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 248 on Saturday night.

Zhang Weili, meanwhile, held on to her strawweight title in an instant classic against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the co-main event.

The headlining fights at T-Mobile Arena were vastly different. ESPN analysts and active UFC contenders Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder reflect on the night and examine the uniqueness of both bouts.

What happened in Adesanya vs. Romero?

Cormier: I thought Israel did what he needed to win. Yoel, that’s kind of his fight, right? We tend to forget sometimes his fights are very slow and then you forget about it, because he explodes into a technique that allows him to knock you out or win the fight. He makes highlights. He does not normally have sustained-over-25-minutes types of fights. It was odd.

Felder: It just felt like both guys seemed to be waiting for the other guy to take initiative. You heard Israel say postfight he was there ready to fight, for Yoel to move forward. You see Yoel getting upset afterward, but he really doesn’t have anything to be upset about. He could have initiated a lot more of those striking battles. And Izzy did tear up that leg. As the fight went on, he started realizing, “I don’t have to take any of these punches and I can use my range and kick that leg.”

Who did you have winning the main event?

Cormier: I thought Izzy won the fight. I thought I gave Izzy probably Rounds 3, 4 and 5. You could have given Round 1 or 2 to either, anyway. It was so, so, so slow in the first couple. And then the third, fourth and fifth, I saw Adesanya start to do a little bit more. You saw him beat up the leg. He really picked him apart from the outside. I was comfortable giving him three, four, five.

Felder: To be honest, I had no idea. There was so few in the strike count, I wouldn’t have been sitting here complaining. And the same for the co-main event, where it was the complete opposite as far as strike count, but it was just a nail biter. Looking at the numbers, maybe Joanna might have edged it out. But when you’re watching it moment by moment, it’s hard to tell those things. Looking back on the main event and especially watching the highlights, Adesanya started chopping with those leg kicks and Romero — when he took him down for a second — he was popping right back up. It wasn’t really effective takedowns and control. I’d like to see Adesanya fight Paulo Costa, so I’m kind of glad it played out that way.

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Chael Sonnen claims that both fighters should be held equally responsible for a main event fight that didn’t necessarily live up to expectations at UFC 248.

Do you think the fans were justified in their negative reaction?

Cormier: I think they were justified, but I think they were a bit spoiled, because the Jedrzejczyk and Weili fight was amazing. Not even that. Beneil Dariush and Drakkar Klose, too. Just the whole time they had great fights.

Felder: It wasn’t what everybody maybe anticipated, but that’s fighting. This is the highest level of the sport. You’ve got two guys that are killers in there with each other, sometimes it’s just not going to be exactly what you expected. And that’s what fans have got to accept.

Does this change how you think about Adesanya?

Cormier: This just happens when you fight Yoel. He’s so dangerous. To take a risk against him, it’s so dangerous. No one else carries that type of danger.

I think he fights Costa, finally. Costa does not have those types of fights, because he only knows how to fight one way and one way only. I think in those fights you will see the best version of Izzy, like you saw against Kelvin Gastelum. I think Adesanya is a fantastic fighter and gonna be a big-time star. I think these fights happen, especially when you fight a dangerous guy like Romero where you just can’t take many risks.

Felder: I feel like the next time we see Israel in a fight, we’re gonna see the fireworks that people expected, because that’s what he does. As a fighter myself, I know how hard this is to constantly put on these wars for everybody. It’s not as easy as it looks from the outside — “Just go get him!” Well, that guy is trying to knock my head off, too.

I would say nothing changes in my mind from him. I expect in the next one he’ll come out and put on a show.

Where do you rank Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk among the UFC’s best fights ever?

Cormier: It’s way up there. I’m a big-time pro wrestling fan. Watching the highlights as opposed to a whole match, where you can build a story is so much different. I think the story that those two women told tonight is one we’re gonna tell for a long time. It looked like by the third round that Zhang was done. It looked like she was tired and wasn’t going to be able to continue. By the end of the fifth, it looked like she was the fresher fighter.

I just think that for a young champion like Zhang, this is exactly what she needed to take the next step.

Joanna should be very proud of her performance. She’s won a lot of title fights and I’m not sure she ever looked better than she did tonight in a fight that she lost. I really liked hearing Joanna speak after the fight. There have been times where she has lost fights and she’s been very bitter. Today, you saw her mature as a fighter and as a person in her postfight speech. She did a lot of great work.

I think for Zhang, who people were starting to get high on before the fight, now they can really get excited about it.

Felder: I’m telling you that’s one of the greatest fights I’ve sat down and watched. The kickboxing skills on both those women is insane. I know Weili got the nod, but Joanna looked fantastic. I want to start cursing to really do it justice. It was awesome.

Your thoughts on the hematoma on Jedrzejczyk’s head?

Cormier: That was absurd. It was small initially. Joe Rogan said it in the third, “She has a big hematoma.” But it wasn’t big. It was big by the end of the fifth round. It was insane how big that thing became.

Felder: That’s really difficult, because the pressure you’re really feeling there, and it spanned over her whole forehead, so every shot that she’s feeling, she was feeling it there. Even if she’s getting punched on the side of her head or her nose or her chin, she’s gonna feel it in her forehead. And that blood flow is affecting your brain. You’re gonna start getting headaches.

She’s in for a potentially painful night, but I think she’ll be OK. If it’s just a hematoma, then they’ll ice that thing until it goes down and until it goes away. But it was really scary. At the end, she was trying to cover it with her flag. I know it doesn’t look good, but she’s a warrior.

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