UFC 300 first look: Evaluating the main event, best fights and future of BMF belt

MMA

Finally, the wait is over. UFC 300 has its main event.

Alex Pereira will defend his UFC light heavyweight title against the last person to hold the belt, Jamahal Hill. Hill, who was forced to vacate the title due to rupturing his Achilles tendon, defeated Pereira’s close friend and mentor Glover Teixeira to claim it at UFC 283 in March 2023. Now Pereira will have the opportunity to avenge his mentor and solidify supremacy of the division by defeating the former champion.

However, big questions remain following Saturday’s announcement. Is the main event even the best fight on the card? Which former champion has the chance to impress most? What should we make of the BMF title going forward?

ESPN MMA correspondents Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim answer these questions and more, including an early look at which fight excites them most.


Fill in the blank: The UFC 300 main event is ________

Marc Raimondi: The correct decision. I’m sure some subsection of fans will be underwhelmed, but I’m not quite sure what they were expecting. The UFC didn’t have a Brock Lesnar to pull out of nowhere for this card, like it had for UFC 200. Conor McGregor wasn’t going to compete, and Jon Jones is injured. Ronda Rousey isn’t ever coming back. Fight-for-fight, UFC 300 is the deepest card of this generation since 40-plus fight cards per year have become a thing.

Pereira vs. Hill isn’t the biggest-drawing main event of all time or anything, but it makes sense. Hill never lost the title in the cage, instead dropping it due to injury. He’s a deserving challenger against Pereira, a very popular champion. I’m glad the UFC didn’t try to bend the divisional hierarchy to shoehorn a fight that didn’t need to happen to make the UFC 300 main event feel bigger — or worse, rush back a fighter or fighters who needed rest or were still dealing with injuries. The UFC did the right thing.

Brett Okamoto: Not the best fight on the card, and that’s OK. I like that Alex Pereira gets to headline such a monumental event. He deserves that spotlight as anyone in the sport right now. In terms of a marquee main attraction — anyone who might say this is a fight they would have pegged to headline UFC 300 at the beginning of the year is a bald-faced liar. But there was no UFC 100- or UFC 200-caliber blockbuster to headline this card. There wasn’t a Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II or a Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier once-in-a-decade level rivalry. A Conor McGregor return is the only solo act that could have headlined this card. As it is, this card is about the sum of its parts, which isn’t a bad thing.

Jeff Wagenheim: Not mind-blowing. And that’s OK, because the card is deep with strong, intriguing fights. Sure, there’ll be a social media backlash against Pereira vs. Hill headlining this milestone event, and Dana White has only himself to blame. The UFC CEO promised fans that 300 would “blow people’s minds,” creating unrealistic and unnecessary expectations. I mean, UFC 100 did feature the 1-2 punch of Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre, but Miesha Tate headlined UFC 200 against a pre-GOAT-status Amanda Nunes. So, while star power sells, I’m sold on a card featuring a dozen fighters who’ve owned UFC titles. Neither the main event nor the card as a whole will blow any minds, but an evening of fighting on which a Justin Gaethje rock-’em-sock-’em with Max Holloway is third down on the bill? Yes please.


Which fight do you want to see most on this card?

Okamoto: Charles Oliveira vs. Arman Tsarukyan. Oliveira’s title reign was so impressive, until he ran up against a juggernaut in Islam Makhachev, who looks to be a generational talent. Oliveira’s reign was also defined by outsiders doubting him along the way. You’d think we would have learned our lesson, but here we are again, because Tsarukyan looks like an absolute world-beater. Insiders have been predicting a Tsarukyan title fight for years. It feels like Tsarukyan taking of the torch is supposed to happen here, but Oliveira has spoiled the narrative so many times before. This fight will impact the lightweight division for years to come.

Wagenheim: Ask me this question before almost any other fight card, and an obvious answer immediately calls out to me. But UFC 300 is piled deep with can’t-miss matchups. The evening starts with a clash of former champions (Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Cody Garbrandt), continues with the winningest fighter in UFC history (Jim Miller), and before the early prelims are over, we will see Kayla Harrison debut against a former champ, Holly Holm. With so many diamonds to choose from, I’ll lean on Wagenheim’s Rule for Ranking Fights, which decrees: A Justin Gaethje fight is always No. 1. His combustible matchup with Max Holloway comes out of left field, and its result will settle nothing in the lightweight or featherweight title picture. But I’m all in.

Raimondi: There’s no way Gaethje vs. Holloway for the BMF title is anything less than all action, right? I’ve seen criticism of this fight, stemming from Holloway’s issues when he moved up to lightweight and lost to Dustin Poirier in 2019. That was a long time ago, and Holloway is the kind of fighter who learns from mistakes and makes adjustments. Gaethje is a deserved favorite, of course. He’s one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world. But anyone thinking Holloway won’t put up a hellacious fight is fooling themselves. This could be the year’s best scrap.


Who will we talk about at the night’s end?

Wagenheim: Kayla Harrison is set up for success, being matched with a 42-year-old opponent with championship-level name recognition. But the fight happens early in the evening, and I suspect that by the time the rest of the thrill-a-minute card plays out, Harrison vs. Holm will be long forgotten. Gaethje vs. Holloway is guaranteed fire, but can it trigger an expectations-exceeded buzz when our expectations are already sky-high? For me, the fighter with the best shot of producing a breathtaking performance is Jirí Procházka. If the former light heavyweight champion is his old daring, creative self in his fight with Aleksandar Rakic, Procházka will be the talk of the night — as a potential challenger for the winner of the main event.

Raimondi: Zhang Weili and how she’s probably the best pound-for-pound women’s fighter in the world. I ran into a prominent MMA figure a couple of months ago, someone who has been involved in the industry since the very beginning. He told me he felt that Zhang was the most talented women’s MMA fighter of all time. Her athleticism, speed, power and explosiveness are on another level. One thing she has lacked is consistency. But suppose she beats her Chinese countrywoman Yan Xiaonan. In that case, it’ll be Zhang’s fifth UFC strawweight title victory, putting her in second place all-time in that category, behind Joanna Jedrzejczyk (6).

Okamoto: Holloway. If he beats Gaethje, it will potentially shake up two divisions. Is he staying at 145? Is he moving to 155, off a win over a bonafide title challenger? Holloway says he took this fight because it opens up options, and he’s right. If he wins, he has a claim to a featherweight title fight, a lightweight title fight and a BMF title defense — maybe against Conor McGregor? If he loses, especially by knockout or lopsided decision, we’ll be discussing him in a much different way. His three losses to Alexander Volkanovski are still relatively fresh in our minds. Either way, this is a big one for Holloway. He’ll be a major talking point at the end of the night.


Where does the BMF title go from here?

Raimondi: I’ve been beating this drum since 2019, but hopefully, the Gaethje vs. Holloway winner will continue to defend it. Now, that probably would not happen immediately, especially if Gaethje wins. Because if he does, Gaethje would be primed to challenge Makhachev for the UFC lightweight title. The BMF title could be something for the future, a championship that signifies the holder’s propensity for being in exciting, all-out fights. If promoted correctly, the BMF title could be a real attraction for the UFC, a belt that can be defended in any weight class. And how about this: Maybe the BMF champ could defend next against the Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler winner.

Okamoto: It won’t go away, if that’s what we’re asking. The UFC has found a useful marketing tool. The fighters have found a way to raise their profiles and make additional cash. Fans like it. Whoever wins will defend it. And if not, the UFC will book a new BMF matchup, like it did with Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier. It’s a belt that is very much owned by the UFC more than the fighter. Any way you look at it, the BMF title is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. It’s a win, win, win for everyone. I agree with Raimondi — the obvious next “challenger” for the belt would come from the McGregor vs. Chandler fight.

Wagenheim: I don’t really care about the BMF title because it signifies nothing. Every man or woman who steps inside a cage to face a trained killer is a BMF, in my view, so singling one out seems somewhat random. The UFC is not even sticking to the brash trash-talkers vibe of the original BMF matchup between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. Maybe this thing should be called the WTF title. The concept does serve a purpose, though, in that it exists on a path parallel to the road to a real championship. That’s important in a sport where promoters regularly confuse star power for a qualification for a title shot. So, if the BMF can feed us fun fights that don’t water down the championship track, bring it on.


Which former champion (or interim champion) has the best night?

Okamoto: Kayla Harrison. We didn’t specify if it was a UFC champion or PFL champion, now, did we? Harrison is a former PFL champion, and if she goes out there and dominates Holm, we’re going to see a rocket strapped to her back. She knows how to promote herself. She’ll cut a promo on the mic. If she looks good making the 135-pound weight limit, the sky’s the limit for this two-time Olympic gold medalist. Maybe I’m cheating by including Harrison in this category, but I’m unapologetic about it. She’s a champion, even if it wasn’t in the UFC. And if she shines like she’s capable of shining, no fighter on the card has as much to gain in a single night as Harrison.

Wagenheim: Charles Oliveira ought to walk out to a song by another former combat sports champion, Roy Jones Jr.’s “Y’all Must’ve Forgot.” It would be right in tune with Oliveira’s oddly diminished visibility among lightweights, after a loss to Islam Makhachev in 2022 sent him sliding down the hierarchy. Oliveira went into that fight having won 11 in a row, including the finishes of Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler. And he bounced back from the Makhachev loss with a finish of a red-hot Beneil Dariush. And yet Oliveira remains mired amid a pack of contenders. If he halts the momentum of Arman Tsarukyan, who has won eight of his last nine, Oliveira will set himself apart and stake his claim on a rematch with Makhachev.

Raimondi: Cody Garbrandt. He has completely turned things around after an abysmal stretch that followed his reign as the UFC bantamweight champion. Garbrandt sees a sports psychologist at the UFC Performance Institute, has a new training camp led by Francis Ngannou‘s striking coach and has fallen back on his roots as a wrestler. “No Love” is still only 32 years old and has done everything right to get himself back into 135-pound relevancy. His opponent, Deiveson Figueiredo, is incredibly dangerous. But Figueiredo is also 36 years old, and we know from history that lighter-weight fighters start to slow down in their mid-30s.

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