MMA takeaways: Mexico’s next wave of talent is here, Bellator gets bragging rights over PFL

What were the biggest moments from UFC Mexico City and PFL vs. Bellator? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim offer their final thoughts after a historic 10-fight card in Saudi Arabia and a 12-fight card in Mexico.

UFC Mexico City takeaways

Could we finally be seeing Brian Ortega fully realized?

Raimondi: If you’re a fan of “T-City,” it’s a frustrating existence. He has had the skillset – power in his hands, slick boxing and otherworldly submission instincts – to beat any featherweight in the world for years. The man nearly choked out Alexander Volkanovski in 2021, the closest any 145-pounder came to beating Volkanovski at featherweight until Ilia Topuria knocked him out last weekend. But Ortega has been saddled with injuries and other issues over the years. Saturday was just his fourth fight since 2018. That’s four fights in almost six years.

Ortega overcame adversity against Yair Rodriguez, as he always seems to be able to do. He apparently injured his ankle during the entrances, got walloped early by the Mexican-born fighter and weathered the storm. By the end of the first round, Ortega had mounted on his opponent. In the second round, Ortega took over. By the third, he choked Rodriguez out.

In his postfight interview, Ortega said he had his life together now, and he’s not doing the same dumb stuff. He’s still just 33 years old. “T-City” fans have another sliver of hope. After a win over Rodriguez, the kid from Los Angeles’ harbor-area projects is right back near the top of the featherweight division.

The next wave of Mexican talent is ready for primetime



Ortega submits Rodriguez in Round 3

Brian Ortega gets Yair Rodriguez in a submission and forces him to tap out in Round 3.

Raimondi: Yair Rodriguez is 31 years old. Brandon Moreno is still just 30. Those two and Alexa Grasso, 30, are still the present and future of Mexican MMA. When their careers are over, the next wave is clearly coming after them. And just about all those prospects showed out Saturday night at UFC Mexico City.

Daniel Zellhuber put on a masterclass against Francisco Prado, using his range and picking Prado apart with punches and front kicks until both his eyes were basically closed and covered in blood. Manuel “El Loco” Torres steamrolled Chris Duncan, finishing with brute-force rear-naked choke submission. Yazmin Jauregui bloodied Sam Hughes over three rounds in a one-sided unanimous decision victory.

Zellhuber and Jauregui are only 24 years old. Torres is 28. Raul Rosas Jr., who was born in the United States to Mexican-born parents and reps Mexico, didn’t get to compete Saturday due to an illness, but he’s only 19 years old and a super prospect.

This week, ESPN MMA ranked Mexico at No. 5 on its first MMA World Power Index. Let those potential future stars continue to develop and evolve, plus mix in some developmental athletes who could be coming out of the new UFC Performance Institute in Mexico City and watch out.

PFL vs. Bellator: Champs takeaways

PFL finally gets its prizefight



Ferreira’s first-minute TKO win over Bader secures potential fight against Ngannou

Renan Ferreira knocks out Ryan Bader in under a minute, securing a potential future fight against Francis Ngannou.

Wagenheim: It took about half a second. No, I’m not talking about how long it took for the PFL’s immense heavyweight champion, Renan Ferreira, to knock out Bellator’s outsized champ, Ryan Bader. That took 21 seconds. But after referee Kerry Healey pushed Ferreira away from a prone, motionless Bader and waved off the fight, it took about half a second for the television feed to switch its focus to cageside and a smiling Francis Ngannou.

Ngannou, the PFL’s prized signee, had said earlier in the week that he would face the winner of Saturday’s main event when he makes his PFL debut later this year. Of course, the former UFC heavyweight king has work to do first, as he will face former heavyweight boxing world champion Anthony Joshua in a boxing ring on March 9. That bout, Ngannou’s second as a boxer after last October’s tightly contested split-decision loss to reigning champ Tyson Fury, will also take place in Riyadh.

Ngannou was cageside Saturday at the makeshift outdoor arena, making for quite an assemblage of heavyweights. UFC champ Jon Jones was there, as was boxing legend Mike Tyson, who was enlisted to wrap championship belts around the waists of the winners of the day’s PFL champion-vs.-Bellator champion bouts.

For most of the day, the Bellator fighters took home the gold, winning all five fights before the main event. The PFL may have bought Bellator MMA a few months ago, but on this day, Bellator owned the PFL.

Until the final act, that is. That’s when the PFL got precisely what it wanted. Ferreira, who has lost only one of his last 10 fights, scored his fourth knockout in a row, with all but one coming in Round 1. We all know what Ngannou is about. Now he is lined up to fight a man with similarly devastating power.

For the PFL, it’s a dream matchup paired with a nightmare of a waiting game. If Ngannou defeats Joshua in a couple of weeks, he’ll almost surely continue with boxing, where lucrative opportunities will await. But when he’s ready to return to MMA, an awfully large challenge awaits.

Ferreira made the loudest statement, but Nemkov might be the best heavyweight



Jon Jones weighs in on MMA diversifying, interest in fighting Francis Ngannou

Jon Jones joins the “PFL vs. Bellator: Champs” broadcast and predicts he would beat Francis Ngannou and other heavyweights in potential future matchups.

Okamoto: Don’t be surprised if 12 to 18 months from now, we’re talking about Vadim Nemkov as the best heavyweight in the PFL/Bellator world. Yes, Ferreira knocked out Bader in spectacular fashion on Saturday, and he deserves the Francis Ngannou fight more than anyone. And he is certainly capable of winning that fight. The athletically gifted Ferreira has been on the radar of hardcores for a couple years now, and now we’re seeing that potential realized.

But even so, Nemkov is so proven at this point in his career. He’s well-rounded and he’s not dramatically undersized at heavyweight. He ran through a former PFL champ in Bruno Cappelozza. Nemkov will have to wait his turn in some of these opportunities, but sitting here, right now, I’m not sure I wouldn’t pick him against any of these other heavyweights, including Ferreira and Ngannou. He’s extremely consistent and carries heavyweight power for a former light heavyweight.

Let’s all watch and enjoy the Ngannou vs. Ferreira matchup it appears we’ll get in the near future, but be aware there might be a dark horse lurking in Nemkov.

Bellator’s early investment in McKee-Pico could yield dividends for PFL

Raimondi: AJ McKee and Aaron Pico were considered the two cornerstones of Bellator’s future. Former Bellator president Scott Coker signed the two of them when they were extremely young. McKee debuted in Bellator three days after his 20th birthday in 2015. Pico was just 18 when he put pen to paper in 2014.

McKee and Pico were supposed to take the reins of Bellator from some of the legends of yesteryear and carry the promotion into the future. Those best-laid plans didn’t quite work out. Bellator sputtered out, and PFL acquired the company in late 2023 from parent corporation Viacom. But, about a decade later, McKee and Pico still have a chance to be the leading men of a brand: PFL.

Both won Saturday on the PFL vs. Bellator: Champs card in Saudi Arabia, each by definitive first-round finishes. McKee submitted Clay Collard with a wonderfully slick armbar from a triangle on the bottom. Pico pounded out Henry Corrales, who was coming in on short notice, via TKO to avenge a previous loss.

McKee has already fulfilled some of his potential, winning the Bellator featherweight title. But he still has much more to show at just 28 years old. Once considered the best prospect in MMA history, Pico has only achieved a fraction of what he is capable of after stumbling in his early 20s. At 27 years old, Pico looks like one of the most polished fighters on this new roster. Ditto for McKee.

It might not have been what everyone thought would happen nine or 10 years ago, but it’ll be fascinating to see what McKee and Pico can do in this new amalgamation of PFL and Bellator.

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