5 biggest takeaways from UFC 297: Is UFC relieved to see Sean Strickland’s title reign end?

What mattered most at UFC 297 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto? Here are a few post-fight musings …

Gillian Robertson finding comfort at 115 pounds

Gillian Robertson is one of the most prominent female grapplers on the UFC roster, and she put her skillset to use once again to dominate Polyana Viana on the mat en route to a second-round TKO.

Robertson (13-8 MMA, 10-6 UFC) has the ability to catch anyone in a jiu-jitsu exchange, but she was running into some obstacles at women’s flyweight. She’s now three fights deep to her drop down to strawweight, posting a 2-1 record and proving her grappling is still extremely dangerous in this division.

Although Robertson’s overall record in terms of wins and losses isn’t the most impressive, she has made it clear that her focus at this stage of her career has been activity and development. That mindset has probably cost her some losses, but at 28, now would be the time for her to come into her prime.

There are still some holes in Robertson’s games in terms of takedown ability and striking. She needs to continue rounding out arsenal in order to have a backup plan if the elite of the division can stifle her Plan A. If she can do that, and be more tactical in how she operates her career, there is some potential here to be a contender.

Movsar Evloev's lack of finishes will hold him back

Let’s make this clear from the outset: I think very highly of Movsar Evloev, and believe he has championship potential in the featherweight division. He’s undefeated and has shown flashes of brilliance in each of his fights, but an inability to put his opponents away is going to hinder his climb to the top.

Evloev (18-0 MMA, 8-0 UFC) has gone the distance in all eight of his octagon appearances to date. He’s come close to putting away a few of those opponents, but once again couldn’t get it done against Arnold Allen as they put on a competitive fight over 15 minutes.

The more bouts that go on for Evloev, the most his finish-free resume is going to build as a storyline that hangs above his head. And the problem going forward, too, is that the opponents he’s going to be matched up against are only going to get better, making it more difficult for him to get a knockout or submission.

It’s inevitable his time will come eventually, but he called for a title shot against the winner of Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 next month, and I just have a hard time seeing that happen for him without a true highlight on his resume.

Neil Magny still has that dog in him

If you think Neil Magny’s best days are long behind him, he proved you wrong. Again.

After being convincingly handled by Mike Malott for more than two rounds, Magny (29-11 MMA, 22-10 UFC) dug deep and pulled off a third-round TKO that will likely hold up in the Comeback of the Year conversations when 2024 comes to a close.

As the ONLY person on the MMA Junkie staff who actually picked Magny to win this fight, if it was going to happen, it was going to be like this. A performance where he was going to have to endure some hard moments and then break Malott, which is just what happened.

Magny is now tied for the fourth-most wins in UFC history, and at 36, is still a hard out for any welterweight. I’ve said time and time again that Magny is capable of separating the contenders from the pretenders, and he showed Malott doesn’t have the complete game needed to rise to that next level just yet.

I don’t think this result is changing the trajectory of Magny’s career by any stretch, but he’s still got plenty left in the tank, obviously. Mad respect to him.

A rough night for the Canadian men

After Canadian fighters pulled a clean sweep at UFC 289 this past June in Vancouver, the fortunes for fighters competing on home soil radically shifted for this event. Especially the men.

Women from the country held serve, with Robertson and Jasmine Jasudavicius getting impressive stoppage wins. The men had a much more difficult time, because they went a shocking 0-7 inside the octagon.

Many pundits and fighters from the country felt this card could serve as a coming out party for talent from this part of the world, but it almost felt like a step back, instead. A number of the losing male Canadian fighters were betting favorites, too, which makes it a more difficult pill to swallow.

Every fighter is responsible for their individual outcome, of course, but collectively, it was far from a banner night for Canadian MMA.

Does UFC prefer Dricus Du Plessis or Sean Strickland as champion?

The night came to a close with the first UFC title change of the year when Dricus Du Plessis edged Sean Strickland by split decision to claim the middleweight championship in a hotly contested affair.

Sitting cageside, I thought Du Plessis (21-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) won the fight, and relatively clearly at that. I gave him Round 2, Round 3 and Round 4, but that was without the benefit of the broadcast perspective, which often provides a much better vantage point on the action than sitting just outside the octagon walls.

If someone thinks Strickland (28-6 MMA, 15-6 UFC) won, which seems to be the case for many, including UFC CEO Dana White – I’m not going to argue it. Both men were busted up and gave it their all over the course of five rounds, and it came down to some fairly narrow margins.

The end reality, though, is that Du Plessis is the new titleholder at 185 pounds, bringing Strickland’s relatively short, and highly controversial, title reign to an end.

It was certainly an interesting week for Strickland in Toronto. He shredded the Canadian government at every turn, went viral from his media day exchange with MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee, and found himself at the centerpiece of a tug-of-rope debate between free speech and hate speech.

I obviously don’t condone many of the nastier messages Strickland verbalized throughout fight week. To me, anyone who has a moral compass and practices basic human decency should understand why many of Strickland’s comments were viewed as heinous. But I’m also not going to act like anything he said wasn’t a variation of comments he already made in the past, or pretend to be surprised or offended by it.

Strickland’s role in the sport, for better or worse, is actually quite fascinating to me. He’s pretty much the complete opposite of what you would craft in your mind as a model champion, and he’s not exactly someone who is racking in blue chip sponsors for the company or himself. Yet somehow, his character has worked perfectly for the 2024 version of the UFC, where leading man White has repeatedly – and did again after this event – made it known his promotion is a place where athletes won’t be censored, or given “a leash” in any way, shape or form.

There’s a begrudging level of respect for White in remaining mostly consistent with that stance in recent years, regardless of the negative blowback resulting from the trash someone like Colby Covington or Strickland might spew out of their mouths. Putting him aside, though, it’s hard not to wonder if there will be some relief in the UFC offices Monday knowing Strickland doesn’t represent the company as one of its few champions.

Although Strickland has clearly bonded with a huge chunk of the MMA fanbase, as we’ve seen from his reactions in Sydney and Toronto over the past two fights, there’s a strong case to be made that he’s more trouble than he’s worth. If that wasn’t true, White would have started pushing for an immediate rematch with Du Plessis rather than shutting it down.

Maybe Strickland will find himself in a title fight again in the future. Maybe he will hold that belt again and be that representative. He’s not going to change as a person without the gold around his waist, but the microphone of his messages won’t be quite as loud going forward without the platform of a championship.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 297.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie