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What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 1911 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Is 'Blond Brunson' title ready?
[autotag]Derek Brunson[/autotag] continues to make a case for a late career title shot with his five-fight winning streak capped off by a submission win over Darren Till in the main event. How many people saw this coming? Honestly? Brunson (23-7 MMA, 14-5 UFC) has been the underdog in every fight during his current run, yet he keeps going out there and getting the job done. The fight with Till was his biggest spot yet, and he produced his best performance en route to a third-round tap out by rear-naked choke. In a normal world, Brunson would be fighting for the belt next. The middleweight title picture is anything but normal at the moment, though, with Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker expected to rematch in early 2022 and Jared Cannonier waiting in line for a crack at gold, too. Whether Brunson sits out for his shot or ends up staying busy is going to be a defining decision in his career. He's put in the work to fight for that belt, and it would be nice to see him rewarded with the opportunity. Waiting often isn't the advisable route, though. If Brunson does get the shot, he would be a massive underdog against either Adesanya and Whittaker – both of whom have already finished him in Round 1. Brunson has been defying expectations since switching teams to Sanford MMA and going with the blond hair, so who am I to say what he's truly capable of? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHbG4Auwx3g
2. Can Darren Till achieve greatness?
It's funny how this sport works. I can open this column above by talking about Brunson overachieving relative to expectations and being a viable title contender, but then on the flip side have some serious questions about the man he beat to elevate to that position. That's the reality of where we find ourselves though, in the aftermath of Till's (18-4-1 MMA, 6-4-1 UFC) fourth loss in his past five fights. It was almost exactly three years ago that Till challenged then-champ Tyron Woodley for the UFC belt at welterweight when he was a perfect 17-0-1 in MMA. People were ready to anoint him as the UFC's next big star, but then he got dominated and tapped out for the first loss of his career. Till was knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in his subsequent fight, which prompted his move up to middleweight. He edged out Kelvin Gastelum in his divisional debut, then lost a competitive decision to Whittaker in July 2020. Despite the defeat, it seemed Till was going to be a big part of the title picture at 185 pounds, but the loss to Brunson removed him from that conversation for the time being. It's not just that Till lost to a 37-year-old version of Brunson, it's how it happened. He was borderline helpless on his back, and it was very obvious after the first takedown of the fight that he had a "puncher's chance" to win, and nothing more. He almost made good on that path to victory in Round 3, but in the blink of an eye went from rocking Brunson to being trapped on his back and choked into submission. The ground game competence – or lack thereof – is going to be a massive roadblock in Till's pursuit of UFC championship glory, and some fixes are going to be needed if he wants to reach his potential. What do those fixes look like? Only Till and his team can truly answer that question. Till has a strong heart and strong mind for the fight game. He genuinely wants to be great, and will seemingly do all the work and make all the sacrifices necessary to make it happen. There are no shortcuts to the top, though, and if the 28-year-old wants to be at the top, he can't continue to let opportunities pass him by. [listicle id=904419]
3. 'Paddy the Baddy' shines in debut
[autotag]Paddy Pimblett[/autotag] delivered in spades with a first-round TKO of Luigi Vendramini in his anticipated octagon debut. Was it perfect? No. But from an entertainment perspective, it's hard to ask for more. The former Cage Warriors champion opened the main card with a scintillating finish of Vendramini. Pimblett (17-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC) got staggered with a huge shot early in the lightweight bout, and it seemed there was a good chance he was en route to opening his UFC career with a massive stumble. Much to his credit, though, Pimblett pulled it together and didn't fight scared. He went right after Vendramini until he landed a shot that changed the complexion of the fight. He showed incredible killer instinct once that happened, and moments later Vendramini had his back on the canvas wondering what had happened. It was a good intro fight, but did it persuade anyone to believe Pimblett is the next great name at 155 pounds? It depends how you look at it. Better fighters than Vendramini aren't going to let the Brit off the hook when he makes a mistake.. Unless Pimblett continues to evolve and fill the holes in his game, expecting he's going to be the UFC's next big star might be overshooting relative to his capabilities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BaC1rC4Pgc
4. We need more of Jack Shore
[autotag]Jack Shore[/autotag]'s unanimous decision win over Liudvik Sholinian wasn't anything special. He didn't get pushed out of first gear over the course of 15 minutes, and easily dominated on the scorecard. The ease in which Shore (15-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) won, though, has me clamoring to see more of him. It's obvious that he's extremely well rounded and very crafty. Sholinian wasn't able to figure him out, and it's time to find out how good he is with a big step up in competition. With 15 straight wins to start his MMA career, the bantamweight prospect from Wales looks like he could be a threat for years to come. We won't know for sure until his quality of opposition rises, though, and hopefully UFC agrees its time for that to happen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjYmYtErhdE
5. Marc-Andre Barriault's turnaround
Shoutout to my fellow Canadian [autotag]Marc-Andre Barriault[/autotag]. After starting his UFC career with four straight winless appearances (three losses and a no contest), Barriault has now put together back-to-back victories. Barriault (13-4 MMA, 2-3 UFC) put on a high pressure performance against Dalcha Lungiambula to win a unanimous decision, and suddenly he's got some momentum in the middleweight division. Credit to Barriault for changing his fortunes. But just as importantly, credit to the UFC matchmaking team for keeping faith in him to get the opportunity to be in this spot. It wouldn't happen to everyone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGG7NHoYg_o