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6 biggest takeaways from UFC 296: Is Dana White right to request Tony Ferguson’s retirement?

What mattered most at UFC 296 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

Cody Garbrandt regains some swag

It was hard to know how much truth were in Cody Garbrandt’s words when he said prior to his fight with Brian Kelleher that he had just gone through the most injury-free training camp since he won the bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz in December 2016.

Given his performance, it seemed that was true. Garbrandt (14-5 MMA, 9-5 UFC) was a heavy favorite against the far less decorated Brian Kelleher, but he handled the spot exactly how he should’ve with a definitive highlight-reel knockout in the first round.

Despite all his trails and tribulations, Garbrandt is still dangerous. He has the power that can change any fight on a dime, the question at this point, is, however, can he find a home for that against the upper tier of the bantamweight division?

His callout of former flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo, who made an impressive 135-pound debut against Rob Font earlier this month, would be a true barometer of where Garbrandt is at. If he can win a fight like that, it would mean he’s truly back and maybe capable of making another run toward the top.

It feels like Garbrandt has been around forever, but he’s still only 32, and with some confidence back on his side, it’s probably now or never when it comes to making more of his career then being tucked away on prelims on major cards in Las Vegas.

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Josh Emmett delivers KO for the ages

Josh Emmett bounced back from his first losing skid in the most vicious way possible when he flattened Bryce Mitchell in the opening round for one of the most frightening knockouts of the year.

After dropping two high-profile fights to Ilia Topuria and Yair Rodriguez, Emmett (19-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) needed a win in the worst of ways to prove he is still a featherweight contender. Although Mitchell took the fight on short notice as a replacement, Emmett showed he’s a level way above with a thunderous one-punch finish that will now be one of the peaks of his highlight reel.

I never exactly considered Mitchell to be in the forefront of title contention, so I don’t exactly know how to put this win in context as far as Emmett’s rise back to another chance fighting for the belt. But if anyone had doubts, he certainly proved the power in his hands remains a total gamechanger.

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Dana White wants Tony Ferguson to retire after historic loss

It’s hard to say anything more about the state of Tony Ferguson’s career at this point that hasn’t already been said following his defeat to Paddy Pimblett.

Ferguson (25-10 MMA, 15-8 UFC) tied B.J. Penn’s all-time UFC record for most consecutive losses with his seventh, and you would have to think that’s the end of the road for him at this level of the sport.

Ideally this would be when Ferguson would hang up the gloves, but in more recent years, the UFC brass have been willing to part ways with fighter in Ferguson’s situation if they want to compete elsewhere. And our biggest fear should be that happening, which is why Dana White said post-fight he would “love to see” Ferguson call it a career.

Ferguson just isn’t the same fighter who once went on a 12-bout winning streak inside the octagon. His technique, fast-twitch muscles and ability to take damage have all deteriorated. What else does he need to signify that he’s not the same guy? I’m really not sure.

My gut tells me Ferguson will likely continue fighting despite this result. Maybe the UFC gives him one more. Maybe not. But either way, it’s likely going to be a saddening future for Ferguson until he realized the minimal benefits he’s gaining by continuing to fight.

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Is Shavkat Rakhmonov the best welterweight in the world?

Despite the main event winner holding the title, there’s a compelling case to be made that Shavkat Rakhmonov is the man and the very best fighter in the world at welterweight.

With 18 wins and 18 finishes, no one in the sport is doing it quite like Rakhmonov (18-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC). It might always not be the most exciting thing in the world leading up to the end, but when the fights are over, it’s always the same outcome, and that’s the referee pulling Rakhmonov off of his opponent, which was the case again when he became the first to submit Stephen Thompson.

The top of 170 pounds is somewhat congested at this point. Belal Muhammad deserves the next shot, but Rakhmonov could very well steal it away from him if the UFC brass decides that’s the direction it wants to go (which isn’t out of the question). Either way, it seems inevitable he fights for or holds that belt, and every 170-pound fighter should be crossing its fingers they don’t get a contract with his name on it.

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Colby Covington's increasingly bleak title proposition

The future for Colby Covington’s title aspirations looks as grim as ever after he fell to 0-3 in undisputed championship opportunities with his unanimous decision loss to Leon Edwards.

No matter how you cut it, this was a tough performance for Covington (17-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) to swallow. He handled it quite well in the aftermath by pulling out pretty much every play in the book from claiming he won, dismissing the outcome, moving on to a callout of “Wonderboy” Thompson and plenty in between.

You can throw out all of that, though, because in reality, there’s nothing over the course of UFC history that shows Covington will get that belt.

This is not an attack on him as a person, but much rather what the statistics show for someone in Covington’s position. It’s almost impossible to get a fourth UFC title shot after going 0-3, and when you consider the challenging welterweight division, the odds of him being an outlier get even more grim.

At 35, Covington is at the stage at which fighters in his division or lower have struggled in title fights. He’s only going to get older from here, obviously, and there weren’t a whole lot of positives to take away that would make you think a rematch would look much different.

Covington’s best hope is that Edwards is dethroned, he gets a win or two in the meantime, then somehow backdoors his way into another chance. Maybe the card unfold in his favor and that somehow happens, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on that one.

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Leon Edwards' questionable dismissal of Belal Muhammad

There’s not a whole lot to say about Leon Edwards’ win over Covington itself. He did what he had to do in a relatively uneventful 25 minutes and got his hand raised with absolutely no controversy, and he must be commended for doing so after the reckless words Covington spoke pre-fight.

What raised my eyebrow the most on the night of Edwards’ second title defense was his utter dismissal of Belal Muhammad being the next challenger for his belt.

If Edwards (21-3 MMA, 13-2 UFC) wanted to claim that after a dull fight with Covington, that Muhammad (23-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC) doesn’t exactly present the best option for the entertainment of the fans, then fine. But for the Brit to essentially say Muhammad hasn’t earned it with his 10-fight unbeaten streak is nonsense.

Love him or hate him, Muhammad has earned his opportunity to challenge for that belt, and though he’s a polarizing figure, there’s enough to promote the fight. His history with Edwards going back to their March 2021 fight that ended with in a no contest due to an eye poke from Edwards to Muhammad is something to work off of, and it’s the right merit-based bout.

Edwards said Muhammad would be cutting he line with a title shot, but again, that is flawed. Muhammad is the line right now, and though Rakhmonov has been super impressive in his run, the names on his resume aren’t as good as Muhammad. That’s just a fact.

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For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 296.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie