The Octagon returned to Canada for the first time since 2019 for UFC 289. The event delivered quite a few memorable moments for different reasons, so with that in mind, it’s time to give some of the standout moments extra shine with our custom awards.
Amanda Nunes – Seinfeld Award for Going Out on Top
It’s not really up for debate. Amanda Nunes is the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time. With the scalps of Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, and Miesha Tate in her trophy case, it’s hard to make a case for anybody else. Her place in history was not on the line Saturday evening. If Nunes laid an egg in the UFC 289 main event she’d still be the GOAT. But her bantamweight title was on the line last night.
Combat sports have given us plenty of examples of fighters considering retirement looking uninspired and incapable as they go through the motions of training camps, media obligations, and performing under the lights. Amanda Nunes is not one of them.
Even though she had been openly questioning how long she wanted to keep fighting, Nunes looked as fresh as ever in complete domination of Irene Aldana. Over the course of the entire 25 minutes, Nunes pretty much did whatever she wanted. She sustained a high pace without gassing. She landed strikes at will. She scored takedowns whenever she wanted.
This didn’t look like someone who had one foot out of the door. The version of Amanda Nunes that showed up to Rogers Arena would likely produce the same results against any other deserving contender.
That is the perfect way to retire. Unfortunately, perfect retirements are few and far between in the fight game.
Irene Aldana – Deer in the Headlights Award for Freezing in the Moment
On the flip side of the Amanda Nunes coin, Irene Aldana has earned a dubious award for UFC 289. By simple inactivity, she provided a blank canvas for the outgoing champion to paint her masterpiece.
Save for a few isolated moments of effective counter-punching and sound defensive grappling, Aldana did next to nothing to win. Whatever strategy was laid out by her team and drilled in the gym failed to come to fruition. Instead, the former Invicta title challenger looked gun shy and almost starstruck standing in front of Nunes.
To Aldana’s credit, she didn’t have an easy assignment. Facing a powerful and technical striker with an elite-level ground game is already an uphill battle. Doing it on short notice is more akin to Mission: Impossible.
Perhaps a deeper issue exists though. As she did in Invicta and Jungle Fights, Aldana came up short in a big moment. If she is ever going to reach the pinnacle, she’s going to have to find a way to win in those moments.
Beneil Dariush – Tony Ferguson Award for Bad Timing
After defeating Mateusz Gamrot at UFC 280, Beneil Dariush seemed like the perfect candidate to challenge for the lightweight title. Just minutes after that decision win Islam Makhachev ran through Charles Oliveira to become the champion. An eight-fight win streak, perfectly aligned schedules, and a previously scrapped fight night main event meant that this was the easiest bout for Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby to make.
Enter Alexander Volkanovski and that perfectly laid plan was thrown out completely. Instead, Dariush’s impressive run over the last five years was squandered thanks to Oliveria’s stellar showing last night.
To rub salt in the wound, a win for Dariush would’ve once again put timing on his side. Michael Chandler is in a holding pattern while the current season of TUF is airing. Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier are fighting for a BMF belt next month. Makhachev has a clear calendar.
While Oliveira is only one fight removed from handing the belt over, he’ll likely get the call. Much like Tony Ferguson before him, Dariush couldn’t get the stars to align in his favor.
Maria Oliveira – Button Masher Award
The UFC 289 prelims provided quite a few award-worthy moments. The continued bad luck of Chris Curtis continued, Steve Erceg had an outstanding UFC debut, and Aiemann Zahabi earned the quickest finish of the evening. But we’re going to turn our attention to Maria Oliveira for her puzzling showing against Diana Belbita.
In that unanimous decision loss, Oliveira provided a surprisingly limited offense. Relying almost solely on pull counters, she remained flat-footed and ineffective. With no answers for the leg kicks and looping punches that met her repeatedly, Belbita had a clear path to victory.
In the final round when she expanded her arsenal to include a switch knee, that technique was spammed ad nauseam. She fought like the Playstation controller was broken.
Perhaps it came from a lack of preparation thanks to the brief appearance on a reality TV show that interrupted her training camp. With her UFC record dropping to 1-3, don’t be surprised if she’ll be attempting to display a more complete arsenal under a different banner.