With the UFC’s return to Toronto in the books, let’s see what lies ahead for Dricus Du Plessis, Raquel Pennington, and the other main card winners at UFC 297.
Dricus Du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya
In what was one of the sloppiest UFC title fights from a purely technical standpoint, Dricus Du Plessis was able to cut the Sean Strickland era short in a very closely contested split decision. “Stillknocks” had the most success with forward pressure, keeping Strickland on the backfoot and unable to rely on his precise jab.
Strangely, the most compelling fight for Dricus Du Plessis comes against a man who quite frankly doesn’t deserve a championship opportunity right now. Even though he has been MIA since losing the title to Strickland in September, the stage seems to be set for Israel Adesanya.
The budding rivalry rooted in nationality and heritage is the type of tribalism that translates to marketability in combat sports.
Even though someone like Jared Cannonier has earned it, it’s highly unlikely that the UFC turns down a chance to push a grudge match with international appeal.
Raquel Pennington vs. Julianna Pena
The women’s bantamweight division has a new queen. Raquel Pennington used her signature grit and determination to outlast Mayra Bueno Silva en route to a unanimous decision victory. After a strong start from Silva, “Rocky” dug deep and slowly tipped the scales in her favor.
There is only one logical opponent for Pennington’s first defense: former champion Julianna Pena. As the only person to defeat Amanda Nunes during her legendary title reign, “The Venezuelan Vixen” is one the shortlist of deserving contenders despite her long layoff. Pena last competed against Nunes at UFC 277 where she dropped her belt in a lopsided decision.
Neil Magny vs. Randy Brown/Muslim Salikhov winner
Neil Magny’s gatekeeper status shutdown the rise of Mike Mallot. After enduring 14 minutes of punishment, the 40-fight veteran found an opening and forced a TKO stoppage with just 15 seconds remaining on the clock before the judges would have handed him his second straight loss.
As impressive as the come-from-behind victory was for Magny, it’s impossible to forget the combination of leg kicks at range, takedowns, and top control that Mallot used to dominate the majority of the fight. So instead of using this win to step up the ladder, Magny should make a lateral move and yet again try to prevent someone else from entering the top 15. The winner of Randy Brown and Muslim Salikhov should suffice. “Rudeboy” and the “King of Kung Fu” will meet on Feb. 3.
Chris Curtis vs. Roman Dolidze/Nassourdine Imavov winner
It wasn’t fun, but the job is done. Chris Curtis finally got back in the win column for the first time since 2022. Save for the closing seconds of the bout, he and Marc-Andre Barriault engaged in a slow and technical affair that underwhelmed the crowd in Toronto.
For his next outing, let’s look toward the winner of Roman Dolidze and Nassourdine Imavov. Hopefully, either man could force the “Action Man” to lean into his namesake while keeping the middleweight division moving forward. Also, an Imavov win would set the stage for a rematch of UFC 289’s no contest result. Dolidze and Imavov are scheduled for a February Fight Night main event.
Movsar Evloev vs. Josh Emmett
Movsar Evloev made a very clear statement with his decision win over Arnold Allen: he is more than capable of competing with the best featherweights in the world. Despite Allen’s slick striking and defensive wrestling, the 29-year-old not only walked away with his undefeated record intact but also showcased his own improved skills on the feet and poise under fire.
It’s hard to not envision Evloev getting a chance to challenge for gold in the future. However, there are still hurdles to overcome in such a stacked division. Let’s put him up against former interim title challenger Josh Emmett. Emmet was last seen in 2023’s final fight card, shutting Bryce Mitchell’s lights off in the first round.