UFC 303 results, takeaways: It's time for Alex Pereira to test heavyweight; major event nearly came undone

LAS VEGAS — Saturday’s UFC 303 card did not come together easily. Not only did the card’s original main and co-main event both fall through, but the replacement co-main event fell apart and was pieced back together in the middle of the event’s broadcast.

Despite the rocky road, UFC officials managed to save the International Fight Week event, even if the card will not go down in history among the most entertaining nights in UFC history.

What will go down in history, however, is light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira’s second-round knockout win in his main event rematch with former champ Jiri Prochazka. Pereira continued to build on a short resume that has already produced Hall of Fame results and even hinted at a potential move to heavyweight before his career is over.

Pereira’s potential move is just one of the biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s action. Let’s take a look at all the stories worth talking about after UFC 303.

Is it time for Alex Pereira to head to heavyweight and cement his legacy?

It is, frankly, mind-blowing what Pereira has managed to accomplish in just 13 fights as a professional mixed martial artist. Pereira has won championship gold at middleweight and light heavyweight and his resume already features a who’s who of the elite of the sport. In fact, aside from Andreas Michailidis and Bruno Silva in his first two fights, everyone Pereira has fought in the UFC, thus everyone he has defeated, was at the time either a former, current or future UFC champion.

After defeating Prochazka on Saturday, Pereira was asked point blank what his next move would be, including if he would be interested in moving to heavyweight and attempt to make history as the first fighter to ever hold UFC gold in three weight classes in a career.

“I think [moving to heavyweight is] in my future,” Pereira said. “I said that the last time I was here. There didn’t seem to be too much interest from the organization but I’m here.”

There are other fights for Pereira at light heavyweight, sure, but none that will generate the interest of mystique of a jump to the sport’s biggest division and the pursuit of a third belt. Just weeks away from his 37th birthday, Pereira has already said he is operating on limited time. With a full kickboxing career and a baker’s dozen MMA bouts on his body, the end of Pereira’s career could come sooner than anyone would like to admit.

For that reason, it’s time for the UFC to find interest in the idea. Pereira is one of the promotion’s top stars, most entertaining fighters and brightest personalities. Failure to encourage a fighter with those qualities to stamp their name in the record book amounts to promotional malpractice.

What a week (plus)

Once upon a time, the card was scheduled to have former light heavyweight champion Jamahal Hill facing Khalil Rountree in the co-main event slot. Rountree withdrew from the event due to an unintentional violation of the UFC’s anti-doping program and was replaced by Carlos Ulberg. At the same time Dana White announced Conor McGregor had been forced out of the main event, he revealed Hill was also injured and out of his fight with Ulberg. Ulberg was then booked to face Anthony Smith and the fight was demoted from the co-main slot. Of course, Ulberg would suffer his own injury and Smith was left to face short-notice opponent Roman Dolidze.

As the fight changed over and over, the UFC was left to find a new co-main event, coming up with a fantastic late-notice featherweight fight between Diego Lopes and Brian Ortega. By the early hours of Friday morning, Lopes’ phone was ringing as Ortega’s camp needed the fight to be changed to a lightweight bout as their man couldn’t make weight. Come Saturday night, as fights were actively taking place in the Octagon, the whispers started. Dan Ige had gotten a call and was en route to T-Mobile Arena to replace Ortega on a few hours’ notice.

All credit to Ige for taking one of the (if not the) wildest chances in UFC history, but how did we arrive at a place where an International Fight Week card is held together by string and bailing wire? There’s an old joke about IFW cards being cursed, but the UFC hinged the entire appeal of the event on McGregor’s return to start. It was a minor miracle that they managed to salvage the card at all by getting Pereira and Prochazka on board and even adding Ortega vs. Lopes to the card in the process. But things went sideways again and it took getting Ige to come literally off the couch and through Las Vegas traffic to prevent the co-main event of an IFW card from being Anthony Smith vs. Roman Dolidze.

What happened to the UFC megacards of just a few years ago? Has the weekly churn of content to simply fulfill a lucrative rights agreement produced such a cynical approach to matchmaking and card structure that even the biggest weekends of the year can nearly crumble at the breaking of a pinky toe? Let’s hope the UFC learned a lesson from how close they came to disaster on so many occasions with UFC 303.

Ige may have scored the greatest moral victory in UFC history

For all the talk above about the multiple scrambles to hold the card together, all credit needs to be given to the men who stepped up no matter how short the notice. And nobody stepped up more or on shorter notice than Dan Ige. Ige’s decision to answer the UFC’s call on a few hours’ notice was one thing, but to deliver the effort he did was something else entirely.

Ige was the stronger, fresher man when the fight came to a close, winning the third round on all three official scorecards against Lopes, who was red hot entering UFC 303 and favored over a two-time former title challenger in Brian Ortega. Ige took several flurries of big shots from Lopes, who was riding the momentum of three consecutive sub-100-second victories, but never seemed close to being stopped, nor was he panicked when Lopes had his back and was hunting for the submission.

Instead, Ige kept coming until Lopes faded and began to crumble. Time ultimately ran out on Ige and Lopes got his hand raised after three official scorecards read 29-28. But it’s Ige who took the risk and who walked away from UFC 303 having built his legend.

“This is an opportunity to become a legend,” Ige said of his decision to take a risk few would. “This is a story I will tell my grandkids.”

Ian Machado Garry wins but fails to impress the crowd, again

When Garry came to the UFC, the promotion couldn’t wait to push the narrative that Garry could be the second coming of McGregor. It was an easy enough idea to push. Garry and McGregor both made their first trips to the Octagon as brash Irishmen with skill to spare. On Saturday, Garry picked up a win over Michael “Venom” Page, running his UFC record to 8-0 (and career record to 15-0). It was a big win over a popular and fairly accomplished fighter, but Garry got the win by sucking nearly every bit of entertainment out of the fight.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fighting in the smartest way that will get you the victory, especially when you’re young and undefeated. But Garry has lost steam as a rising superstar. For back-to-back fights, Garry has had his hand raised while the crowd showered him with boos. And, prior to those two fights, Garry found himself dragged down into the mud of an ugly outside-the-cage rivalry with Colby Covington that started to turn the tide of public opinion.

Whatever Garry does next, it needs to be something that shifts the narrative. He couldn’t entice Covington into a fight at UFC 303, though not for lack of trying. Pushing that fight, and getting a win over a big name like Covington, could be something to put some wind back in Garry’s sails and get fans invested in his journey toward a world championship.

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