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Thursday, May 13, 2021

MMA Junkie Power Index, Mar. 15-21: Lightweight stars finally get their shot at gold

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Every time fighters step into the cage or ring, they’re looking to claim a win, make a statement and progress their careers toward a specific goal. Some are looking to climb the ladder. Others may have a score to settle. And the sport’s top athletes have their sights set on championship gold.

The MMA Junkie Power Index takes into account not just the most recent performances inside the cage, but the possibility fighters can stay front and center in the MMA consciousness even without fighting.

After a week that included UFC on ESPN 21 and Cage Warriors 122, who made the biggest strides and delivered the week’s most powerful performances, in the cage or out of it?

Check out the MMA Junkie Power Index for Mar. 15-21.

Our first non-UFC entrant into our weekly Power Index is none other than Cage Warriors fan-favorite Paddy Pimblett, who has been regularly linked with a move to the UFC for the last few years, but has yet to receive the call.

The former Cage Warriors featherweight champion moved up to lightweight in 2018 and has gone 3-1 at 155 pounds, with his most recent two performances seeing the Liverpudlian claim first-round finishes of Decky Dalton and Davide Martinez at Cage Warriors 113 and 122, respectively.

Pimblett says he’s ready for the big show, and made that point clear with an eye-catching finish of Martinez, as he strode up to one of the cageside cameras and shouted a message to Dana White, Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby.

“The Baddy” is ready for his shot, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the UFC finally pulled the trigger and put a contract in front of him this summer.

Perennially underrated, Derek Brunson has been a mainstay of the UFC middleweight division for almost a decade. He’s also enjoying arguably the most impressive run of form of his UFC career. He’s riding a four-fight winner streak with victories over Elias Theodorou, Ian Heinisch, Edmen Shahbazyan and, at UFC on ESPN 21 on Saturday, Kevin Holland, showing that he has become something of a “prospect killer” in the 185-pound division.

Now Brunson wants to start fighting up the rankings, and given his recent performances, it’s no more than he deserves. The former high school cheerleader may have opted not to make a song and dance of his MMA career, but it might now be time for people to start making a little noise about his performances.

What can we say about Adrian Yanez? His arrival in the UFC has been nothing short of spectacular, and after earning his spot on the big stage with a 39-second knockout on the Contender Series, Yanez has looked every bit as impressive inside the octagon.

A head-kick KO of Victor Rodriguez last October kicked off (all puns intended) his UFC career with a bang, while his win over former Combate Americas champion Gustavo Lopez showed that he can carry his knockout power into the later rounds, too.

Yanez’s superb third-round knockout of Lopez at UFC on ESPN 21 showcased his outstanding striking skills, and demanded he gets moved up the bantamweight pecking order. But, with the 135-pound division arguably the most talent-packed in the UFC, Yanez will likely have to gradually make his way through the pack.

Yanez has shown that he has the talent to be a major player at 135, and he could potentially represent a nightmare matchup for a host of more established names in the division.

After it was finally confirmed that Khabib Nurmagomedov had indeed retired, the UFC at long last put plans in place to move on from the undefeated Russian and crown a new champion at 155 pounds.

In the end, it was Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira who got the call to face off for the newly vacated strap, and it offers two men who not that long ago were sitting on the outside, looking in, a chance to become the man at 155 pounds.

A couple of years ago, Chandler was in Bellator, being told by casual fans that he wasn’t UFC level, while Oliveira was racking up wins, but attracting scandalously little hype, despite his form.

Now both men are ready to take center stage and compete for the biggest prize in the sport. It’s a shot they both richly deserve, and it’s one that will help usher in a new era for the lightweight division.

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