Who’s next for Curtis Blaydes, and was Rohskopf’s corner reckless?

Curtis Blaydes kept rolling Saturday, defeating Alexander Volkov in the UFC Fight Night main event by unanimous decision in Las Vegas, but Dana White wasn’t happy with the performance. White said Blaydes looked “stupid” for not being able to back up his talk.

Regardless of style points, Blaydes won his fourth straight fight, outlanding Volkov 40-3 in total strikes in Round 1. “Razor” made history, too, recording 14 takedowns — a heavyweight single-fight record that topped Cain Velasquez‘s mark of 11.

Though White wasn’t thrilled about the main event, the co-main earned the $50,000 fight-of-the-night bonus. That saw Josh Emmett win a thriller over Shane Burgos in what some are calling a fight-of-the-year candidate, and veteran Jim Miller quickly submitted rising prospect Roosevelt Roberts.

But before those performances, there was some controversy involving the UFC debut of Max Rohskopf in the night’s opening bout. Rohskopf entered his fight with Austin Hubbard 5-0, but took a pounding in the second round and quit moments later despite his coach, Robert Drysdale, trying to talk his fighter out of it.

ESPN’s expert panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim addresses some of the night’s best performances, what happened with Rohskopf and more.

Who’s next for Curtis Blaydes?

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Curtis Blaydes talks about his exhaustion after his victory over Alexander Volkov and adds there is more work to be done if he’s going to fight for the heavyweight title.

Helwani: Ordinarily this would be an easy one: Blaydes vs. Francis Ngannou next. Simple. They’re both on four-fight winning streaks now and it’s a solid fight. Problem is, Ngannou is 2-0 against Blaydes already. So that makes no sense for Ngannou right now. As a result, I think Blaydes should fight the winner of the Derrick Lewis vs. Aleksei Oleinik clash set for Aug. 8. I’ve always wanted to see Blaydes vs. Lewis, and yes, I know Blaydes has a win over Oleinik, but if you recall, that 2017 fight ended with controversy, so it would be an easy one to run back.

Okamoto: Uncertainty. Sleepless nights. Checking headlines. Blaydes did his job. He went out and beat Volkov in a UFC main event. That’s what he was in control of. Now things are out of his control. What happens in the trilogy title fight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier? Which of them retires? Neither? Both? Only DC? And then what? What happens with Ngannou, whom Blaydes has lost to twice? Does Jon Jones move up? Blaydes can’t do anything about any of these matters, but they all impact him. I’m saying Blaydes deserves to wait for a title shot if he wants, even though that’s a long, long wait. And if both Miocic and Cormier were to retire, I’d be in favor of Blaydes fighting Ngannou a third time. But again, all of that is up in the air, and it’s all out of his control.

Raimondi: By any metric, Blaydes should be getting a title shot next. He has won four straight, has looked dominant and has only one loss in his past 11 fights. At heavyweight, that is extremely tough to pull off. He has been consistent and is still only 29 years old. But the problem here is that Blaydes has two career losses — and they’re both via finish to Ngannou, the top contender in the UFC heavyweight division. Ngannou absolutely must get a title shot after the Miocic-Cormier trilogy is sorted out at UFC 252 in August.

Blaydes is kind of in no-man’s land. It doesn’t make sense for him to fight again. He has done enough for a title opportunity, but Ngannou is firmly ahead of him. There’s no way around it. Blaydes probably will have to compete one more time, and the opponent that makes the most sense is the winner of the upcoming fight between Lewis and Oleinik.

Wagenheim: If I’m Blaydes, I’m not signing a fight agreement until after Aug. 15. Cormier has committed to retiring at the end of that night, and Miocic has hinted that he might do the same. If both guys leave their gloves at the center of the Octagon, that would create two spots in a heavyweight title fight, and Blaydes would deserve one of them. It would be his third matchup with Ngannou, who has knocked him out twice. But a championship fight merits a matchup of the two best, and that would be them. If Miocic beats Cormier and opts to remain an active fighter, and the next title shot rightfully goes to Ngannou, Blaydes might as well wait for the winner. He already has defeated the big guy situated right behind him in the ESPN Top 10, Junior dos Santos, so there’s no need to prove himself yet again.

Who should be next for Josh Emmett?

Helwani: Emmett is slowly but surely entering that contender conversation at 145. Unfortunately for him, fellow contenders Chan Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Brian Ortega might get matched up soon. So, I think a fight against the winner of next month’s Calvin Kattar vs. Dan Ige main event makes a lot of sense. Now, that is assuming Emmett’s knee injury isn’t all that serious. If it is, this is all moot because he might be out for an extended period of time. If not, he definitely deserves to be in that conversation after his third win a row.

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Josh Emmett takes Shane Burgos down with a powerful left hook early in the third round of their bout at UFC Fight Night.

Okamoto: Man, I kind of wish the UFC hadn’t just booked Kattar vs. Ige on July 15 — because Emmett vs. Kattar would sure make a lot of sense right now. There are plenty of matchups for Emmett near the top, but the problem is, they might all be booked soon. Magomedsharipov vs. Rodriguez is a fight that needs to happen and has been booked before. Ortega vs. Jung, exact same deal. Those are great fights, and I wouldn’t want to see them get broken up. So, honestly, the answer is, I don’t have an answer right now. I think the division needs to play out a bit. In less than a month, we’ll know the results of Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway and Kattar vs. Ige. I could see Emmett’s next opponent possibly coming out of one of those two fights. Definitely Ige, if Ige were to beat Kattar.

Raimondi: Featherweight is pretty stacked at the top right now, isn’t it? Volkanovski is defending the title against former champion Holloway next month at UFC 251. Then there’s Magomedsharipov, Rodriguez, Jung and Ortega. Plus Kattar and Ige, who are fighting each other in July. Emmett belongs right there in that group. But I have a bit of an outside-the-box matchup for him next, provided Emmett doesn’t have a torn ACL and is not out for many months. How about Arnold Allen? He’s 6-0 in the UFC and has won nine straight overall. He is badly in need of a step up in competition, and Emmett — who looked fantastic Saturday night against Burgos — surely is that.

Emmett vs. Allen would be an outstanding fight. With the other six guys in the mix, put them together in some permutation and whoever is most impressive can get the next shot at the Volkanovski vs. Holloway winner. What a division 145 pounds is at the moment.

Wagenheim: First off, I want to acknowledge the excellent matchmaking in this co-main event, which seems only fair after I’ve been so critical of many recent UFC fight bookings. Emmett is No. 9 in the ESPN men’s featherweight rankings, and he got the better of No. 10 Burgos despite hurting his knee early on and absorbing a groin shot in Round 3. That’s the kind of resiliency that propels a fighter toward the top of the division. Problem is, everyone ranked above Emmett is either booked against another contender already or at least has been talked about for a matchup. Emmett should be in front of his TV on July 15 watching Kattar, No. 8 in the ESPN Top 10, take on Ige. The winner of that one would make a good next opponent for an Emmett fight that could produce even more fireworks than Saturday night’s slugfest with Burgos.

What was your take on Max Rohskopf not coming out for the third round?

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Listen in as Max Rohskopf and his trainer, Robert Drysdale, debate Rohskopf’s wanting to stop the fight after the second round.

Helwani: I feel very comfortable saying this: That was some of the worst — if not the worst — corner work in the history of the UFC. Atrocious, reckless job by Rohskopf’s chief cornerman, Robert Drysdale. I counted Rohskopf saying “call it” nine times in that minute, and that doesn’t include the other times he was clearly trying to state he was done. The most uncomfortable part was watching him having to whisper, “call it” in an attempt to avoid the embarrassment that for (some reason) is attached to quitting on the stool. At no point did the cornermen ask Rohskopf what was wrong. At no point did they offer any constructive coaching. All they did was ignore his multiple verbal cues and hang their fighter out to dry.

Before Saturday, I thought the corner work — or lack thereof — in the Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington fight two years ago was the worst we’d ever seen. If you recall, Pennington wanted out of the women’s bantamweight title fight going into the fifth, but her corner ignored her and sent her out to get finished in the fifth. That was reckless, too, but I guess if someone wanted to they could make the argument that it was a title fight and worth taking the risk. I disagree with that argument, but others made it at the time. This? This was a short-notice prelim fight. Come on. What are we doing here, guys? Live to fight another day and learn to listen to your fighter. If the cornermen aren’t there to protect the fighter in these vulnerable moments, ultimately what is their purpose?

Good on Rohskopf for ignoring his corner and going to the inspector to ask out, and good on inspector Charvez Foger for listening to him. Rohskopf should never have been put in that position, but whatever embarrassment that might come from that — and there should be none — it pales in comparison to the excessive damage he would have taken in the third.

Okamoto: I thought it was an extremely smart decision, and I wish his coach would have made it for him. Rohskopf asked his coach to call it — basically begged him to — but his coach opted to give a pep talk instead. Look, there are times when a coach needs to give his/her fighter a talk, and then there are times when coaches need to shut up, listen to and protect that fighter. I saw some on Twitter saying, “Hey, this is MMA, anything can happen. A fight can change in a second.” Yes, that’s true. But in this case, the fighter himself was saying, definitively, “I can’t turn this around. I’m in trouble. I need out.” This wasn’t a UFC title fight, it was a curtain-jerker that Rohskopf took on short notice. He’s 25 years old. He was outstruck in the second round 45-6. He said he was done, and I believe him.

Raimondi: It was a really unique occurrence in MMA, one I wish happened more. This is an extremely dangerous sport. If a fighter knows he or she is done and there’s no sense going back out there, why bother? What’s the point? You’re only risking further injury. UFC president Dana White said it himself Friday. It’s very easy for something to go wrong in MMA and then all of a sudden a promising career is derailed or worse. I don’t blame Rohskopf at all for not wanting to continue. He was coming in on short notice and is highly inexperienced. He wasn’t ready for this UFC debut and was self-aware enough to admit it in the moment, protecting himself from further damage. It’s a shame his coach, Robert Drysdale, didn’t see it that way and tried to continue to goad him into going back out.

Wagenheim: What a hype train Rohskopf rode in on for his UFC debut, after having finished all of his previous fights by submission. The 25-year-old looked calm during introductions, and he put Austin Hubbard in trouble on the canvas early. But when Hubbard turned the tables, Rohskopf not only had no answers, but he also questioned himself. And that did not change during the break after Round 2. It’s never a good look, quitting on the stool, but it was an even worse look for his coach, Robert Drysdale, to ignore his fighter’s repeated pleas to “call it.” By my count, Rohskopf spoke those words or some other form of surrender 18 times over less than 40 seconds in the corner. It was fine for Drysdale to make a couple of attempts to perk up his fighter, especially with Rohskopf not appearing to be severely damaged physically. But at what point do you just decide to listen to your athlete? Rohskopf is young. He has time on his side, as well as some essential fight tools, to rebuild himself from a nightmarish end to this night. Drysdale has some learning to do, too.

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Lauren Murphy catches Roxanne Modafferi with a right hand jab that sends her stumbling in the second round.

Helwani: I’ll vote in favor of Murphy. She has now won four of five at 125 and has the second-most wins at flyweight behind champion Valentina Shevchenko and Katlyn Chookagian, who have five apiece. Also, perhaps most importantly, she explicitly called out Calvillo afterward: “I want to fight Cynthia Calvillo next,” she said. “She’s the girl to beat right now. She’s a really, really excellent fighter. She walked right into the division and she took the No. 2 spot, and I think that’s a great matchup for me. I think I can beat her and I want to show everybody that I can.” Sign me up.

Okamoto: Calvillo just made her flyweight debut last week. There are endless options for her next fight at 125 pounds. So yes, Murphy or Robertson would work — and I’d be down for either one — but I think there are better options out there for Calvillo. She’s already very highly ranked after beating Jessica Eye in last week’s main event, but she’s also new to the division and has said she wants to be active. There’s no real reason to rush her into a title shot, or have her wait around for one. I like potential matchups against Montana De La Rosa or Hannah Goldy, but there’s really no wrong answer here.

Raimondi: I wrote last week that the winner between Roxanne Modafferi and Lauren Murphy would make a good next opponent for Calvillo. Murphy looked very solid in beating Modafferi. She has won three straight, and moving to Houston where she trains with the likes of Derrick Lewis under coach Bob Perez has clearly clicked for her. Calvillo is still behind Joanne Calderwood, who is about to get the next women’s flyweight title shot against Valentina Shevchenko. Katlyn Chookagian is in the mix, too, though she lost to Shevchenko earlier this year. Calvillo vs. Murphy could end up being a title eliminator. As far as Robertson, she looked great in beating Cortney Casey, but she was coming off a loss to Maycee Barber, who has lost to Modafferi. She still needs another win or two to be considered in that upper echelon of the women’s 125-pound division.

Wagenheim: Count me in for Calvillo vs. Robertson, and how about we start the fight on the canvas? Robertson scored her fourth career submission on Saturday, giving her the most in UFC women’s history. She broke a tie with four other women, Calvillo among them. These are two of the strongest grapplers in the flyweight division, and it seems that if a challenger is going to get to Valentina Shevchenko, it’s going to happen on the mat. Yes, the champion is a judo black belt with seven career submissions (two in the UFC). But do you like anyone’s chances against her in a standup fight?

Whose performance outside of the main and co-main events was the most impressive?

Helwani: I’ll go with Justin Jaynes. As of Wednesday, Jaynes wasn’t even in the UFC. He was signed only after Matt Frevola was pulled from the card after his cornerman and fellow UFC fighter Billy Quarantillo tested positive for COVID-19. So he basically took this fight on two days’ notice and then won his debut Saturday night with a 41-second TKO over Frank Camacho. That is supremely impressive. I also liked that he called out UFC veteran Drakkar Klose afterward because he beat him in a high school wrestling championship. That’s fun.

Okamoto: Lyman Good. That probably sounds wild, considering Good lost to Belal Muhammad, but Good went into this weekend having overcome COVID-19 earlier this year and recently enduring the loss of his father. Muhammad is an extremely underrated welterweight. He’s now 7-2 in his past nine, and those losses came against two of the best young contenders in the sport in Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. He is a guy who can crack the top 10, maybe top 5, of this division, and Good took him to the brink of defeat, despite some of the most difficult emotional circumstances under which one could compete. Good isn’t the first athlete who has ever been able to compete at the highest level under emotional duress, nor will he be the last, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive to me.

Raimondi: It is amazing that Jim Miller continues to rack up wins and finishes. He was on a four-fight losing streak in 2017 and 2018. Being in his mid-30s at the time, it seemed as if that might have been it for the New Jersey native after a sublime, consistent career. If that ended up being the case, it would have been OK. Miller was dealing with Lyme disease and it was clear he wasn’t as physical or tough as he once was.

This is a term that gets overused in MMA, but I’m going to say it here: Jim Miller is back. At 36 years old, he has won four of his past six fights, and all four of those victories have come via submission. Roosevelt Roberts is a legitimate lightweight prospect, and Miller took him out within a round. Fully recovered from Lyme disease, Miller has his athleticism and motor back. He’s one of the winningest fighters in UFC history (tied for third) and there is no end in sight to this run. Few have epitomized guts, will and consistency in UFC history like Miller.

Wagenheim: Jaynes scoring a 41-second KO in his UFC debut, coming in on three days’ notice, is tough to beat. But I was most impressed by fighters taking their opponents out of their game. Austin Hubbard opened the night by fending off the wrestling of Max Rohskopf. Tecia Torres did the same against Brianna Van Buren. I have to go with Jim Miller, though, because he knew he had an advantage on the canvas against Roosevelt Roberts and he seized it in the opening seconds. Then he did not let up until he had efficiently submitted Roberts in less than 2½ minutes. Miller is best known for his longevity — he’s tied for most UFC fights — but on this night the 36-year-old showed off why he’s still competing at a high level.