All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC should book following their latest PPV card in Las Vegas, NV.
UFC 216 was far from the promotion’s most anticipated fall event of 2017. While the fight card had a lot of fun action fighters and meaningful matchups up and down the card, its lack of star power – and promotional disdain for the co-main event – marked it down as something many fans just weren’t all that enthused about. The results however, were pretty glorious.
Demetrious Johnson grabbed a history making highlight with a suplex-armbar submission win over Ray Borg to net the UFC title defense record, while Tony Ferguson, Fabricio Werdum, and Maria Romero Borella all joined him in main card submission wins. So what comes next for the fighters of UFC 216?
To answer that, I’ll be employing the classic Silva/Shelby model of fight booking. That means winners vs. winners, losers vs. losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to join me to make your own picks for the UFC’s next event, leave a comment below starting with “Where you at McNuggets!” I’ll pick one winner from the responses. Joining me this week is a familiar face, Kyle J.
What’s up, Bloody Elbow? This is Kyle. You may remember me from last year’s “Fights to Make” for UFC Belfast and São Paulo. Get at me on Twitter or elsewhere @KidNobuhiko. On to the fights!
Kyle – In a perfect world, “El Cucuy” is Conor McGregor’s antagonist. He is the champion’s rampant id, a physical and intellectual equal stripped of all his counterpart’s gregariousness, similar to Slender Man if he embraced salsa dancing and capital letters. Alas, money figures to overshadow Ferguson’s interim belt and ten-fight winning streak, so unless Nate Diaz prices himself out of the equation, unification will have to wait. The once-pristine idea of a bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov now reeks of spoiled tiramisu, but the Dagestan native seeks a December opponent, and UFC 219 presents the best opportunity yet for this dream match-up to occur. Book Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov as UFC 219’s co-main event under McGregor vs. Diaz III, and let the lightweight master plan unfold.
Zane – Conor McGregor is the exceedingly obvious fight choice here. Champion vs. Interim Champ, McGregor actually defending a belt. But, for the sake of argument, what if that doesn’t happen? Who does Ferguson fight. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the next fighter in line. If Khabib still isn’t ready to go, then the winner of Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje would probably get the nod. Assuming McGregor vs. Ferguson doesn’t happen for some reason, Ferguson vs. Khabib is likely next.
Kyle – Weight cuts, staph boils and government recklessness be damned; “The Motown Phenom” is the real deal. Whether he stays at lightweight or proceeds to welterweight, Lee’s marked progression on the feet and voracious ground assault portend a bright future for the brazen young headliner. Fresh match-ups abound at 170 pounds – imagine Kevin jawing with Colby Covington or going the distance with Carlos Condit – but I think Lee’s still got more to offer at 155 against name opposition, provided he can exercise better control over his diet. Kevin Lee vs. The Dustin Poirier/Anthony Pettis Winner sounds like fireworks to me.
Zane – If Lee is set on moving up to 170 lbs, then there’s an immediate fight waiting that I would love to see him in. Kevin Lee vs. Gunnar Nelson would be so much damn fun. Two great wrestle-grapplers and willing strikers looking to get their careers back on track. And if Lee can pick up that win it would be a great entry into the top 10 at 170 lbs. Lee vs. Nelson is a fight the UFC needs to make happen.
Kyle – We are not worthy of Demetrious Johnson. Over five years and a record- breaking 11 title defenses into his reign, “Mighty Mouse” continues to amaze us with feats of technical brilliance heretofore unseen, this latest finish being his most spectacular display to date. Of course, we all salivate over the possibility of fights with Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw, or a rematch with Dominick Cruz, but the bantamweight division has enough currently on its plate to render such a move unnecessary. Henry Cejudo has improved leaps and bounds since his loss to the champion, and Sergio Pettis is a fresh challenger Johnson has already expressed interest in before. For title defense number 12, give me Demetrious Johnson vs. The Henry Cejudo/Sergio Pettis Winner.
Zane – I’ve resigned myself to the idea that he’s going to be fighting the winner of Cejudo vs. Pettis. And he’ll likely do it with some speech about how the only sensible course of action is to stay in his division and fight the contenders who have been working their way up to face him. But if we’re being real here, DJ should fight the winner of Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt. He can do it at 125, he can do it at 135, hell he can even do it at 130. But that’s the fight that needs to be on the horizon and the UFC should drop a $1 mil. on DJ just to make it worth his while. Johnson vs. the Garbrandt/Dillashaw winner.
Kyle – A fighter’s first brush with greatness can be dispiriting, especially when said greatness has all-time superlatives attached to it. However, like Kyoji Horiguchi before him, Borg now possesses an experiential template to guide his ascendancy from blue-chip prospect to enduring top contender. Given Borg’s considerable athletic gifts and the expertise afforded him at Jackson Wink MMA, he is more than capable of returning against an elite opponent. I like Ray Borg vs. the Henry Cejudo/Sergio Pettis Loser.
Zane – The loser of Cejudo/Pettis vs. Borg works just fine and would be helpful in establishing the new group of top 5 elite flyweights sitting on the steps below Demtrious Johnson’s throne, but I also think it’s just a bit unnecessary right this second. Borg needs seasoning. He needs more time to work on his striking and how it integrates with his wrestling game. I think a great opponent to try and make those adjustments against would be Brandon Moreno. Moreno’s game has some large gaps as well, but if he can beat Borg it reignites the momentum he had before the Pettis loss. Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno.
Kyle – Our thanks to Walt Harris for giving it the old college try, but at 40 years old, Werdum is still one of the world’s best heavyweights. With Francis Ngannou and Alistair Overeem duking it out for a shot at the belt, and the division gasping for fresh contenders, there’s little incentive to pair Werdum with the likes of Alexander Volkov or Marcin Tybura. As such, now might be the time for Fabrício Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez II. Seemingly healthy, Velasquez is waiting out the expected birth of his son in November before returning to the Octagon. Assuming Cain is ready in the first half of 2018, then the timing is right for him to seek sea-level vengeance on Werdum, and to prove his worth as a top contender once again.
Zane – With Ngannou booked against Overeem, Velasquez is still THE title contender if Miocic is going to fight by December or January. There just aren’t any other options unless the UFC wants to give Werdum the shot, which doesn’t make much sense. If that’s the case, then Werdum is left with a few options. He can gun for Ngannou if Ngannou beats Overeem, try and get the Lewis fight re-booked, or stay busy against Alexander Volkov. I get the feeling that Lewis will be out for a while, and I don’t like betting on fight outcomes for matchups, so throw Alexander Volkov into the mix and see what happens. Werdum vs. Volkov.
Kyle – For evidence of how unforgiving the lightweight division can be, look no further than Beneil Dariush. Owner of a blossoming striking arsenal under Rafael Cordeiro and impressive grappling credentials, Dariush displays all the requisite skills of a contender. Yet, cruel twists of fate perpetually relegate him to the outside, be it Edson Barboza’s flying knee, Michael Chiesa’s choke mastery or Evan Dunham just being plain old stubborn. Nothing comes easy at 155, and Mairbek Taisumov has waited long enough for a shot at ranked opposition. Take this fight out of the U.S., and get the popcorn ready.
Zane – I’m pushing for Taisumov to face Edson Barboza (and Barboza is pushing for that fight too), so while I’d love to see Taisumov/Dariush, other plans must be made. I don’t think Dunham/Dariush needs an instant rematch and LW is deep enough to put together something new. My first instinct is Al Iaquinta, although he may be fighting Paul Felder. If that’s the case, then how about a fight against Rustam Khabilov? Dariush’s pressure should make Khabilov worry on the feet, and Khabilov’s wrestling would be a hell of a test.
Kyle – Against all odds, Dunham trudges on as the perfect mid-level torchbearer, retaining all of his best qualities at 35 years old. Periods of torpor like the first round against Dariush put a hard cap on Dunham’s hopes for progression at this stage of his career, but consistency is a virtue at lightweight. Give me Evan Dunham vs. Michael Chiesa as a test for the returning “Maverick.”
Zane – I can absolutely rock with Dunham vs. Chiesa. I’d also really like to see Dunham take on Charles Oliveira, if Oliveira is staying at 155. Or maybe a bout with Michel Prazeres as the Brazilian fire-hydrant flirts with the edges of the top 15. Even Leonardo Santos might be a decent scrap. Eventually though, it feels like the Chiesa fight is the most action promising and the most likely given the opportunities available. Dunham vs. Chiesa it is.
Kyle – In true patriotic fashion, Moraga earns my “Great American of the Night” award, not just for upholding the sanctity of “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” but for icing Ramzan Kadyrov’s favorite “bear-wolf,” Magomed Bibulatov, in a little over 90 seconds. Once on the brink of retirement, Moraga now has a signature victory to carry him through at least a couple more opportunities against top talent. Taking exciting fights against young up-and- comers is Moraga’s modus operandi, so give me John Moraga vs. Brandon Moreno.
Zane – It really was a gorgeous win for Moraga who continues to be in the position of having to remind people that he’s a top 10 flyweight in the division. And while he could pick off another potential new face at 125, that seems counter productive for a guy who probably won’t contend for a belt again. Instead (and even though it’s winner/loser) the UFC should match ‘Chicano’ John up against Jussier Formiga for a scrap between nearly elite guys who still have a lot of action to offer.
OTHER BOUTS: Harris vs. Johnson, Borella vs. Eye, Faria vs. Rawlings/Calderwood loser, Stamann vs. Doane, Duquesnoy vs. Sanders, Vannata vs. Green II, Botelho vs. Kondo, Gonzalez vs. Yoder, Schnell vs. Sanchez, Beltran vs. Bibulatov, Tavares vs. Hall, Leites vs. Theodorou/Kelly loser