What a night. What a pair of fights. What a card. The UFC really doesn’t deserve fights this good, but as long as they’re putting them on it’s hard not to be happy to watch them. Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway absolutely went to war over five rounds, with Poirier’s counter-punching and power making the difference, even as his gas tank faded. Not to be out-done, however, Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum put on the best performances of their respective careers in one of the most remarkable title fights the UFC has ever seen. Every round felt like it had a momentum shift, and with everything tied heading into the fifth, Adesanya dug deep to absolutely annihilate Gastelum and win himself an interim middleweight belt.
So, how soon can we get Izzy vs. Robert Whittaker? Does Khabib really have to be so insistent on staying suspended all summer? Who will Max Holloway fight next? And does winning at flyweight get Alexandre Pantoja anywhere at all?
To answer all these questions – and maybe a couple more – I’ll be taking a page from the classic Sean Shelby/Joe Silva book of fight making. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “I earned this in blood. I paid in full.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me for the next card.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘I chop meat’:
Hi, everyone. I am I chop meat and I’m from some place on the map, I guess. I watch the UFC all day and also live sometimes. I also train UFC and do have that mean side kick to ruin your day. Have fun reading my picks or I’ll turn into the Beastin’ 25/8 mode and do something incredible.
Meat – Congratulations to Dustin Poirier on the first successful defense of ‘The Most Violent Man In All Of MMA’ title! Oh, I almost forgot there was another piece of metal on the line… That interim thing. Unfortunately for Dustin, winning it doesn’t guarantee him much of anything, but I hope this man gets to fight for the real belt. He truly deserves it and he earned it. Tony Ferguson also has a legit claim to it, so it’s a weird situation at the top of the division. Anyways, the only way to go for Dustin Poirier as an interim titleholder now, is to fight for the undisputed title (not any of that ‘It is Nate next for you’ silliness), no matter who his opponent will be.
Zane – Assuming nothing too weird happens, Dustin Poirier’s next fight has booked itself. Khabib Nurmagomedov seems satisfied with facing Poirier in the fall, when he returns from his suspension, and the UFC has promised Poirier the title unification bout. Everybody wins, right? Obviously, there’s always room for shenanigans in the UFC, and if McGregor were to win a big fight over, say, Tony Ferguson this summer, it’s not impossible to imagine Poirier getting shafted. If that were the case then a fight with the Cerrone/Iaquinta winner would be fun, but it’s a lot less than Poirier deserves right now. Hopefully he stays healthy and the contender status he’s earned stays intact. If all that happens, then Poirier vs. Nurmagomedov will be a hell of a lot of fun.
Meat – It’s a tough loss for Max and I wonder if it will affect him, both physically and mentally. As I said two weeks ago, I don’t expect Max to stay at lightweight coming off a loss. Especially now, as it was clear he didn’t have the body of a full-time lightweight coming into this fight. Holloway took a lot of damage in this fight—more than we’ve ever seen him take, so a bit of a layoff for him is possible. And when he returns, there could be a clear next challenger for his featherweight title: Alex Volkanovski, if he beats the great Jose Aldo. If he doesn’t, well, it gets a bit more complicated. A third fight against Aldo is highly unlikely (although logical if Aldo wins his third number 1 contender’s bout in a row), Moicano’s coming off a loss, Zabit, Bektic and Rodriguez are all not ready yet. So it’s either Volkanovski or Frankie Edgar or just waiting for a worthy contender to emerge…
Zane – A hard loss for Max Holloway, but not likely one that diminishes his legacy in any meaningful way. He took every last ounce of power Poirier could deliver, walked through it, and kept throwing volume. He just couldn’t hurt Poirier near as bad as Poirier could hurt him. He could stay at 155 for a fight with Tony Ferguson or a rematch with Conor McGregor. Both of those would be thrilling. But given the power disparity on display in this fight, it seems much more likely that a return to featherweight would be in his best interest. If Alex Volkanovski defeats Jose Aldo at UFC 237, then Volkanovski has all the rights to claim the next featherweight title shot. If he loses, however, then the UFC probably has to go with Frankie Edgar, given Aldo’s pair of incredibly decisive losses to the champ—as well as his stated plans to retire by the end of the year. If Aldo wins and Frankie isn’t ready (or Max is injured for a while), then there may be room for Zabit Magomedsharipov to get a big win and enter the title hunt. But, for now, Volkanovski off a win or Holloway vs. Edgar seem like the right fights.
Meat – What an amazing fight it was. There should be no doubt now that Israel Adesanya is for real and that he was very worthy of the opportunity he got. He showed the ability to overcome adversity in this fight and also surprised a lot of people with his ground game. Heck, he was close to submitting Gastelum, twice! I still have concerns about his ability to hang in there with elite grapplers like Jacare or Weidman though, but if he stays at the top, the time for those tests will come. Did I mention it was for yet another interim title? Well, in this case the interim title really makes sense and, as with the LW title, the only reasonable next fight is a title unifying bout between Adesanya and undisputed champ Robert Whittaker.
Zane – Much like Poirier, it seems pretty clear that Adesanya has his next fight booked. It even comes with a bit of Aussie/NZ rivalry to help sell it. Whittaker seems like he should be back to full strength soon, and plans to return sometime in the fall as well. That should give Izzy the time he needs to heal up after this hellacious battle he just went through against Gastelum. It helps Izzy’s cause as well that there’s no other clear top contender. Romero has a pair of losses to the champ already and Jacare lost to Whittaker decisively just back in 2017. If, for some reason, Whittaker isn’t ready to go, then Adesanya could easily get the winner of Hermansson/Souza (or Romero/Costa if that rumored re-booking actually happens). Assuming the best, however, it seems the table is perfectly set for Adesanya vs. Whittaker.
Meat – It was an insane display of toughness and heart by Kelvin Gastelum, but, dude, I’m SO bummed by fighters going for takedowns after they hurt their opponents with strikes. Gastelum did much better striking with Adesanya than people expected him to do and he had a real chance of winning this fight. It’s a shame we didn’t get a chance to see him and Whittaker battle it out, but he’s still young and has a lot of time to get back to title contention. Yoel Romero is a clear next fight for him to get there and it has the potential to be yet another crazy MW war.
Zane – A rough loss for Gastelum, but there’s no doubting that he looked better than ever, even in decisive defeat. Gastelum showed more confident counter punching, an educated lead hand, and even did some offensive wrestling for the first time in a long time. If he can keep putting together those kinds of improvements, he’ll remain a title contender for years to come. For now, once he’s healed, the fight I most want to see him in is against the loser of Romero vs. Costa. Or if that fight isn’t getting made, then just put Gastelum in with Yoel Romero. It’s a fight too good to even think about, in fear consideration alone is enough to curse it. I’d also be 100% fine with Gastelum facing the winner of Anderson Silva vs. Jared Cannonier. End of the day, though, some combo of Gastelum/Costa/Romero is the ideal. Everything else is a distant second place.
Meat – Khalil Rountree looked like a new fighter in there. He was smooth and sharp and also really tired from like, the middle point of the second round. So it’s not really a totally different fighter, but at least he was pacing himself and didn’t gas out completely in the last round, when Eryk Anders seemed to start having some success. And those leg kicks! He proved to be a dangerous striker a long time ago and now he appears to be even more dangerous standing up. I would love to see him take on Magomed Ankalaev or Karl Roberson (if he stays at LHW), but I also curious to see if his ground game got tightened up. So, I’d book him against Patrick Cummins to see if he can stop his takedown game, and escape Cummins’ heavy top control and get up if he does get taken down.
Zane – A lot of options for Rountree if the UFC wants to go winner loser for him. Fights with Misha Cirkunov or Shogun Rua, or even OSP are out there. Maybe a fight with the also recently victorious Nikita Krylov? But, I’ve seen too many of Rountree’s struggles to just automatically bump him up into bouts against more notable competition. This was a great win and showed real change. Time to take on another highly touted prospect to see if Rountree can prove his adjustments are long-term and not just the combination of a really good camp and exactly the right opponent. To that end, I think Magomed Ankalaev is the way to go. The Dagestani has a slow paced, but careful striking game with a lot more fluidity and consistency to it than Anders’, and the kind of strong wrestling and top game that has always given Rountree fits. If Rountree can win that fight, throw him into a top-10 matchup, and if he can’t, it’ll be a notable step in Ankalaev’s prospect development. Rountree vs. Ankalaev is a great proving point for both men.
Meat – Another close fight for Dwight Grant that only a few MMA freaks like me will remember and only the craziest of us will dare to re-watch. From what I remember about this fight is that there was like a punch thrown or something. It means Dwight Grant vs Niko Price. To make things ugly!
Zane – It was an ugly win, but it was also a big name for Grant to put on his record. If it weren’t for some abysmal judging against Zak Ottow, Grant would now be undefeated in the UFC. Either way, he might as well keep taking steps forward and taking on tough opposition. At 34, it’s not as though there’s going to be a long learning curve ahead of him. A fight with the also recently arrived Alexey Kunchenko would be a good, difficult test, as would the streaking Geoff Neal. If the UFC really wants to punish Grant with a grind, they could throw Ramazan Emeev at him, but why make a bad fight on purpose? Instead, I’ll say the UFC should match Grant up with Claudio Silva. The Brazilian is a wildly aggressive grappler, and utterly fearless about trading punches. Let’s see just how well Grant can stick to his counter game against someone who won’t think twice about crowding him. Dwight Grant vs. Claudio Silva sounds like a good fight to me.
Meat – It was sweet revenge for Krylov to submit OSP after what happened in their first fight and it will most likely put him back in the rankings. But, it looked like this win was more of a sign of OSP getting old and shopworn than it was a result of Krylov’s improvements. His striking looked cleaner and more organized in this fight than it did before, but he still looked pretty uncomfortable off his back and he kept trying to put OSP in a guillotine… With that said, Krylov’s skillset and aggression alone can be enough to carry him past many of the ranked fighters at 205. I would eventually like him to try to avenge another of his UFC losses to Misha Cirkunov, but for now I want to see him take on the winner of Jimi Manuwa vs Aleksandar Rakic.
Zane – Krylov gets to jump back into the rankings with a win over OSP. And while he’s still not a technical grappler or a fantastic defensive wrestler, his increased composure in the cage definitely paid off in this fight. That could lead him to a bout with Khalil Rountree, who also won big on the night, or top prospect Magomed Ankalaev, or even Jim Crute? But I think there’s one other fight that’s just too obvious and too good to pass up: Nikki Thrillz vs. Johnny Walker. A sure-fire action bout against two of light heavyweight’s wildest wild-men. Lock your doors, shutter your windows, make sure your pets are inside, because this fight will absolutely get out of control. Nikita Krylov vs. Johnny Walker is the only fight worth making.
Meat – In this flyweight division, where fighters get cut basically after every fight (good luck Wilson Reis!), Alexandre Pantoja is doing a great job to stay afloat. With Henry Cejudo fighting for the BW title and a possible title eliminator between Formiga and Benavidez being booked, there’s no chance Pantoja gets any kind of title fight at FLW, despite his impressive run of victories. Pantoja’s future most likely is at BW, but before he moves up he has a couple of great options at 125 to try to further improve his winning streak. A fight against Davison Figueiredo seems like a fun one.
Zane – At this point I basically just have to book Pantoja at 135. The only fighters ahead of him on the flyweight ladder are Jussier Formiga and Joseph Benavidez, who are fighting one another. Oh and Deiveson Figueiredo, assuming he’s still in the UFC after his recent loss. Pantoja could take on Jordan Espinosa or Kai Kara-France, but what’s the point? If Pantoja is ready to move up in weight, throw him in the cage with Cody Stamann. Rob Font would also be fine, or maybe Ricky Simon? It’s a weird thing to have to match a fighter up with guys in the next division ahead of him, but that’s the only real option I can see. To that end, Alexandre Pantoja vs. Cody Stamann would be solid.
Meat – It was a classic Belal Muhammad performance—he took his opponent’s best offense early before drowning him in volume striking and exhausting wrestling exchanges. There’s another fighter who does similar things to people and I wanted to see them fight each other for a long time: It’s Court McGee. But Muhammad, probably, is looking for a bigger name foe with his 5-1 in last 6.
Zane – A strong, veteran kind of performance from Muhammad to pick up a tough win after a bad first round. Millender came out looking to throw power, and Muhammad rolled with it, pushed the pace, tired him out, and got the victory. A fight with Niko Price might be a good way to go as a next step. Bouts with Claudio Silva or Anthony Martin would also be alright. Still, now that I’ve written it, that Niko Price/Belal Muhammad fight sounds just right. Muhammad would clearly have the technical edge, but Price’s unreal power from all positions would make beating him an incredibly chancy proposition. Belal Muhammad vs. Niko Price is a great welterweight action fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Eryk Anders vs. Justin Ledet, Alan Jouban vs. Jake Matthews, Ovince Saint Preux vs. Misha Cirkunov, Matt Frevola vs. Damir Ismagulov, Jalin Turner vs. Jesus Pinedo, Wilson Reis vs. Magomed Bibulatov, Max Griffin vs. Alex Morono, Zelim Imadaev vs. Hector Aldana, Khalid Taha vs. Chris Gutierrez, Boston Salmon vs. Mario Bautista, Curtis Millender vs. Emil Weber Meek, Montel Jackson vs. Manny Bermudez, Andre Soukhamthath vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez, Poliana Botelho vs. Gillian Robertson, Lauren Mueller vs. Rachel Ostovich, Brandon Davis vs. Luke Sanders, Randy Costa vs. Ryan MacDonald