All the best, most interesting, and undoubtedly coolest fights that the UFC can book, following their most recent event in Auckland, New, Zealand.
These are the kind of events that the UFC loves to crow about. A small splash of name value, not much buzz, but a raucous hometown crowd and a bunch of fights that over deliver on action. The next time an ugly looking card on paper comes around, Dana White will be front and center talking about how the cards pundits dismiss are always their best ones.
As such, there’s a lot to consider coming out of UFC Auckland. What does the promotion do with Mark Hunt? What about Dan Kelly? Is Tim Elliott going to stay at flyweight? Considering these questions with me is returning BE commenter Max Pappin. If you want to join in for the next card to do some fantasy fight booking, leave a comment below starting with “I like to get beat up. Shucks, there’s nothing else I’m good at.” And I’ll pick one winner from the responses.
I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby model in making my own picks; booking winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured opponents against one another. I may make a few exceptions here and there, but that’s the overall plan. So, let’s get to the fights…
Hello again, BE readers. My name is Max Pappin and I’m fortunate enough to be making these match-ups for the second time (I also got to matchmake after UFC 205). Many thanks to Zane for the opportunity. Here are the fights to make!
Max – Did Mark Hunt just win via cardio? Hunt did a great job of forcing Lewis to back into the cage before generating his offence, eventually snapping the longest winning streak in the heavyweight division. He probably could’ve gotten the finish earlier, but the bottom line is that he’s still taking out contenders at 43 years of age. While a bout between Hunt and Ngannou is enticing, it seems that the UFC is angling for Ngannou/Dos Santos. Thankfully, there’s a great alternative for Hunt – the winner of next week’s bout between Andrei Arlovski and Marcin Tybura. Both are fresh match-ups for Hunt and both will engage him in a strikers delight. Mark Hunt vs. winner of Arlovski/Tybura.
Zane – It does look like Hunt will have to wait for another winner at heavyweight to be crowned. The only fighters in the top 15 who aren’t booked are Stipe Miocic and Cain Velasquez, and that feels likely to be the next title fight the UFC makes. Werdum & Overeem both have wins over Hunt, as does JDS, who (as Max pointed out) looks set to face Francis Ngannou. So the sensible options really are then Arlovski/Tybura winner and or the Browne/Oliynyk winner. I’ll agree and say Arlovski/Tybura is probably where it’s at, although Browne vs. Hunt in Hawaii on a Holloway card has some definite appeal.
Max – Tough loss for Lewis, who probably would’ve gotten himself a shot at Stipe with a victory over Hunt. He was way too complacent in allowing Mark Hunt to control the octagon and continuously got punished for it. Lewis stated after the fight that he was most likely done fighting, but at 32 he could easily find himself back in title contention if he continues fighting. If he does get the itch to return, a bout between him and the loser of Ngannou/Dos Santos would be fireworks! Derrick Lewis vs. loser of Ngannou/Dos Santos.
Zane – I’m going to assume a couple of things here. One is that Lewis isn’t going to stay out of MMA for too long. The other is, that he’ll probably be gone just long enough to make giving him a sensible matchup based on the current lay of the division nearly impossible. Given that, there are two fights I really want to see Lewis in right now, for totally different reasons. One is against the currently suspended Ben Rothwell, as a battle of lumbering stiff guys that throw with more speed and fluidity than seems possible. The other is a fight with Alistair Overeem, as Lewis is extremely bully-able, but with the kind of power to make people who bully him pay badly, and Overeem is MMA’s biggest bully. The Overeem fight is what I really want, so let Lewis take some time and then come back against Overeem, wherever ‘The Reem’ is at by then.
Max – Brunson finally put a stop to the streak of upset victories for Dan Kelly, dispatching him in a manner that I had expected from all of Dan Kelly’s previous foes – quickly and handily. After the bout, Brunson called for a matchup with Antonio Carlos Junior, which seems like quite a step backwards. I would prefer to see him face Thales Leites. Thales is ranked and similar to Brunson is a grappler by trade that has shown increasing proficiency in striking. No matter where the fight goes, I think it’ll be competitive. Derek Brunson vs. Thales Leites.
Zane – Leites is a very sensible fight. It makes sense on paper, it makes sense for the division, but it also does nothing to get my blood going. Leites has become more cautious lately, and I don’t feel like he would be able to take Brunson down or hurt him badly enough standing to make Brunson uncomfortable. Brunson vs. Branch is the quick fight to make, to see if Branch can keep making quick strides at 185, but I’d like to see Brunson take on the winner of Gastelum vs. Weidman. It’d be a step up for him, but also a good way for either man to build more momentum while waiting for the MW contender backlog to clear.
Max – It really did feel like Dan Kelly was overachieving – coming through as the underdog time and time again. At almost 40 years old and a litany of injuries, Dan Kelly’s four fight win streak really was impressive, but he may now be looking towards the end of his combat sports career. I think a bout with fellow TUF veteran Eric Spicely would be optimal for Kelly, as Spicely just had his own winning streak snapped and will engage where Kelly is most comfortable – grappling. Daniel Kelly vs. Eric Spicely.
Zane – Spicely does have a very Kelly-esque feel to him, especially as both men are coming off getting handled after a string of upset wins. But, Kelly has earned a lot more cache in the division than I think a fight with Spicely provides. If the UFC is keeping Nate Marquardt, that would be a fun fight for Kelly, or he could take on Cezar Ferreira. Still, now that I’ve seen it, the idea of that Marquardt fight entices me. Dan Kelly vs. Nate Marquardt is the fight to book.
Max – Dan Hooker most likely just ended Ross Pearson’s run as a UFC fighter. Hooker showed great fight IQ continuously using his lengthy jab to cause Pearson to slip when moving into the pocket. He picked up on this and blasted Pearson’s mouthguard and consciousness out of him with one of the most precisely timed knees that you’ll see. While Hooker’s UFC debut at 155 was successful, he has still yet to win two in a row in the promotion. With that in mind, he could take on another fighter with that same issue in Scott Holtzman or engage in another striking affair with the winner of Stevie Ray and Paul Felder. I’ll opt for the development of a win streak for either Hooker or Holtzman. Dan Hooker vs. Scott Holtzman.
Zane – That Holtzman idea definitely has some curbside appeal for me. Both guys got good wins last time out that don’t necessarily tell me they’ve cleaned up their technical gaps. And Holtzman’s pressure style would force Hooker to show more of his rangy counter game. I’d also be happy to see him take on someone like Damir Hadzovic or Felipe Silva. Power punchers looking to make a quick rise in the division. That Holtzman fight seems the most fair, however, given that they’re in pretty similar points in their UFC careers.
Max – Based on his staredown of “Frankenstein” alone, it was clear that “The Hulk” was about to smash. At just 23 years old, Cutelaba could be a force to be reckoned with in the UFC’s shallow light heavyweight division. A bout with the winner of Roundtree/Craig would be a good way to assess the development of Cutelaba’s skillset. Ion Cutelaba vs. winner of Roundtree/Craig.
Zane – Two next fights out there for Ion Cutelaba depending on how fast the UFC wants to see him climb. The first is against Francimar Barroso, who has made himself something of a gatekeeper against young talent at LHW. He’s big, and slow, and powerful, and hard to hurt, and has a habit of dragging less experienced fighters into grinding bouts. The second option is Devin Clark. Clark’s a powerful wrestler and a more willing striker than he is defensively sound or offensively technical. He’d be the more surefire action fight for Cutelaba, and while I think Barroso would be the better test, Cutelaba probably needs a slower build with more fun at this point. Ion Cutelaba vs. Devin Clark.
Max – Ben (welcome to the top…) “Ten” just leapfrogged into contender status at flyweight. That is, if the division isn’t dissolved… His performance tonight makes me curious as to what he would’ve been able to do against Benavidez (his original opponent). Unfortunately, with Benavidez injured, we won’t know for the time being. With most of the flyweight division tied up, it’s difficult to see a clear path for Nguyen. If the UFC is able to come to terms with Demetrious Johnson and book Johnson/Dillashaw, then having Ray Borg against Ben Nguyen on the same card would be ideal. Otherwise, I’d personally love to see Ben Nguyen face off against Justin Scoggins, should he win his fight against Ulka Sasaki next week. I’ll be optimistic and say Ben Nguyen vs. Ray Borg.
Zane – The Ray Borg idea only makes sense if the UFC’s feud with DJ continues to drag on. Otherwise with Pettis booked and Benavidez injured and the champ unwilling to fight Dillashaw, Borg vs. DJ is probably going to get made. But, if Borg just needs to get a fight and the UFC keeps putting the screws to DJ, then Borg vs. Nguyen is a fun alternative. Assuming that doesn’t happen though, Nguyen could face John Moraga, or Ian McCall, or my personal favorite: Jussier Formiga. Formiga is coming off a loss, but he’s nip tuck with the division’s elite, well rounded, and a great test to see if Nguyen can really take over as a consistent force at the top of the division. Ben Nguyen vs. Jussier Formiga.
Max – Wow. Tim Elliott lasted 25 minutes of grappling against Demetrious Johnson and is normally able to scramble out of precarious situations that he finds himself in, but he faltered this time around getting submitted quickly. He now finds his record in the UFC at 3-6 and will definitely be in a must-win situation in his next fight. The best choice for Elliott’s next matchup is Ryan Benoit, who also has a losing record in the UFC, but has shown promise in his performances. Tim Elliott vs. Ryan Benoit.
Zane – I’d love to see Elliott fight McCall if McCall ever actually fights again, but that’s not the kind of thing to bet on or book around. Instead, I’ll totally agree with Max on Elliott vs. Benoit. Benoit’s general lack of wrestling/ground game, along with his athletic power striking, makes this a strong bounce back for Elliott, while giving Benoit another chance to prove his game is developing and climb further up the division than clinging to the edges of the top 15. Elliott vs. Benoit is a great fight.
Max – Moraga showed decent grappling in his victory last night, attempting multiple submissions throughout the bout. I wanted to see him mix in strikes with his grappling to open up those submission opportunities, but he got the win nonetheless and avoided a four fight losing streak. I’d like to see either Alexandre Pantoja (if he beats Neil Seery) or Magomed Bibulatov get a crack at John Moraga to see if they have potential to be in the top 10. John Moraga vs. Alexandre Pantoja or Magomed Bibulatov.
Zane – As I said above, the UFC could take the easy option of matching up Moraga and Nguyen after this card. But, who likes taking the easy way forward? Pantoja is booked against Neil Seery, so that fight doesn’t seem likely, but I’ll admit there’s some intrigue around the idea of Magomed Bibulatov. Still, I don’t want to see Bibulatov potentially derailed to rebuild Moraga’s momentum. If Hector Sandoval beats Dustin Ortiz, he’d be a great next fight for Moraga, same if Sasaki beats Scoggins. If neither of those happen, then go ahead and go with Bibulatov.
OTHER BOUTS: Da Silva vs. Safarov, Volkanovski vs. Allen, Hirota vs. Dias, Pichel vs. J. Silva, Brown vs. Reyes, Jumeau vs. Chagas , Mokhtarian vs. Lausa, Ottow vs. Velickovic, Kunimoto vs. Yakovlev, Aldrich vs. Grasso, Chan-Mi vs. Gonzalez