UFC Moscow was exactly the kind of card it looked set up to be. Which is to say, if a promotion is going to have clear platform tiers for events, then a Saturday morning card on Fight Pass should be the lowest quality event the UFC can put on. It wasn’t incredibly meaningful, it wasn’t incredibly thrilling, but it was fast and – for hardcore fans that will watch any fights whatever time they happen to occur – there were some fascinating takeaways.
Most notably, will the UFC actually consider Jan Blachowicz or Oleksiy Oliynyk anything close to title challengers? Both men have earned their stripes in the organization and put together strong win streaks. But, neither have done so with the amount of flair that would make them even a mediocre ‘B side’ in a title contest. Otherwise, with a bevy of new prospects looking to prove themselves, it’s worth asking: who separated from the pack? And how should the UFC manage these fighters’ young careers going forward?
To answer those questions – and more – I’m enlisting the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own swing at the mantle of fantasy fight-making aficionado, leave a comment below starting with, “Keep smoking and I will keep training and we will see who is better.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This weeks’ winner is returning BE reader “berg_ryman”:
Hi Bloody Elbow. It’s me again, your old pal Berg_Ryman. You may remember me from Fights to Make: UFC 222 from early this year. As last time, I’ll look to use common match-making set-ups, but will also look for interesting fights to run back if it makes sense. You can also follow me at @Berg_Ryman on the Twitter machine. Let’s Do This!
Berg – The Boa Constrictor again showed why he is one of the most dangerous ground artists in MMA by winning with, what else, a choke against a game Mark Hunt. With Werdum on the sidelines, Oliynyk is now MMA’s most feared heavyweight grappler. And with two wins on the trot, one more big name win vaults to title fight consideration. Enter Junior Dos Santos. The former Heavyweight champ is currently the only real name heavyweight without a fight right now and could get into the octagon before the end of 2018. With his quick finish of Hunt, Oliynyk could take this fight, and with a win position himself well to get a shot at the title in 2019 – a necessity for the soon to be 42 year old.
Zane – What do you do with Oleksiy Oliynyk? Is a win over 2018 Hunt really the thing that should get him a shot at one of the division’s most elite fighters? Is there actually any point at all in booking anything short of that? As a 41 year old submission specialist, Oliynyk’s not exactly going to ‘turn a corner’ if the UFC lets him take it easy and build momentum. He was likely the best version of himself back in 2007-2008, and everything since then could be considered ‘gravy.’ The way I see it, there are two options for the ‘Boa Constrictor’’s next fight: pit Oliynyk in a winner/loser battle against Alistair Overeem or, let him wait and take on the least inspiring winner between Volkov/Lewis or Tuivasa/JDS. Of all those, the winner of Tuivasa vs. JDS feels most right. But, in the interest of seeing Oliynyk booked again soon, I say match him against Overeem and see if he can keep winning.
Berg – Let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s probably time for Mark to hang up the gloves. Even in a division as crazy as heavyweight, the dude is in his mid 40’s with a lot of mileage on those wheels. He’s a fighter who has brought so much joy to fight fans that he should be able to go out and be remembered as the brawler who could KO anyone. However, if he sticks it out, let’s match him up with another old timer who also took an L on this card and go Hunt v. Arlovski, which has somehow never happened.
Zane – Rough loss for Hunto. The ‘Super Samoan’ just isn’t the unbreakable iron chinned clubber that he was in his youth. He’s still a fine, competitive heavyweight, but the sense of enigmatic fistic power has seriously dissipated. And yet, despite his age and years of competition, Hunt has never fought Andrei Arlovski. If the Belorussian is still in the UFC after his latest loss, that would be a quality ‘fight that should have happened 8 years ago.’ Similarly, Hunt wouldn’t be a bad step forward for Shamil Abdurakhimov; a next ‘old school’ name for the Dagestani big man to check off his list. But, for old time’s sake, do Hunt vs Arlovski. Make the fight that would have been fun at any time in the last decade while the UFC still has the chance.
Berg – An impressive performance by Jan to take down the returning Krylov in Russia. With the submission victory he’s won his last four fights in the UFC and should be thinking title shot. The only problem with that is that we don’t know when or if DC is coming back to 205 to defend that belt and we don’t know who among that top group would get the first crack. I’m personally guessing that DC doesn’t come back and there’s an interim title fight between Gus and Latifi. So, to determine the person who gets the next crack after that, I say we go for Blachowicz v. The Winner of Oezdemir/Smith.
Zane – Blachowicz came into this bout already ranked fourth at light heavyweight, and as an underdog as well. He has a win over the man ranked above him, so it only makes sense that winning this would climb the Polish fighter another rung up the ladder. Whether the UFC rankings run on that kind of sense or not is up for debate, but Blachowicz needs to keep getting big fights. He’s made improvements, he’s been fun to watch lately, and this was a great stoppage win. There’s almost no way the UFC will give him DC, but Gustafsson is absolutely an option when the lanky Swede returns from injury. There’s a chance that DC will demand that rematch, however. And that means that the best options are OSP off a win, Thiago Santos off a win, or the winner of Volkan Oezdemir vs. Anthony Smith. Oezdemir vs. Smith offers a good fight no matter who wins, so that should be option A.
Berg – The Unbeaten M-1 star made a strong debut in a tough decision win over Thiago Alves. A record of 19-0 is nothing to sneeze at, for purposes of trying to find solid competition in the Octagon, but the question remains: how best to play Kunchenko? At the age of 34, it isn’t like a slow burn to the title, especially in a class as interesting and athletic as Welterweight would be something worthwhile. So I think you need to find out what you have in Kunchenko and pair him a challenge. A good match I think would be Abdul Razak Alhassan, a super athlete who always looks for the finish against a crafty veteran who knows how to win.
Zane – His fight with Alves wasn’t the thrill of a lifetime, but for a fighter clearly in the absolute prime of his career, I enjoyed seeing Kunchenko in against a long established UFC vet. And as such, it’s a trend I think the UFC should go ahead and keep to. That could mean battles with Matt Brown (when he’s healthy), or Jordan Mein, or even Carlos Condit. But, I like the feel of a fight between Alexey Kunchenko and ‘Stun Gun’ Kim. It’s been more than a year since DHK last fought, and he’s not coming off a win. However, his big, rangy frame and go-for-broke style of offense should do well to push Kunchenko into more action and let him assert either that he’s ready to be a contender in the rankings, or that he’s not the fighter his record makes him out to be. Kunchenko vs. Stun Gun is my fight to book.
Berg – First things first on this one: Herb Dean should have stopped this fight sooner. A no doubt late stoppage from him will overshadow a solid debut performance from Murtazaliev. The dude hunts finishes with 13 KO’s in 14 wins and looks to be another exciting Dagestani fighter who, at the age of 25, could stick around for some time. I say if he’s going to stick around in the UFC, give him another fighter to deliver another potential highlight KO victory for either side. Give Khalid Murtazaliev a fight against Darren Stewart
Zane – I don’t want to say I’m not sold on Murtazaliev – after all, when he got the chance, he hurt Dollaway and finished him – but I’m not sold on Murtazaliev. He was getting out-worked early in the fight, while Dollaway was still fresh, and the win seemed as much a reflection on how brittle the ‘Doberman’ has become as it did a testament to the Dagestani’s potential. As that’s the case, I say throw him in with a young fighter who has shown some real top potential: Trevin Giles. ‘The Problem’ has stormed out to an 11-0 run so far in his young career, but hasn’t fought since dominating Antonio Braga Neto late last year. Murtazaliev’s combination of kicking and wrestling – as well as his youth and toughness – would provide a strong test to prove if Giles is really going on a run. Or, if Murtazaliev can put it all together against a more durable opponent than Dollaway in the UFC. Giles vs. Murtazaliev is a great fight.
Berg – “No Mercy” had to go the full three rounds tonight but looked solid against a fighter who missed weight and was a short notice replacement. Still riding high off the KO of Ishihara and with his gas tank shown this evening, it may be time to try to get Mr. Yan in the mix at the lower end of Bantamweight. While I’d love to put him in there against Rani Yahya for all the Y’s, I think a more interesting fight would be the fight the UFC originally booked and that’s Douglas Silva de Andrade. I think the power of Silva would cause Yan to use his range and try to fight a smart fight that would show his continued development as a fighter.
Zane – Bantamweight has quickly become a division of magical matchmaking among the lower ranks. While old guard still dominate the top 10, Yan, Yadong, Simon, Sandhagen, O’Malley, Bermudez, and Ramos are all undefeated and stylistically largely dissimilar talents with eyes on the elite. Yan had said that he wanted John Lineker after this win, and I love that moxy, but I really want to see him continue climbing and developing rather than trying to run up into a hard loss. With that in mind, a fight against Cory Sandhagen would be great. Re-booking his bout against Douglas Silva de Andrade would be fine too, but I really like that Sandhagen idea. So, why not book that fight and let one fighter continue proving that he’s a cut above the rest of his class. Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen for a fun war at 135.
Berg – Six straight wins for Khabliov, but they came as 6 straight decisions. Nothing wrong with winning fights, but it isn’t a good way to make your way up the rankings or into managements good graces. It also makes him tough to match-up people with because he’s the fighter who could grind a lesser-name opponent you’re trying to promote, and offers nothing to a higher ranked fighter if they win. Interestingly, the UFC is going that route at UFC 229 with a fight between Alan Patrick and Scott Holtzman, who are both on win streaks of only decisions. Seems like a match made for prelims for me. Khabliov v. The Winner of Patrick/Holtzman
Zane – Dan Hooker got booked against Edson Barboza, so that leaves one really clear next stop for Rustam Khabilov… and that’s Alex Hernandez. The 25-year-old has taken the lightweight division by storm, and proved that he’s more than a flash in the pan by taking out not just Beneil Dariush, but Olivier Aubin Mercier as well. Khabilov isn’t ranked – unlike Hernandez’s previous two foes – but with a UFC record of 9-2 he’s pretty clearly the most accomplished fighter at 155 to be snubbed. If Hernandez can beat him, then he proves that the UFC is right to keep Khabilov in mid-card limbo. If he can’t, then Khabilov gets a chance to climb into the rankings and turn his consistent success into bigger, more important fights. Khabilov vs. Hernandez is a strong next fight for both men.
Berg – Missing weight by 6 pounds is never a good look for any fighter. And for one on a roll like Taisumov was before this fight, with three straight Performance bonuses… not good. It’s time to think about a fight to potentially move up the way at 155, and with that should come a fight against the lower end ranked fighters. Taisumov, although infrequently fighting, is on a 6 fight winning streak in the UFC. #13 ranked lightweight Alexander Hernandez is on an 8 fight win streak across promotions. I do believe that someone’s streak needs to end. Book yourself Taisumov v. Hernandez
Zane – Similarly, Mairbek Taisumov needs a little matchmaking love. His exile from top fights makes a little more sense, given that his visa status has made him totally untrustworthy to book on US cards. However, the UFC visits other parts of the world often enough to make it work. He could take on Islam Makhachev, but I get the feeling that’s a booking the UFC wouldn’t pursue. The promotion seems to enjoy keeping their Russians on separate tracks. So what about James Vick? It’s win/loss, but just the right kind of elite level bounce back opponent that would let Vick reassert his status as one of the division’s top talents. And it’s a fight that would push Taisumov into the kind of elite level bouts he should have been in a couple years ago now. If Vick is headed to 170, however, then the UFC should give Taisumov vs. Felder a go. Still, I like Vick as a first option.
Berg – The former Iowa wrestler goes by “Big Swingin’.” However, he has only 1 KO victory and notched his 5th career submission victory in Moscow on Saturday. Might be time for a nickname change, and also perhaps a step up in competition. Johnson’s the winner of 4 straight in the octagon, making his middleweight debut, replacing Krzysztof Jotko. Hey, wouldn’t you know it!? That sounds like a matchup made for these two. Johnson gets a shot to beat a guy on the bubble at Middleweight in the rankings and Jotko gets a chance to get back to winning ways. Simple enough, make Johnson v. Jotko
Zane – Johnson looked fantastic down a division. Lean and cut at 185, he seemed more willing to use his strength and push an aggressive wrestling game that he often had trouble getting to up at light heavyweight. With his technical depth as a takedown artist, an increased aggression could make him a huge challenge. So, why not test out his strength against a bigger, more powerful middleweight than Yandiev? One who has the chance to catch him out standing, and shuck him off in the clinch. Book Jordan Johnson against Eryk Anders. It’s a fight that should provide both men a clear path to victory, and the winner would have some real momentum in a division that’s ripe for talented fighters to run up into the rankings. Johnson vs. Anders is a quality test.
OTHER BOUTS: Krylov vs. Pedro, Abdurakhimov vs. Tybura, Alves vs. Saffiedine, Jin Soo vs. M. Lopez, K. Johnson vs. A. White, Green vs. Pichel, Ankalaev vs. Oleksiejczuk, Prachnio vs. Milstead, Yandiev vs. Phillips, Emeev vs. Barberena, Sekulic vs. H. Aldana, Dvalishvili vs. Sanders