All the best, most interesting, and unashamedly coolest fights the UFC should book, following their latest fight card in Glendale, AZ.
UFC on FOX 29 is in the books, and even cable TV fight card pacing couldn’t drag this one down. The UFC put together a whopping 14 bout card. And while that could have meant a slog of meaningless fights, in the case of their Glendale, AZ event, it meant a lot of interesting narratives that need to be sifted. Is Dustin Poirier next in line for the lightweight belt? What does the UFC do with Justin Gaethje after two straight KOs? Should the UFC slow-play Israel Adesanya?
To answer these questions (and more) I’ll be employing the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking model 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 shot at fantasy matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with “I’m straight out the trailer, bro. I’m still living on that kind of salary.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘Scott Lawlor’ (a.k.a. Scott Lawlor).
Scott – The lightweight division is so complicated, you could make a case for Ferguson, McGregor, Alvarez or Poirier fighting Khabib next. But the most obvious answer is the Eddie Alvarez rematch. Give them five rounds as the headliner for a Fight Night card. If not, then a fight against the Barboza/Lee winner next weekend would be a fun alternative.
Zane – He’s calling for the title shot, and I get it. Poirier is right there in the hunt, but he’s still kinda last in that hunt, behind McGregor, Ferguson, and even Alvarez. At the very least, it’d be great to see Poirier and Alvarez rematch in the coming months and the winner of that could be the top contender (if McGregor isn’t picking up what Khabib is putting down and if Ferguson’s rehab doesn’t go perfectly). Basically, barring a catastrophic event (we’re talking several dollies here), Poirier is going to have to have another fight. I’m not sure Alvarez is all that interested in a rematch, so book Dustin against the Lee/Barboza winner. If he can beat either of them, then he has as much right to a shot at the belt as pretty much anyone.
Scott – Gaethje came into the UFC as an undefeated champion from a notable organization with a high KO rate. Almost a year later and he’s now 1-2 in the promotion, with recent losses to top contenders (Alvarez and now Poirier) slowing his momentum. As exciting as he is I think it’s time to pump the breaks and give him a step down in competition. I’d suggest a guy just outside the top 10 who Gaethje already has issues with, James Vick. Vick is 9-1 in his UFC career, and is due for another shot at a contender like Gaethje.
Zane – If Gaethje really does only have five more fights left in him, then the UFC better make damn sure those fights count. No booking Gaethje against generic UFC wrestle boxer number 27. I’d love to see him against Edson Barboza down the line, or against Paul Felder, or Mairbek Taisumov, or Joe Duffy. In fact, part of me wants to see the Felder fight right now, but I get the feeling Felder will be ready to go again before Justin will. So, why not Justin Gaethje vs. Joe Duffy? Duffy’s hit his own hard times lately, and this would be a huge chance for him to reassert himself, and a surefire action fire fight for as long as it lasts. If Gaethje can win it big, then the UFC could set up the Barboza fight or something like it.
Scott – The Brazilian Cowboy just scored the biggest win of his career to date. Condit is not the fighter he used to be, but his name still carries a lot of weight in the division. I’d really like to see him fight Curtis Millender next. Millender has only fought once in the promotion, but he made a strong first impression by dominating and knocking out former title challenger Thiago Alves. And I’d like to see him tested against a top-20 guy like Oliveira.
Zane – It’s a little wild just how quickly Oliveira has been able to amass a ton of UFC experience and a ton of UFC wins. As a guy who debuted in 2015, he’s already 8-3-1. And now he’s picked up the signature win of his career, choking out Carlos Condit. That could make this the right time to throw him at Jorge Masvidal, currently riding a two fight losing streak, but ranked firmly in the top 10. Or another action fighter flirting with a ranking, like Alan Jouban or Sergio Moraes. Instead, I’ll say throw him at another veteran welterweight rankings mainstay, and see if he can keep this momentum going. Alex Oliveira vs. Dong Hyun Kim (the ‘Stun Gun’ one).
Scott – Adesanya understandably has a ton of hype behind him, but I think he should have at least one more win before we give him a bigger test. In the meantime I’d give him Jack Marshman. Marshman is 2-2 in his UFC run, with those losses coming to Antonio Carlos Junior and Thiago Santos. A former BAMMA champion, 18 of his 22 wins have come by stoppage, so he would likely provide a fun matchup against Adesanya.
Zane – Slow should be the UFC’s watchword here. Adesanya clearly has a lot of talent standing and a lot of personality to go with it, but middleweight is a weird place where someone like Gerald Meerschaert might just go out and rough him up if he can’t get his wrestling defense more together. Part of me says the UFC should throw him in with Eryk Anders, who likes to play a powerful top game but hasn’t really put together an actual wrestling game yet. A fight with Alessio Di Chirico would also be alright, to stick to the Italian opposition. Or there’s another relative newcomer like Julian Marquez from DWTNC. Eventually, I think the Anders fight makes the most sense. Anders has a bit of a name from his headlining bout against Machida, he’s an imposing physical force, so it’s not a gross mismatch. But, he’s raw enough everywhere that Adesanya should have a lot to work with technically. Israel Adesanya vs. Eryk Anders is my pick.
Scott – ‘The Karate Hottie’ is back in the win column after suffering back to the back losses to Torres and the champion Namajunas. A good fight for her would be Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Kowalkiewicz defeated Herrig just last weekend, so their schedules should line up perfectly.
Zane – I’m not sure Waterson deserved this win (or maybe I’m just sure she didn’t), but she got it and in getting it she keeps her name in the hunt among the top veterans at 115. That could mean that it’s time to throw her at someone like Karolina Kowalkiewicz (after all, Kowalkiewicz needs to fight someone). But I’d be just as happy to see her go winner/loser here and take on Felice Herrig. Herrig put together one hell of a fight against KK, even if she did fall short in the end. And it feels like she and Waterson would be exceptionally evenly matched, especially in grappling exchanges right now. Waterson vs. Herrig is the fight to book at 115.
ANTONIO CARLOS JUNIOR
Scott – The TUF Brazil 3 Heavyweight winner turned middleweight Carlos Junior is now riding a 5-fight win streak in the division. For his next fight I’d like to see him challenge the undefeated Paulo Costa. An interesting note about this fight is that Paulo Costa’s only MMA loss was dropping a split decision in a TUF exhibition match. The same season that Carlos Junior would eventually win.
Zane – Would Derek Brunson be too much? I don’t know, maybe… probably. But it would be fun. A fight with Brad Tavares also makes a lot of sense, but I think Tavares’ mix of sound defensive striking and wrestling defense would make for a boring affair. Eventually, if ‘Shoe Face’ is going to keep moving forward, there’s one fight that just jumps out at me: Uriah Hall. Hall is coming off a big win over Krzysztof Jotko and holding down a solid spot in the rankings. He should be a very winnable fight for the Brazilian grappling specialist, but he’s always just dangerous enough to make it interesting. It’s either that or wait around for Paulo Henrique Costa to heal up. I say book the Hall fight, and see if Carlos Jr. can’t go on a run at 185.
Scott – Most fans had written off John Moraga after he lost 3 fights in a row. But now here we are a year later and he’s riding a 3 fight win streak over Reis, Bibulatov and Mokhtarian. In his next outing I’d like to see him challenge Jussier Formiga. Moraga and Formiga have consistently proven to be top 10 flyweights in the UFC for years now and have never crossed paths. With Formiga coming off 2 submission wins, now seems like a great time to finally book that fight.
Zane – That’s definitely the kind of performance Moraga had to have if he ever wanted to reassert himself as a potential top tier challenger for the flyweight title again. But it doesn’t leave him with a lot of immediate options. Assuming that Johnson rematches Cejudo, now that Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 is booked, then Moraga only has one fight sitting in front of him: Jussier Formiga. Formiga is coming off a rock solid two win streak following a tight loss to Ray Borg, and is one of the only tenured flyweights Moraga has yet to take on. A fight between them would make for fantastic action, and the winner would seriously put themselves in the contender conversation. It’s either that or take on another rising newcomer like Deiveson Figueiredo. John Moraga vs. Jussier Formiga is an excellent fight at flyweight right now.
Scott – Tavares has now extended his win streak to 4. The Hawaiian is making waves at 185, and I’d like to see him step in there with a top-10 guy next. Let’s give him a shot at Derek Brunson.
Zane – Well, if I want to see Carlos Jr. take on Uriah Hall, and if Paulo Costa is injured, and if the Michael Bisping callout is just a pipe dream (it is), then I think Tavares really only has one option at middleweight right now. And that’s Derek Brunson. I just can’t see him getting a bout with Chris Wiedman, Luke Rockhold is talking about 205, and pretty much everyone else is booked. Tavares could wait for the winner of Santos vs. Branch, or campaign for Lyoto Machida if/when he beats Vitor Belfort. But if he’s ready to go in the near future, Brunson seems like the best option for him.
OTHER BOUTS: Condit vs. Brown, Vettori vs. Sanchez, Casey vs. Hill, Boetsch vs. Akhmedov, Salikhov vs. Jumeau, Rainey vs. Abe, Reis vs. Nguyen, Jotko vs. Smith/Theodorou loser, Burns vs. Makhachev, Moret vs. Frevola, Mueller vs. Ostovich, Dobson vs. Ji Yeon, Okami vs. Mein, Lima vs. Hyun Gyu, Wieczorek vs. Sosnovskiy, Bhullar vs. Golm, Perez vs. Wineland, Lopez vs. Ishihara, Sanders vs. Duquesnoy, Williams vs. Soukhamthath