All the best, most interesting, and unashamedly coolest fights the UFC should book following their latest event in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The UFC ended up with a bit of a strange event on their hands in Brazil. What looked like a solid fight card on paper was turning in quality results and a lot of hometown love… right up until the last two fights of the night. While neither Covington vs. Maia nor Brunson vs. Machida were actually ‘bad’ fights they were real mood killers for fans in attendance, and for a lot of old-school MMA fans hoping to see longtime favorites get another big win.
But, notable turnover at the top of divisions just means that the UFC has some big decisions to make concerning next fights. To help them along, I’ll be using the original Silva/Shelby method of fight booking. That means winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured fighters against one another.
Normally, this is where I’d pitch an opportunity to join in for the next card, but BE reader Romowasntbuiltinoneday nipped the process in the bud by volunteering last week for next week. I said yes before I realized what he was up to and, well, I’m not going to go back on my word. So, sorry to anyone waiting just to get in on this card, more will come along.
Joining me this week is Ross McCafferty:
Hi BE readers, my name is Ross McCafferty and I am a journalist from sunny Scotland. I was a casual for years and became a hardcore fan while “You-Know-Who” was making his initial UFC ascent in 2014 and now find myself staying up until crazy hours of the night most Saturdays to get my fix. You can follow me on Twitter at @RossMcCaff.
Ross – Wow. Derek Brunson had been on the sharp end of a decision loss after being too cautious against a Brazilian legend, and wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. The Anderson Silva loss is a curious aberration on Brunson’s recent record, and if he had got the decision win many thought he should have, his only loss in his last 9 would be to interim champ Robert Whittaker. He now makes a case to be at least in title conversation next year with another win or two, so he deserves a top 5 booking. That comes ready-made in the form of Chris Weidman, which is a firecracker of a fight that could headline any free TV card.
Zane – I like the idea of a Weidman fight a lot, especially since the former champ still has something to prove after a three fight losing skid, all by KO. His win over Kelvin Gastelum was great, but it means a Brunson fight still makes sense. However, I like Brunson’s callout of Rockhold. Luke is in a weird position of having a claim to a title shot, but no real immediate chance of getting one. He also got lit up early by David Branch’s less than complex striking attack. Brunson’s on a roll, he made the call, give him the fight. Derek Brunson vs. Luke Rockhold.
Ross – The former light-heavyweight champ’s layoff was so long that he wasn’t wearing Reebok gear, and plenty thought he could come back with a win. He’s now lost three straight, all by stoppage, although those losses were to some of the division’s elite, and he is left at a crossroads in terms of fight bookings – to test up-and-comers as a gatekeeper, or potential roll-back-the-clock matches against fellow veterans. I’m going to go down the latter route. The loser of the fight between Cezar Ferreira and Nate Marquandt is an option, but I’m going to pair him up with Thales Leites. It’s winnable, and of interest to hardcore fans and Brazilians, which is about as much as Lyoto can hope for in a booking.
Zane – Someone tossed the idea of a Rashad Evans rematch at me, and I can’t say it doesn’t make sense, even if it does make me shake my head. But that’s the UFC reality. Even off that loss, even looking fragile, there are still fights for Machida if he wants to take them. I’d pay to see Lyoto Machida fight Nick Diaz, or Vitor Belfort. Thales Leites isn’t a bad option too, but doesn’t really have any of the marquee value that I feel like Lyoto still deserves. My ultimate dream would be that if GSP loses to Michael Bisping, he and Machida get booked. But, GSP may just retire if that happens. Eventually, I of all the options right now, I guess I’d say book Machida vs. Rashad Evans II at light heavyweight.
Ross – This was the biggest win of Covington’s career, but for all his talk, I still don’t think he’s knocking on the door of a title shot, or even a title eliminator. Presuming that Covington makes it out of Sao Paolo alive, his next fight should be against his fellow surging welterweight Darren Till. Hope this doesn’t seem like lazy matchmaking given the Cerrone-Maia match I’ve just fantasy booked, but Till arguably made the bigger statement last week, and the potential trash-talking alone makes this a good match-up.
Zane – It’s true, a fight between Darren Till and Colby Covington is the mouthiest fight you could make at 170 right now. And while it would be building one young top fighter at the expense of another, the winner would likely be in line for the belt and ready to make a lot of noise about getting his shot. I’m really wishing that the UFC hadn’t booked that nonsense Usman/Meek fight, because I’d love to see Usman against Covington. Instead of all this though, I’m going to say, book Covington against the Condit/Magny winner. I think that’s a better way to build him, against one of two fighters who are still top ranked, but not on their way to contention.
Ross – I wasn’t surprised to see the Bloody Elbow staff near-unanimous in picking the two-weight title challenger to overcome Colby Covington, who I thought Maia would have too much for. Maia gassed badly after the opening round, possibly as a result of having fought three times in less than six months, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a break. Another veteran who could do with some time off is Donald Cerrone, and that’s the fight I would like to see. If he’d rather fight someone unranked to get back on track, Ben Saunders or Sergio Moraes are viable options.
Zane – The Cerrone fight isn’t a bad idea. Maia did well working behind his left early and if he could get in on Cerrone’s hips things could get really interesting. But, I have a nerd fight idea that I’d really like to follow through on, even if it’s kinda nonsense. And that’s Demian Maia vs. Keita Nakamura. While K-Taro is only in his early 30’s he’s got a career stretching all the way back to 2003 as a fun submission ace with a fantastic back take game. It’s the kind of bout I want to see Maia in at this point in his career.
Ross – If Munhoz’s nickname isn’t “The guillotine machine” then it should be. That was his seventh by my count and he has now won four straight. That merits a leap up the rankings, especially for someone like Munhoz who is finishing fights regularly in a division like bantamweight. Thomas Almeida is unbooked, but that might be a bad a match up for Munhoz, given Almeida’s power and Munhoz’s habit of defending chin-first. So I’ll go with the winner of John Dodson and Marlon Moraes, who fight in Norfolk, Virginia in a few weeks.
Zane – You know what, I actually really like the Thomas Almeida fight. Almeida may be full of sexy striking-violence, but he’s comparitively not the greatest athlete in the division, and he tends to be a slow starter that gets hit a lot. That could make for an extremely interesting matchup against Munhoz’s early pressure and grappling. Otherwise I kinda feel like Dodson would just pot shot for 15 minutes. So I say book Almeida vs. Munhoz for an all-Brazil bantamweight bout.
Ross – This was a good win for Trinaldo, although the main story for many watching was how sad it was to see Jim Miller look like all the fight had went out of him. Trinaldo has now quietly put together a run of 8 wins in his last 9, his only blemish a submission defeat to former title challenger Kevin Lee. He should enter the top 15 of a stacked Lightweight division with his win, but at his age gatekeeper status is about as much as he can hope for. Match him with the winner of Joe Duffy v James Vick.
Zane – So many options here, I just have to give Trinaldo someone who’s already free. Evan Dunham, Beneil Dariush, Rustam Khabilov, Michel Prazeres. Heck even Mairbek Taisumov would be fun. Of all those, I’m going to say Beneil Dariush is my fight of choice. Dariush’s combination of powerful pressure striking, and solid wrestling and good grappling should make for a great fight against Trinaldo’s own crafty mix of power and multi-layered skill set. Francisco Trinaldo vs. Beneil Dariush.
Ross – The path to a bantamweight title shot almost certainly runs through John Lineker, his only defeat in his last 8 coming to TJ Dillashaw. Let’s not make this too complicated, another fighter with a great recent run only spoiled by a loss to Dillashaw is Raphael Assuncao. Assuncao is fighting Matthew Lopez on the Norfolk card, but that seems like a gimme. Assuming he wins, book him against Lineker.
Zane – If Marlon Moraes somehow beats John Lineker, Moraes vs. Lineker is THE must-book fight. Otherwise, yeah Assuncao is the most sensible and likely of the top ranked fighters that Lineker could go up against. However, I’m going to take another current bout that seems like it should have a clear winner as Lineker’s next fight, and that’s Aljamain Sterling against Rani Yahya. Assuming Sterling gets past Yahya, I’d love to see him take on Lineker.
Ross – How could this be the same dude who was destroyed by Gegard Moussasi and made some basic errors as a huge favorite against Eric Spicely? Santos is a scary man with funky striking who can be frustrating to watch. You know who else that applies to? Uriah Hall. The two may have fought three years ago, but with both men going on crazy journeys since, and the middleweight division in a state of flux, I say run it back
Zane – Santos is part of a large group of modern middleweights who have regularly failed to put a real stamp on their division, even with a long string of impressive wins under their belt already. Two immediate options joining him in that company are Tim Boetsch and Brad Tavares. Boetsch vs. Santos has more baseline violence potential, but there’s something about the idea of Santos/Tavares I like. Santos’ penchant for high octane striking violence seems like it would bring out the best fight in Tavares, or get Santos another establishing win that he needs to get big fights against the middleweight elite.
OTHER BOUTS: Font vs. Eduardo, Miller vs. Pearson, Hermansson vs. T. Smith, Vera vs. Wineland, Luque vs. Cummings, Price vs. Barberena, Carlos Jr. vs. A. Smith, Marshman vs. Alvey, Gordon vs. Gillespie, Dias vs. Koch, Zaleski vs. Roberts, Griffin vs. Jumeau, Figueiredo vs. Pantoja, Brooks vs. Bibulatov, Golm vs. Spitz, Colombo vs. Grabowski