UFC Sao Paulo quite nicely exceeded expectations. A card that absolutely looked like it had no real meaning or story-line to it on paper turned in a lot of action and asked a lot of questions. For an event with no sense of drama, that’s as good as anyone can ask for. Especially when it’s coupled with a whole bunch of dynamic finishes.
Now, with UFC Fight Night 137 fading into the rear view mirror, can Thiago Santos be a title contender at light heavyweight? Will Alex Oliveira get a big fight? And what in the heck has happened to Renan Barao?
To answer all these questions, and more, I’ll be using the Silva/Shelby fight booking model from 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 crack at some fantasy matchmaking, leave a comment below starting out with, “We’ll see if he gets it, or we’ll see if he learns the hard lesson not to ask.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me for the next fight card.
This week’s winner is BE reader “Lucas Terry” (aka Lucas Terry).
Lucas – Santos looked good against a tough opponent in Anders. He seems to want to stay at light heavyweight and seeing as the division is a wasteland, that’s probably a good idea. He took a lot of hard shots and so maybe his chin is stronger from not having a hard weight cut, but perhaps he also has more power at middleweight. If he does decide to stay at middleweight I think Brad Tavares makes most sense and is the easiest path to a top 5 opponent. At light heavyweight I think he only needs one big win to be in title contention. Santos suggested fighting Manuwa, but if we’re gonna go winner/loser I think Glover Teixeira is the fight to make. Glover is still one of the best in the division and will test Santos’ improved chin and ground game while Santos will test whether Glover is still a contender.
Zane – It’s rare that Santos ever gets a clean win, so he just has to settle for violent ones instead. And this win over Eryk Anders was definitely violent. Although Anders has no cred at light heavyweight, coupled with Santos’ long and fairly impressive UFC career, winning this fight should be enough to get Santos into the rankings. And from there, he could be at even odds to win against just about anyone. Jimi Manuwa is ranked 5th in the division, and Jan Blachowicz 4th. You can’t convince me that Santos couldn’t give them both a run for their money. Speaking of which, with Manuwa, Glover, and Gustafsson all recovering from injuries (and Gus most likely to get a title fight), why not make Jan Blachowciz vs. Thiago Santos. See if Jan’s jab can pick Santos off, or if Santos will light him up from kicking range. Would make for a brutal, fun fight. And the winner would be right in the mix for a title eliminator. Jan Blachowicz vs. Thiago Santos is my fight to book.
Lucas – Anders did extremely well considering he was fighting Santos on 6 days notice. His potential is still clear and I think middleweight is still the place for him. He showed he had a great chin and now I think he needs a fight that is challenging but also winnable. Fights with Andrew Sanchez and Oskar Piechota are possible options, but I think the best option is Tim Boetsch. Boetsch has become a gatekeeper, but he hits hard and has solid takedown defence and I think he will be the perfect test for Anders.
Zane – Anders has been heading for trouble in the UFC for some time now. He swarmed out of the gate with a couple solid, powerful wins and – coupled with a notable collegiate athletic career and some undeniable natural power – he shot into some very big fights. He was lucky to catch Machida in a late career ebb. A fight the ‘Dragon’ won but didn’t do much damage in (and that largely added to the hype that Anders could hang in “big fights”). A win over Tim Williams later and he was headlining against Thiago Santos at 205 lbs on short notice. The end result wasn’t quite a one-sided beating (although Santos clearly landed most of the violent strikes), but it was a fight Anders didn’t seem prepared for. And the damage he took at the end was brutal. He’s not young but his MMA career is only 3 years old. Give him a big step back against Marvin Vettori next time out.
Lucas – Oliveira is one of my favorite fighters on the roster, and he once again put on an exciting fight. I think he deserves another step up, and fights with Robbie Lawler and Stephen Thompson would both be fun for different reasons. But, those two are in talks to fight each other. Unfortunately for Oliveira, the welterweight top 15 are mostly booked. And so, because of a lack of options for “Cowboy,” I think the fight to make is another winner from the card: Sergio Moraes. Both of them are in the top 20, and although Moraes keeps winning I don’t see a lot of upside. However, Moraes’ ground game is one of the best in the division (even though he rarely uses it) and he would still serve as a meaningful but also winnable fight for Cowboy.
Zane – Credit to Carlo Pedersoli for stepping up, but there are levels to this game and Oliveira is clearly several levels up. Oliveira needs another big fight. Watching him do work was fun, but tests like Masvidal and Maia make a lot more sense these days. Since I feel like it should be a fight against someone coming off a win, Leon Edwards seems like just the right bout. Edwards got past Cerrone in a pretty lack luster affair, but he’s about the only top ranked welterweight who isn’t booked or sitting on a bad loss right now. Oliveira vs. Edwards should make for a fascinating matchup. Edwards has struggled to be a dominant athlete against elite competition just as Oliveira has struggled to consistently show a deep technical game against the best. Oliveira vs. Edwards is a must see next fight.
ANTONIO ROGERIO NOGUEIRA
Lucas – Surprisingly, Little Nog knocked out Alvey (who is a very hard guy to knock out). However, that still does not give me much faith about his fighting future. It was a nice moment, but it now creates a problem because he will likely be ranked. That means more winnable fights such as Marcin Prachnio, Saparbek Safarov and Gian Villante don’t make much sense. Therefore, Little Nog can be used to test and potentially be a name for a prospect such as Aleksandar Rakic, or he can be used to strengthen someone like Jan Blachowicz’s title case. I prefer the second option even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But, with Little Nog most fights are potential problems (he was booked against Latifi last year). So, hesitantly I’ll go with Little Nog vs Blachowicz.
Zane – I am shook. I mean… it’s Sam Alvey, so I’m not that shook… but still. Lil’ Nog is a throwback talent if ever there was one. A 42 year old whose game is almost entirely based off boxing, and who had only won one fight since 2013. To get the KO here was a big deal, let alone picking up his first win since 2016. Part of me says throw him in with Gokhan Saki, but that doesn’t feel right. Similarly a fight with Nikita Krylov seems a little too ugly. Instead, give Lil’ Nog the winner of Herman vs. Villante. It’s about the same level as this Sam Alvey bout, and neither guy is the kind of dedicated finisher that would have me fearing for ‘Minotouro’’s life moment-to-moment. Book Lil’ Nog against the Villante/Herman winner.
Lucas – We saw another example of Oliveira’s potential and lethal grappling (and lets ignore his awful idea of moving back down to 145). “Do Bronx” has been in the UFC for almost 10 years, and always is dangerous, but seems to lose the big fights that could change his trajectory. I don’t think it’s time for another top 10 guy yet, but I have a fight I really like for Oliveira, and that is Islam Makhachev. This is a great fight. Both guys have great grappling, but also solid and improving striking. And although the fight could end in a chess match, I think there is a lot of potential for fun. It’s a good test for both fighters and the winner should find a place in the rankings.
Zane – Much like Trinaldo, I’d like to see Oliveira taking on fringe top 15 talent. But, the owner of the all-time UFC submission record is a much younger fighter still in the prime of his career and it seems like the UFC could push him a little harder. I know he wants to go back to 145, where a fight with someone like Zabit Magomedsharipov could make some sense. But, I’d really rather he stuck around at 155, where he’s been tearing things up lately. Fights against Alex Hernandez and Rustam Khabilov would both be strong choices. I’d go the Hernandez route myself, just because his relentless buzz-saw style is exactly what’s broken Oliveira in the past. But, it’s also exactly the type of thing to push Hernandez right into getting choked out. Charles Oliveira vs. Alex Hernandez would provide all-action.
Lucas – I personally think Trinaldo is one of the most underrated guys in the UFC. The guy is 40 and has a 13-5 record in the lightweight division. His request for a Kevin Lee rematch is admirable, and I’m sure it would be a competitive fight, but it’s not that interesting. A fight with Rustam Khabilov makes sense, but also doesn’t sound great. What I’m about to suggest might sound crazy, but Trinaldo comes to fight – especially against other brawlers – as can be seen with his fights against Felder and Medeiros. And at 40, he probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. So, I think he should get a chance with a big fight. That fight is Justin Gaethje, and I think it has high violence potential. I mean, any Gaethje fight is good. And Trinaldo has paid his dues and deserves a chance. Apart from Kevin Lee there doesn’t seem to be any other fights for Gaethje right now, so why not?
Zane – I don’t like to match fighters up from the same card. It feels cheap and lazy. But, I will say that if the UFC just happened to pit Trinaldo up against Charles Oliveira, I would be very down for that. Otherwise, the ageless Brazilian needs another fringe top 15er. Fights against Islam Makhachev, Rustam Khabilov, or even John Makdessi would all be solid bookings, as would Drew Dober or Mairbek Taisumov. Somehow Khabilov and Dober seem the most likely, but I’d like to see Trinaldo vs. Makhachev. Give the Dagestani another step up and another chance to prove his quality against a seasoned lightweight veteran. Trinaldo vs. Makhachev is a rock solid bout.
ELIZEU ZALESKI DOS SANTOS
Lucas – This guy is great and only delivers violence. And yet, the UFC does not promote him. A fight with Gunnar Nelson would be interesting, but Nelson appears to still be injured. Fights with James Krause and Li Jingliang also could be fun, but ultimately I think the fight to make is Jake Matthews. That would more than likely give Zaleski his fourth fight of the night and the winner would be in a position for bigger fights with ranked opposition.
Zane – Couldn’t agree more on the Zaleski vs. Matthews pick. Matthews is in the midst of a re-awakening at welterweight (and in the midst of a massive late growth spurt). After a mediocre bout against Bojan Velickovic, he’s looked fantastic against Li Jingliang and Shinsho Anzai. But, Zaleski would be a much more immediately dangerous opponent than either of them. Someone who can change the fight at any moment on any strike. And who is a competitive, athletic grappler as well. It’s just the right test to see if Matthews striking has advanced in ways that more clearly set up his grappling, or if Zaleski can stay careful enough to beat a big, powerful welterweight who can really challenge him and keep up everywhere. Matthews vs. Zaleski is absolutely the fight to make.
LIVIA RENATA SOUZA
Lucas – Souza showed a lot of promise, and will probably find her way in the top 10 sooner or later. But, I don’t see the need to rush her. Angela Hill is good, but probably shouldn’t be ranked – and she did beat Souza in a very close fight a couple years ago. A fight with Nadia Kassem, the last person to beat Chambers, is a possibility but I much prefer a fight with Weili Zhang. Souza and Zhang are both exciting prospects who have a lot to offer, and this would be a classic striker vs grappler fight – although both are well rounded.
Zane – Weili is a strong pick, but I’d like to see the Chinese Sanda fighter take on Marina Rodriguez next. Instead, with Souza’s pedigree coming from her Invicta title run, I definitely think she could be rushed a bit. A big part of me wants to see her in the cage with Mackenzie Dern next. It would be a major highlight for Dern if she could get the win, and a quick way to build Souza if she can best strawweight’s most notable prospect. But, I think that fight can likely also wait a minute. Instead, how about a bout with 115’s most underrated-ly successful young talent: JJ Aldrich. Aldrich has looked great since she started training full time (leading up to the Danielle Taylor fight). And she just picked up a big win over the hyped Polyana Viana. She’d be just the kind of really strong test to let Souza see if she’s immediately ready to jump into the rankings. Aldrich vs. Souza is a strong next step.
OTHER BOUTS: Pedersoli vs. Chagas, Alvey vs. Ledet, Ewell vs. Wood, Barao vs. Stasiak, Markos vs. Hill, Rodriguez vs. Weili, Giagos vs. Gonzalez, Spann vs. Stosic, Henrique vs. Milstead, Sakai vs. Wieczorek, Sherman vs. Spitz, Moraes vs. Okami, Saunders vs. D. Sanchez, Bueno Silva vs. De La Rosa, Robertson vs. Fabian, Vendramini vs. A. Reyes