Ultimate Fight Night 46 in Dublin picked up from where we left off from this weeks Ultimate Fight Night 45: Cerrone Vs Miller, delivering a night of fun, action-packed fights that had some divisional relevance.
There were also some surprises from the card that breathe new life into divisions we weren't expecting any shocks in. Let's take a look at the card from top from bottom and figure out who these fighters should be looking at across the Octagon next time they're in it.
Conor McGregor - Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet: Diego Brandao is a perfectly decent opponent for a fighter just outside the top ten, but it's not an affirmation of future greatness. Fact is though, that a far more storied wrestler in Dennis Bermudez jumped into Brandao's wood-chipper of a guard and paid the price for it, whereas McGregor showed his grappling improvements yet again, not wary of being in position for arm bars, defending Brandao's brief attempts at heel-hooks, advancing guard amidst Brandao's hurtful looking up kicks, and dominating the fight at every range it was contested at. This was a very impressive performance, especially considering the much higher-ranked Dustin Poirier turned the same trick, but against a less physically imposing and motivated Brandao.
McGregor clearly got the better of the striking, but even with his canny footwork and changing up of angles, his willingness to engage makes him hittable. Another fighter who likes to push forward, but who has the requisite size to cause the confident Irishman more problems, is the aforementioned Dustin 'The Diamond' Poirier. Poirier is a pretty slick submission artist himself, and with his fairly porous defence and want to go forward will not only be a relevant and meaningful fight for the division, but will likely blend with McGregor's high-octane style to create an awesome fight for the fans. McGregor's talked about it, Poirier tweeted immediately after the fight that he wants it, and as the UFC clearly wants to push McGregor it seems the perfect fight for him to advance up the ladder quickly whilst still being a stern test.
Diego Brandao - Diego has been caught before, and even pre-TUF he wasn't the most durable of fighters. Making weight this time and always being exciting will save his job for a bit longer, but he has already hit his ceiling by the looks of things. No shame in that, Brandao is a good action of fighter and should be able to get some more good wins yet whilst being the kind of guy the new blood will be tested against. Another fighter of a similar ilk is Steven Siler, who is coming off a first-round stoppage loss himself. Brandao brutalised Siler inside the first minute of the first round in their season of The Ultimate Fighter and I'd say the time is right for a rematch.
Gunnar Nelson - Some fans have been talking this week about Nelson's lack of size compared to the rest of the 170lbers, and whilst I wouldn't trust everything Gareth A. Davies says, post-fight on the British broadcast of the card (on BT Sport) he said that Cummings weighed in at 207lbs on fight night. That is an extreme weight difference, and perhaps Gunnar's previous success at open weight in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu makes him comfortable fighting bigger guys without stressing himself with too large a weight cut. If I was Joe Silva I'd go back to the fight that was originally going to take place on this card and match Nelson up with Ryan Laflare. Laflare's fight with John Howard was full of exciting scrambles, and as his striking isn't the prominent part Laflare's skill set the ice cool Icelandic wouldn't be outmatched there and the fight might well provide more grappling goodness.
Zak Cummings - I hold my hands up, I was wrong about Cummings. He was winning handily on the feet (EDIT: On further viewing Cummins wasn't clearly winning, although it could be argued he was edging the stand-up battle for portions of the fight) and much stronger in the clinch, but Nelson only needs a second on the ground to go into Anaconda mode. No shame in this loss to Cummings, as with the exception of Damien Maia it's likely that Nelson is the most dangerous submission artist in the division. Another slick sub artist, but one who Cummings may have a chance of outlasting, is the explosive Erick Silva, who is also coming off a loss. Either one of these men could get back on the horse and travel the densely-populated field of the welterweight division with a win in this one.
Ian McCall - This one is a no-brainer for me. 'Uncle Creepy' showed much better movement and timing than 'One Punch' Pickett last night, and I'd like to see him try and evade the much fresher, and arguably harder hitting, John Lineker, who won by impressive third round stoppage earlier on in the week. Both are on the cusp of becoming title challengers in the flyweight division, and a win would push them into locks for a title shot. Stylistically, it'd be fun, as McCall would be forced to work harder than the fairly plodding Brad Pickett forced him to, and Lineker's supposed improvements in pacing and takedown defence would be put on show against McCall, who remains one of the most potent wrestlers in the division, as well as being in perpetual motion.
Brad Pickett - You'd think this might be the end of Pickett's title hopes, but in a top-heavy division, with an active champion that Chris Cariaso can earn a title shot against, given the right timing anything is possible. It was clear to me beforehand that Pickett has been on the decline for a while and that the speedier fighters at flyweight weren't going to make his slowing down any less of an issue, and with Pickett struggling to pin McCall down for most of the three rounds my hunch was confirmed. One of the slower 125lbers, who is also not going to make Pickett chase him all night, is former title challenger John Moraga, and that'd surely be a fan friendly fight of phone booth sluggers. Moraga is hoping to stay relevant himself after three bad performances in a row.
Norman Parke - It ended up that Japanese veteran Naoyuki Kotani was a showcase opponent for Parke as he beat him down in two rounds. All the announcers kept making out that striking was Parke's forte, and only Dan Hardy made a reference to Parke's judo base, which is very strong indeed. A nearly shot Diego Sanchez makes sense from the standpoint of getting Parke more exposure, but if there is a lightweight veteran I'd like to see Parke fac it's Joe Lauzon, who despite being past his best seems to have more in the gas tank than Sanchez as well as being a danger in more areas of the game.
Ilir Latifi - Something of a cult hero for stepping in to fight Gegard Mousasi on short notice and taking his beating admirably, Latifi is now carving out his own name as a bullishly strong 205lber. The light heavyweight division might need new blood more than ever, and I'm not usually an advocate of weight-cutting, but despite being in tremendous condition last night I'd still like to see the imposing Swede try out 185lbs. Should that not be on the horizon, another light heavyweight who could likely make the cut if need be is Fabio Maldonado. I know he's oming off a loss, but that was at heavyweight and at 205lbs he's on a three fight winning streak, and is a tough out for all except the elite of the division. Let's see which bracket of the division Latifi falls into.
Neil Seery - Seery has had two good performances in his time in the UFC, though in comparison to his first fight against Brad Pickett he was a bit below-par against Phil Harris last night even in dominating the fight. This can hardly be a criticism though, as Seery not looking quite as sharp as usual is understandable after burying his nephew earlier on this week. Condolences to Neil Seery and his family.
Harris was very negative and is unlikely to get another shot in the organisation. Seery has now avenged his loss of a few years ago to Harris, and still looks to be a must see fighter in the 125lb division. Going forward I'd like to see him in with Richie Vaculik, who recently beat Filipino prospect Roldan Sancha-an at UFC Fight Night 43.
Cathal Pendred - Anyone who has watched this tough Irishman over the years on the UK and Irish regional scene will know he isn't the hardest to hit, and he's suffered for it before, being stopped by Lee Chadwick. Both Chadwick and Mike King were 185lbers, and Pendred looks a lot sturdier at his preferred weight class of 170lbs. At welterweight there are no shortage of options available for Pendred, but I'd put him in with the winner of Tim Means and Hernani Perpetuo, who face off next Saturday at UFC on FOX 12.
Nikita Krylov - I guess Krylov has been working on his submission defence and grappling, as although Cody Donovan is no great shakes 'Al Capone' had to come through real adversity to get the victory. Gian Villante likes to scrap, so I'd like to see Krylov tested against him next to see if he can show off any more improvements to his game.
Patrick Holohan - Perhaps no one caused a bigger upset than 'The Hooligan', when he beat the well-regaded Josh Sampo via rear naked choke submission in the first round. Sampo is a name that resonates with the hardcore fans, and most pundits (myself included) felt that Sampo's greater experience and wrestling would make the difference. In modern MMA the best submission artists are those that snatch one after stunning their opponent with strikes, and that's what Holohan did here, clipping Sampo with an uppercut and getting through Sampo's attempt to survive on the ground before cinching the victory with with the choke. Undefeated in 11 bouts with 10 wins and 9 finishes, Holohan deserves a top quality opponent for his next Octagon outing. I can think of no better than young Ray Borg, who has looked mighty impressive in his UFC tenure so far, and who looks a super quick and technical grappler. The winner of this fight would look to be going places in the flyweight division.
Josh Sampo - Another bad break for Sampo, who showed great promise outside of the UFC (Sampo is the only man to date that has finished Cuban wrestling standout Alexis Villa) but has struggled to maintain form under the bright lights. Granted, Zach Makovsky was a bad matchup for him, but most fans and writers expected him to get by Holohan, who shy of two days hadn't fought in two years and hadn't faced much in the way of reputable competition. Another flyweight who came into the UFC with a good reputation with fans of the division and has struggled thus far is Darrell Montague. 'The Mongoose' is similarly on a two-fight losing streak and either of these guys would need a win badly to stay relevant in the division.
That's it for this look at the future of the competitors from last nights card (or yesterday afternoon if you're reading this from across the Atlantic)
Do weigh in with your thoughts on who you'd prefer to see opposite these fighters next, or how you think the mooted matches here would go once the first round commences.