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UFC Belfast & Sao Paulo - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unabashedly coolest fights to book following the UFC’s doubleheader cards last Saturday, November 19th.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Mousasi vs Hall Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

A ton of UFC fights over the weekend means a ton of fantasy fight booking to do today. With 25 fights over two events that’s 49 fighters in need of a next bout - minus a now retired Manny Gamburyan. I’ll be highlighting the big names from both cards, with the help of this week’s contest winner Kyle Johnson. And then I’ll provide quick picks for all the rest of the fighters at the end.

As is the way around here these days, if you want to be part of the next ‘Fights to Make’ article, start a comment below with the phrase, “I wanna see somebody fight with a cracked skull. I came and I stepped in with a cracked skull.” It doesn’t matter what the comment is, as long as it starts with that phrase. I’ll pick one lucky winner out of the entries to write up their fantasy fights for next week’s card; you can go after it any way you want.

As for me, I’m taking the classic Silva/Shelby method of winners vs. winner, losers vs. losers, and similarly tenured opponents against one another. I’ll break form every now and then as necessary, but that’s my model. Now, let’s get to some matchmaking...

What’s up, Bloody Elbow? My name is Kyle Johnson and I’ll be your guest matchmaker for these two events. I’m currently a senior in the Missouri School of Journalism and have been a hardcore MMA fan ever since watching TUF 3 with my dad back in 2006. Follow my nascent Twitter account @KidNobuhiko and look out for future articles spanning all my weird interests. But enough about me, on to the match-ups!

UFC Belfast

Gegard Mousasi:

Kyle - The oft-apathetic Mousasi was quite animated (by his standards) after exacting revenge on Uriah Hall, and for good reason. The Dutchman put together a stellar 2016 campaign, with four wins (three by T/KO) in increasingly dominant performances against tough opposition. You can’t deny a man who drops such post-fight gold as “What the fu**, I’m coming” his contender status, so it’s imperative that Gegard’s next bout be a title eliminator. A potential rubber match with Ronaldo Souza stands out as the most likely option, but I’d rather Mousasi get some time off while “Jacaré” lays in wait for the winner of Bisping/Romero. In that case, why not provide him with a fresh match-up against another former Strikeforce champion? Gegard Mousasi vs. Luke Rockhold.

Zane - Mousasi finds himself in a bit of tough spot here. He’s already lost to Jacare, and it’s unlikely that Jacare would be overly interested in that rematch either way. Rockhold is on the sidelines with a knee injury, so who knows how long he’ll be gone. It seems the UFC has the next MW title fight booked between Romero and Bisping, and without a gaurantee that Mousasi would be next I think there’s only one best option for him. Considering that he hasn’t taken much punishment recently, I don’t see him wanting to sit and wait, so why not book him against next week’s Brunson/Whittaker winner. It’s not a huge name fight like he might deserve, but it’s a bout with a rising contender that would put him in position for the belt after Jacare, if Rockhold hasn’t returned yet. Gegard Mousasi vs. the Brunson/Whittaker winner.

Uriah Hall:

Kyle - What a puzzling tenure Uriah Hall’s had with the UFC. Running the gamut from über-prospect to fallen star in a span of about four years, Hall more or less seemed to give up once Mousasi took him to the ground in Belfast. You have to assume he’ll get one last opportunity given he did the promotion a solid on short notice, but time is running out for Uriah to take full advantage of his athletic gifts at age 32. It’s do-or- die for “Primetime,” just as it is for the legend who hasn’t recorded an official victory since 2012. It’s time to rebook Uriah Hall vs. Anderson Silva.

Zane - Hall/Silva definitely has a certain narrative sense to it. Coming off TUF, there was a distinct feeling among fans - and perhaps UFC brass - that Hall would be the man to beat the man, as it were. That didn’t pan out, but then things haven’t exactly gone Silva’s way either lately. Still, I’m not really sure I need to see Silva fight anyone off the legends circuit. Instead, I offer the funky potential ultra-violence that is Uriah Hall vs. Hector Lombard. 1-round annihilation? 3-round staring contest? Who knows, but I want to see it. Uriah Hall vs. Hector Lombard is the fight to book.

Kyoji Horiguchi:

Kyle - Horiguchi pitched a shutout against Ali Bagautinov, and did it in a way contrary to his usual in-and- out striking style. While the hallmarks of his game were still there, it was Kyoji’s wrestling and clinch work that set it all up, as he really seemed to confound the Russian in a manner that freed up his boxing against the aptly nicknamed “Puncher.” It’s that kind of evolution we expected to see from the Japanese fighter following his move to American Top Team, and the changes bode well for his earning a rematch with pound-for- pound king Demetrious Johnson. I think he’s just one fight away from realizing it, so let’s see if he has what it takes to beat a true top contender. Kyoji Horiguchi vs. The Benavidez/Cejudo Winner.

Zane - The thing about a fight between Horiguchi and the Cejudo/Benavidez winner to fight DJ for the belt again is that it’s a three person runoff of guys that have all already lost definitively to the champ. And yeah, I know there aren’t a ton of other good options, but there is Wilson Reis and Jussier Formiga. Is Horiguchi likely to win both fights? Yes. But, I think slowing the division down and giving the TUF 24 talent injection time to settle in and maybe create a couple more potential ranked fighters is worth more than trying to push for an definitive no. 1 contender that nobody is interested in. To that point, I say go with Horiguchi vs. Formiga. Formiga’s striking has improved, and if Horiguchi can out wrestle/grapple him that’d be damned impressive.

Ali Bagautinov:

Kyle - Tough loss for the Dagestani fighter, but one that shouldn’t knock him too far down the rankings. Good grapplers seem to be his kryptonite, so I’d like to see how he fares against one near the lower end of the top ten. Zach Makovsky and Dustin Ortiz will be battling it out at UFC 206 early next month, so why not one of them? Ali Bagautinov vs. The Makovsky/Ortiz Winner.

Zane - There’s a fight to be made between Ali B. and Ian McCall if the UFC isn’t instantly re-booking McCall vs. Seery. But since I’m not sure exactly what’s going on there, I’d say Bagautinov should fight Wilson Reis. Reis was in spitting distance of his own title shot before fate intervened and he deserves to keep taking on tough, top of the division fighters. Bagautinov isn’t coming off a win, but he’d present a real problem for Reis with his combination of power striking and wrestling. Ali Bagautinov vs. Wilson Reis is my fight.

Kevin Lee:

Kyle - Love him or hate him, “The Motown Phenom” has been making some very good prospects look bad as of late and has a big mouth to boot. Magomed Mustafaev showed his opponent’s striking is still a work in progress, but Lee’s wrestling and top game are enough to overwhelm just about anyone who isn’t ready for it. If he thinks he’s ready to take on more seasoned opposition, then I say give it to him. Kevin Lee vs. Mairbek Taisumov is my pick.

Zane - Kevin Lee is already 7-2 in the UFC??? No really, I’m surprised too. Lee’s been improving rapidly, but it’s time for him to take on another seasoned vet, Leonardo Santos style. Preferably one at the edges of the rankings. Mairbek Taisumov isn’t a bad pick for that role, but given his visa issues, I’m reluctant to think of him as a first choice for booking. I have the same problem with Nik Lentz, who seems to be strangely inactive lately. Would love to see Joe Duffy vs. Lee if the UFC can get Duffy’s contract sorted. So, barring all these things, how about Kevin Lee vs. Diego Sanchez? Grappling and wrestling is still where Sanchez is best and Lee has yet to show dominant striking, so it could be a tough veteran matchup and the kind of name he’s looking for.

UFC Sao Paulo

Ryan Bader:

Kyle - It was more than a bit demoralizing watching Bader maul a shopworn Antônio Rogério Nogueira for the better part of three rounds, but the former TUF winner’s performance serves as testament to his continued relevancy among the Light Heavyweight elite. Now a free agent, Bader’s career could head in a number of directions, but the UFC would be wise to retain him if only to prevent us from having to see a rematch with Phil Davis in Bellator. A title shot could be in order for “Darth” if champion Daniel Cormier gets past Anthony Johnson a second time, but with Jon Jones casting a long shadow over the division, I say sort out the perennial bridesmaids and make Ryan Bader vs. Alexander Gustafsson.

Zane - I’m still not sure why Gustafsson and Bader haven’t fought yet, but that fight makes a ton of sense. And, as Kyle pointed out, there’s every chance that Bader gets the next shot at Cormier - if Cormier beat Johnson again. Assuming Cormier does, then Cormier vs. Bader is the fight to book. If Cormier doesn’t win however, then things get more interesting. For one, Gus is injured right now. If Bader doesn’t want to just sit and wait, that just leaves one fight, Ryan Bader vs. Jimi Manuwa.

Thomas Almeida:

Kyle - Almeida got an easy rebound coming off his first loss, and while the Brazilian handled it capably enough, he still struggled in the first round against Albert Morales. Part of that can be attributed to Morales over-performing, but Almeida’s porous defense and tendency to start slow could really limit his ceiling in the Bantamweight division. Nevertheless, “Thominhas” is an absolute harbinger of violence and the 25-year-old’s striking attack remains one of the most vicious in all of MMA. He’s a high-caliber action fighter that deserves to be matched appropriately. Give me blood, guts and Thomas Almeida vs. Michael McDonald.

Zane - The nice thing about a Michael McDonald vs. Thomas Almeida fight is that both guys have lots of violence potential and lots of holes in their games. Of course there is that whole win/loss problem, but McDonald is still ranked ahead of Almeida and generally has better wins. The other option that presents itself is Johnny Eduardo, for an all-Brazil Muay Thai matchup, but I’m liking this McDonald/Almeida idea a lot. Michael McDonald vs. Thomas Almeida is a great fight.

Claudia Gadelha:

Kyle - Questions abound whenever a top fighter leaves a camp like Nova União, but Gadelha looked just fine in taking a lopsided unanimous decision victory over Cortney Casey (illegal kick aside). “Claudinha” seems set to muscle her way through the rest of the Strawweight division as long as Joanna Jędrzejczyk reigns supreme, so it may behoove Sean Shelby to keep her away from any prospective title challengers. In fact, she’s been calling out former champion Carla Esparza of late, which more than works for me. Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza.

Zane - The nice thing about a matchup with Esparza is that it might force Gadelha to rely more on her striking, which is still the weakest part of her game. Of course, the fight I really want to see is Gadelha vs. Kowalkiewicz, but Kowalkiewicz might need to get a win for that one to happen. There’s a bout with maryna Moroz that could be booked as well, but I can’t really argue that that’s a better fight than Esparza at all. There just aren’t enough fighters rising fast enough to keep both Joanna and Claudia fed, so Carla Esparza it is. Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza.

Krzysztof Jotko:

Kyle - In what was probably my favorite performance of the weekend, Jotko positively trashed Thales Leites en route to a unanimous decision, and now looks to be a serious dark horse contender in the Middleweight division. I had picked Jotko to win thinking he could work a distance striking game against the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but he instead took it to Leites where the former title challenger should’ve been most comfortable. The image of the Pole dropping strikes on a helpless Leites from the crucifix in round three was something to behold, and I for one am excited to see where he goes next. A top-ten opponent seems likely, so how about Krzysztof Jotko vs. The Whittaker/Brunson Loser?

Zane - Jotko just made a huge statement with his win over Thales Leites and vaulted himself up the middleweight rankings. He could take on the loser of Whittaker Brunson, but there’s one great fight sitting right there waiting for him that promises to be a really fun, meaningful matchup... Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum has been banished to the land purgatory of 185 after missing the WW limit one too many times but he’s going to be a ranked fighter there almost by default. With Jotko showing that he has the wrestling and grappling to hang with the elite, why not give him a chance to show it off a top athlete with something to prove. Krzysztof Jotko vs. Kelvin Gastelum. Book it.

Other Bouts: Ray vs. Prazeres, Pearson vs. Lauzon, Volkov vs. Tybura, Johnson vs. Omielanczuk, Lobov vs. Benitez, Ishihara vs. Bochniak, Marshman vs. Dongi, Cedenblad vs. Miranda, Mustafaev vs. Tae Hyn, Cooper vs. Taylor/Hamm winner, Elmose vs. Jones-Lybarger, Ledet vs. Milstead, Godbeer vs. Sherman, Cummings vs. Moraes, Yakovlev vs. Nakamura, Reneau vs. Correia, Dudieva vs. Faszholz, Johns vs. Stasiak, Kwan Ho vs. Gomez, Alhassan vs. Griffin, Ward vs. Chagas, Lil’ Nog vs. Herman, Morales vs. R. Vieira, Casey vs. Penne, Leites vs. Natal, Usman vs. Ponzinibbio, Alves vs. Steele, Ottow vs. Roberts, Ferreira vs. Tavares, Hermansson vs. Nicholson, Antigulov vs. Bosse, de Lima vs. Barroso, Eudardo vs. Dodson, Colobmo vs. de la Rocha, Munhoz vs. Soto, Scoggins vs. Arantes, Stewart vs. Spicely