With how much there’s been to write about on Fights to Make lately, it’s a little odd to have a card as low key as UFC Melbourne was. Even going in, there wasn’t that much notable talent to highlight - and a lot of what there was ended up losing. So this week I’m digging a little deeper to highlight the fighters of UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Brunson.
As has become the way lately, I’ll be joined by a guest fantasy matchmaker. This week it’s BE community member Mburtoni. If you want to take a crack at matching next week’s card, start a comment below with “I do, I do let you bang, man.” After that you can write whatever you like (including nothing), but that’s how it has to start to be considered. I’ll pick one winner and fill them in on the details. On that note, lets get to the fights!
Mburtoni - Whittaker impressed in his first headlining spot, patiently waiting out Brunson’s overly aggressive approach to get a late first round TKO. The obvious next opponent for Whittaker is Gegard Mousasi, as both are closing in on the top of the division and came out of their recent victories relatively unscathed. Few other fights make sense for Whittaker right now from a win / loss perspective. The only other good option for him would be a fight with Jacare if he wants to stay busy while waiting for the outcome of Bisping / Romero.
Zane - Mburtoni has the right of it here. Mousasi and Jacare are the best/most obvious options. And between them, Mousasi makes a lot lot more sense. Mousasi seems like he’d be more likely to take the fight, as he’s talked about himself as needing more wins to get a title shot. Whereas Jacare seems to be in more of a ‘top contender or bust’ situation. The winner of Jacare vs. Whittaker could be considered a top contender, but frankly, given that Rockhold is injured and Weidman lost, Jacare is already the top potential contender for the Bisping/Romero winner. Doubly so given his history if Romero wins. So, lets make Mousasi/Whittaker right now, and let Jacare wait for Bisping/Romero or for Rockhold to come back.
Mburtoni - This was a significant setback for Brunson, who appeared a bit too eager to record his 5th straight KO victory and wound up paying for it dearly. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options for him to rebound against at middleweight. He could get big fights with Chris Weidman or Vitor Belfort next, as both are coming off stoppage losses and will have a lot to prove going forward. If the UFC wants to give a him a lower profile fight, a bout with Rafael Natal would be logical.
Zane - Brunson’s in a bit of spot here, in that he has never been able to gain the notoriety of a top prospective up-and-comer, even while carving out a win streak. Fights like Belfort or Weidman, while sensible given their recent losing ways, may still be beyond his reach as a lesser star at the top of 185. But at the same time, fighters like Tim Boetsch, Rafael Natal, and Thales Leites feel like a big step back. If Kelvin Gastelum loses to Tim Kennedy, then Gastelum vs. Brunson is a great fight to make. Otherwise, I’m pushing for the Weidman booking. After two bad losses, Weidman needs to bounce back and, if Brunson upset him, it would give him some of the interest he currently lacks.
Mburtoni - Holbrook recorded a quality if unspectacular win over Jake Matthews. There’s just so much depth at lightweight right now that fighters have to really make themselves stand out if they want to gain any traction in the division. Fights with Michel Prazeres or Nick Hein would make sense.
Zane - Even with a win over Jake Matthews, Andrew Holbrook has too much to prove for me to see him as someone that should be run toward the top of the division. Nick Hein isn’t a bad call on that count, since Hein has also been winning the kinds of fights that show consistency without necessarily a push toward contention. But I’m going to push for a skill vs. skill fight against Alan Patrick. Put two big athletic grapplers in against each other and see who cans shine. If not that, then how about Stevie Ray, fresh off his own big-but-unspectacular winning performance?
Mburtoni - Pedro survived an early knockdown to come back and submit Khalil Rountree with a rear naked choke in the 1st round. The UFC badly needs to develop talent at light heavyweight, so it will be interesting to see who they match him up with next. I’d like to see him face Darren Stewart, who will likely be eager to return to action after his recent first round victory over Francimar Barroso was overturned.
Zane - Stewart would be a fun quick prospect fight to make, but I’d actually be a little surprised if Stewart came back to the light heavyweight division. He’s dramatically undersized there and doesn’t cut much weight. His next fight may be at middleweight. Pedro could get bumped up the division to take on a banger like Steve Bosse, or even big grinder Barroso fresh of his no contest, but I think the UFC should slow play Pedro and give him the winner of Christensen vs. Mihajlovic next. Not a thriller, but good 205 prospects are a rarity.
Mburtoni - The 39 year old Olympic Judoka continued his surprising run of success against mid tier UFC middleweight competition, battering the durable Chris Camozzi to a bloody unanimous decision win. If Kelly wants to make a serious run and not just stick to fighting the middle of the pack on hometown cards until father time catches up with him, he likely has to do it sooner rather than later. A fight with the recently victorious Tim Boetsch would be intriguing. If fighting someone in the top 15 is too much too soon, fights with Elias Theodorou or Cezar Ferreira would be appropriate.
Zane - Honestly, the guys ahead of Daniel Kelly that make sense for him to fight right now are an exceptionally short list. The only three that really stand out are Tim Boetsch, Brad Tavares, and Cezar Ferreira. I say it’s time to see if American Redneck Judo stands up to Aussie Redneck Judo. Put the dad-bod title on the line. Dan Kelly vs. Tim Boetsch is the only MW fight worth making right now.
Mburtoni - Nguyen rebounded nicely from a tough TKO loss to Louis Smolka with a decision win against Geane Herrera. It was not, however, the kind of one-sided performance that would indicate Nguyen is now ready for a big step up in competition, as the aforementioned loss to Smolka this past July was a significant setback that revealed some limitations. If Brandon Moreno defeats Ryan Benoit at the TUF 24 finale, a matchup with Nguyen would be a good test for both men. If not matched against Moreno, Nguyen could be an interesting final opponent for Neil Seery if he isn’t rebooked against Ian McCall.
Zane - Because of his combination of athleticism, power, and experience, Ben Nguyen is creeping into the top 15 at flyweight (as opposed to the bottom 10). Unfortunately for him, the other ranked fighters around him are pretty booked up. He could wait for John Moraga to come back from injury or hope that Matheus Nicolau comes back from suspension soon. Assuming they re-book McCall/Seery (if they don’t, that’s a great option, honestly), then Nguyen has to hope for a Brandon Moreno or Ray Borg win. Eventually though, because there are just too many unknowns out there, I’m going to say that Nguyen should get the winner of Ortiz vs. Makovsky. It’s a jump up for him, but it’d be a fun action fight and those guys are gonna have to fight someone.
Other Bouts: Matthews vs. Wade, Akhemedov vs. Carneiro, Volkanovski vs. Gillespie, Rountree vs. Wilson, Taylor vs. Cooper, Seohee vs. Chambers, Camozzi vs. T. Santos, Brown vs. Bravo, Meunier vs. Till, Herrera vs. Delos Reyes, Knight vs. Moicano, Hooker vs. De La Torre, Vera vs. White, Lausa vs. Sangcha-an