I love the smell of fresh fights in the morning. We've just been through 6ish hours of UFC action and now it's time to examine the fallout for the best potential fantasy fight bookings. And maybe if I do a super super good job, I'll be invited to the next Silva/Shelby afternoon tea.
In hopes of receiving my invite, I'm following the Joe Silva, Sean Shelby method to the best of my abilities. No, that doesn't mean that I'll be sitting the women fighters for 8 months, but I will be matching winners vs. winners, losers vs. losers and similarly tenured talents against one another. Hopefully this creates the closest possible view of what the future will hold for each competitor from UFC on Fox 20. On that note...
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO: If Ronda Rousey's return isn't right around the corner, then Shevchenko vs. Nunes probably makes the most sense as Nunes' first title fight. If the Rousey fight is happening soon (and I kind of assume it will be) then the fight to make is Julianna Pena. The winner of a fight between Pena and Shevchenko would undeniably be the next top contender in the division. So, assuming Rousey vs. Nunes is on tap, then Shevchenko vs. Pena is the fight to book.
HOLLY HOLM: Normally when a top contender like Holm has her back against the wall with two straight losses, I shy away from putting her in a 3rd huge fight that she could easily lose. I tend to shoot for something more like Holm v.s McMann or Holm vs. Carmouche. Fights that she could lose, but should be able to win. However, I really don't think the UFC cares about keeping Holm around as a big draw for a number of *cough-Rousey-cough* *cough-Fresquez-cough* reasons. As that's the case, the next fight for Holm couldn't be simpler. Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate 2. It was close the first time, Holm could certainly beat Tate in a rematch, and it's one of the few non-title fights that could add value to a card in that division right now. Book it.
EDSON BARBOZA: What to do with Edson Barboza... Is he a potential title challenger? Definitely. Are there two other potential title challengers ahead of him in line in that division? Yes. If for some reason Ferguson and Khabib can't fight Alvarez (or one another) I'd love to see Barboza vs. Alvarez or Barboza vs. Nurmagomedov. The point where things get really hairy is if Nurmagomedov fights Alvarez next, because Barboza already lost to Ferguson. If that happens, then I say book Edson Barboza vs. Michael Chiesa. It's a step back, but it keeps Barboza busy, and Chiesa always has a shot.
GILBERT MELENDEZ: Say what you will about Melendez's loss, but it still showed to me that he's clearly a top 10ish fighter. Barboza chewed up his leg, but in all other areas, the fight was pretty even and Melendez hurt him a couple times. That being the case, he should probably fight RDA right now. I realize it's a tough fight and could put Melendez on one hell of a skid, but he's a longtime veteran talent whose value is really only in big fights right now. It doesn't make much sense to have him fighting someone like Rashid Magomedov or Beneil Dariush. Otherwise he could wait for the loser of Poirier vs. Johnson or Iaquinta vs. Alves and fight that guy. But Melendez vs. RDA is as good as it gets right now.
FRANCIS NGANNOU: There's a chance the UFC just decides that they're tired of developing their heavyweight talents and has Ngannou fight Ruslan Magomedov in a "halt one dude's momentum" match. However, I'd much prefer to see him take on Timothy Johnson or perhaps Daniel Omielanczuk. Big, tough guys that have been winning, but don't quite have the feel of a potential top fighter down the line. Johnson especially feels like the right fight, because he's tough as hell, but lacks a lot of the technical striking tools to really compete with Ngannou at range. Francis Ngannou vs. Timothy Johnson is my pick.
FELICE HERRIG: Herrig did well to reassert her place as a potential top 10-15 gatekeeper in this bout. You really have to be better than average to get by her. With that in mind Randa Markos is coming off a win and really needs to earn her spot in the top 15. She's gone win loss win loss over the past few years and Herrig would be a great test to see if Markos is finding more of the technical tools to supplement her physical gifts. If not, she'll pick up another loss and go back to the drawing board. If so, then it'll show real improvement. Randa Markos vs. Felice Herrig is the fight to book.
EDDIE WINELAND: I'm a little shocked to be looking at Wineland as a top 15 fighter in need of a next fight after this weekend. I really thought this would be his swan song from the elite. But it wasn't. As such there's a question to ask, do you keep him only in action fights with other vets? In which case Iuri Alcantara is out there and would be great (even if Alcantara is off a loss). Or do you put him in with a mid-card action fighter making a run? That'd make Felipe Arantes a great fight. Or, do you see if he can keep the gates against a rising prospect? In that case, I'd say Pedro Munhoz. Of all of those, I think the mid-card actioner is the best way to go. Eddie Wineland vs. Felipe Arantes.
FRANKIE SAENZ: That's one hell of a setback for Saenz who, while not so deep into his career, is on the wrong side of the aging curve. He's going to have to bounce back in a hurry to keep from sinking back out of the pack at 135. To that end, he should fight Johnny Eduardo. Eduardo will ask some of the same striking questions as Wineland, but with less slick foot-movement and takedown defense. If Saenz gets a win there, he's climbing right back up the ranks, if he can't then maybe he's just hit a wall at the edges of the top 15. Saenz vs. Eduardo is the fight to make.
DARREN ELKINS: Elkins may never be the darling of casual fight fans, but he's an undeniable gatekeeping force at the edges of the top 10 at featherweight. He's just too tough, to energetic, and too aggressive to be passed by anyone but the best/most put together fighters. Because I think he's earned a notoriety boost, an a reprieve from fighting the most dangerous unknown dudes on the roster, I think this would be a great time to book him against Gray Maynard. It's a fight he probably should win, but Maynard looked much better last time out. Otherwise, it's time for Brian Ortega to get another tough test, and Elkins would be the way to do it. Still I'll say Elkins vs. Maynard first and foremost.
OTHER BOUTS: Mihajlovic vs. Asker, Curran vs. Jones-Lybarger, Pepey vs. Jury, Usman vs. Nakamura, Yakovlev vs. W. Alves, Prazeres vs. Aubin-Mercier, Cottrell vs. Trator, Oliveira vs. LaFlare, Moontasri vs. Thatch, Knight vs. Rivas, Alers vs. Hirota, Henrique vs. Abdurahimov, Smoliakov vs. East