The UFC’s card in Shanghai went off just about exactly as advertised. Which meant it was reasonably fast moving, had some fun (if not necessarily high level) fights on the undercard, and really didn’t mean much to anyone but the most hardcore of hardcore fans. Zabit Magomedsharipov continues to look like the best featherweight prospect in the world, Kelvin Gastelum continues to be a dangerous fighter at 185 lbs, and Michael Bisping’s slide from champion to retirement is happening in a hurry.
To sort out the next steps for each fighter, I’m employing the classic Silva/Shelby methodology of fight booking. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you want to take your own crack at some fantasy fight booking, leave a comment below starting with, “Obviously, this is a China power.” I’ll pick one response to join me next week for a double-header article.
Joining me this week is BE reader Norm DePlume.
Norm DePlume here, grateful to Zane Simon for a second opportunity to subject an innocent audience to my nonsensical ramblings. Disclaimer: I am a troublingly unreliable narrator.
I see significant parallels between the recently-deposed and battered Michael Bisping, and former University of Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang. Though it might seem like comparing shepherds’ pie and pineapples, there are a number of intriguing similarities to be considered. Michael Bisping holds the UFC record for strikes landed (1928), while he recently earned the dubious distinction of being on the receiving end of the most knockdowns suffered (12). Timmy Chang broke and temporarily held the record for NCAA passing yards (17,072), while holding the hardly sought after career interceptions jackass trophy (80 goddamn picks). Just making it to the NFL is an astounding feat (Timmy managed to hang around the sidelines for a bit), and I’m actually going to hold it up to the same level of prestige as Bisping lifting the title like a thief in the night and consequently leading fans on a controversial run of undeniable entertainment. This, of course culminated with Bisping losing to GSP in an epic battle, and now, more sadly, getting KTFO, less unexpectedly, by a young, stride-hitting Kelvin Gastelum.
Jared - Gastelum’s striking, wrestling, general physicality and surprising athleticism have all been on prominent display lately. The weight issue is still a head-scratcher, so let’s match him up again quickly before he gets fatter, perhaps against someone else fans would hate to see grow stagnant. Kelvin Gastelum vs Yoel Romero… with GSP holding the belt, only Dana White, and possibly trickster Loki, know what kind of bonkers path the middleweight division will walk. Bobby Knuckles (best nickname in the game) might be best advised to sit out and surmise the landscape, at least for now. In the meantime, Yoel is not a young fighter and needs to line up significant matchups ASAP, and he’s a perfect athletically-blessed beast of a test for a surging fighter some mean parent named Kelvin.
Zane - With Derek Brunson reportedly getting a fight with Jacare in the near future, there really is only one fight that makes good sense for Kelvin Gastelum. That’s Luke Rockhold. The question is, while it makes sense for Gastelum to push for that fight to get made, is it the kind of fight that Gastelum takes. This big win over Bisping likely puts him in line for another top middleweight, but if GSP doesn’t fight Whittaker, Rockhold could easily be next in line. My hope is that Gastelum vs. Rockhold gets booked, and the winner of that is lined up for the next title shot at 185, against whoever holds the belt.
Jared - Michael Bisping vs Anderson Silva is the fight to book, I sh-t you…not. Ok, ok, hear me out. The time has arrived for Michael Bisping to begin event-planning for his grand retirement spectacle. He does not need to fight anytime soon, so what better way to ride out the time, than to antagonize (over the next full year or however long) a USADA-embattled Anderson Silva, a former impossibility of an opponent turned actual opponent. Bisping has famously gone to battle with PEDs throughout his UFC career, figuratively and literally. The buildup would be insane, many people view the first result as controversial, and it’s an amazing potential retirement fight for BOTH legends. And if Andy pisses hot again or gets suspended into retirement, fuck it, there’s always aging caveman Dan Henderson to pull out of the rafters and dust off for a day at the circus. Rubber match/double retirement either way.
Zane - If he’s only got one fight left in his MMA career, it should be a good one. It feels a bit like the UFC has wasted Vitor Belfort on a bout with Uriah Hall, because a rematch between Belfort and Bisping feels like just the kind of moment for the ‘Count’ to ride off on. Maybe, win or lose, Belfort will be ready to go again by then and the UFC can book it anyway. If not, though, then Michael Bisping vs. Lyoto Machida seems like the only other suitable name fight the UFC could make right now. Machida doesn’t look much like the former world champion and title contender any more, but after two straight stoppage losses, there’s no guarantees Bisping will either. Michael Bisping vs. Lyoto Machida it is.
Jared - Li Jingliang hit a homerun (a face homerun!) in front of a ferocious crowd, proud to support their countryman. He showed killer instinct in fighting for the finish, and it was a great moment overall. He’s shown a susceptibility to submission losses in the past, so let’s see if his 4-fight win streak has given him more skill and confidence in shoring up that deficiency. Li Jingliang vs Erick Silva is the jawn. It would be intriguing as hell, despite the win-loss matchup(again, sorry). Erick Silva is great at functioning as either a heat checker or a light sleeper, either way he makes for an exciting gatekeeper.
Zane - Gotta love what the ‘Leech’ is doing these days. He’s really completed the transformation from clinging grappler to crafty boxer and top level UFC action fighter. It remains to be seen whether he can go further and make himself a top 10 mainstay, but he’s got the personality and fighting style that makes it clear he should be with the promotion for a long time to come. To that end, the UFC should book him against someone who has slowly gone in the other direction. Leon Edwards started out as a power punching kickboxer and has been molding his game into a technical wrestle-grappling attack. Time to see whose transformation is more complete. Li Jingliang vs. Leon Edwards.
Jared - Alex Garcia vs Alex Oliveira is a fight that doesn’t make too much sense, but I typed it, and I’m not taking it back. It’s a lazy, nonsensical battle of the Alex’s, a few steps below a squash match for the spicier “Cowboy.” Not everything in this world needs to make sense, boys and girls. Consider this: Launchpad McQuack is a duck, but he flies a plane? Ducks can f-ing fly, man, so why fly in a plane? I don’t know, but I’d like to see Oliveira cement his surging status with another nice KO win, and we gotta feed somebody to somebody else, now and again.
Zane - Garcia had to plan around his opponent if he wanted to get a win this time out, and to his credit he did just that. Garcia stuck to a pressure wrestling attack, keeping his time standing as free of danger as possible. Now he just needs to start building some momentum. Peter Sobotta is another crafty veteran who has molded himself into a much more dangerous fighter in his second UFC stint, and bouts against Elizeu Zaleski and Jake Matthews would also be strong choices. I like the Sobotta fight though, as I think it’s a good test of Sobotta’s craft against Garcia’s power game. Alex Garcia vs. Peter Sobotta.
Jared - Zabit Magomedsharipov is a tall featherweight with a long name. Zabit has lanky, swinging, primate-style arms, great for catching kicks, dictating range, and transforming into coils to secure nasty suplexes. This dude has officially burst onto the 145 lbs scene. I’d like to see Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Andre Touchy Fili, if not for the actual fight, but because Fili is the only top-20 featherweight not coming off a loss or already booked. Fili is still enough of a “name,” from his Alpha Male associations, bolstered by a decent showing against Mystic Mac Minion Artem Lobov. I think Zabit pieces him up and suplexes him like Mayor Haggar in what could prove to be a squash match, to be honest, but it’s a necessary path to getting ranked.
Zane - He asked for Yair Rodriguez and he’s definitely ready for that fight. But, it feels like kind of a waste of two dynamic, fascinating future stars fairly early on in their time as UFC fighters. Especially coming of Rodriguez’s trouncing at the hands of Frankie Edgar. Instead, I think this is the right time to get Magomedsharipov in against an established top level veteran talent. To that end, I’m offering up Jeremy Stephens. ‘Lil’ Heathen’ has been a great sounding board over the years for other young talents looking to establish themselves. His blend of power, toughness, and established name value would be perfect for where Magomedsharipov is right now. Jeremy Stephens vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov.
Jared - Sheymon Moraes came to the UFC highly decorated as a three-time national kickboxing champion, and two-time Muay Thai national champion in his native Brazil, with the only blemish on his record being a loss to the better, non-related Moraes (Marlon). The UFC figured they could throw him to the wolves against another prospect with a much higher ceiling in the Z-man. Sheymon the UFC. Let’s give him a better chance to showcase his skills. Sheymon Moraes vs. Chas Skelly.
Zane - The UFC is giving Sheymon the Marlon Moraes treatment and should probably consider slowing their roll a step instead. Moraes is a very good power kickboxer and an exciting, well-trained fighter. Let him find a footing in a new organization after a one-sided, slightly humiliating loss. Bouts against Mike Santiago or Kurt Holobaugh would both be good next steps. Two established veterans who have been a step below the elite for most of their careers. The other option would be Gavin Tucker, which would just be all the kicks all the time. I like the common opponent approach however, so I’m saying Sheymon Moraes vs. Mike Santiago.
Jared - 19-year-old Yadong Song’s badass victory was a potentially huge asset to the UFC in expanding their Chinese market. Song vs Tom Duquesnoy works, as Duquesnoy entered the UFC with considerable hype, but dropped his second match to Cody Stamann. It would be a battle of a formerly-hyped but now tempered B/C-league champion, versus a young prospect with potential for a star-making turn, if he performs. I figured Thomas Almeida was too much, too soon for Song, so Duquesnoy it is, despite the win-loss matchup, but that’s how Norm DePlume rolls.
Zane - He’s officially announced himself to the UFC by waxing Bharat Khandare (yes, like a candle). Now it’s time to see if he’s actually prepared for the bottom end of UFC competition. Which is to say that he should be matched up with a promising American newcomer from a recognizable camp with a little bit of prospect pop to his name. Xtreme Couture fighter Boston Salmon seems to fit that bill nicely. Salmon was supposed to fight Augusto Mendes and then Raoni Barcelos before picking up an injury. Knowing how often the UFC likes to match up international talent like Yadong, that should put his recovery right on schedule for the next time the UFC goes to chine. Yadong Song vs. Boston Salmon.
Jared - Chase Sherman was a college football player; when it comes to heavyweights, give me a former college wrestler over a former football player any day. The wrestler might end up boring, but he’s more inclined to actually win. Hmm, on second thought, give me football players, because the more dudes getting slept in low-end heavyweight fights, the better. How about a former professional rugby player? Shamil Abdurakhimov vs Tai Tuivasa is a choice matchup. Both behemoths are coming off KO wins, and though Tuivasa should be a decent favorite, another heavy-handed slugfest ending in devastation is great for fans and fighter brands alike. Tai Tuivasa had signed with professional rugby team the Sydney Roosters, but had to quit after developing a bad gambling addiction. For his matchup with Abdurakhimov, bet on excitement!
Zane - Shamil Abdurakhimov is in an odd place at heavyweight. He’s experienced enough to no longer be a ‘new face,’ but hasn’t been a consistent enough performer to either get much fan attention or grab himself a spot in the rankings. And that basically means he needs to get the toughest unranked opponent the UFC can give him. Put together another win or two and Abdurakhimov can start looking at guys in the top 15, in the meantime, he can fight Justin Ledet. Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Justin Ledet.
OTHER BOUTS: Ottow vs. Price, Wang vs. Bandenay, Caceres vs. Arantes, Salikhov vs. Jumeau, Kenan vs. Anzai, Nash vs. B. Camozzi, Xiaonan vs. Kassem, Kandare vs. Pingyuan, Sherman vs. Henrique, Mazany vs. Ladd, Yanan vs. Lemos, Dy vs. Rosa, Wuliji vs. Young, Asker vs. Golm, Yaozong vs. Coulter