The UFC’s doubleheader weekend of MMA events could not have gone much better for the promotion. A TUF card loaded with relatively inexperienced talent resulted in a night of fast finishes and scrappy brawls. And the stacked UFC 218 PPV event felt every bit like a stacked PPV should. Max Holloway put the stamp on the changing of the guard with his second win over Jose Aldo. Francis Ngannou made it clear that he is the only heavyweight title contender. And fans got treated to two ‘Fight of the Year’ candidates.
So now what?
To navigate the plethora of post-fight options, I’ll be calling on the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at steering the hypothetical UFC ship, leave a comment below starting with, “Excuse me for my words, but I just want to say, f— slavery, f— racism.” I’ll choose one response to join me for next week’s card.
This week’s winner BE reader Daniel Vreeland:
Daniel Vreeland has been following MMA since he was in high school and is a jiu jitsu purple belt. He writes for a variety of sites and hosts the Top Turtle MMA Podcast featured on FloCombat. You can check him out and all of his work at @GumbyVreeland on Twitter.
TUF 26 Finale
Daniel - Coming off the decision win over Roxanne Modafferi, Montano should defend her new belt against Valentina Shevchenko. While I know she hasn't fought at flyweight, she teased the switch for long enough now. And although there are plenty of women who put together good performances on this card, I think Shevchenko's recent performances outweigh any of theirs when it comes to deserving a title shot.
Zane - As long as she’s moving down, Shevchenko is THE deserving flyweight title challenger. However, making that bout, right now, feels like a devastating misuse of a whole season of the Ultimate Fighter and Montano’s career. She doesn’t look nearly ready for that fight. Will winning one more bout make her more ready? I doubt it. But I’d still say the UFC would do well to match Shevchenko up with someone else, let her get a win and get crowned the top contender in a new division. In the meantime? Match Montano against the VanZant/Clark winner. It feels wrong to slow-play a champion, but its a fight Montano could potentially win and at least get herself a little bit established before she becomes “That woman who held the UFC flyweight belt for a few minutes.”
Daniel - Its difficult to see an MMA OG miss out on a title like that when it might be one of her last chances. Roxanne is 35 and has been fighting forever, so she needs something that can get her right back into the mix here. I think the best possible option to do that is a showdown with Barb Honchak. It's the matchup we wanted on the show, she's a legit contender, plus it satisfies the UFC's affinity for matching people coming off of losses together.
Zane - Plenty of options for Modafferi out there right now, including a rematch with Honchak if the UFC wants to go that route. It’s probably one of the better potential fights they could book, as recognizable vets who actually have a competitive history (Honchak won). The other good option I see would be a fight with Joanne Calderwood when Calderwood is healthy again. But the Honchak fight should be option A.
Daniel - Lauren instantly started talking title shot. I loved that reaction from someone who has always seemed to have it and has had some rough luck with the judges. I say give her Sijara Eubanks if she can work out her weight issues. She'd be a sturdy test of Murphy's grappling skills and give Eubanks a chance to prove she can make weight before sticking her in another title shot.
Zane - Whether the judges got it right or not, Murphy put together one of the best, most dedicated performances of her UFC career against Honchak. A fight with Eubanks isn’t a terrible idea, and could help Murphy’s title shot hopes or re-establish Eubanks’. I’d also like to see her fight Mara Romero Borella if Borella beats Chookagian. Eventually though, I say book Murphy against Andrea Lee, when she’s available to fight. Lee’s got some hype Murphy could really build off with a win. And likewise it’d be a great way to reintroduce Lee to the division.
Daniel - The Pikey continues to look more and more impressive every time out. I think it's time to step him up in a big way. Pedro Munhoz is a guy who would provide a steep step up in competition and would show if those grappling chops were a fluke against Soto or if they're for real. Submitting Soto is already damn impressive, doing the same back-to-back against Munhoz would announce his arrival as a contender.
Zane - I do really like the idea of a fight with Pedro Munhoz... someday, but I feel a bit like Munhoz has earned a shot at more established names after his 4-straight wins (3 by submission). Instead, book Johns against Cody Stamann, with Stamann coming off his win over uber-prospect Duquesnoy. A win for either man there would have them looking at ranked competition next.
OTHER BOUTS: O’Malley vs. Lopez/Morales winner, Ware vs. Zahabi, Meerschaert vs. Roberson, Spicely vs. Stewart, Bennett vs. Stevenson, Fabian vs. Dobson, Soto vs. Vera, De La Rosa vs. Robertson, Marks vs. Whitmire, Janes vs. Piechota, Sanchez vs. Marshman, Ostovich vs. Cachoeira, Gevorgyan vs. Beck
Daniel - I think it's tough to find a contender for this guy right now if Frankie Edgar doesn't come back. Nobody has really done enough to deserve a chance at him, especially seeing as how he disposed of Aldo in two straight fights. So I guess the only answer here is Frankie Edgar vs Max Holloway in the match that should've happened this weekend anyways.
Zane - I want to see Holloway against Edgar, and my bet is that Edgar gets healed up quickly enough to make it happen. Otherwise it’s the winner of Swanson vs. Ortega. That’s the top ranked bout that holds the most fan interest and cache and is at the right point in the schedule to make for easy matchmaking down the line. Edgar gets priority, but if he’s not ready in time the Swanson/Ortega winner should have it.
Daniel - What can you say about a guy that is unquestionably the best that isn't named Max? He's in the weirdest spot in MMA right now. He's long talked about a move to lightweight. I think that's the move we're going to see, whether it's a good idea or not. And given that choice, let's see how he can hang with Kevin Lee. Both would be coming off high profile losses and the fight would for sure sell.
Zane - I don’t think that Aldo’s talk of lightweight has ever been more than another way to “F-— the gravedigger’s ass,” as he so quaintly puts it. Which is more to say, I think he was just messing with people. Eventually, I think it’s hard for Aldo to envision himself outside of featherweight or outside of being champion (or at least the top contender). A fight with Cub Swanson (whether Swanson wins or loses to Ortega) is one of the best fights the UFC could book for him. And if Aldo is hungry to get back in the cage he may take it. The other clear fight to book is Jose Aldo vs. Gilbert Melendez. Melendez isn’t a ranked featherweight, but the former Strikeforce champ still has something left and it’d feel like a big fight. Still, Aldo vs. Swanson is front of the line, no matter how Swanson does against Ortega.
Daniel - If you think there's any fight for him other than Stipe Miocic, then you are certainly crazy. Not only did Dana say the winner would get the title shot, but Ngannou made it a no doubter with that insane KO.
Zane - UFC says he’s getting a title shot against Miocic and I’ll be damned if I want to see anything other than that. Francis Ngannou vs. Stipe Miocic is THE fight right now.
Daniel - Overeem finds himself in a weird spot too. He seems to have fought almost all of the top contenders. There seems to be nothing fresh for him out there. Given that Ngannou is now getting the title shot, why not book him with supposed title challenger Cain Velasquez? It's pretty much the only name left for him in that division that he hasn't fought, plus Cain's injury time gives him time to recover.
Zane - This is the point where I get to be mad that Josh Barnett is riding out a USADA suspension (one which we still don’t have any details for it seems). Somehow, Overeem and Barnett have never fought and this would be a great time for it. That being the case – and with wins over JDS, Arlovski, Werdum, and Hunt already to his name – Velasquez is absolutely one of the best options. I still want him to fight Derrick Lewis, for the weird chaos of it, but Lewis is booked now. So yeah, Overeem vs. Velasquez it is.
Daniel - If Joseph Benavidez is available, I think a rematch with him makes sense. It's been over a year and if Mighty Mouse is tied up with TJ, he's going to need a fight. Benavidez is the only one that make sense. That being said, I think he deserves a shot at the strap again if we're looking to book a pure flyweight fight.
Zane - Last I saw Benavidez was out for a while due to injury, and as controversial as that win was for him, I don’t think playing it back so soon is really necessary. Instead, Cejudo needs to get another chance to put a stamp on someone. To that end, I’d be fine with a bout against a recently resurgent John Moraga. Otherwise, if Cejudo is happy to wait around, or if Johnson won’t fight Dillashaw, then Cejudo has the only real claim to the next title shot at flyweight.
Daniel - It's a shame that Ray Borg was just booked with Brandon Moreno. Pettis and Brog would have made for can't miss TV. But since he's out of the picture (as is Ben Nguyen), I like Wilson Reis here. He lost to Cejudo as well and both need a rebound fight.
Zane - If Pettis wants to get back in the cage ASAP, it sounds like Tim Elliott just lost an opponent. That probably won’t happen though. Reis makes for a good fight if he’s recovered from the shellacking Cejudo put on him anytime soon. But I’m going to say Pettis should get the loser of Formiga vs. Nguyen. That seems like a setup for a bout between hungrier competitors, looking for ways to get to the belt.
Daniel - Wow, what a performance by Alvarez. The dude slugged with the best out there and not only stayed standing, but put away a guy with an amazing chin. I say give him the winner of Khabib and Barboza and make it a number one contender fight. He's officially worked his way back into the picture.
Zane - I like all this. But, I really do think Poirier deserves that second look at Alvarez. He was in control of that fight early, before Eddie took over and landed that illegal knee. Since then, both men have gotten impressive, bloody wins. Let them sort out their fight while the title picture remains in its state of infinite limbo. Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier 2.
Daniel - I know Dustin Poirier wanted Alvarez with a win and that fight even makes sense. However, I think Alvarez just launched himself in the title picture with that win. So Poirier can take the consolation prize of Gaethje. And while it might not be what he's looking for, think of how fun it will be for us viewing the fight.
Zane - There are so many violence filled options for Justin Gaethje. He could fight Poirier, or Pettis, or Dunham, or Trinaldo, or Dariush, or Iaquinta, or... Wait, did I just say Justin Gaethje vs. Al Iaquinta? Yeah I like that idea a lot, once Iaquinta is healed up and ready to fight. ‘Ragin’ Al’ vs. ‘The Highlight.’
Daniel - Felder has been knocking on the doorstep of being a legit lightweight. With the win and how he obtained it, I'd say he's pretty legit. Let's pair him with someone else who's desperate to be treated like a real threat, James Vick. The division is too crowded for both to move towards the top, so let's get the answer to who gets the push.
Zane - I get the feeling Vick would not be interested in a Felder fight. His constant call for ranked opponents seems to be reaching a Zenith in the leadup and aftermath of his Duffy win. Pitching him another un-ranked but really dangerous dude may not have much appeal. Lightweight is full of tough, successful fights though, and if Felder is willing, guys like Rustam Khabilov, Michel Prazeres, or even Nik Lentz are going to make for hard bouts. Instead of any of that, I’m going to say, book Paul Felder vs. Mairbek Taisumov. That would be a guaranteed action bout with another lightweight on the cusp or recognition.
OTHER BOUTS: Torres vs. Gadelha, Waterson vs. Esparza/Calvillo loser, C. Oliveira vs. Miller 2, Medeiros vs. Garcia, A. Oliveira vs. Dong Hyun, Teymur vs. Santos, Klose vs. Mustafaev, Herrig vs. Calvillo (w/win over Esparza), Casey vs. Hill, Cooper vs. Albu, Alhassan vs. Homasi, Reyes vs. Collier, Kimball vs. Murzakanov, Willis vs. Asker, Crowder vs. Yaozong