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UFC Pittsburgh: Rockhold vs. Branch - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unashamedly coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest card in Pittsburgh.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Pittsburgh Rockhold vs Branch Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

UFC Pittsburgh was a great night of fights if you were looking for brutal KO’s and big momentum swings. Luke Rockhold battled back from the brink, Anthony Smith made sure Hector Lombard knew who he was, Gregor Gillespie sacrificed brain cells in the name of entertainment, just to name a few. That means there are a lot of fighters coming off big highlights, looking for new fights.

To help them find those fights, I’ll be employing the old-school Silva/Shelby fight booking method. That means matching winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured fighters against one another. If you’d like to join me next time, leave a quote below starting with, “You want me to beat some sense into you? You don’t belong here, you’re gonna get crushed, you better back out. Get out of this thing while you still can, this is my fight.” I’ll pick one winner from the comments below for next week’s card. This week’s winner is BE reader JusDanOlive:

Hey I’m JusDanOlive or Justin (Daniel) Olive. I’m from rural Victoria, Australia, a fan of MMA since 2010 and a rabidly obsessed armchair MMA matchmaker. My strategy is to go to rankingmma.com and get a feel for the entire division of the fighter in question, and assess what the recent histories of all proximally ranked fighters are. Then I just try to pick the best fights with emphasis on moving the division forward and fun stylistic matchups. Thanks to BE and Zane for offering this opportunity to the fans.

LUKE ROCKHOLD

Justin - He makes any and all fighters melt as soon as they’re beneath him and he makes it look easy. Branch’s grappling is some of the most high level in the division and he fell apart completely in Luke’s mount. Luke bizarrely called out Bisping by telling GSP to forfeit, I think? Anyway, there’s a real champion in this division and whether Luke likes it or not that’s where he should be placing his attention. Whittaker vs. Rockhold for the MW Interim Title.

Zane - Rockhold vs. Whittaker is the sensible fight, especially as Bisping vs. GSP is still over a month away, likely putting any future title fight six months out. However, Whittaker has an injury he’s nursing for the rest of the year, and classically Bisping has been a guy who likes to fight all the time. If Bisping wins, he may take that Whittaker fight sooner rather than later. Of course, if he loses, then all bets are off with GSP as MW champ. Assuming Bisping wins and Whittaker sits, I’ll say book Rockhold vs. Weidman II. It’s a fight that should happen again and this is a great time to make it.

DAVE BRANCH

Justin - He did pretty well against the former champ, but nonetheless fell flat in his first headlining fight. He’s turning 36 this month and should probably have a bit of urgency with regards to this second UFC run. As should Romero and Jacare, one of whom I believe he should fight next. Souza is ranked lower at 4 and hasn’t fought since getting starched in April, so make it him. If he loses that, then he can have a dramatic drop in competition, but we may as well give him another crack at proving himself to be a top 5 talent (not that I’m suggesting he definitely is). It’d probably be a pretty ugly fight, but that tends to be the trend in Branch’s career, so let’s get it over with.

Zane - I gotta admit, I love the idea of Branch vs. Jacare, even if Branch the neutralizer is not a fun fighter to watch. It seems like his fight with Rockhold lit a bit of a fire under him, and a bout against Jacare might do the same. Otherwise, bouts against Vitor Belfort or Sam Alvey could also be fine (that Sam Alvey one could be really painful). The Jacare fight seems like the most interesting style clash overall though, so I’d go with that above all else.

MIKE PERRY

Justin - What a vicious clinch KO. I know we’d all like to see Mike ‘The Spider’ Perry vs. Lawler, but I raise you an almost equally violent and far more likely matchup in Perry vs. The Ponz. I hate to see either lose at this point, because I want them to both keep winning in violent fashion, but let the fists fly.

Zane - Alright, Perry vs. Lawler would be fun, Perry vs. Ponzinibbio would be fun. Hell, Mike Perry vs. Tim Means, Yancy Medeiros, or even Thiago Alves re-booking would all be fun too. Perry against anyone that likes to fight at a high pace is going to be a fun fight. On that note, I’m going to recommend Mike Perry against a dude that can’t help but be in crazy fights. Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira. Alex Oliveira vs. Mike Perry would be guaranteed foolish violence, as would any of these other fine suggestions.

ANTHONY SMITH

Justin - Well, he just put the last nail in the coffin of Hector’s UFC’s career. And with that he signaled a move up to LHW. He has a few match-ups if he wants a striker coming off a win. A fight with Rountree would be cool, although Kimball might be a more gentle entry into LHW. However, if Bosse has recovered from his injury, then Bosse/Smith is my pick for a bout in Winnipeg.

Zane - I must have missed his 205 announcement. If that’s where he’s going, bouts agaisnt Steve Bosse, Khalil Rountree, or CB Dollaway could all be fun scraps. If that’s not the case, however, bouts with Tim Boetsch, Uriah Hall, and Vitor Belfort are all out there. I’d say Boetsch makes the most sense, as he seems to be the perennial gatekeeper to the top 15. Anthony Smith vs. Tim Boetsch.

GREGOR GILLESPIE

Justin - My good god that was a scream at the TV fight. Gonzalez did not go out easily, but Gregor’s wrestling proved the consistent force. LW is so stacked I don’t feel opposed to throwing Gregor in with a prospect killing test like Khabilov. If he is able to get past the Russian on a 6 fight win streak, then we have the real deal on our hands. Alternatively, a showdown with Brazilian Tank Michel Prazeres who has won 5 straight could be a slightly easier step up in competition, but a good test nonetheless.

Zane - It’s hard not to enjoy the hell out of watching Gillespie fight, but I’m wary about rushing him to the top. He’s a relentless wrestler and grappler. But, while his striking is confident and has some pop, he is there to be hit so, so much. Then again, at LW, it’s hard to find softer matchups against fighters on good win streaks. A bout against David Teymur would really test his take two to give one striking style and a bout against Gilbert Burns would be fascinating. But I think he should get more time to really get comfortable in the cage. So I say give him a bout against Alan Patrick. Patrick is a good control wrestle-grappler and a big, rangy striker. A safe enough, tough enough fighter to win in the UFC consistently, while not being an extreme danger getting Gillespie flatlined. Gregor Gillespie vs. Alan Patrick.

KAMARU USMAN

Justin - In stalking forward and playing aggressive, he got tagged a little too much for my liking, but still scored a fantastic maiden KO all the same. The problem is, there isn’t a perfect matchup for him right now, as much of the established elite are booked. He called out RDA, and that wouldn’t be a bad fight at all, although it would thwart a dream matchup in RDA/Lawler. I’m going to say Usman vs the Wonderboy/Masvidal winner is the way to go, although if Masvidal wins he may get a shot at Woodley. Alternatively, if Maia beats Covington, Maia/Usman works okay. One thing is sure -he’s coming for the top ten.

Zane - Of course, there is a fight to make if you don’t matchup Mike Perry vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio. Ponz vs. Usman would be a good test of Usman’s willingness to eat shots, while also a reasonable matchup for his relentless wrestling and top control. Alex Oliveira would also be fine in that regard, if less structured than the Argentinian. The RDA idea is a fascinating one and I wouldn’t mind it, but I think Usman vs. Ponzinibbio makes for the best fight right now.

OLIVIER AUBIN-MERCIER

Justin - A razor close but deserved win and another rung up the perilous LW ladder. Give the man what he wants, Charles Oliveira in Winnipeg on Dec 16th. If the UFC books Charles before then (would be reasonable seeing as he last competed at 210), a fight with Leonardo Santos who he was scheduled to fight at 212 wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Zane - I’m not sure Oliveira is staying at lightweight. He seems to want to go back to 145, even if that’s a terrible idea. A fight between OAM and Chucky Olives would be great though, so if possible i’m down for it. OAM also called out David Teymur, which would be a thriller, unless he just grappled him to the win. Eventually though, I think the Leonardo Santos fight represents more of the kind of difficult all-round test he needs, or a fight against Islam Makhachev. The Makhachev fight seems like the most fascinating to me, so lets go Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Islam Makhachev.

URIAH HALL

Justin - To say Uriah needed this win would be a understatement. After somehow finding his way to the end of what may as well have been a 10-7 thumping, he came out in the second with ten minutes left to save his UFC contract and landed a career-salvaging whipping overhand. What a fight. After Borrachinha has done what he wants with the former WW champion, I think a fight between the two strikers would be well anticipated and just right for both men with regards to points in their careers. If Hendricks gets the win, Uriah still has many options, including the welterweight legend himself, as well as Boetsch or Jack Hermansson, if he is victorious.

Zane - Possibly to his own detriment, Hall seems to fight best once things have gone really wrong, at least if he can survive things going really wrong. Knowing he’s really in a fight seems to kick him into a better gear. Ideally, I’d like to see him fight Siyar Bahadurzada following Siyar’s recent middleweight bout. I think it’s a great style matchup. But, word is that Siyar is on his way back to 170. If that’s the case, book Hall vs. Vitor Belfort. It’d be a bout that’s likely to interest both men, and another chance for Hall to show up big. Or drift to another strange loss.

GILBERT BURNS

Justin - An oldschool, Evans-esque overhand right after a fun striking battle. Not often you see a BJJ killer starch someone like that. I would like to see him take on Islam Makhachev. I think their clash of styles would lead to a very interesting dynamic, and Makhachev has proven to be a very tough test in his short UFC career.

Zane - Burns has so many options. Lightweight is a mile deep in fun fighters and his style lends himself to a lot of decent bouts. Daniel Hooker, James Krause, or Scott Holtzman all seem like they could be good options to me. I think I’d go with James Krause coming off his recent Ultimate Fighter run. A diverse, tough opponent who can take advantage of Burns’ tendency to let guys overwhelm him with volume for stretches.

OTHER BOUTS: Reyes vs. Burnell, Gonzalez vs. F. Silva, Moraes vs. LaFlare, Ledet vs. Harris (w/win over Godbeer), Anyanwu vs. Mulheron, Martin vs. Ray, Spitz vs. Crowder, Jotko vs. Carlos Jr./Marshman loser, Saggo vs. P. Reyes