With the UFC’s Rotterdam card firmly in the books, it’s safe to say that this will go down as another of those ‘bad on paper, fun in practice’ cards. Mostly because booking mismatches leads to a lot of cool finishes. A couple prospects made strong debuts, Zabit Magomedsharipov immediately announced himself as a highlight machine, and heavyweight is building a new potential title contender. So, what’s the next step?
To answer that question, I’ll be using the old-school Silva/Shelby fight-booking model. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like your own shot at making some fantasy match-ups, leave a comment below starting with, “I’m here not to talk, I’m here to smash, smash anyone who steps into the octagon with me.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses below to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader Chowie24.
Hi guys, my name is Joey, you can find me in the comments section as Chowie24. I’m 24, from Chicago and attending Arizona State University. I grew up playing UFC on Sega Dreamcast. I watched UFC 100 and have been obsessed ever since. Follow me @Boats_and_Joes on twitter. I’d like to thank Zane for letting me join him. Let’s get started.
Joey - Boy is it refreshing to have some new blood at heavyweight; a division that has felt like it’s been stale for some time now. Volkov has blasted his way into title contention by going through Tim Johnson, Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve. Volkov has now entered a four-man race for the title, joining the likes of Velasquez, Overeem and Ngannou. While the popular opinion seems to be to have Volkov face Ngannou, I have other ideas. Instead of having the two prospects face each other, I’d rather see Ngannou face a bigger test in Overeem, as I believe Francis has gone completely untested so far and needs a big win to validate his title shot. Also, Volkov just fought and I don’t see the logic in making Ngannou wait longer than he has to. Volkov vs Velasquez is the fight to make. I love Cain but hate the idea of him getting a title shot coming off back surgery with one win in 3 years. If Cain stays healthy and beats Volkov then he’s ready for a title shot, if Volkov beats Cain then he’s damn ready for a title shot as well. Book it.
Zane - The UFC has a bit of a conundrum on its hands at heavyweight. The champion, on his own, isn’t much of a draw, and there’s no top contender that really sells a fight for him. It’s likely why the UFC was thinking of a Jon Jones/Stipe Miocic fight rather than Cain Velasquez, who is the most obvious top contender. I don’t think the UFC just lets Stipe sit and wait, which means I think that Velasquez fight gets made. And I think Ngannou would be better off against Overeem to make his title claim set in stone. Let Volkov spin his wheels a little and wait for the winner of Hunt/Tybura, to build a little extra momentum.
Joey - I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be one of Struve’s coaches. The guy has all the right tools and attributes, but just never seems to be able to put it all together when it matters most. Struve mentioned he’d like some time off, which I think is a good idea. Hopefully by the time he’s ready, Junior Dos Santos will be finished with his USADA business and they can have that rematch that was booked for March. Same can be said for Ben Rothwell. However if neither are back from USADA and Struve is looking for a fight then I say book the Struve vs the loser of the Mark Hunt vs Marcin Tybura fight. All of these match-ups provide Struve with a good opponent who is also on a one fight losing streak looking to bounce back.
Zane - This fight does actually give me a little more hope for Struve as a continuing heavyweight talent in the division. He took a lot more punishment than I thought his chin was ready to stand up to at this point in his career, and he looked a lot more trusting in his durability throughout the bout. He still got TKO’d, but that was largely down to exhaustion and a late body shot. That doesn’t mean he needs to be run at more top tier competition, however. Give him a bout against Timothy Johnson or maybe Oleksiy Oliynyk if he loses to Curtis Blaydes at UFC 217. Duffee would also be fun if he can ever return from his latest injury.
Joey - Well Marion Renau’s fight was….something that happened. Her late notice opponent gassed out and Marion played it safe and picked her shots and waited til the very end of the fight to get her opponent out of there despite her opponent being ready to be finished since the opening of the second round. A fight with Alexis Davis makes sense, two tough women trying to put together a win streak.
Zane - Reneau highlights a lot of the weirdness with women’s bantamweight. She has an obviously flawed style, lacking in takedown defense and striking aggression, but because she’s reasonably defensively otherwise sound and a good athlete, she’s one of the better winning talents in the division. I’d still love to see her fight De Randamie, but GDR’s hand trouble seems like a longterm ongoing issue. A fight with Davis does make sense, but I’d prefer to see her work against some of the division’s better athletes, like Liz Carmouche, Julianna Pena, or Cat Zinagano. Even though it’s winner vs. loser, I think the Pena fight makes the most sense, as Carmouche is injured. And Reneau’s BJJ would provide a good counter to Pena’s aggressive but defensively open wrestling. Marion Reneau vs. Julianna Pena.
Joey - Leon Edwards has quietly put together a nice 4 fight win streak. This last one wasn’t as impressive as he was dropped badly in the second and relied on a grappling heavy game plan to win. It’s starting to appear that Leon’s striking isn’t quite what it’s hyped up to be, however it’s nice to see that he has the grappling tools to be well rounded. I like the idea of facing him off with Emil Meek. Emil Meek is a welterweight with even more hype and is well rounded to make for a tough test and a great matchup between rising prospects in the welterweight division. The winner would be poised for a top 15 matchup.
Zane - I like Emil Weber Meek. He’s a madman, he has a couple of name highlights on his resume, and he’s a physical freak. I’m also not sure he has the technical depth to take on Edwards and at 1-0 it feels a little like a step back for ‘Rocky,’ who has built a solid 6-2 resume. Zak Cummins is the guy for that mid-division gatekeeper bout, and while it’s not a thrilling name, it’s a caliber of wrestler and grappler that would likely force Edwards into more standing exchanges. Zak Cummins vs. Leon Edwards.
Joey - Wow is Darren Till an exciting fighter to watch. Even more entertaining than his fights are his post-fight interviews. His striking is full of imagination and creativity, I can’t wait to see him back in the octagon. At just 24 years old, he appears to be a star in the making, one who can headline European cards down the road. There are a surplus of great match-ups and fun fights for him seeing as welterweight is absolutely loaded with talent. Fights with Zak Cummings, Peter Sobotta and Yancy Madeiros all make a lot of sense. I feel like the UFC is likely to book Till against Niko Price, but I don’t want to see a prospect killing fight like that, they’re both still so young. Elizeu Zaleski is the fight I’m hoping for, as I think it would be bananas. Zaleski is on a 3 fight win streak with 2 fight of the nights along the way. Book it.
Zane - I won’t lie, Darren Till vs. Niko Price would be fire. Till also called out Santiago Ponzinibbio which would be a massive leap for him, but a fight I’d love to see. Instead, I say give Till Li Jingliang. Jingliang isn’t the kind of stellar athlete that necessarily tests Till’s wrestling or grappling game, but as a high volume boxer who tends to get stronger as the fight goes on – and tends to get good reads on his opponents – he is the kind of fighter who could really make Till pay for letting opponents off the hook repeatedly. Till got his leg busted up by a fairly rote, slow Velickovic, what could Jingliang do given the same time and opportunity. Darren Till vs. Li Jingliang. Book it.
Joey - Speaking of European stars in the making, what a performance by Mairbek Taisumov! I have been dying to see him back in the Octagon since he last stepped in and left his opponent unconscious in the first round. His 5 fight knockout streak is only surpassed by his outstanding post fight interview. Get this man a ranked opponent already! My first choice would be to put him up against Al Iaquinta as that fight would be amazing, unfortunately I don’t see Al coming back anytime soon. Michael Johnson would be a good gatekeeper fight for him to try to crack the top 10, however it sounds like Johnson is looking to drop down to featherweight. That leaves two options: the first is to give him the winner of the Dariush/Dunham fight, and the second is to give him who he initially asked for. Michael Chiesa. Chiesa is a stud and a tough test for anybody, but he is coming off a loss. It makes sense to have him serve as a gatekeeper for the top 10 against a rising star. I love this clash of styles and think this fight would really test both men.
Zane - Al Iaquinta is “the” sensible fight to make. It would be fun as hell, it’s a great matchup, it’s the right jump for Taisumov right now. But, as Joey pointed out: What’s up with Iaquinta anyway? Is he taking fights? Who knows? Instead, I’m saying take the huge leap and book him against Edson Barboza. It’s a fantastic matchup against a top ranked lightweight. It’s not like Taisumov isn’t ready for a fight that big, he’s obviously got the talent and experience. The UFC needs to take a chance and make a surefire fun elite technical bout while it has the chance, and the path to the belt is so stagnant anyway, it’s not like Barboza has a ton of better options. Taisumov vs. Barboza, ASAP.
Joey - Why does the UFC keep booking Rustam Khabilov against wrestlers? He clearly comes out on top every time. Coming off his 5th win in a row it is time for a step up in competition. Rustam Khabilov vs Leonardo Santos is the fight to make. Santos is undefeated in the UFC through 6 fights, including a knockout win over next month’s title contender Kevin Lee. I would love to see Khabilov’s wrestling vs Santos BJJ. Winner gets a ranked opponent.
Zane - Khabilov/Santos would be an interesting bout between two guys that don’t draw any fan interest at all, really. So from that perspective it may be the best the UFC can do. Otherwise Rustam is in that unenviable position of being able to squash most new talent, and being too tough and un-notable to get ‘big’ fights against ranked guys. Does the UFC want to risk burning David Teymur or Drakkar Klose on him? Would Chiesa or Iaquinta be willing to fight him? So yeah, Khabilov vs. Santos sounds like a fine next step.
Joey - Wow is Michael Prazeres a physical specimen. That man is human bulldozer. I really hope he gets his weight cutting issues under control because I think he’s a real player in this division. 5 straight wins and back to back north south chokes are eye opening and at 36 it’s time to move him along faster and see what he can do. Paul Felder is coming off of back to back emphatic knockouts. This would be a great clash of styles with the winner being in great position for a ranked opponent. Book it.
Zane - Jim Miller is already looking for a bout right now, so that’s probably too quick a turnaround for Prazeres, which is too bad, really. The Felder fight is a rock solid option, even if I do think Felder deserves higher ranked opponents, but most of the top of the division is booked. A bout with Islam Makhachev would also be an interesting test for the rising prospect. Essentially, Prazeres has become a good measuring stick for a lot of fighters at 155. I’ll say, go with the Felder fight. It seems like the most sensible fit and most likely to schedule out, right. A fight with the Green/Vannata winner would also be a good option.
Joey - Zabit Magomedsharipov made one hell of an impression. From his outrageous name that I would love to see the UFC try to fit on a fight kit, to his physical appearance that looks like he just rolled out of bed and has no idea where he is, to his actual fighting skills which are outstanding. Don’t let the fact that he looks like Shaggy from Scooby Doo fool you, this kid’s potential is through the roof. I think it’s important not to move him along too fast. A fight with Alex Caceres makes a lot of sense, as he is a winnable gatekeeper with a flashy style that would make for an exciting fight and also allow for Zabit to showcase his skills. Z money vs Bruce LeeRoy, book it.
Zane - This is why featherweight is my favorite division. There are a whole host of good fights for Magomedsharipov right now. New talents like Calvin Kattar, and Jared Gordon, funky matchups like Ryan Hall or Makwan Amirkhani, or other top prospects like Shane Burgos and Arnold Allen. Alex Caceres would be an interesting one, and higher profile than most if the UFC wants to push Magomedsharipov fast (which they might). There’s also a sleeper hit fight in booking him against a returning Kurt Holobaugh. I think, at the end of the day, however, I’m going to say he should fight Ryan Hall. Hall has a marquee win over Gray Maynard to his name, plus the TUF champ sticker, and it would be a funky as hell style matchup to watch. Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Ryan Hall.
OTHER BOUTS: Bahadurzada vs. Hermansson, Wilkinson vs. Scott, Bernardo vs. Ji Yeon, Barberena vs. Garcia, Velickovic vs. Luque, F. Silva vs. Hadzovic, Burnell vs. Powell, D. Green vs. Case, Rakic vs. Giles, Barroso vs. Herman, Santiago vs. Benitez, Edilov vs. Rountree, Gouti vs. Emmett