A weekend with a lot of UFC bouts didn’t manage to be all that big a weekend for the UFC. A mix of solid, exciting fights, along with a large chunk of boring grinds and some raw new talent made for a few meaningful outcomes, but also for a lot of fighters just kinda treading water in the middle of a very long stretch of events. Junior dos Santos likely walks away from the whole week as the biggest winner – unless Dana White follows through on his current feeling that Kamaru Usman has a title shot coming to him. And it’d be nice to think that Joe B. made an impact, but with flyweight’s future looking grim, it seems unlikely.
So, is JDS a title contender once again? Should Kamaru Usman leapfrog Colby Covington for the welterweight belt? Will any of the fighters from this latest Ultimate Fighter season still be in the UFC two years from now?
To answer all these questions – and maybe one or two more – I’ll be using the Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology of years past. 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 some fantasy matchmaking, leave a comment below starting with, “El Guapo no come in here, El Guapo is HERE!” I’ll pick one response to join me for next week’s column.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘Kings_Gambit’:
A long-time commenter on BE, I grew up on pro wrestling and have been following MMA since 2007? Maybe earlier? I’m not sure, honestly. When not watching MMA, or at work lawyering, I’m listening to death metal, reading comics, and hunting O’Driscolls. I’ve been grinding it out for years in the comments sections, with my distinct, and distinguished, match-making skills. At long last, I have been given my time in the sun.
TUF 28 FINALE: RDA VS. USMAN
KG - Despite Dana’s hints to the contrary, I just can’t see Usman getting the next title shot instead of Covington. I really think Woodley wants Covington, who’s probably the bigger draw. So, Usman needs a “keep warm” fight. Since Usman is nearly incapable of not grinding out decisions, the masochist in me wants to lean into that with the grindiest grinds possible. Give me Kamaru Usman vs. Michel Prazeres. With the hope that the winner will one day fight Covington and Askren to take the John Fitch Memorial Trophy for Best WW Grinder.
Zane - I would also be pretty surprised if Dana White decided to give Usman the next shot at the belt. Or even if Woodley looked at the potential fight with any real fondness at all. I mean, White took Covington to the damn White House with him, is he really going to deny Colby a chance to dethrone T-Wood? Probably not. Usman says he’s not taking any other fight, but that just means his next fight needs to be something he can get excited for. The winner of Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren would probably be that. And... if that ends up being Askren then it’s a good way of putting the UFC’s newest ‘big’ welterweight signing right into the title picture (even if Askren says he won’t take on Woodley for the belt). Kamaru Usman vs. the Lawler/Askren winner feels like a fight Usman would take.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
KG - RDA has spent 2018 looking like a significantly less threatening, spent force. I don’t think that’s accurate, and I think it’s more a product of two very similarly terrible stylistic match-ups. It’s time to rehabilitate RDA, and deliver a reminder of what a bad dude he is. The best route to doing so is sending him out to execute a hapless victim with some modicum of name value. Give me Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Josh Burkman.
Zane - I may not be quite on the Josh Burkman train here, but at the very lest, the UFC needs to do something with RDA other than feed him to their upper echelon wrestlers. Can we get the man another striker? Anyone? Fortunately for him, there are two at 170 that just happen to be coming off a loss. Darren Till and Stephen Thompson. I’m inclined to push for Till, because I think RDA would present some real challenges to his style. But at the same time, coming off a high profile loss – and with a lot of potential still to capitalize on – RDA would be a hell of a way to try and bounce back for the Liverpudlian. Thompson is stuck for title contention as long as Woodley is king, so let him take on RDA to see which of them can stick it out in the top 5. Rafael dos Anjos vs. Stephen Thompson feels like a much more interesting matchup for RDA.
KG - For whatever reason, Munhoz seems incapable of gaining fan recognition despite having been a violent, action-oriented, highly skilled finisher, for years. In that sense, his violent finish of Lost Battalion Lieutenant Bryan Caraway perfectly fit the narrative of Munhoz’s career - a brilliant finish against a quality guy in a fight no one will remember. Given this, might as well use Munhoz as a high level test for potential breakout prospects. Assuming he beats Douglas de Andrade, give me Pedro Munhoz vs. Petr Yan. And hey, people are excited about Yan - it’d be a blistering fight and, who knows, people might care about Munhoz if he wins.
Zane - It’s really too bad that John Lineker is already booked (although I’m really thrilled about Lineker vs. Cruz), because Lineker vs. Munhoz would be mayhem. Instead, it seems abundantly clear that Aljamain Sterling should be the obvious next fight for Munhoz. Sterling has had a variety of problems, both with volume strikers, power strikers, and just pressure fighters that can stay on him. But, like Munhoz, he’s a well-rounded, talented athlete who can beat a lot of the division’s best on the right night. And, Sterling has never been submitted. Can Munhoz put together another TKO performance? Can he be Sterling’s first submission loss? Or can Sterling stay elusive and pick him apart and actually wrestle him? Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz seems like the logical next fight for both men.
KG - At 34 years old, with a 15 year muay thai career behind her, there’s no time to coddle Shevchenko. I say hot shot her to the top as quickly as possible. A lot depends on whether her sister beats Joanna Contender. If Joanna wins, I say book Shevchenko against Joanna - the “revenge” angle basically would write itself and it’s not like FLW is packed with (legitimate) contenders. If Valentina beats Joanna, I say Antonina goes back to the ghost town of BW. She’s big enough for it and BW is terrible. Give me Antonina Shevchenko vs. Holly Holm.
Zane - Honest to god, neither of those ideas is terrible. Shevchenko is likely most of the fighter she’s going to be at her age, and the division isn’t neck deep in contenders people really care about. Assuming all Gambit’s good ideas don’t happen, however – and that Shevchenko both stays at 125 and doesn’t immediately fight for the belt – then a fight with Jennifer Maia would probably make sense. It’s winner/loser and Maia is much more experienced in MMA, but Shevchenko is way bigger and more athletic and more technical standing. And if she can win that fight, it’s exactly the kind of thing to springboard her straight into a matchup closer to the top of the division. Shevchenko vs. Maia is a good step up.
KG - It’s always risky for a vet like Joe B. to take on a dangerous young guy with zero name value - but Joe B. beat Perez not once, but twice. With the impending death of the FLW division, it’s for Benavidez to start plotting his return to BW. No better way to re-announce yourself than a slaughter. Give me Joseph Benavidez vs. Guido Cannetti.
Zane - Well, if I go along pretending that flyweight is still going to be around come 2019, then Joe B. vs. the Cejudo vs. Dillashaw winner makes a lot of sense from a narrative perspective, and isn’t too bad in terms earned shots for fans of the mind that Benavidez actually beat Pettis earlier this year. Still, I’d like to see Benavidez fight again soon, if for no other reason than he’s so much fun to watch. And Jussier Formiga has worked his way into something like title contention. Let Formiga get a second crack at Benavidez. Winner gets a title shot. If there is no title to shoot for, and if Benavidez heads to 135, then somehow he’s never fought John Dodson (which makes zero sense). Benavidez vs. Formiga II at 125, or Benavidez vs. Dodson at 135.
KG - Yeah, I’ve missed seeing Tim Means Business in bouts against one-dimensional strikers or otherwise hapless, lower level opponents too courageous, or rather “scrappy”, for their own good. The pure destruction Means visited upon Rainey is exactly why. Give me more. It’s not like Means is ever going to sniff a title shot in any event, so he might as well deliver the bloodshed. Give me Tim Means vs. Brian Camozzi.
Zane - There really is something fun about watching Means blow through someone at the lower end of the division. He’s got a penchant for violence when he’s in position to bully an opponent. So putting him up against more under-skilled competition has its charms. Means also called out Diego Sanchez, and I’m a little worried (for Diego’s sake) they just might give the fight to him. So to avoid that, I’ll go back to an idea I had a while ago and say book Tim Means against Jordan Mein. Both men have the potential for fast finishes, both men have been really inconsistent over the past few years, and both men have names that sound almost the same and should make for a comical in-fight commentary. C’mon it’s exactly the kind of fight Joe Silva would have booked. Mein-Means. Do it.
OTHER BOUTS: Espino vs. Hughes, Chiasson vs. Letson, Kianzad vs. Pudilova, Caraway vs. Alcantara, Shahbazyan vs. Giles, Stewart vs. Marshman, Ji Yeon vs. Faria, Aguilar vs. S. Moraes, Glenn vs. Skelly, Perez vs. Nicolau, Greene vs. Adams/De La Rocha winner, Roberts vs. Trizano, Horcher vs. Mustafaev, Rainey vs. White, Barcelos vs. Dvalishvili, Gutierrez vs. Morales
UFC ADELAIDE: DOS SANTOS VS. TUIVASA
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS
KG - JDS is in a weird spot. He’s not particularly close to a title shot and, having turned away Tuivasa, there’s not really any bright prospect in the HW division right now for him to play gatekeeper for. Screw it. I hear Cain is healthy and is only stuck in contract negotiations with the UFC. Give me JDS vs. Cain IV. All Tito had to do to beat Chuck was rely on the effluxion of time. All JDS has to do is wait for Cain’s body to sufficiently explode.
Zane - I know JDS says he wants another fight with Alistair Overeem – and I’m down for it – but I think there are just too many new fights for him at the top of the heavyweight division to need to see that one played back again. There’s Derek Lewis, Alexander Volkov, Daniel Cormier (okay maybe not DC), but most notably there’s Francis Ngannou. Ngannou specifically asked for dos Santos after his most recent, quick-clubbing win over Curtis Blaydes, and it’s just the perfect fight for both men right now. JDS is a dangerous, seasoned veteran and one of heavyweight’s better boxers, but he also has all the same bad habits of getting backed up and shelled that have always plagued him. Ngannou has shown himself to be a fearsome counter-puncher and... not a whole lot else beyond being huge and powerful. That leaves opportunities for another huge win on Ngannou’s record, or a quick path toward contention for the former champ. Francis Ngannou vs. Junior dos Santos is a must-book fight.
KG - This may have been too much, too soon for Tuivasa, who remains extremely technically raw. I haven’t seen that level of mount escape since Barnett/Yvel in Affliction, and Yvel had significantly more success with it. Time to season him a little more, by giving him a defensively lax fighter who isn’t a huge KO threat and always looks great falling down in highlight reels. Give me Tai Vuivasa vs. Stefan Struve.
Zane - Tuivasa called out Justin Willis after his loss and, while I don’t hate that fight, I’d like to see Tuivasa do a little more technical development and get a little more cage time before he went after another top prospect, especially one with as much potential to frustrate as Willis. Marcos Rogerio de Lima just got himself a win at heavyweight, and his penchant for power Muay Thai and gassing should make him an interesting matchup. And Shamil Abdurakhimov has been on a bit of a run lately. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like that fight against Pezao. The Brazilian is just the right mix of veteran savvy, dangerous power, and complete ability to self destruct. Should make for a thriller. Tai Tuivasa vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Book it ASAP.
KG - Well, Willis showed that he has a jab and that he can....walk backwards for 25 minutes without gassing. At HW, that’s probably a lot. Doesn’t change the fact that his fight with Hunt was an abortion, and one that I don’t particularly want to see rewarded. Shamil Abdurakhimov, with his borderline unwatchable win over another confused elder statesman in Andrei Arlovski, is in a similar position. Again, my masochistic instincts are kicking in. Give me Justin Willis vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov. Preferably for five rounds. Because I hate myself.
Zane - Picking off Hunt is a huge win for Justin Willis, especially considering that Chase Sherman was the height of his success going into this fight. Nevermind that Hunt looked totally worn out, Willis kept his game tight and simple and coasted out the kind of win that could get him past a lot of fighters in a division where things like a jab are still relatively rare. Marcin Tybura recently picked up a win over Stefan Struve. He’s not a stylistic thriller for Willis, but Willis himself hasn’t exactly been putting himself out there to light the world on fire. It’s just the next, clear step forward after a very strong win. Time to go out and see if he can get another. Justin Willis vs. Marcin Tybura is a fine fight.
KG - SHOGUN IS BACK! PRIDE NEVER DIE! SHOGUN TITLE RUN IN 2019! It’s time: Champion vs. Champion. History vs. Myth. Legend vs. God. Shogun vs. Latifi.
Zane - Is there any way to reward Shogun for his recent success and not set him up with a one-shot power killer? The UFC has been wanting him to fight OSP again for a while now, and that wouldn’t be the worst fight in the world, honestly – especially not off OSP’s latest loss. I’m inclined to say that Rua should take on Misha Cirkunov, however. Cirkunov has some power, but not enough that he’s likely to just blast Rua out instantly. And he’s been TKO’d twice now. Shogun still has hands, even if he doesn’t have the speed or durability to always make them count. If Cirkunov can’t get him down and ends up trading shots with the Brazilian, he may find himself the latest victim of an improbably Shogun comeback. Mauricio Rua vs. Misha Cirkunov is probably the best fight for Shogun right now.
ANTHONY ROCCO MARTIN
KG - Man, this Rocco guy looked pretty solid, and that was a sweet modified anaconda. How have I never heard of Rocco Martin? Did I mention that his name is Rocco? It’s absolutely not Tony Martin. It’s Rocco Martin. In all seriousness, I have had an inexplicable soft spot for Anthony Rocco Martin for some time, while Jake Matthews has only ever inspired indifference. I can’t explain either of these feelings. I may be the only person who cares about Rocco. He’s a scramble-heavy grappler who likes to strike without any real knockout power. This sounds vaguely familiar....Give me Rocco vs. Diego Sanchez.
Zane - Martin has very quietly built himself one hell of a track record at welterweight. Hopefully this win over Matthews gets him a little extra recognition right as it seems his game is really starting to all fit together. A fight with Elizeu Zaleski wouldn’t be a bad idea, once the Brazilian returns from injury, and I’d be fascinated to see him take on the similarly slow starting Li Jingliang. But, Instead I’ll go ahead and say give Martin another former lightweight turned welterweight in the form of surging Michel Prazeres. Prazeres’ combination of power kickboxing, power wrestling and power grappling, combined with a surprisingly effective gas tank – and the durability to make it all work – would provide a good step forward for Martin and the chance for one of these two to maybe get an actual high-profile fight. Anthony Rocco Martin vs. Michel Prazeres sounds like a good test for both men at 170.
KG - Well, Wilson went full Fitch. As a FLW, that may not bode well for his future career prospects. Nonetheless, he fought at BW for the bulk of his career, so there’s still a chance he’ll be kept around after the FLW division dies. Wilson Reis vs. Rani Yahya would make for an interesting, and potentially ghastly, mirror match.
Zane - Much like Benavidez, it’s a lot easier to think about what might be next for Reis if I assume 125 is actually somehow going to stick around. If that were to be the case, then a fight against Alexandre Pantoja would be a lot of fun and a really logical matchup for both men. If flyweight’s dead, they could both face off at 135, of course, but there are a lot more potential bouts there to play with. Someone in the fringes of the top 10, like Alejandro Perez would make a lot of sense. Or maybe even Rani Yahya. For now, I’ll assume flyweight lives another day, and say Alexandre Pantoja vs. Wilson Reis.
OTHER BOUTS: Pedro vs. Krylov, Matthews vs. W. Alves, Yusuff vs. Moffett, Mokhtarian vs. dos Santos, Crute vs. Spann, Craig vs. Coulter, Kunchenko vs. S. Moraes, Okami vs. Taleb, Nguyen vs. Moreno, Nakamura vs. McGee, Touahri vs. Aldana, Kara-France vs. Pingyuan, Giagos vs. Hadzovic, Ismagulov vs. Frevola, Gorgees vs. Edwards