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UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC should book, following their latest event in Atlantic City, NJ.

Graphic by Chad Stanhope

The UFC walked into Atlantic City with what looked like a fun card and walked out with something of a mixed bag. There were some really exciting fights on the night, some shocking stoppages, and some dominant performances. But a weird refereeing decision, a couple lackluster bouts, and typical FS1 pacing issues meant there was almost as much to be annoyed over as wowed by.

Still, as always a lot of questions were answered, and even more asked. Does Kevin Lee have a legit title shot claim? Does Edgar vs. Holloway still make sense in the near future? Can Dan Hooker make a lightweight run?

To answer these questions (and more), I’ll be employing the classic Silva/Shelby method of fight booking from years past. Pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own chance at matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting, “This is actually my hardest kick. I can get a bull down with this kick. And when I commit to this kick it’s game over.” I’ll pick on winner from the responses to join me next time.

This week’s winner is BE reader ‘Tiramisu_TheGOAT’:

What’s up violence lovers, this BE commentator Tiramisu_TheGOAT. My first exposure to MMA came in the form of PRIDE fight videos I’d see as a young teen, but it was UFC 90 that turned me into the rabid fan of the sport (and GSP) that I am now. Follow me on Twitter at @MRPTrlck, where I primarily discuss MMA, and occasionally other things that interest me.

KEVIN LEE

Tiramisu - As cool as it sounds, you won’t hear much Khabib vs. Lee talk from me. Instead, I’d like for Lee to take on either Porier or Alvarez, and whoever isn’t matched up with Lee to take on Khabib. THEN, Lee (provided he wins against his prospective opponent) can face the champ.

Zane - There are two obvious bouts for Kevin Lee and it’s all a matter of how negotiations for Khabib’s next title fight goes as to which one he likely gets. Assuming Conor & Tony are both not fighting for the title next, Lee should fight whoever doesn’t get the next shot between Alvarez and Poirier. It’s sound more and more like Khabib wants Poirier, which may mean nothing to the UFC, but I honestly like the idea of Lee vs. Alvarez more anyway. If, on the other hand, Conor or Tony do get the next title shot and Alvarez vs. Poirier 2 gets booked for the next top contender fight, then I’d probably go with Lee vs. Vick to keep Lee busy and see if Vick is going to make a serious run. Still, Kevin Lee vs. Eddie Alvarez is my first choice, assuming Poirier vs. Khabib gets booked.

EDSON BARBOZA

Tiramisu - This will be the second fight in a row in which he took serious damage. The guy needs a break. I’m not sold on Barboza being a champ one day, but there’s still a ton of fun fights for him left in the upper echelons of this division. Once he’s had time to recover, I’d really like to see him and Justin Gaethje scrap. Book it!

Zane - There’s a bit of me that just wants to pull the trigger on Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza right now. Both men are coming off two losses, and it’d make for a fun as hell action fight. But they’re both coming off brutal, all time traumatic beating losses and it’d be more fun to make that bout after they’ve had a chance to get a little momentum back. After all, even with just 5 fights left in Gaethje’s career (supposedly) I don’t think we’re running that low on time. In the meantime, how about Barboza vs. Al Iaquinta; a more willing boxer than Lee or Khabib and not near as smothering a wrestler. And it’s a good chance for Iaquinta to rebuild momentum off his own recent setback.

FRANKIE EDGAR

Tiramisu - My dream match is for him to drop down and take on TJ (or *gasp* DJ at a catch weight!) for the bantamweight strap. But alas, dreams ain’t real. For the sake of young guard vs the old...why not Renato Moicano? If not, I’d be okay with him taking on the winner of Stephens vs Aldo (even at the risk of getting Aldo/Edgar 3). He’s still pretty game, and capable of challenging the upper elite with no issue.

Zane - At this point it should be clear that Edgar is not about to drop to 135. In beating Cub Swanson, he reasserted his place as one of the top 3-4 featherweights in the UFC, and as one of the only ones yet to face Max Holloway, a win for the champion over Brian Ortega has to have Edgar feeling he’d be next in line. To that end, the best advice for Edgar is to sit and wait, take the time after his first KO loss that he didn’t in the lead-up to the Swanson fight. But as a fan, who wants that? I’ll keep pushing for Edgar to fight Dominick Cruz at 140 as long as possible. But for a real/new idea, Frankie Edgar should take on Darren Elkins. It’s almost certainly a fight he dominates, but it’s also a chance for Elkins to pick up another storybook win. And it would almost certainly be a fun fight, since Elkins would go all out to take it. Frankie Edgar vs. Darren Elkins is the fight to make.

CUB SWANSON

Tiramisu - Frankie’s got his number, and he can’t quite hang with the other upper elite in his division. If Bektic wasn’t matched against Lamas that would be my go to, as I’m a fan of matching older fighters with younger rising talent. So, for the sake of variety and narrative, I’d like to see Swanson vs Elkins.

Zane - I’m a little ticked the UFC already booked Stephens vs. Aldo, because I still want to see Cub get that rematch, but that’s the way these things go. Still, it’s clear that Swanson is best utilized in big action fights, rather than as a potential challenger to the elite. His focus on stopping Edgar’s wrestling meant that the rest of his offense was tepid on his way to losing. So, next up, book Cub Swanson vs. Josh Emmett. Emmett is a banger, win or lose, and really only knows how to head hunt moving forward. That should make for a fun high level action fight that really lets either man shine. If it feels like a bigger step back is necessary, he could take on Shane Burgos in what would likely make fight of the night. However, Swanson vs. Emmett is my first pick.

JUSTIN WILLIS

Tiramisu - The archetypal heavyweight bout. Justin’s a rising prospect, and still relatively new to the game, so I can’t say I expected vintage Cain. Given their development, and approach to fighting, Justin Ledet would be a reasonable opponent for him. Let the Justins bang.

Zane - I’d love to see Willis vs. Tuivasa. It’s just a shame that the Aussie is already booked against Arlovski. He could face Shamil Abdurakhimov, to see if he’s ready to charge into the heavyweight rankings, and it’s a fight he just might win. But I think a little more seasoning would do him well, especially after how he gassed when he had Sherman hurt. To that end, go ahead and book Willis vs. Wieczorek. The Pole would be heavily outclassed athletically, but he’s got an iron chin and fights well late into bouts. A good test to see if Willis can mind his cardio. Justin Willis vs. Adam Wieczorek sounds just right.

DAVID BRANCH

Tiramisu - The inverse of my prediction happened. Woah. This KO propels Branch forward. Fighters that I would have considered matching him with are either booked, or he’s already beaten, but there’s always the winner of Costa vs Hall if I’d he’d be willing to take it.

Zane - Branch won, emphatically. And someone last week suggested he should be booked against Antonio Carlos Jr. next. It’d be a fun battle of elite grapplers, no question, even if Branch is way further up the rankings. I also really wouldn’t mind seeing Branch take on Chris Weidman, however. Weidman’s just got one win in the last 2.5 years, even if he’s still a top contender in the division. And at 36, Branch doesn’t have a lot of time to make his move. If he’s putting on performances like he did against Santos, there’s no better time to push him. Of course, Weidman is one of the few fighters available if Bisping wants one last, meaningful pre-retirement bout. But I like the idea of Weidman vs. Branch right now, especially with so much of the rest of the top of the division booked. The fact that they’re both Renzo Gracie students might get in the way, but it doesn’t seem like they train together, so hopefully not.

ALJAMAIN STERLING

Tiramisu - I don’t see Cruz entertaining Aljos wish to fight him. If he does, that’d be an interesting tune up (of sorts) match for Cruz after a period of inactivity, and a chance for Sterling to prove himself against the upper elite. If not, the winner of Font vs Assuncao would make for a good stylistic clash.

Zane - Sterling called out Dominick Cruz, but I can’t see Dom taking that bout. The former champion seems like he sees himself as a title contender, and I don’t think he’d look at much else than a shot at the belt unless it were something really special. The best choices then are John Dodson, Pedro Munhoz, and Cody Stamann. Munhoz and Dodson are the more tenured, familiar talents that I think Sterling would be more likely to fight, but I like the idea of the Stamann fight a lot more. He’s shown a lot of fun creativity in his stand up, especially with his kicks, and he shut down Bryan Caraway’s wrestling game. If he can force Sterling into a kickboxing only bout, it would be a real chance to notch up another name and continue his fast climb to the top. Get Stamann and Sterling in the cage together, and see who comes out on top.

DAN HOOKER

Tiramisu - Knees From Hell. He’s clearly proven himself as a viable future contender in this division, so where does he go now? I’m all for him taking on the Irish Dragon, so book Felder vs Hooker. That fight screams nasty fun, and it would be a great test for Dan.

Zane - Hooker is making real strides in his MMA game. The New Zealander who once seemed too scrawny to compete at featherweight has crafted himself into a violent finisher at lightweight, behind an ever improving range game and a variety of powerful knees and kicks. Hooker has tons of options as to what comes next. Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Gilbert Burns, James Vick, Mairbek Taisumov; all rock solid fights. But, he called out Paul Felder, and Felder said yes, so why the heck not. Daniel Hooker vs. Paul Felder is fine by me.

SIYAR BAHADURZADA

Tiramisu - As I tweeted on fight night, Siyar ‘The Great’ is the Keyser Soze of his division. He’s this man that no one sees. And all they know is that when he does show, as we saw, someone’s bound to get hurt. The ‘Great One’ called for a top ten opponent, but I’m looking more towards the fringe top ten, bottom 15 for him. How about Alex Olievera? That sounds like a fun action packed fight.

Zane - Watching Bahadurzada fight is always enjoyable. He’s not a diverse or marvelously technical fighter, but he’s got a powerful, nuts & bolts game that’s been fine tuned to beat a lot of people. That said, him fighting a ranked opponent doesn’t really make sense to me. Usually for older fighters like him, on a win streak, I say run them up to the top and see how quick they can make their mark, but Siyar fights so rarely that I’d like to see him show he can be active with at least one more bout. To that end, a fight with Danny Roberts would be fantastic. Roberts is a more technical, faster striker than Luan Chagas, and while he got sparked early in a weird fight with Nordine Taleb, he also showed a hell of a chin against Mike Perry. If Bahadurzada beats him, give him a ranked name. If he needs a more notable vet to get interested, then see what Tarec Saffiedine is up to. But, Bahadurzada vs. Roberts is the fight I want to see.

OTHER BOUTS: Sherman vs. Asker, Santos vs. Boetsch, Johns vs. Silva de Andrade, LaFlare vs. Moraes, Garcia vs. Dober, Simon vs. Lopez, Dvalishvili vs. Williams, Chagas vs. Abe, Anderson vs. Antigulov, Cummins vs. Craig, Martin vs. Jouban, Nakamura vs. Barberena