Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2 may not have been decisive in its outcome (there’s a solid argument Romero won it), but it was a deeply cathartic fight. It’s hard to remember the last main event featuring a UFC champion that was that close, that brutal, that glorious a testament to what MMA at the elite levels is supposed to be. A fight that was good and interesting the first time around exceeded all expectations the second, and pulled the quality of an otherwise reasonable – but not great – series of PPV performances (minus one terrible one) up with it.
So, now what? If UFC 225 provided some great moments of action, it provided much less in the way of clarity. Does Yoel Romero get another shot? Does Holly Holm stay at featherweight? Is Curtis Blaydes really next in line?
To answer all these questions I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby model of fight booking from years past. That means largely pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at booking fights along with me, leave a comment below starting, “I’m bringing this belt to the White House and I’m putting it on Donald Trumps desk.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘Tiramisu_TheGOAT’:
What’s up fight fans, it’s Tiramisu_TheGoat here and I’m playing matchmaker again! Be sure to follow me at @MRPTrlck on Twitter.
Tiramisu - For the millionth time, The Aussie has left me shouting at my laptop with surprise and sheer excitement. Only what do we do with him in an upper division racked with injuries, and relevant guys coming off losses? Enter Kelvin Gastelum. Give Whittaker time to heal, and I say book it by the end of this year/early 2019. DO NOT run back Romero/Whittaker a third time, at least not anytime soon. Seriously.
Zane - I’m of three minds about this. The first says, play it back. Fights numbers one and two were great. In fact, two was an all time classic war. Just an amazing contest of skill and determination. So, why not do it again? The second part of me says, ‘Make Yoel earn it again.’ Book Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum and let Romero go fight someone else. If both men win, you get Whittaker vs. Romero 3, with some extra heat on it even. The last part of me wonders, does Romero actually have the time to wait, at 41 years of age and a facing a series of deleterious weight cuts? Is it now or never in terms of booking Romero vs. Whittaker 3? Even if that were true – and it would be a damn shame if it was – Whittaker’s officially won this thing twice. Make Whittaker vs. Gastelum. If the 3rd fight can get made later, great. If not? We’ve already got two great fights out of it. No need to get greedy.
Tiramisu - As with the Rockhold fight, Yoel’s approach to his opponent this time had me wondering was it strategy that made him fight at a slower pace than usual, or him dealing with complications of an increasingly difficult weight cut. I’m not going to rant too much about weight cutting here, but if it’s that problematic for you than maybe moving up a division isn’t a bad look. If he’s going to continue at 185, then I think a more “soft” opponent in Thiago Santos or Krystof Jotko will do for now.
Zane - So, if Yoel Romero isn’t fighting Robert Whittaker again, who is he fighting? I’m sure Jacare Souza and Chris Weidman would love to get themselves a rematch. And there’s always someone like Dave Branch looking to put his name in the title conversation with a massive name win. If the UFC is going to force him to go to 205 instead of hanging around the middleweight division, he could always try and get that Alexander Gustafsson fight that Luke Rockhold injured his way out of, or the winner of Ilir Latifi vs. Glover Teixeira. I’ll assume he’s staying at 185, however. And if that’s the case, then few men have a better case to fight him twice than Jacare Souza. Yoel Romero vs. Jacare Souza 2 is the fight to make.
Tiramisu - I’ve been singing this dudes praises for quite some time now (no, not his D minus trolling). Wrestle boxing is the stylistic face of MMA now, in the form of fighters like Colby, Usman, Khabib, Bektic, etc. The outcome of this fight shouldn’t have surprised anyone in the know. Covington has a pressure oriented, wrestle-heavy style that can make life hell for a fighter with the problems RDA has. Where he goes from here is pretty obvious: Tyron Woodley vs Colby Covington.
Zane - If some equations coming out of UFC 225 need serious solving, this isn’t one of them. The UFC booked a strange interim title fight, despite having a champion who expected to return to action in just another month or two. Instead of waiting, the promotion got impatient. And now Covington is going to be that much more insufferable (if that’s possible) with a belt around his waist. Get him in there with Tyron Woodley. See if he can’t pressure an interesting fight out of the champ, or get himself melted in the process. Unify the belts and sort this mess, ASAP. Tyron Woodley vs. Colby Covington is the fight the UFC has stuck themselves with booking.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
Tiramisu - I suppose if he wants to stay near the top of things, then a fight against Stephen Thompson could be interesting. If not then the loser of Edwards/Cerrone later this month could be a treat.
Zane - Did RDA just see his best chance at another UFC title shot slide away? The Brazilian arguably landed the better strikes for most of the fight, but lost the volume battle in three rounds and spent the bulk of the night trying to get his back off the fence. He just couldn’t put a moment of hesitation into Covington. And because of that let Covington dictate momentum, even while landing a lot of his own sharp offense. A fight with Stephen Thompson wouldn’t be a bad idea, with ‘Wonderboy’ coming off his own debatable loss, and it’d put the winner right back in the hunt. But, if the welterweight title picture is going to be sewn up for a minute, waiting on Covington/Woodley to get finalized, then go ahead and book RDA against Darren Till. It’d be a great fight for Till, and treat RDA more like he just went down to the wire in a title fight and less like he’s coming off a tough loss.
Tiramisu - Holm survived an early scare, and utilized her veteran savvy to wrestle her way to victory. I’m all for her dropping back down to bantamweight and being gifted a title shot against Amanda Nunes. There’s a dearth of challengers in that division, and Holly’s never fought her before so why not?
Zane - If she’s dead set on heading back to 135, then she might as well fight Amanda Nunes. Nunes wants that fight and the only other current title challenger – with Marion Reneau booked – is... Ketlen Vieira? So, yeah, Holm vs. Nunes works fine. Of course, if Holm decides she wants to stay at 145, then she’s going to get another title fight there too, because there’s literally nobody else for Cris Cyborg to fight right now. But, we’ve seen that fight and (judges be damned) it wasn’t close or compelling. Book Holm against Nunes and just maybe actually try and build a women’s featherweight division if you’re gonna have a champ, yeah?
Tiramisu - He’s a crisp striker, durable as hell, drinks beer out of sweaty shoes, and can hang on the feet with Arlovski. How can you not like this guy? That said, I’d like to see the surging prospect against another wily vet: Aleksei Oleinik.
Zane - Tuivasa won a hard battle, and to me that sets him up better for a future at heavyweight than anything else. This division is littered with incredibly tough dudes who are hard to put away. While Arlovski hasn’t always been one of them, Tuivasa needed to prove that he wouldn’t fall apart if a fight lasted more than 5 minutes. If the UFC wants to pick off a prospect, they could put him against fellow 3-0 talent Justin Willis. But, that seems needless, with so many middling talents to get rounds against. Shamil Abdurakhimov or Walt Harris would work well. And If the UFC wants to keep with the old guard, then Tuivasa would be a hell of a return bout for Josh Barnett. But, I’m not going to bet on Barnett suddenly jumping back into the Octagon to face a young KO artist. Abdurakhimov is ranked, which doesn’t mean much, but it’ll look fancier. And the Dagestani is a crafty vet. Tai Tuivasa vs. Shamil Abdurkahimov seems like a good next bout.
Tiramisu - Ya gotta love Curtis. I sincerely thought the Flying Dutchman was going to take a split decision (at minimum) against Blaydes, only for that prediction to slowly deflate as the fight progressed. He again showed off a great chin and his ever improving striking prior to putting The Reem down. Alexander Volkov is coming off a victory and isn’t booked so I say make that fight.
Zane - Blaydes wants next when it comes to title shots, but he’s running up against a bit of a log jam among contenders. Francis Ngannou is facing Derrick Lewis and with a win there, he’ll likely be right back in the hunt. And Alexander Volkov staked a serious claim to his contender status by beating Fabricio Werdum. That could mean Blaydes angles for the Ngannou/Lewis winner. But, if it’s Ngannou, there’s a solid chance that rematch doesn’t get booked. At that point, the smarter play has to be a fight with Alexander Volkov, and the winner there may even have the chance to jump in line, ahead of a Stipe/Ngannou rematch. Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov is the right fight at heavyweight right now.
Tiramisu - Razor close fight, but in the end Claudia prevailed. She’s beaten the other two that would be up for my consideration, so all there’s left is a rematch with Jessica Andrade (that and it only makes sense to move up the rankings not down). If the UFC ends up booking Andrade against the current champion Rose, then Claudia can always face off with the winner. That should give Claudia time to work on her cardio.
Zane - Unfortunately for Claudia Gadelha, one of the few top tier strawweight bouts she has yet to get is the one she’s in no real position to take, and that’s a fight against Rose Namajunas. By all rights, Jessica Andrade should be next in line for the strap at 115, after which Gadelha would make a great fight for Namajunas if she happened to lose it. Otherwise, Gadelha is best off waiting for Jedrzejczyk vs. Torres to happen and taking whatever fight she can get out of that. It’s either that or take a much less prestigious bout against the Ansaroff/Markos winner or see if she can play spoiler to a very, very dangerous Tatiana Suarez. Given all those options, a new fight with Tecia Torres or a 3rd fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk both seem preferable. I don’t think it matters much which one, or whether it comes off a win or a loss for either woman, just whoever’s ready first out of that fight.
Tiramisu - Splendid performance from Pettis. In a fight that could arguably go both ways, he managed to beat the second best guy in the division (mind you, Joe B. has only ever lost to DJ at flyweight). That title shot is right around the corner for him, provided he can get past Jussier Formiga. That should make for another tough, stylistic clash. Pettis vs Formiga. Book it!
Zane - We’re getting Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo 2, and not for a couple months, so Pettis as the de facto top contender doesn’t make much sense. Especially not when he arguably may have lost this fight. Not saying he did, mind you. Just that it was razor close and I scored it for Benavidez. Given that, and that he hasn’t fought Jussier Formiga, who is on a nifty little two win streak, let’s go ahead and make that fight. I wouldn’t mind seeing him fight Ray Borg either if Borg can get back in the cage in the near future. But, Pettis vs. Formiga seems like the fight that could be most easily booked right now, and put Pettis in that much better position for a shot at the belt if he can walk away with a win.
OTHER BOUTS: Anderson vs. Letson, Arlovski vs. Harris, Overeem vs. JDS/Ivanov loser, Esparza vs. Waterson, Bektic vs. Moicano/Swanson winner, Lamas vs. Kattar, de la Rocha vs. Sosnovskiy, Smith vs. Alvey, Benavidez vs. Borg, Oliveira vs. Teymur, Guida vs. Lentz, Ige vs. Sandhagen