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UFC Utica: Rivera vs. Moraes - 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 Utica, NY.

The UFC’s stretch of less than inspiring Fight Night events came to a close this last Friday night in Utica, NY. There, Marlon Moraes made his case to be the next top bantamweight title contender, along with Sijara Eubanks at women’s flyweight. Multiple other fighters quietly improved their runs of success in their respective divisions, and a couple even got to make strong first impressions with winning debuts.

The question now is, what’s next?

To answer that question, I’ll be calling upon the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking style of years gone by. 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, “I’m gonna go fishing tomorrow, and I’m gonna go fishing with all my buddies who are here tonight. And I’m gonna go fishing on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.” I’ll pick one response to join me next time.

This week’s winner is BE reader ajthaye51:

Post fight analysis and fights to make are my two favorite columns on this website, so thanks to Zane for choosing me. The very first PPV I watched was UFC 77, where Anderson Silva wrecked Rich Franklin in Ohio. That PPV also had the announcement that Brock Lesnar had signed with the UFC, and where Demian Maia made his debut. Suffice to say I’ve been watching for the UFC for a while. Lets get to these match-ups!

MARLON MORAES

AJ - This is hard because Moraes just wrecked Rivera, but it doesn’t make sense for Marlon Moraes to get a title shot based off this win, when he lost to Raphael Assuncao. I’m not trying to downplay Moraes’ performance, but I don’t see the logic of him getting a title shot over Assuncao. I’m going off that assumption that Assuncao beats Rob Font next month. Lets put them together for number one contender matchup later in the year. Moraes gets to avenge a loss against a higher ranked opponent, though that might change next week. I also wouldn’t be upset if he fought the winner of Dillashaw and Garbrandt. Marlon Moraes versus Raphael Assuncao

Zane - On the sporting side, I’m picking up what AJ is putting down. But, more practically, the UFC seems to have zero interest in a Raphael Assuncao title fight. That’s not fair to Assuncao, who is unquestionably at LEAST the 4th best fighter in his division (and arguably top 2). But, I have to think that if the UFC can book Moraes for a title fight, they will. It just feels like the more thrilling option in a division that still has yet to find any real star power. To that end, Moraes’ best option right now is just to wait and see how things shake out with Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt II. A fight with DJ may follow that, at which point Moraes would need another fight. Even then though, it’s hard to see why Assuncao would fight Moraes again. He’s already won that fight and has every claim to his own title shot. So, if Moraes has to take another bout, then John Lineker is the fight to book. But, Moraes would do well to wait on the Dillashaw/Garbrandt winner.

JIMMIE RIVERA

AJ - It’s funny because if Rivera won I wanted him to fight Dominick Cruz, a bout that was supposed to happen, but didn’t because Cruz got injured. Going against the Sean Shelby method of match making, Rivera should fight John Lineker in a bout that was also cancelled, due to injury. It keeps both men in the hunt for the title shot and should be a damn good fight. Jimmie Rivera v. John Lineker

Zane - Coming off another extended layoff, and a one-sided loss to Garbrandt, honestly I don’t see any reason that Dominick Cruz couldn’t still fight Jimmie Rivera. At this point, it’s hard to see Cruz jumping right back into the title picture and he has a lot of questions to answer as to just where he’s at physically at this point in his career. But booking anyone against Cruz seems a bit hopeful. In that case, fights with either Aljamain Sterling or John Dodson both feel like the right speed. They’re both coming off wins, but beating Rivera would be huge for either man, and a win over either of them would ensure Rivera stays right back in the title hunt. Between those two, I’d be most interested in seeing him against Dodson. So, Jimmie Rivera vs. John Dodson is the fight to make.

GREGOR GILLESPIE

AJ - You have to love the man’s post fight interviews. I honestly don’t understand why the UFC felt like Gillespie needed to fight another un-ranked opponent. He’s shown his versatility on the ground and in his striking. He has a bright future in this division. Looking at spots ten though 15, I think he should fight the winner of the rumored Alexander Hernandez and Olivier Aubin-Mercier match-up at UFC Calgary. If that fight doesn’t happen, matching Gillespie with one of them still works. Give the man a ranked fighter please! Gregor Gillespie vs. Alexander Hernandez or Olivier Aubin-Mercier

Zane - It’s times like this that I wish I knew Mairbek Taisumov could be relied upon to make it to fight night. A fight between Gillespie and Taisumov would be the perfect next step for the ‘Best Fisherman in MMA.’ Beyond that, sensible next fight choices are a bit hard to come by. If the UFC really wants to see how far Gillespie can go and how fast, then they could go winner loser and match him up with Francisco Trinaldo. Even coming off his loss to James Vick, ‘Massaranduba’ is right there on the cusp of the divisional elite. Otherwise, I like the winner of Daniel Hooker vs. Gilbert Burns. Two fighters who have really paid their dues as prospects in the UFC and slowly worked themselves up the division. Both men with the kind of crafty depths to their game that could put a scare in Gillespie. Gregor Gillespie vs. the Hooker/Burns winner.

BEN SAUNDERS

AJ - What I would really like to see is both of these guys retire. The damage they’ve taken in their last two fights makes me think their best days are truly behind them. However, Saunders won, snapping a two fight losing streak. Going against the Sean Shelby Model again here, but feed Saunders to Emil Meek. Saunders against Meek can easily be on a televised main card. The UFC was pushing Meek pretty tough marketing wise in the lead up to the Usman fight, so let him add to his highlight reel. Ben Saunders vs. Emil Meek

Zane - I didn’t pick him (much to my shame) but it’s great to see Saunders get another thrilling UFC win. The idea of pitting him against a much younger, more durable, hard hitting fighter still doesn’t sit well with me, however. I’d rather see Saunders stay on the competitive veteran circuit, where he’s at solid 50/50 odds of finishing the fight or getting finished, if that’s what has to happen. Keita Nakamura would make for a fun bout, as would Carlos Condit, if Condit decides to keep fighting. If it has to be someone coming off a win, though, how about Yushin Okami. Okami may just blanket for 15 min, but I’d be fascinated to watch him try against Saunders’ aggressive guard game. Ben Saunders vs. Yushin Okami.

SAM ALVEY

AJ - The most entertaining part of this fight for me was trying to figure out who the blonde woman with the bowl cut in Alvey’s corner was. They should have put this fight as the featured fight on Fight Pass. I don’t even understand how Villante came into this fight ranked 15th. Alvey is going to take Villante’s spot at number 15 most likely when the newest rankings comes out, so I guess good for him? If Gadzhimurad Antigulov beats Ion Cutelaba that match-up would work, I think Corey Anderson wouldn’t be a bad option, but lets help build a contender in this shallow division. Dominick Reyes come on down! Sam Alvey vs. Dominick Reyes

Zane - He called out Corey Anderson, and that’s the right move for him to make. A recent winner with a higher spot in the rankings. But, my interest in Alvey is a lot more about seeing him in funky action/style clashes than it is watching him try to march his way up the mediocre light heavyweight division. A fight with Reyes would be an interesting test for the prospect. Someone with a great chin and the kind of counter-punching that could trouble Reyes if he gets too wild. But, if Alvey wins that, then it’d be a pretty poor way to derail one of the division’s brightest new talents. If Anthony Smith beats Rashad Evans (which seems likely) then he’d make a great next fight for Alvey. Otherwise, I’ll say go with the Anderson fight. Let Alvey try and climb the ladder. Option A is Anthony Smith (off an Evans win) though.

SIJARA EUBANKS

AJ - I had to go look at the UFC website rankings for this one because I have no idea who’s in this division and I think that speaks volumes. Why the hell was the number one contender match for the Women’s Flyweight title not on the main card? Eubanks is next in line after Valentina Shevchenko wins the belt. The UFC is still failing to market women fighters post-Rousey that aren’t named Cyborg. This fight should have been prioritized over the Villante/Alvey fight for sure, considering that Eubanks versus Shevchenko is most likely going to be a main event on an FS1, FOX, or ESPN+ card. I thought that Eubanks put on the best performance of the prelims. She was fighting someone right behind her in the ranking compared to Muhammed, Teymur, and Green. Sijara Eubanks vs. Winner of Nicco Montano vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Zane - With Montano currently injured and her fight with Shevchenko in limbo, this is the perfect point to pump the breaks a little more on Eubanks and get her another fight. If she keeps winning while the title bout gets sorted, then great, she’s the top contender. If she doesn’t, then the division’s new enough that other talent will fill the gap. Part of me says just book her against Ashlee Evans-Smith. A winnable bout against another UFC vet. But, I can easily see why Eubanks may consider that too big a step back. Instead, I’ll say book her against the winner of Alexis Davis vs. Katlyn Chookagian. Whoever comes out of that fight will have a better claim to title challenger status than anyone else.

DAVID TEYMUR

AJ - I don’t know if Lentz would have been able to keep Teymur on the ground, but the referee should have deducted a point for the blatant fence grabbing. I want to see how Teymur does against someone who can hold him on the ground. Rustam Khabilov has won five straight and with Gillespie hopefully fighting Hernandez or Aubin-Mercier, this gives the winner of Teymur vs. Khabilov a shot landing in the rankings. Lets see who can win six straight. David Teymur v. Rustam Khabilov

Zane - If Khabilov is going to return from injury any time soon, then I’m 100% behind him fighting Teymur. But, lightweight is always neck deep in other options among healthy fighters. Teymur and Gillespie could face off, in a battle of the 5-0 UFC lightweight prospects, or Teymur could take on another fighter known for his grinding style in Alan Patrick. I’ll say go the Patrick route. Someone has to fight the big Brazilian, and as AJ suggested, it’d be worth seeing Teymur against another difficult takedown artist, having used the fence so liberally against Lentz. David Teymur vs. Alan Patrick is my fight to make.

BELAL MUHAMMAD

AJ - I admire Muhammad for taking this fight during Ramadan, that fast is no joke. Now winner of four straight, it’s time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Muhammad should fight Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who has won five straight. It’ll be a nice win for either fighter, and have the winner knocking on the door of the Welterweight rankings, or potentially fighting the 13th, 14th, or 15th ranked fighter their next time out. Belal Muhammad vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos

Zane - Muhammad vs. Zaleski is a quality fight. It’d be a great test for the Brazilian against someone with some real diversity and craft at range, even if Muhammad probably doesn’t have the power to hurt him as badly as other opponents have. Likewise, it’d be a good chance for Muhammad to prove that he’s no longer the same fighter that got insta-slept by Vicente Luque back in 2016. A fight against Warrley Alves would largely serve the same purpose, but let’s go with the Zaleski bout, since I think it’d be a more guaranteed thriller. Belal Muhammad vs. Elizeu Zaleski.

OTHER BOUTS: Pichel vs. White, Harris vs. Willis, Spitz vs. Golm, Arce vs. Guan, Teymur vs. Bandenay, Villante vs. Lil’ Nog, Murphy vs. Evans-Smith, Lentz vs. Koch, Rencountre vs. Enkamp, Green vs. Holtzman, Tibau vs. Hirota, Wood vs. Cannetti, Eduardo vs. Doane, Torres vs. R. Sanchez, Brooks vs. Morales