The UFC made good on a long standing promise to return to Calgary with a great fight card to make up for UFC 149. It may have taken 6 years to do it, but when they put together a card like UFC on FOX 30: Alvarez vs. Poirier 2, it was almost worth the wait. While no titles were on the line, three former champions looked to state their case to stay in contention among their respective divisions. And they did it against three well seasoned veterans who were all hunting for their first chances at UFC gold.
So, who made the cut? Who has a coveted title shot within reach? And who fell back into the ever-churning sea of rising talent?
To answer all these questions – and more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking model 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 swing and fantasy matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “Keep the belt, I will come after you. And if you want a picture with me or my autograph, I’ll be outside.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘goatphayse’:
The first fight card I ever watched was UFC 92 which was a knockout fiesta. I was instantly intrigued, but I wasn’t fully hooked until UFC 100. As a pro wrestling fan, Brock’s post fight speech that night was the most sports entertained I have ever been. I have watched or read about every single UFC event since then. My favorite fighters are Frankie Edgar and Korean Zombie which makes their upcoming fight a real emotional hurdle. I am also fond of any fighter that succeeds at the highest level while indulging in the devil’s lettuce (Diaz bros, Gastelum, Blaydes, etc).
Goat - Another stellar performance from Poirer. Once he had Alvarez hurt, he poured it on. The top of the lightweight division is absolutely stacked, but luckily, the matches are writing themselves. Khabib vs. Conor is going to be next for the belt so instead of targeting one of them, Poirer vs. Tony Ferguson on the same card would make for one of the best Main/Co-mains we have ever seen in the UFC.
Zane - If Ferguson can come back from injury any time in the near future then yeah, he and Poirier more or less have to fight for the next top-contender slot (even if Ferguson should already sort of have that locked down). It’s one of the best fights the UFC can make, and a guaranteed all-action bout. However, assuming Ferguson won’t be returning ASAP – or that he has no interest in fighting Poirier – then go Poirier vs. Kevin Lee. I’m sure it’s not the fight the ‘Diamond’ would want, but lightweight is incredibly backed up right now, so sacrifices must be made. Poirier vs. Ferguson is option A, but Poirier vs. Lee is right there if need be.
Goat - I love watching Eddie fight – but the Poirer saga has left me frustrated. From the illegal knee that robbed us of the 1st fight to the 12-6 elbow in this one that led to the stand-up preceding the finish, Eddie just can’t seem to get out of his own way. What makes this fight all the more baffling is that you can see his corner calling for the elbow right before Eddie threw it. And when he did throw it, the corner acted surprised that the ref was standing it up – as if they didn’t know it was illegal! Anywho, aside from this annoyance, Eddie was incredible to watch as always and he fortunately will stay right atop the division since Alvarez vs. Kevin Lee sounds like a treat.
Zane - It’s too bad that Alvarez and Barboza have been long-time training partners, because that’s absolutely a fight that I want to see. And it’s just about the best fight out there for Eddie, if Ferguson doesn’t fight Poirier and Lee does. But since the Brazilian is just not on the table, I’ll say give Alvarez a bit of a step back and let him hook ‘em up with Al Iaquinta. ‘Ragin’ Al has been pretty choosy with his opponents lately, but I’d bet a bout with Alvarez would be just the kind of fight to lure him back to the Octagon. Plus the boxing heavy style of both men would be perfectly geared toward another great action bout. Iaquinta vs. Alvarez is my next fight.
Goat - This was a vintage Aldo performance - throwing caution to the wind and eventually landing the vicious body combo that led to the stoppage. Unfortunately for him, he is in a very difficult spot in a division that has quite a few moving parts. At this stage, there is no way the UFC books Aldo against Holloway or Edgar which leaves only Ortega and Zombie (if he beats Edgar) as potential opponents. The UFC may punish Ortega for not taking the short notice fight at 226 and if they do, Ortega vs. Aldo is a banger of a #1 contender fight while Holloway heals whatever is ailing him. If the UFC goes straight to Holloway/Ortega (which I am assuming they will), Aldo should wait to see if Zombie can get by Edgar. Then, Aldo vs. Korean Zombie is the rematch I have always wanted to see. If Holloway beats Ortega and Edgar beats Zombie, then Aldo’s path back to the top is murkier than ever.
Zane - Fights with Chad Mendez, Chan Sung Jung, or even Cub Swanson all hold appeal to me for Aldo at 145. However, there’s one bout that I’d really love to see, and it’s just the absolute perfect time to make it. Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis. Yesteryear’s star talents have both had big recent wins that showed they’re still dangerous men to be reckoned with. And this is one of those ‘promised’ bouts that we were supposed to see years ago and never came to be. I know it doesn’t sound like Aldo wants to move up and I doubt Pettis wants to move down again, but damnit UFC, find a way to make this fight. Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis is a better idea than it has been in years.
Goat - I was really rooting for Stephens here – partially because him getting his 1st title shot after such an amazing career would be fitting...but mainly because it would make the top of the division significantly cleaner. Stephens looked good before the body shot and had Aldo in a bit of trouble against the fence. As countless featherweights can attest to, it is quite difficult to look good against Aldo. Stephens is at his best when he has someone who wants to test him on the feet – as Aldo so willingly did. So, in the interest of creating some fireworks, Stephens vs. Chad Mendes is the way to go.
Zane - I could watch Stephens throw down with Chad Mendes. It’s the kind of ‘top 5’ opponent Mendes said he wanted next, and I’m sure Stephens would be up for it as a bounce-back from a loss that he almost certainly feels he didn’t deserve. I’d like to suggest some other, better loser vs. loser matchup as well, but I really don’t see anything that moves me. Ricardo Lamas maybe? The Mendes fight is just way cooler, and thus must happen. Jeremy Stephens vs. Chad Mendes is THE fight for both men.
Goat - Joanna got some swagger back in this fight (if she would admit to losing any of it to begin with). She handled Torres’ pressure game extremely well and was never in any real danger. Her striking was crisp as always, but she impressed most with her takedown defense and clinch work. With her last fight against Rose being as competitive as it was, and with no other sensible opponent for her, Joanna vs. the winner of the eventual Rose Namajunas/Jessica Andrade showdown is the only option.
Zane - Jessica Andrade getting booked to fight Karolina Kowalkiewicz is just weird. She should be getting the next chance at the belt, but I guess the UFC isn’t sure just when Rose is returning to action. And after all, both women have clear cases for title contention and that leaves the winner perfectly situated to take on Rose. No doubt Joanna will campaign hard for her own shot, but as long as Rose has the belt, I think she needs to make a stronger case than just a Torres win. If Rose loses to either Andrade or Kowalkiewicz, then Joanna can be next, no question. If she doesn’t, however, then let Joanna fight the Andrade/Kowalkiewicz loser. It’s not that fair to her, she’s beaten both, but I’m especially interested in the Kowalkiewicz rematch. Of course, the real dream is for Joanna to take on the winner of Montano vs. Shevchenko, but until she says she’s moving up, it’s just a dream.
Goat - The fight was competitive and Torres’ stock shouldn’t be too hurt after falling to the best strawweight of all time. Torres is so good at keeping the pressure on but never seems dangerous - especially with someone like Jedrzejczyk who is so tough to take down. After losses to two of the division’s best, the UFC should give Torres a pretty winnable fight to get her right back on track to the top. Earlier in the night, Nina Ansaroff strung together her 3rd win and The Tiny Tornado would be a stern test to see if Nina can hang with the division elite. Torres vs Nina Ansaroff is the fight to make.
Zane - Would Torres fight Ansaroff? After all Nunes fought Pennington, but that was with a belt on the line. Otherwise all four women seem like close friends, not to mention being former training partners. Obviously Torres against Karolina Kowalkiewicz off a loss would be a very good fight to make, but Claudia Gadelha is right there. Gadelha is coming off a win, but not an especially convincing one against Carla Esparza. Let’s see if she can keep momentum going against Torres. If she can’t, then that’s also a quick way to put Torres right back in title talk. Tecia Torres vs. Claudia Gadelha needs to happen.
Goat - Hernandez’s athleticism is off the charts and everything he does is lightning quick. He has the build to be a problem for a lot of lightweights. He did look a bit vulnerable on the mat during the scrambles with OAM. Hernandez needs a decent step up against someone who can make him pay for his pressure style. Pettis has the striking chops to give Hernandez a stern test on the feet and if the fight goes to the ground, Pettis has always been savvy from his back. Hernandez vs. Anthony Pettis will tell us if ‘The Great’ can back the hype or if Pettis’ rejuvenation is for real.
Zane - Just how big a fight has Hernandez earned? Because he’s been damn impressive so far, and looked every bit like a potential future contender dominating OAM the way he did. But, he’s also only had two bouts in the UFC. I can’t actually see Anthony Pettis wanting to fight him. But, what about Daniel Hooker? Hooker has had a career renaissance at lightweight, most recently cracking the rankings with a win over Gilbert Burns. A win over Hernandez would be a great feather in his cap as he searches for a top-10 opponent. And if Hernandez wins, then it’s yet more proof that he’s an elite fighter everyone needs to watch out for – not 1-2 years from now, but today. Hernandez vs. Hooker is a great fight.
Goat - Makhachev was dominant yet again. Dare I say, as dominant as Khabib - his fellow Dagestani. He definitely deserves a top 15 opponent. With grappling on a completely different level than most of the division, I would like to see Makhachev with someone who has the potential to be a threat on the ground. In the top 15, Chiesa and Pettis both sound like fun battles on the mat. I think Pettis is too big of a step up (and I have different plans for him) so Makhachev vs. Michael Chiesa is the fight to make. If anyone can scramble out of Makhachev’s grip, Chiesa is the guy to do it.
Zane - Michael Chiesa may be headed to welterweight, otherwise I agree he’d be a very fun next test for Makhachev. Whoever the Dagestani fights, it needs to be someone who can seriously hang with him in terms of wrestling and grappling. The Trinaldo/Dunham winner will be sitting around the bottom of the top 15 after their bout, so that wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but lightweight’s deep enough that Makhachev shouldn’t have to wait. There’s Alan Patrick, coming off his recent dominance of Damir Hadzovic, but there’s no prestige in that. How about Charles Oliveira? It’s not a ranked bout, but it’s high profile enough that I bet it’d satisfy Makhachev and give him a test against a really elite grappler who showed fantastic hands last time out. Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira for all the grappling. If that won’t work for some reason, then do Makhachev/Gillespie, because I need it.
Goat - A 3 fight win streak and 2 KOs speaks loudly in a division that is largely devoid of both. He said he is the #1 contender but he isn’t quite there yet. He has fought pretty much everyone in the division except for DJ, Cejudo, and Pettis. With DJ and Cejudo set to lock horns next week, Ortiz vs. Sergio Pettis can determine a true #1 contender - and maybe be for a fancy interim title if DJ decides to go for a Bantamweight superfight.
Zane - If Ortiz really wants a title shot, then it does kinda feel like he should battle Sergio Pettis to be no. 1 contender. But, Ortiz has a lot of other losses he could avenge. Most notably Jussier Formiga and Joseph Benavidez. The Benavidez fight, while winner vs. loser feels like the biggest proving ground. An opponent that was well out of reach for Ortiz years ago, but may not be now. And the fact that Benavidez just took a tough loss may make him more amenable to rematch a fight he’s won – unlike Formiga who probably doesn’t want to break a two fight win streak on a guy he already beat. I’d also be down to see Ortiz rematch Ray Borg. He won that one, but Borg charged out to title contention way ahead of him, so it’d be interesting to see where both men are now. Still, Dustin Ortiz vs. Joseph Benavidez is a rock solid flyweight fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Aubin-Mercier vs. Burns, Mein vs. Okami, Morono vs. Ottow, Dawodu vs. Guan, Arnett vs. Taha, Johnson vs. Pichel, Cutelaba vs. Johnson, Antigulov vs. Cannonier, Makdessi vs. Teymur, Pearson vs. Guida, Chookagian vs. Eubanks, Davis vs. Modafferi, Nicolau vs. Moreno, Ansaroff vs. Waterson, Markos vs. Herrig, Powell vs. Gruetzemacher, Herrera vs. Moret