UFC on ESPN 7 started with a bang and ended with one, but kinda slogged a bit in the middle. Well, maybe not so much slogged, as got caught up in a series of weird fights and weirder decisions. Jairzinho Rozenstruik picked up a massive KO win over Alistair Overeem—but whether or not the fight should have been stopped is up for debate. Meanwhile Stefan Struve got his nethers rearranged twice, before ending up on the wrong side of a TKO loss. And there were not one, but two majority draws.
So, is Rozenstruik ready for Francis Ngannou? Is there any reason to run back Cody Stamann vs. Song Yadong? What about Rodriguez vs. Calvillo? And is Aspen Ladd ready for another chance to be a bantamweight top contender?
I’ll be answering all those questions – and one or two more – using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with “If I ever spin, somebody please slap me,” and I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me for next week’s UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington card.
Now, let’s get to the fights...
Whether or not fans agree with the result, Rozenstruik proved – at the very least – that he can fight a composed, consistent battle for 5 whole rounds—and remain dangerous throughout. At heavyweight, that kind of ability is often enough to get the win (as Derrick Lewis has been testament to time and again). Overeem flagged hard late, while Rozenstruik didn’t. And as Overeem tried to coast out the final round, Rozenstruik started putting it on him—to brutal results. After the fight, he called out Francis Ngannou. And frankly, I’d love to see it, if Ngannou is willing to wait until Rozenstruik’s desired timeline of March or April. If Ngannou isn’t, then ‘Bigi Boy’ can take on just about any ranked heavyweight who’s willing. He needs all the cage time he can get. Of the available bouts, fights against Alexander Volkov or Walt Harris would be the most sensible. But, if Rozenstruik wants the ‘Predator’ give him Ngannou.
I’m not quite as sure that the referee made a mistake in handing Overeem a KO loss in the final seconds of his 5 round fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik as I am sure that Overeem was very hard done by. Right or wrong, in most cases, that fight probably sees the final bell—and there’s a good chance he walks out with a win, if not at least a draw. However, instead he’s riding a loss, and any potential title contention bouts he may have envisioned are out the window. That could mean a bout with Shamil Abdurakhimov, or perhaps Blagoi Ivanov. Both would be totally fine contests. But, I think there’s a much more relevant fight upcoming, that could provide a far more interesting fresh matchup for the ‘Reem’: Ilir Latifi vs. Derrick Lewis. Let Overeem fight the loser of that battle. It should be surefire weirdness, and a quality main card attraction. Alistair Overeem vs. the Latifi/Lewis loser.
MARINA RODRIGUEZ/CYNTHIA CALVILLO
Unlike the draw between Cody Stamann and Song Yadong earlier in the night. This is a fight that I’d be absolutely happy to see be played back. Rodriguez was doing work on the feet, but she gave up all the takedowns Calvillo tried for—and it ended up being a mistake she couldn’t afford, after getting dominated for the third round on the mat. If they aren’t going to fight one another, then Marina Rodriguez could be a great fight for Carla Esparza. And I’d be perfectly happy to see Cynthia Calvillo vs. Michelle Waterson. So there are other easy options, in case either woman can’t take this rematch in the near future. But, as long as both women are ready to go on the same schedule, then Marina Rodriguez vs. Cynthia Calvillo 2 is the way to go.
Not really a great win for Rothwell, but it’s a win nonetheless. And for a man who was once brushing up against title contention, it’s a badly needed rerun from three straight decision losses—stretching all the way back to his USADA suspension following his bout against Junior Dos Santos in 2016. He could potentially take on Shamil Abdurakhimov, but I think a lower-profile winner is probably the right move. Someone like Augusto Sakai or Sergei Pavlovich. Of those, I think the Pavlovich fight is the best to make. Pavlovich’s combination of clinch wrestling and distance striking should create a lot of problems for Rothwell, while still giving ‘Big Ben’ the opportunity to land shots in those middle distances. It’d be a name for Pavlovich’s record, and a chance to become a ranked heavyweight again for Rothwell. Ben Rothwell vs. Sergei Pavlovich is a quality heavyweight fight to make.
Exactly the bounce-back Ladd needed, to prove that she’s still one of the top prospects in the women’s bantamweight division. She may not have had the cleanest performance of her career, but she showed once again that she’s got the kind of raw physicality that can carry her to title contention sometime in the not too distant future. The UFC has booked up most of the top 10 around her, but there’s one matchup that’s a surefire thriller and couldn’t be better: Julianna Pena. Pena came off a year and a half on the sidelines to pick up a win over former flyweight champ Nicco Montano. She’s got a similar kind of physically dominating, raw style to Ladd—one that should create a fun fight that’s difficult for both women to control easily. Aspen Ladd vs. Julianna Pena could create a top contender.
I gotta treat Stamann like a winner here, even if the judges didn’t. It seemed like he clearly took the first, and the third. Along with a point deduction for Yadong, that should have led to a clear win on the cards. And with that being said, I can’t see running this fight back either. Let Stamann move forward, let Yadong take a step back. A bout with Rob Font wouldn’t be a terrible idea for Stamann, but instead I’ll say he should fight John Dodson. Dodson’s coming off a couple losses, but he’s the higher profile, better ranked opponent here—and more likely to raise Stamann’s profile in the division if he can pull out a win. John Dodson vs. Cody Stamann may not be a thriller, but it’s a quality test for Stamann and a step forward.
Font came out with a perfect plan to fight a pressure-based wrestle grinder like Ricky Simon. He made sure to put Simon on the back foot as often as possible, got off the mat quickly, and kept his jab active. It’s a fantastic sign for Font, as a fighter who has struggled against high-output, pressuring opponents. Unfortunately for the Sityodtong fighter, most of the ranked bantamweights are already booked or coming off a loss. With Stamann and Yadong going to a decision, takes heat off what felt like the best possible matchup for Font. So, instead, I’ll go winner/loser here and say Font should take on former champ Cody Garbrandt. I know ‘No Love’ is coming off three straight losses, but that’s also exactly the kind of record that might make him at all likely to take a fight with a dangerous, low-profile fighter like Font. And there just isn’t another clear fun fight out there for him. Rob Font vs. Cody Garbrandt is the match Font should be gunning for after this win.
Both men were in ‘must win’ position here. For Alves, he was looking to ride into free agency off a highlight, and Means had lost four of his last six fights. That left hand landed perfect in the pocket, though, and Means chased it expertly for the guillotine finish. As a longtime, wily action-fighting veteran at 170, a win opens up all kinds of possibilities for his next bout. If the UFC wants to keep him in the cage with other veteran performers, James Krause is coming off a sweet highlight victory, as is Danny Roberts. There are also prospect matches with fighters like Randy Brown, Ismail Naurdiev, and Sean Brady. I think that Danny Roberts fight seems like an exceptionally good idea out of those options. Like Means, he’s an action performer who’s always fun to watch win or lose, and can take the fight anywhere. Should make for an entertaining, back-and-forth contest. Tim Means vs. Danny Roberts would be a quality scrap.
‘Thug Nasty’ turned in an all-time great UFC performance tonight. He got Matt Sayles down early and often in their bout, and floated on top of his opponent with ease—transitioning between mount and back control constantly. Somewhere in there, he ended up in position for a twister and wrote his name in the MMA history books. That could very well lead to a fast bump up in competition; someone like Darren Elkins or Enrique Barzola. Maybe a fight with Ricardo Ramos could be on offer? But, I think there’s a solid next step that lets Mitchell continue to show off his game, without softballing him, or putting him in position to sink or swim. Charles Rosa recently came back from extended layoff to get a great submission win. Rosa’s combination of funky kicks and aggressive grappling should make for thriller. Charles Rosa vs. Bryce Mitchell would be all action.
OTHER BOUTS: Stefan Struve vs. Maurice Greene/Oleksiy Oliynyk loser, Yana Kunitskaya vs. Bethe Correia, Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney, Ricky Simon vs. Alejandro Perez, Thiago Alves vs. Nordine Taleb, Billy Quarantillo vs. Giga Chikadze, Jacob Kilburn vs. Martin Bravo, Matt Sayles vs. Jordan Griffin, Joe Solecki vs. Joel Alvarez, Virna Jandiroba vs. Loma Lookboonmee, Mallory Martin vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Makhmud Muradov vs. Karl Roberson, Trevor Smith vs. Markus Perez