UFC 234 exceeded expectations. Which is mostly to say that it wasn’t the worst PPV card the promotion has ever put together. A lot of lopsided matchmaking made for some quick finishes, and Anderson Silva put together one of his best performances in a long time, to lose a well contested 3-round bout to a seemingly somewhat star-struck Israel Adesanya. Still not good, but a lot better than it could have been.
Unfortunately, it’s still not a card that left viewers with a lot of easy answers or clear next moves. Did failing to finish a 43-year-old Silva diminish Adesanya’s hype? Is there a sensible next opponent for Anderson lurking on the UFC roster? Does anyone know who Jimmy Crute is yet?
To answer these questions – and not much more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology 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 shot at some matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “Kelvin, put that belt down,” and I’ll pick one response to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader John aka ‘tebowned’:
I’m John; 27-year old-male. A former child-hobo, high school drop-out, husband, and father of two beautiful girls. I work for an IT company in Boise, Idaho and I’m a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Been watching MMA for 15ish years and fought a few amateur fights as a teenager. I love MMA and Georges St. Pierre is the GOAT.
John - The Last Stylebender just beat the middleweight GOAT, Anderson Silva, by clear unanimous decision. Adesanya definitely has that “IT” factor but I’d like to see him fight at least once more before challenging for a title. Assuming they re-book Whittaker vs Gastelum fairly soon, lets have Stylebender take another a top 5 opponent as the co-main event. At the press conference it sounds like he wants to wait for the title shot but admitted he gets “Itchy Knuckles.” Jacare is coming off a huge win over Chris Weidman. Book Stylebender vs Jacare Souza as your number 1 contender’s fight.
Side note: Last year before UFC Boise I said hi to Stylebender while he was strolling down the streets of Boise, Idaho by himself. I was a bit star struck.
Zane - Really the only middleweight fight I don’t want to see Adesanya in right now is against Yoel Romero. Not because it wouldn’t be fun as hell or because it may not be competitive, it could be both. But, if Romero doesn’t have a clear path back to Whittaker, him stomping rising contenders at 185 doesn’t make that much sense. Otherwise, fights with Jacare, Rockhold, Costa (should he beat Romero), or Gastelum all make sense. If Whittaker is going to be out for a while, then book Adesanya vs. Gastelum. If Whittaker’s return is going to be as fast as everyone hopes, then go ahead and try Adesanya vs. Jacare. It’d be a lot of fun and the best test yet of Adesanya’s defensive wrestling and grappling skills.
John - Wow. The Spider was surprisingly competitive against Adesanya and his stock didn’t take a hit in my eyes. At the ripe age of 43, let’s give him a master’s division fight in his hometown of Curitiba. There’s really no one I wanna see him against in the middleweight Top 15, or against Conor McGregor, and I don’t wanna see the Nick Diaz rematch. Hear me out as it’s a little out of the box, Anderson Silva vs Shogun Rua at light heavyweight. There’s the Chute Boxe connection, Rua had a rivalry with Blackhouse’s Lyoto Machida and Lil’ Nog, and they’re both from Curitiba, Brazil. Anderson Silva vs Mauricio Rua at UFC 237 in Curitiba.
Zane - If Silva takes on another middleweight, interesting fights for him are thin on the ground. The only two I can see that would spark any of my interest would be Luke Rockhold and Uriah Hall. Rockhold’s struggles have raised some solid questions about his competitive striking at an elite level, and Hall has always been an extremely hot and cold exciting talent. But, in either case I’d be watching through my fingers. I like the idea of a Shogun fight – in theory – but Silva said years ago that he didn’t really want to fight other Brazilian fighters, and I have to think that would carry especially for a fight in front of Brazilian fans. I know it’s not a step away from danger, but honestly Gokhan Saki is wasted fighting dudes like Saparbek Safarov. Whether he wins or loses that fight, why not look at a fight between him and Silva. Maybe Jimi Manuwa? Or maybe, just maybe, that eternally elusive GSP fight.
John - It’s safe to say this was setup to get Lando back in the win column after re-signing him. The plan went through, as Lando got to show off his grappling by applying a Kimura against the seemingly defenseless Mariano. Recent bias but I wanna see him take on Devonte Smith. That could be a fun striking battle on ESPN to lead into a PPV. Please book Lando Vannata vs Davonte Smith.
Zane - Vannata is back on the horse, and if he’s going to keep getting the Mike Perry action fighter treatment, every win likely means a much much tougher fight next time out. Maybe Charles Oliveira, or Francisco Trinaldo, or Gregor Gillespie... But hopefully not. Vannata called out Jim Miller and that would actually be a good quality booking. Miller is both a name action talent that can challenge Vannata everywhere, and someone who has had just as much trouble finding wins lately. But, lightweight is deep and there’s not a ton of reason to go winner/loser if I don’t have to. Gilbert Burns got a strong win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier recently and would be a solid next fight — as would Joaquim Silva or Davi Ramos. Since Burns is the most kill-or-be-killed fighter of any of those options I’ll go with him. Vannata vs. Burns would be a quality action battle.
John - I’m pretty high on the likely-ranked Ricky Simon. We needed another mullet in the UFC after Mike Pyle retired. Once he gets more experience, works on his striking, and pacing, he’ll be a contender. If the UFC gives him another step up, I’d love to see him against a striker. Alejandro Perez is a tough volume striker with decent takedown defense on a 7 fight unbeaten streak. Ricky Simon vs Alejandro Perez will make a good bantamweight scrap.
Zane - I would be 100% down with Simon vs. Perez, but unfortunately Perez is booked against Cody Stamann right now. The winner of that bout, however, would definitely be a good next opponent if Simon wants to wait that long. Assuming that he doesn’t want to wait, then there is one super clear next fight for Ricky to take: Rob Font. Font is coming of a nice – if not spectacular – win over Sergio Pettis, and has established himself as a decent borderline-elite threat at 135. If Simon can go out and put the screws to him for a win, then he really is on his way to contention. If he can’t, then that’s likely a setback he needs to face now, in a division full of power punching threats. Simon vs. Font is the fight the UFC needs to make.
John - I feel Jim Crute’s stoppage of Alvey was warranted, though on the early side. At just 22 years old in a thin division, let’s build the Aussie up and give him a slightly ‘easier’ route than Tyson Pedro. Let’s re-book Crute against Ryan Spann if he’s not out for too long. Jim “The Brute” Crute vs Ryan “Superman” Spann.
Zane - Whatever controversy you want to put on the stoppage, this was a great win for Jim Crute, and easily the most notable of his career so far. The young Aussie appears to be improving steadily, and that counter hook he hit Alvey with was a thing of beauty. But, I’ll echo John’s sentiments here, and say that at just 22-years-old and 3-years pro experience, he needs to be slow-played. A bout with Ryan Spann would be fine when Spann returns from injury, as would Darko Stosic. But, since there’s no reason to schedule him to someone else’s recovery timetable, I’ll say match Crute up with Mike Rodriguez. Rodriguez is dangerous but not so well rounded that Crute won’t have clear paths to victory. Crute vs. Mike Rodriguez would be a solid scrap for both men.
John - Raulian Paiva gave Kai Kara-France all he could handle and I thought it could’ve gone either way. Kai is a very exciting fighter but may be undersized at bantamweight if the UFC nixes flyweight. Assuming they’re Highlander-ing the division until there’s only one, his next fight will be at Flyweight against someone coming off of a W. Kai Kara-France against fellow TUF Champions Alum Eric Shelton.
Zane - It’s hard to even know who still remains at flyweight for Kara-France to fight. Is Mark De La Rosa still around? Is Eric Shelton? What happened to Brandon Moreno and Matheus Nicolau. A fight with Moreno would be especially good right now, but I’m almost certain Moreno has been cut. Instead, I’ll say book Kara-France against Rogerio Bontorin, just because I’m at least sure he’s around after just picking up a win over Magomed Bibulatov. Kara-France vs. Bontorin to see which talented 125er gets unceremoniously axed.
John - He called out Francisco Trinaldo post-fight. I don’t like it. It’s too much too soon in my opinion. Devonte has scary power for 155 but there’s levels to this game. After two quick finishes, let’s see if he can give Groovy the “bing bing.” Please book Lando Vannata vs Devonte Smith.
Zane - Smith’s speed and power are going to carry him into some deep waters in a hurry. Heck, Lando Vannata just might be those deep waters if the UFC decided to match them up. Most of the fighters he faces at 155 in the UFC are going to be more experienced than he is, and not all of them are going to be near as tenative as ‘Maestro’ Kim. A fight between Smith and Don Madge would be fireworks right out of the gate, but Smith may have earned a shot at more notable opposition. Would a fight with Joaquim Silva be too much too soon? What about Stevie Ray? I’ll say go with the Ray fight. It’s a bigger name opponent who has shown the ability to fight elusively and aggressively to pick up wins, but doesn’t have the kind of technical grappling game to totally take Smith out of his element. Ray vs. Smith should be a real test of Smith’s composure standing, and ability to adapt.
KYUNG HO KANG
John - He had to battle back from adversity to put Ishihara to sleep and it was an awesome one round fight. After taking two years off for mandatory military commitments, I think he’s fully settled back in. I’d like to see him against one of bantamweight’s lower ranked wild men, Merab Dvalishvili. Kyung Ho Kang vs Merab Dvalishvili for a wild fight.
Zane - As long as he keeps picking up random wins, Kyung Ho Kang seems like an ideal testing point for top prospects looking to move up the division. A dangerous wrestler, grappler, and striker; a big, powerful athlete. But, one without a lot of the control and/or standing technique to make him an unsolvable problem. Said Nurmagomedov just beat the man that beat ‘Mr. Perfect,’ so that wouldn’t be a bad option. But, I think a fight with Raoni Barcelos would just be too much fun to pass on right now. The Brazilian has already cut his teeth fighting tough competition regionally and at 31 is pretty much a finished product. A war with Kyung Ho Kang would be a great way to see if he’s ready to start taking on the fringes of the top 10. Kyung Ho vs. Barcelos is a must see fight.
MONTANA DE LA ROSA
John - Montana’s ground game is impressive. That’s 3 submission wins in a row since her stint on TUF (where she lost to the eventual winner). It sounds like she’d like to take a big step up in competition. Book Montana De La Rosa vs JoJo Calderwood.
Zane - De La Rosa may want to jump into the top end of the division right now – and with a 3-0 record it’s going to be tough for the UFC to deny her for long – but the 23-year-old could still definitely use some seasoning. She’s an aggressive action fighter and her ground game is slick, but her striking defense is still pretty porous. To that end, a fight against Mara Romero Borella would absolutely be the right next step. Borella presents a lot of the same stylistic threats as MDLR, just a decade older and with wins over a higher level of competition. Let De La Rosa test herself against a strong athlete in the division who can’t easily be bullied off her game. If she can win that fight, more notable bouts should be right there waiting. De La Rosa vs. Borella is the right test right now.
OTHER BOUTS: Mariano vs. Gorgees, Yahya vs. Alcantara, Kassem vs. Ostovich, Alvey vs. Herman, Maestro Kim vs. Giagos, Young vs. Dawodu, Arnett vs. Holobaugh, Paiva vs. Jin Soo, Ishihara vs. Cannetti, Turner vs. Trizano, Potter vs. Powell, Martinez vs. Pingyuan, Buren vs. Bautista