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UFC Rochester: Dos Anjos vs. Lee - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book, following their latest event in Rochester, NY.

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UFC Rochester was the kind of classic fight card upon which the UFC built their reputation. The kind that fans became accustomed to expecting every time out. A card whose quality doesn’t end up being rated purely on the delivery of main event action, but is instead buoyed all up and down by fun, interesting fights. There were KOs, submissions, upsets; prospects got the chance to shine in their debuts and several veterans brought themselves a step closer to title contention.

So, is RDA back in the hunt at welterweight? How long before the UFC sets Felicia Spencer up to face Cris Cyborg? And is it asking too much that every card has at least one Michel Pereira fight? Maybe two?

To answer all these questions – and many more – I’ll be pulling from the classic Shelby/Silva book of fight-making methodology. 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 matching-up some top-quality fights, leave a comment below starting with, “Hey Dana, hey Sean! Let’s stop playing around.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.

There were no entries for this week’s column, so I’m flying solo.

RAFAEL DOS ANJOS

He’s talking title contention, but much like ‘Wonderboy’ back when Woodley was champ, I think there’d need to be a change of scenery at the top before RDA would get a shot at the belt. Covington is next in line and both he and Usman had wins over RDA that not only were reasonably strong (especially in Usman’s case), but also not that thrilling. Part of me wants to see RDA against the winner of Masvidal/Askren, but if that winner is Askren I am not interested in seeing RDA against yet another grinding wrestler. Thompson’s and Till’s losses were both too crushing for those fights to make sense right now. So, instead I’ll say RDA should take on the winner of Pettis vs. Diaz. He has wins over both men already, but they’d still feel like new fights at welterweight and it’d be wins both men would probably want to get back. Otherwise Ponzinibbio and Edwards are out there, but they’d probably be best suited fighting one another or subbing in for Woodley against Lawler. End of the day, RDA vs. the Pettis/Diaz winner for a welterweight rematch of a lightweight fight seems like the best way to go.

KEVIN LEE

Stay at welterweight, go back to lightweight? Either way, he’ll have to do something about his cardio and composure. That’s two straight fights now, and three of his last four, where it seems like he’s wilted against elite competition that could stand up to his physicality. Since his weight cut seems to be a brutal one, I’ll say he should stay at 170. And if he’s going to do that, how about a fight with Darren Till? Till is coming off his own crushing losses, one of them to a shorter wrestler and the other to a former lightweight. Lee isn’t the potent striker that either Masvidal or Woodley are, but he can still ask a lot of questions that Till needs to answer. And Till’s massive size can give Lee some pause as to whether or not welterweight really makes long-term sense. Kevin Lee vs. Darren Till seems like would be a telling contest.

IAN HEINISCH

Heinisch has one of the more impressive 2-0 starts in recent UFC history. He’s made mincemeat of strong Brazilian grapplers with his combination of insane toughness, cardio, and endless scrambling ability. He should also now have a number next to his name. Fights with Jared Cannonier or Uriah Hall seem like they’d make a good amount of sense next. I especially like the Hall fight, since Hall just crushed another relative newcomer, but still struggles with consistency and has had many issues with wrestling over the course of his UFC tenure. If those fights can’t be made, a bout against Brad Tavares would also be a strong option and a really solid step up against a composed veteran with good cardio and good takedown defense. Heinisch vs. Hall is option A for a strong style matchup, but the lower end of the top 15 is wide open for any fight Heinisch can get.

FELICIA SPENCER

The best thing the UFC can do for Spencer and the rest of her division is to keep signing more women. Recent additions of Zarah Fairn Dos Santos, Bea Malecki, and Duda Santana suggest the UFC is actually interested in building women’s MMA at 145 lbs, but it’s been a damn slow process to get even the seven featherweights the UFC has. A fight with Cat Zingano would make solid enough sense, if Zingano is still interested in 145. Zingano’s a crafty, athletic grappler, who would likely fight off Spencer’s offense better than Anderson did. If not that, put her in against the winner of Duda Santana vs. Bea Malecki at UFC Stockholm. If nothing else, it’ll get her cage time before the inevitable huge step up into a Cyborg or Nunes bout. Spencer vs. Zingano is the best option if the UFC can’t bring in more talent.

VICENTE LUQUE

Luque needs a serious step up. That was supposed to come from Neil Magny. But obviously, Magny now has his own stuff to deal with, and no telling how long that’ll take. Depending on how things with Lawler/Edwards/Ponzinibbio shake out, Luque would be well served to take on whoever was left over (maybe excepting Edwards). But, I get the feeling he’s going to be passed over for a fight with that kind of profile. Too dangerous, not enough name value; not a guy many people will be eager to face. That being the case, Elizeu Zaleski is right there. Another Brazilian welterweight buzzsaw of an action-fighter, fresh off stomping his own string of hapless victims. Put the two together and make some in-cage magic. Luque vs. Zaleski is a fight too good to miss.

CHARLES OLIVEIRA

Much like Luque, ‘Do Bronx’ really needs some UFC fight booking love. This bout against Nik Lentz was fun and all, but it just didn’t need to happen, and proved nothing we don’t already know. Fights against James Vick, Islam Makhachev, and Gregor Gillespie all beckon as ranked opponents who can offer various challenges to the Brazilian. But, while I like the weirdness of a Vick fight a lot, he’s riding two losses. The timing is off. And I’d really like to see Makhachev and Gillespie take on one another. Instead I’ll say Oliveira should take on another, higher profile opponent coming off a loss Al Iaquinta. Iaquinta’s toughness and defensive wrestling would make for a huge challenge against Oliveira. But we’ve seen Al struggle with range kickboxing a couple times lately, and he has a few sub losses on his record too. Edson Barboza would be another option, if Iaquinta isn’t game for the fight. If his opponent really needs to be a fighter coming off a win, Islam Makhachev would do, but I’d be fascinated to see Iaquinta vs. Oliveira.

ASPEN LADD

With Pennington now booked against Aldana and Ketlen Vieira still recovering from injury, Germaine de Randamie is just about the only opponent out there for Ladd to face. Unfortunately, De Randamie has been a bit snakebit in terms of cage time since losing to Amanda Nunes back in 2013. She’s fought only four times since, (although all those fights have been wins). Even if GDR is coming back soon though, that fight still feels all wrong. Ladd still clearly needs technical seasoning with her striking and GDR could walk into a title shot without beating her right now (especially if Holm defeats Nunes). Let Ladd wait for Vieira, or for the winner of Aldana vs. Pennington. Neither are options I love, but nothing else feels right.

MICHEL PEREIRA

I’d love to see Pereira go to middleweight and fight someone like Heinisch or Azaitar, or Jotko, but I don’t get the feeling that his amazing result in Rochester is going to push him to 185 any time soon. As long as he’s comfortable making the cut, he might as well get a good action fight at 170 lbs. Niko Price could provide that, as could Warlley Alves, or Mike Perry. Of all those, the Price fight just feels like it would be absurdly violent. Two big, rangy, powerful, and unpredictable welterweights, willing to throw down from all positions until someone goes to sleep. Michel Pereira vs. Niko Price for a new crown prince of violence.

JULIO ARCE

Arce may not have the power to just spark people quick at 145, but he’s got the craft to out-land a lot of fighters over the course of 3 rounds. And, as he did here, just maybe find that perfect shot somewhere in the mix. The UFC could throw him in with Andre Fili, with ‘Touchy’ coming off his strong showing against Myles Jury. But otherwise a lot of the winners in this division are booked right now. It’s not a high profile fight, but a surefire action bout would be against Gabriel Benitez. ‘Moggly’ has speed and power, even if he doesn’t quite have Arce’s technical depth. It’d provide something like Arce’s matchup against Moraes, without the variety to worry about. It should give Arce a chance to prove that he can win against seasoned competition in the UFC, even if he’s not a constant KO threat. Arce vs. Benitez promises to be a very fun scrap.

OTHER BOUTS: Antonio Carlos Junior vs. David Branch, Megan Anderson vs. Zarah Fairn Dos Santos, Derrick Krantz vs. Lyman Good, Nik Lentz vs. Rustam Khabilov, Davi Ramos vs. Magomed Mustafaev, Austin Hubbard vs. Thomas Gifford, Sijara Eubanks vs. Marion Reneau, Des Green vs. Alexander Yakovlev, Charles Jourdain vs. Choi Seung-Woo, Danny Roberts vs. Curtis Millender, Grant Dawson vs. Bryce Mitchell, Mike Trizano vs. Danny Henry, Ed Herman vs. Saparbek Safarov, Patrick Cummins vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov, Zak Cummings vs. Omari Akhmedov, Trevin Giles vs. Oskar Piechota, Julian Erosa vs. Kyle Bochniak