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UFC Ottawa: Iaquinta vs. Cowboy - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest card in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Despite the meaningful fights being few and far between – and the action notably limited –UFC’s Ottawa card nonetheless delivered a few results with real ramifications for their respective divisions. Donald Cerrone proved he’s still one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world—while Shane Burgos announced a real changing of the guard at featherweight. And Macy Chiasson continues to show up as one of the most physically dominant prospects women’s bantamweight has seen in a while.

So, can Cerrone find any room in the title picture at 155? Is Burgos ready to jump all the way into the deep end at 145? And just how much does scraping by Elias Theodorou mean for Derek Brunson’s quest to reinvent himself late in his career?

To answer these questions – and maybe one or two more – I’ll be leaning on the old-school Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology of 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 fight booking, leave a comment below starting with, “There is a Pitbull out there, who I would love to neuter.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.

Since I was out last week (thanks to Nick for stepping in) I’m flying solo this time around.

DONALD CERRONE

In a fully functioning UFC world, Donald Cerrone vs. Conor McGregor still feels like the fight to make. It’s still a fight that interests fans (maybe more than every after this win), it’s still a fight ‘Cowboy’ is asking for, and it’s likely a fight McGregor still would take. But, in the actual UFC of the world as we know it, there’s no telling just when McGregor will be back or against whom. And unfortunately for Cerrone, the title is booked at least one fight out, if not two.

That puts two men clearly in his sights... assuming they don’t just fight one another: Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson. Obviously Gaethje vs. Cerrone could be the perfect ESPN main event (or PPV co-main) especially for some future Denver card. But, the UFC isn’t going to Colorado any time soon. And I’m honestly a lot more fascinated by the dynamics at play in a Tony Ferguson fight. Would Ferguson be happy to stand and strike? Especially given his own habit of starting slow? Or would he try and out-wrestle Cerrone? Could he out-grapple him? I’m not sure of any of those questions, and I want to find out. Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone is the fight to make if McGregor is unavailable.

AL IAQUINTA

Coming off a big, big win over Kevin Lee, this loss to Cerrone was a pretty crushing setback—at least if Iaquinta was hoping for a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov any time soon. Instead he’s likely got one of two fights staring him in the face: Paul Felder, or Edson Barboza. And with Barboza coming off his own decisive loss, that fight makes almost too much sense. It would be a clear opportunity for Iaquinta to reassert his reputation as a pressure fighter, after failing to make the grade against ‘Cowboy.’ And an opportunity for Barboza to prove that he’s still dynamic and dangerous enough that not just any tough fighter at the top of 155 right now can beat him. If neither of those options work, then there’s always a bigger step back like James Vick or Gregor Gillespie. But, it feels like Iaquinta vs. Barboza is one of the few high level action fights at 155 we haven’t gotten to see yet.

DEREK BRUNSON

Expectations were reasonably high that a fight between Derek Brunson and Elias Theodorou would be an ugly affair... but man was it ever ugly. Brunson hoped to put on a more composed performance, but mostly ended up walking after Theodorou, eating wonky low power kicks and backfisted strikes. Still, with a couple big takedowns and some firmly landed kicks of his own, he picked up the win and kept his place in the middleweight top 10.

If Jared Cannonier beats Anderson Silva, Brunson could be the guy most ready to scrap with him. Otherwise give Brunson the winner of Iain Heinisch vs. Antonio Carlos Jr. A chance for another rising middleweight to try and use Brunson as a jumping off point for a spot in the top 10, or for Brunson to string a couple wins together before throwing him back in against one of the division’s true elite. Brunson vs. the Heinisch/Carlos Jr. winner is a decent next fight if Cannonier can’t get past Silva.

SHANE BURGOS

That was one hell of a scalp Shane Burgos just added to his collection. Beating Cub Swanson is miles beyond anything ‘Hurricane’ has done to date, and most likely it’s going to earn him a very tough outing next time around. That could mean Jeremy Stephens, or Josh Emmett, or Yair Rodriguez. Or maybe Mirsad Bektic once he heals up. Of all those options, I think Emmett makes the best sense. He’s got a pretty similar record at this point in his career, is also coming off a win, and (much like Stephens) has the kind of power that Burgos would really have to respect defensively. A good test coming off a fight where the Tiger Schulmann talent went essentially strike-for-strike with his opponent, but managed to land the better blows. Not something he could afford as easily against a big punching featherweight. Burgos vs. Emmett looks like just the right test to see if the rising prospect can protect his chin when it really counts.

CUB SWANSON

There’s no other way to put it, Cub Swanson is officially in a rut. It may be that the wear and tear of a fifteen year fight career is starting to really catch up to him. Or it may be that the game is evolving past his skills. Either way, he’s lost four fights in a row. That doesn’t mean he’s not still a premiere action talent at 145; a fighter fans will show up to see and root for. Just maybe not one of the best in the world, right now. As long as he wants to keep going, he needs another action fight. Fights against Andre Fili or Michael Johnson would both deliver. And I wouldn’t be at all averse to seeing him take on Darren Elkins. End of the day, I’m going to lean toward the Johnson fight. It’s just the kind of fast-paced striking match that’d show off the most fun side of Swanson’s skill set. If that doesn’t work, he could provide an opportunity for someone like Sodiq Yusuff to rocket his name up the division, but that doesn’t feel right. Cub Swanson vs. Michael Johnson, just to keep Cub in action striking bouts.

WALT HARRIS

He called out Oliynyk and Willis... two men coming off decisive losses. Not the most notable names possible. But at the same time, they are both ranked. And since they both need to get back to winning, they’d probably be pretty likely to take a fight agaisnt someone who has lost as often as Harris. A fight against Augusto Sakai would also make sense, since Sakai went out and got himself ranked off an Arlovski win just recently.

But, if he’s going to put himself out there to face a guy coming off a loss, then Walt Harris vs. Justin Willis is a very decent mid-level heavyweight fight to book. Harris has the kind of speed and power standing that Willis would absolutely have to respect, while Willis has the kind of composure and counter-punching that could likely push Harris into the sort of slower-paced fight he tends to lose. A chance for Harris to prove he can problem solve against well-schooled competition. And a chance for Willis to prove that Hunt win wasn’t just a perfect storm of circumstances. Walt Harris vs. Justin Willis is the right fight right now.

MACY CHIASSON

Chiasson clearly still needs seasoning to become the kind of well rounded fighter that can compete against the best in the world. But for the moment, her physical tools and general scrappy-ness are making up the difference. A fight with Marion Reneau wouldn’t be a bad way for her to test herself against a dangerous opponent, who will also give her long stretches to work her own game. But even that may be a step too far forward. Instead, the winner of Irene Aldana vs. Bethe Correia would be a good way forward for Chiasson. Both women are aggressive and experienced, but neither is so polished that they’d be likely to easily expose the gaps in Chiasson’s game. And Aldana would be the rare bantamweight that could really match Chiasson for size. There’s also the winner of Lansberg vs. Evinger if Chaisson wants a bit sterner step up (especially if Evinger wins). Macy Chiasson vs. the Aldana/Correia winner would be a good way to bring a prospect along slowly.

NORDINE TALEB

A good win for Taleb that he absolutely had to have. On paper he was the better fighter everywhere. More experienced, more technical, and a bigger, stronger athlete. And he performed up to that standard with a clear decision, based on good defensive striking fundamentals. So let’s keep him away from the debuting talent that’s just not good enough to compete with him, yeah? It’s too bad Li Jingiang is injured, because that’d be a great matchup right now, as would Michel Prazeres, or Gunnar Nelson.

If we’re talking about opponents coming off a win, however, there are two that spring to mind: Niko Price and Dheigo Lima. I especially like the idea of a Lima fight. The younger Lima brother has been around for a while now, and seemed like he’d be permanently in Douglas’ shadow. But, his wins over Chad Laprise and Court McGee suggest that he’s been making some real improvements. Given Taleb’s recent losses, this seems like just the right point for Lima to see if he can add another veteran name to his resume, or to see if Taleb can make another push toward the top of 170. Book Taleb vs. Lima and see if the Brazilian can take another step forward.

MATT SAYLES

A mess of a fight, but Sayles showed off some great decision making in the moment to pull out a fantastic submission win. His toughness, ability to shrug off takedowns in open space, and opportunistic finishing will make him a real challenge as his skills continue to evolve. A fight with Hakeem Dawodu seems like an excellent chance for him to show off well-rounded-ness in his game against another slick striker. Or just to show his toughness in a hard fought stand-up battle. If he’s not afraid to face another incredibly tough grinder, then fights with Mike Grundy or Movsar Evloev are right there too. And I really like the idea of putting him in with Chinese kickboxing sensation Guan Wang. Actually, I’ll go with the Guan Wang fight. It’s tough to find meaningful match-ups for the ‘Dongbei Tiger,’ but Sayles seems like he could offer a hard-fought battle where either man has a strong chance of getting his hand raised. Matt Sayles vs. Guan Wang is a rock solid action-bout at the bottom of 145.

OTHER BOUTS: Elias Theodorou vs. David Branch, Merab Dvalishvili vs. Montel Jackson, Brad Katona vs. Mark De La Rosa, Serghei Spivac vs. Dmitry Smoliakov, Andrew Sanchez vs. Omari Akhmedov, Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Oskar Piechota, Sarah Moras vs. Gina Mazany, Vince Morales vs. Jonathan Martinez, Aiemann Zahabi vs. Benito Lopez, Kyle Prepolec vs. Thomas Gifford, Kyle Nelson vs. Bobby Moffett, Arjan Bhullar vs. Sergey Pavlovich, Juan Adams vs. Jeff Hughes, Cole Smith vs. Brandon Davis, Mitch Gagnon vs. Andre Soukhamthath