UFC Greenville is in the books, and what looked like a fairly thin night of fights on paper nonetheless resulted in some fantastic action—especially in the main event. Chan Sung Jung proved his still among the featherweight elite, demolishing Renato Moicano early in round 1. Randy Brown put on a career-best performance stopping Bryan Barberena. And Andrea Lee proved she’s a step ahead of the rank and file with a dominant performance over Montana De La Rosa.
So, what’s the next action bout to make with the ‘Korean Zombie’? Is Andrea Lee a future title contender at 125 lbs? And can Kevin Holland just have one fight that isn’t weird?
I’ll be answering those questions – and maybe one or two more – using the classic Joe Silva/Sean Shelby fight-booking methodology from yesteryear. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Since entrants have waned a bit lately, I’ve decided to only put out the call for volunteer contributors for PPV cards in the future. So, keep an eye out next week, following UFC on ESPN 3: Ngannou vs. dos Santos, for a chance to put together your own fantasy matchups for UFC 239.
In the meantime, let’s get to the fights!
CHAN SUNG JUNG
Nothing short of a perfect night for the ‘Korean Zombie,’ to bounce back from a disappointing last-second loss to Yair Rodriguez back in November. He absolutely crushed Moicano, making the Brazilian pay hard for his history of getting clipped up early in fights. But, what makes sense next for Chan Sung Jung? Jeremy Stephens is coming off two straight losses, Shane Burgos would be a step back, and a bout against Volkanovski doesn’t seem like it’d make much sense for the Aussie. Really, there are two fights that make great sense to me right now. The first is more or less a tread-water bout against Calvin Kattar, fresh off Kattar’s big win over Ricardo Lamas. The best option, however, just seems too simple not to take. A rematch against all-time great and former champion Jose Aldo. Sure, Aldo is coming off a loss, but that just adds the extra air of drama to the bout. With TKZ looking very much in prime form tonight, is Aldo still capable of dominating like he did in their first bout? It’s the perfect time to make a rematch that could easily feature as a fight night main event. Maybe even an ESPN headliner. Chan Sung Jung vs. Jose Aldo 2. The time has come.
It turns out that Moicano’s slow starting is a much bigger problem against the top of the featherweight division than it first appeared. He climbed the ranks over Jeremy Stephens, Calvin Kattar, and Cub Swanson (and a competitive loss to Brian Ortega), but Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung have laid his faults absolutely bare. That could mean a rebound fight against Ricardo Lamas, himself coming off a hard loss to Kattar—and finding himself slipping out of the ranks of the elite at 145. Or it could mean fights against perennial near-elite gatekeepers like Michael Johnson or Myles Jury. The Lamas fight probably makes the most sense on rankings alone, since Moicano had made his way into the top 5 before this loss, but I can’t help feel they’re fighters headed in different directions at the moment—even if they’re both currently moving backwards. To that end then, Moicano should take on the loser of Mirsad Bektic vs. Josh Emmett. It’s a match between another bricked up power-puncher either way. But that’s exactly what Moicano has to prove he can handle. If not, a fight against Jury would be fine. Renato Moicano vs. the Bektic/Emmett loser for another test of the Brazilian’s defense.
The best performance of Brown’s career. He looked composed, he controlled the clinch; and when Barberena turned up the pace in Round 2, he did well to meet him and keep Barberena from gaining momentum. The body shots that finished the fight were absolutely gorgeous. A fight against Warlley Alves could be a great next step. Alves looked fantastic beating Sergio Moraes last time out. Or he could take on one of the top rising newcomers in the division like Geoff Neal or Dwight Grant or Michel Pereira. Eventually, however, I’m going to say the UFC should pit Brown against another fighter whose game has recently coalesced into some unexpectedly decent performances: Dheigo Lima. Lima had a terrible start to his UFC career, losing to Tim Means, Li JingLiang, and Eddie Gordon all by KO, with only a win over Jorge de Oliveira to show for it. But, after dropping another two decisions in the start of his second UFC run, he’s come back with strong performances over Chad Laprise and Court McGee. Lets see if Brown can handle a striker with nearly as much range as he has. Randy Brown vs. Dhiego Lima should make for a fun war that could wind up in a KO at any moment.
Most of the division is booked ahead of Lee just now, so her next option likely comes off someone else getting a win. The UFC could put her in with Maycee Barber if they want to do a prospect vs. prospect bout. However, that seems like it’d be better saved for a later date, since both women look like they could be future title challengers. The winner of Mara Romero Borella vs. Lauren Murphy would be a good option. As would the winner of Roxanne Modafferi vs. Jennifer Maia, especially since Modafferi has a past close win over Lee. The other option is the winner of Alexis Davis vs. Vivi Araujo. Although, if Araujo wins, that creates a similar problem to the Barber matchup. I’ll say pit Lee agains the winner of Murphy/Borella. Those are two solid, veteran fighters and both would test Lee with their size and physicality. A win for Lee propels her onward and upward, and beating Lee is a strong addition to any fighter’s resume looking to climb the ranks. Andrea Lee vs. the Murphy/Borella winner creates a solid path to contender-ship for all three women.
An ugly, ugly win for Holland, but in his defense he appeared to dislocate his shoulder in the second round and still managed to throw enough volume to take the decision down the stretch. If Tom Breese is going to be back in action any time soon, a fight between he and Holland would be great. Otherwise, Darren Stewart looked a lot more composed in his last bout and has a tendency for some similarly wild performances. It wouldn’t be a big step up, but could be another fun action battle. The winner of Vettori vs. Ferreira in Sacramento would also be solid, or a fight with Zak Cummings if the UFC wants to give Holland an experienced veteran. In this case, I think that Cummings bout makes the most sense. It’d be a good test to see if Holland can keep performing against well rounded competition that isn’t going to make a lot of big obvious mistakes. If Di Chirico had let his hands go more, he probably would have taken this win. Kevin Holland vs. Zak Cummings to see just how ready Holland’s game is for the deeper end of 185.
Ige almost definitely deserves a bigger name fight than Bryce Mitchell, but he called ‘Thug Nasty’ out and I’m sure it’s a fight Mitchell would be happy to get. That may just be enough for the UFC to make it happen. If not, however, a bout against the winner of Arnold Allen vs. Gilbert Melendez, or against Makwan Amirkhani would be fantastic next options. That Amirkhani fight is especially interesting, since Amirkhani is such an electric wrestler and grappler but struggles with moment-to-moment consistency. Ige’s power striking would likely be a real problem and could force some thrilling scrambles on the mat. I also wouldn’t be against a fight with Shane Burgos, but Burgos likely is headed toward a more notable opponent. Ige vs. Mitchell is going to be an easy fight for the UFC to book, but Ige vs. Amirkhani is the bout I want to see.
‘Violent Bob Ross’ is carving out his spot in the UFC as a surefire action fighter. He doesn’t always control that action, but he tends to make sure there’s plenty of it. He absolutely dominated Matt Wiman here, but it’s also pretty clear that Wiman’s game belongs largely to another era. Given Pena’s willingness to give up grappling positions and striking inconsistencies it still feels like throwing him in against similarly tenured prospects like Magomed Mustafaev or Frank Camacho could be setting him up for a hard loss. Opponents like Joel Alvarez or Thiago Moises or Don Madge are likely more Pena’s speed. To that end, this seems like a great time to match VBR up with a prospect who had a rough intro to the UFC, but has improved his game steadily and has a similar penchant for hard scraps: Matt Frevola. The ‘Steamrolla’ looked great against the similarly stretched out Jalin Turner. Put him in with another rangy lightweight and see if he can get the job done. Matt Frevola vs. Luis Pena should be all action.
Rozenstruik beating Crowder wasn’t so much of a surprise, but he made the most of a good style matchup to put out a statement sub-10-second KO. It’s the kind of performance to hope for from a power-puncher with a decent kickboxing background, and should set him up for another good action fight. That could come against the winner of Juan Adams vs. Greg Hardy or Junior Albini vs. Maurice Greene, or even Arjan Bhullar. But I think there’s a more obviously fun fight waiting for Rozenstruik at the bottom of the heavyweight division; former Fight Nights Global heavyweight champion Sergey Pavlovich. Pavlovich struggled in his debut against Alistair Overeem, but absolutely ran through Marcelo Golm behind some clearly improved boxing. A great chance for Pavlovich to prove he’s really improved his strikes. Or, for Rozenstruik to show that he can fight off a better wrestler to get another KO. Rozenstruik vs. Pavlovich is a great heavyweight fight to make.
OTHER BOUTS: Bryan Barberena vs. Jake Matthews, Andre Ewell vs. Cole Smith, Anderson dos Santos vs. Aiemann Zahabi, Montana De La Rosa vs. JJ Aldrich, Alessio Di Chirico vs. Gerald Meerschaert, Kevin Aguilar vs. Nad Narimani, Ashley Yoder vs. Souza/Van Buren winner, Syuri Kondo vs. Esquibel/Cifers loser, Matt Wiman vs. Joe Lauzon, Allen Crowder vs. Jeff Hughes, Molly McCann vs. Botelho/Moroz winner, Ariane Lipski vs. Melinda Fabian, Deron Winn vs. Abu Azaitar, Eric Spicely vs. Antonio Braga Neto