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UFC on ESPN 3: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos - 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 Minneapolis, MN.

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The UFC’s latest ESPN offering wrapped up with some top shelf heavyweight violence. Francis Ngannou may have fallen short against Stipe Miocic, and may have flubbed his fight with Derrick Lewis, but he’s otherwise an absolutely terrifying contender for all comers at 265. In the co-main event, Joseph Benavidez left no doubt that he’s flyweight’s only title challenger—for whatever that may be worth. And Demian Maia showed that he’s still not a man to be called out lightly.

So, is Francis Ngannou once again the one man ready for a title shot in the UFC’s biggest weight class? Is Joe-B really going to be able to wait out Cejudo’s injury and lure him away from a bantamweight belt defense? And what poor sap is going to be the next man to assume that Maia just doesn’t have it anymore?

I’ll be answering those questions – and several more – using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methods 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 match-making for UFC 239, leave a comment below starting with “I don’t want to eat, I just want to be hungry. Like a stray dog or something.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me in picking next fights following the conclusion of Jon Jones’ title defense against Thiago Santos.

Now, let’s get to the bouts!

FRANCIS NGANNOU

Unfortunately for Ngannou, the present state of the heavyweight division has left him in just a little bit of a bind. If Daniel Cormier defeats Stipe Miocic, then there’s no question that Ngannou is next in line for a title shot. However, if Stipe wins, then that’s a fight that Ngannou has already lost and – while it certainly could be re-matched – isn’t likely a booking that would have fans screaming for the need to see it again. Of course, if DC decides to retire after the Stipe fight, then Ngannou vs. Stipe 2 may be the title fight to make no matter whether Miocic wins or loses. And, unfortunately, with Blaydes vs. Abdurahimov in the works and Volkov mysteriously absent, the only other top ranked heavyweights out there are Overeem and Lewis. Anyone want to see Ngannou in any of those bouts again? Didn’t think so. Assuming Cormier retires, then Ngannou vs. Miocic 2 is the only fight worth making. If DC sticks around, then that’s a must see bout.

JUNIOR DOS SANTOS

A loss here has put Junior Dos Santos in a very strange place in the heavyweight division. Now one of the most tenured talents at 265, is there a notable fight he HASN’T taken? This could be the time for a rematch with Alistair Overeem (even if the ‘Reem’ is coming off a very strong pair of wins). Or, dare I say it, a fourth fight with Cain Velasquez!? I can’t tell if that idea is too wrong, or too right—given how fast both men got dusted by Francis Ngannou. It’s either one of those, or the winner of Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Curtis Blaydes. And I’ll admit, that just doesn’t get my blood pumping. Since JDS was just a hair’s breadth from another chance at UFC gold, I’ll say it’s time for Overeem vs. dos Santos 2. Even if a Cain quadrilogy bout holds some grim fascination.

JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ

He says he’ll be right there waiting once Henry Cejudo is healed up and ready to go. But, in terms of flyweight title fights, that just might be... never? Unfortunately the other options at 125 are more or less non-existent. The winner of Alexandre Pantoja vs. Deiveson Figueiredo would be the only other person in sniffing distance of something like contender-ship. But, booking either of them against Benavidez seems absolutely pointless, considering the next man down the totem pole is Rogerio Bontorin (I mean, someone has to fight for the belt next, if they really are intent on having it around). Benavidez has to wait for Cejudo, or maybe wait for the UFC to go and sign some of those dudes they cut, now that the division has reportedly been ‘saved’—for whatever that’s worth.

JUSSIER FORMIGA

If Alexandre Pantoja loses to Deiveson Figueiredo, then Pantoja vs. Formiga is a perfectly solid booking. Otherwise, I guess bouts against Kai Kara-France or the winner of Rogerio Bontorin vs. Raulian Paiva are out there. We’ll know a bit more about just how much of flyweight Dana White is actually looking to keep around if Formiga still has a roster spot next month, frankly. Until then, he’ll have to take whatever shakes out from the fight bookings already planned. Hell, maybe Tim Elliott will drop back to 125? Formiga vs. the Bontorin/Paiva winner, unless Pantoja loses to Figueiredo is the best the UFC can do with the limited options they’ve provided.

DEMIAN MAIA

It’s kinda too bad that Michael Chiesa is fighting Diego Sanchez next week, because I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Mavrick’ take on Maia’s grappling at all. Still, the Sanchez bout is one Chiesa could absolutely win, so I won’t entirely write off the possibility. Fights with Stephen Thompson, Vicente Luque, Santiago Ponzinibbio, and Elizeu Zaleski all make decent sense from a rankings perspective. Of those, the Thompson and Ponzinibbio bouts seem like much more meaningful fights for the division. If the UFC really wanted to get crazy, they could book Maia against Mike Perry or Warlley Alves, but that just doesn’t feel right. End of the day, Thompson has been treading water for a minute now—and all the moreso with his KO loss to Pettis. A bout between the two men would feel like an important fight, and something that could propel either of them back toward other top contender bouts. Go winner vs. loser, book Demian Maia vs. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.

VINC PICHEL

It hasn’t exactly been overwhelming, but Pichel has quietly put together a very solid 5-2 record in the UFC, including his pre-hiatus work. His loss to Gillespie last time out was definitive enough to show he’s likely still a step short of the elite, but this win also proves he’s a step above the young prospects at 155 as well. A fight against Marc Diakiese, who really seems to have taken some technical leaps forward lately, may be about the right speed. Or about against all-action veteran Frank Camacho. If the UFC really wanted to give Pichel a step up, they could put him in against Leonardo Santos—fresh off his own long stretch of inactivity. Instead, though, I’m going to suggest the UFC go with a match against Gilbert Burns. The BJJ ace has slowly improved upon his power boxing game, and is a devastating enough grappler to keep most everyone standing with him. Pichel would likely need to prove he can take Burns out on the feet, or risk trying to slow down and control a super dangerous submission artist. For Burns, the win would be another building block from his hard loss to Dan Hooker. Burns vs. Pichel feels like just the right fight to push either man further toward the top 15.

DREW DOBER

All the work that Dober has put into improving his power striking is really paying dividends. Reyes has been known for his strong pocket boxing, and relentless aggression, but he had no answer for Dober’s left hook and toughness inside from moment one of this fight. As a result, Dober immediately rights the ship from his momentum stalling defeat at the hands of Beneil Dariush, and sets himself up nicely for a battle with Marc Diakiese. Diakiese has approached his problems from the other end. Tons of power, not enough form and volume. However, the ‘Bonecrusher’ looked a lot slicker taking a decision over Joe Duffy back in March. A fight against Dober would test his ability to stay composed, or see whose chin lasts longer, or who has to resort to their wrestling first. Drew Dober vs. Marc Diakiese for another bonafide fire-fight.

ALONZO MENIFIELD

As impressive as that win was for Menifield, it still feels like caution is the best course going forward. The 31-year-old is just 8 fights into his career, and the lack of structure in his form is still pretty apparent—even if that form is built like a tank. Bouts against Ed Herman, Devin Clark, or Eryk Anders would all be reasonable enough ideas. But, I’ll say the UFC should toss him at fellow DWCS alum Ryan Spann. Spann’s surprising speed and wrestling ability have picked him up a couple decent wins in the Octagon, including a very notable victory last time out over Lil’ Nog. Put him in with Menifield and let’s see which of these two prospects can show more of the kind of technical depth they’ll need to make serious inroads in the upper tiers of light heavyweight. Spann vs. Menifield is a good prospect separating bout.

MAURICE GREENE

I’ll admit, I’ve doubted Maurice Greene at every turn of his short UFC career. His wrestling seemed woefully underdeveloped coming off the Ultimate Fighter, and his last win was a shockingly ugly stand-up affair—where he looked very little like a dominant kickboxer, even as he punched and kicked his way to a win. But, a full camp with a new gym seems like it did him wonders, and he came out sharp and firing against Junior Albini. As a result, suddenly he’s 3-0. A fighter to watch in a division where no one has more UFC wins with fewer UFC losses. Another recently signed heavyweight who has put together a reasonable string of success in his UFC career to date is Arjan Bhullar. The Canadian is fresh off a (admittedly questionable) win over Juan Adams back in May. A win over Bhullar would likely go that much further to proving that Greene can fight off aggressive wrestling as he moves up the division. And a win for Bhullar would likely push him into a bout with a ranked opponent. Maurice Greene vs. Arjan Bhullar for the striking vs. grappling battle of heavyweight prospects.

OTHER BOUTS: Anthony Rocco Martin vs. Alan Jouban, Roosevelt Roberts vs. Jessin Ayari, Marco Polo Reyes vs. Kurt Holobaugh, Paul Craig vs. Patrick Cummins, Ricardo Ramos vs. Alex Perez, Journey Newson vs. Randy Costa, Eryk Anders vs. Devin Clark, Vinicius Moreira vs. Marcin Prachnio, Jared Gordon vs. Christos Giagos, Dan Moret vs. Mike Davis, Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Saparbeg Safarov, Dequan Townsend vs. Nick Negumereanu, Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana, Amanda Ribas vs. Ashley Yoder, Junior Albini vs. Chris De La Rocha