Much as the card looked heading in to fight night, UFC 240 ended up being all about perceptions. The narratives that fans brought with them entering the evening were largely likely to color much of what they took away. Max Holloway and Cris Cyborg put on reasonably strong, decidedly winning performances. But, they didn’t set the world alight. And, outside Jotko/Barriault the rest of the main card was fun, but not a showcase of the highest levels of MMA—if that’s what PPV is supposed to offer. Still, the performances weren’t bad. Two great fighters won based on being... great fighters. And Price vs. Neal was a banger.
So, with their Edmonton card in the books, will Volkanovski finally get his title shot? And how quickly? Can the UFC convince Cris Cyborg to stay? And what the hell does Deiveson Figueiredo do while Joe-B is waiting to fight Cejudo?
I’ll be answering all these questions – and one or two others – using the classic Silva-Shelby matchmaking methodology from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. For fans interested in getting their own chance to make some fantasy fights, stay tuned for the UFC Fight Night: Shevchenko vs. Carmouche column in two weeks—for your opportunity to play matchmaker for UFC 241.
Due to circumstances outside the realms of human control, I’m flying solo this week as well.
There’s really only one answer here, isn’t there? Max Holloway needs to fight Alex Volkanovski. At 7-0, the Aussie has looked near unstoppable in the Octagon to date, even forcing Jose Aldo into one of the most anemic striking performances in the Brazilian Hall of Famer’s long career. He’s strong, tough, persistent, a good wrestler, and an increasingly deft striker with a powerful right hand. It may be a style matchup that still favors Holloway, but it’s a good, legitimate challenger for a champion who has really started to dominate his division. There’s always a chance, if Chan Sung Jung actually does fight Ortega – and finishes him violently – that the ‘Korean Zombie’ could leap the queue and grab the spot as next contender. But Volkanovski has earned his place in line, give him his chance at UFC gold. Max Holloway vs. Alex Volkanovski is the featherweight title fight to make.
While some contingent of the MMA fan base expected Edgar to call it quits after losing to Holloway last night, he sounded as resolute as ever about continuing his MMA career. But, after years in a featherweight division battling among the top contenders, it’s reasonable to ask: Just who is left out there for Edgar to fight? He could dive back into the world of rising new contenders. Take on the likes of Calvin Kattar, Zabit Magomedsharipov, or even Josh Emmett. But, I’d rather see Edgar in the type of fights that feel like they have more pizzazz this late in his career. Of which, there are still one or two.
I have no idea when/if he’ll ever be back, but I’d still like to see Dominick Cruz and Edgar fight at some point before both men call it a day. More realistically, however, Frankie Edgar has never fought Chan Sung Jung. That feels like it needs to change. There’s rumor that TKZ might be fighting Ortega in Mexico City in September. But even if that fight happens, and no matter the result, Edgar would make sense. Book Frankie Edgar vs. the Korean Zombie for December, in Korea. If that won’t work, then Edgar vs. Emmett would be fine and fun.
I’m just gonna assume that Cyborg is gone from the UFC after this. She doesn’t seem interested in coming back, and I don’t think the UFC’s negotiating tone is likely to change that. So the question is, does she go to Bellator, to RIZIN, or to something else entirely? A bout against Julia Budd has some interest to it, but I don’t think it’s all that likely. Someone like ‘King’ Reina over in Japan may be the option that wins out if the Brazilian is sticking to MMA and wants showcases. But, I get the feeling she wants to try out her boxing skills. See what she can do to the best fistic fighters in the world. Claressa Sheilds has sparred with Cyborg multiple times. Would they be willing to fight? It’d be a funky ‘superfight’ to book. But at this point, it might be more likely than anything else. Cris Cyborg’s boxing career seems like it’s on the horizon, even if I’m not sure who she’d fight. Otherwise, maybe the UFC can pay her for that Nunes rematch. Everything else seems like it’d be kind of a waste.
Spencer was game as hell, I’ll give her that. She got handily out-classed, but she also didn’t fold, even after eating a ton of shots. Unfortunately for her, the UFC’s women’s featherweight division is only 5 fighters deep at the moment. Cat Zingano is out there somewhere, and Megan Anderson is fighting Zarah Farin dos Santos—so she could take on ZFdS win or lose after her UFC debut. And that’s literally it. Given that lineup, Cat Zingano vs. Felicia Spencer is the fight to make. But really, the UFC needs to hire more women at 145.
Neal didn’t exactly follow the gameplan of staying composed and picking Price off with pressure and counters, but he still got the win. And it’s clear his combination of speed and accuracy is a big problem at 170. Fights with Warlley Alves or Michael Chiesa would make a lot of sense for the fast rising prospect. And that Alves fight may be the best way to go. But, frankly, I think I’d rather see Neal wait for the winner of another action bout for his next contest. The winner of Thiago Alves vs. Gunnar Nelson or Mike Perry vs. Vicente Luque or Elizeu Zaleski vs. Li Jingliang would all make for amazing fights. Of those, Perry vs. Luque in Montevideo is nearest to being on the same schedule. So, Geoff Neal vs. the Perry/Luque winner sounds like surefire banger.
It doesn’t always happen this way. A fighter loses a close, competitive decision to an elite, veteran talent, and everyone is quick to expect a winning performance with a step down in competition. As often as not, young fighters who falter against great competition can and will falter against lesser competition too. Especially when it’s another seasoned vet like Olivier Aubin-Mercier. However, Arman Tsarukyan looks like he can really be a potential force at lightweight. The 22-year-old has a bullish frame and a relentless pace. He’s a capable striker (if not yet a totally comfortable one) and a powerful wrestler and strong grappler. He’s going to be tough for a lot of men to beat.
Normally, I’d want to see him slowed down a bit, given some time to tread water, maybe take on Vinc Pichel or Alexander Yakovlev, someone right around the same level. But, there’s a fight just too right to pass up at the moment: Alexander Hernandez. Hernandez’s performance against Francisco Trinaldo asked a lot more questions than it answered. He burst on the scene, much like Tsarukyan as a physically dominating, aggressive force. And suddenly, after a hard loss to Donald Cerrone, he looked... cautious. Tsarukyan will force a fight out of him. And afterward we’ll know which of these talented prospects is really ready to jump into the deep waters of the lightweight elite. Arman Tsarukyan vs. Alexander Hernandez is a great litmus test for both men.
There were no guarantees for Vivi Araujo in her second UFC bout. She blasted Talita Bernardo, but Alexis Davis was a huge step up. And that showed in the cage. Davis was much more able to weather the storm and drag Araujo deep into the fight. However, Araujo’s ability to deal damage – even at 125 lbs – has clearly set her apart from her peers, and got her a closely contested win. It’s also thrown her right into the mix in a flyweight division still very much trying to figure out who its elite talents are. That could mean rushing Araujo to the top, with a bout against the winner of Calderwood/Shevchenko, or Jennifer Maia, or Katlyn Chookagian. But, I’d rather see Araujo take her time. At least just a little bit. A fight with the winner of Mara Romero Borella vs. Lauren Murphy next week seems like it’d be just right. Two big, strong flyweights with physical styles and enough experience to once again drag Araujo out of her comfort zone. While, at the same time, not so obviously offensively potent opponents to easily derail Araujo’s own game. Vivi Araujo vs. the Borella/Murphy winner seems like a good next step for the prospect, on her way to title contention.
Exactly the win Figueiredo needed to put himself back in the hunt. His loss to Formiga last time was a rough one, but with just how shallow the flyweight division is right now, he could easily be in line for a title fight sometime in the near future—even without getting that one back. The trick is all about finding him a meaningful opponent in the meantime. It’d be great to see him against Joseph Benavidez, but unless that’s for an interim belt, I don’t think it makes much sense for Joe-B to go take that. Not with a title fight already promised. So if Benavidez is off the table, then Figueiredo doesn’t have much choice but to wait for another big winner, or hope that someone like Tim Elliott returns, or the UFC signs some more talent. Figueiredo against Moreno, Kara-France, or Bontorin off electrifying wins, but really... just get some more talent to 125.
A setback for Pantoja in his hopes for a future flyweight title shot. He just couldn’t match the accuracy of Figueiredo’s attacks and didn’t have a clear answer for the fellow Brazilian’s elbows inside the clinch. There aren’t a lot of options for him, with the year of cutbacks to flyweight; he could easily face a winner from one of the less notable upcoming bouts, like Bontorin vs. Paiva or Moreno vs. Askarov. But, I think that he’s best set for a rematch from a bout way back in his past. In 2010, Pantoja dropped a decision to current fellow top contender Jussier Formiga. Formiga is coming off his second loss to Joseph Benavidez. Time to see where both men are at, almost a decade after their first go-round. Alexandre Pantoja vs. Jussier Formiga 2 sounds like a shockingly solid fight for the current, trimmed-down flyweight division.
OTHER BOUTS: Niko Price vs. Bryan Barberena, Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Damir Hadzovic, Krzysztof Jotko vs. Kevin Holland, Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Bevon Lewis, Alexis Davis vs. Roxanne Modafferi, Hakeem Dawodu vs. Dan Ige, Yoshinori Horie vs. Sung-Bin Jo, Gavin Tucker vs. Shane Young, Seung Woo Choi vs. Martin Bravo, Gillian Robertson vs. Maycee Barber, Sarah Frota vs. Priscila Cachoeira, Erik Koch vs. Jordan Mein, Kyle Stewart vs. Ricky Rainey