The UFC successfully made its debut in Montevideo, Uruguay on Saturday night, but it might be a stretch to say that the card delivered. In the main event, women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defended her belt for the second time in a lackluster bout against Liz Carmouche. Shevchenko did more than enough to avenge a 2010 loss to Carmouche, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly fan-friendly fight — and that’s being polite. The co-main event lived up to expectations, however. Vicente Luque and Mike Perry put on an absolute barn-burner in the welterweight division that saw the Brazilian take a split-decision nod over three rounds.
Is there anyone who can challenge Shevchenko at 125 pounds? Either way, who should be next for the reigning champ? Is Luque finally ready for a top 10 opponent?
It’s time to answer those questions and more by pairing up many of the UFC Uruguay fighters with potential future opponents. Like Zane Simon, I’ll try to stick to the Joe Silva and Sean Shelby method of pairing winners up with winners and losers up with losers, but no guarantees.
Before we dive in, here’s a quick message from Zane: If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy fight booking for next week’s UFC 241 pay-per-view card, leave a comment below, starting with, “I really should have planned this better, but thanks to Nick for stepping up.” And I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me (Zane) for the next Fights to Make column.
Valentina Shevchenko: Whether or not you were impressed or satisfied with Shevchenko’s performance, there is no doubt in anyone’s minds that she is the best women’s 125-pound fighter on the planet right now. Despite her successful stint in the UFC bantamweight division, Shevchenko quickly made it clear that flyweight is where she should’ve been all along. The big question is, can anyone pose a threat against Shevchenko, or even just touch her? As far as who will get the next chance to do so, it’ll probably be No. 2 ranked Katlyn Chookagian. She’s only won one fight in a row, but in this division, that’s basically all it takes. Jennifer Maia is coming off a solid win, and prospects Andrea Lee, Maycee Barber, and Viviane Araujo are all on the rise, but based on the rankings, Chookagian is most deserving of the next crack at the seemingly unstoppable Shevchenko.
Liz Carmouche: At 35, and coming off her second unsuccessful UFC title fight, Carmouche’s career could be winding down. But assuming she has no plans to hang up her gloves just yet, I’d like to see a fight with Roxanne Modafferi next. Both of them historically have enough skill to be top 10 fighters in the division, but with both coming off disappointing losses, only one would move on as a contender in the weight class.
Vicente Luque: Luque is virtually never in a boring fight, and that held true at UFC Uruguay. But as he continues to fight better and better competition, I’m interested to see how his style holds up, and whether he keeps improving or hits a ceiling. One opponent that would be a serious test for Luque is Santiago Ponzinibbio, who can go shot for shot just as well as Luque does. I don’t know if I love that fight for Ponzinibbio, simply because he probably deserves someone ranked ahead of him. But I like it for Luque, because it’s that top 10 opponent he wants, and I really love it for the fans. I also wouldn’t be opposed to a once-booked fight with Neil Magny, or if the UFC wants to give Luque an even bigger step up than Ponzinibbio, former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos would be a suitable opponent, too.
Mike Perry: Most people look at “Platinum” Perry as if he’s just a brawler. He might look it, and he might act it, but I can assure you, he is not just a brawler. This dude has some serious skill. He took Luque to a split decision, and many thought he should’ve won the fight. The Perry that debuted in the UFC three years ago and the Perry today are two completely different fighters. He continues to get better in every area of the game. Niko Price is coming off a tough loss to rising welterweight Geoff Neal, and Price is all about the violence, just like Perry. Match those two up and there’s no way it isn’t fireworks.
Volkan Oezdemir: Former title challenger Oezdemir got back on track with a second-round knockout of Ilir Latifi on Saturday night, and after three straight losses, he really needed this. Oezdemir is back in the conversation at 205 pounds, but don’t expect to see him in another title fight for a while. There are a number of options for his next fight, including the two men he called out, Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes. Blachowicz is probably the most likely next opponent for Jon Jones if the Daniel Cormier trilogy fight doesn’t happen, so that one might be off the table for Oezdemir. Reyes, whom Oezdemir fell to by split decision in March, is booked against Chris Weidman. I’d be open to “No Time” fighting the winner of that one, but the winner of Glover Teixeira vs. Nikita Krylov makes sense to me, too. If Oezdemir wants a quick turnaround, they could throw him in there with rising prospect Aleksandar Rakic, who has quickly turned into a beast at 205.
Ilir Latifi: I’ll always love Latifi for many reasons, but the days of him possibly fighting for the belt are over. His progress as a mixed martial artist has come to a halt, and guys around him are getting better. This was a pretty bad loss to Oezdemir, but luckily for Latifi, there’s always room to bounce back in the light heavyweight division, it seems. Fights against the loser of Teixeira vs. Krylov, loser of Jimmy Crute vs. Misha Cirkunov, or ex-champ Mauricio Rua all make sense for “The Sledgehammer.”
Rodolfo Vieira: Former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Vieira impressed in his Octagon debut, tapping out Oskar Piechota in the second round. It looks like Vieira could go far in the division, but he’s only 6-0 in professional MMA, so there’s no need to rush him. Markus Perez has around the same experience as Piechota, and he’s coming off a win. Book him against the hot prospect in Vieira and either Perez earns a huge, career-defining win or Vieira shows he’s ready for a big step up.
Gilbert Burns: Burns returned to the welterweight division on short notice, and he’s apparently here to stay. Burns upset Alexey Kunchenko, snapping the Russian’s 20-fight undefeated streak. I would be really intrigued by a fight with Kevin Lee. “The Motown Phenom” has suffered a couple losses in a row, and this is certainly the step down (particularly in name value) he needs. Lee had a tough outing against dos Anjos in his 170-pound debut, and I can’t see the UFC throwing him to the wolves against another top 10 opponent. But I wouldn’t count Burns out in the fight, and if he is able to get it done against Lee, that’s a massive win on his resume. I dig that matchup, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like a fight the UFC would be willing to put together. If that’s the case, bouts with Warlley Alves, Belal Muhammad (if he wins at UFC 242), or James Krause are all other solid options.
Marina Rodriguez: Rodriguez earned the biggest win of her career on Saturday by beating No. 8-ranked Tecia Torres. If the UFC wants to give her a big step up, Nina Ansaroff would work. Or if they want her to fight someone near where she stands, Alexa Grasso would be a fun fight, too.
Other fights: Oskar Piechota vs. Julian Marquez; Enrique Barzola vs. Jordan Griffin; Bobby Moffett vs. Kyle Bochniak; Alexey Kunchenko vs. Sergio Moraes; Ciryl Gane vs. Adam Wieczorek; Tecia Torres vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz; Rogerio Bontorin vs. Matt Schnell