The UFC put most of their eggs in the basket that was the 241 PPV card for the month of August. Other cards were highlighted by singular fights of note, or fun action scraps between relative unknowns, but this was the card that fans were supposed to show up for. Fortunately for them, after a decision-heavy prelims, it very much delivered. Stipe Miocic dug deep and pulled out a fantastic comeback to regain the heavyweight title. Nate Diaz proved he’s still a factor at welterweight and very much a “needle mover.” And Paulo Costa snapped the Super Muscleweight belt out from under Yoel Romero’s fingers.
So, is there a must-see fight waiting for Stipe Miocic? Is Daniel Cormier done? And is there any good reason not to give Paulo Costa the next shot at the middleweight championship?
I’ll be answering all those questions – and much much more – using the classic Shelby/Silva method from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. As has been the case for the past month or so, I’m only looking for guest contributors for PPV cards. So keep an eye on the UFC Shenzhen: Fights to Make column for your chance to do your own fantasy booking, following UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
This week’s winner is BE reader Keyboard Jiu-Jitsu (aka Eric):
Hi everyone. My name is Eric, and I’m a recent graduate out of the University of San Diego. Although I haven’t been an MMA fan for too long – the first card I watched live was UFC 182, Jones vs. DC I – I dove headfirst into the world of MMA, as I quickly grew to like this crazy sport. I’m excited to be able to present my picks for the fights to make this week, and I hope you all like my analysis.
Eric - Wow. After that first round I would not have thought Stipe would have more than a 10% chance of winning that belt back, but the man from Cleveland really showed the heart and will of a champion. Excellent performance, and great fight IQ with the introduction of those left hooks to the body. It wasn’t the most exciting fight the first time around, but Ngannou vs Miocic II is the right fight to make. Both fighters have had to fight through adversity in their careers and emerge better men for it, so I think this rematch will have a little extra zest to it.
Zane - The fight looming right in front of Miocic at the moment is a bout with Francis Ngannou. The Cameroonian has firmly rebounded from back-to-back poor performances, to knockout top contender Curtis Blaydes, as well as former champions Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. Given that Alistair Overeem is about the only other top-ranked heavyweight on a win streak right now, and Ngannou already melted him, it seems like the ‘Predator’ rematch is what’s gotta get made. It’s not a bad fight. Ngannou did better than he’s given credit for in their first bout. But, the first fight wasn’t exactly a huge thriller—and I’m not sure it’s one fans will be lining up for. Still, given Jones’ reluctance to head to heavyweight even to fight a man he’d already beat twice, I can’t imagine playing A-Side to Stipe as a challenger holds any draw to him. And the UFC has done no work selling the idea of Brock Lesnar vs. Stipe instead of DC. That makes Ngannou the right man in the right place at the right time. Hopefully he can make the rematch a bit more competitive over the stretch.
Eric - I think retirement would be the best option for DC here. He’s still very capable of competing at the highest level in the mixed martial arts, but between everything he’s done in the sport and his increasing age, I see no issue calling it a career here. However, let’s plan for the non-retirement option just in case. A bout against a fellow aging star in Junior Dos Santos might be the best play here. I’m assuming DC doesn’t want to make the cut to 205, and there aren’t a lot of big names at heavyweight deserving of a potential retirement fight for him, so I think Dos Santos is the best option.
Zane - It sounds more and more like Cormier is going to retire, but retirement is never a sure thing in the combat sports world. And, heavyweight has a habit of being exceptionally forgiving to fighters on the wrong side of 40 who want to hang around for a couple more years. Unfortunately, the most fascinating bouts that DC could take are ones that may not even have a realistic path to get made. There’s a 3rd fight with Jon Jones, but I can’t really imagine Cormier dropping back to 205—and it seems more likely that Jones uses Cormier’s loss as a final reason not to fight him again. Or there was all the talk and buildup of a potential Brock Lesnar bout. That’d still be cool, but with the UFC and Lesnar hitting a financial impasse, splashing out large to put Brock in a non-title fight seems like it’d be a bit silly.
There is a fun fight lurking out in the ether, however. It’s way off the radar, but I’d be happy to see it if DC wants to keep going: Fabricio Werdum. Werdum demanded his release after failing a drug test in the spring of 2018. However, after the UFC refused to grant it, he’s been saying that he’ll return to finish out his contract. If Cormier wants to take another fight, take some time off, heal up, and meet Fabricio Werdum in the spring of 2020.
Eric - He’s back. He looked pretty good in all aspects of the game versus the fan-friendly Anthony Pettis. He called out Jorge Masvidal. Either that or Diaz vs. McGregor III would both be fantastic options. I have a feeling that Jorge might be the easier guy to actually book a fight with, so let’s do it.
Zane - He called our Jorge Masvidal, and with Masvidal having seemingly zero interest in fighting Leon Edwards – and with Colby getting that next shot at Usman – there’s zero reason not to make that bout. It can easily headline any non-ppv card (and could headline a PPV frankly, if the UFC weren’t putting title fights exclusively on top of those). Maybe just get that BMF belt, that way they can pop it on a fall PPV. Either way, Diaz is very much a needle mover and if there’s a fight he wants to take, against someone who seemed absolutely elated at the opportunity of fighting him? Don’t screw around, just book it. Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz is a great fight that both men clearly want.
Eric - Coming off his highlight-reel knockout of Wonderboy, expectations were high heading into this bout. Truth be told, Showtime didn’t look great, but he never gave up and still has a lot of fight in him. If he continues at 170 why not put him up against Robbie Lawler? I don’t know, that just feels like a fun fight. If he goes back to 155, I think a bout versus the winner of Iaquinta versus Hooker would be fantastic.
Zane - Another fighter willing to pressure Pettis and pour on the volume. Another Anthony Pettis loss. The book on what works against ‘Showtime’ has very definitely been written, it’s just about being good enough moving forward to pull it off. Nate still got cracked a few times, but his chin carried him as Pettis wore down over the rounds. I called for this fight after Lawler/Covington, but especially with Pettis coming out on the wrong side of the decision, I really think it’s set up perfectly. A bout with Robbie Lawler would be a great way for both men to show off their late career style. Lawler is a serious power threat, but Pettis is tough as hell. And for all his quality, Lawler is much more willing to fight in bursts and take the pressure off than a lot of the strikers Pettis has lost to lately. If Lawler gives Pettis space and time, does he get caught with something wild. Is Lawler just too big and strong for Pettis at 170? Time to find out. Robbie Lawler vs. Anthony Pettis just fits together perfectly right now.
Eric - It’s really not every day that I see someone who can look like the bigger man to Yoel Romero, but holy sh-t Paulo Costa is a beast. I thought it was a close fight, but I was pretty disappointed to hear the crowd boo the decision, especially when Paulo was trying to give his answers to Joe Rogan. The prize for beating Yoel Romero should be the chance to fight for the belt. I’d love to see Paulo versus either Bobby Knuckles or Israel.
Zane - Some fans may not be elated with the score, but I thought Costa did pretty well to take the first two rounds against Romero before wilting a bit in the third. It was hardly the kind of fight that should have anyone crying robbery, every round was too close. I also think, even if it wasn’t a perfectly dominating performance, it does set Costa up really nicely for a title shot. He’s an undeniably exciting contender. He’s got a brutal, confident style. And now he’s got a victory over one of the toughest men in all of MMA. The winner of Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker is going to need to fight somebody. That somebody may as well be Costa. I just can’t see arguing that Hermansson would make a more interesting match for the champ, even with a win over Cannonier. Paulo Costa vs. the winner of Whittaker vs. Adesanya is the most interesting title fight to make at 185.
Eric - I’m not sure if he will ever consider it, but I really think Yoel should jump to light heavyweight. He’s out of the middleweight title picture for the time being but could be one win away from fighting for the light heavyweight belt. I think Yoel could be booked against Volkan. That would be a fun contest, and I don’t know who would walk out victorious. If and when Yoel decides to stay at middleweight, however, there are a couple of options. A Jacare rematch could be in order. That was a fun fight the first time and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing it run back. A bout against the loser of Jack Hermansson versus Jarod Cannonier would also be a viable option. If I were to pick one, I’d say the Jacare rematch.
Zane - A rough loss for Yoel Romero. He played the long game, and that’s a dangerous game to play with only three rounds to use. Each round was close, but it also seemed clear that Romero was trying to ease off the gas for a big third round. Even at 42-years-old and off a second straight loss, however, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be far from title contention. Fights with Kelvin Gastelum, Jacare Souza, or the winner of Hermansson vs. Cannonier would all be sensible fights. A lot of me says, go for the Jacare rematch. Give Souza a chance to regain a close decision that many people felt he won the first time around. But, the winner of Hermansson vs. Cannonier will have to fight someone. And Yoel Romero seems like the perfect someone for that kind of fight. Yoel Romero vs. the winner of Jack Hermansson vs. Jared Cannonier is a great test to see if a new challenger can be crowned, or if Romero will always be a top 5 guy in the middleweight division.
Eric - Minus the first ten seconds, Derek Brunson looked pretty good against a very game Ian Heinisch. Derek needed a win in order to retain his relevancy in the UFC, and now once again he is looking up the rankings. I don’t want to see a third Jacare fight, twice was enough for me. I think this leaves Gastelum. Kelvin is a fellow wrestle-boxer and I bet these two would be able to put together a fun scrap.
Zane - Apparently full time coaching was the secret ingredient missing in Derek Brunson’s game. He looked infinitely more composed against Ian Heinisch than he has in years and it led to easily the most consistent striking performance of his career. The win also might be exactly what Brunson needed to get another shot at a top 5 opponent. His recent losses to Jacare and Adesanya still loom large, but Kelvin Gastelum is out there. The Kings MMA talent is coming off a FOTY candidate loss to Israel Adesanya, Brunson might be exactly the kind of bounce-back opponent he needs to see if he can make a quick return to contention.
Otherwise, the winner of Hermansson vs. Cannonier is a strong possibility. If neither of those, he could continue playing spoiler against Krzysztof Jotko, but that fight really doesn’t do much for me. Give Brunson a chance at Kelvin Gastelum. It may be a difficult matchup, but if he wants to turn his camp change into bigger things, he deserves the opportunity to do it.
Eric - He’s passed every test given to him so far, he’s fun to watch on the feet and the ground, and he’s pretty eloquent on the mic to boot. If Triple-C indeed plans to defend his flyweight belt against Joseph Benavidez (who is deserving of a title shot), this leaves bantamweight in the middle of a logjam at the top. Aljamain Sterling deserves the next crack at Cejudo in the Olympic Gold medalist’s (in case you didn’t know, Cejudo won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics) return to bantamweight. Petr Yan is in a similar position as Sandhagen as an almost-contender. Both are one win away from the next stab at the belt, so let’s have them fight it out.
Zane - Sandhagen is now right in the thick of the hunt for Henry Cejudo’s bantamweight title. Does he get the next shot, or Aljamain Sterling, or Petr Yan? Of those three, which ones are most likely to fight one another? Yan has been calling Sterling out for weeks now, so that seems like it could be a fight very likely to get made. Which might mean Sandhagen gets a shot at the belt just for waiting, if the winner of Sterling/Yan is too injured to meet Cejudo’s recovery schedule. But, assuming no one is walking right into the next title shot, I’ll say the UFC should give Sterling a second shot at Marlon Moraes and book Cory Sandhagen vs. Petr Yan. That fight would be 1000% barn burner.
Eric - While he lost, Raphael looked decent on the ground, getting the better of Sandhagen in some of the scrambles. On the feet things looked a little different, but it’s hard to overcome the length disadvantage. There are a few routes the UFC can take with Assuncao, but I think they should pair him up with Urijah Faber. It’s a long-ago loss that Raphael would want to avenge, and it’s a big name for him, probably the biggest he could be matched against. Urijah gets the opportunity to fast-track up the bantamweight ladder.
Zane - In an increasingly crowded title hunt at 135 lbs, this loss likely puts Raphael Assuncao way way back in the pack. Sandhagen is more or less the first up-and-coming prospect at bantamweight Assuncao has lost to, so it’s not like this is the end of Assuncao’s time as an elite fighter. But, he’s definitely stepped out of the perennial top contender role. If Urijah Faber is still around and willing to fight whoever, then Assuncao vs. Faber 2 (their first was way back at 145 in the WEC) would be a great winner/loser fight to make. However, I kind of doubt the UFC would go that way with Assuncao—who has always seemed to be one loss away from the prelims.
A rematch with Pedro Munhoz may be in the cards, maybe John Dodson, or even Cody Garbrandt? Of all those fights, I feel like the Munhoz fight would be the most interesting. Assuncao was a hell of a task for Munhos in his UFC debut, and Munhoz has only gotten better since then. But, if he can’t threaten the sub on Assuncao, is he a clean enough puncher to out-work him yet? Raphael Assuncao vs. Pedro Munhoz 2 feels like a meaningful benchmark fight for both men.
OTHER BOUTS: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Dan Ige, Gabriel Benitez vs. Michael Johnson, Ian Heinisch vs. Brad Tavares, Khama Worthy vs. Luis Pena, Devonte Smith vs. Jalin Turner, Drakkar Klose vs. Nasrat Haqparast, Christos Giagos vs. Joaquim Silva, Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood, Manny Bermudez vs. Brett Johns, Hannah Cifers vs. Ashley Yoder, Jodie Esquibel vs. Syuri Kondo, Kyung Ho Kang vs. Raoni Barcelos, Brandon Davis vs. Vince Morales, Sabina Mazo vs. Molly McCann, Shana Dobson vs. Sarah Frota