If you’re a big Colby Covington fan, UFC on ESPN 5 really delivered. There were a mess of cool submissions, a couple fantastic KO’s and the whole card got done by 3pm in the afternoon (Pacific time). For the Robbie Lawler fans among us, things were a bit more bittersweet. On the plus side, Covington looked more like a true threat to Kamaru Usman or Tyron Woodley than he ever had before as a top contender. On the minus, Robbie Lawler’s performance was utterly flat. If he’d hoped that Covington would burn out on a fast start, those hopes were dashed on the way to a notably one-sided decision loss.
So, is Covington once again welterweight’s consensus top contender? Are there any more ‘must see’ fights left for Jim Miller? And is Nasrat Haqparast going to be the next big thing in the lightweight division?
I’ll be answering all those questions – but not much more – with the help of the classic Silva/Shelby guide to making UFC fight cards. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Remember to keep an eye peeled for next week’s Fights to Make column, for your own chance to create some fantastic potential bouts—following UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2. In the meantime, let’s get to the fights...
There’s an argument to be made out there that, among the 540-odd strikes that Covington threw against Robbie Lawler, very few of them had the potential to do any real damage. That a fighter more capable of taking away Covington’s wrestling game would also be more capable of answering volume with power. However, given Covington’s pretty clear fantastic durability and cardio – to go with the insane pace he pushes – this kind of striking output paints a very real path for him to success as a challenger to Kamaru Usman. Covington hit 10 takedowns on Robbie Lawler, but those resulted in very little real damage or control (unless you count a bunch of headlocks). What he did here was put out such an insane level of volume, for so long, that even when Robbie could return fire and sting him with bigger shots, it came at the constant cost of having to defend against strikes or risk getting clipped up and drowned. Kamaru Usman may be able to shut down Covington’s wrestling game, but if he can’t hurt him repeatedly... can he actually out-strike him?
I’ve been more than happy to campaign for a title shot on Jorge Masvidal’s behalf. He’s put in the work, he has the recent electrifying wins against elite competition. But, it seems as though the UFC is turning away from that idea. Usman was in the building and in the booth for Covington’s win. They got some time on camera to jaw at one another. And Usman made it clear that he’s eyeing Covington as his first title defense. It’s also hard not to think that the UFC has to really love the fact that Covington can bring the attention of the First Family along with him, since White himself is such a big supporter. All that and Covington’s win streak has become an undeniably impressive feat of dominance. Colby Covington vs. Kamaru Usman looks like the fight the UFC is going to make.
For longtime Robbie Lawler fans, hoping that his mix of toughness and power could crack the code in Covington’s high volume attack, this fight was entirely disappointing. ‘Ruthless’ looked as though he had a careful plan; essentially taking most of the first two rounds off, in the hopes Covington’s wrestling game would lose its steam. And it did! After hitting seven takedowns in the first two rounds, Covington only got 3 the rest of the fight. But it didn’t matter. By the time Lawler had Covington’s shots stuffed, he didn’t have the speed left to counter ‘Chaos’’s constant jab and body kicks. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some damn exciting fighters for Lawler to meet at 170lbs. Bouts with Santiago Ponzinibbio, Stephen Thompson, or Darren Till all sound like a good time. As does a fight with the loser of Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz. I especially like the Pettis/Diaz idea just for the weirdness factor of Pettis vs. Lawler or the chance for Lawler to fight both Diaz brothers over a gap of 15 years. Feel free to put Lawler in with ‘Wonderboy’ if it’s a fight that both men want. Otherwise? Robbie Lawler vs. the Pettis/Diaz loser sounds like a ton of fun.
Miller capitalized perfectly on his own early aggression and Guida’s increasing willingness to throw hands with opponents. Both men landed hard out of the gate, but when Guida looked for the shot after getting stung, Miller jumped on his classic guillotine. That puts to rest a fight that feels like it was more than a decade in the making. So, what else is out there for Miller? He needs meaningful bouts. There are no clear, easy bookings—especially not with Makdessi and Dariush injured. Part of me thinks that Miller should get the winner of Taisumov vs. Ferreira (or really just Ferreira win or lose, since that’s the fun fight for Miller between the two). But it’s not like Ferreira is much of a ‘name’ and Taisumov has been inactive far too long to capitalize on the hype he once had. If there isn’t a big fight screaming out that Miller has to have, then we might as well book him for pure action. And the best pure action bout for Miller is Frank Camacho. The ‘Crank’ is coming off an electrifying ass kicking of Nick Hein, he and Miller would go to war, guaranteed.
What to do with Nasrat Haqparast? He just picked up an impressive, powerful win. One where he very much looked like a technical fighter hunting for the elite. He could keep treading water and take on someone like Frank Camacho or Jared Gordon. But, I think he can take a push into something bigger. There are a few ranked opponents out there without a bout. It would be fascinating to see what he could do against Gregor Gillespie. But, there’s a fight booked right now from which I’d love to see Haqparast take on the winner: Islam Makhachev vs. Davi Ramos. A fantastically technical wrestler against a fantastically technical grappler. And to follow up, a fight against one of lightweights brightest young talents. Nasrat Haqparast vs. the Makhachev/Ramos winner seems like a fascinating fight at 155—and one that could push Haqparast right into the lightweight top 10.
If it were any division other than lightweight, Holtzman may just get his wish for a ranked contender. And, if the UFC wants to oblige him, they could still set him up with someone like Gergor Gillespie or Alexander Hernandez. However, I think it’s much more likely that he gets another tough, talented veteran hanging around just outside the edges of the top 15. That could be someone like Rustam Khabilov or Francisco Trinaldo or Vinc Pichel. But, I’m going to go with Leonardo Santos. Santos is a huge problem for most of lightweight, with his mix of range kicking, sharp counter-punching, and a world class submission game. He just hasn’t fought often enough to make a run to the top. It’s exactly the kind of opponent Holtzman needs to beat, to prove he’s among the world’s best. And if he can’t, it’s a good way for Santos to prove that he’s ready to fight more often and get a top tier opponent. Scott Holtzman vs. Leonardo Santos to see who’s really primed for a drive to contention.
Any win for Shevchenko is likely to catapult her into much more notable fights at 125, even if it’s just for the notoriety of her namesake. She’s an opponent that a lot of women are likely to want to add to their resume. Unfortunately for her right now, much of the division is fairly booked up. Potential opponents like Jennifer Maia and Katlyn Chookagian are most likely best served fighting one another for the chance to be the next contender, rather than taking on Shevchenko. There is one fight available that could be a lot of fun, however, Montana De La Rosa. If the UFC wants to go winner/winner instead, then Lauren Murphy is out there—and Molly McCann looked pretty decent in her last fight. Still, I think Shevchenko vs. De La Rosa is a rock solid booking and almost surefire entertainment. Or, if they really want to create some drama, there’s always Jessica Eye.
An impressive win for Schnell that really sticks him into the thick of the action in a flyweight division in flux. Unfortunately, much like everyone else at 125, Schnell is most likely going to have to wait for other fights to finish before his next opponent becomes available. That could be the winner of Kai Kara-France vs. Mark De La Rosa or Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov, or even Sergio Pettis vs. Alex Perez. My gut says that the winner of Raulian Paiva vs. Rogerio Bontorin is probably most likely. But it’s hard to deny that the winner of Moreno vs. Askarov would bring the most exciting fight to the table. So, I’ll push for that. Go for a wild one, put Matt Schnell in against the winner of Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov.
Just the win Murphy needed to really establish her spot in the middle of the quickly evolving flyweight division. She hasn’t had the best run of wins in the UFC, but she’s still a very tough, strong veteran who can be a huge challenge for a lot of the young fighters the UFC is bringing in. It could also put Murphy in a position to fight fellow former Invicta champion Jennifer Maia, but I think Maia is probably on her way to bigger bouts already. Instead, Murphy would probably be the perfect sounding board for a couple of good prospects looking to get their foothold at 125: Poliana Botelho or Vivi Araujo. Botelho was supposed to fight Maryna Moroz at UFC 241, before Moroz pulled out with an injury. Since it seems more likely that the UFC finds someone else for Botelho to fight soon, I’ll say book Lauren Murphy vs. Vivi Araujo. A great next test for the prospect, and a great chance for Murphy to put a win streak together.
Silva clearly needs a step up in competition. He’s not young, he’s not green, he’s got an aggressive, powerful game that that’s probably about as polished as it’s ever going to get. There’s no reason to have him at the bottom of fight cards picking off UFC newcomers. Bouts against guys like Geoff Neal, Randy Brown, or even Michael Chiesa make sense. I’ll push for a Warlley Alves fight, however. Alves is a powerful, athletic grappler, with strong strikes, and has been working on his ability to control pace and range over the years. Silva would be a great test of Alves’ improvements, and exactly the kind of meaningful opponent that he needs to get toward the top of the division as fast as possible. Especially since, right now, Silva seems more like a fighter the top of the division would rather avoid than have to face. Claudio Silva vs. Warrley Alves should be a good step forward for both men.
Other Bouts: Clay Guida vs. Polo Reyes, Joaquim Silva vs. David Teymur, Gerald Meerschaert vs. Akhmedov/Cummings winner, Trevin Giles vs. Julian Marquez, Dong Hyun Ma vs. Roosevelt Roberts, Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. John Allan, Darko Stosic vs. Mike Rodriguez, Mickey Gall vs. Dwight Grant, Salim Touahri vs. Carlo Pedersoli, Lucie Pudilova vs. Amanda Bobby Cooper, Jordan Espinosa vs. Kara-France/DeLaRosa loser, Mara Romero Borella vs. Justine Kish, Cole Williams vs. Hector Aldana, Miranda Granger vs. Emily Whitmire, Hannah Goldy vs. Alexandra Albu