Considering how the card was booked, UFC Shenzhen likely couldn’t have gone much better. Sure there weren’t many finishes, but it wasn’t a card billed for US fans to actually stay up all night and watch. It was a card created to help push the idea that the UFC can actually create a place in the Chinese marketplace. And to that end Weili Zhang and Li Jingliang both shined perfectly. The UFC has its first Chinese champion and a ranked fighter in a deep division. And if they want to come back in a few months for another show, they’ll have several Chinese fighters coming off wins to promote.
So, now that Zhang is champ, who will be her first title challenger? Is there a top-15 fight that makes sense for Li Jingliang right now? And how fast can Mizuki Inoue get back down to 115 lbs?
I’ll be answering all those questions – and not much more – using the classic Silva-Shelby style 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 fight booking, leave a comment below starting with “CHINA CHINA CHINA POWER.” I’ll select one winner from the responses to join me next week, for UFC 242. Since I’m only accepting entries for PPV cards right now, I’ll be flying solo this time around.
Now, lets get to the fights...
The UFC rushed Zhang to title contention, just to get a big fight in a still developing market, and it paid off. ‘Magnum’ melted Andrade in under a minute to continue the revolving door at 115 lbs, now that Joanna Champion has been dethroned. To that end there are two clear directions the UFC can go for Weili Zhang right now. If they want to get her defending her belt as soon as possible, Tatiana Suarez has more or less carved out her place as the division’s no. 1 contender. But it is just ‘more or less.’ Her win over Nina Ansaroff wasn’t the definitive statement many were expecting. A bout between her and Zhang would likely have zero hype behind it. The fight that’s got a lot more interest to it, but will take more time to put together, is a bout between the winner of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson. And while that’s likely to be the former divisional queen, Waterson has been a reasonably high profile attraction for the UFC ever since they brought her over from Invicta. If she somehow managed to beat Jedrzejczyk, she’d most likely make for a fight more fans would tune in for. Tatiana Suarez can pick up another win, Weili Zhang vs. the Joanna/Waterson winner is the biggest fight Zhang can get.
Andrade’s push-forward brawling style was never one designed for a long title reign, but I don’t think anyone figured it would be this short. She seemed like a wrecking ball on her way to the belt. But, when everyone knows exactly how their opponent is going to come after them, sooner or later... well, we all saw what happened. Still, there are some great fights waiting out there for Andrade. I’d personally kinda like to see her try her hand at 125, since she skipped from 135 down to 115 when flyweight didn’t exist. But, since that seems more like a pipe dream, how about a fight with Nina Ansaroff? Or, should Jedrzejczyk lose to Waterson, Joanna vs. Andrade 2 would be a fine fight to book. I wouldn’t even argue if the UFC wanted to make Andrade Suarez’s final test before a title shot. End of the day, Andrade vs. Ansaroff seems like the best combination of action and veteran vs. veteran matchmaking—rather than letting Andrade try and kill off a fresh contender. Nina Ansaroff vs. Jessica Andrade is a great fight.
Maybe it’s just my unapologetic fandom speaking, but I feel like it’s hard to overstate what a big win this was for Jingliang. He had slowly crafted himself into a technical/savvy boxer at welterweight, but one who seemed more destined for mid-card action fights than any kind of run to contender-ship. A victory over Zaleski, however, will have him ranked. And, as a seemingly charismatic and popular fighter in a market the UFC is hell bent on wrenching open, a number next to Jingliang’s game could get him some much bigger fights in a hurry. I doubt he’d be the opponent any of them would want to face, but I wouldn’t be that shocked if the UFC floated his name by Lawler, Pettis, or Thompson. Bouts with Gilbert Burns or Michael Chiesa would make more sense for his resume thus far. But, with Luque right there ranked next to him – and off his own thrilling win – Vicente Luque vs. Li Jingliang seems like an impossibly fun fight to pass up.
Zaleski seemed like he should have a pretty solid matchup in front of him. Jingliang usually gets off to terrible starts, is a less dynamic athlete, and pushes an action-heavy pace that should put him in the line of Zaleski’s offense. But, this time it was the Brazilian tripping up out of the gate. And once the ‘Leech’ got in rhythm, Zaleski could never claw his way back into the bout. That could mean the UFC decides to use Zaleski as a test for fighters like Claudio Henrique or Geoff Neal who are also looking to claw their way into the elite, but I’d rather see him take on one of the other long-time vets in the middle of the division coming off a loss. Bouts against Michel Prazeres or Kevin Lee wouldn’t be bad options. But, the fight I’d really like to see is Elizeu Zaleski vs. Anthony Rocco Martin. Martin had been making his name as a steadily improving counter-puncher with a strong defensive style, then he asked for the toughest fight he could get. Enter Demian Maia, and suddenly Martin is rocking a loss. Let Rocco Martin and Elizeu Zaleski lock horns and see which of them can right the ship to charge back into the top 15 at 170 lbs.
A solid, workmanlike performance from Kara-France; just putting power to De La Rosa all fight for a solid win. He hasn’t had the cleanest performances, but with a 3-0 record now in a torn-down flyweight division, he’s putting himself in the hunt among more seasoned top contenders. Two other fighters find themselves in similar positions at the moment, both coming off solid wins, and both looking for next bouts that can continue their rise through the ranks: Matt Schnell and Rogerio Bontorin. Bontorin’s wins have felt less definitive to date (a close decision and a cut stoppage), while Schnell’s crushing early losses have colored his rock solid recent success. Between them, I think Schnell feels like the more natural matchup. A dangerous finisher who has had past trouble handling power punchers like Kara-France. A win for either of them and they could easily be hunting for a top 5 opponent next. Matt Schnell vs. Kai Kara-France is one of the only flyweight fights to make.
Not the debut performance Mizuki may have been looking for, but also a fight in which she very much looked like a strawweight fighting up a division, against a bantamweight fighting down a division. But, she gutted out the win and will get another chance to prove herself as a potential future contender—hopefully against someone closer to her size. That may mean dropping back to 115, if the cut isn’t too hard. If that’s the route Mizuki wants to take, then a rematch with Karolina Kowalkiewicz might be a solid booking. Or maybe a bout with former Invicta champion Livia Renata Souza. If Mizuki’s move to 125 is a more permanent one, then fights against Polyana Botelho, Antonina Shevchenko, or Sabina Mazo might all be decent. I like the idea of a bout against Polyana Botelho; another former strawweight, with a fan friendly, aggressive style and some solid power. Mizuki Inoue vs. Polyana Botelho sounds like a solid flyweight scrap if Mizuki isn’t going to 115. Otherwise, make Mizuki vs. Livia Renata Souza.
DA UN JUNG
One of only two prelim fighters to get a finish in Shenzhen, Jung was in an absolute barn-burner with Russian newcomer Khadis Ibragimov. He weathered the storm, stayed calm, and caught Ibragimov flagging hard in the second round for a standing submission. Light heavyweight is very much a ‘wild west’ division, with a lot of powerful athletes trading unexpected wins and losses. A bout against Dalcha Lungiambula wouldn’t be a bad next step for the Korean, or maybe Alonzo Menifield. But, I like the idea of slow playing him a bit. Throw Jung in against another relative newcomer looking to find his footing after a couple of tough bouts: Kennedy Nzechukwu. Nzechukwu’s tendency to be all the way out or all the way in should do well for Jung’s pressure-counter style, while still testing Jung’s tendency toward inactivity. Da Un Jung vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu should be a great way to see if either man can build some consistency at 205.
OTHER BOUTS: Mark De La Rosa vs. Raulian Paiva, Song Kenan vs. Ramazan Emeev, Derrick Krantz vs. Kyle Stewart, Wu Yanan vs. Shana Dobson, Anthony Hernandez vs. Eric Spicely/Brendan Allen winner, Jun Yong Park vs. Wellington Turman, Su Mudaerji vs. Jonathan Martinez, Andre Soukhamthath vs. Brandon Davis, Khadis Ibragimov vs. Marcin Prachnio, Damir Ismagulov vs. Jared Gordon, Thiago Moises vs. Joel Alvarez, Alatangheili vs. Mario Bautista, Batgerel Danaa vs. Jin-Soo Son, Karol Rosa vs. Bea Malecki, Lara Procopio vs. Gina Mazany