UFC Copenhagen went down more or less as advertised. A well booked day of fights, from top to bottom—one that didn’t always yield the expected results, but provided fans with plenty to think about. Jared Cannonier snatched an upset win over promising contender Jack Hermansson. Mark O. Madsen had a suitably dominating UFC debut. And Gilbert Burns has been looking entirely at home in the welterweight division, with a well won victory over Gunnar Nelson.
So, how many fights is Cannonier from a UFC title shot? Should the UFC just throw Madsen into the lightweight deep end and see how fast he can learn to swim? And what’s it gonna take for light heavyweights to stop giving OSP easy subs?
I’ll be answering all those questions – plus a few more – using the classic Silva/Shelby UFC matchmaking model of yester-year. 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 swing at booking some bouts for the Octagon, leave a comment below starting with, “I have power over the entire universe. And if I see fit to let it enter me, it will.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time. Now, let’s get to the fights...
For Cannonier, his next bout will likely depend entirely on his interest in fighting again soon—versus holding out for just the right opponent. With only three middleweight bouts to his name and a recent flood of longtime veterans exiting 185 for light heavyweight, the playing field for contenders is fairly wide open. Bouts against Derek Brunson, Uriah Hall, or the Heinisch/Tavares winner are all there if he’s not going to be choosy and just wants to get paid again soon. But much like Hermansson fighting him, they all offer a fair degree of danger and very little upside for a fighter whose recent wins may have placed him on the cusp of title contention.
If the winner of Adesanya/Whittaker is going to be ready to go soon, then Paulo Costa will likely have the next shot. But if they aren’t? There’s no reason the UFC can’t book Costa vs. Cannonier to crown an no. 1 contender. A fight with Yoel Romero, even despite Romero’s recent losses, would also be a surefire thriller. End of the day, though, Kelvin Gastelum and Darren Till are facing off—and the winner of that will be looking for another top ranked opponent to make their own case for a shot at UFC gold. Jared Cannonier vs. the Gastelum/Till winner seems like a great way to capitalize on the ‘Killa Gorilla’’s newfound momentum.
As a striker, a great deal of Jack Hermansson’s offense has always flowed behind his jab. When the jab is working, his game is working. When his jab isn’t? Things tend to go poorly. He opened the fight both throwing the jab and low kicks, but as Cannonier shut down his wrestling attack, Hermansson’s willingness to let his strikes go started to suffer. And without that, his entries got predictable. The end result was a decisive TKO loss, and a halt to a couple years of steady momentum building. This may be a good time for the UFC to book winner/loser and pit him against Derek Brunson or Uriah Hall, both of whom have pieces of the game that Cannonier just beat him with—but neither of whom have been able to put them together consistently. He could also take on Antonio Carlos Jr. But given ACJ’s pair of recent losses, that may be a bit too low-profile a fight for Hermansson—off a headlining slot.
End of the day, I think Brunson vs. Hermansson makes the most sense. Brunson’s game has looked a lot more composed lately. And he has flashes of good power striking (even if he still often looks awkward doing it) and a rock solid wrestling game to back it up. Hermansson needs to prove he can win at a high level without takedowns, or that he can lean on his wrestling, even against good wrestlers. And if he can’t? Then Brunson’s steady climb back up the rankings continues. Jack Hermansson vs. Derek Brunson should push Hermansson to step up his game.
Seeing how the UFC handles Madsen’s career will likely be nearly as interesting as his actual fights themselves. As a 35-year-old Olympian, coming off a 72-second stoppage in his UFC debut – and as a co-main event – he’s in prime position to get pushed too far too fast. Will the UFC throw him in against Gregor Gillespie? Or Alex Hernandez? Or even one of their cadre of hardened veteran Brazilian grapplers: Charles Olieveira, Carlos Diego Ferreira, or Leonardo Santos? I wouldn’t be at all shocked if that’s what a debut like this gains him.
I would argue – and hope – for a lot more caution, however. Madsen went out and dominated a limited athlete whose path to victory was to do to Madsen exactly what Madsen did to him. It was a perfect setup for a great performance. Let’s give him a chance to beat someone who actually has a UFC win or two before pushing him into the lightweight depths. To that end, I’ll say put Madsen in with Don Madge. The former EFC LW champ has struggled with takedown defense, but showed fantastic resilience and aggression, and picked up two wins in the UFC for his trouble; see if Madsen can keep looking great in a small step up. If so, then the UFC can start throwing some bad style match-ups his way.
Burns is absolutely showing his quality at welterweight. The lack of a tough weight cut seems to be making him more durable, and his speed is letting what was a bit of a wooden striking game land with a lot more authority at 170 lbs. And he’s still a very technical, dangerous grappler and decent wrestler. He called out Neil Magny after the win, but I can’t say that fight really gets me going—even if Magny is free of USADA now. Instead, bouts against Michael Chiesa, Warlley Alves, or Belal Muhammad would all strong. But there’s one fight I really want to see; Li Jingliang should have had a spot in the welterweight rankings after beating Elizeu Zaleski in his last fight. Burns would have a clear advantage over him on the ground, but Jingliang’s boxing is something really special. If Burns can’t get easy takedowns, it would make for a really difficult fight. The winner should get a number next to their name; Gilbert Burns vs. Li Jingliang.
Rough loss for Nelson, but his tendency toward inactivity really cost him. He had plenty of opportunities to create offense with Burns trapped against the cage, but let the Brazilian out-work him toward a decision win. Couple in losing a couple positional grappling battles and it’s a loss that should have him taking a hard look at his overall strategy. Fortunately a huge division like welterweight always has opportunities to bounce back. The UFC could re-book him against Thiago Alves, or give him a shot at bricked up former lightweight Michel Prazeres. I’d also be 100% down to see him fight Nordine Taleb. Of all those, the Michel Prazeres fight seems the most weird and interesting. Prazeres is a sneaky decent kickboxer and a competitive scrambling grappler, if not a dominating one. Nelson will have clear opportunities to use his size and ground skills to control the fight, but he’ll need to stay busy to do it. Michel Prazeres vs. Gunnar Nelson sounds like weirdly cool idea.
A powerful performance from Cutelaba against a version of Rountree that really does look more composed and dangerous than ever. He took a few huge strikes early, but hit takedowns perfectly, changed up his wrestling tactics, and then landed monstrous GnP shots to get a quick finish. There’s no one perfect fight out there for the Moldovan right now, so he’ll have to wait for an upcoming winner. If the UFC really wants to give him a big step forward, the winner of Aleksandar Rakic vs. Volkan Oezdemir is an option. But I think the winner of that fight will be in line for bigger things. The winner of Ryan Spann vs. Devin Clark, Mike Rodriguez vs. Da Un Jung, or Magomed Ankalaev vs. Dalcha Lungiambula all much more likely. Of those, I’ll say Ion Cutelaba vs. the Ankalaev/Lungiambula winner sounds like the most fun.
OVINCE ST. PREUX
A desperately needed win for OSP to keep him relevant in a rapidly changing light heavyweight division. Oleksiejczuk had the look of a potential future contender at 205, with his high volume boxing attack and focus on body work. But, OSP’s size clearly wore on him and that Von Preux choke is always sitting in his back pocket. A lot of the top 15 is tied up at the moment, so he could take on another seasoned vet with recent struggles, like Luke Rockhold (if Rockhold plans to continue fighting). Or another young prospect, like the winner of Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Magomed Ankalaev. However, with Misha Cirkunov picking up his own exciting comeback win recently (and him being one of the few ranked light heavyweights OSP hasn’t faced to date) that seems like an opportunity the UFC shouldn’t pass up. OSP vs. Cirkunov to see which longtime top-15 fighters can keep their momentum rolling.
Lansberg just put the brakes on one of the most promising prospects in the bantamweight division. Her growing composure and focus on a stifling top control game really paid off, and have made her a much more difficult fighter to deal with than she was early in her UFC run. A fight against Bethe Correia wouldn’t be a bad idea at this point, or a bout against Irene Aldana. Lansberg could also wait for the winner of Jessica-Rose Clark and Pannie Kianzad. But, I think the Bethe Correia fight makes the most sense of all of those. Correia is another fighter who has made notable technical improvements over her UFC career. A win for either woman could push them into fights nearer the top 5 of the division. Lina Lansberg vs. Bethe Correia is a good bantamweight fight.
It wasn’t the clearest path from raw prospect to polished pro for Diakiese, but it feels like he’s very much arrived there. Clean, consistent, dominating wins over Lando Vannata and Joe Duffy are a great sign that he’s finally harnessing his great athletic gifts into an elite fighting style. That should mean it’s time to push him into some fights with some other competition floating around the edges of the top 15. That could mean bouts with Mairbek Taisumov or David Teymur, Scott Holtzman, or Drew Dober. None of them are big steps up (a fight with Carlos Diego Ferreira would be fire, if he really wants a challenge), but they’d all help see if he’s ready to establish himself as an elite talent in the division. Of those, I think a bout against Dober sounds like a ton of fun, and a good battle of recent winners who have shown strong technical improvements over time. Marc Diakiese vs. Drew Dober is a great action scrap.
OTHER BOUTS: Danilo Belluardo vs. Charles Jourdain, Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Devin Clark/Ryan Spann loser, Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Jim Crute, Nicolas Dalby vs. Randy Brown, Alex Oliveira vs. Bryan Barberena, John Phillips vs. Abu Azaitar, Alen Amedovski vs. Wellington Turman, Makhmud Muradov vs. Anthony Hernandez, Alessio Di Chirico vs. Trevin Giles, Ismail Naurdiev vs. Sergey Khandozhko, Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Diego Sanchez, Giga Chikadze vs. Lerone Murphy, Brandon Davis vs. Zubaira Tukhugov, Macy Chiasson vs. Vanessa Melo, Lando Vannata vs. Christos Giagos, Jack Shore vs. Benito Lopez, Nohelin Hernandez vs. Jin Soo Son