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UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC can book following their latest event in Las Vegas, NV.

UFC 246 is in the books and the result has been everything the UFC could have possibly hoped for... while potentially leaving fans strangely unfulfilled. Most of the main card was, to put it bluntly, pretty lackluster. While Brian Kelleher and Oleksiy Oliynyk may have picked up nice sub wins, they weren’t against the kind of opposition to make anyone stand up and take notice. The co-main was wildly boring. And then Conor McGregor bombed Cerrone out of the cage in under a minute. Still, bigger things are likely to come from its ashes.

On that note, is McGregor going to stick at 170 for a taste of Jorge Masvidal’s ‘BMF’ title, or is he headed back down to lightweight to face Khabib, as planned? Is there a fun fight out there for Holly Holm, or are fans just going to watch her grind out the rest of her UFC career? And just how far up the lightweight ladder does an Anthony Pettis win take a guy in 2019?

I’ll be answering all those questions, and maybe one or two more, using the classic Joe Silva/Sean Shelby fight booking methodology from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talents up against one another. Now, let’s get to the fights!

CONOR MCGREGOR

The obvious next fight for Conor McGregor is against Jorge Masvidal, who has already carved out a welterweight slot for himself as a superfight headliner. However, it seems for months now that the UFC has had anything other than the obvious in mind. Instead, Dana White has been talking nonstop about getting Conor vs. Khabib 2 together. And if Khabib beats Tony Ferguson, that seems like exactly what will happen. Fortunately for the UFC (and Masvidal) a bout against Masvidal for McGregor will probably stay on the table, win or lose against Khabib—and the same probably couldn’t be said of a Khabib fight if McGregor were to fight ‘Gamebred’ instead. If Tony Ferguson beats Khabib, then who can tell? Chaos will reign, and McGregor will probably go fight Masvidal while Khabib gets a rematch. Still, with everything laid out the way it is now, Conor McGregor vs. the winner of Khabib/Ferguson seems like the safest bet.

DONALD CERRONE

At least ‘Cowboy’ went and got himself paid. That’s probably the best that can be said for him out of this fight. Because every other read on it is just bad. He got busted up immediately, and put away shortly afterward. It’s the third straight stoppage loss for him, and each one coming faster and more dramatically than the last. But, as he said post fight, he’s got no plans to stop fighting anytime soon. Assuming his next move is going to be back at lightweight – where he was just before accepting this bout with McGregor – there aren’t many immediate, clear fights to take. A rematch with Edson Barboza? A fight with Gregor Gillespie? If he’s willing to wait (and he rarely has been), I’d say the best option is the loser of Kevin Lee vs. Charles Oliveira. Otherwise, as always, I’m sure he’ll take the first mildly interesting matchup set in front of him. Donald Cerrone vs. the Lee/Oliveira loser is the best option if Cowboy will wait for it.

HOLLY HOLM

Holm’s losses to champs at 135 and 145 (and even the current 125 belt holder) mean that I don’t really need to see her back in title contention any time soon. But she’s unquestionably positioned herself as a longterm gatekeeper for other fighters looking to get to their first shot at UFC gold, or maybe even get back to a second one. If Germaine De Randamie isn’t already retired, then a rematch between her and Holm would actually be one of the more meaningful fights out there for the ‘Preacher’s Daughter’. Otherwise, Irene Aldana or the Ladd vs. Pena winner would be about the only directions to go. If Amanda Nunes really does want to fight at 145 again sometime in the near future, then Holm vs. Aldana is the fight to make. If Nunes wants to fight Aldana instead, then Holm can wait for the Pena/Ladd winner or take on GDR. I’ll say the UFC should go Holm vs. Aldana. It would be exactly the kind of win Aldana needs to make her the top contender. And if Holm wins, Aldana isn’t on such a streak that the UFC will have lost a surefire challenger for Nunes.

OLEKSIY OLIYNYK

The Russo-Ukranian just became the first MMA fighter to get wins in the sport in the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s (h/t Mike Bohn), even if he’s unlikely to ever win a major MMA title, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. It looked like he’d burned himself out completely after getting close on the early scarfhold, but kept chaining takedowns and subs to get the eventual armbar. That win doesn’t so much set Oliynyk up for a way bigger fight as keep his spot as one of heavyweight’s toughest gatekeepers, but there are still plenty of young fighters on the rise who are looking to test themselves against someone like him. Cyril Gane, Augusto Sakai, and Sergei Pavlovich are all primed for this fight. Of those, I think Sakai would be the most reasonable opponent. A lower-powered, volume-heavy striker who may absolutely blow Oliynyk out... or just fall right into the same grappling traps that have claimed so many before him. Sakai vs. Oliynyk seems like another great chance for the aged veteran to slam the door on another prospect.

CARLOS DIEGO FERREIRA

At 35 and with a win over Pettis, Ferreira could realistically be in line to fight someone like Edson Barboza or Al Iaquinta, especially with both men coming off losses that mean they likely won’t be getting bigger fights. Still, given the trouble Pettis has had stringing together wins lately, bouts against Islam Makhachev and Alex Hernandez may be more the right speed. Considering that I mentioned Drew Dober vs. Islam Makhachev below, then that leaves a pretty clear top 15 fight remaining. Diego Ferreira vs. Alex Hernandez would be a great way for the Brazilian to work his way into the lightweight top 10. And, for Hernandez, it’s exactly the kind of fast starting, high pressure opponent that has tended to bring the most fun fights out of him in the past. All that said, Al Iaquinta is just a way bigger fight for the Brazilian, and seems like more the kind of matchup that beating Pettis should get him. Hernandez would be fine, but Ferreira vs. Iaquinta is what the Brazilian deserves.

ROXANNE MODAFFERI

Not even most of the Bloody Elbow staff thought Roxy was gonna pull this one off, and we all had a heavy rooting interest. But credit to her massively improved boxing for putting Barber on the defensive early, and causing the kinds of problems that led to the knee injury, and turned a hard fight into a complete route for the Syndicate MMA athlete. She looked phenomenal in every area of the bout and dominated start to finish. Just a great performance. And with that should come another push back up the rankings. A fight with Jessica Eye would make a lot of sense, as would a bout with Vivi Araujo. The winner of Lauren Murphy vs. Andrea Lee would be solid too, even with the Lee fight being a rematch from their Invicta days. Eventually, I’ll say Modafferi should shoot for the Eye booking. Eye may want a more high profile opponent, but she needs to run up wins if she ever wants to get to title contention again. And for Roxy, this is her time to make a charge. Modafferi vs. Eye would be a high quality scrap in the flyweight top 10.

SODIQ YUSUFF

It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t clean, but Yusuff started fast and gutted out a hard win over a really solid veteran. Exactly the kind of fight that should push him up into the bottom of the featherweight rankings. That could mean a bout against another veteran action fighter, someone like Cub Swanson or Ricardo Lamas or Darren Elkins. Or another prospect on the rise; maybe Shane Burgos or Ricardo Ramos. But, I think Yusuff is really ideally positioned for a fascinating style clash against the other much-hyped 145er to run himself out to a 4-0 unbeaten record in the UFC: Ryan Hall. Hall vs. Yusuff would be a crazy clash of Hall’s constant kicks against Yusuff’s power counters. Coupled with Hall’s crazy, try-anything grappling. It’d be a high profile win for Yusuff to make his charge into the top 10, and a chance for Hall to prove he can perform against a dangerous puncher in his prime. Hall vs. Yusuff is a fight I suddenly need to see.

ASKAR ASKAROV

Many predicted that Askarov would be able to take advantage of Elliott’s wildness on the ground (if he was gonna find a way to win), but might be troubled by the American’s more dynamic striking. Instead, the Dagestani’s nuts & bolts approach was the perfect antidote to nearly everything Elliott tried from distance. It’s just too bad for him that the state of the flyweight division right now means that Alexandre Pantoja is the only man without a booking. That fight wouldn’t be bad, but something like the winner of Alex Perez/Jordan Espinoza or Rogerio Bontorin/Ray Borg would be a lot more reasonable. Of those, I think Askarov vs. the Bontorin/Borg winner is the best answer. Bontorin’s unbeaten in the UFC, and Borg still has some cache from his title challenger history. Both would make a good next step from Elliott.

DREW DOBER

A remarkable win for Dober. Haqparast has been an incredibly hot prospect on the rise, one who hadn’t been finished since a sub loss in his pro debut. For Dober to knock him cold early in the first round? That’s a huge achievement, and one that has him looking much more like a potential top 10 action fighter than ever before. While I’m not sure he’ll be about to get a ranked opponent next time out, I’d be pretty happy to see him against just about anyone outside the top 5. Bouts against Mairbek Taisumov, Islam Makhachev, or Leonardo Santos would all be strong options, or even the loser over Paul Felder vs. Dan Hooker. And if Drakkar Klose beats Beneil Dariush that’d be an ideal fight. At the moment I’ll say, match Dober up against Islam Makhachev. I know it’s not a barn-burner, but I really want to see Taisumov/Pettis, and who knows when Santos will fight again.

OTHER BOUTS: Raquel Pennington vs. Ketlen Vieira, Maurice Greene vs. Tanner Boser, Brian Kelleher vs. Chris Gutierrez, Ode Osbourne vs. Anderson dos Santos, Anthony Pettis vs. Mairbek Taisumov, Maycee Barber vs. Mara Romero Borella/Montana De La Rosa loser, Andre Fili vs. Cub Swanson, Timothy Elliott vs. Matt Schnell, Nasrat Haqparast vs. Davi Ramos, Aleksa Camur vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu, Justin Ledet vs. Mike Rodriguez, Sabina Mazo vs. Poliana Botelho, JJ Aldrich vs. Justine Kish/Lucie Pudilova loser