In some senses, UFC Raleigh over-performed. It had a few moments that really dragged, but Curtis Blaydes got a chance to shine in a main event where most people thought he’d grind his way to a win. The co-main may not have been a thriller, but Michael Chiesa picked up the biggest win of his career. And Alex Perez and Angela Hill both added some rock solid footage to their highlight reels.
So, is there any chance that Blaydes can get himself a title shot without having to fight Francis Ngannou again? Will Colby Covington give Chiesa’s call-out any real consideration? And is Rafael Dos Anjos’ time as an elite fighter finally at an end?
I’ll be answering all those questions, and not much else, using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methods from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. So, let’s get to the bouts!
For about two minutes, it looked like Curtis Blaydes had run himself right into trouble. The massive 250 lb heavyweight has prided himself on being a takedown machine, but against Junior dos Santos, he couldn’t buy a double leg. Instead, he relied on what has to be the most consistent boxing performance of his career—countering numerous lead uppercuts on his way to a standing TKO. It’s not the performance anyone expected, but it’s exactly the kind he needed to keep himself in the conversation for an eventual title fight (whenever Stipe Miocic decides to fight again). Still, unless Francis Ngannou loses or gets injured, Blaydes will probably always be second in line to the ‘Predator.’ If Jairzinho Rozenstruik manages to put the Cameroonian-born Frenchman away on March 28th, then Rozenstruik vs. Blaydes is a great fight to make. But, without being able to depend on that, then Blaydes better hope Derrick Lewis beats Ilir Latifi. Since even that isn’t a given, however, book Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov. It’s the only clear option available.
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS
Well, he stopped Blaydes’ wrestling game. It’s just that he didn’t have an answer for much of anything else Blaydes threw at him. The uppercut wasn’t a bad idea as a dissuasion, but JDS clearly went to the well too often on it. And the eventual right cross counter that put him away was perfectly timed to take advantage of the Brazilian’s predictability. Still, it’s not the kind of loss that’s going to march Dos Santos out of the division any time soon. As a popular former champion, as long as he wants to stick around and fight, the UFC will probably give him opportunities to do so. If Jairzinho Rozenstruik loses to Francis Ngannou, then JDS vs. Rozenstruik is must-see action. But, for now, I think a rematch against Alistair Overeem would be a solid idea. Both men’s styles always lend themselves to interesting fights, and flirt with the danger of getting badly rocked. Their first bout was decisive, but it’s a fight I’m sure JDS would love to get back, and could easily make a fight night headliner. It’s either that or try and play spoiler to Walt Harris when Harris decides to step back in the cage. JDS vs. Overeem 2 feels like it’s worth seeing.
Absolutely the best win of Michael Chiesa’s career. He showed a fantastic ability to keep his top control flow going, and not just against Diego Sanchez, but a former champ in Rafael dos Anjos. That will unquestionably set him up for bigger things. He called out Colby Covington for a fight in July, which is definitely the right ambition, but I doubt it’s the fight he gets. A bout against the winner of Demian Maia vs. Gilbert Burns is much more the right speed. Maybe, if he’s lucky, even the loser of Woodley vs. Edwards. And hey, there’s always Stephen Thompson out there looking for a bout. In fact, since Thompson is coming off a win, and doesn’t have anything to do, why not? Book Michael Chiesa vs. Stephen Thompson. Give Chiesa a chance to prove his takedown acumen against one of the most elusive fighters in the division.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
One of the most anemic performances of RDA’s career. Even recent losses to Edwards, Usman, and Covington all saw the former lightweight champ battling hard all the way through. And while dos Anjos clearly had a big advantage against Chiesa standing, he just looked totally resigned in grappling exchanges. He’s had the same problems with pressure wrestling and takedowns for while now, but ‘Maverick’ didn’t even need a successful kickboxing game to set them up. I might have dismissed the matchup a couple months ago, but maybe it’s time for a rematch between dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone? If Cerrone is headed back to lighweight that probably won’t happen. And considering his injuries they may not be on the same schedule anyway, but I’d like to see it. If not that, then I guess he can fight Vicente Luque? Or maybe the loser of Maia vs. Burns? RDA vs. Cowboy would be ... oh wait, he actually beat Cerrone twice already!? Fine, RDA vs. Luque will work.
Decisive, powerful win for Perez. One that highlights just how physically dominating he can be at 125 lbs. As soon as he got Espinosa to the mat, he put him in danger. And the power he showed with that arm triangle from the wrong side was just scary stuff. If Joseph Benavidez wins the title, he may not have a super clear path to the belt, but Perez even had a strong idea for what his next step could be. He could easily take on Alexandre Pantoja, or the winner of Kai Kara-France vs. Tyson Nam. But, Perez called out Askar Askarov. Can’t see any reason that fight doesn’t get made. A great chance for Perez to continue showing his physicality. And the kind of powerful fighter Askarov will have to beat if he hopes to challenge for the title in the future. Askarov vs. Perez is a fantastic booking.
‘Overkill’ has positioned herself as one of strawweight’s few go-to action fighters. Need someone who can step in on a moment’s notice and still provide a surefire fun performance? Hill is there to do the job. Unfortunately, what that also means is that she’s already fought 75% of the division. But, there’s an upcoming bout that should provide another chance for a good contest. And that’s Tecia Torres vs. Mizuki Inoue. Torres and Hill once fought way back in their Invicta days, but (especially with Torres’ recent struggles) it feels like past time for a rematch. And a bout between Mizuki Inoue and Angela Hill is one I’d absolutely love to see. Hill vs. the Torres/Inoue winner is great, but she’ll probably just step in for whatever strawweight gets injured next.
No question, Nik Lentz came well prepared for Allen and took what seemed like a step sideways for the Brit and turned it into a valuable test. Still, it’s a test that Allen passed well. He kept on his jab, kept his footwork clean, and pushed the pace perfectly as Lentz started to slow. Allen’s planned bout against Josh Emmett would have been a great step to solidify a spot in the top 15 and, if Emmett is going to be healthy sometime soon, it’s worth re-booking. However, if not, then a fight with Shane Burgos is right there—and that would be a hell of a lot of fun. Likewise, a bout with Ryan Hall or the winner of Ige/Kattar would be must see stuff. But, end of the day, I think that Shane Burgos bout is too good. Arnold Allen vs. Shane Burgos, for an all-action featherweight war.
A dominating return to form for McMann, who took advantage of her clear technical wrestling and grappling edges to put Lansberg on the mat early each round and keep her there. Not exactly a thriller, but a fight that reaffirms McMann’s place in the division as a gatekeeper to the top 5. That could mean a fight against Irene Aldana. But, given all her time off, I’d be fine seeing the UFC go winner vs. loser here. There are great fights to be made against either Yana Kunitskaya or Raquel Pennington. In fact, Pennington vs. McMann seems like a fight that should have been made years ago. And it’d be interesting given Pennington’s really decent ground game. Book it, and see if McMann can keep her comeback tour rolling. Sara McMann vs. Raquel Pennington needs to happen sooner or later.
It’s been a minute since Johns last stepped into the Octagon, but this was a great reminder as to why he was once considered one of the brightest prospects coming out of the UK. Gravely was able to match much of the Welshman’s offense for the first ten minutes. But Johns was regularly able to turn his takedowns into good grappling positions, where Gravely just ended up back in the scramble when he took the advantage. By round 3, that made all the difference. It’s a good win for Johns, but not the kind of fight likely to see him pushed back into the deep end where he struggled so much before. Instead, he should take on a seasoned veteran who also recently righted the ship after a rough couple outings: Brian Kelleher. ‘The Boom’ picked up a similarly strong win over a DWCS newcomer last time out. Let these guys get a little momentum toward the top fifteen, rather than picking off the freshmen. Kelleher vs. Johns to see which bantamweight is ready to make a run.
Burns’ UFC debut couldn’t have gone any better. I expected him to get a takedown against Landwehr’s porous wrestling defense, but once Landwehr fought off the sub, it seemed like Burns was going to be in danger. Not the case. The Brazilian blasted his former M-1 champ opponent with a gorgeous clinch knee, sleeping him early in the first round. That should set him up nice for another fun scrap at 145. And there’s a few opponents perfectly positioned for it. Burns could fight Billy Quarantillo, Sean Woodson, or Chase Hooper. But, I think a fight against Charles Jourdain is just exactly right. Jourdain had a shocking upset win over Korean power-puncher Dooho Choi. A fight with Burns would give him a chance to show off his aggressive striking, while having to watch out for a legit high level sub grappler. And for Burns, Jourdain is a tough-as-nails battler who will keep testing the ‘Blaze’ in standing exchanges. Burns vs. Jourdain should be a ton of fun.
OTHER BOUTS: Hannah Cifers vs. Alexandra Albu, Jamahal Hill vs. Alonzo Menifield, Darko Stosic vs. Dalcha Lungiambula, Bevon Lewis vs. Anthony Hernandez, Dequan Townsend vs. Marc-Andre Barriault, Nik Lentz vs. Darren Elkins, Justine Kish vs. Ariane Lipski, Lucie Pudilova vs. Nadia Kassem, Montel Jackson vs. Kyung Ho Kang, Felipe Colares vs. Vince Morales, Lina Lansberg vs. Bethe Correia, Tony Gravely vs. Ode Osbourne, Nate Landwehr vs. Luiz Eduardo Garagorri