The UFC’s latest ‘Fight Island’ offering ended up as something of a mixed bag; largely lopsided decisions with a few spectacular highlight KOs. But, as always, the most important part of any fight card is that the headlining bouts deliver. Brian Ortega once again carved out his spot as a thrilling title featherweight contender. This time, however, it wasn’t off the back of his devastating sub game—but instead a patient, practiced striking attack. And Jessica Andrade immediately announced herself as the most interesting flyweight title challenger to come along in a hot minute.
So, can the UFC keep itself out of the way of two great championship bouts? Is Jonathan Martinez building some serious momentum at bantamweight? And what needs to happen for James Krause to get a full fight camp?
To answer those questions – but not much else – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.
This fight was a revelation for Brian Ortega. The guy who could barely win a round without tapping someone out in that same round suddenly looks like a distant memory. Chan Sung Jung has always had his defensive gaps, his willingness to get wild on offense, his inconsistencies of decision making. But, he’s also clearly crafted himself into a continuously dangerous, high level striking threat in the cage. And Ortega patiently and calmly played the matador for five rounds, while hardly missing a beat. He’s turned his unflappable confidence into remarkable consistency of form and delivery. In MMA, that kind of skill and composure makes him an incredibly dangerous talent. It also makes his planned upcoming bout with Alexander Volkanovski fascinating.
‘The Great’ has rarely fought without at least offering the takedown as a significant threat to his opponent. He shot 13 times on Max Holloway between their two bouts. Can he face Ortega down without that same dynamic in play? Does he want to test his luck with Ortega on the ground? And for Ortega, he’s hit some serious high output striking numbers in his last two bouts, but can he keep that tempo against someone so willing to match it the way Volkanovski is sure to be? Someone who has also built his style around neutralizing range tools, and has been doing it a bit more consistently to (previously) better results? It’s a fantastic title fight, and I can’t be happier that the UFC doesn’t appear to want to screw around with making something else. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega is the perfect next fight for featherweight gold.
CHAN SUNG JUNG
I never thought I’d be writing these words, but the Korean Zombie got thoroughly outclassed standing by Brian Ortega. ‘T-City’ floated around him at range for five rounds, picking him off with jabs and body kicks and counter hooks. Later TKZ alluded that he basically didn’t remember anything after eating that spinning elbow in round 2. And while I don’t doubt that’s the case, he clearly tried to build momentum in later rounds of this fight, but just couldn’t find the timing or the angles to do so. The loss puts a sudden and forceful halt to talk of the Fight Ready talent as a title contender in the immediate future. But, it doesn’t mean he’s entirely out of the longer term conversation. Especially with a couple of big name featherweights looking for their own path to the belt.
Is Zabit Magomedsharipov still fighting Rodriguez some day? If not, a name win like Chan Sung Jung would do a lot for his stock. Same with Josh Emmett or Calvin Kattar. However, all that ignores the clear elephant in the room. The UFC has two beloved top tier action fighters, coming off a loss, sitting among their featherweight elite. It may have been more fun to see as a title fight, but this is clearly the time to make Max Holloway vs. the Korean Zombie. Waiting for both men to come off another win, after all the wars they’ve been through is no kind of guarantee. But right now, the fight is still a surefire headliner or PPV co-main. Book it before it’s too late.
A powerful debut for Andrade. She struggled with range and timing, but even among 125ers Chookagian is unusually tall and rangy. At 5’5” Valentina Shevchenko won’t present those problems (even if she presents many, many others). And as a former champion who’s proved she’s still a finishing threat up a division, I don’t see any reason to mess around and have ‘Bate Estaca’ face anyone else on the way to a title shot. If they absolutely must, they could book her against Lauren Murphy now that Cynthia Calvillo is out of that fight. But considering that the winner of that bout would have likely otherwise been the top contender, just book Jessica Andrade vs. the Shevchenko/Maia winner. It’s the best fight on the champ’s radar in the immediate future.
Rough landing for Chookagian after picking up a strong bounce back win over the other Shevchenko last time out. She went up against another power striker she couldn’t out-wrestle and while her kickboxing technique has continued to improve, the ability to mix it up and trade power at the elite level just isn’t there. Still, there are a lot of good fights for ‘Blonde Fighter’, even in the flyweight top 5. A bout against Cynthia Clavillo or even a rematch with Lauren Murphy would both be very solid. I had hoped that the UFC could potentially line her up for a rematch against Jessica Eye, but it looks like they want to do Eye vs. Calderwood for UFC 257. With Murphy re-booked against a newcomer, and the likelyhood that Calvillo will be back in fighting form soon, how about booking Calvillo against Chookagian? A win for Calvillo could strengthen her top contender case, and it’s an opportunity for the Mark Henry trained fighter to stay relevant among the division’s elite.
Just a crushing performance from Crute here. Came out and initiated powerful exchanges with Bukauskas from the outset, and the moment the Lithuanian gave him an opening, he blew it apart with a huge overhand. The win puts Crute on a two fight streak after his rough loss to Cirkunov. And after this victory he even had a name ready for his next step. I’d love to see him take on Khalil Rountree or the Ankalaev vs. Cutelaba winner, but he called out Nikita Krylov—so why the hell not? Krylov’s got his own mix of decent wrestling and wild grappling along with an energetic striking game. There’s a lot of parity in this match-up. And while the ‘Miner’ may have the experience edge, he’s rarely been the kind of fighter to dominate an opponent that can keep up with him physically. Jim Crute vs. Nikita Krylov is a great fight, book it.
Hell of win for James Krause against the always dangerous Claudio Silva, especially on a busted wheel after eating some hard low kicks early. Still, even with a knee blown, he stuffed every takedown Silva tried and forced the Brazilian to reckon with his much tighter counter boxing game. Given the short notice, that’s a great victory to pull out. Hopefully his knee isn’t too bad and he can return to competition soon. When he does, I’d love to see him get a fight with someone like Carlos Condit. Of course, Condit may have his sights on bigger things—but still, a man can dream. If that can’t happen, though, how about a bout against Niko Price. Price really showed up big against Donald Cerrone last time out, even if he didn’t get the win. Like Silva, he’s a constantly dangerous whirlwind of offense, but with a lot more variety standing (and a lot less awkwardness). Krause vs. Price would be a fantastic chance for the veteran to school another wild fighter, and a chance for Price to add another name to his growing resume.
A really talent driven performance from Martinez. He’s cleaned up his form wonderfully in the UFC and looks like a much more consistent performer every time out. Against Almeida, he flustered him with his jab, body kicks, and counter hooks, and never once let Almeida get away with the openings in his combination striking. A great way to shut down a fighter known for his violent flurries. That could lead him to a fight with Raoni Barcelos, Merab Dvalishvili, or maybe Kyung Ho Kang. I especially like the idea of the Barcelos fight. Barcelos should be a top 15 fighter right now. With the kind of form Martinez is working himself into, this is a great way to see just what kind of level he’s on. Can he defend against a power striker with fantastic takedowns and grappling? Time to find out. Martinez vs. Barcelos is the ‘Dragon’’s opportunity to show he’s truly become elite.
After a rough round 1, Robertson buckled down and took over to get a solid win with lots of positional control. When she’s getting the chance to lead the dance, her wrestling and grappling are among flyweight’s best. That victory puts her at a quiet 6-2 in the UFC and it’s hard not to think that a big step up in competition may once again be on the table. With Montana De La Rosa and Andrea lee both coming off losses it seems like there’s really only one clear bout to make that could be ready in the immediate future for Robertson, and that’s a fight against Alexa Grasso. After an inconsistent run at strawweight, Grasso leapt into 125lbs with a solid win over Ji Yeon Kim. A grappler like Robertson would be a definite step up in competition, and Grasso’s consistent form could offer a hard test for Robertson if she can’t get takedowns. Gillian Robertson vs. Alexa Grasso is a great way for either woman to move forward.
A quick highlight KO for Nurmagomedov to put him back on track as one of bantamweight’s most exciting prospects. He’s got a high energy kicking game, and thrilling/spin-heavy striking attack, and some legit skills on the ground to lean on when he needs them. It just so happens that Raoni Barcelos was a bit of a tank. But Nurmagomedov still has some real thrills to deliver. A Fight with the winner of Casey Kenney & Nathaniel Wood would both be excellent tests for his next time out. But what about a fight against Chris Gutierrez? Gutierrez’s lowkick attack and recently improved offensive arsenal should make for a good puzzle for Nurmagomedov, along with his more neutralizing tendencies. Can Gutierrez stop a wild man like Nurmagomedov, or will he become the next part of the Dagestani’s highlight reel. A good challenge for both.
OTHER BOUTS: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Aleksa Camur, Claudio Silva vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan, Thomas Almeida vs. Guido Cannetti, Guram Kutateladze vs. Ottman Azaitar, Matesuz Gamrot vs. Jai Herbert, Poliana Botelho vs. Justine Kish, Jun Yong Park vs. Andre Muniz, John Phillips vs. Markus Perez, Fares Ziam vs. Luigi Vendramini, Jamie Mullarkey vs. Brok Weaver, Maxim Grishin vs. Ed Herman, Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs. Ike Villanueva, Mark Striegl vs. Ray Rodriguez