UFC Vegas 12 may have left a lot of fans feeling a deep down sadness for what could be the end of Anderson Silva’s career, but as an overall card, it delivered pretty damn well. Uriah Hall got another spectacular KO to keep his name in the hat of potential future title contenders, Bryce Mitchell showed once again that his ground game is truly special stuff, and Kevin Holland made his case for getting a serious step up in competition.
So, with Adesanya taking his talents to light heavyweight, can Hall land himself a top ranked fighter looking to stay busy? Is it time to start throwing Bryce Mitchell into the featherweight deep end? And what’s up with Holland out here wrestling people?
To answer those questions – and one or two other things – 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.
Once Hall got over being starstruck, it became evident very quickly that Silva could not surivive a toe-to-toe firefight with him. Hall has had his ups and downs, but he’s always been a dynamic powerhouse. And lately he’s been doing a much better job putting together the basic necessary tools to win fights standing and not let them simply drift away. He had moments where that still happened here, but it was great to see him turn up the heat as the fight went on. Afterward he threw his name in the Adesanya hat, but Dana White quickly shot that down by announcing that Izzy would be moving to LHW next to take on Jan Blachowicz. That likely leaves Hall with any of several rematches: Derek Brunson, Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, or Paulo Costa. Of course, there are new fights too—especially Jared Cannonier and Yoel Romero. Of all those bouts, the clearest winner/winner fight that makes sense to me is the one against Brunson. Cannonier vs. Hall would be fun too. As would Whittaker vs. Hall now that Adesanya/Whittaker 2 seems unlikely. But Brunson vs. Hall just feels like the sensible fight to book. It’s a win Hall could really use getting back, and a chance for Brunson to keep his momentum going.
He’s got one fight left with the UFC and it’ll be real interesting to see exactly what that ends up meaning for his future. Dana White has already gone on the record saying that he won’t let Silva fight in the promotion again. But, does that mean they let him go and potentially be a drawing talent for a smaller organization for a few more years. Or does it mean that they let Silva do other things, like take boxing matches or put him in a ‘brand ambassador’ position. Basically just pay him to hang out and be Anderson Silva? There’s not really a fight left I want to see Silva take. If I had to make a guess, I’d bet he’d try and finally take aim at that Roy Jones Jr. boxing match that he’s wanted for so long. But, what exactly the path to making something like that happen looks like? I have no idea. Hopefully Anderson Silva is ready to enjoy his retirement. If he’s not, then things could get messy.
A huge win for Mitchell who is really proving that his grappling game is something more special than what most of the division has on offer. Fili comes from a major camp that puts a lot of emphasis on scrambling ability, but he had no clear way to control the grappling exchanges with Mitchell here. ‘Thugnasty’’s striking still needs some work, but fighters are going to have to prove they can keep him on his feet to make him pay. If Ryan Hall can come back from injury anytime soon then Hall vs. Mitchell has to happen. Same thing with Sodiq Yusuff. It’s too bad that Arnold Allen will probably want to fight soon, otherwise I’d love to see Mitchell drop in to face him now that Stephens is out of their bout. Since all those things don’t seem too likely right now, however, how about Movsar Evloev? Evloev’s busy boxing and non-stop wrestling seems tailor made to keep the action high. Can Mitchell beat someone who might be a better wrestler than he is? Can he match Evloev’s non-stop motor? I’d love to find out. Bryce Mitchell vs. Movsar Evloev would be an amazing top-prospect battle.
A tough loss for Fili who has been campaigning to get name opponents for a minute now. He took on a hot prospect in Bryce Mitchell and got firmly out-grappled on his way to defeat. Fili just hasn’t been able to find the necessary momentum to break out of his role as a mid-card action fighter. There are still plenty fun bouts to be had, though, with the likes of Julian Erosa, Julio Arce, or Jared Gordon. But, there’s another entertaining fighter really struggling to shed his own place as an also-ran at 145: Makwan Amrikhani. ‘Mr. Finland’ has an elite wrestling and grappling game of his own, but has had trouble focusing on getting his fights to the floor, or keeping his gas tank going into round 3 when he does. A bout with Fili would give Amirkhani a softer striking test than he had against Barboza or Burgos. And for ‘Touchy’, it’s a tough, but slightly less non-stop wrestling test to prove he can handle that kind of fight. Fili vs. Amirkhani is a great way for both men to try and prove they really can be top 15 talents.
Holland was a huge favorite against Ontiveros, a natural welterweight coming in on super short notice. And he made the lines look well deserved. Despite eating a wild backfist off some ill advised unstructured aggression in the opening minute, Holland landed a few clean shots before bullying Ontiveros to the cage and putting his size and strength difference on full display. Huge slamming takedowns quickly brought the show to a close with Ontiveros giving up the verbal submission from a resulting neck injury. Afterward, Holland jawed with Israel Adesanya, but made it clear in the resulting post-fight interview that he just wants any kind of name opponent. Fights with Krzysztof Jotko, Edmen Shahbazyan, or Omari Akhmedov would all be decent places to go next. But since they’re all fighters who are either coming off a loss or have been pulled from recent bouts, I’ll say the UFC should go with Tom Breese. Breese looked fantastic in his latest bout, and he’s had a lot of success in the cage in the past. It’s a step up from the newcomers Holland has been taking on lately, and for Breese, it’s the kind of fight he must win to make a run to the top 15. Kevin Holland vs. Tom Breese is a good opportunity for both men to get some momentum against a veteran opponent.
Exactly the kind of bout Hernandez needed after a disappointing last three performances. Against Gruetzemacher, his speed and power were in full play, and he breezed by ‘Gritz’ for a first round KO win. That should put him right back in position to nip at the heels of the lightweight top 15. Fights against the likes of Scott Holtzman, Leonardo Santos, or maybe even a rematch with Beneil Dariush? As much as I’d love to see him get that Leo Santos fight, I have no idea just when the Brazilian will compete again. Instead, what about a bout against Brad Riddell. I was campaigning for the Kiwi to take on Rafael Fiziev, but Fiziev has been booked against Renato Moicano in the time since Riddell’s last bout. It’s a big step up to see if ‘Quake’ can make a fast run to the elite. And for Hernandez, it’s another dangerous, powerful striker that could test his defensive liabilities. Not a huge name for the man who once battled Donald Cerrone, but a guaranteed action fight for fans—and a chance to prove he’s really ready for the top of 155 again. Riddell vs. Hernandez would be all action.
Great debut for Yanez. He may have resorted to brawling with Rodriguez a bit, but why not considering he was the more powerful, more technical, and more durable puncher. That headkick he landed as Rodriguez was turning to try and escape the pocket was just gorgeous. Yanez trapped him on the cage, gave him one route to turn to and the slammed the door on him hard. BW is neck deep in promising prospects, so it’s doubtful that Yanez will get anything like an easy fight next time out. He could face Nathan Maness, Trevin Jones, Jack Shore, or Kyler Phillips. But, the bout I’m most into is against Tony Kelley. Kelley has proved himself a thrilling high output striker. And given that he made his debut at 145, he’s also got the size to not be physically overwhelmed by Yanez. Yanez has struggled a bit in the past with opponents who can keep pace with him standing, a bout with Kelley would see if that’s still an issue. Adrian Yanez vs. Tony Kelley would be a fantastic scrap.
It didn’t end with a big KO, but that was a pretty fantastic performance from Strickland after a devastating injury that almost cost him his career. He boxed Marshman up with ease for three rounds and spent most of the last 3 minutes or so just begging Marshman to fight in the center and get KO’d so he could win a performance bonus. Real good times. And the kind of performance that should earn him a strong opponent next time out. It’s too bad that Marvin Vettori is booked, because I’d love to see that. Depending on how fast Krzysztof Jotko or Omari Akhmedov are ready to fight, they could be solid options. With their status’ unkown, however, How about Zak Cummings. He’s fresh off a win over Alessio di Chirico and as a former welterweight himself would be a fun way for Strickland to keep finding his footing at 185. Strickland vs. Cummings seems like a sensible next fight for ‘Tarzan’ on his way up a new division.
After 10 years of fighting and two separate stints, Dustin Jacoby finally has his first UFC win. He looked fast, varied, and dangerous to all levels as a light heavyweight striker. Ledet is a tough fighter to put away, especially if you’re not surprising him. But Jacoby landed a few clean shots upstairs before absolutely destroying Ledet’s legs and then polishing it off with a brutal uppercut. Given his striking acumen and long history of MMA and kickboxing experience, might as well throw him into some tough fights to see how far he can go, how fast. That could mean someone like Ryan Spann or Khalil Rountree, or even Sam Alvey. But, I’d like to see him take on Maxim Grishin. The Russian has been around MMA for years and years before getting the UFC call. He’s experienced and composed everywhere and very tough to hurt. A chance for Jacoby to put on another show, against a fighter who has the ability to take the fight more places than just a range kickboxing bout. Jacoby vs. Grishin would be a great next test for the striker.
OTHER BOUTS: Greg Hardy vs. Marcin Tybura, Maurice Greene vs. Stefan Struve, Charlie Ontiveros vs. Niklas Stolze, Thiago Moises vs. Drew Dober, Bobby Green vs. Jim Miller, Chris Gruetzmacher vs. Austin Hubbard, Victor Rodriguez vs. Ray Rodriguez, Jack Marshman vs. Alessio di Chirico, Jason Witt vs. Sergey Khandozhko, Cole Williams vs. Anthony Ivy, Justin Ledet vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov, Miles Johns vs. Randy Costa, Kevin Natividad vs. Johnny Munoz