UFC 255 was pretty precisely the card it was booked to be. Figueiredo and Shevchenko turned in the kinds of dominant performances fans have come to expect of them. Tim Means and Mike Perry put on a 3-round war. And Katlyn Chookagian outpaced Cynthia Calvillo to a three round decision.
So, is Figureiredo really going to turn around and defend his title again in less than a month? Is there any argument against giving Jessica Andrade the next shot at the women’s flyweight belt? And will the UFC find a way to book Joaquin Buckley against James Krause.
To answer those questions – and a whole lot more – 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.
According to Dana White in the post-fight presser, the die has already been cast as to who the next title challenger for Deiveson Figueiredo will be. I would have loved to see ‘Deus Da Guerra’ take on Cody Garbrandt, unfortunately the former bantamweight champion is apparently struggling with the longterm affects of the coronavirus—and just when ‘No Love’ might be able to return to action seems entirely up in the air. In the meantime the UFC has a new challenger for the flyweight belt all ready and waiting. Brandon Moreno picked up a solid (if somewhat fluky in its ending) win down on the undercard. That victory has the ‘Assassin Baby’ unbeaten in his last five fights—including a win back at LFA 69 following his brief release from the UFC. It’s not the most glorious run, including that draw to Askar Askarov, but after all the damage the promotion did to 125 trying to cut all its fighters, it’s the best option the UFC has. Wildly, though, it sounds like White has convinced Moreno and Figueiredo to face off at UFC 256, in just 21 days. Crazy stuff.
Perez may have been prepared, but he wasn’t ready. He looked like he had just the right approach to taking on the champ, throwing powerful kicks from range and taking the first opportunity he could to create takedowns. Against Figueiredo, however, even having exactly the right plan in mind doesn’t mean keeping up with the champion’s powerful, opportunistic arsenal. A rough setback, but with flyweight still a division in turmoil, there’s lots of room for Perez to be part of the process of separating the best from the rest. There’s a rematch against Joseph Benavidez out there, or fights with Kai Kara-France, Askar Askarov, or even Brandon Royval—coming off his own loss on the same card. Of all those options, I think the Kara-France fight makes the most sense right this moment. Two experienced vets who have put together solid recent UFC runs, but hit a couple hard walls along the way. A win for either man puts them right back in the mix at the top of the division. Kai Kara-France vs. Alex Perez is a quality top-10 flyweight scrap.
Much like Figueiredo, Shevchenko’s future has already been decided. I’m sure it all depeneded on how things shook out on the night. If Shevchenko had somehow lost, a rematch would be in the works. If Calvillo had won, she might have been somewhere in the conversation. But Shevchenko won dominantly and Calvillo misstepped hard, which all means that Jessica Andrade is on deck. Andrade had said, previously, that she’d be more than willing to take other fights to work her way up the division, but there never really was any point in that. She’s a former champion already, she’s put in that work, and she’s in the prime of her career. Right now, she’s easily the most thrilling matchup for ‘Bullet’ since facing Jedrzejczyk to claim the vacant belt back in 2018. Andrade vs. Shevchenko is a great fight and, given the state of the division, the UFC had to make it.
It says a lot about a champion’s dominance when picking up one round is seen as a major testament of a challenger’s quality. Yet, Maia did prove two things in this fight: A) She’s fearless; and B) She’s tough as hell. She took the fight to Shevchenko wherever she could, however she could; pushing for clinch exchanges, takedowns, and looking to counter every strike Shevchenko threw. None of that really mattered in the end, however. Shevchenko was too strong, too technical, too smooth and controlling on the mat. A better than expected showing from the contender, but still a decisive loss. It should still set Maia up for some other decent fights. Bouts against Cynthia Calvillo (who lost earlier in the night) or Lauren Murphy, or Viviane Araujo depending on what happens in her fight against Modafferi. But, with so much of the division locked up, there’s one fight that I think should be a pretty clear next stop—and that’s against Jessica Eye. Win or lose against Joanne Calderwood, that seems like a too-easy to make fight. Maia vs. Eye is a necessary way to create a little separation between former title challengers.
I don’t know if Perry thinks he’s taking his career seriously or not, but the results in the cage don’t suggest it. He was fortunate to out-grapple Gall last time out. But after round 1 here, Means didn’t give him the option—and Perry didn’t have it in him to match the pace of the ‘Dirty Bird’. That puts Means on two straight wins following his shocking upset loss to Daniel Rodriguez. He confidently stood in and out-boxed Perry to take the decision and should be set up for another mid-card action bout ASAP. That could be Jake Matthews or James Krause or Alex Morono or Alan Jouban—welterweight is filled with solid fighters who can give Means a worthwhile challenge. I’d most love to see Krause vs. Means, to be honest, but that might be a fight set for Joaquin Buckley. So how about Shavkat Rakhmonov instead? It’s not a name bout, but Means is such a ‘fight anyone, anywhere’ kind of guy, I can’t see him turning it down. And it feels like a totally reasonable next fight for the former M-1 champ following his debut win over Alex Oliveira. Tim Means vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov, to see if the young prospect can pick off another old lion.
A classic performance from Katlyn Chookagian after some recent rough outings. And the kind of fight that will keep her right in the mix among the flyweight top 5. That could mean it’s time for one of several rematches. There’s Lauren Murphy, who Chookagian beat back in 2016, or the winner of Eye vs. Calderwood, both of whom Chookagian has fought in the last couple years. The other option would be the winner of Roxanne Modafferi vs. Viviane Araujo. With the announcement that Jessica Andrade is getting the next title shot, and Chookagian’s self stated desire to fight again next month, a bout with Murphy seems like the ‘must make’ fight. It’s a meaningful path to title contention for ‘Lucky’ as well as a chance to avenge an old debt. And for Chookagian, if she wants to fight for the belt again, she’s going to have to take on all comers. Chookagian vs. Murphy 2 is a the right fight for Murphy to prove she can be a contender.
Not a bad fight from Craig, but a pretty depressing performance for Shogun fans. To see one of the classic Pride legends tapping to strikes (and not against Jon Jones) was... well... it wasn’t great. Still that’s how the clock turns in the fight game, and it does keep Craig on a solid run of performances after some ups and downs to start his UFC career. He’s now unbeaten through four fights, with three finishes. Time to take another step toward the edges of the top 15. He could rematch Jim Crute, or take on the Ryan Spann/Misha Cirkunov winner. But, with Ovince St. Preux vs. Jamahal Hill right around the corner, I like the idea of Craig against the winner of that bout. If it’s OSP, then that’s a big, strong longtime veteran who can challenge Craig everywhere. And if it’s Hill, then that’s an energetic, fast handed prospect looking to make his own run into the elite. Paul Craig vs. the OSP/Hill winner is sure to be fun no matter who wins on December 5th.
As expected, this fight was building to be an insane war. Then, unfortunately, tragedy struck. Mid scramble, Royval’s shoulder popped out and with just one second left in round 1, the fight was over. Still, it seemed that Moreno was slowly getting the better of scrambles and striking exchanges, and the win is well deserved on his end. Had it not been announced (and had the news of Garbrandt’s COVID struggles not come to light) I would have doubted this win would be enough to get Moreno the next shot. But things being what they are, he’s now going to be fighting for the belt inside a months’ time. I’d have personally liked to see a rematch against Askar Askarov, but Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno should be a whole lot of fun, even if it won’t be a big PPV seller.
Another top flight finish for Buckley’s highlight reel. Wright gave him a few problems with counters on the way in early, but Buckley kept the pressure high and eventually started landing the kind of heavy leather that Wright just couldn’t take. The fight was practically over when Wright stepped back out for round 2. Seconds later and it was truly done and dusted. Buckley may have lost his own UFC debut, but he’s carved out his spot as a middleweight action standout in his two bouts since. That could line him up for fights with Jun Yong Park, the winner of Lungiambula/Roberson, or Tom Breese. I’d also, especially, love to see him in a fight with Trevin Giles. But the heat between Buckley and James Krause is building. If they can meet at a catchweight, or if the UFC can convince Krause to step back up to 185, then Krause vs. Buckley is the fight to make. If not, book Buckley vs. Giles at 185, and let Krause do his coaching/fighting thing down at welterweight where he’s much more naturally suited.
I’m not near as certain that this fight was a great display of Shevchenko’s improved ground game, so much as it seemed to be a final referendum on just how lacking Lipski’s own skills on the mat are. That said, ‘La Pantera’ made the moves she needed to, and capitalized on the big mistakes that Lipski threw herself into, to pick up a very necessary win. That should leave her solidly in gatekeeper position to the top 15 (afterall, there’s not a lot of point in her pushing her way to title contention right now). And while it feels like that should give her a bunch of options, there’s only one that’s clear right this second: Sabina Mazo. Mazo has rattled off three straight wins off her debut loss, and even picked up a sub last time around. Another striker-vs-striker match, another chance for Shevchenko to push a prospect back, an opportunity for Mazo to grab a ranking. Sabina Mazo vs. Antonina Shevchenko is a quality flyweight fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Mike Perry vs. Emil Meek, Cynthia Calvillo vs. Modafferi/Araujo loser, Mauricio Rua vs. Sam Alvey, Brandon Royval vs. Pantoja/Kape loser, Jordan Wright vs. KB Bhullar, Ariane Lipski vs. Justine Kish, Nicolas Dalby vs. Max Griffin, Daniel Rodriguez vs. Laureano Staropoli, Alan Jouban vs. Alex Morono, Jared Gooden vs. Ramiz Brahimaj, Kyle Daukaus vs. Nassourdine Imavov, Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Jordan Williams, Sasha Palatnikov vs. Matthew Semelsberger, Louis Cosce vs. Niklas Stolze