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UFC Vegas 17: Thompson vs. Neal - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event, UFC Vegas 17, in Nevada.

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Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

Depending on what fans were looking for, UFC Vegas 17 either hit just the marks it needed to, or somewhat under-delivered. Stephen Thompson and Jose Aldo both proved their mettle as top-flight fighters over greener competition, but Michel Pereira vs. Khaos Williams dramatically undercut expectations. All told it was a night that failed to bring many thrilling finishes. For those that just like seeing elite craft on display, however, the card offered plenty of that.

So, is it time to start talking about Stephen Thompson as a title contender again? Does Jose Aldo still have what it takes to compete for UFC gold? And can Anthony Pettis make waves at 155?

To answer those questions – and a few 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.

STEPHEN THOMPSON

As expected, a win for ‘Wonderboy’ very much keeps him square in his gatekeeper to the top 5 role among the welterweight elite. One or two more wins like this one and we just might be talking about Thompson as a title contender again. After this fight he called out Jorge Masvidal which is... fine? But, we have very much seen that fight and the dynamics of it were stark enough that I’m not at all convinced it needs running back. I’d love to see Thompson take on Ponzinibbio, but assuming the UFC is still going to try and book ‘Gente Boa’ for mid January, I doubt that lines up with Thompson’s schedule. There’s also a fight with Neil Magny out there—although if someone’s clamoring for that, it aint me. Honestly, of all the options, I think I’d be most interested in Thompson vs. Covington. Covington’s high pressure high output style has broken more than a few opponents, but could he really make that work against someone as elusive as Wonderboy? Or could he crack Thompson’s ~80% takedown defense? Thompson vs. Covington is a great chance for either man to get back to title contention.

GEOFF NEAL

Neal got his first taste of elite MMA and it was a bitter one. Thompson out slicked, out hustled, and at times even just banged it out with Neal over the course of five rounds to pick up a decidedly one-sided victory. Hopefully it’s a lesson that Neal can internalize and use to motivate him to continue improving, because the base tools of an elite talent are definitely there. This was just a case of him confronting something he’d never seen before; if he didn’t know his footwork and entries needed to improve, then he’s got a clear picture now. This loss should lead him into a few good fight opportunities though. The most obvious of which would be a bout with Vicente Luque. Although whether that appeals to Luque off his couple of recent wins, I’m not so sure. Same with Michael Chiesa. Looking outside the rankings, there are bouts with Anthony Rocco Martin or maybe the winner of Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown. Of all these options the fight the feels ‘must-book’ is Neal vs. Luque. But Neal vs. Martin would work just fine too.

JOSE ALDO

The ‘King of Rio’ picks up exactly the kind of win he needed to keep his name in among the bantamweight elite. Aldo may have struggled against some of his champion-level opponents lately, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still and incredibly challenging matchup for everyone else. He even did a great job controlling the pace of this fight, locking down a dominant position just as it looked like things might be slipping away from him. He could face Rob Font next, but I’m not all that into that bout. Instead, he called out TJ Dillashaw. The former bantamweight champ’s suspension should be ending in the next couple months. A fight against Jose Aldo would be one hell of a way to come back from ignominity. Aldo vs. Dillashaw sounds like a great way to see what the the former king at 135 still has to offer a division that’s seen a lot of changes since he last fought there.

MARLON VERA

Vera got a chance to really climb the mountain against Aldo and just couldn’t come up with the victory. Aldo landed the much bigger, better shots early and – just when it looked like Vera might start stealing the momentum – did a great job grabbing a dominant position and locking Vera down for the rest of the fight. ‘Chito’ still clearly has the toughness and the cardio to compete with the best, but he’s going to need to offer a lot more violent offense early in fights against athletes who are a big step ahead of him for speed and power. Since I’m still interested in seeing Vera compete at a high level, however, I don’t want to see him take a huge step back next time around. I would have loved to see him take on Raphael Assuncao, but Assuncao is currently booked to take on Raoni Barcelos. So instead, how about Vera vs. the Barcelos/Assuncao loser. No matter who that is it should provide a fantastic elite-level matchup.

MICHEL PEREIRA

After his win, Pereira called out Anthony Pettis for a bout. Unfortunately for him, ‘Showtime’ sounded pretty emphatic that his next time in the cage wouldn’t be at 170 lbs. Fortunately there are plenty of other fun action welterweights hanging out in the middle of the division looking for fights. Guys like Claudio Silva, Nicolas Dalby, or even Niko Price would make for absolutely wild fights for ‘Demolidor’. Could even go with Alan Jouban or Li Jingliang. Maybe another relative newcomer like Shavkat Rakhmonov or Miguel Baeza. Out of all those options, I just can’t pass up an idea like Niko Price vs. Michel Pereira. It’d be another ‘don’t blink’ fight and a chance for both men to once again create the kind of highlight they’ve become so well known for. Pereira vs. Price for more welterweight mayhem.

ROB FONT

A remarkable win from Rob Font coming back from a bad injury and a full year on the sidelines. But with a win over the former title contender, Font is currently on a three fight run and once again firmly ensconced as a threat in the top 10 of the bantamweight division. Unfortunately for him, almost all of the bantamweight elite is tied up right now. Frankie Edgar’s fighting Cory Sandhagen, Jimmie Rivera’s fighting Pedro Munhoz, and then we got Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney. I could match up Font with Jose Aldo, it seems like just the right level he deserves after this victory. But, I always hate matching fighters up from the same card. So instead I’ll say Font should take on the Rivera/Munhoz winner, even if Munhoz gets that one, it’s a great chance at revenge for Font from their 2017 battle. Font vs. the Rivera/Munhoz winner is a great way to keep any of these three on the path to title contention. But a battle against Jose Aldo would also be sweet.

MARLON MORAES

A little more than a year ago, Moraes looked like he was on top of the world. He’d marched his way to title contention with emphatic victories over Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, and Raphael Assuncao. It seemed like a sure thing that, even if he wasn’t about to be champion, Moraes would be in the title hunt in the UFC for years to come. After his latest performance against Rob Font, it’s worth wondering if Moraes is going to be in the UFC at all by the end of 2021. For a man who has made his career off his fearsome power striking, he looked entirely shaken on the feet on Saturday night. It’s three KO losses in four fights, and time for Moraes to take a serious step back. To that end, I think a fight against Cody Stamann would be just right. Stamann has a decent, well rounded game, but has never proven to be any kind of finisher in the Octagon. It’s a chance for Moraes to prove he’s still got the skills he needs to compete. And for Stamann a chance to prove he can be an elite competitor at the highest levels. Stamann vs. Moraes is just the right step down for Moraes and opportunity for Stamann.

MARCIN TYBURA

Tybura fell way behind in the opening round of this fight. But stayed persistent, didn’t let Hardy’s size and power overwhelm him, and kept the pressure on. To that end, round 2 was an entirely different story. And once he got Hardy to the mat, it was a wrap. That keeps Tybura solidly in his top-15 gatekeeper role at 265. And it could line him up nicely with bouts against Sergey Pavlovich, Blagoy Ivanov, or Walt Harris. Pavlovich would be the obvious answer among those options, but I’m not sure what his injury recovery schedule is. Unfortunately, I’d also entirely forgotten that Augusto Sakai and Marcin Tybura just fought, because that seemed like the most reasonable go to. Instead, I’ll say Tybura should take on Juan Espino. If the 40-year-old Spaniard wants to make any kind of run in the UFC he’s gotta start making moves ASAP. Tybura seems like a good place to test his ability.

ANTHONY PETTIS

After this win, Pettis announced his intentions to go back down to 155 and chase another UFC belt. But just where he’d stand in the current title picture isn’t that easy to measure. He’s won two straight, but that loss to Carlos Diego Ferreira couldn’t have been more definitive. Does that leave him fighting fringe top 15 fighters like Leo Santos or the Dober/Makhachev winner? I’d love to see Pettis take on Al Iaquinta but I have no idea how interested Iaquinta is in taking any fight right now (he’s also on two straight losses). If Beneil Dariush beats Ferreira in their upcoming bout, then Dariush vs. Pettis would be another great option. All told, I’ll go for Pettis vs. the Dober/Makhachev winner. But if Makhachev and Dariush both win their fights, I’d rather see Dariush get that nod.

PANNIE KIANZAD

An extremely scrappy, hard fought win for Kianzad. She did well to fight off early pressure and grappling control from Eubanks in order to turn the tide over the last two rounds. That puts Kianzad on a three fight win streak all of a sudden and should bump her a couple notches up the bantamweight rankings. Looking at the division right now, a rematch with Lina Lansberg seems like the only reasonable option available. But fights like Nicco Montano vs. Karol Rosa or Macy Chiasson vs. Marion Reneau seem like they’d offer more interesting opportunities. Kianzad already lost to Chiasson, so with that in mind Pannie Kianzad vs. the Montano/Rosa winner makes the best sense as a next fight.

OTHER BOUTS: Khaos Williams vs. Daniel Rodriguez, Greg Hardy vs. Tai Tuivasa, Alex Morono vs. Randy Brown, Sijara Eubanks vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, Deron Winn vs. Jun Yong Park, Antonio Arroyo vs. Jordan Wright, Taila Santos vs. Antonina Shevchenko, Gillian Robertson vs. JJ Aldrich, Tafon Nchukwi vs. Dricus du Plessis, Jamie Pickett vs. Dustin Stoltzfus, Jimmy Flick vs. David Dvorak, Cody Durden vs. Bruno Silva, Christos Giagos vs. Jalin Turner, Carlton Minus vs. Jamie Mullarkey