The UFC’s latest Fight Night may have once again been snakebit by last minute fight cancellations, but the UFC was able to keep a strong main event alive this time around and it delivered perfectly. Marvin Vettori announced himself as part of the middleweight elite. Jamahal Hill showed he’s ready for the light heavyweight top 15. And Ilia Topuria might just be featherweight’s hottest prospect.
So, who’s the next top ranked middleweight ready to take his chances against the ‘Italian Dream’? Can Hill keep his undefeated record alive with another step up? And who’s ready to be the next victim of Topuria’s power body punching?
To answer those questions – but not too 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.
A spectacular showing for Vettori. Feels like the kind of fight he’s had in him for a while now, but never had the opportunity to show. Well, the continuous run of COVID problems gave Vettori that chance, and he knocked it out of the park. Just a persistant, powerful showing of skill behind a laser left hand over the course of five rounds. Considering Vettori’s durability, his wrestling and grappling quality, and his cardio, he’s going to be a real challenge for anyone—even if he’s yet to find his feet as a finisher. I’d love to see Vettori take on Robert Whittaker, or Darren Till, or even Gastelum and Cannonier, but he had his own particular callout and it was stellar. Marvin Vettori vs. Paulo Costa will be a war. Two tanks heading into battle, which one will survive. Vettori vs. Costa is a perfect fight to book.
A hard loss for Hermansson who once again found himself clawing at title contention only to get pushed back by a more powerful athlete looking to make his own run to the belt. The positive side here, however, is that Hermansson put on one hell of a show in a loss—fighting hard for 5 rounds, and very clearly going for the finish late. That kind of grit and determination should keep him well inside the top 10 and in main/co-main event status for the immediate future. The best way to take advantage of that would be a re-booking against Darren Till once Till is recovered from injury. After all, Till is still off his own fresh loss to Robert Whittaker, so it’s not like Hermansson’s position to get the fight has been diminished. The other options would be fights with Paulo Costa or Derek Brunson. But, since it sounds like he’s got a busted ocular cavity to let heal, Hermansson vs. Till is still a great fight to make once both men are healthy.
This was the performance Hill needed to have to really add hype to his unbeaten record. He’s caught some good finishes, he’s showed some fast hands, but he needed to prove he could put strikes on someone consistently without getting himself into trouble or out of position. Against OSP, Hill did all that and more. Lightening quick 1-2s, hard body kicks, and a fantastic flurry to become only the third fighter ever to stop OSP with strikes. That should push him into some wild fights at 205. To me, that means guys like Jim Crute or Paul Craig. A fight with Da Un Jung would also be fine, but Jim Crute vs. Jamahal Hill just feels like too much of an action fire fight to ignore. Crute vs. Hill is gonna be a thriller. Book it.
A fantastic striking performance from Benitez who not only showed off his elusive footwork, but the extreme precision in his hands and feet. He forced Jaynes to chase him constantly and swing wild to try to catch him. And the more predictable Jaynes’ entries got, the sharper ‘Moggly’ was on the counter. That step knee to the liver was a remarkable show of skill and it’s no wonder that Jaynes collapsed from it. That keeps Benitez right on track for another mid-division action matchup at 155. Fights with Marc Diakiese, Lando Vannata, Vinc Pichel, or Alex Hernandez all seem pretty reasonable. Of those, I think the Pichel fight makes the most sense. A serious wrestling threat for Benitez to deal with in a division where the AKA talent is looking to make his name as an elusive volume threat. Benitez vs. Pichel would be a quality meeting of veteran talents.
A hell of a UFC debut from Leavitt. Wiman getting booked again was a bit odd from the promotion, but it gave the ‘Monkey King’ a great chance to shine—and he did that with a miraculous first round slam KO. That lines him up for any of a number of next fights in the lightweight division. Fighters like Faris Ziam, Luigi Vendramini, Joe Solecki, or Don Madge. Of those, I’ll go with Fares Ziam. The Frenchman’s clinch offense and range kickboxing could provide interesting tests for Leavitt. Or it could just be another opportunity for him to take the fight to the floor and show off his exciting grappling attack. Either way, another relatively inexperienced newcomer feels like the right move. Leavitt vs. Ziam is a good way to get both fighters more cage time.
It took some time for Smolka to catch up to Quinonez, but once he did he turned the tide in a hell of a hurry. That throw into mount he hit in round 2 essentially ended the fight. The Hawaiian’s top pressure on the ground is a fearsome thing. With all his Octagon experience and a string of recent inconsistent performances, the best options for Smolka are to either take on a similarly positioned vet – like Thomas Almeida or Davey Grant – or to take his chances playing gatekeeper to young prospects trying to climb the division. Fighters like Hunter Azure, Mario Bautista, or Randy Costa would all fit that bill. For now, I’ll take seeing Smolka in the more veteran matchups. And to that end, a fight against Davey Grant would be perfect. Smolka vs. Grant should be a fun, aggressive fight between two veterans struggling to find consistent winning form.
Another great win for Topuria to open up his UFC career and at this rate he’s going to quickly build a reputation as one of the best prospects in the featherweight division. He’s got power and creativity standing, a strong wrestling game, and an aggressive, sub-hunting ground game. Against Jackson, though, he just went after him hammer & tongs standing for the quick knockout. That should set him up for a fight with just about anyone outside the top 15 of the division. If I thought Grant Dawson would be ready for featherweight right now, I’d suggest him. A bout with Charles Jourdain wouldn’t be a bad idea either. But, I think the most sensible fight is against another seasoned vet. Someone who can continue testing the depth of Topuria’s skills. To that end, how about a fight with Charles Rosa? ‘Boston Strong’ is coming off a win over Kevin Aguilar last time out, and possess both a crafty ground game and persistent kicking attack. Another chance for Topuria to show his quality, or for Rosa to hand a hot prospect a veteran defeat. Rosa vs. Topuria seems like a good way to get a young fighter more Octagon experience.
OTHER BOUTS: Ovince St. Preux vs. Sam Alvey, Justin Jaynes vs. Alex Da Silva, Roman Dolidze vs. Dustin Jacoby, John Allan vs. Aleksa Camur, Jose Quinonez vs. Frankie Saenz, Damon Jackson vs. Shane Young, Jake Collier vs. Don’Tale Mayes, Gian Villante vs. Stefan Struve