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UFC Brasilia: Lee vs. Oliveira - 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 in Brasilia, Brazil.

UFC Brasilia did not start out on a great foot considering that the world’s largest MMA promotion basically had Saturday sports programming all to themselves. Nine straight decisions matched the organization’s all-time record. But, the evening ended up saved by the main event, where Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira put on a thriller—one that saw the Brazilian pick up his seventh straight win in the lightweight division.

So, is ‘Do Bronx’ really in the UFC title picture at 155? Has Gilbert Burns proved himself to be among the welterweight elite? And what does Brandon Moreno do with the flyweight title likely headed toward an immediate rematch?

I’ll be answering all those questions – and plenty more – using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking style 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 going about it that way, I’ll at least make one or two potential fights that the UFC themselves will actually want to book. On that note, let’s get to the action!

CHARLES OLIVEIRA

A huge opportunity for Oliveira and unlike his last headlining spot against Max Holloway, this time he made the absolute best of it—with a third round submission win over top ranked Kevin Lee. It’s a win that had him calling for a title shot. And given his win streak, it’s not hard to see why. It’s also incredibly unlikely to happen. Depending on how things shake out between Ferguson and Nurmagomedov (and the potential for McGregor to fight either of them) Oliveira would likely be a lot better off targeting a bout with Justin Gaethje, on the off chance that this whole situation leaves the ‘Highlight’ high and dry. But even that doesn’t seem like a sure thing. The best, most realistic option I can see, if Oliveira doesn’t want to wait around, would be to gun for a fight with Donald Cerrone, or a rematch with Paul Felder. Between them, I’d find that Felder rematch totally fascinating, so why not book Charles Oliveira vs. Paul Felder 2.

KEVIN LEE

Lee himself said that fans may not see him for a while after this latest loss. And as much as I enjoy watching him fight, I think that’s not a bad idea at all. He’s had fights where he’s gassed out from prolonged striking exchanges, fights where he’s gassed out from prolonged grappling exchanges. Had trouble handling pressure striking, and had trouble making weight at 155—but instantly gave up on fighting at 170 after one loss. The things he needs to fix probably go deeper than just minor technical improvements, and if he’s going to keep floating around the top 15 of welterweight or lightweight he’s not going to get much opportunity to make those changes. Time off could be just right. All that said, I’d still like to see him fight Beneil Dariush, or Anthony Pettis. Actually, that Pettis fight sounds really cool. If Kevin Lee wants to fight again any time soon, a fight between he and ‘Showtime’ would be fascinating.

GILBERT BURNS

Burns let Maia take the fight right to him, didn’t avoid the mat, scrambled out of some bad spots, and forced Maia to keep resetting and having to challenge him standing. Eventually that meant landing a huge left hook that sent Maia crashing to the mat. That’s a great path to a top tier next fight for Burns, and he made the right kind of call-out, telling Bisping post-fight that he wants Colby Covington next. I doubt Covington is interested in that, but it’s the right kind of bout to ask for. More likely, Burns could get Stephen Thompson, Michael Chiesa, or Geoff Neal. Of all those, it’s the least thrilling on name value, but I think I’d most like to see Burns vs. Neal. Burns is a willing striker with some decent power, but I doubt he can match Neal standing. And Neal could really use an elite level grappling test. Clear avenues to victory for both men. Gilbert Burns vs. Geoff Neal would be a meaningful benchmark for both men.

DEMIAN MAIA

Alright, I know that this is a reach, mostly because I don’t think that Nate Diaz gets lured back to the Octagon for anything more than major PPV headlining or co-main action bouts, but... it would be really awesome to see Maia vs. Diaz before Maia retires. I mean, hell, you could even do Maia vs. Nick Diaz if he didn’t seem so totally retired. And while both men clearly have a big advantage over the Brazilian standing, they’ve also tended to get taken down by just about everyone that really works hard to do it. Also it’s not like Nate is a particularly great one-shot KO artist. If Maia is going to get the chance to shoot single legs, does anyone really think he won’t complete them? It’s almost completely a pipe dream idea, but I’d love to see Demian Maia vs. Nate Diaz.

RENATO MOICANO

It’s tough to find what precisely would be the next logical step for Moicano at his new division. He called out Paul Felder, but there’s absolutely no way that fight happens. In fact, a lot of the top 15 is already booked, especially fighters coming off a good win. But Moicano clearly needs a more competitive bout than Hadzovic, who he ran through in just seconds. To that end, there is one fighter sitting nicely in that middle ground between the chaff of 155 and the elite: Lando Vannata. Vannata has struggled to find top shelf form in the UFC for a while now, but he’s a capable, diverse action fighter everywhere. And one who has never been KO’d and only been submitted by Tony Ferguson. If Vannata can beat Moicano, maybe he’s finally ready to make his run at the top 15. And if Moicano can get that win, then he’ll be a lot closer to getting a top 15 opponent next time out. Renato Moicano vs. Lando Vannata would be a surefire thriller.

NIKITA KRYLOV

Not the fight fans were hoping for, but the path to victory that Krylov needed to take. He’s always been at his best when he can hit takedowns and work from top control. And Walker still made that fight tough on him, even getting a couple key sweeps. However, Krylov ‘embraced the grind’ to pick up the win and maintain his spot as a tough action battle for anyone and everyone on the fringes of the top 15 at light heavyweight. That’s a spot that includes a potential rematch with Misha Cirkunov or new fights against Aleksandar Rakic or Jim Crute. In fact, that Jim Crute fight sounds like absolute madness. Just totally uncontrolled action in all positions. Nikita Krylov vs. Jim Crute would be a wild war.

BRANDON MORENO

A fantastic, hard fought decision for Moreno, and one that inches him into an increasingly complicated flyweight title picture. He landed the hard shots standing, fought his way through bad positions, and even did most of the damage on the ground. He’s one of the only fighters at 125 who has a consistent range game that he can lean on. And as his grappling polishes up, he’s becoming a harder fighter to take out of his element. Unfortunately, flyweight is so thin that rematches against Askar Askarov or Alexandre Pantoja might be the best options—even though that Pantoja fight would be a trilogy at this point. However, Ray Borg is coming off a couple wins, and somehow he and Moreno have never fought. Borg may not be near Moreno in the rankings, but a fight between them still feels like a great test. Brandon Moreno vs. Ray Borg is one of the few new flyweight options for Moreno right now.

JUSSIER FORMIGA

If Formiga was hoping to get a second fight against Deiveson Figueiredo sometime in the near future, then this loss has put some serious brakes on that possibility. Formiga got the grappling positions he needed to win, but he just couldn’t get enough done with them when he had them. He’s still a really tough fight for anyone at 125, even if Moreno’s length had him somewhat flummoxed standing. On that note, however, how about a fight against Tim Elliott? Elliott is coming off his own rough loss, and he’s one of the few action fighters at 125 that Formiga hasn’t faced yet. And he’s also a fighter most comfortable in tight exchanges. Should make for another really fun grappling battle, or a wild brawl if neither man can control it on the ground. Formiga vs. Elliott seems like a flyweight fight we should have seen before.

AMANDA RIBAS

An absolutely dominating performance from Ribas tonight. Markos may not have been as dangerous in any one area as Dern, but she’s a much more seasoned, polished vet and Ribas tore her apart. It’s the kind of win that suggests the Brazilian can accelerate quickly into the title picture. Fights with Angela Hill or Yan Xiaonan both seem like logical next steps. Hill probably won’t wait around for whenever Ribas is ready next, but might be able to take another bout or two and still be ready for Ribas in a few months. For my money though, a fight between Yan Xiaonan and Amanda Ribas just seems perfectly placed for two women who are looking to get into the top 10 and start making waves at 115. Ribas vs. Xiaonan is a rock solid strawweight scrap.

ENRIQUE BARZOLA

Not a win on paper for Barzola, but a win in spirit (he would totally have had it under PRIDE rules). He let himself get sucked into the scramble with Yahya early and often and paid for it by dropping the first two rounds on position. But after Yahya tired out, Barzola put one hell of a late beating on him. That’s not likely the introduction he was looking for to his new division, but it’ll do well enough. If Iuri Alcantara isn’t retired, a fight between he and Barzola would be a lot of fun. Since that’s not at all certain though, I’ll say that Barzola should target bouts against Kyung Ho Kang or Merab Dvalishvili. In fact, that Dvalishvili fight sounds like a whole lot of fun. Enrique Barzola vs. Merab Dvalishvili is a great way for the Peruvian to firm up his footing at 135.

OTHER BOUTS: Damir Hadzovic vs. Frank Camacho, Johnny Walker vs. Spann/Craig winner, Francisco Trinaldo vs. Leonardo Santos, John Makdessi vs. Bobby Green, Randa Markos vs. Hannah Cifers, Elizeu Zaleski vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan, Alexey Kunchenko vs. Chance Rencountre, Rani Yahya vs. Frankie Saenz, Maryna Moroz vs. Polyana Botelho, Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Yanan Wu, David Dvorak vs. Raulian Paiva, Bruno Silva vs. Mark De La Rosa, Bea Malecki vs. Tracy Cortez, Veronica Macedo vs. Liana Jojua