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UFC on ESPN: Blaydes vs. Volkov - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book after their latest event in Las Vegas, NV.

Top to bottom, UFC on ESPN: Blaydes vs. Volkov gave fans something to talk about. Curtis Blaydes got a controlling, if not incredibly damage delivering win over Alexander Volkov. Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos put together a fight of the year contender. And Jim Miller showed the value of veteran craft in the cage.

So, is Curtis Blaydes any closer to a title shot after his lastest win? Is Josh Emmett a newly minted contender? And what’s Lauren Murphy gotta do to get off the prelims?

I’ll be answering all those questions – and pretty much nothing else – 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.

CURTIS BLAYDES

Blaydes absolutely had to have this win to keep treading water in the potential title contender’s queue. Unfortunately for him, getting tagged up for the last two rounds and ending the fight just about dead from exhaustion means he’s not likely to jump Francis Ngannou in line for the next chance at the belt. He’s suggested he might wait until Cormier/Miocic 3 and whatever happens with Ngannou is all cleared up before fighting again, but if Dana White’s post-event tirade against him is any indication, waiting may not serve him all that well.

If Jairzinho Rozenstruik beats Junior Dos Santos, that would be a solid stay-busy fight. But the best possible option for Blaydes would be to hope that Derrick Lewis beats Oleksiy Oliynyk. Blaydes vs. Lewis would be fascinating given the way Lewis has tended to give up takedowns and rally for late KOs. If that fight went the way this Volkov bout did, would Blaydes have walked out with the win? The way, way outta left field option would be a fight with Alexander Gustafsson, if Gus beats Werdum next month. End of the day, Blaydes is stuck waiting, but the fight I’d most like to see him wait for is Derrick Lewis off a win.

ALEXANDER VOLKOV

Honestly, all things considered, this is probably just about the best way this fight could have gone outside a shocking upset KO. Volkov got planted on his ass, over and over, just like most everyone assumed he would. But he rallied hard in the fourth and fifth rounds, snagging them both on two out of the three judges scorecards. It showed his ability to stay cool and collected, his great cardio, and his undeniable toughness and heart. It’s the kind of performance that leaves me a lot more interested in what he can do going forward. To that end, this is clearly the time for a fight against Walt Harris. Harris has the power to put most heavyweights away, but his cardio showed up as a major problem last time out against Alistair Overeem. Can Volkov take advantage, or is Harris just too big a hitter to play a high volume, low power game against? Volkov vs. Harris is a solid bounce-back opportunity for both men.

JOSH EMMETT

It may not have ended with a classic Josh Emmett KO, but this was still an incredible performance that clearly marks Emmett as a threat for anyone in the top 10. Even with a fairly limited arsenal, few fighters can deliver that kind of speed and power for 15 minutes straight. And to do it all with a busted wheel? [chefs kiss] Beautiful. Bouts against Yair Rodriguez, Jung Chan Sung, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, or even Arnold Allen would all be totally fine next fights as the division waits to find out who the next title challenger will be after Volkanovski vs. Holloway 2. Of all those options, Yair Rodriguez feels like the fighter most likely to be not in the immediate title hunt and not a step sideways. It would also be a wild thriller given Yair’s non-stop range kicking game against an incredible one-punch distance closer like Emmett. Rodriguez vs. Emmett is must see featherweight action.

RAQUEL PENNINGTON

One of the most consistent performances of Pennington’s career. Reneau clearly came out looking to keep the pace high, but Pennington controlled clinch exchanges and still managed to out-work her opponent from range. That keeps her solidly in her spot as a gatekeeper to the belt at 135 lbs. Unfortunately, there’s really not a lot of new fights out there waiting for her right now. A quick turnaround to fight Sara McMann next week isn’t even remotely realistic after this kind of three round fight. But if McMann were willing to wait a little, I’d love to see that bout happen. Surprisingly, Pennington also hasn’t faced Julianna Pena, but I’m not at all sure when the ‘Venezuelan Vixen’ will be back in action after her latest injury. Given all the options, Pennington will likely just have to wait for the winner of Vieira vs. Kunitskaya, or hope Sara McMann will wait a few weeks.

BELAL MUHAMMAD

Muhammad had a name all set and ready for his post-fight interview, with a call-out of power punching Argentinian Santiago Ponzinibbio. If Ponzinibbio is going to be ready to fight anytime soon, I’m not against that fight. At this point most of ‘Gente Boa’’s momentum toward title contention is pretty dead in the water, given his long injury layoff. Still, there are plenty of other bouts at the edges of the top 15 against people more likely to be ready to step into the cage soon. Fights against Neil Magny, Anthony Pettis, or even a rematch against Vicente Luque would all be reasonable. I had wanted to propose a scrap with Alex Oliveira (which I think would be just about perfect), but Oliveira’s already booked. Eventually I’ll settle for Muhammad vs. Magny, even though I’m not convinced it’ll be a thriller. At the very least it should be a busy fight.

JIM MILLER

Roberts wasn’t any kind of household name heading into this fight with Miller, but it was expected by many to be something of a passing of the torch moment for the young prospect. Instead, Miller turned it into a sharp lesson about veteran savvy. He’s always a must-see fighter, win or lose, and there are still a few bouts I’d like to see him take in the Octagon. A fight against Bobby Green is an easy match-up to make, but opponents like Drew Dober or Renato Moicano would also provide thrillers. More I think about it, I’d love to see Miller take on Dober. Dober’s had his troubles with athletic grapplers and submission hunters, but packs some scary power these days. It’s a fight where both men could get serious opportunities to finish early. Miller vs. Dober should be a nail biter.

TECIA TORRES

This was absolutely a must-win fight for Torres. Her 4-loss skid doesn’t look so bad when digging into exactly who she lost to, but it’s a rare fighter in the UFC that gets to drop that many bouts and come back for another chance. Faced with a relatively inexperienced opponent who didn’t have a size advantage for once, she had to pull out the victory. And she did, with a pretty dominant display of volume striking. That could make this a great time to have a rematch with Angela Hill, or to see if she can shut down Yan Xiaonan’s rise. Hell, she could even give playing spoiler to Mackenzie Dern a try. Of all those options, I’ll say put Torres in against Xiaonan. If she can win that fight then she clearly has something to offer the divisional elite again. If not, then she can always go back to being a gatekeeper. Tecia Torres vs. Yan Xiaonan is a great opportunity for Torres to prove she’s still in the mix at strawweight.

GILLIAN ROBERTSON

Robertson’s striking was somewhat exposed against Maycee Barber, but this fight clearly displayed that she’s still one of flyweight’s better wrestling threats. She chains her takedowns wonderfully, and against a fighter like Casey that meant that she could continually get this fight off the feet and to the mat where she dominated position. It’s not the most well rounded game, but she’s a dangerous fight for a lot of the division. Bouts with Maryna Moroz or Justine Kish would make for good next fights to keep her streak going. And taking on Mariya Agapova or Sabina Mazo would also be solid options. But, end of the day, I like a fighter like Moroz as a next step. Someone who has a pretty complete MMA game and should be able to test Robertson’s offensive wrestling more, as well as her range kickboxing. Gillian Robertson vs. Maryna Moroz sounds like a chance for both women to grab a spot in the rankings.

LAUREN MURPHY

A must have win for Murphy if she’s going to pursue her title aspirations. Both she and Modafferi have been hanging out as gatekeepers to the elite, but with Valentina Shevchenko in constant need for title challengers, Murphy has about as good a shot as anyone for getting there. Bouts with Jessica Eye, Cynthia Calvillo, or even a rematch with Katlyn Chookagian would all be strong options. But, with a bout between Jennifer Maia and Viviane Araujo out on the horizon, it feels like the winner of that would be absolutely primed to take on Lauren Murphy next. Lauren Murphy vs. the Araujo/Maia winner is a solid way to put one fighter into future title contention.

OTHER BOUTS: Shane Burgos vs. Jeremy Stephens, Marion Reneau vs. Lina Lansberg, Lyman Good vs. Niko Price, Roosevelt Roberts vs. Joaquim Silva, Bobby Green vs. Scott Holtzman, Clay Guida vs. Evan Dunham, Brianna Van Buren vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Maki Pitolo, Oskar Piechota vs. Bevon Lewis, Cortney Casey vs. JJ Aldrich, Justin Jaynes vs. Ottman Azaitar, Frank Camacho vs. Teemu Packalen, Roxanne Modafferi vs. Andrea Lee 2, Austin Hubbard vs. Jalin Turner, Max Rohskopf vs. Fares Ziam