UFC 252 was a little wild, a little weird, but overall fairly fun. Daniel Cormier’s final fight wasn’t without controversy, but he pushed Miocic to the absolute limits in an engaging 5-round heavyweight title fight. Marlon Vera’s fight with Sean O’Malley essentially didn’t happen. But, Jairzinho Rozenstruik got another highlight win. And Daniel Pineda crushed his re-entry to the UFC after more than 6 years away.
So, who does Stipe face for the heavyweight championship now—Jon Jones or Francis Ngannou? Will Marlon Vera get the chance to build off his upset win with another high profile fight? Or will Merab Dvalishvili get a crack at him instead?
To answer those questions – and a few other things, too – 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.
There are two clear options out there for Stipe Miocic right now and, of course, leave it to the UFC to tell fans that both of them are happening. Was the whole tease of Jon Jones getting a heavyweight title shot just a lure to keep Daniel Cormier around for one last fight in case he won? Jones doesn’t seem to think so. But now White is saying that Francis Ngannou is next in line. And while we’ve already seen Ngannou lose to Miocic, there’s no question that he’s earned the right to contend for the belt again. Frankly, both sound like perfectly good, fun ideas. Ngannou may or may not have evolved any since his first fight with Miocic, but he’s still a terrifying puncher who had his moments back in 2018. And of course, the lure of a Jon Jones heavyweight superfight still has tons of curb appeal.
Ultimately, however, without the need to lure DC back as well, I think the UFC will be happy to take the cheaper option. Why pay Jones big money to compete at 265 when there’s a legit challenger who will take the bout for a fraction of the cost? Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou seems like it’s up next.
One of those cases where Vera’s gain was a lot more meaningful than his opponent’s loss. O’Malley’s foot injury clearly took him out of the fight before any shots from Vera knocked him senseless. But Vera isn’t the kind of guy you can ride out being injured against and he quickly made O’Malley pay with some heavy, heavy elbows from top control. The victory gives Vera an immediate bounce back off his controversial loss to Song Yadong and keeps him in the mix among the bantamweight elite. Merab Dvalishvili had hoped to fight O’Malley if O’Malley won, so a fight against him could end up in the cards for Vera. Bouts against Jimmie Rivera and Cody Stamann wouldn’t be bad ideas either. With how often Vera is ready to go, really any bout that’s available will work. But with Rivera’s last win being less than thrilling, and coming with a pair of losses before it, why not give Vera chance to pick off a true top-10 guy. Marlon Vera vs. Jimmie Rivera is a great way to let Vera take a big step forward.
All things considered, the first major in-cage derailing of the Sugar Show Express could have been a whole lot worse. O’Malley will pretty easily be able to walk away from this fight claiming that Vera got lucky, and that 99 times out of 100 he doesn’t get injured and goes on to win. Whether or not that’s true isn’t nearly as important as his pride and confidence staying intact. The question, however, becomes just how long will O’Malley be sidelined for? Early reports are that it’s the same kind of injury he had back in 2018, which was eventually revealed to be related to a preexisting fracture in O’Malley’s foot. How long that could leave him out for is anyone’s guess. But, since Rob Font is also sidelined by injury, why not set them up to face one another when they both come back? Font vs. O’Malley once both men are healthy again.
Exactly the kind of win Rozenstruik needed coming off that ugly loss to Francis Ngannou. The first round was a bit nip-tuck with the former champ, but he came forward late in round 2 and opened up the gaps in JDS’s defense along the fence. The TKO puts him back in the hunt among the top 5. Fights with the likes of Derrick Lewis or Curtis Blaydes would both make a lot of sense. But it sounds like Lewis and Blaydes want to fight one another. That likely leaves Rozenstruik waiting for an upcoming winner before he gets another bout. And the contest between Walt Harris and Alexander Volkov is a great bet to provide exactly that. It may not push Rozenstruik way forward, but it’s a surefire gun-fight no matter who gets the victory. Rozenstruik vs. the Harris/Volkov winner is a hell of a fun heavyweight scrap.
A huge upset for Pineda in his return to the Octagon. He said he’s only getting better as he gets older and after a performance like that, it’s hard to disagree with him. He’s an aggressive combination striker with a strong wrestling and grappling game. An action fighter who can compete everywhere and push the pace. Given his long career, it doesn’t feel like there’s any good reason to have him slow crawl his way back up the division. He should be entirely prepared for fights with the likes of Andre Fili, Cub Swanson, Charles Rosa, or Jared Gordon. Of those, it’s hard not to look at the Fili fight as the most fun. I’m sure Fili would like a higher profile opponent, but he’s not too far removed from a loss to Sodiq Yusuff. Beat Pineda and he can get another shot at a top guy. Daniel Pineda vs. Andre Fili would be a war at 145 lbs.
A calm and controlled showing for Merab Dvalishvili. His wrestling didn’t end up producing much in the way of takedowns or top control, but it kept Dodson’s offense at bay all fight. His striking has cleaned up a lot, making him a considerable threat everywhere—especially given his tireless offensive approach. A bout with Sean O’Malley was teased after his win, but there are plenty of other options for him in a division as deep as bantamweight. It’s too bad Rob Font has been laid up by injury for so long, but fights against Jimmie Rivera or Song Yadong would also be great tests for him. With Yadong making steady and consistent steps up in competition with each fight out, a bout against a power wrestler seems like an especially good next test. And Yadong’s power striking and decent output could provide a better look at just how good Dvalishvili’s hands have gotten—or if he can just keep leaning on that absurd wrestling pace. Dvalishvili vs. Song Yadong seems like a strong next step for both top prospects.
A hard fought victory for Pichel, one he didn’t make any easier on himself by taking this fight to the mat with Miller over and over again. Still, he proved that he’s a tough man to put away and outworked Miller down the stretch. The win makes two straight for Pichel after getting roughed up by Gregor Gillespie in 2018, and keeps him sitting solidly in the middle of the lightweight division. Bouts against Bobby Green, Renato Moicano, Leonardo Santos, or Nasrat Haqparast would all make a fair amount of sense. So, why not go for the battle of inactive old-dogs. Put Pichel in against another fighter known for his evenly paced kickboxing and strong ground game. Someone that will force ‘From Hell’ to do some real problem solving. Vinc Pichel vs. Leonardo Santos is a test of crafty veterans who just don’t make it to the cage as often as they should.
A dominating performance for Jandiroba against a mainstay veteran in the women’s strawweight division. She got Herrig down quickly and then looked exactly like the world class grappler she’s supposed to be on the mats. That should line her up well for a top 15 opponent next time out. Someone like Tecia Torres, Amanda Ribas, or even the Waterson/Hill winner. Since I’d really love to see Torres take on Ribas, however, a better option might be Marina Rodriguez. Rodriguez just suffered a hard loss to Carla Esparza. A fight where her takedown defense looked notably lacking. If she can’t shore up that problem, Jandiroba will run her over. If she can stuff shots, even Esparza caught Jandrioba out on the feet. A chance for Jandiroba to pick off another ranked opponent and for Rodriguez to prove she make the adjustments her game badly needs. Jandiroba vs. Rodriguez would be a quality battle to continue Jandiroba’s quest for the top 5.
OTHER BOUTS: Junior Dos Santos vs. Aleksei Oleinik, Herbert Burns vs. Kron Gracie, John Dodson vs. Rani Yahya, Jim Miller vs. Lando Vannata, Felice Herrig vs. the Dern/Markos loser, Daniel Chavez vs. Danny Henry, TJ Brown vs. Chase Hooper, Livia Renata Souza vs. Kay Hansen, Ashley Yoder vs. Miranda Granger, Chris Daukaus vs. Rodrigo Nascimento, Parker Porter vs. Don’Tale Mayes, Kai Kamaka III vs. Matt Sayles, Tony Kelley vs. Aalon Cruz