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UFC Vegas: Brunson vs. Shahbazyan - 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 Las Vegas, NV.

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Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It couldn’t have come about for much worse reasons, but the UFC plugging ahead with an 8-fight card was somewhat refreshing—especially after last week’s 15-fight offering. And the night still held a fair bit of intrigue and high stakes, with Edmen Shahbazyan trying – and failing – to cement himself as the next middleweight prospect to streak his way to a title shot. Instead, Derek Brunson closed the gates firmly, while Jennifer Maia annoucned herself as the next women’s flyweight contender in the co-main event.

So, can Maia give Shevchenko a run for her money (or at least make it to the championship rounds)? Is Derek Brunson suddenly ‘in the mix’ at 185 lbs? And is it time for Vicente Luque to take another crack at some elite competition?

To answer those questions – but very little 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.

DEREK BRUNSON

With Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier getting matched up, and Yoel Romero facing Uriah Hall, there are only three sensible options out there for Brunson: Darren Till, Kelvin Gastelum, and Jack Hermansson. Till is likely going to be laid up for a bit with knee surgery, so the focus then shifts to Gastelum and Hermansson. Both men seem like they’re ready to fight as soon as possible, and both have a lot to prove. Gastelum needs to show that he still truly belongs among the middleweight top ten at all, and Hermansson is looking for those one or two steps that bring him fully into the title hunt. As a fan, I’m honestly a big more interested in the Gastelum fight—since I’m not sure how well Hermansson hangs against Brunson without a good power punching game. But if I’m in Derek Brunson’s shoes, that’s exactly why I’d be gunning for a fight with the Swede as a clear path to contender statues. Brunson vs. Hermansson, to put one middleweight dark horse in sniffing distance of the belt.

EDMEN SHAHBAZYAN

Of all the things Edmen Shahbazyan couldn’t afford, it was to get into a grind with Derek Brunson. The man is too strong and technical a wrestler to let him start picking up takedowns. And despite starting off strong in round 1, it quickly became apparent in the second that Shahbazyan was in some big trouble. Still, as an exceptionally young prospect, sometimes hard lessons just have to be learned. The question now is simply, how big a step back does the UFC give Ronda Rousey’s protege? Ian Heinisch and Marvin Vettori are both around the edges of the top 15, but they’re also both coming off pretty strong wins. Would it be too much to throw Shahbazyan in against another super durable opponent with an endless motor? There’s also Krzysztof Jotko, who doesn’t have nearly the physicality of Heinisch or Vettori, but has put together a recent good run of success.

But, being always interested in matching for parity, I think a fight with Karl Roberson seems like a perfect answer. Another fighter who has found himself jumping into some big fights in the UFC, before his game was completely ready. Another dangerous puncher with some slick technique, but some gaps on the mat. And what feels like the most likely to result in a fight with some dramatic shifts in momentum. Karl Roberson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan is a good way for the ‘Golden Boy’ to go back to the drawing board.

JENNIFER MAIA

Seems like the outcome of this win is pretty clear. Calderwood was meant to be the top contender, before she stepped in for Viviane Araujo to take this fight. Maia took the win, and with it, she’s grabbed Calderwood’s title shot. Maia called for the fight with Shevchenko after the victory. Shevchenko was immediately on Twitter saying she’s happy to accept the bout. Dana White has since confirmed that’s the direction they’re heading. By all accounts, the fight’s been made. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia for the women’s flyweight title.

VICENTE LUQUE

Luque has been working his way through all the action talent at 170 lbs. A pressure fighting KO artist, it seems like he’s well lined up once more for another bout against one of the division’s elite. He called out Nate Diaz, which is fun and good, but seems exceptionally unlikely to happen. Much more probably would be fights with Michael Chiesa, Anthony Pettis, or the winner of Magny vs. Neil. While all those are fine options, it’s hard not to look at that bout against Pettis as the most thrilling of the three. It may not be the kind of high profile fight that Pettis would be looking for, but it’s also the most certain to be an all action scrap and a great way for pettis to start climbing the rankings again, if that’s what he wants to do. Vicente Luque vs. Anthony Pettis is the kind of fight Luque deserves.

BOBBY GREEN

A hell of a good win for Bobby Green, who was slick on the counter, showed power in his punches, and made Vannata pay for every single positional mistake with clubbing shots. Maybe the best performance of his career from start to finish. Could line him up great for a fight with Drew Dober, Renato Moicano, or maybe the Dariush/Holtzman winner. I especially like the idea of a Moicano bout next for Green. Moicano has serious cred from his time at 145, but needs to establish his place at lightweight. If he can beat a guy like Green it goes a long way to proving that he’s got what it takes to compete with the elite in his new division. If he can’t, then it’s still a great action fight and a chance for Green to really put together a lightweight run. Bobby Green vs. Renato Moicano, to see exactly where the Brazilian stands at 155.

JONATHAN MARTINEZ

Outside of a bad weight miss, this fight went just about as well as it could have for Martinez. He fought off an early takedown to get the bout back standing and then turned it into a rangy pressure contest with reactive knees, body, and high kicks. That step back jump knee he hit to end the fight was simply a thing of beauty. He hasn’t yet really separated himself from the pack in the bantamweight division, but a few more performances like that and he absolutely will. Fights against Said Nurmagomedov, Benito Lopez, or Mario Bautista all seem like the best ways to try and carve that path. That Bautista bout especially looks like it’d be a wild thriller between to guys that love to push the pace at range and crash into the pocket. Should make for a violent affair. Martinez vs. Bautista would be a bantamweight war.

OTHER BOUTS: Joanne Calderwood vs. Lauren Murphy, Randy Brown vs. Nicolas Dalby, Lando Vannata vs. Davi Ramos, Frankie Saenz vs. Mitch Gagnon, Nate Maness vs. Kyler Phillips, Johnny Munoz vs. Gustavo Lopez, Jamal Emmers vs. Billy Quarantillo, Vince Cachero vs. Martin Day, Chris Guiterrez vs. Benito Lopez, Cody Durden vs. John Castaneda