The latest UFC Vegas card may have started with a bang, but it ended with a whimper. Four straight submission wins out of the gate petered out into a string of decisions that, by the time the main & co-main events hit, felt especially grueling.
So, did Aleksandar Rakic really do enough in beating Anthony Smith to ensure himself of the next title shot? Is Neil Magny ready to wade into the land of title contenders once again? And what’s the next move for Alexa Grasso after a rock solid flyweight debut?
To answer those questions – and maybe one or two other things – 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.
When I first heard the idea suggested, I practically scoffed. What would Aleksandar Rakic be doing fighting Jiri Prochazka right now? But the more I think about it, the more right it seems. Getting down to brass tacks, this win may have bumped Rakic up the rankings, but it did nothing for anyone’s enthusiasm over him as an immediate title contender. And while I’d argue he didn’t actually lose his fight against Volkan Oezdemir... technically he did.
Prochazka may only be one fight into his UFC career, but that comes off a long, well established record fighting overseas. And picking Oezdemir off with a KO in his UFC debut was no easy feat. Let Prochazka get his chance to jump to instant contender status. And, in the process, give Rakic another chance to really prove he’s the next-gen of light heavyweight stars. Prochazka vs. Rakic should provide some crazy violence.
This was a rough loss for Smith. It’s one thing for him to have a highly productive first two rounds against Glover Teixeira before getting hurt and beat up for the next two. That was a fight with momentum. One that showed, when his game is on, Smith still has a lot to offer other elite competition. But, Rakic just kinda ran through him. Outside of trading a few early low kicks, Smith didn’t have anything resembling competitive moments in this fight. Still, light heavyweight has plenty of talent in need of a test. So perhaps ‘Lionheart’ can fill that role.
Fights with Nikita Krylov, Misha Cirkunov, or Magomed Ankalaev would all fit the bill nicely. Either that or maybe wait for the outcome of Ryan Spann vs. Johnny Walker. Of all those, I like the idea of Cirkunov the most. A big, powerful 205er who often seems snakebit by defensive lapses. Anthony Smith vs. Misha Cirkunov is a great way for Smith to bounce back, or for Cirkunov to try another run toward the top 5.
The moment Lawler tied up with Magny and looked to wrestle, Magny had exactly the fight he wanted. A chance to really put pace and scrambling on Lawler, without having to face Lawler’s power punching. He outworked the former champ to a shockingly one-sided stat line, even if it was all only in service of a 30-27 win. Off that, he’s gotta get another name top 10 opponent. Fights against Stephen Thompson and Michael Chiesa would be great. And between them, that Thompson fight seems like it would be the absolute perfect test of Magny’s range striking skills. Can Magny outpace someone who’s more practiced and deft out at his preferred distance? Can he get in on Thompson’s hips and get him down? Or will Thompson provide the high bar for Magny’s decision heavy style? Magny vs. Thompson is just the right next fight for Magny if he’s going to try and make a run at the belt.
Exactly the kind of flyweight debut Grasso needed. She showed off her speed and her striking variety against an opponent who was there with the counter all the way through, but just didn’t have the output to keep up with her. That win should drop Grasso straight into the top 15, if not the top 10, and I don’t see many reasons to slow her down in her new division. Unfortunately for her, almost all that division is currently booked. She could get a bout against Joanne Calderwood, or Alexis Davis maybe, but I feel like she’d be best served taking on someone off a win. To that end, there’s a fight coming up between Viviane Araujo and Montana De La Rosa. Whoever exits that bout with the victory would be the perfect next opponent for the Lobo Gym talent. Grasso vs. the De La Rosa/Araujo winner should be a surefire action striking battle.
A hard fought victory for Lamas, one that really tested his mettle. Algeo pushed a hell of a pace all the way into the third, where Lamas made his wrestling and ground games count. Afterward, he suggested this may be the last fight of his career. At 38-year-old and with 12 years of pro MMA under his belt, it’s hard to blame him if he wants to call it a day. But, if he doesn’t, then fights with Alex Caceres, Makwan Amirkhani, or even a re-booking of the Ryan Hall fight would all be fun. I’m always a fan of fighters calling it quits on a win, but if Lamas decides he wants one more? How about Ricardo Lamas vs. Makwan Amirkhani, for what should be a grappling heavy battle.
Finding consistency has been a tough task for Caceres in the past, but after taking a slight step back in competition he’s now on a three fight winning streak and once again primed for something bigger. That could be a fight with Makwan Amirkhani, or someone like Nik Lentz or Darren Elkins. But what about a scrap against the recently returned Daniel Pineda. It’d be a huge opportunity for Pineda to rebuild his reputation with fans, if he could pick up a win over a long time notable UFC vet. And for Caceres, it’d be a longtime veteran opponent who is dangerous and competitive in every aspect of the fight. It should make for an absolute non-stop battle everywhere. And if Caceres grabs that win then he’ll be firmly in the conversation for a top 15 opponent next time around. Cacers vs. Pineda gives two longtime vets the chance to make a statement at 145.
Brady has been putting together a great run in his still young UFC career. He entered with a strong showing against longtime vet Court McGee. Backed up that win with a hard fought decision over Ismail Naurdiev and now picks up his first stoppage inside the Octagon. That should get him a solid step forward in competition. And a division as deep as welterweight has plenty. Fights against Ramazan Emeev, Daniel Rodriguez, or Song Kenan could all be solid next bouts. But it feels like Brady could really use a bigger test. Belal Muhammad his on a nice run of victories. And his well rounded style makes him a difficult challenge for fighters looking to prove they’re part of the welterweight elite. Can Brady work his way past another tough fighter who’s just as skilled everywhere as he is? Or will he hit a wall against Muhammad’s high output striking? Brady vs. Muhammad is a quality welterweight fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown 2, Ji Yeon Kim vs. Molly McCann, Bill Algeo vs. Tony Kelley, Impa Kasanganay vs. Marc-Andre Barriault, Maki Pitolo vs. Anthony Hernandez, Zak Cummings vs. Andrew Sanchez, Alessio Di Chirico vs. Jack Marshman, Austin Springer vs. Peter Barrett, Christian Aguilera vs. Dwight Grant, Polyana Viana vs. Brianna Van Buren, Emily Whitmire vs. Ashley Yoder, Mallory Martin vs. Miranda Granger, Hannah Cifers vs. Syuri Kondo