The UFC managed a pretty excellent night of fights on Saturday. Derrick Lewis kept his place as one of heavyweight’s best and most dangerous fighters. Chris Weidman got a win back after his failed light heavyweight experiment. And Beneil Dariush made it clear that he’s a force to be reckoned with at 155 lbs.
So, how does the UFC sort out their trio of heavyweight title challengers? Is anyone in the top 5 shaking in their boots after Weidman’s latest victory? And who’s the top 10 lightweight that’s gonna step up and take on Dariush after another huge highlight KO?
To answer those questions – and maybe one or two others – 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.
Unfortunately for Lewis, the drawn out DC vs. Miocic trilogy has created something of a backlog at the top of the heavyweight division. Alongside the ‘Black Beast,’ Francis Ngannou, and Curtis Blaydes both have strong cases for a shot at UFC gold. Ngannou has won four straight, all by KO, including a second win over Blaydes. Blaydes has won four straight as well, two by TKO. And Lewis has now won 3 straight, and has an (admittedly horribly ugly) victory over Francis Ngannou in his back pocket. If Stipe Miocic wins against DC this weekend, it’s entirely possible that Lewis or Blaydes could get a shot at gold, given Miocic’s past victory over Ngannou. And if DC wins and then retires, who knows what chaos would ensue. It seems like a rematch of Lewis vs. Ngannou would be the fight to make for the vacated belt... but their first bout was just so bad.
All told, it seems most likely that the title picture will include Francis Ngannou going forward, even if that means a rematch with Miocic. And if that’s going to be the case, then Derrick Lewis vs. Curtis Blaydes is the fight to make. It’s either that or the Rozenstruik vs. Dos Santos winner—which would either provide a fresh striking battle for Lewis, or a big chance at revenge. If DC wins the belt, though? The UFC may just have to take their chances on Ngannou vs. Lewis 2.
Even heading toward 45 and coming off a hard TKO loss, it’s clear there’s no quit in Oleinik. The ‘Boa Constrictor’ told reporters before Saturday’s bout that he’d like to keep fighting at the highest levels until he’s at least 50. And with his crafty grappling game and early aggression, it still feels like he can have some decent success in a division not necessarily known for its wealth of technical diversity. Fights against Stefan Struve, Gian Villante, or Alexander Gustafsson all seem like reasonable fights. Of those, a bout with Gustafsson is clearly the one to make.
The Swede is fresh off a disappointing first round submission loss to Fabricio Werdum. A man Oleinik snagged a victory from in a brutal three round fight just back in May. Is Gus just too much of a natural light heavyweight to fight off big, aggressive 265-ers that want to take him down and choke him out? Even the ones in their 40s? This is Gus’ chance for redemption. And for Oleinik, it’s another big name opponent to continue testing his limits against. Oleinik vs. Gustafsson is a great way to keep both men in notable fights.
End of the day, the most important thing in any bout for a fighter is getting their hand raised. And Chris Weidman did that. Unfortunately, it also seemed like his gas tank was still a huge problem after the first round—even though he had the fight handily in control. He forced the action well enough to make Akhmedov gas out too, though, and from there Weidman’s wrestling technique took over.
Afterward Weidman made it clear that he wants to put the middleweight division on notice. And with him being a former champ, he’s almost certain to get another strong opponent. That could mean Derek Brunson or Jack Hermansson or Marvin Vettori. I’d honestly love to see the Vettori fight, just to pit Weidman against another bricked up, one-speed middleweight—only in this case, one with a pretty endless gas tank. But, the reality is a fight with Derek Brunson is a lot more the kind of bout that both men would want. For Brunson, he gets a chance to pick off a former champ. For Weidman, he gets to fight a top guy in good form. Brunson vs. Weidman would offer both men a meaningful opportunity. And if Weidman can win that, maybe he’ll really have the attention of the division’s elite again.
It was an ugly win for Kunitskaya. But facing a seasoned opponent on short notice, and one who was looking desperately for the hail mary sub the whole time? I’m not going to be too hard on the Russian for playing this fight as safe as possible. That bumps Kunitskaya to 3-2 in the UFC and keeps her treading water as a top-10 ranked bantamweight. Unfortunately, most of the top 15 around her is booked. She could wait for the winner of Chiason vs. Eubanks or see if Ketlen Vieira can beat Marion Reneau. But, with Raquel Pennington out there, un-booked and in need of a fight, there’s no reason to pass that up. Both women love to work the clinch, time for Kunitskaya to see if she can play the game better than the former title contender. Kunitskaya vs. Pennington is the only top 10 fight available for both women right now.
Good lord what a win from Beneil Dariush! Hurt Holtzman with a clinch knee early and then just started opening up on the man. Poured on all kinds of offense until he polished the whole thing off with a marvelous spinning backfist. Dariush may have had his bad losses over the years, but there’s zero question that he’s once again a top 10 lightweight—someone everyone in that division should be paying attention to. Fights with Islam Makhachev or a rematch with Carlos Diego Ferreira both make a lot of sense. And I’d love to see Dariush take on Paul Felder, but my guess is Felder won’t come back to the cage for a bout like that. Ferreira vs. Dariush 1 went down six years ago now, both men have improved tons and tons in the time since. Time to run it back. Dariush vs. Ferreira 2 is a clear top 10 lightweight fight and promises to be a wild thriller.
It wouldn’t be a Kevin Holland fight if it wasn’t weird and messy. Buckley came out looking to make his mark behind a barrage of body punching. But, Holland stayed cool, landed counters inside, and mostly just weathered the onslaught until Buckley lost a step on his offense. That right hand he landed in the 3rd round was a thing of beauty. Just a gorgeous walkoff KO to keep Holland as one of middleweight’s most distinctive puzzles. I wouldn’t at all be against seeing him face someone like Edmen Shahbazyan, who still has plenty to prove against experienced competition. But, with Holland’s fight-anyone-at-any-time sensibilities, he’ll probably just take whatever the UFC has ready for him. That could easily be a re-booking of the Trevin Giles fight, or Maybe Karl Roberson? I’d love to see the Shahbazyan fight, but Holland vs. Giles feels most likely.
Not the cleanest performance of Haqparast’s career. Munoz definitely got his licks in and kept Haqparast on his toes through the whole thing. But, it was another bout that clearly demonstarted the quality and consistency of Haqparast’s combination punching. He won just about every exchange for 15 minutes of hard-pressing action. That’s the kind of quality he needs to maintain if he’s going to make it to the upper echelons of lightweight. There aren’t a lot of other borderline top 15 guys coming off a win right now, unfortunately. Haqparast could take on Renato Moicano or potentially Bobby Green, though. And a fight with Leonardo Santos would be fantastic if I could trust that Santos would be fighting again any time soon. But, how about a matchup with another hot prospect on the rise who can do it all: Arman Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan’s pressure wrestling and high output boxing could really challenge Haqparast’s own breakneck pace. And a fight against a good, clean striker like Haqparast is just the kind of next step Tsarukyan needs. Tsarukyan vs. Haqparast to see who gets a ranked fighter next time out.
Exactly the kind of win Sanchez had to have over a young kid who didn’t have a clear edge on him anywhere. Turman still forced a scrap out of Sanchez, but Sanchez kept himself from getting bullied well and started to find his timing in the pocket against Turman’s insistent pressure. Those shots that got the KO were just perfect. The win leaves Sanchez once again in position to nip at the edges of the top 15 in middleweight. Take on another experienced vet looking to prove they’re one of the elite at 185. A fight against Eryk Anders wouldn’t be a bad idea. But, at 3-0 in the UFC, Brendan Allen is on a hell of a run. A win over Sanchez would be a great way for Allen to push toward a rankings slot. And it’d be a great way for Sanchez to start really putting some momentum together. Sanchez vs. Allen is a quality middleweight action fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Omari Akhmedov vs. Eryk Anders, Darren Stewart vs. Muradov/Jotko winner, Maki Pitolo vs. Bevon Lewis, Julija Stoliarenko vs. Vanessa Melo, Scott Holtzman vs. Marc Diakiese, Tim Means vs. Francisco Trinaldo, Laureano Staropoli vs. Mickey Gall, Joaquin Buckley vs. Kyle Daukaus, Alex Munoz vs. Roman Bogatov, Wellington Turman vs. Anthony Hernandez, Gavin Tucker vs. Bryce Mitchell, Justin Jaynes vs. Mike Grundy, Youssef Zalal vs. Movsar Evloev, Peter Barrett vs. Austin Lingo, Irwin Rivera vs. Batgerel Danaa, Ali AlQaisi vs. Johnny Munoz