UFC Fight Island 7 delivered exactly as advertized. A fantastic main card, highlighted by a top tier main event, over an entirely forgettable set of prelims. Max Holloway turned things up to 11 with a masterclass of volume boxing against Calvin Kattar who found himself badly out-paced by the former champion. Carlos Condit proved he still has a little gas left in the tank in the co-main, and Li Jingliang put a quick stop to Santiago Ponzinibbio’s comeback party.
So, is there any other fight for Holloway to take other than another title shot? Is it time to give Li Jingliang another crack at the welterweight top 10? And has Alessio Di Chirico finally turned the corner into a quality middleweight?
To answer those questions – and a few 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.
What Max Holloway did on Saturday night was unbelievable. A legit game-changing performance from the former champion. The kind of offensive output and pacing that has never been seen in this sport before, and I’ll be damned if that kind of work doesn’t force long-term changes in the MMA meta. How do future opponents take a fight with Holloway if they aren’t at least somewhat able to meet his pace? If they can’t throw more than 100 strikes a round how are they gonna beat a fighter that’s never been knocked down? Obviously Poirier and Volkanovski have found ways, but it hasn’t been easy. More and more the elite levels of MMA are becoming a striker’s world and fights like this are proving just how much that window is shifting toward an emphasis on volume over anything else. Sure he could take on someone like Zabit Magomedosharipov, or Chan Sung Jung, just to kill time. But with Volkanovski vs. Ortega upcoming in just a couple months, Holloway’s already made it clear that he’s the only real no. 1 contender. If that means a triology with the ‘Great’? So be it. Max Holloway vs. the Volkanovski/Ortega winner.
I’m not sure anyone thought that Kattar would be able to keep pace with Holloway, but who could have anticipated just how hard ‘Blessed’ would go after the ‘Boston Finisher.’ The Team Sityodtong athlete got absolutely mauled by the former featherweight champ out there. If he was hoping this fight would launch him into the title conversation, it instead served as a rough initiation as to just how difficult it is to climb the ladder at 145 lbs. It seems almost certain that Kattar will need some time off to heal up and reassess his place in the division. But, when he does come back, there should be a couple of solid fights waiting for him. While bouts with Josh Emmett or Edson Barboza would both be strong contenders, the real fight to make has to be Calvin Kattar vs. Chan Sung Jung. Both men are coming off hard losses, but could easily bounce back into contention with an elite win or two. Facing one another seems like the best way to get that process started. Kattar vs. the Korean Zombie is a surefire way for one of these two vets to recapture momentum toward contention.
Two old war horses battling it out to see who still has something left in the tank. And it turns out Carlos Condit had just a little more to give in the Octagon. Brown came in looking to make the bout a wrestling match, but couldn’t get much offense going, even when he had top control. Condit kept up a constant barrage of output from his back, landed some sweeps, and even got himself a couple takedowns later in the bout. With two wins in his pocket after a prolonged rough stretch, there are still some interesting fights for the ‘Natural Born Killer’ at welterweight. Donald Cerrone immediately comes to mind as a great action fight. But Cerrone said he’s going back down to 155 after his draw with Niko Price last year. A rematch with Robbie Lawler seems like it could be a great idea, but with Lawler coming off an injury, who knows when that timing will work out. So how about Tim Means. The ‘Dirty Bird’ looked fantastic against Mike Perry in his last outing. Albuquerque vs. Albuquerque: Means vs. Condit. Make it happen.
Ponzinibbio may not have looked his best out there, but this is still a damn fine performance from Jingliang, who looked like he had the Argentinian’s timing from the jump. That left hook counter that sent ‘Gente Boa’ to the mat was a real thing of beauty. That should line Jingliang up for a chance to take on another top 15 opponent. Someone like Vicente Luque, Goeff Neal, or maybe even Alan Jouban. Still, I’d like to see the UFC push the ‘Leech’ just a little harder. It’s not winner vs. winner, but I can’t look at the prospect of Li vs. Neal and not see the potential for a super fun fight. Ponzinibbio may have been out for a while, but he was still a big name opponent. Make that momentum mean something. Li Jingliang vs. Geoff Neal seems like a guaranteed bonus-getter.
Not the return from injury and illness that Ponzinibbio was hoping for. The formerly top-ranked welterweight was looking to jump right back into the mix after a couple years away, but Li Jingliang made it clear that he’s going to have to do a lot more work to earn his spot again among welterweight’s best. He looked a step behind the ‘Leech’ from moment one, and before he could get comfortable the China Top Team talent put him away hard. Fortunately for ‘Gente Boa’ there are plenty of other quality opponents circling the top 15 looking for their chance to make a name for themselves. Fighters like Anthony Rocco Martin, Elizeu Zaleski, and Claudio Silva are all coming off recent setbacks. I’d love to see him fight ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira, but Oliveira is booked to take on Randy Brown. So instead, I’ll go with Ponzinibbio vs. Claudio Silva. James Krause exposed some big gaps in Silva’s game, exactly the kind of thing Ponzinibbio could capitolize on. But, by the same token, if Ponzinibbio really has lost a step, it’s a big name win for Silva to get him back in the hunt for a rankings spot. Ponzinibbio vs. Silva is a good chance for both men to make a point.
ALESSIO DI CHIRICO
Of all the performances on this card, none were as suprising as Alessio Di Chirico’s first round KO over Joaquin Buckley. Manzo looked sharp on the counter early, and Buckley’s constant drive for pressure and volume gave him plenty to work with. He went with a step knee to a right hook and followed that shortly with a high kick off the right side. Buckely tried to guess the strike and he guessed way wrong. Pretty stuff from the Italian, especially since it stops a three fight losing skid. Now that he’s back in the winner’s circle, how about a fight with Sean Strickland. Strickland is looking great since coming back from a horrible motorcycle accident. A bout against Di Chirico seems like a good step up from Brendan Allen. Especially after a performance like this one. Di Chirico vs. Strickland to see if MW put one of these vets on a run to the top 15.
Todorovic looked like he had Soriano a bit confused for the first couple minutes of round 1. But Soriano did well to push him to the cage with consistent pressure and use the fence to shut down Todorovic’s head movement and start landing huge left hands. Three or four knockdowns later and the ref had no choice but to wave that one off. It’s been a slow start for Soriano, who spent the last year on the sidelines. But he showed exactly why he’s a top prospect to watch once again. Fights against Jun Yong Park, Trevin Giles, or the Vieira/Hernandez winner all seem like solid next steps to see how deep his game really is. While I’d prefer to see the Giles fight, it looks like the ‘Problem’ is booked to face Dricus du Plessis next. On that note, I’ll go with Soriano vs. Park. Park has shown his ability to out-box power punchers before, but Soriano’s wrestling game could still pose him some problems. Should be a good test to see how complete Soriano’s offense really is.
Not the most clear cut victory of Emeev’s career, but the win over Zawada does take him to a rock solid 6-1 inside the Octagon. At this point it’s well past time for the UFC to stop matching him up with relative promotional newcomers. Opponents like Cowboy Oliveira, Claudio Silva, or Elizeu Zaleski seem like they’d be much more the right speed. Unfortunately the first two men on that list are coming off losses, and the third is battling an injury. Instead, how about James Kruase? Since the UFC isn’t going to give him that Buckley fight, Krause seems like exactly the kind of well rounded, seasoned vet to see if Emeev can truly climb the ladder in the division. Emeev vs. Krause is a good way to see if he can win the kind of fight he lost to Anthony Rocco Martin.
Other Bouts: Matt Brown vs. Court McGee, Joaquin Buckley vs. Antonio Arroyo, Dusko Todorovic vs. Jordan Wright, Joselyne Edwards vs. Sarah Alpar 2, Wu Yanan vs. Bethe Correia, Carlos Felipe vs. Jake Collier, Justin Tafa vs. Raphael Pessoa, David Zawada vs. Laureano Staropoli, Vanessa Melo vs. Veronica Macedo, Sarah Moras vs. Stephanie Egger, Austin Lingo vs. Tony Kelley, Jacob Kilburn vs. TJ Brown