The UFC’s latest Fight Night, UFC Vegas 39, wasn’t disappointing in the sense that their under-performing Santos/Walker card ended up being, but it definitely wasn’t one of those sneaky good cards the UFC likes to hang their hat on either. The main event between Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez had some big, thrilling momentum swings. But, with each fighter succeeding entirely in their own element, it never felt like a competitive fight so much as a fight where each woman had chances to shine.
So, can Marina Rodriguez get a top contender’s bout in the next few months? Or is she left treading water and waiting for other challengers to get their shots? Will the UFC give Brown, Romanov, and Guttierez competitive bookings? Is Mariya Agapova back on track as a fighter to watch at 125?
To answer those questions – but not much 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.
A huge win for Rodriguez, who proved something very specific on her way toward title contention. Namely, that while she may still not be the best takedown defender in the world, it’s no fluke that she’s never been submitted before—and that she always seems to rally late. Dern had her down, had her in deep trouble, and couldn’t get it done. Every other part of the fight outside the two grappling sessions was a crushingly one-sided striking battle in Rodriguez’s favor. And given the types of fights that Weili Zhang, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and Rose Namajunas like to have, being a top level striker is the most important skill Rodriguez can have.
With a Namajunas/Zhang rematch in the offing, however, and Esparza waiting on deck, it’s not nearly so clear what the next move for Rodriguez will be. In a perfect world, she’d fight Joanna Jedrzejczyk ASAP. But, will Joanna take that bout? It doesn’t seem likely. Instead, I’ll say Marina Rodriguez vs. Yan Xiaonan is a quality booking, but gunning for the loser of Namajunas/Zhang 2 wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
The best and worst of Dern’s game as a top level strawweight was on display this Saturday. When the fight hit the mat on any terms she was absolutely dominant, sweeping, controlling and advancing position on Rodriguez to set herself up for the submission win. But, that submission never came. And when she was stuck standing with Rodriguez the traffic was every bit as equally one-way against her. Dern may be strong and she may be willfully aggressive, but she still has no real sense of coordination or distance to her kickboxing. As long as she’s able to hang tough, she’ll always have chances to make something dynamic happen, but it’s clear she still has a long way to go if she’s going to be a long term title contender.
If it weren’t for the seeming lack of opportunities for Rodriguez, I’d say this is a perfect time for a fight with Yan Xiaonan. Especially given how badly ‘Nine’ got out-grappled by Carla Esparza. However, a bout against Michelle Waterson is also a really strong option. Waterson likely has the footwork to stay away from Dern for long stretches, but is also undersized enough that if Dern does tangle her up, it seems likely she could overwhelm her that much more quickly. Mackenzie Dern vs. Michelle Waterson seems like an appropriately competitive step back from this loss.
Not quite the highlight performance Brown might have hoped for. Getting his toe dislocated on the first kick of the fight assuredly didn’t help. But that didn’t stop him from having the contest in hand clearly and easily all the way through. After the bout, he told Jon Anik that he’s gunning for the top 15, and at the very least he’s proved that he shouldn’t be fighting among the bottom of the welterweight division. That could mean fights with Muslim Salikhov or Daniel Rodriguez, or a mid-card action booking against the likes of Alex Morono or Tim Means. Given the creativity Brown had on display, and the clear faith he has in his striking ability, I want to see him in the cage against Michel Pereira. It’d be another good test of Pereira’s strengths, to see if he can keep climbing at 170 lbs. And for Brown, it’s a fun, fascinating name opponent who should be able to match him in thrilling fight antics. Brown vs. Pereira seems like a guaranteed don’t blink fight.
Not the easiest or cleanest performance of Nicolau’s career, but he pushed hard all the way through to the final bell to get the win in a fight where Elliott really failed to show any urgency in the final round. Nicolau has yet to really prove himself to be a technically dominant or dangerous opponent in any one area in the UFC, but he’s very well rounded and very consistent. Could that get him a title shot some day? In a division this thin, it just might happen. For the moment, however, he just needs to keep fighting his way up. And there’s one pretty clear opportunity in front of him toward that goal: Rogerio Bontorin. Bontorin is fresh off a solid performance against Matt Schnell and has proven he’s a consistent force inside the top ten. If Nicolau can beat him he’s probably only a fight or two from contender status. Nicolau vs. Bontorin seems like a solid top-10 flyweight fight.
An unquestionably improved performance from Agapova in her third outing in the UFC. She looked calm and collected picking off Mazo for two rounds solid, before landing the big counter hook that put her away. That kind of win should have her squarely back in the realm of serious prospects at 125 lbs. And it should line her up for another tough fight. After her win, Agapova called out Maryna Moroz (not surprising given the history between them), and it’s undoubtedly a scrap I’d love to see. But, Moroz also already has a fight booked. Instead, Ariane Lipski just picked up a great win though. And her power muay thai game should make a battle with Agapova a thriller. Lipski vs. Agapova has all the feel of a violent clash in the women’s flyweight division.
If Romanov struggled in his bout against Juan Espino, this was a perfect chance to make a statement and remind people why he’s one of heavyweight’s top prospects. And to that end, the big man out of Moldova shined. He hit his trademark, big slamming takedowns in round 1 and followed that up with a clever trip into side control in round 2—all on his way to a TKO finish. That should put him clearly in line for better things. There are fights with Sergey Spivak, the Harris/Tuivasa winner, or maybe even Tom Aspinall out there. I’d personally love to see him take on Tanner Boser, but Boser just got booked to take on Sergey Pavlovich. Looking back over the roster, Andrei Arlovski is fighting Carlos Felipe this week, the winner of that seems like a solid fight for Romanov. Not a huge step up, but Arlovski has broken a few prospects in his time, and Felipe has picked up a few UFC wins now. Romanov vs. the Arlovski/Felipe winner seems like a resume building fight for ‘King Kong’.
Were it not for a shockingly bloody cut in the third round, this would have been a pretty dominant win for Jackson. The ‘Leech’ did well to constantly chase Rosa to the cage, tie him up, and find avenues to drag this fight to the mat—here his solid positional control and GnP offense kept him a clear step ahead all through. At this point in his career, Jackson is a consummate mid-division action talent. Keep him in thrillers where his endless aggression can make for fan-friendly battles. If Chas Skelly is able to return to competition anytime soon, that’d be ideal. I’d also have loved to see him fight Julian Erosa, had Erosa not just been booked. So, how about a fight with Kamuela Kirk? It’s not high profile, but Kirk is another dangerous, well seasoned vet looking to make his name in the UFC. Jackson would be a great chance to keep the momentum he built with his win over Amirkhani. Jackson vs. Kirk should be an all-action fight.
This looked a lot more like the Loopy Godinez who put together a 6-0 unbeaten run on the regionals to get to the UFC. She looked strong, and aggressive, put Silvana Gomez Juarez on the back foot from the jump, and chained well to some fantastic takedowns. Obviously, that’s still going to cause some concern against opponents like Jessica Penne, who have a grappling advantage, but Godinez did well to show off the quality of her own ground game here, picking up her first sub win in the process. Fights with Cory McKenna, Luana Pinheiro, or Diana Belbita all seem like good next bouts to capitalize on this success. Of those, I’ll say McKenna is the way to go. He quality grappling game is exactly the kind of test I still want to see Godinez pass. Godinez vs. McKenna seems like a fantastic prospect vs. prospect battle.
It was a wild, brutal fight for Garcia, who had to battle through some devastating shots on the feet to get in on Ontiveros’ hips for takedowns. But, once he was able to get the fight to the mat, he was totally dominant—landing vicious ground and pound on his way to a second round TKO. I like the fundamental structure of Garcia’s game a lot and, at this point, he just needs to get into the Octagon more often to show it off. Pretty much any bout at the bottom of the lightweight division will fit the bill. So how about a scrap with Enbo Fight Team’s Rongzhu. The Chinese fighter just picked up a strong win over Brandon Jenkins after his own debut struggles. Feels like two guys at the same stage of their careers with similar things to prove. Garcia vs. Rongzhu should be a solid fight.
OTHER BOUTS: Jared Gooden vs. Takashi Sato, Tim Elliott vs. Tyson Nam, Chris Gutierrez vs. Jack Shore, Felipe Colares vs. Khalid Taha, Jared Vanderaa vs. Chase Sherman, Charles Rosa vs. Daniel Pineda, Silvana Gomez Juarez vs. Liang Na, Charlie Ontiveros vs. Brandon Jenkins