In a lot of ways, it feels like the UFC ‘got away with one’ coming out of this UFC Vegas 41 Fight Night card. Heading into the event, the headliner was the only real selling point, and Paulo Costa’s last minute weight negotiations threw even that in doubt. However, whatever his pre-fight antics may have been, Costa showed up ready to compete and put on a thriller against Marvin Vettori in the main event. Most of the rest of the card was unmemorable in the extreme, but Alex Caceres and Seung Woo Choi had a heck of a scrap as well.
So, does beating a puffed up ‘Borrachinha’ do anything for the ‘Italian Dream’’s placement among the middleweight elite? Does the UFC have any room for Paulo Costa at light heavyweight? And isn’t it time the promotion gave Caceres a step back up in competition?
To answer those questions – if 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.
There’s obviously no downside to winning this fight for Marvin Vettori. With two losses to the champ already, the potential that he’d have been back in contention with a win over anyone was always slim to none—even if this fight taken place at 185 as originally intended. So, if he’s gonna be stuck treading water, he might as well be doing it headlining cards. All that said it’s a bit hard to see exactly what his next bout looks like. He’ll almost certainly be headed back down to 185 lbs, where Robert Whittaker seems to be next in line for the belt, and the winner of Brunson vs. Cannonier is likely not far behind him.
For Vettori, that could mean a fight with Uriah Hall, or Darren Till, or maybe even Sean Strickland. But, most likely, the best course of action would be to take on the loser of Brunson vs. Cannonier. Whoever drops that fight will still be very clearly among the division’s best, while also being a mile away from fighting for gold. A quality fight night headliner, if not a meaningful one. Vettori vs. the Brunson/Cannonier loser seems like a good stay-busy fight for all involved.
Dana White’s already made it clear, and it seems like the obvious move, that Paulo Costa isn’t about to fight at middleweight again any time soon. It’s hard to justify missing weight by 20 lbs and having the UFC turn around and assume that Costa will make sure that doesn’t happen again. So if he’s truly on his way to 205 long term, then I feel like there’s a pretty obvious fight I want to see him in. No, not Ion Cutelaba, although that seems like a natural booking.
But, as long as we’re looking at Costa as a still very clearly elite talent – even with the recent losses – then this feels like the exactly perfect moment to make a fight against Johnny Walker. Apart from being an absolute behemoth among the light heavyweight division, Walker has proven himself a violent finisher that struggles hard to find consistency against fighters he can’t put away. Costa has largely been tough as hell, and hits like a truck. If he can get past Walker’s size then it’s a proving point that he can absolutely compete in his new weight class. And if he can’t, then fans should get one hell of a show in the process. Costa vs. Walker could be some guaranteed ‘don’t blink’ action.
Big win for ‘Bruce Leroy’, who has strung together a really nice five fight win streak. But, if that success has any downside, it’s the lack of opportunities to fight his way up the division again. Caceres needs to take on a few bigger fish in the featherweight division; time to see if he can make some waves once more, after so many years as a mid-card action talent. Fights with Edson Barboza, Cub Swanson, Andre Fili, or Movsar Evloev all seem like they’d be good options to prove whether or not Caceres can ever become a contender. Of all those, it seems most shocking that Fili vs. Caceres hasn’t already happened. Both these men have been looking to break through to bigger things for years now. Why not see if they can do so against one another. Fili vs. Caceres is the kind of bout the UFC should book every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Of all the surprising career course corrections, Nick Negumereanu’s may be the most unexpected. Coming to the UFC off the Romanian MMA circuit, Negumereanu just didn’t seem to have that many tools at his disposal. Not the best striker, not the best wrestler, not the best athlete. But, to his credit, he’s a big man and he has elite level toughness. It seems he’s used those inherent gifts to take the time and improve his skills everywhere. Villanueva may have shown up assuming he could just out-punch Negumereanu, but when they went one-for-one inside, it was the Corona Brasov fighter coming out ahead. Off that, seems like Negumereanu is primed for another fun barn burner. Maybe this time against a really elite athlete with some finishing power. Someone like William Knight. Knight may not be the most technical puncher out there, but the dude is an ambulatory ball of fast twitch muscle. Has Negumereanu improved enough to handle that test? Negumereanu vs. Knight seems like a quality light heavyweight action fight.
A hell of a performance from Rodrigues here. He looked like a wizard on the mat, battling Park’s constant scrambling, but got put into exactly the kind of terrible position that Jordan Williams finished him in on the Contender Series. Park poured on the pressure but simply couldn’t match Rodrigues for pure power. A fantastic standing KO for the Brazilian, who now starts his UFC career at 2-0. That lines him up for bouts with the likes of Bryan Battle or Punahele Soriano. Personally, I’d love to see Rodrigues take on Rodlfo Vieira in a battle of BJJ aces, but Vieira is already booked against Wellington Turman (for some reason). So, I’ll say Rodrigues vs. Battle is a solid fight. A tough test for the TUF winner, but given how hittable Rodrigues is standing, it’s still a fight he could have the tools to win. Rodrigues vs. Battle should be a solid test for ‘Pooh Bear’.
This was the fight Herbert needed. A bout against another bonafide striker, one who likes to sit down in front of opponents and see if he can land the bigger better punches. Herbert’s length and speed will always make that a very difficult task, and he proved as much with the early KO of Khama Worthy. So, why not put him in more fan friendly power-striking battles? Someone like Ottman Azaitar, Ignacio Bahamondes, or Mike Davis would all fit the bill. I especially like the Davis fight, given that he has such a potent combination of power and technique. Both men would likely come in perfectly confident they can shut the other’s lights out. Should be a thriller to see who’s right. Herbert vs. Davis would be a slugfest.
Molina may not be the most naturally athletic fighter to ever grace the flyweight division, but he’s building a real reputation for smart decision making and consistent toughness. Da Silva came out throwing power shots at him, looked for a big takedown and immediately jumped to aggressive grappling positions—everything he needed to finish the fight in round 1. But Molina fought off each and every attack, and took dominating control of positions whenever he could find them. Whether that can send Molina all the way to his title shot goals or not remains to be seen, but he’s clearly set on fighting his way up the division. To that end, a fight with Chinese flyweight Su Mudaerji seems like a perfect step up. Another bigger, more athletic opponent, who nonetheless has some obvious weaknesses in his game that Molina could exploit given the chance. Molina vs. Mudaerji should be a quality bout.
OTHER BOUTS: Grant Dawson vs. Nasrat Haqparast, Rick Glenn vs. Marc Diakiese, Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Lina Lansberg, Joselyne Edwards vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, Seung Woo Choi vs. Omar Morales, Francisco Trinaldo vs. Max Griffin, Dwight Grant vs. Lyman Good, Ike Villanueva vs. Fabio Cherant, Jun Yong Park vs. Dalcha Lungiambula, Mason Jones vs. Ottman Azaitar, David Onama vs. Luis Saldana, Jamie Pickett vs. the Hernandez/Stoltzfus winner, Laureano Staropoli vs. Dusko Todorovic, Khama Worthy vs. Luigi Vendramini, Daniel Lacerda vs. Francisco Figueiredo, Randa Markos vs. Polyana Viana, Livinha Souza vs. Miranda Granger, Jonathan Martinez vs. Nathan Maness, Zviad Lazishvili vs. Liudvik Sholinian