The UFC’s summer has been marked by a steady stream of under-booked, over-performing Fight Night events; cards that may have lacked in hype or interest, but made up for the fact with quality action. So, it only makes sense that one of the better looking cards on paper should wind up falling flat on its face. At UFC Vegas 38 Thiago Santos & Johnny Walker turned in a five-round staring contest, Kevin Holland & Kyle Daukaus wound up a no-contest, and Misha Cirkunov & Krzysztof Jotko turned in the kind of bad kickboxing bout that only two grapplers are capable of cr. It sucked.
So, did Santos do enough to convince the UFC to renew his contract? Can Daukaus put Holland on the mat without the aid of an incidental foul? And did Niko Price do enough to get the attention of a name opponent?
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.
After this victory, Santos revealed that he had officially wrapped up his UFC contract, and was now looking for the UFC to reach out to him with a new deal. I have to assume that will happen, even if this wasn’t anyone’s idea of an exciting win—just because he’s still a top-5-ish light heavyweight in the division and (given the right opponent) an exciting and powerful striker. Still, if that’s the case he had hoped to make, this wasn’t the most convincing argument.
Banking that all goes well, and we see Santos grace the Octagon once again, he’s lined up for any of several opponents. If Anthony Smith weren’t tracked in for a rematch with Aleksandar Rakic, this would be an ideal time for these two former middleweights to face off again. Otherwise, Volkan Oezdemir is all set to take on Magomed Ankalaev. And assuming that these two men are both gunning for contention, Santos seems like a logical gatekeeper to the belt. Santos vs. the Oezdemir/Ankalaev winner is a strong way to crown a top contender, otherwise Smith/Santos 2 (even if Smith loses to Rakic) is still a bout I’d like to see again.
The positive way to look at this fight is as a potential mid-point between the wild and uncontrolled fighter Walker has been early in his UFC career, and the more controlled patient fighter he’ll likely need to become to compete with the very best in the division. Obviously, however – if that’s the goal – he’s got to find some way to keep his offense dangerous and dynamic in the process. A version of Walker that just sits and watches his opponent is a fighter nobody will want to see. That said, not everyone in the division is going to be as careful in picking their spots as Santos was in this fight either. Hopefully for both of them, this was just an aberration.
The best way to find out is a fight against Dominick Reyes. Is it throwing Walker straight back into the fire? Yes. But with Reyes off three straight losses, both men have a lot to prove, and a win there would catapult Walker immediately into the conversation around title contention. Walker vs. Reyes is a great chance for the Brazilian to prove that this was just an off-night.
KEVIN HOLLAND & KYLE DAUKAUS
After that brutal head clash that put Holland on the mat – and eventually resulted in a no-contest (after an initial RNC victory for Daukaus) – there really is only one option here, and that’s to run this fight back as soon as possible. Daukaus was making the fight rough on Holland early, and Holland was getting wild to try and turn the tide, that led to a brutal mistake. But, it also showed a pretty fun dynamic that makes this fight much more interesting to put together the second time around. Is Holland gonna let himself get tied up so easily again? Can Daukaus find ways to get him to the mat with something legal? Hopefully we’ll find out soon. Daukaus vs. Holland 2 has to happen.
Really hard fought win for Price, he started strong, but found himself in an awful spot for round 2—and even for the start of round 3. But he dug deep, kept bulling forward, and kept putting Oliveira on his heels down the stretch to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Exactly the kind of thriller that shows why he’s always must watch entertainment.
After the fight he said he was looking for top ranked opponents (or a Diaz brother, if he could get one), whether or not he’s actually lined up for those kinds of bouts remains to be seen. DC offered up the idea of a fight with Robbie Lawler, and I definitely could see the UFC doing that. If there is one ranked fight I could see Price getting, however, it’s against Daniel Rodriguez. ‘D-Rod’ just put together a strong performance against Kevin Lee to put a number next to his name, a fight against Price is a great opportunity to improve that resume, or for Price to make the case that he really does belong among the best in the world. Niko Price vs. Daniel Rodriguez seems like a solid chance for Price to get ranked.
Just a terrible performance from both men. Jotko was able to defend everything Cirkunov tried, but waited all the way until the last couple minutes to actually try anything of his own. The first two rounds might as well have been scored a draw for all the action they contained. Still, it’s another tightly contested win for the Polish fighter to keep him nipping at the heels of the top 15 at 185. Unfortunately, there aren’t any truly sensible fights to take there. He could roll the dice on Abdul Razak Alhassan or Marc-Andre Barriault, but those are all risk, no reward bookings. Instead, with Andre Muniz fighting Dricus Du Plessis and a spot in the rankings on the line, that seems like an ideal fight for Jotko to gun for. Two men early in their Octagon careers, still needing tough tests—and a win gets Jotko back in the thick of the elite. Jotko vs. the Muniz/Du Plessis winner is a thriller.
Crushing victory from Hernandez. Breeden did well to hang with him for a moment or two, but once the wrestling game got mixed in, Hernandez’s striking started opening up and the newcomer started getting hurt. It’s a great display of the kind of top shelf speed and power that sent Hernandez to the top of the division so quickly after his debut, and a good sign that he’s still capable of putting on elite performances. But, can he actually do that against elite competition? That’s the question he needs to answer at this point.
I can think of one other fighter who has a similar need after running into similar troubles; Renato Moicano was considered a top featherweight at one point in time, but KO losses in 3 of his last 5 fights – and a switch to lightweight – has left him somewhat adrift in the UFC. A fight with Hernandez seems like an excellent chance for both men to prove that they still have something to offer at the highest level. Hernandez vs. Moicano is exactly the challenge the ‘Great’ should be looking for.
As expected, this fight was an absolute nail-biter. Solecki came out of the gate and got Gordon to the mat immediately to start the first round, even taking his back at one point and spending a large amount of time hunting the RNC. But after the first, those takedowns just didn’t come half so easy, and it was Gordon doing the more consistent work standing (and even getting some top control time of his own). A gritty, veteran win for Gordon, who called out Paddy Pimblett after the victory. There’s absolutely no reason for the UFC not to make that fight if Pimblett’s interested. My gut would have said that the Brit would have other, more interesting offers, but he’s already replied over social media to say he’s down for it. So, what the hell. Jared Gordon vs. Paddy Pimblett is a great fight and an easy booking. Hopefully ‘Flash’ can even entice the ‘Baddy’ to bring his CWFC title with him and put it on the line.
When Mullarkey made his short notice debut against Brad Riddell it seemed as though he might be relegated to a footnote for his UFC career. Especially after the lackluster showing against Fares Ziam that followed a year later. But, with back to back stoppage wins, Mullarkey is flipping the script and looking more the part of a solid action-talent that could be making waves in the lightweight division for years to come. Especially coming off this win over Smith, it seems like it’s time to throw him up against another solid fighter on the rise with some deeper technical skill. Someone like Mike Davis or Joel Alvarez. Or, how about a fight with Mark O. Madsen? The Dane is fresh off a strong performance against Clay Guida, could someone younger and fresher give him a bigger challenge? Is Mullarkey ready for that level of wrestling? Madsen vs. Mullarkey should be a solid test for the Aussie after a couple great wins.
DOUGLAS SILVA DE ANDRADE
The Brazilian bantamweight has had mixed results throughout his UFC career, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s a very powerful athlete, and a dangerous combatant. He only tends to lose to fighters who can replicate his own dynamic speed and power against him. Anyone who can’t match him there tends to fall hard. That makes ‘D’Silva’ an ideal gatekeeper to the bantamweight elite for fighters looking to prove that they have everything it takes to be future contenders. Fighters like Casey Kenney, Raoni Barcelos, Montel Jackson, or Jack Shore all look ideally situated to test themselves against Andrade’s power right now. Part of me wants to say Barcelos is the fight to make, but I think Jackson is the guy more in need of this kind of step up—given his past struggles to break out of the bottom end of the division. Jackson vs. Andrade would be a great way to see if ‘Quik’ can make a move toward the elite.
OTHER BOUTS: Alex Oliveira vs. Kevin Lee, Misha Cirkunov vs. Sam Alvey, Mike Breeden vs. Dakota Bush, Joe Solecki vs. Davi Ramos, Antonina Shevchenko vs. the Moroz/Carolina loser, Casey O’Neill vs. the Fiorot/Silva winner, Karol Rosa vs. Julia Avila, Devonte Smith vs. Alex da Silva, Gaetano Pirrello vs. Domingo Pilarte, Stephanie Egger vs. Josiane Nunes, Shana Young vs. Zarah Fairn, Alejandro Perez vs. Brian Kelleher, Johnny Eduardo vs. Frankie Saenz