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UFC Vegas 43: Vieira vs. Tate - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following the UFC’s latest event at the Apex facility in Las Vegas, NV.

It may not have ended up being the most thrilling Fight Night the UFC has ever put together, but there were still some significant narratives coming out of UFC Vegas 43. Ketlen Vieira is keeping her dreams of title contention alive, while Miesha Tate’s comeback has hit a major roadblock. Sean Brady still looks like he’s on his way toward the top of the welterweight division. And Taila Santos is starting to look like one of the best prospects at 115 lbs.

So, can Vieira re-establish herself as a fighter to watch at 135 lbs? Is it time to start talking about Sean Brady as a potential title contender? And how far away is Taila Santos from finding herself in the Octagon against Valentina Shevchenko?

To answer those questions – and one or two 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!

KETLEN VIEIRA

It may not have been an amazingly dominant performance, but Vieira out-punched Tate for the better part of five rounds and largely avoided grappling tie ups to stay out in front of ‘Cupcake’ for the decision win. Her losses to Yana Kunitskaya and Irene Aldana are still significant setbacks to her eventual goals of fighting for UFC gold, but a win over Tate is a good way to get back on track. That could set her up with bouts against Macy Chiasson, Raquel Pennington, or Germaine de Randamie (if the ‘Iron Lady’ is set to return from injury any time soon). Still, with Pennington booked and GDR an unknown, that should make Chiasson vs. Vieira pretty obvious choice. Macy Chiasson vs. Ketlen Vieira seems like a good opportunity for Vieira to keep rebuilding her resume, or for Chiasson to prove she’s a future contender in her own right.

MIESHA TATE

Does this put an end to the Miesha Tate comeback story? She’s made it clear that her return to MMA wasn’t just an exercise in scratching the competitive itch one or two more times; she came back to fight for the belt, because she believed she could beat Amanda Nunes. That said, after years away and now into her mid-30s, how many setbacks can the Xtreme Couture talent afford? Assuming this isn’t the end of the trail, however, there are still some quality fights to be had for the former champ. With Raquel Pennington set to take on Julia Avila, a fight against the loser of that booking seems like it’d make for a meaningful bounce back. Tate vs. Pennington 2 would be an excellent chance for Tate to avenge an old loss, and Tate vs. Avila would be a solid chance for Avila to build her resume. Tate vs. the Avila/Pennington loser seems like a good way to keep all three women in the mix at 135.

SEAN BRADY

Michael Chiesa couldn’t stop Sean Brady from establishing the initiative standing and, as such, ended up seceding the initiative on the mats as well. Not exactly any kind of addition to the Renzo Gracie Philly fighters’ highlight reel, but for a guy just 15 fights into his MMA career and two years into his UFC career, any victory he can get over a guy like Chiesa is a quality one. That should set Brady up nicely for a fight with someone else in that welterweight top 7-15 range. There’s the winner of Ponzinibbio vs. Neal, Salikhov vs. Pereira, or even Khamzat Chimaev would all be decent ideas. But since this wasn’t the most attention grabbing performance, I say give Brady a chance to assert himself a little more decisively. He just beat one lanky welterweight with his suffocating grappling game, time to see if he can make it two. Sean Brady vs. Neil Magny is a good way to see if Brady can show more dominance on his way into the top 10.

TAILA SANTOS

Santos’ physicality in the cage has never been in question, but her ability to turn that dominance into finishing performances has been much more difficult. That makes this vicotry something of a corner-turning moment for the Brazilian. She essentially dropped Calderwood twice on the way to locking up the first round submission. If she can show that kind of decisive ability in another fight or two, a chance to fight Valentina Shevchenko may be just around the corner. Bouts against Lauren Murphy, Andrea Lee, or the Araujo/Grasso winner would all be decent ways to see if Santos is ready for the top 5. Normally I don’t like to go winner/loser, but with Murphy coming off a title shot, it feels like she’s still in position to be a very meaningful test for a rising contender. Murphy vs. Santos feels like a great fight to see if Santos is ready to fight for gold.

RANI YAHYA

He may never actually get himself into title contention, but Rani Yahya remains a seemingly everlasting threat in the bantamweight division. There are few fighters more dedicated to smothering their opponents at all costs, and anyone who can’t keep his grappling game at bay is gonna find themselves in one hell of a fight against the 37-year-old. Some part of me would still like to see Yahya get the chance to take on guys like Uriah Faber and Frankie Edgar, other aged vets who were on top of the world when Yahya was still a young(er) fighter on the rise. Even if he’s never going to fight for gold, bookings like that might at least feel like something of a consolation prize. The other option would be to see what Yahya can do with another crack at the edges of the top 15. Fights with the likes of Song Yadong, Casey Kenney, or Cody Stamann would all be decent options there. All that said, a fight against someone like Alejandro Perez may be the likely endpoint. Another longtime bantamweight who just can’t seem to find any real traction in the division despite a career filled with UFC victories. Yahya vs. Perez for another battle of divisional also-rans.

ADRIAN YANEZ

It’s a real credit to Yanez’s potential that he was able to stand in with a wild-man slugger like Davey Grant for three full rounds and come away with the victory. Grant may not be the cleanest striker in the division, but he’s proved time and again that any prospect looking to make their name off him is in for a hell of a war in the process. A victory like that should put fans and fighters on notice, that Yanez is a 100% legit talent at 135 lbs. To that end, it’s time to start getting him in the conversation with other potential top prospects. Fights with Montel Jackson, Raulian Paiva, or Chris Gutierrez would all be fascinating next battles. Of those I’d say book Yanez vs. Jackson. ‘Quik’ is 5-2 over his career in the Octagon, but has yet to really make a big jump up the division. A fight against Yanez should provide both men with an opportunity to turn recent success into a more serious bid toward the top 15. Yanez vs. Jackson should be a great prospect vs. prospect battle.

PAT SABATINI

If Tucker Lutz has shown himself to be a surprisingly more functional kickboxer than the average wrestler who moves to MMA, Pat Sabatini is proving that he’s just that much more difficult to handle on the mat than the average rising UFC prospect. The fighter that lets Sabatini in on their hips is putting themselves in position for a very tough night inside the Octagon. Sabatini was able to find a path to the ground in every round and took home a solid victory for it. The UFC could re-book his bout against Gavin Tucker off this win—after all that fight was something of a step back in notoriety for Tucker anyway, coming off his loss to Dan Ige. But, I’d also really like to see Sabatini against another top grappler. Someone like Kron Gracie or Herbert Burns. If Burns is ready to step in the cage again anytime soon, Sabatini vs. Burns feels like a great opportunity for a top-level ground war.

LUPITA GODINEZ

Taking fights on short notice hasn’t always paid off for Godinez in her UFC career to date, but at this point she’s picked up four paychecks in eight months. And she’s also made a name for herself as a fighter willing to take on anyone at anytime. If she can keep picking up wins as she does that, she’ll likely find herself with plenty of work in the cage. She’s got a nice, consistent chain of power punching to power wrestling to positional grappling that will make her a tough fight for anyone that can’t stop her from getting in on shots. Lookboonmee couldn’t and Godinez came away with a victory. Her willingness to fight whoever, whenever makes predicting a next fight a bit difficult. For the moment, I’ll say she should take on Jinh Yu Frey, whose size and power could present some problems on establishing control. But the reality is Godinez could end up fighting just about anyone from newcomers to the edge of the top 15 next.

OTHER BOUTS: Michael Chiesa vs. Li Jingliang, Joanne Wood vs. Antonina Shevchenko, Kyung Ho Kang vs. Nathaniel Wood, Davey Grant vs. Trevin Jones, Tucker Lutz vs. Jamall Emmers, Rafa Garcia vs. Alex da Silva, Natan Levy vs. Brandon Jenkins, Loma Lookboonmee vs. Kanako Murata, Cody Durden vs. Bruno Silva, Aori Qileng vs. CJ Vergara, Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. TJ Brown, Sean Soriano vs. Chase Hooper, Luana Pinheiro vs. Cheyanne Buys, Sam Hughes vs Gloria de Paula