Another big card delivered a great night of action. The main event may not have brought the same level of upset thrills we saw at UFC 267, but Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2 was a fantastic example of mixed martial arts at the highest level. Rose Namajunas gutted her way through an intensely tough fight from Weili Zhang, and Michael Chandler & Justin Gaethje put on a war for the ages.
So, is Vicente Luque going to get a welterweight title shot before Leon Edwards? Does Carla Esparza finally get her chance to regain strawweight gold? And what the hell is the UFC going to do with their lightweight logjam?
To answer those questions – and much, much more – 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!
If I was expecting Usman to come out with a more exacting, decisive gameplan for dismantling Colby Covington this time around, this was not that fight. Usman looked good early, fighting cautiously behind his jab to land solid power shots. But every time Covington made a point of biting down and returning fire, he was able to sting Usman hard. As a result, much like their first battle, this became a nail-biter all the way to the end. Still, the eventual result is once again the same: Kamaru Usman is UFC welterweight champ. And while Leon Edwards would seem to have been the natural challenger at this point, he’s got himself signed up to fight Jorge Masvidal, in a bid to settle their longstanding beef. With no guarantee Edwards wins that fight, and with Luque already playing backup for Covington this last weekend, it would seem the Brazilian is the man on deck. With Edwards booked, Luque vs. Usman is the title fight to make.
A fight between Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal definitely has its charms. Much like Edwards, ‘Gamebred’ has some personal history with ‘Chaos’ to give the bout a real meaningful backbone for promotion. Covington also called out Dustin Poirier, as he looks to settle all his old beef with former ATT teammates, but it’s hard to see any sensible route to that second fight getting made. Does Covington want to drop to 155 lbs? And even if he does, is there any real reason that he would be in the lightweight title picture where Poirier is currently situated? That’s not to mention a whole host of welterweight bouts the MMA Masters fighter could take. Match-ups against Stephen Thompson, Vicente Luque, or Gilbert Burns would all be top quality bookings. Covington against Masvidal is definitely a fight that should happen sooner rather than later (even if Masvidal loses to Edwards). But if Covington is willing to stay more active I’d love to see him take on ‘Wonderboy’. Thompson vs. Covington would be a great way for both men to stay relevant at 170 lbs.
Having put this bout firmly behind her, Namajunas has truly solidified herself atop the strawweight division. She’s got two wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and now a pair of wins over Zhang as well. Hell she even has a victory over Jessica Andrade. Maybe it’s time to start facing some new challengers... or maybe not? More than anything this just makes it that much clearer that the next fight the UFC should book is Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza 2.
It’s been seven years since the first time they met, and the ‘Cookie Monster’ walked away with her hand raised the first time. Sure it seems like a much better fight for the champion now, but it’s a bout with a ton of history to it and one that Esparza has definitely earned. Esparza vs. Namajunas 2, time to settle the score.
Zhang did a great job to stifle Namajunas’ offense early. The rounds were razor close, but she was regularly landing counters and keeping the champ from developing a rhythm. Yet, when it came to the championship rounds, it was Namajunas turning up the heat with a couple of big takedowns and lots of top control. It’s gotta be kind of a bitter defeat considering how close ‘Magnum’ came here, after getting blown out the first time—but that should close the book on Zhang vs. Namajunas for now. To that end, there’s one obvious fight for her to step right back into, and that’s a rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Sure there are fights against the likes of Marina Rodrigues, or Mackenzie Dern, but Zhang vs. JJ 2 is an absolutely must see fight at women’s strawweight. No bout I’d like to see more in the division right now.
It didn’t come easy – and Vera had his trademark bad first round, which often spells doom against Frankie Edgar and his momentum building wrestling attack – but Vera fought his way to his feet halfway through the second round and from that point forward the momentum started to shift dramatically. When Vera gets to pressure and work from his kickboxing range he can be an absolute nightmare. It still takes him a while to get there, but victories like this should make sure that he stays a fixture in the bantamweight top ten for years to come. I’d love to see him face Pedro Munhoz off that win, but Munhoz is set to fight Dominick Cruz, so how about the winner of Ricky Simon vs. Rafael Assuncao? It’s not the biggest name fight in the world, but it’s more of the kind of competition that Vera needs to prove he can continuously find ways to get past. Vera vs. the Simon/Assuncao winner should be a rock solid elite bantamweight contest.
Another absolute war in the career of Shane Burgos. No surprise there, the dude seems to absolutely love going through hell to get a win. And, of course, Billy Quarantillo is the kind of fighter who will push opponents to the absolute limits of their abilities. If it weren’t for an early knockdown, Quarantillo might have even had this one on the scorecards. Either way, Burgos maintains his spot as a must-see featherweight who always puts on a show for the fans. I don’t know that this win nets him a big step up, but fights with the likes of Sodiq Yussuf, Zubaira Tukhugov, or Andre Fili all seem reasonable. I’ll go ahead and say Shane Burgos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov sounds like the most fun of those options. Burgos throws a lot more volume, but if he lets Tukhugov have his moments, the Chechen absolutely has the power to make him pay. Tukhugov vs. Burgos should be a thrill.
Every bit the wild near-death experience that fans expected going in. If there’s any shock, it’s that it somehow managed to go all three rounds. Both men were absolutely nearly knocked out several times, but showed insane amounts of grit and determination to battle through all adversity to the bell. After the bout, Gaethje made it clear that he expects another title shot to be next. And while a big part of me feels like that should be dependent on how Oliveira vs. Poirier goes (given that Gaethje already decisively lost to the ‘Diamond’), it’s very hard to deny that he’s the premiere challenger in the lightweight division today.
I already made my case for Islam Makhachev to get the shot last week, he’s got the win streak, and he’s got the momentum. And if the UFC does go that way, I’d love to see Gaethje vs. Dariush, since it seems like it’d be another guaranteed night of violent insanity. But... I just can’t make that case with any real gusto after a war like the one Gaethje put on here. Let Makhachev fight Dariush, and put Gaethje in there with the Oliveira/Poirier winner. He’s made himself the most fun title contender on the planet.
If this were any other fight, I’d just leave Chandler to the ‘OTHER FIGHTS’ section down below. However, after this kind of remarkable performance, there’s no doubt that whatever fight Chandler has next it should be big and fun and meaningful. Too meaningful to resign to the realm of also-ran ideas. There are bouts with Beneil Dariush, or Tony Ferguson, or even Islam Makhachev. I wouldn’t even be entirely adverse to Chandler vs. RDA (although it feels like the least interesting of those options. But, truth be told, I think there’s one possibility that’s even more fun than any of those.
I normally don’t like to book fighters while they’re still recovering from injuries, but every now and then I gotta make an exception. The UFC should book Chandler against Conor McGregor. It’s probably too unreasonably dangerous for McGregor to actually be willing to accept the bout, but it would be such a perfect action fight right now, and a fight I think could even deliver pretty well on PPV. Chandler has proved himself to be an insane arbiter of violence. More likely we end up with something like Chandler vs. RDA, but Chandler vs. McGregor would be such a fun booking.
Exactly the debut Pereira needed to have. Michailidis did well to make things ugly early, but he couldn’t find many ways to actually hurt Pereira with his control or even drain his gas tank much. And then Pereira came out in round 2 looking like the much much fresher man, made immediately clear with that monstrous jump knee he landed to get the KO. Can Pereira keep that momentum rolling? I have no idea, but it’s gonna be a hell of a lot of fun finding out. Bouts against Rodolfo Vieira, Makhmud Muradov, Joaquin Buckley, Marc-Andre Barriault, or Abdul Razak Alhassan all seem like obvious next ideas. My vote would have been Alhassan all the way, but he’s actually already booked to fight Buckley. So how about Makhmud Muradov. Muradov was rolling well before he got upset by Gerald Meerschaert, but his jab-heavy boxing style should make for an interesting style clash. Muradov vs. Pereira seems like a quality step forward.
An absolutely perfect performance from Green. Iaquinta tried to keep pressure on and not get caught out at the end of range, but that just meant he was continuously walking on to counter shots in the pocket. It’s been a long time since a fighter gave Green that much to work with, especially early in a fight, and he made the most out of it. That win breaks a two loss skid and should set him up perfectly for another quality mid-card action bout. Someone like John Makdessi or Jim Miller or even Drew Dober all sound like good ideas. Miller vs. Green feels like the kind of fight we should have already seen three times over by now, so as long as both men are coming off wins, why not make it happen. Jim Miller vs. Bobby Green would be a guaranteed action fight between long-tenured Octagon vets.
I absolutely slept on Imavov after he opened his UFC career with two less than thrilling performances. But he’s been patiently improving and using his great sense of calm and control in the Octagon to take over bouts as his opponents fold. After back-to-back wins over formerly ranked opponents, it seems like he’ll very likely be looking at a number next to his name next week. That could put him in line for a fight with Kyle Daukaus if Daukaus beats Roman Dolidze, or Kevin Holland whenever Holland returns from injury. But I like this upcoming fight between Andre Muniz and Dricus du Plessis. Whoever walks out of that fight with the W would be really well positioned to make a similar claim to the top 10 as the Dagestani-born Frenchman. Imavov vs. the Muniz/du Plessis winner is a great bout to help keep one MW prospect on a run to the top.
OTHER BOUTS: Frankie Edgar vs. Eddie Wineland, Billy Quarantillo vs. Nate Landwehr, Andreas Michailidis vs. Jack Marshman, Al Iaquinta vs. Scott Holtzman, Chris Curtis vs. Punahele Soriano, Phil Hawes vs. Dalcha Lungiambula, Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Misha Cirkunov, Ian Garry vs. Carlston Harris, Jordan Williams vs. Sasha Palatnikov, Chris Barnett vs. Parker Porter, Dustin Jacoby vs. the Hill/Crute winner, John Allan vs. Maxim Grishin, Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. Josh Culibao, Bruno Souza vs. Luis Saldana, Ode Osbourne vs. Tagir Ulanbekov, CJ Vergara vs. Allan Nascimento