The final UFC card of 2021 went off with a bang. Derrick Lewis reasserted his position as one of the very best heavyweight fighters in the world today. Belal Muhammad took home a strong upset win to bring himself into the contender’s circle. And Ricky Simon got himself a spot in the bantamweight top 15.
So, is Lewis really going to stay away from five round fights for the immediate future? Even if it costs him another title shot? Is Muhammad’s callout of Kamaru Usman going to pay unexpected dividends? And is Mateusz Gamrot ready for the likes of the lightweight elite?
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!
One of the fascinating things about the heavyweight division is that the intense longevity many of its athletes enjoy makes it a weightclass defined by the kind of third acts most other fighters don’t get a chance at. Men like Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt or Oleksiy Oliynyk have found opportunities to adapt their games multiple times, to stay competitive with younger generations of fighters through their late 30s and into their 40s. Which is my way of wondering if this win suggests a new evolution in Derrick Lewis’ game. One that will keep him among the heavyweight elite for several more years to come. A version of Lewis that shows more willingness to lead exchanges and stay on the front foot is a fearsome proposition—given he has the kind of punching power that few save Ngannou can hope to match.
So, what next fight awaits the ‘Black Beast’? If Ngannou beats Gane, then (as awful as their first fight was) the argument for a rematch with Lewis still has merit. Otherwise, rematches with Volkov or Blaydes both have some factors of interest and entertainment. As well as fresh fights with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Tai Tuivasa, or Tom Aspinall (if Aspinall beats Shamil Abdurakhimov). Of those, I’ll go with Tai Tuivasa. If Lewis isn’t that interested on title contention, he might as well be taking fights that will be fun, and there’s no doubt that Tuivasa vs. Lewis would be a hell of a lot of fun.
If heavyweight allows for remarkable late career surges, it also allows for blistering early career runs as well. Chris Daukaus charged his way in among the top contenders behind four clean KO wins. And even if Lewis represented a definitive step up from his last victory, it also seemed like a fight where his fast hands could once again make a big difference. That’s not the way the ball happened to bounce, but he should have plenty of opportunities to take another swing at it.
In the meantime, fights against Marcin Tybura, Jairzinho Rozensturik, or Tom Aspinall (should he lose to Abdurakhimov) would all be decent ideas. Of those, I’ll say Daukaus vs. Tybura is a good bounce-back test. Can Daukaus fight off Tybura’s wrestle-grappling? Has Tybura figured out how to survive against a fast handed power striker? It’s a win either man could use on their resume if they want to fight their way into the elite. Tybura vs. Daukaus is a solid step down from the Philly fighter’s first Octagon loss.
A dominating, if not exactly exciting performance from Muhammad here. The small cage really let him cut Thompson off with ease. And while he had to eat a few shots to get inside, he was able to clinch up over and over with ‘Wonderboy’ to find repeated takedowns and control positions. The end result is a one-sided victory on the cards, and a callout for Kamaru Usman after the fight. No idea if that’s a bout he gets, considering the current contender picture. Gilbert Burns is coming off essentially the exact same win and got put away by the champ when they faced off back in February. And while Leon Edwards seems like the obvious contender, the UFC has no interest in seeing him in a title fight. But would they have more interest in Muhammad? Does Luque get the shot? My guess is Muhammad needs at least one more win. And fights with Edwards, Luque, or Burns would all suffice. I’ll say the UFC should go with Muhammad vs. Luque 2. It’s a win Muhammad should get back if he wants to be a contender. Either man grabbing victory could get them their chance at gold.
Not the most convincing win Lemos has ever put together. Every round was brutally close, even the one where Lemos got a knockdown. But, that closeness also means I can’t say that this was an out-and-out robbery. It just feels especially rough for Hill, who has fought her way through close decisions so many times, and never seems to come out on top. On the flip side, this does suggest that Lemos isn’t exactly ready for a huge step forward just yet. She hits brutally hard and isn’t a terrible wrestler or grappler, but she also depends a lot on making her power count. And when she can’t, her game tends to break down. A fight against Tecia Torres seems like it’d be a great way for her to see just how ready she is for top competition. Torres isn’t a massive power threat, but she’s durable and high energy, and a stronger athlete out there than Hill. Someone who, if an opponent starts losing a step in the bout, she can really put things together toward a decisive win. Lemos vs. Torres seems like an obvious next challenge for the Brazilian.
A fantastic win for Simon, who showed off his continued improvement with his punching game to get the second round KO. Given that he was also able to get Assuncao down with ease, out-wrestle, and out-grapple the former top contender—this really felt like a true announcement of Simon’s arrival as a top tier fighter. After the fight he called out Sean O’Malley. And there’s no question that would be an awesome battle. But it may also not be one that O’Malley and the UFC are especially interested in. And if it isn’t, fights against Song Yadong, Pedro Munhoz, or the Stamann/Nurmagomedov winner would all be strong options. However, if Simon can convince the UFC to do it, I’d love to see him take on Sean O’Malley. Otherwise Simon/Yadong would be a great option B.
After a close first round, this fight did not seem to be going Gamrot’s way. He looked like his cardio was starting to flag and, despite numerous takedowns, he couldn’t find a way to assert any control over Ferreira on the mat. But, those repeated scrambles payed off in their own way, when – after another takedown in round 2 – he landed a short knee to the body as the Brazilian looked to fight his way to his feet. That must have hit just the exact perfect spot, since Ferreira verbally submitted immediately afterward.
The win likely means a place in the rankings for the former KSW champ, and another step forward in competition. He called out Michael Chandler, but there’s almost no way he’s getting that fight. Instead, fights with Brad Riddell, Rafael Fiziev, or Gregor Gillespie would all be strong options. Hell he could even gun for Rafael dos Anjos or Tony Ferguson. I’ll go with Gamrot vs. Riddell. The City Kickboxing product has proven himself exceptionally hard to keep down, and Gamrot still has some questions to answer with his standup game. Gamrot vs. Riddell would be another big test for the ‘Gamer’.
If I was worried before this fight that Swanson might let himself get caught up grappling with Elkins a few times early, I didn’t need to be. He absolutely brutalized the ‘Damage’ every time the Team Alpha Male fighter stepped into the pocket. Landing massive hooks and uppercuts on his way to the first round TKO. Swanson may no longer be a top contender, and he may be a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he’s still an incredibly dangerous man in the cage and he hasn’t lost nearly as much a step as that 4-fight losing skid he hit a couple years ago might have suggested. This should put him right back in the path of another fighter looking to get past the edges of the top 15. I’d still love to see him vs. Alex Caceres, who just snagged himself a rankings spot with a five fight win streak, but Zubaira Tukhugov or Ryan Hall would also work. Still, Caceres vs. Swanson feels like a fight that should have happened 5 years ago. Get these men in the Octagon already.
There’s no two ways about it, this was always going to be a very tough test for Dustin Stoltzfus. Meerschaert isn’t the fastest fighter, or the hardest hitter, or even the most durable—but he is one of the toughest. And with his fantastically technical sub game, he’s a man who can always find a way to win if he can drag an opponent into a difficult, prolonged grappling battle. The end result here? Another late round submission victory for ‘GM3’ and a rough, 0-3 losing streak for Stoltzfus to start (end?) his Octagon career. So, how about putting the longtime Roufusport fighter against someone on a 3-fight winning streak instead? A relative UFC newcomer with a lot of miles already under his belt. How about Meerschaert against Bruno Silva? The Brazilian has multiple sub losses on his record, but has carved out a firm spot on the roster as a heavy handed KO artist. Meerschaert vs. Silva seems like guaranteed chaos.
The early round may have been a little rocky, but Pennington did well to keep her output high and challenge Chiasson at all ranges. Come round 2, she started finding Chiasson’s chin with more power and consistency and eventually forced a shot from her opponent. That led Chiasson right into Pennington’s ever-evolving front headlock game, where she snatched up a quick sub. The win makes two straight for the Triple Threat talent, and keeps her right in among the contenders conversation. Especially now with Julianna Pena holding the title.
I would say it’s a good time for a Miesha Tate rematch, but Pennington also has yet to fight Ketlen Vieira. And that seems like a great test for both women. There are a lot of interesting fights for Tate right now, a fresh matchup for Pennington will do her just as much good as anything else. Pennington vs. Vieira is a solid way to see if either woman can make themselves a contender for the new champ.
OTHER BOUTS: Stephen Thompson vs. Michael Chiesa, Angela Hill vs. Virna Jandiroba, Raphael Assuncao vs. David Grant, Diego Ferreira vs. Bobby Green, Darren Elkins vs. Charles Rosa, Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Yaozong Hu, Justin Tafa vs. Parker Porter, Harry Hunsucker vs. Alan Baudot, Melissa Gatto vs. Ariane Lipski, Sijara Eubanks vs. Sabina Mazo, Charles Jourdain vs. Lerone Murphy, Andre Ewell vs. Ricardo Ramos, Macy Chiasson vs. Yana Kunitskaya, Don’Tale Mayes vs. Carlos Felipe, Josh Parisian vs. Jared Vanderaa, Jordan Leavitt vs. Mason Jones, Matt Sayles vs. Luigi Vendramini