UFC VEGAS 19: Blaydes vs. Lewis is in the books. And while the event didn’t have a lot of import heading into it, the card delivered all the action any fan could hope for. Derrick Lewis reaffirmed his status as one of the world’s very best heavyweights with a shattering KO over Curtis Blaydes. And Yana Kunitskaya put her name into the women’s bantamweight conversation with a victory over Ketlen Vieira. All atop a card filled with finishes.
So, what’s waiting for Lewis if not a heavyweight title shot? Can Kunitskaya make any waves at 135 lbs? And is Chris Daukaus the darkhorse hot prospect in the heavyweight division?
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.
Realistically, Derrick Lewis is in the best of bad positions when it comes to prize fighting. He’s a high-profile, decently paid, headlining attraction whose title hopes are just far enough out of reach that he has no real choices other than to sit and wait, or take fights with people who can only hurt his stock rather than help it. In a just universe, Lewis would be on deck to fight the winner of Stipe vs. Ngannou. But even at the best of times, MMA is rarely a sphere where order and reason prevail.
While that could, instead, mean Lewis just gets the loser of Miocic vs. Ngannou, or maybe the winner of Gane vs. Rozenstruik, the ‘Black Beast’ made it clear he has his own idea. He wants to fight Alistair Overeem. This is a bout I’ve wanted to see for years now. It’s also the exact wrong time to make it—with Overeem fresh off a crushing loss to Alexander Volkov. If he’s adamant about it, then sure, book it. But right now Lewis vs. the Gane/Rozenstruik winner sounds more interesting to me.
A truly crushing defeat for Blaydes, who has now found himself firmly turned away from the title conversation by two of the division’s top contenders. There’s a problem in the midst of his game with setting up takedown entries against true power punchers and unfortunately the repercussions of it have been devastating. Fortunately, he’s still one of the divisions few dominant wrestlers in a sea of fairly one-dimensional strikers. Someone like the loser of Gane/Rozenstruik would make a quality next opponent—or obviously Stipe Miocic, should he lose Francis Ngannou.
Unfortunately beyond those options, Blaydes has faced and beaten so much of the top ten already, that other obvious opponents aren’t all that prevalent. There’s Augusto Sakai, Walt Harris, maybe the winner of Ivanov/Tybura. None of these are ideal fights. I guess I’ll go with Blaydes vs. Harris, just because it’s there to be booked. But maybe something better will come along with time.
Not a pretty win, but sometimes a fighter’s gotta take ‘em any way they can get them. Vieira had a ton of control and some great dominant positions, but couldn’t get any kind of real offense started from it. Kunitskaya made the most of her opportunities, including a big second round, when she could find them. That victory puts her on back-to-back wins, and firmly entrenched in the top 10 at this point. After the bout she called for anyone ranked above her.
She’s already got a loss to Aspen Ladd, or that fight might make some sense. Irene Aldana’s a decent possibility, but she’s coming off a tough defeat. So what about Raquel Pennington? ‘Rocky’ took a win off Marion Reneau last June then got dinged with a 6-month USADA violation. That should make her ready to go in the fairly near future. A fight with Kunitskaya would be a good way to make a comeback. And for Kunitskaya it’s exactly the kind of quality win she needs if she wants to be a contender. Kunitskaya vs. Pennington seems like the right fight to see if ‘Foxy’ can fight her way into the conversation at 135 lbs.
This was a true test for Daukaus to pass. Oleinik doesn’t have the widest set of tools but everything he does, he does to get the finish. And he’s gotten more than a few of them over inexperienced fighters who don’t know how to defend his submission setups. Daukaus stayed composed though, and when Oleinik wasn’t willing to pressure he was right there to bust him up. That puts him on 3-fight win streak to start his career, and should line him up for some more meaningful fights.
Obviously there was the Aspinall call-out, earlier in the night, but I’m never a fan of pitting fighters from the same card against one another. I would have loved to see him take on Augusto Sakai instead, but Sakai is booked to fight Shamil Abdurakhimov. So, I’d say that should put him in the wheelhouse of the winner of Marcin Tybura vs. Blagoy Ivanov. Not the most thrilling bout, but a good chance to see Daukaus’ game stretched a bit further than the first round. Daukaus vs. the Tybura/Ivanov winner to give the prospect another chance to pick off a ranked opponent.
A decent showing from Aspinall, who displayed a couple defensive gaps standing with Arlovski, but turned things around quickly with a double leg into an instant RNC submission. It’s a rare ability to change things up at 265, which should do good things for the Brit in the future. After the fight he called for either Sergey Spivak or Chris Daukaus. But there are plenty of other bouts he can take. Juan Espino, Carlos Felipe, or even the winner of Rothwell vs. Lins would all be decent options.
Out of those, I’ll say the UFC should go with Espino. Already 40, the Spaniard is desperately in need of a fast track opportunity to the division’s elite. And beating a serious prospect like Aspinall would be a solid way to make his case. And for Aspinall, he just needs more and more cage time. Espino vs. Aspinall, give two of the more skilled un-ranked heavyweights a chance to make their name off one another.
Solid all-around performance from Gordon. He stood early with Chavez and worked to break his speedy striking with low kicks and lots of pressure. And once he had Chavez focused on trading, he started opening up his takedowns. The result was a clean and clear decision that leaves Gordon in a solid spot as a mid-card featherweight talent. That could mean a winner/loser bout with Andre Fili, Daniel Pineda, or Douglas d’Silva. There’s also a fight out there with Darren Elkins that I don’t think would be too bad. But, Elkins has been hard pressed to get wins lately. So instead, lets go Gordon vs. Fili. ‘Touchy’ isn’t the most consistent performer, but he’s a borderline elite talent who can provide a true dividing line for Gordon to see if he can make a run at the top 15. Fili vs. Gordon is just the kind of bout Gordon needs.
After a super rough debut against Nathaniel Wood, Castaneda couldn’t have asked for a better rebound. Wineland brought the fight to him early, with lots of pressure. But that also meant lots of opportunities to catch Wineland with his hands down and chin up. Castaneda hit a beautiful right off a stance shift that had Wineland looking entirely the wrong way, and that was the beginning of the end.
Still, given the rough loss last time out, and the slow start this time, I wouldn’t want to see Castaneda rushed too far off this win. Someone like Benito Lopez, Mario Bautista, or maybe even Chris Gutierrez could all be fine. Instead, though, I’m gonna say he should take on Anderson dos Santos. The Brazilian only just picked up his own first Octagon win recently. But, like Castaneda, he’s got a ton of experience on the regional circuit. Seems like a chance for both men to gain momentum and solidify their spot as competitive action fighters at 135. Castaneda vs. dos Santos for the battle of action-oriented veterans.
Controversy over the stoppage or not, this was a great win for Julian Erosa. He used the action that the smaller cage forces expertly to keep pressure high and make the most of pocket exchanges. Landwehr hurt him early, but it was Erosa’s willingness to battle through and keep the scrap going that paid off in the end. That puts Erosa in a nice spot as a seasoned veteran action fighter, where practically any fight in the middle of the division makes sense.
He could take on Billy Quarantillo, Movsar Evloev, Lerone Murphy, Daniel Pineda or Makwan Amrikhani. Of those, Lerone Murphy seems like the guy coming off a win who most needs more cage time against solid veterans. A great athlete still looking for depth in his game is a good chance for Erosa to show his craft again, and another good addition to Murphy’s resume if he can get the win. Julian Erosa vs. Lerone Murphy seems like a great action bout.
OTHER BOUTS: Ketlen Vieira vs. Lina Lansberg, Darrick Minner vs. Chase Hooper, Charles Rosa vs. Danny Henry, Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Phil Hawes vs. Jordan Wright, Nassourdine Imavov vs. Antonio Arroyo, Andrei Arlovski vs. Gian Villante, Danny Chavez vs. Kyle Nelson, Eddie Wineland vs. Mitch Gagnon, Nate Landwehr vs. Matt Sayles, Casey O’Neill vs. Lara Procopio, Shana Dobson vs. Liana Jojua, Chas Skelly vs. Jamall Emmers, Aiemann Zahabi vs. Khalid Taha, Drako Rodriguez vs. Gaetano Pirrello, Serghei Spivak vs. Jake Collier, Jared Vanderaa vs. Josh Parisian