When the UFC puts together a fight card like their latest Fight Night offering, they’re really gambling on one thing: whatever other action there is lower down on the undercard, the main event is going to deliver. When it doesn’t, everything else just feels a little less fun by association. That was the result on Saturday night, where Derek Brunson effectively blanketed Kevin Holland for a dominating win on the scorecards, but a snoozer for fans at home.
So, can Brunson use his more controlling style and smothering physicality to get to the belt? Is Macy Chiasson ready for a sizeable step up in competition? Can bantamweight just chill for a minute and let the other divisions shine?
To answer those questions – but not much else – 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.
Not a pretty win but a necessary one if Brunson really wants to fight for UFC gold sometime in the near future. His style is still a little ungainly, and very hittable standing, but there’s no denying that he’s a powerful fighter at the top of 185 and capable of suffocating control when he needs it. After this win he called out Paulo Costa, and frankly – if Costa weren’t currently sidelined with longhaul COVID – that’s a fight I’d be more than happy to see.
Really anyone around the title conversation makes sense for Brunson right now, with his current 4-fight win streak. Till, Vettori, Whittaker, and Hermansson are all booked. So I guess that means it’s time for Derek Brunson vs. Jared Cannonier. Is Cannonier too powerful for Brunson to eat the kind of shots he did against Holland? Or will Cannonier’s former troubles with takedown defense come back once again to bite him? Time to find out. Cannonier vs. Brunson is the fight to make if Brunson wants to make a run at Israel Adesanya’s belt.
At some point, Holland’s ultra relaxed, unconcerned demeanor had to bite him. Some top level fighter, who wouldn’t get stuck at the end of his reach or lose their composure in wild exchanges, would simply be there to fight hard through the moments where Holland was looking to have fun and talk trash. It just so happens that Derek Brunson was the guy and Saturday, March 20th was the day. Outside of a couple scares standing, Brunson ran roughshod over Holland with power takedowns and grinding (if unexciting) top control. Holland had little in the way of answers.
For the moment that puts any top 5 or title aspirations on hold. But, for a fighter willing to fight as often as Holland does, there’s always going to be another good chance for him to go on a run. Bouts against Brad Tavares, Sean Strickland, or Omari Akhmedov would all fit the bill of a decent bounce back from Brunson, But with all three men coming off wins, how about Ian Heinisch instead? Heinisch is a bit of a one-trick pony, but given that that trick is scrambling wrestling, that seems like a challenge Holland needs to prove something against. Heinisch vs. Holland should be great way for both men to prove they’re still top 15 talents.
Huge KO win for Griffin. The avenue to beating Song Kenan seemed like it would likely have to lead through either a volume advantage or a lot of wrestling for Griffin, but he proved he could just step in, trust his chin, and bang it out instead. Found the perfect couple of right hands to send Kenan crashing to the canvas in round 1 for a dominant KO performance.
Coming off that, Griffin called out Geoff Neal. I don’t hate the idea at all, but it also seems like a pretty big step back for Neal coming off a loss to Stephen Thompson. Fights against Tim Means, Li Jingliang, James Krause, or Alan Jouban might be more the right speed off this kind of win. Of those, I think I’d go with Tim Means. The ‘Dirty Bird’ is such a scrappy fight-anyone-anywhere kind of dude, he should have a serious war with Griffin. And, if Griffin is really turning a corner and has found some more power in his hands, then this’d be another chance to test Means’ usually fantastic durability. Griffin vs. Means would be a great way to see if Griffin can stay on his good run of form and head toward the top 15.
A fantastic performance from Yanez against a rock solid regional vet who can do a bit of everything in Gustavo Lopez. Yanez stuck Lopez at the edge of kickboxing range, forced him to contend with counters every single time he threw, and stuffed the shots whenever they came. The 3rd round KO was just the icing on the cake. After the bout, Yanez called out Nate Maness. But, Maness is already booked against Tony Gravely and not excatly a fight that fans are going to be clamoring for. There are, however, a ton of action-forward bantamweight bouts that can test Yanez’s quality. Fights like Trevin Jones, Timur Valiev, Anderson dos Santos, or Kyler Phillips. Of those, Jones seems like the guy showing off the most power and percision right now, a real surprise KO threat fighting his best after getting a UFC contract late in his career. Seems like a great step forward for Yanez, after beating a vet like Lopez who isn’t quite so dangerous standing. Yanez vs. Jones would be a banger at 135.
Not exactly a major test of Tuivasa’s development toward being an elite heavyweight. But, to his credit, he did a great job working behind his low kicks early to force Hunsucker into a brawl where he could start looking for the counter. Only took a couple of shots to put Hunsucker on skates and give Tuivasa a big TKO win. That should set him up for another, higher level opponent in the middle of the heavyweight division. Could be a prospect like Chris Daukaus or Tom Aspinall, or maybe someone like the winner of Rothwell/Lins, Lima/Greene, or Latifi/Boser. I’d probably lean toward the Lins/Rothwell winner, personally, but with Chris Daukaus right there waiting for another bout, why wait? Chris Daukaus vs. Tai Tuivasa would be a thriller for every second it lasted, even if that’s not many.
A solid win for Chiasson to bring her firmly into the bantamweight top 10. She started cautious, but hurt Reneau a couple times and built some serious momentum over the last two rounds. She’s now 5-1 and Reneau has always served as a good gatekeeper to bigger and better fights. That could mean Ketlen Vieira, Yana Kunitsakaya or even a rematch with Lina Lansberg. There’s also a decent bout to be had with Pannie Kianzad or a huge step forward to face someone like Irene Aldana.
Since I forgot that Chiasson already has a win over Kianzad, however, then I gotta go with Ketlen Vieira here. Vieira’s had some struggles to consistently find form at an elite level. But, she can absolutely compete with Chiasson for size and strength. Even coming off a loss, I think it’d be a meaningful test of Chiasson’s skills to see if she could beat someone who won’t be at a big physical disadvantage against her and is more willing to scrap than Reneau. Chiasson vs. Vieira seems like a solid next step.
For once Dawson really couldn’t lean on his wrestling game and because of that, he definitely struggled to keep his normal pace and control of the fight. But, he never stopped crowding Santos and clearly wore the Brazilian out late in the fight. That last series of hammerfists that KO’d Santos at the bell was the icing on the cake. Solidifying a victory that judges already had in hand for him. Afterward, he made a kinda weird callout of Clay Guida. I guess Guida is coming off a win and it’s a winnable fight for Dawson. But, I can’t say it’s a fight I need to see. For my money, fights with Arman Tsarukyan, Nasrat Haqparast, or Vinc Pichel would make a lot more sense. Haqparast has had some struggles with wrestling in the past, lets see if Grant can bring those back to life. Grant Dawson vs. Nasrat Haqparast seems like a great way to see how good a prospect Dawson can be at lightweight.
A great win for Jackson in a bout that was really set up for him to make a statement. He got an action-oriented, inexperienced opponent on short notice. And as expected, he shined with a great first round TKO. That win sets him back up on track as a strong prospect in a bantamweight division that practically feels overloaded with them. There are solid options with Said Nurmagomedov, Kyler Phillips, or Andre Ewell, but I really like the idea of a bout with Davey Grant. Grant has great power and a scrappy finishing and has shown himself to be a difficult test to young prospects. Feels like just the right bar for Jackson to try and clear, or for Grant a chance to build more momentum to make a run into the top 15. Grant vs. Jackson should be an exciting challenge for ‘Quik’ next time out.
OTHER BOUTS: Song Kenan vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan, Montserrat Conejo vs. Cory McKenna, Cheyanne Buys vs. Gloria de Paula, Gustavo Lopez vs. Heili Alateng, Harry Hunsucker vs. Baudot/Nascimento loser, Marion Reneau vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, Leo Santos vs. Davi Ramos, Trevin Giles vs. Makhmud Muradov, Roman Dolidze vs. Rodolfo Vieira, Jesse Strader vs. Drako Rodriguez, Bruno Silva vs. Su Mudaerji, JP Buys vs. Cody Durden