UFC 260 may have been a bit of a slow burn early on, but it wrapped up on a definite high note. Francis Ngannou usurped Stipe Miocic to claim the heavyweight crown. Vicente Luque brought his name back into the potential title challenger conversation, and Sean O’Malley reasserted the fact that he’s an electric fighter to watch when things are going his way.
So, is the UFC really going to try and bargain away a title fight between Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones? Is there any clear path to a contender’s bout for Vicente Luque? And is there any reason to slow play Sean O’Malley’s re-entry into the bantamweight rankings?
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 from UFC 260.
If this was the fighter Francis Ngannou has been working on becoming for all these years, I’m not sure I ever saw the signs before tonight. For perhaps the first time in his entire career Ngannou didn’t just look violent, but he looked composed in that violence. He used his jab to find range, he targeted multiple points on Miocic’s body, he threw low kicks, and he just let his strikes go in ways that clearly kept the champion uncomfortable for every minute this fight lasted. The result? A new king at heavyweight, off unquestionably the finest performance of Ngannou’s career. While Dana White is already trying to pivot to a Derrick Lewis rematch as Ngannou’s first title defense, there’s zero question as to what’s the right fight to make. Jon Jones has been preparing for his heavyweight debut, he says he wants to fight Ngannou, the UFC is coming off one of their most profitable years in the promotion’s history, just make the damn fight. Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou is the fight to make, anything else is just down to UFC stinginess.
Clearly not the fight Miocic was looking for on any level. But, unlike the first time – where he got stung a bit early but still met Ngannou head on with a busy striking performance and some well timed takedowns – this time around the champ looked truly shaken by the early power shots that the ‘Predator’ plugged him with. Nonetheless, having only faced two fighters in 3.5 years, there’s a whole passel of top ranked heavyweights that Miocic has yet to step into the cage with. Men like Curtis Blaydes, Derrick Lewis, Cyril Gane, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, or Alexander Volkov. If the UFC really is going to put Jon Jones in title contention (something that’s looking a little more doubtful now, unfortunately) then all these men are going to need high profile bookings in the near future. At the moment, Curtis Blaydes vs. Stipe Miocic feels like the most obvious choice, with Blaydes coming so close to a title shot before getting sat down hard. But, I’ll be happy to see Miocic take on just about anyone in the top 5 right now.
All credit to Woodley, he clearly went out and tried to take the fight to Luque from the get go. He clinched and looked to wrestle, threw bombs and hurt Luque standing. Everything he needed to do to potentially get the win. But Luque wouldn’t be controlled inside and ate all the shots standing. Eventually the Brazilian found his counters and when he started clipping Woodley up, he had the former champ hurt bad in a hurry. All told, a huge win for Luque that should cement him as a top 5 fighter for the immediate future.
After the victory, he called out Nate Diaz, but that seems more like a pipe dream than a likely booking. Demian Maia, Neil Magny, and Michael Chiesa appear to be much more likely options. And among those, Chiesa is absolutely the won I want to see. Vicente Luque vs. Michael Chiesa. See which fringe contender can put themselves in line for a potential title shot.
An absolutely one-sided shellacking from O’Malley, who had Almeida badly hurt in the first before piecing him up on the way to a 3rd round KO. O’Malley made the claim after the bout that he was looking to prove the haters wrong, that kicking his legs wasn’t a clear path to victory, and he ate more than a few firm low kicks on his way to this win. That should set him up for another top 15 opponent.
While I could throw names out there like Pedro Munhoz or Rafael Assuncao, or even Kyler Phillips, there’s one fight that I gotta go with. Dominick Cruz just came off a win over Casey Kenney. If he’s willing to take that kind of prospect fight again, I’d love to see him try a bout with O’Malley. Just the build up would be wild, but it’d also be a great chance for Cruz to prove that he can still put all the young guns at 135 in their place. And if he can’t, it’s the kind of win that would make O’Malley a bonafied top 10 talent instantly. Sean O’Malley vs. Dominick Cruz seems like the fight to book. If not, then he can always rematch Marlon Vera.
As long as Maverick can keep making 125 lbs, she’s got the potential to be a real physical problem for a lot of fighters at the top of the division. She’s still a raw striker, she still lets her aggression take her into questionable positions, but she’s shown exactly the kind of consistency, toughness, and cardio needed to fight her way out of any bad spots she finds herself in. That could line her up with Mayra Bueno Silva, JJ Aldrich, or the winner of a bout like Antonina Shevchenko vs. Andrea Lee or Roxanne Modaferri vs. Taila Santos. I’d rather not see the UFC push Maverick to far too fast though, after all she’s just 23-years old.
And while that means I would have liked to see Maverick take on Bueno Silva next, ‘Sheetara’ is already booked to take on Poliana Botelho in May. I guess that leaves JJ Aldrich to once again run up against a top prospect on the rise and see if she can use her technical skill to overcome the physical gap. Miranda Maverick vs. JJ Aldrich seems like a great way for Maverick to try and build her resume at 125 lbs.
Exactly the kind of victory Mullarkey needed after a rough first couple outings in the UFC. Worthy came out throwing low kicks to answer Mullarkey’s pressure, Mullarkey drew out the hands with a right feint and blasted Worthy with the left hook over the top for the KO. A big win that should get him another action bout at the bottom of the lightweight division. Someone like Uros Medic, Jordan Leavitt, Don Madge, or Mike Davis. Of all those, I think Madge would be the most interesting matchup, just for his own blend of striking and wrestling. Another fighter who made his bones on one of the less developed regional circuits, but who has had a bit more success plying his trade in the UFC so far. Madge vs. Mullarkey to see if the Aussie can put a bit of a run together.
A badly needed return to form for Menifield, who appeared to be a promising light heavyweight prospect before running into Devin Clark and Ovince St. Preux. Beating Cherant on just a couple days notice may not make him a future contender again, but it should get him back into a fight with someone else looking to claw their way up the ranks at 205. That could be someone like Marcin Prachnio or Michal Oleksiejczuk. But, I’d like to see Menifield against Kennedy Nzechukwu. Nzechukwu has had his own struggles trying to separate himself from the pack, but his rangy frame and strong chin should make him a live dog against Menifield, especially if he can force the pace through action in the clinch. Right now, Menifield just needs to keep putting victories together, a fight with Nzechukwu seems like a good opportunity to do it.
It wasn’t exactly the most dominating performance from Oleksiejczuk, but he did enough to convince at least two judges that he’d beaten Modestas Bukauskas. And at the end of the day that’s really all that matters. That should set him up for another decent opponent coming off a win. And while there are two or three options to consider, there’s really only one I’m interested in, and that’s Dustin Jacoby. Put Oleksiejczuk’s boxing heavy style to the test against a comfortable, rangy kickboxer. Can he control the pocket, or will Jacoby pick him off from range. I’m excited to find out. Oleksiejczuk vs. Jacoby should be a fire fight.
Morales did well against Young to make his power count early, and to keep Young from getting any momentum going across all three rounds. A very controlling, counter-heavy performance that didn’t exactly deliver thrills, but showed off Morales’ solid sense of pace and timing. As long as he keeps winning, there are plenty of action bouts to test him against at 145. Let’s see if he can keep the fight controlled against a striker who almost certainly won’t take his foot off the gas in the face of a more powerful opponent. Charles Jourdain has proved himself intensely reckless through his short UFC tenure, including on his way to a big upset win over KO artist Dooho Choi. Morales vs. Jourdain seems like a great way to see if Morales can turn up the heat or if he’ll wilt under the pressure.
OTHER BOUTS: Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler 2, Thomas Almeida vs. Andre Ewell, Gillian Robertson vs. Kish/Cortez loser, Khama Worthy vs. Alex da Silva, Fabio Cherant vs. Carlos Ulberg, Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Matthew Semelsberger, Jared Gooden vs. Jason Witt, Modestas Bukauskas vs. Aleksa Camur, Shane Young vs. Kevin Aguilar, Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Deron Winn, Abu Azaitar vs. Antonio Arroyo