UFC VEGAS 23: VETTORI VS HOLLAND is now in the books. The main event may not have electrified anyone, but Marvin Vettori proved that he’s not about to get unseated from his spot in the middleweight top 5 anytime soon. Otherwise, Arnold Allen announced himself as a contender on the rise for the featherweight division. And Mackenzie Dern kept her hype train on the tracks with a dominating win over Nina Nunes.
So, does Vettori have a shot at leapfrogging Whittaker for the next chance to fight Israel Adesanya? Is there anyone in the top 10 Arnold Allen would be willing to call out? And how soon before we’re talking about Mackenzie Dern as a strawweight title challenger?
To answer those questions – and a couple 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.
For Marvin Vettori, this was exactly the outcome he needed to keep treading water at the top of the middleweight division, but exactly the wrong kind of win to make fans excited to see him fight for the belt. Vettori ate a lot of shots in his bout against Jack Hermansson, but walked through them to deliver his own power punching arsenal. Against Holland, he pretty clearly wasn’t willing to play that game—taking the easy, obvious path to victory through takedowns and top control instead. There’s no shame in it, but especially if Robert Whittaker wins next week, Vettori’s case for a shot at UFC gold doesn’t seem that great just at the moment.
If Kelvin Gastelum somehow gets the win over Whittaker, then I’d have no problem seeing Gastelum vs. Vettori as a top contender’s bout. And I’d also be happy to see Vettori against Paulo Costa or Jared Cannonier, even with both men coming off a loss. Hell, just for name value alone, Vettori against the winner of Hall vs. Weidman feels like it’d be worth making. Given all the options, I’ll say Marvin Vettori vs. Jared Cannonier is the best fight available, but Gastelum on a win would be really good.
It’s hard to say whether or not this is going to be some kind of catalyst for Holland. After his loss to Brunson, he took the stance that being a world champion wasn’t necessarily his goal anyway. But, for someone who values having fun in the cage, it seems like he’s going to have to work on his wrestling game to have fun fights at elite levels. Of course, there’s always the chance that Holland decides that changing divisions is the real answer, and takes that drop to welterweight he’s teased in the past. But, for now, I’m assuming that’s not what’s going to happen.
If Holland is going to keep competing at 185, however, a step back is probably in order. Fights with the likes of Eryk Anders, Andrew Sanchez, Alessio Di Chirico, or Tom Breese would all fit the bill. But I think a fight with Ian Heinisch would be a real test. Like Holland, the ‘Hurricane’ has struggled hard to implement his game against the top levels at middleweight. But, his power punching into power takedowns should provide just the right test that Holland has struggled to pass. And for Heinisch’s part, Holland’s seeming inexhaustible striking and much greater variety has major chances to put him in peril. Heinisch vs. Holland seems like just the right challenge for Holland to prove he can shore up his takedown defense.
Allen didn’t show any more volume or aggression than he has in past bouts, but he absolutely made great use of a few opportunities to turn this fight on its head. Yusuff came out pressuring hard, throwing power, and looking good early. But Allen found great setups to land his left hand and to land a left high kick, dropping Yusuff in each of the first two rounds. That win puts Allen clearly into the featherweight top ten.
Maybe not quite electric enough to grab a top 5 opponent next time out, but with Josh Emmett, Dan Ige, and Calvin Kattar out there, as well as the winner of Burgos vs. Barboza, there are plenty of great options for Allen’s next bout. Emmett’s coming off three straight victories, and he’s got the kind of one-shot power where, if Allen doesn’t turn his success into a finish, he’ll be in danger all fight. Seems like a great test to see if Allen is ready for the top 5. And if not, another ranked win for Emmett to make his own title bid. Arnold Allen vs. Josh Emmett should be a war.
Probably the most composed and collected win of Marquez’s career to date. Alvey showed up clearly intent on not letting the tempo of the fight get away from him as it has so often in recent bouts. But Marquez kept plugging away to the body from distance, and focusing on single power strikes from range rather than relying too much on pocket exchanges. Things still got a little hairy in there, with Alvey landing more than a few right hands, but Marquez’s chin continues to be a rock solid backup plan to see him through rough spots. Time to take on another fighter coming off a win; someone like Marc-Andre Barriault, Deron Winn, or what about Trevin Giles? Giles’ snapping jab and long 1-2’s should present a good challenge for Marquez at range, and he backs it up with some solid wrestling and top control. All things to make work for Marquez’s improved game. Marquez vs. Giles should be a good step up.
Unquestionably the best performance of Dern’s career so far. As always, she pushed an aggressive, power striking game early, forcing Nunes on the back foot. But she followed that pressure perfectly this time around with a strong single leg takedown. And once Dern’s got a fight on the mat it really feels like it’s just a countdown to victory from that point forward. Dern wrapped up the armbar and solidified her place in the top 5 after the win. After the victory, Dern talked about waiting and watching to see how top contender and title fights went before she took her next bout. But with fighters like Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres all needing fights, I’m not sure I see Dern a shoo-in for top contender status. Rankings wise it’s a bit of a step back, but Mackenzie Dern vs. Tecia Torres seems like it would be a perfect next test, given just how hard Torres is to control. If Dern can win that fight, then she’s absolutely ready to make her title run.
An absolute landslide victory for Daniel Rodriguez here. Mike Perry looked like he was in better shape, and less out of practice for this fight, but it’s pretty clear at this point that his striking has regressed a lot. Rodriguez plugged him with 1-2s, low kicks, and body kicks at will all night. Out-landing Perry on the feet by a huge margin on his way to victory. Really should have had more than just the one 10-8 round from one judge. A great comeback win after suffering a contentious loss to Nicholas Dalby. That victory should put him in the sights of another welterweight action fighter. Fights with Jake Matthews, James Krause, or Warlley Alves would all be solid. But, I’ve got an idea I like even more: Michel Pereira. The Brazilian wild-man has been showing a lot more composure of late. But it seems hard to imagine him keeping pace with Rodriguez’s output. And for Rodriguez, it’s another high profile dangerous opponent to show his technical tools against, only with a bit more violence to offer at this point in his career. Rodriguez vs. Pereira should be a ‘don’t blink’ matchup.
Jim Miller’s longstanding problems seem as though they haven’t gone away. Namely, if his opponent can keep pace with him through round 1, he struggles hard to keep up for the rest of the fight. Even, unfortunately, if his opponent just wants to smother him with oppressive top control, as Joe Solecki did. Not the most brilliant performance from Solecki, but a great name for his resume. Now 3-0 I wouldn’t necessarily use this to rocket him up the division, but there’s no reason Solecki can’t take another serious step forward. He’s a very controlling grappler, a big puncher, and just a calm, collected fighter (sometimes to a fault). Grant Dawson is coming off his own big win over Leo Santos in his last fight out. How about Dawson vs. Solecki. Can Solecki control a fighter as tireless as Dawson? Can Dawson hang with a lightweight south of 40? Worth finding out. Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki seems like a good prospect vs. prospect battle.
A fantastic win for Gamrot following his shocking upset loss in his UFC debut. Gamrot looked like a much more collected, persistent striker this time around, especially with his use of feints to keep Holtzman guessing. Holtzman struggled badly to close distance and seemed to get really frustrated by the offense coming back at him. Gamrot used that frustration perfectly to set up the KO. That puts the former KSW champ right back on track as a top prospect in the lightweight division. That could mean fights with Brad Riddell, Arman Tsarukyan, Thiago Moises, or Grant Dawson. Moises has been on a hell of a run following some early struggles in the UFC. Feels like his elite grappling game and dramatically improved counter punching could be a good test for Gamrot’s improving pace. Gamrot vs. Moises seems like a great fight to continue fast tracking either fighter to the top 15.
A very necessary win for Makdessi, who has become something of a forgotten man in the lightweight division. Bahamondes came after him with lots of volume, but Makdessi proved himself the much more technical striker and put all of Bahamondes’ defensive openings to good use, landing hard counters for all 15 minutes. It was an excellent performance from the ‘Bull,’ one that should put him back into some higher profile action scraps. That could mean fights with Drew Dober, Renato Moicano, Marc Diakiese, or Nasrat Haqparast. Haqparast is coming off a solid win. Let’s see if he can handle Makdessi’s reinvigorated striking game. A solid chance for Makdessi to rebuild his status as a top shelf fighter and a great chance for Haqparast to build his resume. Makdessi vs. Haqparast seems like it’d be all offense.
After a stunning KO loss to Joaquin Buckley in his last fight, Impa Kasanganay took his massive physique down to welterweight. And while I may have been worried about how his body would stand up to the cut, he looked rock solid here against Sasha Palatnikov. Both men landed regularly with power, but Kasanganay’s calmer, more focused style left him in much better position to take advantage of the big opportunities Palatnikov gave him. And snatching up the RNC in the scramble was just a thing of beauty. That should line Kasanganay up for another action bout at the bottom of 170. Fighters like Shavkat Rakhmonov, Gabriel Green, or Abubakar Nurmagomedov. Of all those, I like the Nurmagomedov fight the most. Kasanganay had to lean hard on his wrestling to keep Palatnikov’s striking at bay. How will he handle someone with a much more technical grappling base? Nurmagomedov vs. Kasanganay is a great test of Kasanganay’s well rounded approach.
OTHER BOUTS: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Gavin Tucker, Sam Alvey vs. Andrew Sanchez, Nina Nunes vs. Felice Herrig, Mike Perry vs. Khaos Williams, Jim Miller vs. Michael Johnson, Scott Holtzman vs. Alex Hernandez, Ignacio Bahamondes vs. Rafa Garcia, Jarjis Danho vs. Don’Tale Mayes, Yorgan De Castro vs. Harry Hunsucker, Jack Shore vs. Said Nurmagomedov, Hunter Azure vs. Mario Bautista, Luis Saldana vs. Josh Culibao, Jordan Griffin vs. Kyle Nelson, Da Un Jung vs. Alonzo Menifield, William Knight vs. Ike Villanueva, Impa Kasanganay vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov, Sasha Palatnikov vs. Jason Witt