The UFC put together a pretty strong fight night offering this week with their UFC Vegas 27 event, with solid booking sprinkled throughout. Rob Font picked up a huge win in the main event, knocking off Cody Garbrandt in a 5-round decision. In the co-main event, Carla Esparza proved once and for all that she’s ready for another chance at UFC gold, with a dominating TKO over Yan Xiaonan. Felicia Spencer was on the wrong side of a surprising upset at the hands of Norma Dumont. And Jack Hermansson gave Edmen Shahbazyan another knock back from the ranks of the middleweight elite.
So, what’s next for the New England Cartel talent? Is there any future for the women’s featherweight division? And is Jack Hermansson back on the path to middleweight title contention.
To answer those questions – and several 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 to make out of UFC Vegas 27.
A picture perfect fight from Font, who had to take a few hard shots from Garbrandt along the way, but stayed masterfully composed from the start to a lopsided decision. He’s clearly put a lot of work into his striking technique over the years and the end result is a challenging style for just about anyone to deal with. The fact that he was so persistent about walking Garbrandt down in this fight was a great sign considering his previous losses to the likes of John Lineker and Rafael Assuncao, where it felt like he largely resigned himself to getting out-struck once the fight started to slip away.
In a properly ordered world, victories over Marlon Moraes and Cody Garbrandt – coupled with Simon & Pettis – should be a enough to guarantee the the 33-year-old a shot at the bantamweight title. But with Yan awaiting a likely rematch and Dillashaw & Sandhagen set to fight for a near certain no. 1 contender’s slot, Font will almost definitely need to fight again before getting a chance for UFC gold. That could mean fighting the winner of Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz, or the Dillashaw/Sandhagen loser, or maybe even someone like Frankie Edgar. Since Font would be very well served to get his Munhoz loss back, and a win over Aldo still carries some clear value, I’ll say Rob Font vs. the Aldo/Munhoz winner is the best, most likely booking out there. A win there and Font should have his eyes on the champ.
Should Garbrandt have jumped right back into the top of the division following an exceptionally rough bout with COVID-19? Has he simply been figured out by the other elite competitors at 135? Did the multiple KO defeats do too much damage to the confidence that’s always been the backbone of his in-cage performances? It’s hard to know exactly what’s gone wrong for ‘No Love’, but outside of a few flashes against Font, he looked like a fighter struggling badly to recapture past glory.
Since he’s still a prominent name in the division, I doubt that the longtime Team Alpha Male disciple is about to take a major step back in competition, but that only makes finding a logical next bout all the more difficult. Does the UFC want to risk him with the likes of Jimmie Rivera or Cody Stamann? Both would be very tough outs, but hardly high-profile bookings. It’s kind of a shame that Garbrandt has spent so much time with Mark Henry now, because a fight with Frankie Edgar feels like the one really logical matchup available. Still, I haven’t heard anything about them being BFFs, so I’ll say book Edgar vs. Garbrandt. And if that can’t work, Jimmie Rivera is a fine second option.
Heading into this fight, it seemed like the end of the road for Carla Esparza’s title hopes was looming large. Sure she’d put together 4-straight wins, but now she was facing high-output buzz-saw Yan Xiaonan. Could she really wrestle her way to victory again? The answer? Yes, yes she could. Esparza looked absolutely determined and perfectly poised putting Xiaonan on her back immediately out of the gate. She got to fantastic control positions and started landing GnP that had ‘Nine’ busted open by the end of round 1. In round 2, she got the fight right back down to the mat, got the crucifix, and forced the ref’s hand with a barrage of elbows. What’s next seems obvious. Five straight wins, including three ranked opponents; there’s nothing left but title contention. Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas 2. The history is there, and Esparza has put in all the work. Give her one more chance to shine.
I’m not sure if Yan didn’t take Esparza seriously, or if it’s just the first truly technical wrestler that she’s ever faced in her life, but the China Top Team fighter looked like she had absolutely no idea what to do once Esparza shot in on her hips, giving up double legs and singles with equal ease. For a woman that was supposed to be on the brink of a title shot, this whole fight was one harsh lesson. Still, it’s hardly the kind of defeat that’s going to knock Yan way down the rankings. And with opponents like Michelle Waterson, Tecia Torres, and Nina Nunes all in need of next fights, ‘Nine’ can take her pick of opponents. Waterson does have the potential to expose some of the same gaps in Yan’s game, and might make for a more meaningful test on the rebound. But, the truth is that a fight with Nunes just seems like a lot more fun and wild. Yan vs. Nunes seems like an excellent action fight to put either woman back into the title hunt.
Following what was (to me at least) a pretty surprising upset victory over Felicia Spencer there was some talk from the UFC booth that Dumont should consider staying at 145? But, who would she fight? It’s pretty much just Amanda Nunes whenever she wants to return and nothing else. With that framing, whatever is next for Dumont pretty much has to happen at bantamweight. She may have lost to Megan Anderson, but this was a top quality victory that should get her a pretty decent booking next time around. At the very least, someone like Jessy-Rose Clark or Lina Lansberg. Maybe the winner of Pannie Kianzad vs. Alexis Davis. Given that that Clark fight is right there and would be a fun, high-energy striking match, that’s gotta be my fight to make. Dumont vs. Clark seems like a good way to welcome the Brazilian back to 135.
One of the most composed and consistent performances of Ramos’ career. His bodylock takedown to backtake game was clicking all throughout. And while Algeo was able to have decent success standing, Ramos never let him take enough control of things to turn moments of momentum into winning rounds. The victory sets the Brazilian up well for another mid-card action fight in the featherweight division; maybe against someone like Charles Jourdain or Mike Trizano. With Jared Gordon hanging around fresh off his own victory, however, that feels just a little too much like the exact right matchup to pass over. Gordon may not have Ramos’ dynamic, athletic ability, but he knows how to push the pace, keep pressure high, and has his own solid top control game to deal with. Can Ramos once again use his ability to change speeds and hit crafty takedowns to scrape out a win, or will he wilt under Gordon’s constant offense. Ramos vs. Gorden seems like a fast paced thriller that could fill out just about any UFC card.
Absolutely the performance that Hermansson needed as the crafty, technical veteran grinding out quality wins at the top of 185. Shahbazyan put the screws to him early, but Hermansson didn’t back down for even a second. And when he brought the pressure in the second round, the ‘Golden Boy’ didn’t have nearly the same snap to answer him with. That victory puts the Swedish-born Norwegian right back in the hunt of top contenders.
Unfortunately almost all the elite of the division is already booked, so he’ll likely have to wait for an upcoming winner. That could be someone like the victor of Uriah Hall vs. Sean Strickland, but I’d argue instead that Hermansson should take on the winner of Darren Till vs. Derek Brunson. Both men are likely looking for title shots, but especially if Brunson comes away from that fight with the W, I doubt the UFC is going to look to fast track him; not with Cannonier vs. Costa on deck as well. Hermansson vs. the Brunson/Till winner seems like a solid opportunity for the ‘Joker’ to try another title run.
It wasn’t exactly a pretty fight, but it was one Rothwell absolutely had to win. Barnett may be a surprisingly dynamic fighter in moments, but he’s still a 5’ 9” dude that cuts to 265 fighting on short notice. Rothwell ate a bunch of shots to get the job done, but his awkward, busy boxing and nonstop pressure wore ‘Beast Boy’ down in a hurry. And once Barnett started panic wrestling, the whole thing was a wrap. With another victory under his belt, Rothwell is once again in position to take on either a more seasoned vet, or try to smack down a top prospect looking to start their title run. That could mean fights with Marcos Rogerio de Lima, the Boser/Latifi winner, or perhaps Jarjis Danho or Tom Aspinall. Of all those, I think Danho makes the most sense. He may still be relatively inexperienced in MMA, but at 37, if he’s gonna make an impact in the UFC he needs to do it now. A fight with Rothwell is an excellent opportunity for Danho to get a name win, or for ‘Big Ben’ to once again prove that he’s capable of keeping the gates to the top 15. Rothwell vs. Danho seems like the right fight to move either man forward in the heavyweight division.
As a potential future flyweight contender, it wasn’t going to be enough for Dvorak to just get the win on Saturday night. Faced with a dreadfully inexperienced opponent, fighting on mere hours notice, Dvorak was set up perfectly to shine. It’s a credit to him then, that he did exactly what was expected, blowing the doors off Juancamilo Ronderos in the opening minutes for the one-armed RNC victory. That puts the ‘Undertaker’ on a 3-fight streak to start his UFC career. And given how shallow the flyweight division still is, three straight wins is going to have him nudging up on a title picture desperately in need of new faces. Given that he’s already got a wealth of experience under his belt, it’s time for the UFC to give Dvorak a serious step up. Fights with Rogerio Bontorin and Kai Kara-France both seem like solid options given what’s available. Between those two, ‘Don’t Blink’ seems like the more guaranteed fire fight. Kara-France vs. Dvorak is the right fight to see if Dvorak is ready to be in the conversation as a flyweight top contender.
OTHER BOUTS: Jared Vanderaa vs. Collier/Felipe winner, Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker, Felicia Spencer vs. Danyelle Wolf, Bill Algeo vs. Kai Kamaka III, Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Krzysztof Jotko, Chris Barnett vs. Martinez/Parisian loser, Court McGee vs. Max Griffin, Claudio Silva vs. Kenan Song, Bruno Silva vs. Jeff Molina, Victor Rodriguez vs. Zarrukh Adashev, Josh Culibao vs. Jonathan Pearce, Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. TJ Laramie, Juancamilo Ronderos vs. Aoriqileng, Damir Ismagulov vs. Rafael Fiziev, Rafael Alves vs. Ignacio Bahamondes