It may not have ended on a bang, but UFC Vegas 30 was a pretty entertaining card from top to bottom. Ciryl Gane proved himself to be one of the very best heavyweight talents in the world. Tanner Boser showed that he’s far from done as a UFC caliber heavyweight, and Shavkat Rakhmonov looked every bit like a future contender in the making.
So, is it time to put Gane in position to contend for the heavyweight title? Should the UFC run back Fili vs. Pineda? And how high is too high to aim with Rakhmonov’s next booking?
To answer those questions – and one or two 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.
A huge win for Gane. Volkov may not be the biggest name heavyweight in the UFC, but he is an extremely talented, decently well rounded fighter in his prime. More experienced and less one-note than Rozenstruik, and far less shopworn than JDS. A victory here for Gane truly proves he’s one of the few elite talents in the game today at 265 lbs. And he’s found that form just 3 years and 9 fights into his pro MMA career. It’s the kind of incredible rise to the elite that’s defined talents like Jon Jones, Chris Weidman, Cody Garbrandt, Shogun Rua and few others. Hopefully for ‘Bon Gamin’ it means a long, long reign among the best of the division.
And, given the current UFC landscape being what it is, what better way to test this new found top-tier status than a bout with recently deposed champion Stipe Miocic? Miocic may be coming off a loss, but there’s so many fighters he hasn’t faced among the current elite. If Gane can win, he could be fighting for gold in 2022. And it’s exactly the bounce back Miocic needs if he’s gonna stake a claim to a Ngannou triology fight. Miocic vs. Gane is the best non-title heavyweight fight the UFC can make right now.
There’s no good way to paint this loss for Alexander Volkov. He got a rising contender on the very, very inexperienced side of his career; an opportunity for Volkov to show off his grit and veteran savvy, and he couldn’t get it done. With losses to Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes as well, that creates a very difficult path to contender status for ‘Drago,’ even if he continues to win 3 out of every 4 heavyweight fights he’s in. Basically, if his dream is to be champion, he’s probably gonna have to go on one hell of a run to get there.
On the fortunate side, there aren’t many (any?) other heavyweights who can do to him what Gane did on Saturday night. Even with 41 fights under his belt, Volkov had never faced a striker with Gane’s command of range and footwork. If a step back is going to be taken, then, a bout with Augusto Sakai seems like the right step to take. I would have loved to see Volkov vs. Rozenstruik, but they’ve already got ‘Bigi Boy’ booked to fight Blaydes in the next couple months. Volkov vs. Sakai to see which big man can find a path back to elite status the quickest.
The ‘Bulldozer’ rights the ship after a rough couple outings. Even without a fight camp for this one, he was able to put an absolutely blistering pace on OSP from the jump. Really hard to know what OSP’s plan was going into this fight, considering how little he got done through the first 5 minutes. Even a big takedown couldn’t help him, with Boser fighting his way up to his feet (without grabbing the fence) and landing some huge shots to put OSP away shortly afterward.
That puts Boser right back in the hunt for a borderline top 15 opponent. Someone like Sergey Pavlovich when/if he returns to competition soon. Or maybe Tom Aspinall. Could even go winner/loser against Augusto Sakai. There’s also veteran tests against Ben Rothwell and Marcos Rogerio de Lima floating around. In fact, I think of all the options, I like the idea of Boser vs. de Lima the most. ‘Pezao’’s big power and strong starts should make the bout a wild war from the jump. The kind of battle where Boser will have to survive and find a way to turn it on its head if he wants the win. Tanner Boser vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima sounds like a great way to give Boser a chance to put together a new win streak.
Not the most definitive victory, but massively important for Valiev. Barcelos may not have the number next to his name, but he’s a legit elite featherweight at this stage of his career. And even though the Brazilian landed the better strikes over the last half of the bout, Valiev clearly had the volume edge and stayed on his feet in round 3 to ensure he got the victory. It’s exactly what he needed after a rough entry to the UFC against Trevin Jones.
That should set him up for another borderline top 15 fight, against someone like Marlon Vera, Rafael Assuncao, or Cody Stamann. I gotta admit, of all those options Marlon Vera vs. Timur Valiev seems like the most can’t-miss action fight on the list. Vera has proven himself to be a relentlessly tough, building pressure fighter with a nasty clinch game. Valiev is a technical, capable competitor everywhere, and exactly the kind of top tier athlete that Vera has struggled with in the past. Can Vera pick up the kind of win he got over Sean O’Malley, or will Valiev make his case as a top contender? Time to find out. Valiev vs. Vera is some elite bantamweight action.
Just because it was a damn fun whirlwind of a fight for as long as it lasted, I wouldn’t be at all against the UFC re-running Fili vs. Pineda. But, I can’t help feeling it wouldn’t be all that necessary. Pineda landed some big shots and definitely had chances to trouble Fili in spots, but for the most part ‘Touchy’ dominated the bout in all areas. He had Pineda hurt several times, and seemed like a solid level above the 4oz Fight Club talent in the cage. I’d rather see the UFC just treat this as a win and move forward from there. That could mean bouts with Giga Chikadze or Lando Vannata. But what about a winner/loser bout with Cub Swanson? ‘Killer Cub’ looked just as good in his own recent bout with Pineda, and even coming off a hard loss to Chikadze, he’s still got the kind of cache that would look great on Fili’s resume if he can get the win. And if not, it’s just another proving point that Swanson is still one of the premiere gatekeepers to the elite in the UFC. Swanson vs. Fili seems like it’d be a hell of a lot of fun in every phase.
Means vs. Dalby was never going to be a clean, technical fight. Means loves to scrap too much, and Dalby just can’t help but embrace a war when he’s got one in front of him. That made for a back and forth thriller with Means taking the first two before getting hurt badly in the third. Still, that’s three straight for the ‘Dirty Bird’ and he’s once again in place for an all-action bout. I could talk about a potential fight with Randy Brown, or that James Krause match-up I’ve wanted to see him in for a while now, or some other idea, but really I’ve just got one fight to make for Means at this point. Muslim Salikhov is fresh off a victory over Francisco Trinaldo, and a bout between Means and the ‘King of Kung Fu’ sounds like an absolute thriller. Gotta have it.
Very necessary victory for Moicano who has been brutalized by power strikers in the recent past. He made a point after the fight of talking about how he’s gotten back to being a wrestler and grappler after falling in love with his boxing for a while, and if that’s the case it could put him on another win streak. Dude is still a dangerous fighter in the lightweight division, as long as he’s not trading big shots at range. Fights with Nasrat Haqparast, John Makdessi, and Christos Giagos all seem like they’d be great ways to see if Moicano can build some momentum. Of all those I think I’d go Giagos vs. Moicano. Both men have decent enough striking to make the fight interesting if it stays there, but they tend to thrive on being able to out-wrestle and out-grapple their opponents. Time for Moicano to see if he can keep the technical edge over someone who isn’t as raw on the mat as Herbert and Hadzovic were. Christos Giagos vs. Renato Moicano should be a solid, mid-card action fight at 155.
Another big comeback win for Nzechukwu who has given up some massive technical advantages to recent opponents, but nonetheless managed to fight through adversity to pick up victories and work his way to a 3-1 UFC record—and likely starting to knock on the edges of the top 15. Fights with the likes of Michael Oleksiejczuk, the Herman/Menifield, Cutelaba/Clark, or Rountree/Bukauskas winners would all work. But Da Un Jung is another 205 prospect on a tear looking for a good test. Both men lean a lot on their chins and their boxing. Seems like a good opportunity for a slobberknocker. Nzechukwu vs. Da Un Jung is a great prospect vs. prospect test for the ‘African Savage.’
A dominating win for Rakhmonov who looks every bit the part of a top tier prospect in the welterweight division. He’s a cautious, persistent striker, he’s got huge size for 170 lbs, and he’s a strong wrestler and grappler with a mean GnP game. Given the huge size advantage he had on Prazeres, this was a fight he was supposed to dominate. But it’s still impressive that he absolutely did.
That should lead him right up near the rankings for bouts with the likes of Jake Matthews, Randy Brown, or even Li Jingliang. But, if I’m being honest, there’s a clear thriller fight to make for Rakhmonov that seems like it could give him some real pop as a future contender: Khamzat Chimaev. The Chechyn-born Swede has blitzed through his first few UFC opponents before running into a nasty bout of COVID-19. A fight with Rakhmonov would be a great chance for him to get back on the horse and prove once again his top quality bonafides. And for Rakhmonov, it’d be a high profile name opponent, for all the hype Chimaev gained in 2020. Chimaev vs. Rakhmonov, see which WW super prospect is the real deal.
Not as dominant as might have been expected given that Avila entered the bout as a near -400 favorite, but her athletic ability and high pressure aggressive style shown through in the end. Avila seemed shy about taking the fight to the mat in early rounds, but showed she didn’t have much to fear in round 3, staying on top of the scrambles to end things with a rear naked choke. That’s a solid bounce back win for the ‘Raging Panda,’ who still looks like one of the more dangerous fighters on the rise in the division. Whenever Karol Rosa is ready to fight again, she’d make a great next opponent. But, more immediately, Jessy-Rose Clark seems like a strong matchup. Clark has been cleaning up the technical side of her game for a while now. Is she ready to slam the door on a more raw athlete like Avila, or is this the chance for Avila to get the name win she couldn’t against Eubanks? Avila vs. Clark is a great next test.
OTHER BOUTS: Daniel Pineda vs. Makwan Amirkhani, Raoni Barcelos vs. Nathaniel Wood, Nicolas Dalby vs. Matthew Semelsberger, Jai Herbert vs. Khama Worthy, Danilo Marques vs. Jamahal Hill, Michel Prazeres vs. Scott Holtzman, Jeremiah Wells vs. Dwight Grant, Warlley Alves vs. Dheigo Lima, Marcin Prachnio vs. Michael Oleksiejczuk, Ike Villanueva vs. the Cherant/Knight loser, Julija Stoliarenko vs. Veronica Macedo, Charles Rosa vs. Kamuela Kirk, Justin Jaynes vs. Shane Young, Damir Hadzovic vs. Rick Glenn, Yancy Medeiros vs. Michael Johnson