It may not have ended on quite the electrifying note that fans may have been hoping for, but it’d be hard to say that UFC 264 didn’t deliver. Outside the co-main event, every bout ended inside the distance. Irene Aldana put on one of the best performances of her career against Yana Kunitskaya. Tai Tuivasa did a baker’s dozen of post-victory shoeys. And Dustin Poirier put himself up 2-1 on McGregor in their trilogy headliner.
So, is the UFC really angling to make McGregor vs. Poirier 4 once Conor has recovered? Is it time to get Aldana in another top contender’s bout? And can Gilbert Burns get the kind of high profile non-title bout he’s looking for?
To answer those questions – and much much more – 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.
It may not have ended the way anyone could have predicted, but Dustin Poirier didn’t leave a whole lot of questions with more than three minutes of dominating top control in the first round before McGregor’s leg exploded somewhere around the ankle area. There may still be another fight against the ‘Notorious’ SBG talent in his future, but for now, the ‘Diamond’’s path ahead seems fairly clear. The winner of McGregor vs. Poirier III was promised a title shot, and Poirier vs. Oliveira is unquestionably one of the most fascinating lightweight fights that can be made right now.
The Brazilian’s mix of high pressure, sharp Muay Thai, fantastic clinch wrestling, and dynamic grappling, both on top and off his back, should make him a dangerous opponent everywhere for a fighter like Poirier, who takes chances when pressing his offensive game. Can Poirier hit takedowns on Oliveira without putting himself in danger? Can he stop ‘Do Bronx’ from taking him down if he doesn’t take the lead early? Questions that need answering. Poirier vs. Oliveira is an absolutely excellent title fight.
Obviously the first thing on McGregor’s plate is going to be several months of rest and rehabilitation to repair his injured leg. It does seem like the kind of injury he can fully recover from, however, so I doubt we’ll see any kind of super extended layoff; maybe spring or summer of 2022, just because he doesn’t have any financial woes to drive him back sooner. There’s a lot of chatter at that point, from fans and pundits, that the fight he should return to is another trilogy bout, against Nate Diaz. The two men went 1-1 in 2016, and there’s always been a sense that a third bout between them is inevitable.
But, is this really the time? Both men coming off losses seems like an absolute low ebb to make a massive, no-stakes PPV main event that could just as easily happen 2-3 years from now. It’s also worth asking if Diaz can make 155 anymore. And if McGregor is hoping for a 4th Poirier fight, would moving up to 170 be the path to get it.
White has already been talking like he wants to book Poirier vs. McGregor IV once McGregor is healthy, but I’m gonna take a stab at a wildcard fight that could be a hell of a lot of fun: none other than ‘El Cucuy’ Tony Ferguson. Ferguson has had his own struggles to win as a title contender lately, and a win over McGregor would be a massive boost to his profile in the division. And for McGregor, it’s the kind of matchup, against a slow starting, boxing-first opponent, that should really play into his style. It’d be exactly the kind of victory to drive a high profile comeback. And it’d make a 4th Poirier fight or a Diaz trilogy that much more enticing. Conor McGregor vs. Tony Ferguson seems like it could be a whole lot of fun once McGregor returns from injury.
A surprising result for Burns, not that he got the win, but more that he was able to get multiple takedowns against Thompson’s normally stout wrestling defense, and somehow also wasn’t able to get to submission positions. The end result is a somewhat controlling performance that didn’t do a lot to excite fans and convince people that Burns needed an instant second title shot. To his credit, though, Burns didn’t call for one. He was ready, looking for bouts with Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, and Leon Edwards.
If Covington really is getting an Usman rematch, then I gotta think that Masvidal vs. Edwards is a much more ‘must make’ fight that Burns vs. either man. If for some reason, that fight can’t be made, then sure, book Burns against whomever’s willing. But if the UFC can book Masvidal vs. Edwards, then I’d rather see Burns against the winner of Michael Chiesa vs. Vicente Luque. The Nate Diaz callout is fun and all, but it just doesn’t feel like that cool a fight with Diaz coming off his latest loss. It’s definitely not a Diaz fight I’ve been needing to see. Burns vs. the Chiesa/Luque winner is a great fight with the potential to create another new top contender.
A real rough outing for Thompson. Burns didn’t come after him much early, which ‘Wonderboy’ seemingly as an invitation to slow down the pace and not put out a lot of offense. Unfortunately that opened up the opportunity for Burns to set up some surprisingly strong takedowns from way outside, putting Thompson on his back more often and with more ease than anyone since his 2012 fight against Matt Brown. The result wasn’t pretty; a rare definitive loss for the Pitch Black MMA talent. At 38-years-old, it’s worth asking just how long Thompson will want to plug away and gatekeep the top 5 without a title fight on the immediate horizon. But, if he’s not about to walk away, then there’s one bout I gotta see. Nate Diaz is coming off a loss. Stephen Thompson is coming off a loss. Put these two men in the cage for a PPV co-main and let’s see some quality standup action. Nate Diaz vs. Stephen Thompson seems like a must see bout to me.
Hardy ate a few big low kicks early and decided to press the issue on Tuivasa to see if he could get him out of there quick. Instead he ran face first into a left hook that planted him clean on the canvas. It’s a big win for Tuivasa, who once again finds himself on a solid streak after taking three straight losses in 2018-19. That should set him up nicely for another borderline top tier heavyweight. Someone like Tom Aspinall, Walt Harris, or Marcin Tybura. But, Tanner Boser found a recent return to form with a great win over Ovince St. Preux as well. Even though he’s had his own struggles with the more elite talents, he brings a great chin and some fantastic cardio & speed to the game. If Tuivasa can’t put him out early, then Boser could make the fight really hard on him late. Sounds like a good chance for both men to prove they can keep racking up Ws on their way toward the rankings. Tuivasa vs. Boser should be a great test for both men.
A perfect fight from Irene Aldana. Kunitskaya rushed out of the gate with kicks and looked to put a pace on her early as she drove for the clinch. But Aldana stayed calm, fought her way out of the pocket every time Kunitskaya got inside, and stuck to her counter-punching guns. That left hook that sent the Russian crashing to the mat couldn’t have been any better placed or timed. It’s a good return to form after Aldana struggled so much with Holly Holm last time around, and should put her in position for another opponent floating around the division’s top 5. That could be a fight with the winner of Aspen Ladd vs. Macy Chiasson, but if Germaine De Randamie is still around and taking bouts, then she seems like she’d make for an excellent next test point to see if Aldana can craft herself into a true title contender. Doesn’t hurt that it should be a very fun striking match as well. De Randamie vs. Aldana seems like the best fight ‘Robles’ could get in the UFC right now.
Not quite the exciting highlight reel KO that O’Malley might have been hoping for, but that says more about Moutinho’s toughness than ‘Sugar’ Sean’s attempt to finish. The MMA Lab talent beat Moutinho from pillar to post for the better part of three rounds before Herb Dean decided that the newcomer really didn’t need to eat every punch in the world before the fight should be waved off. There’s some controversy to be had for stopping a bout while a fighter is standing and still has his wits about him, but at the same time, that’s definitely the kind of bout that’d get stopped in the boxing ring nine times out of ten.
The win is O’Malley’s second straight since losing to Marlon Vera in August of last year. And it should put him back in line for another borderline top 15 bout. That could mean a Vera rematch, but if either fighter is really interested in that, I haven’t heard them say it. If Kyler Phillips gets by Paiva (as expected) then that’s absolutely the first fight I want to see. Otherwise, it seems like a fight with Ricky Simon would be a must-watch thriller. A non-stop takedown machine against one of bantamweight’s fastest, slickest strikers? Make it happen. O’Malley vs. Simon is a top tier, must-see bout.
Griffin did exactly what he needed to do here, which was to come out hot and land big shots on Condit early. Kept the ‘Natural Born Killer’ off balance long enough to stop him from really ever finding his rhythm in the bout. Griffin doubled up on that early success with an exceptionally strong third round to leave no doubt that he was the better man in the cage on the night. That leaves him with a wealth of options in the middle of the welterweight division. Fights with the likes of Matt Brown, Tim Means, Court McGee, and Randy Brown all seem like sensible options. Of those, the Means fight sounds like the most fun to me. Griffin’s high-paced, high-output striking attack, coupled with some decent takedowns when he needs them, should make for a solid matchup with Means’ technical inside striking game and rangy 1-2s. Tim Means vs. Max Griffin sounds like a fantastic mid-card action matchup of tough, experienced veterans.
Not a pretty performance by the end of it. But there’s no question Pereira won the first two rounds. Especially round 2, where he dominated Price for long stretches on the floor in mount. Price poured on the late offense though, and had Pereira in all kinds of trouble by the final bell. But, the end result is still a win for the Brazilian and another piece in a continuing reputation for putting on thrilling performances, win or lose. That could open the door to bouts with Impa Kasnaganay, Muslim Slaikhov, Randy Brown, or Alex Morono. I especially love the idea of Pereira vs. Morono. One of welterweight’s most freakishly athletic, but questionably tactical fighters against one of the divisions most tactically intelligent, least athletic talents. A true clash of opposites that should make for a wild contest no matter who wins. Pereira vs. Morono is the bizarro match I need.
Crushing win for Topuria against an opponent that other men in his division were very rightfully avoiding. Hall makes every moment of his time in the cage an awkward struggle, behind his range kicking and constant leg lock rolling. But Topuria did a masterful job of just barely stepping out of leg lock attempts over and over to spring back on Hall and make him pay for the bad positions he was throwing himself into. That resulted in a big KO and a chance to potentially step into the UFC rankings. That could mean fights with Sodiq Yusuff, Bryce Mitchell, or maybe even Movsar Evloev. Still, though, I’d kinda like to give Topuria just a little more time to build up to truly big fights. Bouts with Seung Woo Choi, Mike Trizano, or Ricardo Ramos might fit that bill. Ramos looked great in his recent victory over Bill Algeo last time out. Seems like he’d provide a good solid last step test for Topuria before he starts taking on the top 15. Or a potential hard lesson about just how deep and difficult the division can be, if he can’t get the win. Topuria vs. Ramos should be a fun fight.
Maia called for an immediate second title shot after her win over Jessica Eye, and while it’s not a fight I’d be clamoring for, she’s got a case to be made. Not only did she go five round with the champ, but actually won a round as well. And in a division where the UFC is constantly scraping for new potential contenders, there’s no harm in letting rising talent get more experience as the UFC puts on Maia vs. Shevchenko 2.
That said, I feel like I’d rather see her take at least one more fight first. A second title bout just doesn’t have a lot of thrill in it for me. Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo have a bout coming up. If Calvillo wins that she may be in line for the title, so how about Maia vs. Andrade no matter whether ‘Bate Estaca’ wins or loses. Maia vs. Andrade feels like a must see fight and a great way to firm up Maia’s contender status.
OTHER BOUTS: Greg Hardy vs. Jake Collier, Yana Kunitskaya vs. Alexis Davis, Kris Moutinho vs. Kevin Natividad, Carlos Condit vs. Francisco Trinaldo, Niko Price vs. Warlley Alves, Ryan Hall vs. Kron Gracie, Dricus du Plessis vs. Jordan Wright, Trevin Giles vs. Andrew Sanchez, Jessica Eye vs. Andrea Lee, Brad Tavares vs. Eryk Anders, Omari Akhmedov vs. Krzystof Jotko, Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Bruno Silva, Jerome Rivera vs. Victor Rodriguez