On paper, UFC Vegas 32 looked to be one of the UFC’s best Fight Night cards of the year. And by all measures, it over-delivered on that promise. TJ Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen went absolutely nip-tuck for 25 minutes to a razor thin split decision that saw Dillashaw get his first win since 2018. Kyler Phillips and Raulian Paiva showed up huge in the co-main event for a brutal slobberknocker. And Darren Elkins got a classic comeback win over Darrick Minner.
So, does Dillashaw need another victory before getting a shot at the bantamweight title? Is Paiva about to hit the rankings at 135 lbs? And is the UFC about to start treating Maycee Barber like a top prospect again?
To answer those questions – and a few 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.
Whatever anyone may have thought of the eventual score, Dillashaw put up an absolutely remarkable performance in his first bout back in 2.5 years. He worked a constant, strong low kicking game, put lots and lots of pressure on Sandhagen, and did his best to chase him down with combinations as Sandhagen exited the pocket. The fact that Sandhagen appeared to badly torque Dillashaw’s knee in round 1, and that a massive, bloody cut opened up over his right eye later in the bout made the fact that he was still pushing the pace in round 5 all the more remarkable.
After the bout, Dillashaw made his aspirations crystal clear, he wants to take on the winner of Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, who are set to fight in late October. Has he definitively earned the shot after getting his title stripped for a drug test failure? Probably not? Is he clearly the most interesting and energizing title contender? Yes. Sorry Rob Font, but it’s hard not see the UFC going with Dillashaw vs. the Yan/Sterling winner next.
If Cory Sandhagen were to somehow never end up competing for a title in his UFC tenure, this loss would probably haunt him for quite a while. If (as I’d expect) he does fight for the belt someday, then this will probably mean next to nothing, since he and many others will feel like he never actually lost this fight. But, he himself said he should have done better after the bout, and letting Dillashaw stay with him and dictate pace in round 5 was a big mistake considering that Sandhagen seemed to dismiss the idea that he had been in trouble at any point during the bout.
If the UFC wants to treat Sandhagen like he may have picked up this win – and to reward Rob Font with a big headlining fight as a second prize for missing out on a title shot – then Font vs. Sandhagen is a top quality booking. If Font doesn’t want to risk his spot atop the contender’s pile, however, then a bout with Dominick Cruz seems like it’d be a whole lot of fun. Cruz wants to fight his way “up” the division, and he’s still got the kind of profile to be a name win on Sandhagen’s record. If Sandhagen is willing to wait around though, the winner of Aldo vs. Munhoz would also be an absolute banger. Given all the options, I’m going to say Font vs. Sandhagen is the premiere fight to make, but it’s hard to put the Elevation Fight Team talent in a bad bout.
Mammoth win for Paiva who seemed entirely set up to get squashed by the bigger, faster, more dynamic prospect up a division at 135 lbs. But, the Brazilian showed the kind of heart that’s made him an incredibly difficult out in the UFC so far, and rallied hard on a flagging Phillips to win the final two rounds of the bout. Should Phillips have gotten a 10-8 round 1? Probably, but he also treated Paiva like the Team Alpha Male fighter would fold under pressure from the opening bell and had to pay the price all the rest of the way.
That win puts Paiva in a surprising spot to get another exciting booking next time around. Fights with the likes of Louis Smolka, Ricky Simon, and Timur Valiev all make sense to me. I especially like the fight with Valiev, who picked up his own big win over Raoni Barcelos last time around. Valiev’s combination of busy striking and solid wrestling could make the matchup tough on Paiva. But if the Brazilian can once again ride out early trouble and land his own shots on the counter consistently, he could also pick up another great win over a top prospect. Valiev vs. Paiva seems like a solid next test to see if Paiva can hang at 135 long term.
An absolute classic of a performance from Darren Elkins. Minner ran out and started putting hands on him right from the jump. He even started out-grappling Elkins, for what could have been considered a 10-8 round 1. But any time an opponent is putting that much energy into beating Darren Elkins and they’re not finishing him? That’s a win for Darren Elkins. And sure enough, he turned things around in round 2. Once he started winning the battle for positions, he put the kind of steady GnP on Minner that the ref just couldn’t ignore.
As he said, after the win, he’s not out looking for title shots at this point in his career, it’s all about finding the next fun fight that fans will enjoy. What is that fight? None other than Billy Quarantillo. Another high pressure, high cardio, constantly scrambling performer. Can Billy Q put it on Elkins like he did Gabriel Benitez or will he be the latest dude to try out-scrambling the ‘Damage’ on his way to a loss? Elkins vs. Quarantillo would be one hell of a good time.
Most of the time that fans call robbery I’m quick to say that I can see exactly how the judges got to their differing scores. This is not one of those times. Maverick seemed to land the better shots, have more control, and generally just get a little more done consistently for the first two rounds of the fight. Even the third round was hardly decisive for Barber, as she mounted a comeback. Judges, however, seemingly found something impressive in Barber’s second round to tip the win in her favor and get her career back on track.
After the fight she called out Jessica Eye, but with Eye on three straight losses I don’t really see any sense in that fight. Add to it that Eye is a former title challenger, and overall this felt like another sign that Barber should keep swimming in the shallower ends of the division. Montana De La Rosa just picked up a solid win over Ariane Lipski. She’s struggled with better athletes in the past, but has a well rounded boxing and grappling game that could make things difficult as Barber continues searching for technical depth to her style. Barber vs. De La Rosa seems like more the kind of fight that Barber needs to keep proving she can win right now.
Huge win for Yanez, who got blitzed out of the gate by Randy Costa in round 1. Costa’s constant diet of high kicks seemed to have him on his heels early, and when the ‘Zohan’ started peppering the jab behind it, it took Yanez a solid few minutes to adjust to the variety of powerful offense coming his way. That said, once he did adjust and start matching Costa’s pace, Yanez was able to get on his front foot and turn the tables in a hurry for the TKO.
The fighter out of Metro Fight Club makes for a thrilling prospect in the bantamweight division. Personally, I’d love to see Yanez vs. Nurmagomedov, but the Dagestani is currently booked for another great prospect battle against Shore. Instead, how about a fight with Chris Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s heavy kicking game, rugged durability, and constant defensive back-foot striking makes him and intensely difficult challenge for many young striking talents. Can Yanez keep the pressure on without eating a diet of calf kicks? Or will he be the latest striker to fall prey to Gutierrez’s style? A big challenge, but the kind of fight Yanez needs to be able to win to move toward the top 15. Yanez vs. Gutierrez seems like a difficult, but winnable test.
What looked like a bad style clash for Allen on paper turned into a great fight for him in the Octagon. Even though he could never find an avenue to get the fight to the mat, he busted Punahele Soriano up with a constant barrage of body kicks, clinch knees, and quick right hands to keep steadily out in front of the power-punching Hawaiian. It’s a great look for the fighter who, in the past, seemed to really need to grapple to keep bouts in control. After the fight he called out Edmen Shahbazyan, and a rematch against Sean Strickland. The Strickland fight doesn’t make much sense at all, especially with ‘Tarzan’ set to fight Uriah Hall in next week’s main event. And while I wouldn’t be against a Shahbazyan fight, he is coming off two straight losses. How about a fight with Brad Tavares though? Tavares is a perrennial top 15 guy, but also someone elite talents tend to be able to get by. If Allen can win that fight, then he’s on his way to much bigger things. Allen vs. Tavares seems like the right introduction to the top 15.
Perhaps Gall’s best performance to date. Hurt Williams badly early in round 1 with a huge right hand in the pocket, and followed that up by out-grappling Williams on the mat on his way to a RNC stoppage. Everything he did looked powerful and well-considered as Williams tried to out-gun him with big shots standing. That victory puts him back in the win column again after a hard loss to Mike Perry June of last year. And it should set Gall up for another mid-card action bout in the welterweight division. Fights with the likes of Muslim Salikhov. Michel Pereira, or Jake Matthews. Given that Gall got himself into ‘meme fighter’ territory with his callouts of CM Punk, Sage Northcutt, and Diego Sanchez, how about taking on the UFC’s ultimate meme!? Michel Pereira has turned himself into a must-see action-fight event at 170 lbs. Can Gall’s surprising power on the feet and crafty back-take game be enough to defeat the high-flying Brazilian? Or will he be the latest addition to ‘Demolidor’’s highlight reel. Gall vs. Pereira sounds like a fun-as-heck nonsense fight.
It wasn’t much of a challenge for Eubanks in her return to 125 lbs. She looks absolutely cut at the lower weight class, and her power advantage over Elise Reed was obvious. At this stage in the 36-year-old’s career, I don’t think there’s any reason for the UFC to try and slow her roll to top 15 opponents. Fights with the likes of Andrea Lee, Antonina Shevchenko, or Alexa Grasso would all be entirely reasonable bookings. And with Andrea Lee coming off her own victory over Shevchenko, that feels like it’d be a great fight to book. Lee is a big and fairly strong flyweight in her own right, and one who loves to strike in volume. Can Eubanks out-muscle her and get her down as easily as she did Reed? And if she can’t, can she hang with Lee for 3 rounds standing? Both good questions to answer. Sijara Eubanks vs. Andrea Lee is a strong next bout to see if Eubanks can make an immediate impact on the Flyweight top 15.
OTHER BOUTS: Kyler Phillips vs. David Grant, Darrick Minner vs. Damon Jackson, Miranda Maverick vs. Aldrich/Cortez loser, Randy Costa vs. Hunter Azure, Punahele Soriano vs. Barriault/Lunbiambula loser, Nassourdine Imavov vs. Jun Yong Park, Ian Heinisch vs. Abu Azaitar, Jordan Williams vs. Jared Gooden, Julio Arce vs. Ricky Simon, Andre Ewell vs. Shane Young, Elise Reed vs. Hughes/Godinez loser, Diana Belbita vs. Luana Pinheiro, Hannah Goldy vs. Liang Na