It wasn’t exactly a night of meaningful fights for the UFC, but fighters nonethless got some meaningful results out of the UFC Vegas 37 Fight Night event. Anthony Smith left no doubt that he’s still one of light heavyweight’s elite talents, Arman Tsarukyan showed that he truly is on track to be a big deal in the lightweight divison, and Raquel Pennington proved she’s not done chalking up wins at women’s bantamweight just yet.
So, is there any chance Smith puts up a better fight against Rakic the second time around? How big a step up is Tsarukyan ready for? And is there any fight Joaquin Buckley can’t turn into a thriller?
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.
Smith may now find himself on a 3-fight win streak, but this one feels like a bigger deal than either of the other two. In part that comes down to the general consistency of success that Spann has enjoyed during his time in the UFC. Also, it’s because Smith really seemed fired up and energetic and prepared to take the fight to Spann in ways that he hasn’t in other performances. I’m not sure if Smith will ever be a title contender again, but that’s the kind of conversation he’s put himself back into.
To that end, however, Smith has set himself one hell of a task. He called for a rematch against Aleksandar Rakic, and from the sound of things he’s going to get it. ‘Lionheart’’s first contest against the Austrian was a miserable affair, with Smith’s leg getting kicked to pieces before he spent the rest of the fight on his back getting blanketed for a definitive decision loss. Can Smith do it better the second time around? Or is he just setting himself up for more disappointment? Looks like we’ll know in December.
This loss may be less indicative of Spann’s ability to potentially make waves in the light heavyweight division than it was a reminder that, while Smith has struggled as a title contender, he’s still very very good. Spann clipped Smith with a shot early, and tried to follow it up with some aggressive wrestling, but it was while exiting the pocket from the clinch where Smith really made him pay. Still, it’s just the second loss of Spann’s Octagon career and he’s proven himself to be a consistently dangerous opponent in the division. No reason his next fight can’t be against someone knocking on the door of the top 15.
To that end, how about a winner/loser matchup between Spann and Dustin Jacoby? Jacoby has made a hell of a run since returning to MMA in 2019, now unbeaten through six fights. But, his highest profile bout to date, against Ion Cutelaba, ended up with just a draw. Spann could ask a lot of the same questions that Cutelaba did, with his mix of power striking and takedowns. Can Jacoby take the next step, or will Spann find the bounceback he needs? Time to find out.
The scorecards don’t quite register just how one-sided this fight was for Cutelaba. Outside a brief flurry in round 3, Clark was mostly at the mercy of the ‘Hulk’ for the bulk of 15 minutes; getting mounted multiple times after getting dropped hard in round 1. It’s impressive as hell that Clark made it to the final bell, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Cutelaba dominated him. That’s exactly the kind of win the Moldovan needs more of, having struggled hard to find consistency in recent years. It should put him in line for another shot at the borders of the light heavyweight top 15. Fights with Paul Craig, or Alonzo Menifield wouldn’t be bad ideas. Still, with Jamahal Hill poised for a fight against Jim Crute, that seems like an ideal matchup to deliver some frenetic violence. Ion Cutelaba vs. the Hill/Crute winner should be a great fight to see if Cutelaba can turn himself back into a prospective contender.
A walkover fight from Tsarukyan, who treated Giagos like he didn’t deserve to be in the cage with him. That was the exactly the kind of performance that many fans and pundits have been waiting for from the Georgian-born Russian of Armenian descent. Even when Giagos put him on his back early, Tsarukyan fought his way to his feet and put together a fantastic series of combos leading to the early TKO. He was already in position for a bigger fight before this, but now he’s gotta have something more meaningful coming down the pipeline. Fights with Gregor Gillespie, the Dawson/Ferreira winner, or the Fiziev/Riddell winner would all make sense. But, if Gillespie’s free and needs a fight, why wait for someone else to win one? Gregor Gillespie vs. Arman Tsarukyan would be a fantastic matchup of undersized standout lightweight wrestlers. Book it.
A huge win for Maness who continues his trend of fighting his way back from the jaws of defeat into victory. His debut win in the UFC may have been a controversial one, but the two he’s picked up since then have been absolutely definitive. This time around, Gravely seemed like he had Maness dead to rights at the end of round 1. But Maness kept landing his shots, incuding a huge exchange of right hands that had Gravely reeling on his way to a TKO. That could mean fights with Ricky Turcios, Benito Lopez, John Castaneda, or Ronnie Lawrence. Personally, I’d have especially loved to see him take on Adrian Yanez, but Yanez just got booked against Davey Grant. So how about Maness vs. Castaneda instead? ‘Sexy Mexy’ looked good putting Eddie Wineland away, should be a stiff test to see if Maness is can keep climbing the division. Maness vs. Castaneda is a great way to keep giving ‘Mayhem’ quality opposition at 135.
Buckley appeared well on his way to losing a potential decision to Arroyo midway through the third round of their bout. Arroyo’s power kicking and solid counters seemed to put Buckley on the defensive and minimize his willingness to step in and throw with his usual abandon. But he found his moment late in the third round and put a couple huge punches on his Brazilian opponent to get the finish. Another highlight reel KO for ‘New Mansa’ in a UFC career that’s quickly become one of the promotion’s most thrilling to watch. That kind of win should line him up perfectly for a fight with Marc-Andre Barriault. The iron-jawed Canadian has been a fun brawler every time out. Can Buckley crack him? Should be a war. Barriault vs. Buckley is a quality scrap.
Pennington went with her classic approach and put the screws to Kianzad in the clinch for 15 minutes solid. Credit to Kianzad, she started the fight out competing well and never actually let Pennington really take over. Still, Pennington kept pushing the pace and finding ways to generate offense inside. One big final flurry late in round 3 really sealed the deal with the judges. That keeps her firmly entrenched in the division’s top 5, and in need of another meaningful fight. It’s too bad she’s already taken on Irene Aldana, because with GDR out of that booking it seems like it could have been an obvious match to make. Instead, with Miesha Tate and Ketlen Vieira set to face off, Pennington against the winner of that would be a pretty logical next step. If Tate’s looking for another title run, it’s exactly the kind of win she’ll need on the way. Pennington vs. the Tate/Vieira winner seems like a good way to see if either woman is ready for title contention.
Buys may have done the UFC a favor by jumping in to take this fight up a division on short notice, but he didn’t do himself any favors in the process. Jackson is a huge bantamweight, and even when Buys could get advantageous positions on the mat, Jackson made sure he didn’t keep them for long. Standing, the fight was all one way traffic—with Buys getting dropped repeatedly over the course of the bout. Jackson is clearly a good step above this kind of fight and needs to go up against more veteran, longer tenured talent. Maybe someone like Raoni Barcelos or Casey Kenney? Or what about Julio Arce? Arce just had a fantastic introduction to the division and, as a former featherweight, may not be at such a huge size disadvantage. A technical, high level striker to test Jackson’s boxing consistency. Arce vs. Jackson should be a fantastic fight.
Harris is quickly turning me into a believer. His regional career seemed like it was more dictated by his size and strength than anything else, but now that he’s in the UFC, he’s shown a fantastic flair for lading damaging offense on the feet. He pivots well into his punches, making maximum use of his ropy frame to put power behind his shots. Along with the fact that he’s still a pretty big welterweight, that could make him a very tough fight for a lot of opponents. Still, I’m interested to see just how much of his game can adapt to different challenges. Time to face someone with a truly deep skill base. Someone like Mounir Lazzez, Sergey Khandozhko, or Miguel Baeza. I especially like the idea of a bout against Abubakar Nurmagomedov. A true wrestling heavy test for Harris, to see if his sub game is everything it’s been cracked up to be. Nurmagomedov vs. Harris should be a great test of skill.
OTHER BOUTS: Devin Clark vs. Ed Herman, Ariane Lipski vs. the Agapova/Mazo winner, Mandy Bohm vs. Vanessa Demopoulos, Christos Giagos vs. Scott Holtzman, Tony Gravely vs. Mario Bautista, Antonio Arroyo vs. the Hu/Amedovski loser, Tafon Nchukwi vs. William Knight 2, Mike Rodriguez vs. Maxim Grishin, Pannie Kianzad vs. Lina Lansberg, Rongzhu vs. the Ontiveros/Garcia winner, Brandon Jenkins vs. Jai Herbert, JP Buys vs. Victor Rodriguez, Erin Blanchfield vs. Melissa Gatto, Sarah Alpar vs. Victoria Leonardo, Impa Kasanganay vs. Niklas Stolze, Alateng Heili vs. Hunter Azure, Gustavo Lopez vs. Vince Morales, Hannah Goldy vs. Jinh Yu Frey, Emily Whitmire vs. Gloria de Paula