It may have been a card decimated by visa troubles and injuries, but UFC Vegas 36 still ended up a reasonably entertaining night of action. Derek Brunson proved himself to be middleweight’s top contender (after Robert Whittaker, of course). Tom Aspinall is looking more and more like heavyweight’s next big thing. And Paddy Pimblett had exactly the kind of UFC debut that made him such a star for Cage Warriors.
So, will the waiting game payoff for Brunson? Can Aspinall really take a slower road to the heavyweight elite? And can Pimblett run up the lightweight division without running right into a hard loss?
To answer those questions – but not much else – 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.
By all appearances, this is Brunson’s moment. He’s put in the work, he’s changed his training; his game has never looked more consistent, or composed, as it does now. He’s at the point where it’s unlikely he’d be able to put together another couple years worth of wins if he hits a setback and, as he himself admitted, he’s not broke—Derek Brunson can afford to wait. The other competition for his chance at UFC gold, Jared Cannonier, cannot say the same. Of course, the gamble in all this is that Cannonier is much more the kind of power striker the UFC likes to promote. If he fights again in the next six months and gets a big win (especially over someone like the Vettori/Costa winner), then Brunson might just find himself getting skipped. But, that seems like the gamble he has to take. By pure merit, he’s earned his shot at gold, time to find out if he can cash in. Derek Brunson vs. the Adesanya/Whittaker winner is the fight Brunson deserves, whether or not he can get it is another matter.
An extremely disappointing result for Till, who has been poised at the edges of breakout success for what feels like a few years now. Ever since those back-to-back wins over ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, expectations have been extremely high. Even off a loss to Robert Whittaker, Isreal Adesanya made it clear that Till was still someone he saw as a prime contender. After this submission loss to Derek Brunson, that conversation is likely dead. Despite his power and poise, as a striker, Till has lacked the output to finish most opponents in the UFC. And given enough time, at the elite levels, fighters can find ways to beat him if he lets them hang around. Something has to change if the ‘Gorilla’ wants make good on his dreams of becoming champion. For the moment, though, a step down in competition seems like a decent idea. Uriah Hall is another fighter who has struggled to truly break into the elite, he’s fresh off his own tough loss to Sean Strickland, and he doesn’t tend to go after any of those pesky takedowns. Seems like a surefire recipe for violence. Hall vs. Till is the all-striking middleweight fight to make.
In most ways, this fight didn’t look any different than what Aspinall had already done several times before. He came out the gate throwing with speed, accuracy, and power; put Spivac on his heels quickly; hurt him and finished the fight inside the first round. But, for me, this fight really did show that Aspinall is prepared to make a run to the heavyweight elite. Outside of a flash KO by Walt Harris in his debut, Spivac has been an incredibly rugged opponent. He’s faced other big punchers, rode out rough spots, and found ways to win. For Aspinall to treat him like he would have a regional showcase suggests that he truly is a big step above the rank and file talent of the division.
And while he may want to move into the elite slowly and carefully, showings like this are going to have him in the top 5 conversation in no time. If he does want to go slow, re-booking that fight with Sergey Pavlovich wouldn’t be the worst idea. Or there’s fights with Walt Harris, Augusto Sakai, and Tanner Boser. But, there’s also a fight upcoming between Chris Daukaus and Shamil Abdurahimov. The winner of that seems like they’d make a prime bout for Aspinall next time around. Aspinall vs. the Daukaus/Abdurahimov winner seems like it’d make a great potential battle of prospects, or a solid veteran test for the Team Kaobon talent.
A nice victory for Morono, who did his best to take the opportunities that Zawada gave him and turn them into a consistent, round-winning performance. A lot of work off his jab, a lot of counter shots—maybe not quite the thriller fans could have hoped for, but it’s two-straight wins for the ‘Great White’ and nine in the UFC overall. That should put Morono in line to fight Tim Means, Jake Matthews, James Krause, or Max Griffin. Since Morono’s clearly moving a lot of his energy in MMA over into a coaching role, how about a battle of the instructors. Put Morono in there with Krause and see which of these battle-tested vets can teach the other a lesson or two.
A crushing performance from Rountree, who reminded everyone why there was some legit hype for him on his rise to the UFC. He’s got an immense amount of power in every strike he throws. When he’s managing his output and his anxiety, it makes him a brutally tough opponent for just about anyone. Still, the victory was more about saving his Octagon career than setting him up for any really big fight on the horizon—snapping a two-fight losing streak in the process. A fight against Alonzo Menifield seems like an ideal next bout to see if Rountree can create a little momentum, or if Menifield can keep on track toward the top 15. Menifield vs. Rountree for the battle of bricked up LHW power strikers.
Pimblett’s debut was nearly a complete disaster. He waded into the pocket over and over again with his chin up and hands down and got cracked by huge overhand shots for his trouble. The ‘Baddy’ was able to ride out the damage, however, and started pushing the pace with his trademark aggression. Vendramini had to try and match his output or get overwhelmed, and he just wasn’t up to the task. A great comeback for Pimblett, and a great introduction for UFC fans as to just why he became a fan favorite in CWFC.
It’s also a reminder that Pimblett probably shouldn’t run up the division. His striking game has improved a lot, but it’s still raw—and he nearly paid for it at a pretty low end of what he can expect at this level. A fight against Ignacio Bahamondes seems like a great next step. The Chilean fighter is big enough to nullify Pimblett’s size, and has his own thrilling, high-output striking arsenal. Can the Scouser get his grappling game going? Or is he just going to scrap it out with everyone in the Octagon? Pimblett vs. Bahamondes should be a damn good time.
A must win fight for McCann, who has been struggling hard lately to find any consistency of form. It seems like Kim’s insistence on a striking battle really worked out in the ‘Meatball’’s favor this time, though, as it let McCann lean heavy on her power punching without any fear of a takedown to change things up. While most of the exchanges may have been dead even by the numbers, McCann clearly had a little extra oomph on her strikes. And it was much more often Kim that came out of their trades reeling on her back foot. That breaks a two-loss skid for McCann, and at the very least keeps her spot on the UFC roster. JJ Aldrich has put together a couple good wins lately, and her combination of striking and wrestling seems like it can ask better questions than Kim could of McCann’s potential improvement. McCann vs. Aldrich seems like a good test to see if McCann can take her game to the next level.
An absolute masterclass from Shore against an opponent who really wasn’t ready for this kind of step up in competition. Shore more or less did what he wanted with Sholinian for three rounds, and it’s probably only his torn bicep that kept him from finishing the bout. He definitely needs a step up in competition next time around, which could mean someone like Cody Stamann, Casey Kenney, Ricky Simon, or David Grant. Or, what about a fight with Raulian Paiva? Paiva just picked up a rankings spot over top rated prospect Kyler Phillips, a fight against Shore would be another chance to prove his quality against one of the hottest prospects on the UK scene. And for Shore, it’s a great way to find himself with a number next to his name after a win. Shore vs. Paiva seems like a decent next step for ‘Tank’ on his way up the division.
An absolutely brutal battle for Erosa, who took the fight late and had to spend most of his camp just cutting weight, by the sound of things. Still, he showed up ready for war and took the pressure to Jourdain constantly for the better part of three rounds—before snapping up that wicked D’Arce off a takedown. That win provides a perfect bounceback from Erosa’s disappointing outing against Seung-Woo Choi last time around. And it keeps him in great position for another high octane bout in the featherweight division. Fights with Darren Elkins, Alex Caceres, Andre Fili, or Danny Chavez all seem like they’d be ideal. Fili may have ended up with a ‘no contest’ out of his bout against Daniel Pineda, but it was a fight he had well in hand up to that point. A bout against ‘Juicy J’ seems like a fantasticly fun fight for both of them. Fili vs. Erosa should be a quality scrap.
Both Barriault and Lungiambula looked well improved for this bout. For the Canadian, his variety of offense and increasingly mindful defense were great to see from a fighter who has largely been a wade-forward head hunter in the UFC. For Lungiambula, his cardio and confidence both looked greatly improved standing. Unfortunately for the former EFC champ that wasn’t enough to get the win against Barriault’s pace and volume. Despite an 0-3 start in the Octagon the ‘Power Bar’ is starting to carve out a role as a solid action talent at 185 lbs. That should line him up for bouts with Abdul Razak Alhassan, Gerald Meerschaert, Dricus Du Plessis, or Rodolfo Vieira. Of those, Du Plessis feels like the fighter best positioned to make a quick run up the division right now. And it’d be a great test of the South African’s KO potential to take on someone as unbreakable as Barriault. Barriault vs. Du Plessis seems like a surefire war.
OTHER BOUTS: Sergey Spivac vs. Ilir Latifi, David Zawada vs. Sasha Palatnikov, Modestas Bukauskas vs. Allan/Camur loser, Luigi Vendramini vs. Rodrigo Vargas, Ji Yeon Kim vs. Poliana Botelho, Liudvik Sholinian vs. Cameron Else, Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Punahele Soriano