Considering that the card had the feel of an unmitigated disaster by the time that the prelims were wrapped up, it turned out... okay? Kennedy Nzechukwu made a valiant comeback to put a stamp on Ion Cutelaba, Waldo Cortez-Acosta & Chase Sherman scrapped it out, and Muslim Salikhov added to his highlight reel against Andre Fialho.
So, is Nzechukwu on his way to becoming a ranked fighter in the light heavyweight division? Can Salikhov get a high profile bout or two before his career winds down? And is Jack Della Maddalena Australia’s next star attraction?
To answer those questions—but nothing 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!
Sooner or later he’ll have to really work on shedding his reputation for slow starts, but that won’t be today. Kennedy Nzechukwu got blasted with big right hands and powerful takedowns in his opening round against Ion Cutelaba. Even after gaining some momentum at the end of the first, fans could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘African Savage’ was on his way to a hard loss. But it was Nzechukwu who started round 2 firing hard punches, forcing the ‘Hulk’ into an obvious shot from way outside; the perfect setup for a massive jump knee. That’s two straight knockout wins for the Fortis MMA talent, who’s looking more and more like a future top-ranked light heavyweight. And it sets him up for either of two obvious fights right now: Azamat Murzakanov or Khalil Rountree. Both men have the kind of violent power that would make it a real poor idea to give away a whole round trying to find the rhythm of the bout, but Nzechukwu’s size and toughness would present a real challenge in both cases. Given Rountree’s up-and-down UFC career, it feels like he has more need of building a real win streak, Nzechukwu vs. Rountree is a great chance for both men to prove they’re really hitting their stride.
It wasn’t pretty, but Waldo Cortes-Acosta passed exactly the kind of test he needed to, in order to prove himself a UFC ready heavyweight. Sherman isn’t the most deft or defensively minded man in the division, but he pushes a pace, and he had his sights dead set on Cortes-Acosta’s lack of low-kick defense. ‘Salsa Boy’ battled through the early damage to land the much sharper strikes all the rest of the way, working behind a heavy jab and some really nice counter left hooks. After the bout he said he wanted to fight again as soon as possible. If he’s just willing to go out and fight anyone at any time, then a bout with Martin Buday seems like easy booking. A massive, tough-as-nails heavyweight with a tendency to drag opponents into deep water and slow them down. A good test for the hard-hitting athlete on the rise. Cortes-Acosta vs. Buday seems like a good way to get more experience.
A sticky, back-and-forth fight between Muslim Salikhov and Andre Fialho early turned slowly more and more toward a showcase for the Dagestani ‘King of Kung Fu’. It’s a long standing problem for Fialho, that he’s just too static at range and doesn’t offer enough offense as he steps into the pocket. A crafty range striker like Salikhov was always going to be a huge problem for him. Even at the 38, after the bout, Salikhov used his platform to assure fans that he’s better prepared and hungrier than ever. Time isn’t on his side, as long as he’s winning, the UFC should throw him in the toughest fights they can. Bouts with Michel Pereira, Daniel Rodriguez, Randy Brown, or Jake Matthews would all be decent options. Of those, the Brown fight interests me most. Brown is incredibly dangerous at Salikhov’s preferred distance, but has plenty gaps in his style that other opponents have been able to leverage for the win. Muslim Salikhov vs. Randy Brown seems like a great bout for two men who really could have a number next to their names.
JACK DELLA MADDALENA
As expected, a punishing first round knockout from Jack Della Maddalena. His pressure and power caught Roberts off his guard numerous times early in the fight and it wasn’t long before ‘Hot Chocolate’ was just too overwhelmed to respond. After the fight, Della Maddalena made it clear that he doesn’t care who he fights, as long as he gets a chance to fight at UFC 284 in Perth in February. Seems likely the UFC will make that booking happen. Fights with Jeremiah Wells and Brian Battle would both be decent offerings, Khaos Williams or Matthew Semelsberger would work too. Given that he doesn’t mind who he faces, I’ll say book him against Jeremiah Wells. Two huge punching welterweights throwing down Down Under. Seems like a surefire KO. Jack Della Maddalena vs. Jeremiah Wells would be a ton of fun.
Its a good thing for Maia that her comments about seeing Maryna Moroz as a good bounce back opportunity didn’t come back to bite her. With another hard fought victory she’s going to be hanging around right back in the top ten of the flyweight division. That could mean a matchup with the loser of Lauren Murphy vs. Jessica Andrade or with a young rising talent like Maycee Barber. But with Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo both hanging around without a booking it seems like one of them would be the better way to go. Grasso’s the one coming off a win, and she needs to put together more impressive showings to get a title shot. Grasso vs. Maia is a good way to test if Grasso can separate herself from the pack at 125.
Not exactly a thrilling fight from the bantamweight wrestle boxer, but coming off USADA troubles and a stoppage loss, just getting the win likely had to be first and foremost in the 28-year-old’s mind. That sets him up for fights with Heili Alateng, Taylor Lapilus, Mana Martinez, or Javid Bashrat. The Alateng fight feels like the best option among those. Another veteran who has largely found wins in the Octagon without seeming to separate himself much from the rest of the pack. For Johns, it’s a dangerous puncher and strong athlete who can likely make takedowns difficult. For Alateng, those two takedowns he gave up in his draw against Gustavo Lopez represent the only real wrestling threat he’s faced. Johns can give the Fight Ready talent a chance to prove his ground game isn’t a liability. Johns vs. Alateng is a solid bout between two men struggling to find recognition for their success.
I still had a few doubts about Natalia Silva after her impressive UFC debut, but it’s clear now that she’s a big cut above the average prospect at women’s flyweight. She’s now taken on two of the division’s biggest athletes and looked totally at ease dealing with their physicality both times. A great thing to see going forward for her prospects against the elite. And that spinning back kick was wicked cool. Fights with Priscila Cachoeira, Melissa Gatto, or Gillian Robertson would all be decent next fight options. I especially like the idea of the Robertson fight, since it seems like a decided step up, especially with the threat of a super crafty, aggressive grappler. Silva vs. Robertson seems like a good way to start fast tracking the Brazilian to the top 15.
OTHER BOUTS: Ion Cutelaba vs. Nick Negumereanu, Chase Sherman vs. Lukasz Brzeski, Andre Fialho vs. Gabriel Green, Danny Roberts vs. Court McGee, Charles Johnson vs. Jake Hadley, Maryna Moroz vs. J.J. Aldrich, Vince Morales vs. Brandon Davis, Ricky Turcios vs. Mana Martinez, Kevin Natividad vs. Liudvik Sholinian, Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Lupita Godinez, Maria Oliveira vs. Denise Gomes, Brady Hiestand vs. Christian Rodriguez, Fernie Garcia vs. Garrett Armfield, Tereza Bleda vs. Hannah Goldy