UFC 282 was one of the promotion’s stranger cards. The evening was a non-stop thrill ride for the bulk of its run, with 10-straight finishes to open the card. With Jan Blachowicz’s dubious draw in the main event, however, and Paddy Pimblett’s downright suspicious win in the co-main, the lasting feeling was somewhat bitter.
So, is the UFC really going to give Blachowicz and Ankalaev the shaft? Is the UFC going to start throwing Pimblett in the deep end of the pool? And is Dricus du Plessis suddenly a title contender?
To answer those questions—and a whole lot 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!
MAGOMED ANKALAEV & JAN BLACHOWICZ
It’s difficult to know what to make of this fight. Dana White hated it, and I’m not entirely sure why. He booked it knowing full well that both men are principally counter-strikers who tend to stay controlled and cautious in open space. The fight had big swings in momentum, it had controversy and—quite honestly—I’d be very interested in seeing it again. Even if the UFC isn’t going to put the title back on the line, the bout was originally intended to be a top-contender’s fight for the winner of Prochazka vs. Teixeira 2.
With Teixeira now set to fight Jamahal Hill in Brazil for the light heavyweight strap, it seems like the most appropriate thing to do would be to re-book this fight as the contender’s bout it was supposed to be. The UFC just needs to realize that it can’t be their PPV main event. Stick it on a fight night. If that can’t happen, then book Jan Blachowicz against Anthony Smith and book Ankalaev against Ryan Spann if Spann beats Krylov in February.
I don’t want to say Paddy Pimblett didn’t win this fight, but it really doesn’t feel like he won this fight. The striking exchanges were even, he got his head snapped around plenty, and he didn’t command most of the grappling exchanges. He did, arguably land the bigger shots in round 1, but that’s the best I could do for him. Still, given his popularity, this will probably become little more than a worn out talking point in the future. I can’t see Gordon getting a chance to run this fight back, given that the UFC almost certainly will have bigger things in mind for one of their most notable talents.
The UFC could go with someone like Grant Dawson, or even Jalin Turner next. Michael Johnson just got a surprisingly decent win over Marc Diakiese though, and has played spoiler to more than a few top talents over the years. Would Pimblett be willing to just stand and trade with one of lightweight’s fastest strikers? Can Johnson cash in on a name opponent? Paddy Pimblett vs. Michael Johnson seems like it’d be a great bout to make after this lackluster showing.
Poor Alex Morono. He was getting every moment of that fight just the way he wanted it. He hurt or shook Santiago Ponzinibbio up in seemingly every round, but victory slipped away from him at the very last instant. Ponzinibbio has proved himself time and again to be a great late-fight power threat, and as Morono lost a small step on his defense, the Argentinian was still right there to crush him with those right hands he’d been looking for all night. The end result is a big bounce back for ‘Gente Boa’, and likely another crack at the top 15.
All things considered, there’s really just one fight I want to see Ponzinibbio in right now, and that’s a rematch with Neil Magny. Unfortunately, Magny already has a fight booked against Gilbert Burns. That leaves a winner/loser bout against Daniel Rodriguez as the next most logical option. Doesn’t hurt that it would be a fantastic striking war.
DRICUS DU PLESSIS
Darren Till has become such a strange case in his MMA career. A fighter who clearly has the technical skill as a striker, the physical tools to compete at a very high level, and who has put a ton of work in to round out his game. None of which seems to have made any notable difference in his abilities over the last half decade or so. His takedown defense is still a huge problem, and Du Plessis made him pay for it all fight long. As continues to be the case, the South African showed off an incredible gas tank and tons of physical force, even after burning seemingly every little bit of energy he had in round 1. He still rallied hard in round 3 to get the big takedown and back take that eventually had Till tapping to a neck crank. That should rocked Du Plessis into the top 10, for bout against Andre Muniz, Marvin Vettori, or Roman Dolidze. Vettori’s always looking for a fight, and willing to take on lower ranked opponents. Seems like an easy bout to make. Dricus du Plessis vs. Marvin Vettori will show if ‘Stillknocks’ can run all the way to a title shot.
A pure powerhouse performance from Ilia Topuria, who made it clear immediately that he was not going to let Mitchell command the striking range with busy 1-2s and a variety of kicks. Topuria answered every moment of Mitchell’s offense with more and bigger power shots. Even though Mitchell found his way into a takedown, the Climent Club fighter was utterly fearless about throwing heavy leather at Mitchell in the pocket. Eventually that paid off with a big combo that sent Mitchell to the mat, where Topuria slapped on an arm triangle in transition for the submission win.
After the bout, he called for a title shot (which is very unlikely) or a bout with Brian Ortega. I wouldn’t be against the Ortega fight, but I’m not at all sure when he’ll be recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered against Yair Rodriguez. I’d love to see him take on Giga Chikadze, but I’m not too sure it’s a bout either man would be really interested in given their mutual support for one another. That leaves Sodiq Yusuff, Arnold Allen, and Calvin Kattar, I guess. Seems like Allen vs. Topuria is the must-see fight out of that group, even if it also seems like Allen should be in line for a bigger fight.
RAUL ROSAS JR.
The youngest ever fighter to hit the Octagon has started his UFC career off with a win. Raul Rosas Jr. Got a great stylistic matchup for his intro to the big show, in flat footed brawler Jay Perrin. For a fighter like Rosas, who really thrives in back-takes out of scrambles, a fighter like ‘The Joker’ was always gonna be there for him to work his A-game. That said, there’s a big difference between being set up to do a thing and actually performing in the moment. Rosas made Perrin look every bit like the walkover opponent he seemed. He followed that up with a fun post-fight interview about wanting to buy his mom a car, so she could drive him to practice.
At his age, the UFC should definitely slow roll him, and avoid another Sage Northcutt scenario. Similarly inexperienced Cameron Saaiman, who won earlier in the night wouldn’t be a bad idea. Or maybe Cristian Quinonez, who recently won his own debut. But I like the idea of a bout against Mana Martinez. Martinez has had a little success already in the UFC and is coming off a hard won bout against Brandon Davis. Should still be a fight where Rosas has the athletic edge, but one where his opponent has fewer obvious glaring flaws. Raul Rosas Jr. vs. Mana Martinez would be a good small step up for the young prospect.
Exactly the fight Rozenstruik needed to jump back on the horse in the heavyweight division. Daukaus is always at his best pushing forward in flurries, Rozenstruik is at his best countering off the back foot. That dynamic left the ATT talent perfectly placed to land a crushing right hand that had Daukaus on his heels in a hurry. From there, Rozenstruik had all the power and dedication necessary to put his opponent away. That sets the Surinamese fighter up for another top 10-ish challenge. Fights with Marcin Tybura, Serghei Spivac, or Alexander Romanov all make decent sense. From those, I’ll say Tybura is the way to go. The Polish fighter has been looking a lot more confident in his hands lately, but would likely need to take this fight to the mat to win. Should provide a good test of Rozenstruik’s wrestling, and a good test of Tybura’s defense. Tybura vs. Rozenstruik is the fight both men need to prove they can be contenders.
This was almost always the way this fight was going to have to go for Chris Curtis. Joaquin Buckley may move on fairly predictable lines and tempos, but he’s also durable and can put out a hell of a lot of offense. It was on Curtis to weather the onslaught and find his moments to land something that would put ‘New Mansa’ to bed. The ‘Action Man’ did just that with a caught kick into a gigantic left hand in round 2. A great way for Curtis to rebound from the disappointment of his fight with Hermansson.
Speaking of which, a fight against Roman Dolidze wouldn’t be the worst way for the UFC to go coming out of Curtis’ latest win. Dolidze got the victory Curtis couldn’t, but he didn’t exactly look great up to that point and could definitely use more names on his resume. Otherwise, bouts with Jun Yong Park, Anthony Hernandez, or Andre Muniz would all be fun. But, what the hell, I’ll go ahead and say the UFC should but Curtis vs. Dolidze.
The most prototypical Billy Quarantillo win imaginable. Hernandez had a great start, muscling Quarantillo around in scrambles and trading big bombs with him standing. But one round of success is rarely ever the recipe to beat the Gracie Tampa fighter. And as Hernandez started to flag in the second round, Quarantillo only started upping the pace and the pressure. The result was another TKO win for the 34-year-old, who hopes to start really moving up the division. Fights with Sodiq Yusuff or Lerone Murphy wouldn’t be a bad idea to that end, but Julian Erosa has a bout coming up with Alex Caceres and the winner of that seems like they’d provide one hell of a scrap to a man like Quarantillo. Quarantillo vs. the Erosa/Caceres winner would be must-see action.
OTHER BOUTS: Jared Gordon vs. Vinc Pichel, Alex Morono vs. Tim Means, Darren Till vs. Chris Weidman, Bryce Mitchell vs. Dan Ige, Jay Perrin vs. Aaron Phillips, Chris Daukaus vs. Tanner Boser, Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Jun Yong Park, Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Dustin Stoltzfus, Joaquin Buckley vs. Chidi Njokuani, Alexander Hernandez vs. Charles Jourdain, TJ Brown vs. Steve Garcia Jr., Erik Silva vs. Lucas Alexander, Cameron Saaiman vs. Cristian Quinonez, Steven Koslow vs. Joshua Weems