UFC Vegas 66 didn’t really end on a thrilling note (or even start on a thrilling note), but there was a lot of quality on offer over the middle stretch of the card. In the main event Jared Cannonier kept his name in the hat among middleweight title challengers, while Arman Tsarukyan asserted his own right to a spot among the lightweight elite in the co-main. Drew Dober and Bobby Green put together a banger on the main card to steal the show overall.
So, is there any fight out there that could put Cannonier at the front of the contender’s race? Will someone in the lightweight top 5 step up and take on Tsarukyan so he can get his rematch with Islam Makhachev? And does Jalin Turner want that smoke from Drew dober?
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!
It wasn’t a pretty win or a definitive showing from Jared Cannonier, but he did well to match Sean Strickland’s pace and output for 5 rounds and let his power play the difference between them. Not, perhaps, the kind of performance that is going to have the UFC clamoring to put Cannonier in another title fight, but with Alex Pereira sitting atop the division it keeps the ‘Killa Gorilla’ right in the hunt. It’s too bad Paulo Costa seems set on exiting the UFC, because I’d love to see Cannonier vs. Costa at some point. Instead, we’ve got a bout between Marvin Vettori and Roman Dolidze out on the horizon, seems like the winner of that would be primed for a high profile fight against someone like Cannonier. Jared Cannonier vs. the Vettori/Dolidze winner is a strong top-contender’s bout.
It’s something of a credit to Sean Strickland’s unflappability and consistency of form that this fight stayed as close as it did throughout. The power differential on display for much of the contest was stark, and the fact that both men landed in more or less equal measure in every round should have meant that Strickland got blown out of the water. Going punch for punch with a heavier hitter isn’t usually a great way to create success. But Strickland’s ability to see strikes incoming and roll with them meant that Cannonier rarely caught him clean above the waist. At that point, going one-for-one back and forth left the two in an incredibly close fight. Obviously, Strickland would have much preferred the win, but this at least leaves him well situated for more high-profile top 10 fights. That could mean bouts with Dricus du Plessis, Darren Till, or Derek Brunson. None of those fights feel really right, though. Nassourdine Imavov has an upcoming fight with Kelvin Gastelum, Strickland vs the winner of that seems like a sensible booking.
A remarkable, bullying performance from Arman Tsarukyan, who fought his way through every bit of Damir Ismagulov’s strong, technical takedown defense to get him to the mat and out-grapple him on the floor. It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always thrilling, but it was a very effective display of skill and physicality. After the bout, Tsarukyan made it clear that he wants a top five opponent, and that he doesn’t feel he lost his bout against Mateusz Gamrot. I’ve got no problem with either statement, but it would honestly make a decent argument for just running the Gamrot fight back.
Still, with a whole bunch of fresh, fun possibilities it doesn’t seem all that interesting to re-hash a fight we’ve already seen. Would Justin Gaethje fight Tsarukyan? Or Michael Chandler? My bets would personally be on Rafael Fiziev or Beneil Dariush. Dariush especially has claimed that he’ll take on anyone & everyone to make his way to a belt. Arman Tsarukyan vs. Beneil Dariush is the kind of fight Tsarukyan deserves, even if Dariush likely deserves something bigger.
This fight didn’t really start out the way many expected for Amir Albazi, a seemingly legit future top contender facing off against a UFC newcomer who didn’t even get signed off his DWCS win. Albazi was tentative early, admitting afterward that he was concerned about Costa’s power. But after his corner told him to step up his workrate, Albazi sat Costa down with a hard combination and started to really take over. Round 3 was more of the same, ending with a perfect uppercut that put the decisive finish on the bout that Albazi needed to keep his prospects as a top 10 fighter in place. I wouldn’t at all mind seeing him face off against Manel Kape, but I also hate pairing up dudes from the same card against each other. So how about Albazi against Matheus Nicolau? If he can win that fight, then Albazi is gonna be on the shortlist for a future title shot.
From the jump, Julian Erosa didn’t look at all comfortable with the kind of fight that Alex Caceres was showing him. He kept his pressure light, opting to trade kicks in middle distance with ‘Bruce Leeroy’ rather than pressing him with aggressive combinations. It was a decision that ‘Juicy-J’ paid for badly, when Caceres found him stepping back out of the pocket with a perfectly placed headkick. It’s exactly the bounceback Caceres needed after the disappointment of his fight against Sodiq Yusuff, and it keeps him locked in right around the edges of the top 15. In fact, Jonathan Pearce just stole his spot in the rankings. Give Caceres a chance to steal it back. Pearce’s aggressive wrestle-grappling game seems like it’d be tough for Caceres to fight off, but striking exchanges could give Pearce serious trouble against someone with the length to match him at his preferred range. Caceres vs. Pearce seems like a good opportunity for both men to try and climb toward top-10 fights.
This fight was all bad news for Drew Dober for more than a round. He kept trying to put pressure on Green, but would routinely find two punches coming back at him for every one he delivered. Green put a wobble in Dober’s legs early and bloodied his nose. But, it just wasn’t enough to deter the Nebraskan’s faith in his durability and willingness to push forward. The more he flurried and backed Green off, the more he started to land, until he hit a huge combo that sent ‘King’ crashing to the mats.
A great round 2 KO for the Elevation Fight Team talent, and he had a serious callout ready with it. Dober asked for a bout with Jalin Turner after the win. Will he get it? Seems like there are a lot of fights Turner could take that would be pretty reasonable for him right now. And I wouldn’t at all mind seeing Dober against Dan Hooker or Renato Moicano too. In fact, given Moicano’s last post-fight speech, I think that’s a fight I want more. Drew Dober vs. Renato Moicano would be a great battle of longtime UFC vets. The Turner fight’s not bad either if that’s what the UFC wants.
Another middleweight fight for Michal Oleksiejczuk, another crushing victory. Credit to Cody Brundage, he knew he couldn’t sit back on his heels and wait for Oleksiejczuk to come to him. But the moment he lost position on the mats, ‘Hussar’ started smashing and didn’t stop until the ref waved it off. After the bout, Oleksiejczuk called out Chris Curtis. There are other bouts I’d love to see him in, against men like Abdul Razak Alhassan or Brendan Allen or Roman Dolidze, but if Curtis would be willing to take the fight, then that’s a booking the UFC should definitely make. Curtis’ patient counter-punching craft against Oleksiejczuk’s size, power, and unchecked aggression. Curtis vs. Oleksiejczuk would be a car crash.
Heading into this bout, I felt like it was very much a trap fight for Said Nurmagomedov. Saidyokub Kakhramonov is a relatively unknown newcomer to the UFC with a really high-octane wrestling attack. For most of two rounds, it looked like Nurmagomedov was headed to a hard loss. Fortunately for him, while Kakhramonov’s game is stifling it’s also very much one pace and one tempo. Eventually Nurmagomedov was able to jump on a submission that Kakhramonov just didn’t have the tools to get out of. A fantastic comeback for the Dagestani to keep his drive toward contendership alive. Bouts against Jack Shore, Adrian Yanez, or Chris Gutierrez would all be great. Gutierrez is a really crafty vet with his own dedicated kicking game. A battle of two highlight grabbing strikers seems like a fun time. Gutierrez vs. Nurmagomedov would be a good scrap.
Large stretches of this fight saw Manel Kape more interested in showboating and clowning than generating significant offense, but whenever Kape chose to pull the trigger, he did serious damage. Whether it was a brutal kimura in round 1 or heavy punches in round 2, ‘Starboy’ is clearly an elite physical specimen, capable of electric offensive moments. A fight with Amir Albazi wouldn’t be a bad next option, but I’d love to see Kape take on Brandon Royval whenever Royval returns from injury. Kape vs. Royval seems like it’d be an absolute thriller once Royval is ready to fight again.
OTHER BOUTS: Damir Ismagulov vs. Mateusz Gamrot, Alessandro Costa vs. Carlos Mota, Julian Erosa vs. Gavin Tucker, Bobby Green vs. L’udovit Klein, Cody Brundage vs. Makhmud Muradov, Cory McKenna vs. Polyana Viana, Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Matthew Semelsberger vs. Trevin Giles, Jake Matthews vs. Alex Morono, Saidyokub Kakhramonov vs. Victor Henry, Rafa Garcia vs. Jamie Mullarkey, Hayisaer Maheshate vs. Daniel Zellhuber, Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Jeremiah Wells, Bryan Battle vs. Gabriel Green, David Dvorak vs. Sumudaerji, Sergey Morozov vs. Aiemann Zahabi, Journey Newson vs. Trevin Jones