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UFC Orlando: Thompson vs. Holland - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to make following their latest event in Orlando, FL.

UFC Fight Night Orlando: Thompson v Holland
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC | Graphic: BloodyElbow.com

UFC Orlando ended up being a hell of a wild ride. The card started with a bang, dragged a little, and then wrapped up with seven straight finishes to make for a thriller all the way to the final frame. Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland put on one of the UFC’s most creative striking wars, Rafael dos Anjos showed Bryan Barberena why he used to be a champ, Sergei Pavlovich gave the heavyweight elite something to mull over in the coming months.

So, is Thompson ‘back’ as an elite fighter at 170 lbs? Is RDA really going to convince Conor McGregor to fight him? And will any of the top 5 flyweights be willing to take a risk on facing Matheus Nicolau?

To answer those questions—and much 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!

STEPHEN THOMPSON

In a lot of ways it’s hard to know what to make of this fight as a marker of where Stephen Thompson sits in the welterweight division right now. He certainly still has the fantastic timing and footwork that has made him such a dynamic threat for so long. But Holland was also able to track him down with a lot of wild shots, and take him down with some well timed responses to Thompson’s punch entries too. Had Holland wanted to do more grappling is this still a fight Thompson would have won?

At the very least we know that ‘Wonderboy’ can still be pure action in fights that keep him exactly where he wants to be. The trick is to figure out just what those are. I wouldn’t mind seeing him take on Jorge Masvidal again, but getting Masvidal back in the Octagon seems like a lot of effort these days. The other name then that springs to mind is Michel Pereira. He’s huge and rangy and has enough power to hurt Thompson at any moment, but has the same kinds of technical gaps Holland showed in extended combinations. And he’d probably keep it standing. Thompson vs. Pereira seems like a fun striking battle for the former title contender.

KEVIN HOLLAND

If it’s hard to know what to make of this for Thompson, it’s doubly difficult to see just what’s going on with Kevin Holland these days. The ‘Trailblazer’ has talked a lot about retirement lately and if his performance here is anything to judge by, he was a lot less interested in winning than he was in having fun. Once he injured his hand and the fight stopped being a good time, Holland seemed like he didn’t have much interest in competing at all. Is he going to come back to MMA after months on the sidelines? Can he be a top 10 welterweight if he’s not that concerned about getting his hand raised? Time off and a step back are in order. Whenever (or if) Holland does return, fights against Michael Chiesa, Max Griffin, or maybe even Khaos Williams all seem like decent ideas. Considering what kind of bouts he’s after, I’ll say book Holland against Williams and let them throw hands.

RAFAEL DOS ANJOS

This second trip up to welterweight for the former lightweight champion got off on just the right foot for Rafael Dos Anjos. As long as the fight was standing, Barberena kept things scrappy, but once RDA started getting takedowns he turned it into a landslide in a hurry. Barberena just couldn’t keep up with Brazilian’s grappling and tapped to a neck crank after giving up back control in round 2.

After the bout, RDA had just one thing on his mind: a chance to regain a past promise, a bout against Conor McGregor. The two men had previously been matched up back in 2015, back when RDA held the belt. An injury to dos Anjos put the brakes on the fight though. McGregor went on to fight Nate Diaz instead, while RDA lost his title to Alvarez. As far as the 38-year-old Kings MMA talent is concerned, the bout makes perfect sense. For McGregor, its any one of 10 different opportunities he can choose from. I kinda doubt it’s the most likely option. I’d love to see RDA get McGregor, but a fight with Vicente Luque feels more likely and also a ton of fun.

MATHEUS NICOLAU

Matheus Nicolau couldn’t have followed the game plan better if this fight had been scripted. He kept on the back foot, forced Schnell to try and walk him down, and caught him with heavy counters whenever the American let his hands go. The result was a bevvy of knockdowns and an eventual KO on the back of a huge overhand right. That win puts Nicolau squarely ‘in the mix’ at the top of the flyweight division. Bouts with Kai Kara-France, Alexandre Pantoja, or Brandon Royval would all be sensible next options. Pantoja is probably waiting for a chance at gold, and Royval just got pulled from a fight due to injury, and Kara France is set to fight Alex Perez. Assuming KKF vs. Perez goes forward then put Nicolau in with the winner. Whoever comes out of that with their hand raised will be firmly in title contention.

SERGEI PAVLOVICH

It looks like we’ve got a new heavyweight contender on our hands. Tai Tuivasa may not have quite made it all the way to the top of the mountain yet, but he had definitely turned himself into one of heavyweight’s most dangerous men. Pavlovich went out there and bulldozed him like it was nothing at all. Unfortunately, with the way the division is right now, just what that lines him up for is anybody’s guess. Is Stipe still fighting? Will Curtis Blaydes accept a bout with another lower-ranked opponent? Is Francis Ngannou ever coming back? Is Jon Jones going to make his heavyweight debut? All questions, few answers. One person I don’t have questions about, however, is Ciryl Gane. A fight between Pavlovich and Gane feels like it would absolutely be must see, and could make either man top of the heap for whenever the UFC figures out what to do with that belt.

ROMAN DOLIDZE

Even if it hadn’t been on short notice, this felt like a huge step up for Roman Dolidze. Jack Hermansson has earned his stripes at the top of the middleweight division with years of controlled, offensively diverse performances. He’s the kind of fighter that rarely makes big mistakes—a huge ask for a fighter like Dolidze who tends to rely on creating chaos. That said, Dolidze found his moment in the second round. Hermansson took him down with an easy double but found an aggressive guard game that he wasn’t at all prepared for. Armbar to triangle to leg lock to calf slicer, to back mount and GnP all in the span of about 20 seconds. Not long after and the ref was waiving off the fight. A huge victory for the Georgian that rockets him into the top 15. After the bout he called out Khamzat Chimaev. Any chance that fight happens? No. But how about a fight with Andre Muniz? I’d buy that.

PHILIP ROWE

For something of a surprising change, Philip Rowe actually looked great coming out of the gate against Niko Price—exchanging the ‘Hybrid’’s wild combos for laser sharp 1-2s in the pocket. It’s the second round where things started to get a little hairy, with Price landing repeatedly as he pushed the pace. Rowe had his own big moments, but when Price started hurting him in round 3 it seemed like the fight was over. Rowe rode out the blitz though, and when they got back to their feet his opponent was entirely gassed. A few huge right hands later and Philip Rowe walked away with his third straight UFC win. That should keep him perfectly on track for another action fight on his way up the welterweight division, and there’s another lanky sniper out there that I’d love to see him face. Ian Garry has been looking fantastic in his short Octagon career. Garry vs. Rowe would be a great bout to see whose the rangiest man at 170 lbs.

ANGELA HILL

A highlight performance from Angela Hill, who put her foot on the gas early against Emily Ducote and never let up for a moment. Ducote found points to land hard 1-2s and catch Hill on the counter, but things got especially ugly in the clinch, where Hill landed crushing knees over and over. That’s two straight victories for Hill who looks to still be very much in the prime of her career and ready for another high level test. Unforunately for her, unless she wants another newcomer like Luana Pinheiro or Piera Rodriguez there aren’t many top 15 fighters Hill hasn’t already faced. Rematches with Amanda Lemos or Michelle Waterson wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but I say give Hill a chance to take on Mackenzie Dern. Dern still needs more seasoning to truly compete with the elite. For Hill, it’d be a great chance to make a title run. Hill vs. Dern is a good opportunity for Hill to take another charge at the top of the 115 lb division.

OTHER BOUTS: Bryan Barberena vs. Francisco Trinaldo, Matt Schnell vs. Tim Elliott, Tai Tuivasa vs. Alexander Romanov, Jack Hermansson vs. Imavov/Gastelum loser, Eryk Anders vs. Dusko Todorovic, Kyle Daukaus vs. Wellington Turman, Niko Price vs. Takashi Sato, Emily Ducote vs. Mizuki Inoue, Clay Guida vs. Ricky Glenn, Michael Johnson vs. Nasrat Haqparast, Marc Diakiese vs. Christos Giagos, Jonathan Pearce vs. Andre Fili, Darren Elkins vs. Charles Rosa, Natan Levy vs. Nikolas Motta, Genaro Valdez vs. Erick Gonzalez, Francis Marshall vs. William Gomis, Marcelo Rojo vs. Lucas Alexander, Yazmin Jauregui vs. Cory McKenna, Istela Nunes vs. Melissa Martinez