By the end of the night, it’s hard to say that UFC Columbus didn’t entertain, although it certainly dragged in significant stretches. Curtis Blaydes put on a showcase of his improved striking talents over Chris Daukaus in the main event. Alexa Grasso continued her climb up the flyweight ranks with a quick submission win. And Bryan Barberena & Matt Brown put on an old fashioned donnybrook.
So, is there an option for Blaydes that doesn’t leave him treading water in the heavyweight top 5? Who seems like the more dangerous potential title challenger between Alexa Grasso and Manon Fiorot? And would the UFC actually pass on re-signing Bryan Barberena off that fight?
To answer those questions – and a couple others – 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!
His setbacks have been dramatic and notable, but there’s no question about it, Curtis Blaydes is one of the best heavyweight talents in the world. He’s got the size, power, durability, and technical wrestling chops to be a problem for just about anyone out there. And what’s more, he’s parlayed that wrestling skill into being a reasonably solid, dangerous kickboxer. Everyone knows he’s going to shoot, is waiting for him to shoot, is watching for him to shoot. At this point they’re starting to eat a lot of hard punches and kicks while they focus on guessing just when and where that shot is coming. If he can keep parlaying that dominant wrestling expectation into more comfort standing out at range, he very well may be a champion one day. No matter what, he seems destined to be a longtime contender.
Unfortunately, with a reputation for grinding and a personality that skews toward the quiet side, it’s always hard to tell just when another big opportunity will come his way. After the bout, Blaydes called out Ciryl Gane for an interim heavyweight title fight. It’s a smart idea, especially since the UFC seems very likely to use the creation of another interim belt as negotiation fodder against champion Francis Ngannou. But with Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic also hanging around, looking for high profile returns to action, it also seems likely that the UFC will use Gane as a bargaining chip against both of them. To that end, unfortunately, it seem intensely unlikely that either Jones or Miocic would be at all lured by a fight against Blaydes.
Does Curtis Blaydes want to fight Sergei Pavlovich or Marcin Tybura? Both ideas feel purely like they’d be treading water. Hell, this may be the time for a rematch with Derrick Lewis—just to see if Blaydes can get that one back. I’ll say that pursuing Gane is the right idea, just not sure how long he’ll have to wait to see what all the UFC has in mind.
It wasn’t hard to see a steep fall back to earth coming for Chris Daukaus. He blitzed the heavyweight division on the back of some blazing fast speed and solid arsenal of hooks and uppercuts, but little else in terms of depth to his game. It may be one of MMA’s most classically shallow divisions, but go far enough, fast enough, and there are some real monsters out there waiting to crush any and all comers. At this point, Curtis Blaydes is firmly among those few. But, that’s not to say that Daukaus can’t still find plenty of success with even a small step back. Fights against the likes of Augusto Sakai, Walt Harris, and Blagoy Ivanov all seem like they’d be perfectly acceptable fights that Daukaus would be on even odds to win. Of those, I’ll say the Harris fight feels the most like the striking match both men need. Two fast handed punchers looking to rebuild their stock. Harris vs. Daukaus should be a great opportunity for either man to create some momentum once again.
Joanne Wood gave Grasso some real challenges early, marching through Grasso’s offense to land her own clinch strikes and combos. But Grasso knew the spinning attacks were coming, and timed one perfectly to turn the fight into a quick submission loss for the former Invicta star. That’s three-straight wins for Grasso, that could have her knocking on the door of title contention. Manon Fiorot won her own major step up earlier in the night, and is in a similar position. If the UFC wants to book them against one another, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it. That said, I never like to book fighters to face off when they just fought on the same card. And with Miesha Tate set to take on Lauren Murphy, the winner of that bout is gonna need someone to face afterward. Grasso vs. the Murphy/Tate winner seems like a perfect way to see if she’s ready to fight for gold.
A knockdown, drag-out, bloody war for Bryan Barberena against Matt Brown. Even with Brown losing the decision, the fight was a remarkable display of heart and grit for the 41-year-old. He looked like he was absolutely winded after the first round, but leaned hard on his clinch technique and innate power to keep the fight close all the way to the final bell. Win or lose, the whole thing was an amazingly entertaining contest from start to finish.
For Barberena, the bout also happened to be the last on his current UFC contract. But the promotion would be foolhardy to let such a fun mid-card action talent walk. Assuming they don’t, match-ups with the likes of Benoit Saint-Denis, Andre Fialho, Ramiz Brahimaj, and Matthew Semelsberger would all be solid options. But I really love the idea of a fight against Nicolas Dalby. Like Barberena, Dalby has made his reputation as a hard-nosed scrappy fighter who can hang with just about anyone on a given night. Barberena vs. Dalby seems like a guaranteed FOTN performance.
The City Kickboxing talent has done the improbable, derailing Askar Askarov’s title aspirations on the back of some fantastic counter-wrestling. And while the next title shot had seemed to be already booked, he’s now found himself as the proverbial belle of the ball. Both Figueiredo and Moreno seem to have watched Kara-France win and got immediatley sick of the prospect of facing one another again. Does the UFC give the Kiwi his shot at UFC gold right away?
With the intention to book the flyweight title quadrilogy already announced, it seems unlikely. I’m going to go ahead and assume that Figueiredo vs. Moreno 4 goes on as planned, at which point Kara-France is primed to take on the winner of that fight. If it doesn’t, then hell, we may just see Figueiredo vs. Kara-France some time this summer. For the moment Kara-France vs. the Figueiredo/Moreno 4 winner seems like a great next title fight.
A tough couple of rounds for Magny, but he started to implement his clinch game late in the second round and really wore on Griffin down the stretch—on his way to a dominant third round and the win. After the fight, Magny called out Khamzat Chimaev. It’s a bout that would have made a lot of sense as a next step for ‘Borz’. But, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Magny, Chimaev has already talked his way past it and into a bout with top contender Gilbert Burns. And if the Chechen talent wins that matchup, then Magny would only serve as a notable step back. In the meantime, fights with Shavkat Rakhmonov, Sean Brady, or Stephen Thompson would all be strong options. If I were Magny, I’d be targeting the Thompson fight, as the most notable, high profile, and potentially winnable bout among them. Sean Brady may very well be the much more likely outcome, but Neil Magny vs. ‘Wonderboy’ is the kind of fight Magny should be chasing.
Round 1 was a touch and go affair for Chris Gutierrez, ending on a miserable note—with a busted spinning backfist attempt that saw Gutierrez taken down and eating multiple left hands. But if the first frame should have served as a warning about unecessary spin moves, round 2 showed all the positives that can come from them. Gutierrez went to the backfist again, nailing it this time, and sending Danaa crashing to the canvas. That’s three straight wins and a seven fight unbeaten streak for ‘El Guapo’; time to make a move up. While he could get a chance to pick off an aging vet like Rafael Assuncao or Marlon Moraes, I’d much rather see him against a top prospect on the rise. Said Nurmagomedov is fresh off a round 1 dusting of Cody Stamann, seems like a bout between he and Gutierrez could guarantee one man a rankings slot. Gutierrez vs. Nurmgaomedov would be a top quality bantamweight scrap between rising talents.
It wasn’t the most thrilling victory ever, but Maia isn’t the kind of fighter that people have thrilling victories against. She’s too durable, too consistent, and too hard to control. That said, Fiorot worked wonderfully behind her jab and sidekicks to keep Maia at bay for most of the bout, and followed those strikes up by landing hard lead hooks and left hands. The result was a decisive 30-27 from all three judges. After the bout, Fiorot even had a callout ready, asking for former title challenger Katlyn Chookagian. It’s exactly the right fight for Fiorot right now, especially since Chookagian has made it clear that she will fight any and everyone on her way to another title shot. Unfortunately, Chookagian is booked to meet Amanda Ribas in the former strawweight’s flyweight debut. But there’s no reason Fiorot couldn’t take on the winner of that bout. Fiorot vs. the Chookagian/Ribas winner would be a solid path to title contention.
I’m still not entirely convinced that Matheus Nicolau has a style that’s built for high level flyweight success. His slow paced, counter-punching focused attack is always going to leave opportunities in a division built around high octane scrambles and lightening fast athletes. But, for all the idea that he’s working a difficult game, there’s no doubt that he’s doing it well and to consistent success. Off five straight wins, he’s thrown his name in among the division’s top contenders. Part of me thinks that he’d make a great next fight for Alex Perez, whenever he returns to action. However, with Matt Schnell booked for an upcoming bout against Brandon Royval, either man seems like the perfect style clash for Nicolau at just this moment; two high-output, aggressive strikers, with fun, dangerous grappling games. Nicolau vs. the Schnell/Royval winner seems like a great test to see if the Brazilian’s more cautious approach can push him to a title shot.
OTHER BOUTS: Joanne Wood vs. Ji Yeon Kim, Matt Brown vs. Alex Oliveira, Askar Askarov vs. Schnell/Royval Loser, Max Griffin vs. Jake Matthews, Marc Diakiese vs. Matt Frevola, Viacheslav Borshchev vs. Jai Herbert, Sara McMann vs. Yana Kunitskaya, Karol Rosa vs. Jessy-Rose Clark, Danaa Batgerel vs. Miles Johns, Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Michael Morales, Denis Tiuliulin vs. Tresean Gore, Jennifer Maia vs. Murphy/Tate loser, David Dvorak vs. Rogerio Bontorin, Luis Saldana vs. Josh Culibao, Bruno Souza vs. Mark Striegl