UFC Vegas 52 didn’t have much in the way of fanfare or casual interest, but it ended up being a pretty thrilling little fight card. Jessica Andrade picked up a once-in-a-lifetime submission win over Amanda Lemos in the main event. Claudio Puelles proved that his grappling is 100% legit in the co-main. And Maycee Barber put her title aspirations firmly back on track as well.
So, is Andrade really back in the title running at 115 lbs? Is it time for a big step up for Puelles? And is there any such thing as a bad Charles Jourdain fight?
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!
Strawweight finds itself once again neck deep in title challengers. Between Carla Esparza, Weili Zhang, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Marina Rodriguez, and Mackenzie Dern, there are a whole passel of women ready to take on Rose Namajunas for divisional supremacy at the drop of a hat. Given that not all of them can get that opportunity in the immediate future, Andrade should have her pick of exciting contender’s bouts.
My first thought after this card was that Andrade vs. Dern would be a natural booking. A hard test for Dern, but the kind of one she needs to pass if she’s going to make a run at the belt. It’s also an opponent that Andrade won’t want to try and just muscle around in the clinch or on the mat. But the more I think of it, the more obvious the next fight on the horizon for ‘Bate Estaca’ becomes. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Weili Zhang, and Andrade have all fought Namajunas twice. Andrade is the only one of the three to ever pick up a win over the champ. And while both Joanna & Weili have beat Andrade, they’ve also only fought her once. If any of them want to contend again, they really ought to go through one another. Andrade vs. the Jedrzejczyk/Zhang winner only seems fair to Namajunas, since she’s proven herself against them all at this point.
It’s a hard lesson for Amanda Lemos, who has always seemed to fight with the confidence that there’s nothing an opponent could bring to her that she couldn’t match and handle. For a solid couple minutes against Andrade she appeared to be more or less correct. Andrade wanted to stay cautious out at range against Lemos, and left herself wide open to getting picked off by the rangy power striker. Give Andrade an inch, however, and she’ll take a mile.
I don’t think the loss will be especially deleterious to Lemos’ long term title ambitions, but it certainly keeps her treading water at the back of an already deep contender’s picture. Fortunately, there’s another really well-experienced, elite, physical talent in the division coming off her own hard setback: Tecia Torres. The ‘Tiny Tornado’ probably deserved the win over Mackenzie Dern at UFC 273, but ended up with a decision loss instead. A fight against Lemos seems like a perfect chance for Torres to prove that she can make her volume count for more than just a numbers game. And for Lemos, it’s another strong challenge against a top-level fighter who won’t fade away from power striking exchanges. Torres vs. Lemos is a great bounce-back opportunity for both women.
Claudio Puelles’ style has never really been that thrilling to me in the Octagon, so I very much overlooked him here going in against Clay Guida, more or less the first really decent wrestler the ‘Prince of Peru’ had ever faced. Color me impressed, then, with the way Puelles tangled Guida up on the mats and turned him into a human pretzel. That kneebar he hit on the ‘Carpenter’ to finish the fight was the slickest sub transition I’ve seen in a long time. Just lightening fast.
I’m still not sure he’s ready for the division’s elite in the way that the booth was suggesting. But at 5-1 in the UFC now, he should definitely be facing some top prospects on the rise. Fighters like Joel Alvarez, Ilia Topuria, Jalin Turner, Mark O. Madsen, and Marc Diakiese would all make for good challenges. Of those, I’m gonna say the UFC should go with Diakiese. The ‘Bonecrusher’ is coming off a widely panned wrestling-heavy decision. A massive submission threat seems like just the way to make sure that’s not the fight we get next time around. Puelles vs. Diakiese seems like a great opportunity for both men to reinforce the idea that they’re multifaceted, dangerous fighters.
They hype may not be quite the same as it was when Barber was a fresh face in the women’s flyweight division, but the ‘Future’ is still very clearly a prospect with high potential now that she’s once again riding a win streak. Given her physicality and well-roundedness, it only makes sense that her next fight should be a test just a little further up the division. That could be a fight with Maryna Moroz or Joanne Wood. But I like the idea of the upcoming fight between Casey O’Neill and Jessica Eye. If O’Neill comes out her next fight with the win, then she and Barber are both in the position of being possible future contenders. If Eye gets the win, then she remains exactly the kind of physical test that young fighters should try themselves against. Barber vs. the O’Neill/Eye winner seems like an ideal step forward for the young prospect.
All it took was one little mistake for this fight to go from very good for Lando Vannata to very bad. He leapt into range on Jourdain with his hands cocked, looking to throw and ate a jab straight to the chin that dropped him, but even that wasn’t really the point that secured the victory. Instead, Jourdain’s one-armed guillotine setups and Vannata’s insistence on trying to keep the fight on the mat were what really got him in trouble. A surprising submission victory for the Canadian, who now finds himself with two straight wins for the first time in his UFC career.
After the victory, he called out Edson Barboza, and that wouldn’t be a bad fight to make at all. Especially not if Jourdain really does keep to his no-takedowns promise. But I’d also love to see him take on Sean Woodson, Lerone Murphy, or Makwan Amirkhani. I especially like the idea of the Amirkhani fight, just because getting taken down has been a gap for Jourdain in the past, but he’s also the kind of fighter who never seems to tire or fall apart. Can Amirkhani find the sub or will he get broken down the stretch. Jourdain vs. Amirkhani seems like a fun challenge for ‘Air’ Jourdain.
Exactly the performance Barriault needed coming off his first KO loss. He took the fight to Wright from the jump, ate a few strikes, and got enough offense off in the tie-ups to force a takedown attempt. Wright may be building wrestling into his game, but it still feels like something of an afterthought. He left his neck all the way in Barriault’s armpit through the clinch and into the takedown, right into the guillotine. Following that victory, fights with Anthony Hernandez, Bryan Battle, or Armen Petrosyan would all make sense. Of those, I’ll argue for the Petrosyan fight. Beating Gregory Rodrigues was no small feat for the Armenian fighter, and Barriault feels like a good test to see if he can keep that momentum going. Barriault vs. Petrosyan would be a chance for either man to build a little momentum.
I couldn’t have been more excited when Khandozhko first signed with the UFC. A longtime veteran of the Russian regional scene, he made his reputation as a constant pressuring action fighter with a strong kickboxing arsenal. Then the injuries started. Jump ahead a couple years, and this is just the 3rd trip to the Octagon for ‘Honda.’ And while he took some lumps, to be sure, he also gave fans a great taste of what makes him such a fun talent to watch. Coming off this win, there’s a very clear fight I want to see Khandozhko take next. Mounir Lazzez is fresh off a really quality, technical kickboxing performance over Ange Loosa. Two men who really know how to land with power in combination; one who pressures constantly, the other extremely comfortable off his back foot. Should make for a great fight. Khandozhko vs. Lazzez is the welterweight striking battle I need to see.
This was a long time coming for the former top prospect out of New South Wales Australia. Pedro was seen as a possible future contender when he first hit the UFC, blazing through Khalil Rountree and Paul Craig. But a series of hard losses and brutal injuries killed all that momentum. Three years removed from his last fight, though, and Pedro doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. His kicks were sharp, his hands were fast. A win over Villanueva may not make him an immediate contender, but it does show he’s still a dangerous fighter to reckon with. Fights with Alonzo Menifield or Kennedy Nzechukwu wouldn’t be bad ideas if the UFC wants to go winner/loser here. But, there’s also an upcoming bout between Dustin Jacoby and Da Un Jung, Pedro against the winner of the fight would be exactly the kind of thing that would have the victor looking like a ranked LHW. Pedro against the Jacoby/Jung winner seems like a good way to see if Pedro can get right into the thick of the LHW mix in a hurry.
Aoriqileng may have had a rough landing in the flyweight division, but he still proved himself to be a tough, action-forward fighter along the way. A move up for a bout against Cameron Else really gave him the chance to shine, with volleys of offense to all levels and constant pressure. The result? A brutal body shot that dropped Else and a bunch of heavy GnP for the first round stoppage. That should set the ‘Mongolian Murderer’ up for another fan-friendly scrap in the bantamweight division. What better a way to deliver that kind of fight than a matchup against recent TUF winner Ricky Turcios. Turcios has made his reputation behind tireless scrambling and a funky striking arsenal. Seems tailor made for a fight-of-the-night kind of battle. Aoriqileng vs. Turcios should be a thriller.
OTHER BOUTS: Clay Guida vs. Chris Gruetzemacher, Montana De La Rosa vs. Sijara Eubanks, Lando Vannata vs. Alex Caceres, Jordan Wright vs. Dalcha Lungiambula, Dwight Grant vs. Takashi Sato, Ike Villanueva vs. Ed Herman, Cameron Else vs. Jesse Strader, Preston Parsons vs. Michael Morales, Evan Elder vs. Trey Ogden, Philipe Lins vs. Nick Negumereanu, Marcin Prachnio vs. Shamil Gamzatov, Mike Jackson vs. Martin Sano, Dean Barry vs. Pete Rodriguez