The UFC Vegas 55 main card had the look of a grind from the very outset, most notably due to the main event bout between former champ Holly Holm and rising contender Ketlen Vieira. And while Michel Pereira and Santiago Ponzinibbio thrilled, and Chidi Njokuani stole the show, the night very much ended on a note of struggle.
So, did Vieira do enough to make herself the next bantamweight title contender? Is Michel Pereira finally the top 10 fighter he’s had the clear potential to be? And how big a step up should Njokuani get after two straight highlight KO wins?
To answer those questions—but little else—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!
A massively important and (at least to my mind) well deserved win for Ketlen Vieira, who did a great job of not getting caught up in so much of the BS-ing that Holm does with her blitzing flurries to the clinch. She sat down on the bigger, better strikes over the middle three rounds of the fight, and won them all from two out of three judges. It’s honestly kind of a minor miracle given Holm’s ability to sway scores in the past, but the result is a very likely title shot for the Brazilian.
For fans that think she may not be ready for that step up, there’s a strong argument to be made for a fight against Raquel Pennington or even a rematch against Irene Aldana. But given the state of title contenders in the division, that seems like a bit of a waste. Pennington is the other obvious challenger of the moment, and if Amanda Nunes is still champ, that doesn’t feel like a particularly necessary rematch. For now, Vieira vs. the Nunes/Pena 2 winner seems like the most likely outcome. It’s not the most dynamic title fight of all time, but Vieira’s put herself in the right place at the right time.
Arguments about how the fight might have been scored or whether or not Holm should have won feel like they ignore a pretty solid truth that Holly Holm just looked a good step slower on Saturday. It’s taken 20 years and 60+ professional fights (between MMA, boxing, & kickboxing), but she wasn’t nearly as elusive as she’s been in the past out in open space. When Ketlen Vieira let her hands go, she found Holm’s chin on the end of them. Over the course of five rounds, it did seem like the ‘Preacher’s Daughter’ found her way into the bout, having a notably strong 5th round as Vieira started to flag. But for much of it, she struggled not only to create damaging offense, but to get out of the way of the damage coming back her way. A notable difference from her bout with Irene Aldana, just two years ago.
Fortunately, if Holm is dead set on fighting till the wheels fall off, there are plenty of 135ers she hasn’t seen in the Octagon yet. When available, bouts with Yana Kunitskaya, Sara McMann, Aspen Ladd, or even Julianna Pena (should she lose her belt) would all make sense even if most of those fighters were coming off wins. Hell, if Germaine de Randamie is still fighting, I’d love to see that rematch. I would say Kunitskaya is the best option among these women right now, but she and Holm have trained a lot together in the past, so that probably won’t happen. So how about Holly Holm vs. the McMann/Ladd winner? Both women are looking for a path to title contention and Holm is still very much that person at 135.
By the end of round 3, Santiago Ponzinibbio had truly asserted his presence in the fight and was starting to land the bigger, better strikes. Unfortunately for him, it took too long to get there, and Pereira had two solid rounds in the bank already. That victory should plant the Brazilian squarely in the top 15. After the fight Pereira called out Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal, but I doubt either of those bouts happen, especially considering that Nate is just looking to get out of his UFC contract and into free agency at this point. He could target fights with Sean Brady, Michael Chiesa, or Li Jingiang instead, but there’s an upcoming bout between Neil Magny and Shavkat Rakhmonov, two of the few welterweights that can even start to match the Brazilian for his ridiculous size. Pereira vs. the Rakhmonov/Magny winner sounds like a good next step towards the top 10 for ‘Demolidor.’
Another fight, another stunning first round knockout for Chidi Njokuani. He may have had a long career before ever stepping foot inside the Octagon, but now that he’s here he’s building a whole new reputation as a devastating KO artist. Realistically, given all his experience, the UFC could throw Njokuani as far up the division as he’s willing. Anyone up to Krzysztof Jotko or Gerald Meerschaert would make sense. But, for the moment, I’ll say the UFC should pick someone more firmly in the middle of middleweight, making their own climb. Anthony Hernandez has picked up his share of hard losses alongside entertaining wins. He’s also the kind of relentlessly aggressive fighter that used to trouble Njokuani in the past. Njokuani vs. Hernandez seems like a great step up to see if ‘Chidi Chidi Bang Bang’ can keep his momentum going.
This was very much the performance Holmes had to have against an opponent like Amedovski, who just might be the rawest talent in the middleweight division. He went out and used Amedovski’s aggression against him from the jump to great effect, landing constant counters. Eventually he caught him leaning in with a step knee that sat Amedovski down, and followed up with the RNC sub. Surprisingly, after the bout, Holmes made the claim that he’s the best grappler in the middleweight division. I don’t really see any way that could be true, but if he believes it and Andre Petroski believes it, they should fight and settle it. Petroski vs. Holmes is a great bout to settle the ‘best middleweight grappler in the UFC’ argument.
As expected Jailton Almeida’s dip into the UFC heavyweight division was easy work for the Brazilian. He went out and took Parker Porter down with a quickness, landed lots of shots from half guard, and wrapped up the submission the moment Porter gave up his back. That should put him in perfect position to drop right back down to 205 and pick up another fight in his climb toward the top 15. That could mean bouts with Azamat Murzakanov, Philipe Lins, or a re-booking of his Maxim Grishin bout. I really like the idea of a fight with Nicolae Negumereanu, but unfortunately the Romanian is already booked. So let’s go with Lins instead. The former WSOF champ looked shockingly effective in his return to 205 against Marcin Prachnio, and we already know that his size isn’t going to intimidate Almeida. Brazil vs. Brazil seems like the way to go; Almeida vs. Lins is a great fight.
This bout started out as a pretty even exchange of well paced kickboxing, but Uros Medic fairly quickly established himself as the front runner with a steady diet of jabs and low kicks. Omar Morales got more and more wild trying to catch up with Medic’s pace and the result were a series of hard left hooks that sent Morales to the canvas multiple times. It’s a great sign for Medic, most notably that he could keep composure to fight at a solid pace for multiple rounds. Given his frame and power, that could make him a real tough out in the lightweight division. Jordan Leavitt has already made himself known for his wily scrambling and grappling attack. Can Leavitt deal with Medic on the feet, can Medic keep from getting tangled up on the floor? Seems like a great style clash bout between rising prospects. Uros Medic vs. Jordan Leavitt would be a great benchmark fight for both men.
As one of the younger signings in recent UFC history, Chase Hooper’s success in the cage was always going to be measure by how much he could improve from fight to fight more than anything else. And while he’s hit his fair share of setbacks, it really did feel like this fight with Colares marked a good step forward. Even if he didn’t spend a lot of time striking, or hit easy takedowns, his cardio and scrambling attacks were absolutely unstoppable. If he can just keep that kind of energy going, he can make himself a fun problem for many other mid-card featherweights. Nate Landwehr has built his own reputation for being a non-stop action fighter. Hooper vs. Landwehr seems like a surefire battle of wills.
OTHER BOUTS: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Niko Price, Dusko Todorovic vs. Nick Maximov, Tabatha Ricci vs. Loma Lookboonmee, Polyana Viana vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Jun Yong Park vs. the Buckley/Duraev winner, Eryk Anders vs. Ian Heinisch, Alen Amedovski vs. Roman Kopylov, Parker Porter vs. Juan Espino, Omar Morales vs. Jamie Mullarkey, Jonathan Martinez vs. Kyler Phillips, Vince Morales vs. Brandon Davis, Felipe Colares vs. Youssef Zalal, Sam Hughes vs. Cheyanne Vlismas, Elise Reed vs. Montserrat Conejo