UFC Austin was a thrill. The main event bout between Josh Emmett and Calvin Kattar may have been just a touch more cautious than fans would have hoped, but on a card where nine of thirteen fights ended inside the distance, fans were left with little to complain about in terms of entertainment value. Kevin Holland made it clear he’s a force at welterweight, Damir Ismagulov continued his lightweight rise, and Gregory Rodrigues kept his status as a must-see action talent.
So, is Emmett the next man to challenge for featherweight gold? Is it time for Holland to get a shot at the welterweight rankings? And is there any such thing as a bad Joaquin Buckley fight?
To answer those questions—and a whole lot 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!
No matter how fans may have scored it, this was a fight Josh Emmett had to get if he wanted to keep his title hopes alive—and he put together a hell of a good effort for three solid rounds. Kattar may have got his jab working early, but Emmett matched him strike-for-strike in the opening frames with big, power punches. After getting his hand raised, he made his intentions crystal clear, calling for a title shot against the winner of the upcoming trilogy bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. Though, even coming off five straight victories, his resume isn’t exactly the strongest in title contender history.
However, he’s worked himself into a position where if the cards fall just right, he could easily be the guy. Most importantly for him would be Volkanovski retaining his title, since I’d have to imagine a Holloway win could very well lead to another rematch. After that, it’s likely a question of whether or not Yair Rodriguez can beat Brian Ortega. If Rodriguez loses and Volkanovski wins, that’s a best case scenario for Emmett. If Rodriguez grabs the victory, however, he may be the more marketable contender. No matter what, at 37-years-old Emmett should probably start out by waiting. Failing that, gun for the winner of Rodriguez vs. Ortega or the loser of Volkanovski vs. Holloway III. At the very least, a win in either of those bouts would more or less guarantee his status as the next challenger for the crown.
Calvin Kattar probably isn’t walking away from this fight feeling like he lost it. Even if he didn’t get the first three rounds, there’s no question as to who was in command of this bout down the stretch. Given his great reputation as an action fighter, as well, it seems like he’ll be primed for a fairly high profile bounce back. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him main eventing yet another Fight Night card next time he steps foot in the Octagon. That said, he needs a suitable opponent for that kind of fight.
Chan Sung Jung recently made it clear that he intends to keep moving forward with his MMA career. If he’s set on that, a fight between him and Kattar could be a lot of fun. But realistically, with Brian Ortega vs. Yair Rodriguez on the horizon, there’s one very obvious option. Kattar has yet to face either man, that leaves the ‘Boston Finisher’ against the Ortega/Rodriguez loser as a clear high profile booking, and a must see fight no matter who the opponent ends up being.
A great fight for Holland. Means tried at times to turn the bout into a wrestling match, but alongside the extra mat-work that Holland has clearly put in, it helps a ton that he’s not the skinniest guy in the division anymore. He was able to continually force Means into a rangy kickboxing match where Means had to walk through damage to get his game going—eventually that cost him big with a club-n-sub stoppage for the ‘Trailblazer.’
After the bout, Holland called out current top-10 ranked welterweight Sean Brady. It’s a pretty rough matchup for him, given Brady’s power wrestling and grappling style, but if Brady’s willing to take it, I’d love to see it. If he’s not, then fights against Jake Matthews, Michel Pereira, and Randy Brown all make great sense. Book Brady vs. Holland if Brady is willing. If he’s not, then Holland vs. Pereira is a fight I have to see sometime while both men are in the UFC and in the same division.
No highlight reel KO this time around, but Buckley showed himself to be a clear class above Albert Duraev inside the Octagon. He found a home for his left hand all night, and did a great job timing Duraev’s takedown attempts. I’m pretty sure the fight ending damage was actually done on a busted shot attempt where Duraev dropped right into a head kick. No matter how it ended, it’s still a strong win for ‘New Mansa’. Win or lose, he’s must-see entertainment for the UFC. A booking against Gregory Rodrigues from this same card would be an absolute thriller, but I always try to avoid that kind of matchmaking. Instead, Brendan Allen just came off a win, how about matching him up with Buckley? Allen’s grappling game could be a huge problem for his high flying opponent, but his trademark aggression might also lead him into a lot of violent exchanges. Buckley vs. Allen would be guaranteed fun.
I don’t really have a problem with Ismagulov winning this fight. His jab did great work in rounds 2 & 3 to keep Kutateladze’s offense only effective in bursts. But, the judge that gave him the first round really needs to have some serious questions asked of him, because that seemed like the one clear round of the fight, and Ismagulov didn’t win it. That said, it was a hell of a fight and Ismagulov clearly has a lot of skill, not just as a wrestler, but a well-schooled boxer too. He’s now 5-0 in the UFC and hasn’t lost since 2015. I’d call for him to take on a ranked opponent, but there’s no obvious option right now. He could face the winner of Diego Ferreira vs. Drakkar Klose or Riddell vs. Turner. But Renato Moicano isn’t booked at just this moment, and that seems like a top quality bout against a notable name. Moicano vs. Ismagulov is the best option outside the rankings. If not Moicano, I’ve also been interested in seeing Grant Dawson face a test like Ismagulov for a minute.
An absolute brawl between Rodrigues and Marquez ended up with the first stoppage loss of Marquez’s career. A tough way to go out for a guy who has always been able to withstand whatever opponents threw at him. But Rodrigues looked absolutely on point out there, firing good straight shots with a whole lot of torque in them—while Marquez swung back with wild counters from his hips. It’s a great return to form after a rough loss to Armen Petrosyan last time around, just what Rodriguez needed to keep himself in line for more thrilling action fights in the middleweight division. Lotta different options the UFC could go with here, but a fight with Chidi Njokuani just seems way too great an idea. Is Rodriguez’s striking alone enough to get past Njokuani’s technical game, or will he have to dig into his grappling once again? Njokuani vs. Rodrigues is a killer fight.
A huge home crowd win for Yanez who went toe to toe with Kelley early and often, even getting stung a few times in the process. But ultimately his tighter form and natural counter-punching ability won out with a barrage of hooks that sent Kelley crashing to the mat. That marks 9-straight wins for Yanez, four coming in the UFC, and three of those by KO/TKO. He’s on a serious run and should be headed for a ranked opponent in the near future. But bantamweight is a sharktank and there are several other fighters in something like his same position.
Bouts with Kyler Phillips, Heili Alateng, Montel Jackson, and Chris Gutierrez make sense. Yanez vs. Gutierrez seems like the best option to me. Gutierrez has proven himself an increasingly crafty and dangerous out-fighter working behind a constant kicking game. Seems like a great task for a pressure counter-fighter like Yanez to try and solve. Winner of that fight is primed for a number next to their name. Yanez vs. Gutierrez is a quality bantamweight scrap.
An absolutely stunning result from Ramos, who had Chavez on the back foot early, but didn’t opt to try and take the fight to the mat. Instead, he used Chavez’s willingness to skirt the cage to lead him into a massive spinning elbow that sent Chavez to the realm of wind and ghosts. A perfect way to bounce back from his loss to Zubaira Tukhugov and get back to his climb toward the division’s elite. Fights with Josh Culibao, Pat Sabatini, Gavin Tucker, and Damon Jackson would all make good sense. Between those, I’ll say the UFC should go with Culibao vs. Ramos. Culibao may not have Ramos’ speed and precision, but he’s a fantastic thinking fighter who knows how to hang tough and implement a gameplan and he’s proving that he can solve a whole lot of different stylistic problems in the cage. For a fighter like Ramos, who has struggled with opponents that don’t give him space to work in the past, it seems like a good challenge to try and pass. Culibao vs. Ramos is a quality mid-card featherweight bout.
The UFC did Stamann a favor with this booking against Wineland. He may have struggled with the edges of the bantamweight top 10, but it’s very clear that Stamann is a good enough fighter to compete with just about anyone on the right night. Wineland used to be that guy, but that was years ago. Stamann went out, hurt him with the first exchange of hard shots, and put him away shortly afterward. That should make for another bout up toward the edges of the top 15 in the division. Someone like Jonathan Martinez, Kyung Ho Kang, Raoni Barcelos, or Kyler Phillips. Martinez has been putting together some decent wins lately, a fight with Stamann feels like just the kind of step up he needs. And for Stamann, it’s a chance to string together a few victories and return to the top. Cody Stamann vs. Jonathan Martinez is a quality action bout at the edges of the bantamweight rankings.
An absolutely sublime performance from Hawes, who kept Winn on the end of a constant barrage of strikes from the jump—with a hard jab, front kicks, and a bevy of elbows every time Winn got close enough to land counters. Badly needed considering how hot Hawes started his last fight, only to get melted by Chris Curtis mid-flow. This time, he still gave Winn a few openings to land, but kept calm and collected and poured on the offense until the ref had no choice but to step in. Off that win, it’s time to put Hawes in with another tough, action-forward fight. Bookings against Andre Petroski or Jun Yong Park would both make sense. Petroski has been on a roll, seems like that’d be a real high quality fight. Phil Hawes vs. Andre Petroski would be a great test to see if either man can make a run up the division.
OTHER BOUTS: Tim Means vs. Danny Roberts, Albert Duraev vs. Gadzhi Omargadzhiev, Guram Kutateladze vs. Magomed Mustafaev, Julian Marquez vs. Ian Heinisch, Tony Kelley vs. Batgerel Danaa, Natalia Silva vs. Ariane Lipski, Jasmine Jasudavicius vs. Melissa Gatto, Jeremiah Wells vs. Randy Brown, Court McGee vs. Matt Brown, Danny Chavez vs. Jamall Emmers, Maria Oliveira vs. Montserrat Conejo, Gloria de Paula vs. Elise Reed, Deron Winn vs. Nick Maximov, Roman Dolidze vs. Jun Yong Park, Kyle Daukaus vs. Dusko Todorovic