UFC Vegas 58 looked fine—not great—on paper, and that’s largely what it ended up delivering. There were some grinding decisions, a couple cool highlights, and a really rock solid lightweight scrap up at the top. At the end of it all, Rafael Fiziev walked away looking like a top 5 lightweight, and Said Nurmagomedov proved himself ready for a step into the bantamweight top 15.
So, can Fiziev convince a lightweight top contender to step into the Octagon with him? Is Kennedy Nzechukwu on his way toward the light heavyweight rankings? And can someone get an interesting fight out of Caio Borralho?
To answer those questions—and little bit 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!
An absolutely top tier performance from Rafael Fiziev in the most difficult fight of his career. As expected, he came out of the gate, guns blazing, and won early rounds rounds off his superior firepower and ability to stuff takedowns. But RDA has never been a fighter to get discouraged easily. And even though it took longer than expected, his constant pressure, body kicks, and solid striking slowly chipped away at Fiziev’s offense to the point that all three judges gave him the fourth round, and one even gave him the third. In that context, it’s extremely impressive that Fiziev was able to start the fifth round throwing with power and confidence, leading to a stunning KO victory. That kind of endurance, power, and most importantly takedown defense, truly announces him as a man ready to dive into the lightweight elite. Whether or not he can actually get the fights remains to be seen, but bouts with Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, or Dustin Poirier would all be electric. Fiziev has already called Gaethje out, but maybe it’s just something about the fact that they’re both short muscle dudes, or maybe it’s because his takedown defense is so insane, but I need Chandler vs. Fiziev. It’d be an absolute war for every second it lasted, and I gotta see it.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
The upside of this loss for Rafael dos Anjos is that he still looked every bit like a top ten lightweight, even at 37 against a man still in his 20s. RDA kept his pace strong and even into the fifth round, he took big strikes with relative ease for most of the fight, and he landed plenty of his own offense. Sure, he may have suffered a KO loss for just the third time in his career, but it didn’t look like the result of anything more than Fiziev’s own striking excellence. As such there are still plenty of fights I’d love to see him get. Pretty much anyone in the top 15 coming off a loss right now feels like fair game. The best two options for that appear to be a Tony Ferguson rematch or a fight with Dan Hooker. Since RDA lost the last Ferguson bout and isn’t the kind of huge KO threat that would have me worried for ‘El Cucuy’’s durability, I’ll say book Ferguson vs. dos Anjos 2. But the reality is that anyone from Dariush down to Ismagulov would make for a decent bout for the former champ.
After this latest win Said Nurmagomedov called for a shot at the bantamweight top 15. It’d have been good for him to have a name ready, but there’s no denying that he’s set to try his skills with the division’s battle tested talents. Fights with the likes of Sean O’Malley, Umar Nurmagomedov, Adrian Yanez, Jonathan Martinez, or Chris Gutierrez would all be the right kind of option. Of course, the potential for some Nurmagomedov vs. Nurmagomedov action is too meme-worthy to ignore, but the idea of Yanez vs. Said Nurmagomedov just feels like an absolute thriller. Especially given how devastating Yanez was countering kicks against Tony Kelley. A test of Nurmagomedov’s chin and another chance for Yanez to prove he can handle creativity out at range. Nurmagomedov vs. Yanez is a must-see booking.
It’s been a minute since Chase Sherman last got his hand raised in the Octagon. He’s had three stints with the world’s largest MMA promotion now, and his time there has come with more struggle than success. That makes this a big win on several levels for the ‘Vanilla Gorilla’. Jared Vanderaa went strike for strike with him over the bulk of three rounds, he put Sherman in bad spots, and really found great success behind his jab. But Sherman showed he can still dig deep and find a way to gut through adversity. Badly needed considering he generally has to lean on his durability and volume to compete with the heavyweight elite. Off this win, bouts with Josh Parisian, Marcos Rogerio de Lima, or the Mayes/Tafa winner would all be reasonable. ‘Pezao’ has made his reputation as a big power hitter with a limited gas tank. Seems like that could make for a solid chance for Sherman to show his toughness one more time, or for the Brazilian to get a badly needed bounceback win. Chase Sherman vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima would be a banger for as long as it lasted.
When he exited the cage off a loss to Nick Maximov, I never would have thought I’d be talking about Cody Brundage putting together a win streak in the UFC. He seemed like such a one-dimensional wrestling prospect that it was difficult to see him finding victories even at the lower end of 185. Still, he’s now off two straight finishes, and has some real momentum to him. Fights against Aliaskhab Khizriev, Andre Petroski, or Anthony Hernandez would all be solid options for his next fight. The Khziriev bout seems like it’d be an especially fun booking, given Khizriev’s aggressive, scrambling wrestling game. Can Brundage win the kind of contest he lost against Maximov, can Khizriev be the next Dagestani to take the UFC by storm? Should be a quality test for both men. Khizriev vs. Brundage should provide some great scrambles.
I’m not entirely convinced Mullarkey won this fight, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and that first round saw a lot of success for both men. Whatever Cortney Casey says, I definitely wouldn’t call it a robbery. When Mullarkey was sitting down on his jab with confidence and firing low kicks, he gave Johnson all kinds of trouble. Of course, given the speed disparity, that also meant spending a lot of time in Johnson’s range for counters. It was a serious test, and even if Mullarkey didn’t glide through it, he proved his durability and sticktoitiveness. There are plenty of action-fights for him to take at 155, it’s just a matter of picking ones that seem like they’ll be the most fun. Uros Medic was damned impressive last time around, picking apart Omar Morales, and given his height and range, it seems like a challenge Mullarkey has struggled with in the past. Medic vs. Mullarkey would a good test to see if the Aussie has figured out how to deal with lanky strikers.
Something of a ‘must win’ bout for Onama, considering that it was a short notice opponent that he’d beat once before. To Armfield’s credit, he gave Onama a hell of a tough first round, but the size disparity between the two men became a real concern in the second frame, when Onama hit a takedown and started working some top control. The end result was a tech-sub for the Glory MMA & Fitness fighter. Onama is firmly a talent to watch at 145, and I’d love to see him take a solid step up next time out. That could mean fights against Shayilan Nuerdanbieke, Lerone Murphy, or Melsik Baghdasaryan, but I especially like the idea of a fight with Josh Culibao. Fresh off a win over Seung Woo Choi, Culibao has been really overperforming at 145. Seems like it could provide a good sounding board for Onama’s fight IQ, and another chance for Culibao to add to his growing resume. Onama vs. Culibao would be quality a scrap.
Kennedy Nzechukwu’s UFC career so far has had its fair share of ups and downs, but it’s clear that he’s continued improving throughout his time in the Octagon. This fight especially showed it, as he went out and absolutely dominated Roberson with a suffocating wrestling game for 2+ rounds on his way to a late TKO. It’s a part of his game that has never really been on display before, and given his size it could be a real asset for him in the future. Off this win there are fights with Jim Crute, Johnny Walker, Alonzo Menifield, or Khalil Rountree that would all make sense. Of those I think the Menifield fight probably fits best. If Nzechukwu can put together a string of wins then bigger tests will be on the horizon soon enough. Nzechukwu vs. Menifield is a totally solid LHW booking.
OTHER BOUTS: Caio Borralho vs. Anthony Hernandez, Armen Petrosyan vs. Albert Duraev, Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Raoni Barcelos, Jared Vanderaa vs. Alan Baudot, Aiemann Zahabi vs. Heili Alateng, Ricky Turcios vs. Fernie Garcia, Michael Johnson vs. Joe Lauzon 2, Tresean Gore vs. Josh Fremd, Antonina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira, Cortney Casey vs. Montana De La Rosa, Garrett Armfield vs. Liudvik Sholinian, Karl Roberson vs. Ion Cutelaba, Saidyokub Kakhramonov vs. Javid Basharat, Ronnie Lawrence vs. Sergey Morozov