All things considered, UFC 277 was a really fun PPV event. Amanda Nunes returned to her double-champ status in dominating form, Brandon Moreno left absolutely no doubt about who the next flyweight title contender would be, and Alexandre Pantoja staked his own claim to a future shot at gold.
So, is there a good argument for a Peña/Nunes trilogy bout? Should the UFC consider running Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich back? And did Magomed Ankalaev do enough to put him at the front of the light heavyweight contender’s list?
To answer those questions—and lots 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!
For one brief shining moment in time, the UFC had a clear answer as to just what the hell to do with Amanda Nunes in the midst of her extended run of bantamweight dominance. She had finally run up against a challenger that could push her to her physical limits, and even break her. In the wake of UFC 277, however, we’re back to asking a lot of the same old questions. Is it time to finally run back Valentina Shevchenko vs. Amanda Nunes again... again? Or does Julianna Pena deserve an instant rematch, despite being utterly dominated for just about every minute of a five round fight? Has Ketlen Vieira done enough to earn herself a title shot? Would a win over Macy Chiasson be enough to get Irene Aldana in the hunt?
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, because I never thought I’d find reason to say it, but it might just finally be time to book Shevchenko vs. Nunes 3. The second fight was abysmal, but Nunes has been through enough tribulations lately to feel more beatable than ever, and Shevchenko isn’t exactly facing any upcoming challengers that have fans clamoring. Shevchenko vs. Nunes 3 is worth booking while both women are still champions.
If the possibility was lingering, out in the ether, that Julianna Peña might just be too tough and determined for Amanda Nunes to handle after their first meeting, then it also has to be recognized that there was a distinct chance that Nunes might also be way too good for Peña to beat twice. Technical craft has never been the backbone of the ‘Venezuela Vixen’’s success, and a more composed, better prepared Nunes was able to exploit that fact for an absolutely crushing 25 minutes. To Peña’s credit, she never gave up, even for a second. And her dogged toughness and aggression gave the fight a strange precariousness, where it felt like the now-former bantamweight champ could swing the whole thing her way—given just the right punch or submission threat. But that never came, and instead Peña simply got trounced.
That leaves me a lot less interested in the idea of a trilogy, even though I could absolutely see the UFC booking one. Instead, Holly Holm is coming off a pretty disappointing loss that had her really riled up about judging. And she’s still one of the division’s most notable athletes. The ‘Preacher’s Daughter’ seems like a great fight to see if the 32-year-old can make a quick return to the title and keep her place among the bantamweight elite. Julianna Pena vs. Holly Holm looks like a top quality bounce back booking.
A very, very controlled performance for Brandon Moreno. He picked his spots early, working behind his jab, did a solid job pressuring and landing over Kara-France’s low kicks, and then even battled through some adversity to rally for the stoppage win. As a result, there’s only one fight left to make and it’s a fourth bout against Deiveson Figueiredo. The Brazilian was cageside to see this interim title bout, and after the fight the two men met in the cage and agreed to a possible showdown in December, in Brazil. Is that PPV card actually on the UFC schedule? I have no idea. But if it is, and if both men can continue the kind of shared drive and passion they showed in the cage Saturday, getting that quadrilogy booked shouldn’t be a problem. Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo 4 is the flyweight title fight to make, no question.
Kai Kara-France made the climb to the top of the mountain, and unfortunately found Brandon Moreno standing at the top, waiting to kick him right back down. To his credit, rather than slowing down as the fight went on (as many suspected might happen) the third round seemed to be Kara-France’s best—right up to the moment that it wasn’t, at least. Fortunately, there are more fighters looking to rise up the ranks at flyweight. Plenty of bouts for the City Kickboxing talent to use to reassert his spot as a top contender. Alex Perez lost earlier in the night, he could make a decent next option. Or there’s fights with Matt Schnell, Matheus Nicolau or a rematch with Brandon Royval as well. I especially like the idea of running back that Royval fight. ‘Raw Dawg’ is never boring business inside the Octagon, Royval vs. Kara-France 2 would be an absolute thriller.
Can’t blame Sergei Pavlovich for the quick finish in this one. He put serious hands on Derrick Lewis and had him in all kinds of trouble from the jump. If the ref stepped in before Lewis was out, that doesn’t change anything about the punches the Russian was landing leading up to that moment. The result pushes Pavlovich right into the midst of an already overcrowded heavyweight title picture. It’s not at all clear when any of the top contenders of this division are going to be competing again, and until they do, guys like him are just going to have to find ways to tread water.
Fights with Alexander Volkov, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, or Curtis Blaydes would all be fine options. Assuming there’s no training/friendship complications getting in the way, I’d say the Volkov fight is the clear first option. A fight with Blaydes is great if Pavlovich can get it, but Blaydes should probably be waiting to see if he can get a clear title eliminator bout, and Pavlovich isn’t necessarily that. Pavlovich vs. Volkov seems like a good way for both men to stay in the conversation of the heavyweight elite.
Alexandre Pantoja was a man on a mission at UFC 277. He walked straight into the teeth of Alex Perez’s offense off the opening bell, set the tone with some winging, wild power shots, then forced a scramble to back take, straight into a face crank submission. A brilliant performance for the Brazilian and a rough return to action for Perez. After the bout, Pantoja was unequivocal in his demands for a flyweight title shot. Unfortunately for him, however, the interim title on the line in the co-main more or less guaranteed the next challenger—and it won’t be Pantoja (despite the fact that he’s beat both Moreno and Kara-France before).
Considering all that, and considering Figueiredo’s injury and possible bantamweight desires, that still likely means that waiting is the best option Pantoja has. He has a clear reason to claim a fight with anyone holding gold at the end of the year. If, for some reason he doesn’t want to wait—and assuming Figueiredo returns soon—then the only other option is a bout against Askar Askarov. At that point, Pantoja should just sit tight for his chance at gold.
It may not have been exactly the kind of thrilling performance people keep hoping to see Ankalaev develop his game into, but his patient, technical approach was just the right thing for Anthony Smith to break himself against with a checked low kick. That pushed Ankalaev on to the TKO victory, and the seeming position of no. 1 contender. Unfortunately for him, Jiri Prochazka wants to fight Jan Blachowicz, and there’s a lot of talk about a Glover Teixeira rematch for the belt as well. And that could mean a whole lot of time between fights if Ankalaev won’t take other fights.
I’m gonna go ahead and assume that an Ankalaev title shot isn’t the top priority for the UFC, and that the Dagestani will need to get in the Octagon at least once more. If Rakic wasn’t recovering from a knee injury, that’d be an obvious booking. Instead, if the UFC really is going to do a rematch for Teixeira, I’ll say book Ankalaev vs. Blachowicz. If it’s a Blachowicz title shot instead, go with Ankalaev/Texieira. But, Magomed Ankalaev vs. Jan Blachowicz is exactly the kind of bout to make a no. 1 contender.
There may still be gaps in Dober’s takedown defense, submission defense, and punching defense, but Drew Dober has used his time in the UFC to mold himself into one of the promotion’s most absolutely thrilling action talents. Rafael Alves looked like he had all the answers in round 1 behind his blinding speed, serious power, and even a nifty trip takedown. Dober weathered the storm, kept the pressure high and started breaking down Alves’ body on the way to a one punch liver shot KO in round 3. A beautiful win for the Elevation Fight Team product.
Given Dober’s self stated predilection for only choosing exciting action fights, bouts with Jim Miller, Michael Johnson, Renato Moicano, or Jalin Turner would all be solid options. Turner is making some serious waves at 155 right now, and is always a thrill to watch, how about Turner vs. Dober just to see if Dober can find a way into the rankings?
It wasn’t the easiest bout of Morales’ career, but ultimately he came away with exactly the kind of win fans would hope to see from a great prospect against an opponent with just a few days notice. Fugitt has a crafty, broken rhythm, kick-heavy game and—coupled with a couple takedowns—it gave Morales some serious trouble. But, Morales found his power strikes in every round and made Fugitt pay for his willingness to keep the fight standing, to the tune of a 3rd round TKO. That should leave the 23-year-old poised for a solid step up next time. Bookings against Jack Della Maddalena, Mounir Lazzez, or even Mike Mallott would all be fun thrillers. But I like the idea of giving Morales someone with some solid experience to test his consistency. Sergey Khandozhko may not have a big name in the UFC, but he’s an extremely battle-tested veteran with a rock solid striking game. Morales vs. Khandozhko feels like just the kind of tough fight Morales needs next.
OTHER BOUTS: Derrick Lewis vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alex Perez vs. Askar Aksarov, Anthony Smith vs. Paul Craig, Alex Morono vs. Jake Matthews, Matthew Semelsberger vs. Gabriel Green, Rafael Alves vs. Mike Davis, Hamdy Abdelwahab vs. Jarjis Danho, Don’Tale Mayes vs. Parker Porter, Drakkar Klose vs. Thiago Moises, Rafa Garcia vs. Omar Morales, Adam Fugitt vs. Yohan Lainesse, Joselyne Edwards vs. Julia Avila, Ji Yeon Kim vs. Jessy-Rose Clark, Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Alonzo Menifield, Ihor Potieria vs. Mingyang Zhang, Orion Cosce vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov, Mike Diamond vs. Pete Rodriguez