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UFC Vegas 59: Santos vs. Hill - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest fight card in Las Vegas, NV.

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Thiago Santos after his UFC Vegas 59 loss to Jamahal Hill.
Thiago Santos after his UFC Vegas 59 loss to Jamahal Hill.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

UFC Vegas 59 was exactly the kind of card that Dana White loves to crow about. An under-booked, overlooked Fight Night event that nonetheless delivered a plethora of action to the fans that decided to tune in. Jamahal Hill announced himself as a potential future contender in the main event, Geoff Neal reasserted his credentials in the welterweight division, and two new TUF winners were crowned.

So, is Hill going to get the kind of top-ranked fight he’s looking for? Did Neal’s pick just the right moment to call out Gilbert Burns? And is Terrance McKinney back on track to blaze his way up the lightweight division?

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!

JAMAHAL HILL

It wasn’t the prettiest win in the world, but other than having another excruciatingly boring range fight entirely on Santos’ terms, I’m not sure there was ever going to be a path to winning this bout for Hill that didn’t get a little ugly. His defense in the pocket is still just a bit too reliant on speed over form and when Santos could create wild exchanges, he regularly found Hill’s chin on the other end of them. That said, the durability on display from Hill is going to be a major factor in his favor in future fights among the division’s best. If he can stay that tough to put away, there are a lot of fights where his size and speed will give him a decided edge.

After the bout, he called out the champ, Jiri Prochazka, and the former champ Jan Blachowicz. There’s certainly an off chance he could get the Blachowicz fight, being an exciting performer with some defensive flaws might make Hill a much more enticing opponent than someone like Ankalaev. But, I’m not really sold either of those bookings is likely. Instead, the UFC just announced a fight between Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir for October, Hill against the winner of that fight would be a perfect matchup. Jamahal Hill vs. the Oezdemir/Krylov winner seems like a great way for Hill to continue his climb toward contender status.

THIAGO SANTOS

Another rough outing for Thiago Santos, but perhaps there’s some solace to be found in the fact that this was a lot, lot closer to a classic performance from ‘Marreta’ than any fight he’s had in the last couple years. The danger in Santos’ game has always been about creating heavy power exchanges where his ability to land the bigger shots is key, coupled with crushing kicks from range. That dynamic forms a situation where opponents either have to face getting picked apart or taking a risk on a fire fight. Eventually, Jamahal Hill settled on the fire fight and came out of it with his hand raised.

That’s two straight defeats, and five losses in his last six fights for the former title challenger. And it should mean a significant step back in competition. Alexander Gustafsson just took a hard loss of his own, that could work for Santos. There are also bouts with Paul Craig, Khalil Rountree, or Jim Crute. Of those, I think I like the idea of the Crute fight the most. He’s been struggling to find form after running his way into the rankings, and a win over Santos would still be a meaningful bounceback for him. On the other hand, if Santos can slam the door on a young prospect, maybe he can get back to bigger fights as well. Santos vs. Crute seems like a reasonable step back from the light heavyweight elite.

GEOFF NEAL

There’s no two ways about it, Geoff Neal looked razor sharp on Saturday night. He brought his speed with him from the jump, popping Vicente Luque with hard left hands and snapping jabs in the first round—hurting the Brazilian multiple times. Luque rallied back well though, winning the second round behind a body attack and hard low kicks. All for naught, with Neal coming out sharp in round 3 with more heavy leather. A couple hard 1-2s had Luque hurt badly again, and a big flurry of hooks and uppercuts put him away.

That’s two straight wins for Neal after dropping bouts to Thompson and Magny. After the fight, Neal called out Gilbert Burns. Burns is coming off an April loss to Khamzat Chimaev, but it’s a great fight if ‘Durinho’ doesn’t have other plans. Fights against Shavkat Rakhmonov, or Jorge Masvidal would also be good ideas, but I doubt the Masvidal fight is one he could get ‘Gamebred’ to take. Burns vs. Neal is a fun fight if ‘Handz of Steel’ can get it. If not, I’d watch Neal vs. Rakhmonov at the drop of a hat.

MOHAMMED USMAN

It wasn’t a pretty performance from Usman, he spent the first round getting absolutely picked apart by Zac Pauga from range. But, he also spent a lot of time looking for a single counter left hook. Once that landed, damn if it didn’t make all the difference. A second round KO for the younger brother of the welterweight champion introduces him straight into the UFC heavyweight division. Much like Miller earlier in the night, it feels as though the ‘Motor’ would do well to get a soft introduction to higher level competition. Pauga looked like a pretty decent, but raw LHW talent. There are a lot of even lower end 265ers that would be a significant step up. Fights with Josh Parisian or Jared Vanderaa wouldn’t be terrible ideas, but there’s another option that just seems too obvious. Before hitting the Ultimate Fighter, Usman had two losses on the US regional scene—one of which came to fellow Octagon talent Don’Tale Mayes. Sure Mayes is coming off a loss, but that just makes this more the perfect time to give him a fight he’s already won before. Mayes vs. Usman is exactly the right entry fight for the TUF winner.

JULIANA MILLER

‘Killer’ Miller punched her ticket to the UFC with a fairly dominating win over Brogan Walker-Sanchez. While neither woman had a clear command of the range striking, Walker-Sanchez couldn’t stop herself from pushing the clinch, where Miller was able to reverse positions and beat her over and over again. The end result was a third round GnP TKO. Still, with only four fights to her name, the UFC should give Miller a pretty soft entry to the flyweight division. Bouts against Victoria Leonardo or Jasmine Jasudavicius seem like they’d be solid ways to go. Leonardo is coming off a decent showing over Mandy Bohm in her last bout, Leonardo vs. Miller seems like just the kind of next step the 10th Planet fighter needs to get comfortable in the Octagon.

SERGEY SPIVAK

Another fight where Sergey Spivak got to show off his wrestling advantage meant another victory for the Moldovan heavyweight. When he’s getting the kind of fight he wants, he’s absolutely relentless with his pace and pressure. Augusto Sakai did well to fight his way back to his feet early in the bout, but the constant chain of takedowns and wrestling clearly wore him out. It didn’t take much more of the same to break Sakai’s spirit in round 2.

That’s two straight victories for Spivak and five wins in his last six fights. It could very well mean a number next to his name come the next rankings update. After the bout, he called for a top 10 opponent. Even if he doesn’t get that, it’s safe to say his next foe should be a ranked one. That could mean Blagoy Ivanov, Chris Daukaus, or the winner of Jailton Almeida vs. Shamil Abdurahimov. With Ivanov right there, and coming off a recent win, might as well go with the Bulgarian. Given Ivanov’s slow and steady pace and generally strong wrestling defense it should be a good test to see if Spivak can manage a fight where takedowns aren’t easy to find. Ivanov vs. Spivak is a good test for the ‘Polar Bear.’

TERRANCE MCKINNEY

His victories still aren’t the cleanest things to grace God’s green earth, but McKinney wastes no time at all when he steps in the Octagon. He started this fight on the front foot pressuring with big power and speed, switched it up with some wrestling, and then found the back take and the RNC in the scramble for another first round win. After the bout, McKinney called out Paddy Pimblett for a fight, and it’s definitely a matchup I’d love to see, given how hot both fighters start from the jump—and how often both men tend to get tagged in exchanges. It might be a hard booking to get though, considering how fast Pimblett’s star is rising and that he’s stated that he’s not interested in fighting too often. If McKinney can’t get that, then bouts with Ignacio Bahamondes, Mark O. Madsen, or L’udovit Klein will all be strong options. Assuming the Pimblett fight doesn’t get made, I say book McKinney vs. Klein. A studied striker with some solid power could put ‘T-Wrecks’ in trouble, if he doesn’t get run over like the rest.

MICHAL OLEKSIEJCZUK

An absolute shitkicking from Michal Oleksiecjzuk. He went out and stormed Alvey’s castle from the jump with a ton of pressure and heavy punches. Alvey may be known for his counter KO’s, but he barely had time to find his range before Oleksiecjzuk started dialing him up. A great win for ‘Hussar’ in his first trip down to 185. Time to find him another all action opponent. It’s a real shame that Joaquin Buckley just got a fight booked, because he’d be absolutely the perfect man for the job. Instead, how about a fight with Roman Dolidze. The Georgian is coming off his own quick KO over Kyle Daukaus. And as a fellow former LHW, it seems like it’d be a great matchup of dudes with serious power at 185. Oleksiejczuk vs. Dolidze would be a fantastic action fight.

BRYAN BATTLE

There were some serious concerns about Bryan Battle’s weight cut in his first venture, especially after looking drained on the scales. But fans will just have to wait till next time to find out if going down to welterweight has any impact on Battle’s chin or cardio. Takashi Sato was still trying to feel out the range of this fight when he ate a snapping right hand with a right high kick chasing it. The combo put him on dream street and gave Battle the perfect welcome to his new division. After the bout, Battle had a couple callouts ready, looking for fights with Ian Garry and Brian [Bryan] Barberena. The Garry fight seems like an exceptionally good idea. Garry’s put together a nice streak in the UFC already, and while Battle isn’t a big step up from Gabe Green, as a recent TUF winner it is the kind of prospect-vs-prospect contest that could develop some fun heat to it. Battle vs. Garry is a fantastic fight if Garry’s interested in taking it.

MAYRA BUENO SILVA

‘Sheetara’ is now 2-0 since making the jump up to women’s bantamweight, and it seems like the new division is a good fit for her frame and physical fighting style. It felt like she made a desperate error early in this bout, tying up with Stephanie Egger and giving up the takedown to wind up on her back. But she snatched up an armbar attempt fast and got the (apparent) tap. Coming off that win, Silva needs to be pushing toward a spot in the bantamweight rankings. That could mean fights with Josiane Nunes, Joselyne Edwards, or Julia Avila. If Avila is returning from her knee injury any time in the near future, she’d be a great first option. But not knowing whether or not that’s dependable, I’ll say go with Joselyne Edwards vs. Mayra Bueno Silva. Should be a firefight standing, and a big challenge for Edwards if she gets taken down.

OTHER BOUTS: Vicente Luque vs. Neil Magny, Augusto Sakai vs. Walt Harris, Erick Gonzalez vs. Mike Breeden, Sam Alvey vs. Jordan Wright, Takashi Sato vs. Blood Diamond, Cory McKenna vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez, Miranda Granger vs. Liang Na, Stephanie Egger vs. Pudilova/Wu loser