Fans have to hope that the promotion didn’t learn exactly the wrong lesson from UFC 284. Namely, that if they put together an extremely top-heavy event with just a few notable names on it, that fans will still walk away entirely satisfied. That’s a long way of saying that Saturday’s PPV, in Perth, rocked hard. Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski truly tested one another as top-flight champions in the prime of their careers. Yair Rodriguez got to show off his skills as one of featherweight’s most dangerous men. Jack Della Maddalena looked every bit the picture of a star on the rise.
So, will Rodriguez get a chance to unify the belt at 145? Or will Volkanovski get a rematch with Makhachev? What about Beneil Dariush, shouldn’t he be next?
To answer those questions—and much 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!
In reality, Islam Makhachev had an excellent fight for the better part of four rounds. He out-struck Alexander Volkanovski for solid stretches standing, he effectively backpacked the featherweight champion on the ground. All told he put together a rugged, all-around kind of performance that wins decisions. Then that 5th round hit and all of it went south—well, almost south. More like Midwest, considering that Makhachev still escaped the final round to grab the win. Which is to say that, while the end of the fight looked bad, Makhachev performed very well—and his victory wasn’t at all undeserved.
The big question now is, who’s his next title challenger going to be? There are two very obvious options, it only remains to be seen which way the UFC will go. The first is a fight with Dustin Poirier. Sure he’s already lost two failed bids for gold, but he’s also the division’s most notable, high-profile talent coming off a meaningful win. The second, and much more technically deserving option is Beneil Dariush—a man even Poirier admits he’s not interested in fighting, because the Iranian-American just isn’t notable enough.
Of course, if Makhachev simply wants to wait, his options could grow. Michael Chandler & Conor McGregor are going to face off later this year, in a fight that could see McGregor directly back in the hunt. There’s always recently dethroned champ Charles Oliveira too. Nothing to say ‘Do Bronx’ couldn’t fight Dariush and get a chance to reclaim his belt. All things considered, I’ll say this is the time to make Dariush vs. Makhachev. The Kings MMA talent has earned his place. Fights with Poirier, Oliveira, or the rest aren’t going away—for Dariush, however, the time is now.
ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI & YAIR RODRIGUEZ
Maybe it’s unfair to say that no fighter exited UFC 284 with more positive momentum than Alexander Volkanovski. After all, he lost. Guys like Jack Della Maddalena, Yair Rodriguez, and Kleydson Rodrigues thrilled in their wins. But, Volkanovski took on a huge task when he moved up to fight Makhachev and, even if judges could find a way to award him the victory, it feels like he had all the success he needed to claim victory. He was devilishly difficult to take down, impossible to break, and when Makhachev lost even half a step Volkanovski was right there to pounce on him and make it clear that the long arc of the bout was very firmly in his favor.
Immediately following the main event, Volkanovski admitted he had business to take care of at 145, but would be back to fight at lightweight again. Later in the evening, however, he sounded less sure of that plan—with talk of an immediate rematch against the Dagestani, if he could get it. If I had to make a guess, he won’t get it.
Just before the night’s main event, a new piece of the featherweight crown was created. Yair Rodriguez took on Josh Emmett for an interim title, with ‘El Pantera’ making it all too clear that he was a serious level above the Team Alpha Male talent. Emmett had his trademark power, and he even did a little wrestling—something he’s done all too rarely in the past—but the vast majority of the fight had Rodriguez kicking his foe to absolute pieces. The fact that he was able to win by submission off his back after giving up the takedown to Emmett just goes to show how viciously dangerous the 30-year-old can be.
Will that be enough to defeat Volkanovski, in ways that it wasn’t enough to beat Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar? I don’t know. But it absolutely feels like Rodriguez has earned the chance to find out. It may not be as big a fight as the Makhachev rematch that Volkanovski wants, but he set the challenge that the featherweight division needed to create a top contender for him to face. It’s done that now. Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez should absolutely be the next fight on tap for Alexander ‘The Great’.
JACK DELLA MADDALENA
For the first minute+ or so of this fight, Randy Brown seemed like he had a handle on things. He was sticking and moving, staying elusive, staying long. But once Maddalena got a feel on the range and timing, he marched Brown straight to the cage, punched him to the mat and then choked him out. Hard to have a better performance than that for the Aussie, especially on home turf. It doesn’t sound like JDM is looking to return to competition soon, but when he does, he’ll be staring the edges of the top 15 right in the eye. Fights against Neil Magny, the Holland/ Ponzinibbio winner, Nicolas Dalby, Michel Pereira or Muslim Salikhov would all be a hell of a lot of fun. Since Muslim Salikhov is coming off a great win and isn’t booked, I’ll say let Maddalena test himself against the ‘King of Kung Fu’. Jack Della Maddalena vs. Muslim Salikhov would be a ‘don’t blink’ thriller.
A perfect one-punch KO for Justin Tafa here. Parker Porter came out looking to throw in volume and press the action and take a hard fight to the Aussie. But if Tafa has taken nothing else from Mark Hunt’s game, he made sure to grab that sweet step back uppercut that the ‘Super Samoan’ loves so much. Porter stepped straight on to it for the walk-off knockout. That sets Tafa up for another heavyweight action battle. Dontayle Mayes is set to take on Augusto Sakai in the near future, the winner of that seems like they’d make for a fun next challenge. Tafa vs. the Sakai/Mayes winner would be good. If not that, then I’m all for a fight with Rodrigo Nascimento.
JIMMY CRUTE & ALONZO MENIFIELD
They wanna run it back, run it back. If something is gonna get in the way of that idea, then do Menifield against Nick Negumereanu, and Crute against the Knight/Prachnio loser.
This looked like the end of Josh Culibao’s surprising run of success in the featherweight division. Melsik Baghdasaryan was entirely too fast, too powerful, and too clinical from distance and Culibao seemed like he had very few answers. See enough kicks though, and sometimes an opportunity presents itself. Culibao finally countered a body kick in round 2 by pushing through it to land a hard jab that caught Baghdasaryan totally off balance. An instant back take to follow and the RNC sealed the deal seconds later. A great win to keep Culibao unbeaten in his last four fights.
Bouts against Makwan Amirkhani, Hakeem Dawodu, or Dooho Choi would all be good options. I think I like that Choi fight most of all. The ‘Korean Superboy’ still has to prove he’s shaken out the cobwebs of his latest long layoff, and it’s another opportunity for Culibao to add a name win to his resume. Culibao vs. Choi sounds like a lot of fun.
After a disappointing debut, Rodrigues needed to show up big against a debuting Shannon Ross. A loss here and the seeming top-prospect Brazilian could find himself closer to exiting the promotion than entering the top 15. Looks like he knew the score from the jump, coming out with a spinning back kick and a ton of pressure to start the fight. In the face of that onslaught, Ross essentially never got started—with Rodrigues picking him off with a variety of kicks before blitzing forward with heavy body punches. A few seconds later and the ‘Turkish Delight’ was on the mat. Fight finished. Can the bounceback continue? A fight against the recently surging Charles Johnson seems like a great way to find out. Johnson looked like a killer against Jimmy Flick last time around, should be a good test for Rodrigues to see if he’s truly found his form in the Octagon. Johnson vs. Rodrigues should make for a fantastic flyweight striking war.
A fantastic win from Loma Lookboonmee, who appeared strong coming out of the gate and seemed in complete control, right up until the moment she got swept and spent the rest of round 1 getting beat up by Elise Reed from half guard. The adversity only lit a bigger fire under the Thai fighter, however, and she stormed Reed’s castle in round 2 with a slamming bodylock takedown—right into a rear naked choke submission. That’s two-straight for Lookboonmee and should put her right back into another action-forward scrap.
If that’s the case, I’ve got just the prospect on the rise for her to test herself against. Yazmin Jauregui looked fantastic in her debut, but Istela Nunes put a little scare into her last time around—before getting TKO’d in the second. Jauregui’s a thrilling volume striker, still looking to add more pieces to her game. Does she have the physicality to handle Lookboonmee, or can the Tiger Muay Thai talent school her. Lookboonmee vs. Jauregui would be a great test for the young Mexican prospect.
OTHER BOUTS: Josh Emmett vs. Calvin Kattar 2, Randy Brown vs. Jake Matthews, Parker Porter vs. Tanner Boser, Modestas Bukauskas vs. Ihor Potieria, Tyson Pedro vs. Da Un Jung, Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. David Onama, Shannon Ross vs. Carlos Candelario, Jamie Mullarkey vs. Fares Ziam, Francisco Prado vs. Patterson/Ashmoz loser, Jack Jenkins vs. Luis Saldana, Don Shainis vs. Jarno Errens, Elise Reed vs. Jinh Yu Frey, Blake Bilder vs. Joanderson Brito, Shane Young vs. Sean Woodson, Elves Brenner vs. Trey Ogden, Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Damir Hadzovic