The UFC put together a fantastic action fight card for their return to ‘big FOX’ last weekend. And while the main event may not have been a classic Robbie Lawler fight-of-the-year thriller, it was still a great card top to bottom with lots of finishes. Largely, excepting Ricardo Lamas, veteran talent turned up big to put away their flashier, greener counterparts. Which means there are a lot of familiar faces looking for new opponents.
To help find those opponents, I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking model of years past. That means matching winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like your own chance to take a shot at fantasy fight-booking greatness, leave a comment below starting with “Scusi, bapa-di-boopee.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me for next time.
This week’s week’s winner is BE reader hsobczak22:
Hey everybody, my name is Hunter and I’m from Denver, CO. You can find me on the Sportsbook Review forums under the alias Hugo de Naranja or on Twitter at @Hunter_Sobczak. Shoutouts to Shaggy and Turbo for holding it down over at SBR. I’ve only been following MMA since Rousey vs. Holm but I’ve fallen in love with this sport over the past two years. My favorite fighters to watch are Max Holloway, Tony Ferguson, and John Lineker. Thanks again to Zane and Bloody Elbow for the opportunity to discuss the fights. My goal today is to propose some high action matchups that funnel talent up divisional ladders.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS
Hunter – What a performance from RDA! He came out with a perfect gameplan here, taking advantage of Lawler’s refusal to check leg kicks and pushing an insane pace over five rounds. I loved how he mixed in consistent bodywork and showcased his strength in the clinch despite being the much smaller man. After the big win, RDA called for a title shot against the current Welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. Since it sounds like Woodley will be sidelined for a while with nagging shoulder issues that could require surgery, I’d like to see RDA stay active rather than waiting for a potential title fight. While a Dos Anjos vs. Covington grudge match in Brazil sometime later this year sounds enticing, I’d prefer to see RDA take on another elite striker in Stephen Thompson in a Welterweight title eliminator.
Zane – I’d be happy to see RDA vs. Thompson if they can convince RDA to take that fight, especially since it seems like more of the well regarded veteran kind of fight Thompson is looking for (having turned down Till). My guess, however, is that RDA does sit and wait for Woodley to be healthy. He’s put himself in a pretty precarious position as the top contender and Thompson would be a high risk stay busy fight. If he does have to stay busy, then I’d actually like to see him against Covington as neither man has challenged for the belt and a win for either of them would be just a little extra momentum. But my guess is RDA just sits and waits.
Hunter – Fan favorite Robbie Lawler showcased his warrior’s spirit, surviving an insane 48-strike barrage against the cage in Round 2, en route to a unanimous decision loss. Unfortunately, his insane heart and chin were not enough to get a victory over RDA on Saturday night. At this point in Lawler’s UFC career, I think it makes sense to put him in high level action fights rather than booking fights with the intent of pushing Lawler back towards the belt. A fight with Jorge Masvidal is intriguing given their mutual striking prowess but their friendship from time spent together at ATT probably rules that out. Instead, the UFC should book Lawler vs. Condit II since the first fight was both action-packed and controversial.
Zane – I do like the idea of Lawler vs. Condit II, whether or not Condit wins against Neil Magny. The first fight was great, and both men seem like they’re in the same late career stage that a second fight would be just as fun and competitive. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Lawler vs. Gunnar Nelson, who has had his title hopes derailed a couple times now, but is still a fun/funky style matchup for just about anyone. My guess is Lawler won’t be rushing back from this loss, especially not with an injured knee. So that should give him enough time to wait for a second fight with Carlos Condit.
Hunter – Ngannou must have been showing Emmett how to throw left hooks from the depths of Hell sometime in the leadup to this fight, because that punch put Lamas out just as bad as Overeem. For Emmett, this is a career changing knockout of a well-established gatekeeper to the Featherweight elite. Because of the magnitude of this victory, Emmett will likely have a number next to his name come Wednesday. The matchup I’d most like to see him in next is against Yair Rodriguez to see whether Rodriguez has shored up his takedown defense and how Emmett would handle a flashy and unpredictable striker. Another option for Emmett would be the winner of the upcoming Choi/Stephens fight.
Zane – Emmett has taken a huge bite out of the featherweight division. He’s beat the no. 3 ranked featherweight and needs another ranked opponent. A fight with Yair would be a great style matchup for both men, as Yair is open to the kind of power striking Emmett likes, but is also a lot better about keeping pace with a fighter who throws volume like Emmett does. But, I also think it’d be a weird fight for Yair to take off a loss. It’s too bad Chan Sung Jung is still months away from a return, because that would be a perfect bout. Instead, I’m gonna say that Emmett should get the winner of Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson. Although the winner of Myles Jury vs. Rick Glenn would also be good. And either would solidify Emmett as more than a guy who’s career revolves around one big punch.
Hunter – To this point in his career, I have consistently underrated Ponzinibbio. Now that he has compiled six consecutive UFC wins against a wide variety of style matchups, I think that it’s time to view Ponzinibbio as a clear Top 10 Welterweight for the foreseeable future. To that end, a main event matchup with fellow elite striker Darren Till seems like a perfect headliner for the March 17th fight night card in London. Alternatively, the streaking Kamaru Usman, who has dominated every opponent put in front of him en route to a six fight UFC win streak of his own would be a compelling matchup for Ponzinibbio’s next fight.
Zane – Till makes a lot of sense, as it’s the fight Perry was angling for, had he beat the ‘Ponz.’ I’m not quite sure it has the crowd pop that Till may have been hoping for in his next fight, however. And if the UFC does decide to book Woodley/RDA instead of Woodley/Covington, then a bout between Till and Covington seems like THE fight to make. Ponzinibbio could also argue for a fight with Wonderboy, but I think that would be a terrible matchup for him. If RDA does get the Woodley fight, then Ponzinibbio vs. Covington works great for me. Otherwise, Ponzinibbio vs. Till is the welterweight division’s action striking matchup.
Hunter – Say what you will about Mike Perry but that dude always comes to fight and his fights are always worth watching. Even in defeat he had Ponzinibbio in trouble several times and took Round 1 on all three judges’ scorecards. One option for Perry’s next bout would be a fight with Alex Oliveira in a matchup of fan favorites with solid UFC winning percentages. Since Oliveira might be on the shelf for a while after taking a ton of damage in his last fight, the matchup I would most like to see next for Perry is a bout with fellow durable brawler Li Jingliang. Although “The Leech” is coming off a win against Zak Ottow, I think Perry would be a considerable step up from the competition that Jingliang has dispatched during his recent win streak. Add to that the likelihood of Perry and Jingliang standing and trading until one guy falls and you’ve got “Just Bleed” guy’s MMA fantasy.
Zane – There are a bunch of strong options for Perry right now in the welterweight division both among recent winners and losers. Guys like Alex Garcia, Li Jingliang, Tarec Saffiedine, or Belal Muhammad would all make great fights. However, I think the UFC should slow play Perry a bit. He’s a fan favorite who needs a lot of polishing. As much as I’d like to see him against Dong Hyun Kim, a more favorable matchup in the moment would likely serve him better. To that end, I’ll say Mike Perry vs. Niko Price. Price is another power striker, who made noise after he demolished Alan Jouban, then ran into a technical wall against Vincente Luque. A fight with Perry would be a chance for both men to show some advancement in their games.
Hunter – Teixeira slammed the gates to the Light Heavyweight elite shut in Misha Cirkunov’s face on Saturday night. After the dominant TKO victory, Glover went over to the broadcast booth and pleaded for a title fight with Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier. Since Teixeira is coming off a decisive loss to Alexander Gustafsson in his last fight, I don’t see a shot at Cormier as a realistic option for Teixeira until he is able to get a few more wins under his belt. Instead, I’d like to see him take on Jimi Manuwa in a main card bout on the upcoming London card. A fight with Manuwa would give Glover the chance to prove that he can overcome a tough stylistic matchup against an athletic kickboxer who throws uppercuts while also testing Manuwa’s ability to keep the fight on the feet against a resilient wrestler. If Manuwa needs more time to recover from his recent knockout loss, the winner of Saint Preux/Latifi seems like a sensible next fight for Teixeira.
Zane – There’s one fight out there that I think makes perfect sense for Glover Teixeira. And it even has a history to it. That’s Shogun Rua. Back in 2012, Dana White came out and said Shogun would rather be cut from the UFC than fight Glover. It was a classic White attempt to bury a well known talent at the expense of a new one. Glover was just entering the promotion at the time, with a reputation as one of the top LHWs in the world outside the UFC. And it’s a fight that’s never been looked at since. Rua is out with an injury at the moment, but hoped to return in the spring. It’s a veteran winner vs. winner bout in a division that rarely gives new matchups for elite talent.
Hunter – After getting stopped in the first three minutes of consecutive fights, I think it’s time for Cirkunov to take a step back in competition. At age 30, he is still young for the Light Heavyweight division and fights with some less dangerous opponents could give him a chance to round out his skillset. Devin Clark is coming off a devastating loss of his own and I think a bout between the two Light Heavyweight prospects would have some fun grappling exchanges and scrambles. The UFC should look to book this bout for a European card sometime in the second half of 2018.
Zane – Fortunately for Cirkunov, there’s another relatively inexperienced, top 10 light heavyweight coming off back-to-back losses with a lot to prove. Corey Anderson looked like he was putting things together after he wiped the floor with Sean O’Connell in 2016, but he’s now been KO’d twice since. Both he and Cirkunov have a high volume, slightly wooden standup style, and both have ground games that just haven’t come into play like they were supposed to against the best. Match them up, see who can keep his spot in the top 10. Misha Cirkunov vs. Corey Anderson.
Hunter – Jan Blachowicz scored an upset victory over talented striker Jared Cannonier by employing a jab heavy counter-striking gameplan and conserving his gastank better than in previous fights. Matchups with Khalil Rountree (assuming he beats Michal Oleksiejczuk) or Jake Collier would go a long way towards establishing fighters to watch at 205 Pounds. However, I’d prefer to see Blachowicz take on the undefeated Dominick Reyes in a veteran versus prospect showdown.
Zane – Back-to-back wins over Marcos Rogerio de Lima and Joachim Christensen were enough to get Gadzhimurad Antigulov the no. 12 ranking spot in the light heavyweight division. But, that leaves the 30-year-old Dagestani with a hell of a lot left to prove. And a fight with Blachowicz sounds like just the right way to prove it, once he’s recovered from injury. It would be the perfect fight for a European fight night card, and I think it makes more sense than running truly green competition at Blachowicz, as he’s been handling that lately. Likewise a fight with Abdul-Kerim Edilov would also be a big chance for the experienced Chechen newcomer to jump up the division. Blachowicz vs. Antigulov seems like the best fight in the moment.
Hunter – In my opinion, the fight to book next for Taleb is Matt Brown. Taleb’s fundamentally sound kickboxing versus Brown’s “technical brawling” style would be an excellent test of Taleb’s ability to adjust to an established pressure striker since the only direction Brown knows is forward. With both men already age 36, it makes sense to have them face off in a fight to see who can make a splash in the division’s Top 15 before it’s too late. If Brown is not interested in taking a fight with Taleb, matchups with Jordan Mein or Belal Muhammad would clear up where each man stands on the fringes of the Welterweight Division’s Top 15.
Zane – Part of me says a fight with Yancy Medeiros seems like the right next fight for Taleb, but I’m also not sure how sold I am on Taleb as a fun action striker who can make noise moving up the division. He’s technically sound, he obviously has some power, but he’s more often been a guy who picks his way through close wins and losses over his career than a statement fighter. To that end, I say match him up with Sean Strickland. If he can do to him anything like what he did to Roberts, then start throwing him into some more high profile fights.
OTHER BOUTS: Lamas vs. Chan Sung (post injury), Cannonier vs. J. Johnson, Marquez vs. Neal, Laprise vs. Muhammad, Bofando vs. Jumeau, Roberts vs. Morono, Makdessi vs. Lentz, Trujillo vs. Miller, Di Chirico vs. Giles, Mein vs. Zaleski
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