It’s hard to even say that Jeremy Stephens saved the UFC’s St. Louis card. He certainly punctuated an otherwise not terribly thrilling night of fights with an awesome KO, but the broader strokes of the event were still one that didn’t look especially compelling on paper and didn’t end up with many truly compelling performances. For a lot of fighters a win on Sunday meant little more than a chance to keep treading water.
Figuring exactly who keeps floating, and where, can be a daunting task all on its own, however. So, to give the UFC a hand, I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby matchmaking style to pick next fights for all the fighters from UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi. That means putting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy fight booking, leave a comment below, starting with, “Hey, fighters! Takedowns wins fights. Nobody cares if you can punch, nobody cares if you kick. They want to see you wrestle.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader Chromium (aka Dan Frederick).
Hi, I’m Dan Frederick, currently from the San Francisco Bay Area, originally from Washington DC (the city not the suburbs). I’ve been a huge MMA fan since approximately TUF 1, and my favorite violent facepuncher is The Korean Zombie. While I did write a few articles for WomensMMA.com back in the day, I got this gig purely through winning a contest as the only entrant by de-fault: the two sweetest words in the English language!
Dan – Jeremy Stephens looked great tonight overwhelming the Korean Superboy, and for a minute I thought he made my job a whole lot easier by calling out Brian Ortega. Stephens has had an astounding 26 fights in the UFC, and I was pretty sure he’d already faced everyone relevant at Featherweight or Lightweight except Brian Ortega. That being said, I don’t actually quite want him to fight the division’s brightest rising star, since the UFC loses a whole lot more if Stephens wins than it gains if Ortega wins. So, and this is not a joke, I would actually like to see Stephens fight Jose Aldo. Both are exciting strikers, and the result of this fight is either Stephens finally gets his career signature win and can be a real contender, or Aldo wins and hopefully gets his groove back. On the 95% chance Aldo says no, then I’d totally be down for a fight with Myles Jury.
Zane – The fight Jeremy Stephens deserves is with Brian Ortega. It’s a fight that could emphasize the better parts of his technical striking game, along with showing off his power and chin against an opponent who is less hittable than Doo Ho, but not waaaaay less hittable. But, what’s the end game in that situation? Stephens already fought a worse version of Holloway and lost, decisively. Ortega is the most interesting top contender the UFC has, letting Stephens take a shot at picking him off just seems silly. To that end, then, I’ll say let Stephens fight Josh Emmett. Emmett has something to prove after his win over Lamas and Stephens is a big test to prove against.
DOO HO CHOI
Dan – Even after losing two in a row, Choi is one of the best young prospects in the division, and he has nothing to be ashamed of. His laser-like punches and excellent distance control make him a tough out for nearly anyone at Featherweight, and realistically he’s only going to get better over time. And you know who else has lost two in a row who could still use a top tier opponent? Michael Bisping. Unfortunately no ranked Featherweights fit this description (I had Bermudez pencilled in here before finding out he was booked), so the best I got is Doo Ho Choi vs. Yair Rodriguez for an explosive firefight. After that, my back-up pick would be Artem Lobov, mainly for comedy potential.
Zane – The next step for Doo Ho is likely a long stint with the Korean military. And after two brutal losses, that may not be such a bad idea. Still, I’m not sure how soon his service starts, and before the fight with Stephens he was talking about wanting to get a title shot ahead of his service. If he still has time for another fight before shoving off, then I’d say a fight with Jason Knight would be a good option. Two fan favorite prospects that got run up the division too fast, give one of them a chance to right the ship and in the meantime give both of them a fight that will get hardcore fans hyped up. Doo Ho vs. Knight.
Dan – Women’s Flyweight is kind of the Wild West right now, with everything still settling into place. Clarke can be proud of her hard fought victory, and my heart goes out to her for all she’s endured recently, but the truth is she slogged by an injured Paige VanZant who was still landing switch kicks in the third round with a broken arm. I’ve seen Clarke fight three times now and I’m still not sure how good she is. I’m actually gonna go win/loss here, as I want to see her fight the higher-ranked Roxanne Modafferi. Clarke has now beaten a brawler in Bec Rawlings and a predominant striker in PVZ. Why not test her with a grappler who also happens to be a name opponent? I feel like both fighters would benefit greatly from a win here, and we’d get a better idea of the pecking order in the UFC’s newest division.
Zane – Well, she’s 2-0 in the division, which gives Clark more wins at 125 in the UFC than anyone else. Title talk time? Probably not. Still, this was a big step for Clark toward proving that she’ll be a tough out for most of a relatively green group of fighters. She could fight a more experienced vet like Alexis Davis, or Jessica Eye, to see if she can keep building momentum in a hurry. But given that her bouts so far have been fairly ugly and close, I’d say put Clark in against Rachel Ostovich. Ostovich is a decent athlete who has had trouble finding confidence in her striking game consistently, but is a fun grappler and capable everywhere. It would be another chance for Clark to show her striking skill, and prove that she can scramble and wrestle with the rest of the division. Rachel Ostovich vs. Jessica-Rose Clark.
Dan – This was a tough loss for PVZ, but no one can ever question her heart, and she’s still all of 23, so combining her youth and athleticism I don’t think she’s actually hit her ceiling yet. And the fight I personally want to see is VanZant vs. Joanne Calderwood. It’s very difficult to see this being a boring fight, and one that will likely stay standing. Furthermore both are on two fight skids, and both are still highly popular names regardless, so lots of upside here in general. As far as I know Calderwood is still coming to Flyweight, so why not? Should be a good scrap and could totally open a Fox main card.
Zane – The injury was clearly something of a big setback for VanZant, but it’s hard to say she was looking especially improved before it, and even had success late with it, but couldn’t find that success early enough. Clearly VanZant is fast and dynamic enough to be competitive, but she just needs a lot more time to improve. Melinda Fabian picked up an ugly draw in her UFC debut. Her somewhat dangerous striking, but limited everything else would make an obvious puzzle for VanZant to solve. It’s either that or more generous matchups like Gevorgyan or Whitmire. But I don’t think the UFC needs to play things that soft. Paige VanZant vs. Melinda Fabian is my pick. Although I like the Calderwood fight a lot if their injury returns can line up.
Dan – After decorating the mats with the blood of a very resilient Emil Meeks, once again I thought a fighter had made my job a lot easier when Mr. Usman called out Colby Covington. Usman cuts a pretty damn good promo for someone who isn’t a pro wrestler, and after seven straight wins in the UFC, I had no problem with him getting a top five opponent, especially one who had just jumped the line to get there himself. So I guess my pick is Usman vs. Covington. However, Dana White seemed determined to throw cold water on that idea. So if I can’t have Usman vs. Covington (my first pick), I’d like to make Kamaru Usman vs. Neil Magny instead. This isn’t the world’s most exciting fight, but it’s a credible one between fighters in very similar positions, and not every elite fighter can be Robbie Lawler or Jorge Masvidal (while we’re at it, I’d also like to book Robbie Lawler vs. Jorge Masvidal).
Zane – He eventually clarified his statements to say that he was only 30% healthy going in to this fight, and not just holding back and coasting like it sounded he was saying post-fight, but either way Usman is continuing to make himself a fighter other top contenders just aren’t going to want to test. He’s a powerful grinding wrestler, with great strength and endurance, and he’s making himself nobody’s favorite fighter along the way. A deathly combination. I’d love the UFC to book him against Colby Covington, who has carved out a similar space in the UFC. But Covington has already put himself in better position than a fight like Usman and may not want any part of it. If that’s the case, then the UFC should book Usman vs. Magny, as Magny has always been down to fight anyone. Still Usman/Covington for ultimate welterweight contender fade-ability needs to happen.
Dan – Darren Elkins had what I thought was the fight of the night with Michael Johnson, surviving numerous instances of a hard part of Johnson’s body colliding with his skull in the first round, only to get a slick rear naked choke in the second. And now he’s won six in a row, I feel like Elkins deserves a chance to move up the ladder, so I’m going to go with Darren Elkins vs. Josh Emmett. Coming off a huge KO win over Ricardo Lamas, Emmett is now the #4 contender, and I think this fight is a great opportunity for both of them. Elkins gets a shot at a top five fighter, while Emmett gets the chance to prove that his win wasn’t a fluke.
Zane – Well, if I’m arguing that Jeremy Stephens should fight Josh Emmett… then that means there’s just one logical opponent for Brian Ortega. Elkins has been crushing the MMA meta-game lately, by losing whole rounds brutally, then implementing a style straight out of 2005 to get dynamic comeback wins. It’s turned him from a guy who fans dreaded having on a fight card into something much more fun. Who will Elkins beat next? How much punishment will he take to do it? I say put him in against the incredibly efficient grappler who has been staging his own series of comebacks. If Ortega wins, he’s still in title shot position, if he loses, Elkins continues a storybook run that could push him into a miraculous title fight opportunity. Darren Elkins vs. Brian Ortega.
Dan – Ooof. I feel for this guy. Why the hell was Johnson even given this fight? Even if you ignore the robbery by Beneil Dariush, he’s now lost four of his last five and definitely needs a step down in competition, assuming WME doesn’t cut him (I don’t think they cut anyone anymore with remote name value unless they refuse a new contract or commit a violent felony). Anyway, now that he’s been thrown to the wolves the last five fights, my pick for Johnson is one Chas Skelly. It’s still a competitive fight on paper, plus Skelly is dangerous anywhere and has a high finishing rate, and at least one of them would gain an awful lot from a win here.
Zane – Maybe it’s the cruelty in my heart, but I kinda want to see just how far down the ladder of imperturbable, iron-chinned pressure fighters we can go, before Johnson can pick up a win. Sure he couldn’t beat Khabib, or Gaethje, or Elkins… But what about Rick Glenn? Myles Jury schooled Glenn with slick footwork and counter striking. Theoretically Johnson could do the same. But Glenn is indefatigable and Johnson is superfatigable (that’s a word right). Otherwise, if the UFC wants to match him up with another former lightweight looking to make a mark, they could go win/loss and do Johnson vs. Maynard. But I like Rick Glenn vs. Michael Johnson more.
MARCO POLO REYES
Dan – Despite a 3-1 UFC record, last night was the first time I actually cared about this guy courtesy of a 60 second pasting of Matt Frevola. Frevola was fresh off being signed through Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, and thus was supposed to be a pretty good prospect I guess? That’s how that show works, right? Anyway, after that performance I’d like to give Reyes the opportunity to move up the midcard, and so I’d give him another usually exciting finisher who’s still finding his footing with Marco Polo Reyes vs. Lando Vannata.
Zane – Despite an overall record of just 8-4, Reyes has put together an admirable 4-1 start to his UFC career. Most of his wins have been brutal, and fun to watch. And that loss to James Vick is looking less and less terrible all the time as Vick continues his strong run of success. He could take on another striker in David Teymur, fresh off a somewhat lackluster win over Drakkar Klose, or Scott Holtzman, who has consistently been in action fights for the UFC. He could even try a bout with Leonardo Santos (if he’s even around anymore). Eventually, the Holtzman fight seems like it best represents where Reyes is right now. A fun action bout against a guy who’s been generally winning, but isn’t the cream of the lightweight crop. Reyes vs. Holtzman, book it.
Dan – This wasn’t the most amazing match, but Aldana was putting on a clinic with in that first round with her precise boxing and that judo throw, before Bernardo managed to slow her down with a relentless barrage of lay and pray and wall and stall. At the end, I was really glad to see Aldana finally get a win in the UFC and show a bit of why she was once such a highly prized prospect, and in a division in dire need of one. My pick for Aldana is for her to fight fellow Invicta alumnae Aspen Ladd, one of the best Bantamweight signings in a while, and proof that Invicta’s talent scouts know what the hell they’re doing. And while they’re at it, re-sign Sarah Kaufman already. How the hell is she not in the UFC?
Zane – Aldana is big and strong and clearly has some offensive potency, but she also has trouble dealing with pressure and needs to work on her wrestling. Enter then a pressure wrestler straight off a big win in China, Gina Mazany. Mazany’s UFC debut was terrible, but she made a great account of herself with a relentless attacking style against Yanan Wu. If she can get by Aldana with the same style, she could prove a tough out at 135. If she can’t, then Aldana will likely have shown she’s learning to handle pace and opponents constantly in her face. Irene Aldana vs. Gina Mazany seems like the right fight to me.
OTHER BOUTS: Meek vs. Salikhov, Krause vs. Makdessi, White vs. Ray, Frevola vs. Quinones, Bernardo vs. Yanan, Kyung Ho vs. Ramos, Cannetti vs. Sanders, Eye vs. Honchak, Faria vs. Carmouche, Aldrich vs. Suarez, Taylor vs. Pereira, Burnell vs. Allen, Santiago vs. Tucker
About the author