All told, the UFC’s final show on FOX wasn’t quite the memorable affair it could have been — especially not given the wistful video package memorializing the event that the UFC put together. But it was a very solid, decent fight card with some notably fantastic performances. In general the rubber met the road for the lightweight division and for Kevin Lee, Dan Hooker, Jim Miller, Bobby Green, and Jared Gordon a few hard truths were uncovered.
So? Is Bobby Green going to stay retired? Will Kevin Lee be heading to welterweight? And is Al Iaquinta in any kind of position for another shot at Khabib?
To answer all these questions – or at least two of them – I’ll be pulling from the classic bag of UFC matchmaker’s tricks. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at fight booking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “Paul Felder, you are a unicorn. A Unicorn.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time. Now, let’s get to the action…
‘Ragin’ Al’ sent Kevin Lee back to the prelims… and maybe out of the lightweight division altogether. This was a major win for the longtime Serra-Longo talent, especially coming off a better than expected loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov. A win over a top contender like Lee is going to leave that UFC 223 performance in a much better light (even if it wasn’t really a very close fight). I doubt Iaquinta is about to get a rematch, however. Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson would likely get priority, if not Max Holloway and GSP as well. Assuming that Ferguson fights Khabib next (zero guarantee of that) and that other notable fights don’t come to fruition, this seems like an excellent time to make Al Iaquinta vs. Dustin Poirier — once the ‘Diamond’ has recovered from injury. If Iaquinta doesn’t want to wait that long, Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje would both make for great fights. But, I’ll say Iaquinta vs. Poirier is the right fight right now.
If Kevin Lee wants to stay at lightweight, there aren’t a lot of obvious fights I’m eager to see him in right away. Dan Hooker just took a rough loss, but that defeat feels like a much bigger setback for the New Zealander than this was for Lee. A fight against the winner of Cerrone vs. Hernandez would be a meaningful bout all around and probably the best thing that springs to mind at 155. If on the other hand, Lee is headed to welterweight, he has a lot more possibilities. A fight against RDA would be somewhat of a cruel matchup for the Brazilian, but a high profile fight. And a bout against ‘Wonderboy’ would be a quick way to see how his size works in a new weight class, as would Till. But, I’m probably most intrigued by the idea of Lee against Gunnar Nelson. Nelson’s always been a small 170-er and his fantastic grappling pedigree could make for a fun, different challenge for the ‘Motown Phenom’. Lee vs. the Cerrone/Hernandez winner at 155, or Gunnar Nelson at 170.
That was exactly the kind of electric performance that Barboza needed to remind everyone that if they don’t fight him exactly, perfectly right, he will destroy them from the legs up. He put Hooker through an absolute molly-whopping, especially down the stretch. Another fighter known for his brutal attritive pace and destructive leg kick game? Justin Gaethje. Gaethje is almost certainly slower off the mark than Barboza, but he has a high pressure style that can absolutely give the Brazilian fits and is much more dedicated to it than Hooker was in his best moments. Especially if Gaethje only has a few fights left that he wants to take, better make all of them action barn-burners. Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza for all the leg destruction.
That was one hell of a way for Hooker to find out that his game just wasn’t polished enough for the elite levels of the lightweight division. He started out looking to trade kicks with Barboza and by the time he figured out he had to walk him down with combos, he could barely stand up straight. From there it was just a matter of time before his soul was transported to the ethereal plane by way of his liver. I was going to pick out one of a number of borderline elite winners for Hooker next… once he’s stopped bleeding internally (and maybe taken some time off just to get clear of the dreams of spinning back kicks). Someone like Trinaldo, or Dariush, or Taisumov. But, instead, I think the answer is Joe Duffy. Duffy recently got injured ahead of a planned bout against Damir Ismagulov, but that just means Hooker will have some time to heal. Dan Hooker vs. Joe Duffy seems like the right matchup of lightweight action fighters.
A rock solid win for Rob Font that reasserts his position as a gatekeeper to bantamweight’s top 10 right now — and unfortunately reasserts Pettis the Younger’s place as a flyweight. There’s talk that Cody Stamann may be taking on John Lineker next, which leaves much of 135 booked. But, there are very challenging fights with Rani Yahya and Alejandro Perez sitting right there. Neither guy is someone that anyone would be lining up to fight, but it’s either that or see if one of the young top prospects can use Font as a springboard. Or maybe take on a someone like Marlon Vera who still represents all the danger without any of the value of a ranking next to his name. Alejandro Perez vs. Rob Font would be a fine fight. I mean, somebody’s gotta give Perez one.
Charles Oliveira’s long-time-coming rematch with Jim Miller couldn’t have looked much easier. He’s developed into a much more patient, clinical version of the fighter he once was, while still being every bit as dangerous. Unfortunately, his success hasn’t gotten him any really meaningful fights at lightweight, especially not after his loss to Felder. And I doubt that a rematch with Max Holloway is at the front of anyone’s mind. I’d generally love to see Oliveira take on Mairbek Taisumov, and wouldn’t even mind him against a grinder like Rustam Khabilov. But, since I can’t trust Taisumov to get to the cage with any regularity, I’ll skip the Russians and say book Oliveira against Francisco Trinaldo. ‘Massaranduba’ has turned himself into a fixture of the lightweight division with his combination of toughness, bricked-up build, and power counter-punching. Should make for a good test of the more staid, technical Charles Oliveira. Trinaldo vs. ‘Do Bronx’ is a great way to give Oliveira another shot at the rankings.
I can’t, in good conscience, say that I believe Klose won that fight. He got out-landed in every round, and by a wide enough margin early that the argument that his shots were “better” doesn’t really hold a lot of water for me. Still, his game is developing reasonably rapidly, and this was a fight he can really build off of. Fights against Dariush, Makhachev, and Gillespie would all make solid sense. Of those I say go with Islam. Give Klose a fight against someone that will be looking to really physically take him to task, let him see if he can fight that kind of pressure off. Drakkar Klose vs. Islam Makhachev is the right test for Klose right now.
An amazing win for ‘Neto BJJ’. Down two rounds, headed into the 3rd, he turned it on an already injured Jared Gordon to get a stunning KO. He still doesn’t keep the best pace round-to-round, but he’s shown a great ability to fight hard when tired and carry his power late into fights. That could make him a great test for a prospect like Nasrat Haqparast or just right for a brawl with Christos Giagos or Carlos Diego Ferreira. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I like Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Joaquim Silva. Ferreira’s combo of unchecked aggression and fantastic grappling should force Silva to really bite down and fight through adversity, while also being fun-as-all-get-out to watch. Silva vs. Ferreira for all the Jiu Jitsu brawling a man could eat.
Hermansson had a pair of very nice, polite call-outs following his latest win. Both sensible fights he could have a real chance at getting: Elias Theodorou and Brad Tavares. Theodorou is coming off a hard fought win over Eryk Anders, and Tavares hasn’t been seen since a rough loss to Israel Adesanya. My bet would be that it’s not a fight Theodorou would be all that interested in, given his 8-2 run and entry into the rankings. But, for a fighter like Tavares, in need of a win to right the ship, Hermansson could look like a good fight to take. It’d be a huge step from someone like Meerschaert, but also the kind of fight he really has to be able to win if he ever wants to be in contention at 185. Brad Tavares vs. Jack Hermansson works for me.
OTHER BOUTS: Pettis vs. Elliott, Miller vs. Guida, Ottow vs. Lima, Grant vs. Touahri, Gordon vs. D. Green, Meerschaert vs. Marshman, Cummings vs. Sobotta, Smith vs. Boetsch, Ige vs. Moffett, Griffin vs. A. dos Santos, Rodriguez vs. Oleksiejczuk, Adams vs. Greene, de la Rocha vs. Spitz
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