Heading into Saturday night, UFC 235 was all set to be something special. A card stacked with current and former champions, action match-ups, and elite ranked talent. Sometimes, though, the best laid plans go awry. A fight between Ben Askren and Robbie Lawler that was either set to be a thriller or a snooze, instead ended up as a puzzling question about referee accountability. Tyron Woodley turned in the worst performance of his championship career with a landslide loss to Kamaru Usman. While Jon Jones seemed more content to play with his food than finish off an overwhelmed Anthony Smith.
So how soon before Colby Covington gets his chance at the belt? Is Ben Askren really going to try and dodge a rematch with Robbie Lawler? And what the heck does the UFC do with Cody Garbrandt right now?
To answer all these questions – and several more – I’ll be employing the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking method from years past. 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 matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “If I can survive myself, I can survive anyone.” I’ll pick one response to join me for next week’s card.
This week’s winner is BE reader “myxozoan” (aka Łukasz Kozak):
My name is Łukasz Kozak, but you can call me Kozak. I follow the world of MMA since Rousey submitted Zingano. You can follow me on Twitter @verykozak where I pester Bloody Elbow crew with quirky remarks and occasionally announce I’ve written something philosophical or a bizarro story or something. I am all over the place. Thanks to Zane for giving me a platform.
Kozak – Jones did precisely what he was expected to do. I am tempted to send him to heavyweight and leave the poor light heavyweights alone, but there is a definite contender in Thiago Santos. Jones vs. Santos.
Zane – It really does feel as though the only challenges remaining for Jones right now are at heavyweight. How could he do against Stipe Miocic? Is Francis Ngannou just too big for Jon Jones? Does a non-weight-cut Cormier finally get one back? But those also appear to be questions that Jones isn’t at all interested in answering. After the win he spoke about the new crop of light heavyweight contenders and how he’s looking forward to the competition they present. That really just means one person right now: Thiago Santos. If Dominick Reyes beats Volkan Oezdemir he’d have a serious claim, but Reyes feels like a fighter with time to improve before a title shot. Santos is very much a finished product. Obviously Walker is on a tear as well, but Santos is coming off the bigger win. Jones vs. Santos probably won’t be way more competitive than Jones/Smith, but Santos may at least be a bit more consistent in his violence.
Kozak – I was rooting for Smith. I often root for underdogs. The division barely provides enough contenders for Jones to beat. Let’s book Smith against Ilir Latifi. If Smith wins, he’d still be far enough from the next title shot not to get one. If Latifi wins, he’d be ripe for the winner of Gustafsson vs. Blachowicz 2 – which I want to see as well – and also far enough from the title fight. Smith vs. Latifi.
Zane – I’m hearing rumors that the UFC is looking to match Alexander Gustafsson with Corey Anderson for that Sweden card. I get it, it’s not an unreasonable fight, but I’d much much rather see Gustafsson vs. Smith. Gus hasn’t looked like quite the same fighter since his bout with Anthony Johnson, however he’s still a big, tough, dangerous offensive force. And unlike Jones, Gustafsson is defensively open enough to provide Smith with some real opportunities to return fire. That’s my ideal option A. If the UFC does book Gus/Anderson, then a fight between Anthony Smith and Jan Blachowicz is a strong consolation prize to see if Jan can jump back into contention or if Smith can go back to being a violent wildman against someone less dangerous. Smith vs. Gustafsson should be a high priority, but Smith vs. Blachowicz is fine.
Kozak – This one’s easy. Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington is going to be a lot of what’s great in MMA and even more of what’s not as enjoyable in the buildup. Ali guy against the MAGA-Man. Yeee. At least one of them will lose. For the record, both are great athletes, evidently. Usman vs. Covington.
Zane – The UFC has gone and done my job for me already here. Before the final bell even rung, Dana White was talking to Colby Covington cageside, promising him the next title shot. It’s a little remarkable that Colby didn’t annoy White out of contention altogether (he certainly tried his best), but since he didn’t he should provide an interesting first test for Usman — as a similarly intensely pressure focused wrestler. If, for some reason, Covington should happen to get hurt and can’t make the fight, then Till, Thompson, or even Askren have a chance to throw themselves into the title hunt if any one of them win their next fights. But for now, Covington vs. Usman is the obvious next move.
Kozak – I was both awestruck and disappointed when Woodley KO’d Robbie Lawler. Then Woodley grew on me. I was rooting for him. He wants a rematch, and I don’t see The Great Bald One giving him one. I’ll go against the rules. Match him up against Santiago Ponzinibio to give the Argentinian a chance to gather momentum and Woodley an opportunity for a strong comeback against a stud of an opponent. Woodley vs. Ponzinibio.
Zane – Could this fight chase Woodley to 185? I kind of doubt it. As a 5’ 9” wrestler the idea of him going to middleweight seems fairly ill conceived. But, he may very well have some soul searching to do in terms of next steps. Usman absolutely wiped the floor with Woodley in a way that I’m not sure Woodley’s safety first counter-punching style is at all prepared to compensate for. However, while he’s trying to figure that out, a fight against Rafael dos Anjos is right there waiting. Former welterweight champ meets former lightweight champ. If that fight can’t get done, then Anthony Pettis could throw his name in the hat with a win over Thompson, or Woodley could give Ponzinibbio a go. But RDA vs. T-Wood seems like the natural fight.
Kozak – Dana White’s gambit with fast-tracking an easy to promote athlete didn’t pan out, but it was worth it. Askren survived and locked the choke on Lawler. I wouldn’t mind if the referee stopped the fight after one of 15 unanswered ground strikes Lawler landed before Askren started to defend again. Let’s run that one once more. Lawler vs. Askren 2.
Zane – I’m not exactly comfortable saying Askren won that fight, but he definitely rallied back from getting his clock totally cleaned to make it interesting. White has already suggested they’ll be running this one back, and I’d be totally fine with that, however Askren doesn’t sound all that interested. If everyone ends up moving on, then Askren has to fight Demian Maia as one of Maia’s last bouts before retirement. A fight with Covington also feels like a natural booking at some point, especially if Colby loses to Usman. Askren vs. Lawler 2 is fine, but the Maia fight is sort of the one I really want to see.
Kozak – Lawler out-struck Askren 26 to 0. He also slammed Askren to the mat. Then the fight ended the way it did. I don’t hate the stoppage, but I don’t think it’s controversial to re-book the fight. Nobody’s expecting Lawler to talk a lot, and Askren’s going to keep us entertained more than we want with talking even when not engaged in the buildup. Lawler vs. Askren 2, please.
Zane – In my heart, Lawler already won this fight the moment he slammed Askren’s head through the mat and then didn’t get laid on for 15 minutes. The fact that he didn’t get his hand raised at the end is more a mere formality than anything. So, if he doesn’t get a chance to do this one over? No big deal. Robbie Lawler vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio would absolutely tickle my fancy in all the right ways if the ATT teammates are willing to fight one another. A surefire exchange of power boxing in the pocket that’s much better suited to showing off all of what Lawler is about. If team loyalty trumps matchmaking there, then Darren Till win or lose to Masvidal would be solid. Maybe just make Lawler vs. Ponzinibbio, and let Askren have a different less brutal matchup.
Kozak – Zhang winning is good for the division. Since she did to Torres what Joanna ex-Champion did, and since contenders are waiting at the top of the division let’s book Zhang against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk.
Zane – At some point Weili and Tatiana Suarez are going to have to fight. But Suarez is already booked, so that time is not now. In fact, most of the potential fighters that Weili could be lined up for are already spoken for; Ansaroff vs. Suarez, Waterson vs. Kowalkiewicz, and Andrade vs. Namajunas have the top of the division largely on lock. Claudia Gadelha and Cynthia Calvillo are out there, but I’d rather see those two fight one another. So how about Weili vs. the Waterson/Kowalkiewicz winner. She beats either of them and she could be lined up for a title eliminator. Weili Zhang vs. the Waterson/Kowalkiewicz winner for another scrappy action bout.
Kozak – Bantamweight is a shark tank, and matchmaking could just as well be done randomly (maybe it is) and still consistently deliver quality bouts. The win over Garbrandt didn’t tell us much new about Munhoz. Let’s book him against Lineker. The division is too small for that many sluggers, and this one is also one of the most durable guys ever. Munhoz vs. Lineker.
Zane – Munhoz made one hell of a statement by knocking out Garbrandt like he did. And, honestly probably provided a bit more clarity to the top of the bantamweight division in the process. Had Garbrandt won that fight, the UFC would very likely have been interested in fast-tracking his contender status again. This way other fighters get a bit more chance to shine. One man in particular put on a fantastic performance just recently to announce his contender status: Aljamain Sterling. Aljo had struggled for a while to find that extra gear to win against the true elite at 135, but his performance against Jimmie Rivera looked like a fighter who was finally firing on all cylinders. That’s just about where Munhoz finds himself too. Match them together and the winner will have a damn good claim for a piece of the belt whenever it starts getting defended again. Pedro Munhoz vs. Aljamain Sterling is the fight to make.
Kozak – I am fascinated with Magomedsharipov, especially since I’ve seen Al-Jazeera documentary about the school he went to (find it, watch it, it’s in English). He won against Stephens convincingly. Max won’t defend his title anytime soon, so let’s risk another of many contenders and match Magomedsharipov up against Jose Aldo. It’ll be either passing of the torch and lots of tears kind of fight, or another destruction of a contender that everybody happens to be perfectly fine with (hello Connor R.). Magomedsharipov vs. Aldo.
Zane – With Max Holloway running off to 155, featherweight suddenly finds itself with contenders in need of fights. Jose Aldo has been wrecking fools again, and Alex Volkanovski has been on a serious tear. Brian Ortega just hit the first big setback of his career, and Frankie Edgar and Mirsad Bektic are looking to shake off injuries. Throwing Zabit in with Aldo seems like a good way to lose a contender to a man with a foot already out the door. Similarly, a fight with Frankie Edgar would be fascinating, but may result in losing a new title challenger to a very familiar one. If Bektic’s injury recovery isn’t too long, then that’d be a great fight, otherwise there’s no reason not to do Volkanovski vs. Zabit, since the featherweight title shot is clearly not forthcoming for the Aussie. If all that fails, then there’s always that wild fight with Yair Rodriguez that just begs to be made. But Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Alex Volkanovski is a great fight with Holloway on holiday at lightweight.
Kozak – Walker is making a light heavyweight kind of run, and I won’t be surprised if he fights someone in top 5 on short notice next (if he didn’t hurt himself too much during the post-fight celebration). Booking of two undefeated prospects with Walker vs. Dominick Reyes makes sense but since Jimi Manuwa is in top 10 despite 3 fights losing streak let’s book him against Walker. Manuwa suffered only to top-level light heavyweights in his skid. Save Reyes for later for Jones to devour. Walker vs. Manuwa.
Zane – Walker just absolutely crushed Misha Cirkunov and it’s hard not to think that he can do that to every single light heavyweight on the planet now. At just 26, he’s a reasonably experienced 20-fight vet who has made a huge impact in his first few UFC appearances, so there’s no reason to hold him back. Fights with Corey Anderson or Ilir Latifi would be solid options to that end. I’d also be 100% down for Walker vs. Oezdemir no matter if Oezdemir wins or loses against Reyes. Most likely he’ll end up fighting someone like the winner of Teixeira vs. Cutelaba or OSP vs. Krylov 2. But, I really like the feel of that fight with Latifi the more I think about it. Two massively powerful, funky fighters. One super compact, the other stretched out and wild as hell. Walker vs. Latifi would be perfect light heavyweight mayhem.
OTHER BOUTS: Tecia Torres vs. Esparza/Souza winner, Cody Garbrandt vs. John Dodson, Jeremy Stephens vs. Ricardo Lamas, Misha Cirkunov vs. Jimi Manuwa, Cody Stamann vs. Petr Yan, Alejandro Perez vs. Rani Yahya, Diego Sanchez vs. Thiago Alves, Mickey Gall vs. Ricky Rainey, Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Trevin Giles, Charles Byrd vs. Julian Marquez, Macy Chiasson vs. Lina Lansberg, Gina Mazany vs. Clark/Bernardo loser, Hannah Cifers vs. Alexandra Albu, Polyana Viana vs. Syuri Kondo
About the author