UFC 248 was a fantastic card all the way from the main event down to the opening prelims… although that postlim bout between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero was a bit of a snoozer. Still, Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk put together a war worthy of any MMA hall of fame, an all-time great fight for the ages. And on a night with lots of finishes, back-and-forth action, and interesting, meaningful match-ups, It’s hard to complain.
So, who’s the next strawweight title challenger for Weili Zhang? What can Yoel Romero do to salve the burn of losing out on his fourth chance to win UFC gold? And how fast to does the UFC push Sean O’Malley into deep water?
I’ll be answering those questions – and a whole lot more – using the classic Silva/Shelby methodology from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. That way, maybe at least a few of these potential matchups will be things that the UFC will actually make sometime in the near future. On that note, let’s get to the fights.
Even if this win was hardly the definitive statement Adesanya had hoped to make, his next step is pretty simple and clear. Dana White is already working hard to throw cold water on any feeling that Yoel Romero might deserve some kind of rematch, laying the blame for this stinker of a fight solely at Romero’s feet. The hope has to be that doing so will leave the UFC totally free and clear to start hyping Adesanya vs. Costa right away. While this win wasn’t the easiest way to build that fight, it will give Paulo Costa lots and lots of ammo to lob at the middleweight champion in the coming months. And it looks like ammunition that he’s dead set on using, so that should be fun. Isreal Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa for UFC 252 and International Fight Week seems like a shoo-in.
Yoel Romero can be mad that Adesanya didn’t come after him more, but end of the day, when he’s only throwing 89 strikes across five rounds of stand-up action? He’s only got himself to blame. He built his entire game around getting that one big KO moment. The KO moment didn’t happen, and he got out-worked—even if only by the narrowest margin. From the sound of Dana White’s displeasure, he’s not going to be getting another title shot anytime soon. But, as one of middleweight’s most fearsome contenders, he can still be a fixture for the UFC for as long as he wants to keep fighting. At the moment, Kelvin Gastelum, Jared Cannonier, and Darren Till are all free and without a fight. Obviously the most hilarious of those options would be to try and talk Till into fighting Romero, but the most likely has to be Kelvin Gastelum vs. Yoel Romero. That would be a thriller.
Due to a few different factors, there’s not really a clear next challenger ready for Weili Zhang right this second, but there should be one coming soon—depending how a couple fights play out. If Rose Namajunas beats Jessica Andrade, then she’s clearly gotta be the no. 1 contender. Otherwise, if Marina Rodriguez beats Claudia Gadelha, then maybe the UFC could match her up with Tatiana Suarez for that contenders spot. Still, that’s a bit too far down the line, for my liking. The reality is, even if Andrade wins, the UFC would probably be happy to book her in a rematch with ‘Magnum.’ That means, no matter the outcome, Weili Zhang vs. the winner of Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade seems like the fight we’ll see next.
An incredibly tough fight for Joanna and a bout that she can very rightfully feel like she might have won. Still, she can at least revel in the glory of having been part of one of the UFC’s all-time great fights. It’s small consolation over having a belt around her waist, but still a hell of an accomplishment. Depending on how a couple bouts play out, that will probably determine what comes next for Jedrzejczyk. The best option would be if Namajunas beats Andrade, that would set Namajunas up to challenge Zhang, and Andrade up for a rematch with ‘Joanna Champion.’ The other option would just be to take on Tatiana Suarez as the final proving ground for Suarez’s potential title-contendership. The only other sensible thing would be to try and bounce to 125 again and fight a few of Shevchenko’s failed challengers—but that experiment has probably run its course. Since the Andrade fight is predicated on a performance that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll say book Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Tatiana Suarez, but that Andrade fight is the one to make.
A wild fight for Dariush. He almost had Klose in the first with a ton of time searching for the RNC from a standing backpack position. But, in round two, it seemed like Klose was fresher and cracking Dariush hard. Whatever he landed, though, just seemed to wake Dariush back up into an all-out brawl—one that left Klose out on the canvas for the first time in his pro career. A great win for Dariush, one that puts him on a four-fight win streak, and right back in the thick of things at 155 after the worst stretch of his career. That could mean a fight with Leonardo Santos, if Santos is going to fight anytime soon, but it seems like an even better, more likely matchup would be a bout against Carlos Diego Ferreira. Dariush worked out a decent win over Ferreira back in 2014, but both men have covered a lot of mileage since then to become elite lightweights today. Seems like the prefect time to run it back. Beneil Dariush vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira 2 would be a fantastic measuring stick to see how far both men have come.
Remarkable performance from Magny all around. His boxing looked sharper, his clinch looked strong, and he was just as tireless and high-output as ever. Jingliang couldn’t get comfortable at range and just got chewed up trying to out-wrestle Magny inside. That kind of win puts Magny right back in the thick of the top 15, which means he’s got plenty of new people to fight. I’d love to see him fight Geoff Neal, but Magny also made a callout that seems like it’d make for a great scrap: Michael Chiesa. Even as a former lightweight, Chiesa has looked huge at welterweight. And while he can’t match Magny for technique at range, he’s exactly the kind of crafty clinch wrestler and grappler who could challenge Magny in the kind of fight Jingliang just lost. Magny vs. Neal would be fun, but if Neil Magny wants Michael Chiesa, I see no reason not to make that fight happen.
A hard fought battle for Oliveira where both he and Griffin won one clean round and the third was a terribly close split with two big shifts in momentum. Still, it’s exactly the win Oliveira needed to keep his UFC career alive after three straight losses. The Brazilian ‘Cowboy’ has always been down to scrap with whoever the UFC wants to throw his way. That could mean Jake Matthews, or James Krause, or even Song Kenan. But, I think there’s a pretty great scrap out there that I’d love to see Oliveira in, and that’s Claudio Silva. ‘Hannibal’ has been on a tear at 170lbs, since returning from a long injury layoff. But, coming off a win over Cole Williams, he needs a step up against more prestigious competition. A fight against Alex Oliveira is just the step up Claudio Silva needs, and the perfect next wild action bout for the Cowboy.
Exactly the return to form O’Malley must have been hoping for after a long battle with USADA and injuries. He looked exceptionally smooth in his finishing sequence against Quinonez—with the counter hook, the head kick, the uppercut, and the followup GnP. He’s a fighter the UFC has wanted to invest in, and he’s giving them a lot to work with. The UFC could easily pair him with fellow prospects Montel Jackson, Brett Johns, or even Song Yadong. Most likely however, the UFC will want to test him against another known veteran quantity. And that seems likely to be Kyung Ho Kang or Brian Kelleher. Of those, I’d much rather see O’Malley against Kelleher, even though I know O’Malley vs. Yadong is a fight I have to have get made sooner or later. Sean O’Malley vs. Brian Kelleher seems like a solid next veteran step forward for the hot prospect.
The former BJJ star is on a roll early in his UFC career. Two fights, two submission finishes. In this case, Safarov made things a little wild and hairy early, with a slicing front kick that busted Vieira’s eye. But Vieira got the fight to the mat fast, and put on a grappling clinic once he was there. That could lead him into a bout against Brendan Allen, or Trevin Giles, but there’s another pretty ideal style match waiting for Vieira at the lower end of the division. Andre Muniz may be a relative newcomer, but he’s already had a long career under his belt—and he’s currently riding a 5-fight win streak. He’s also a wild action fighter with an aggressive grappling game. Seems like a more technical step forward from Safarov, and a fighter with the experience to not just get overwhelmed when things don’t go his way early. Vieira vs. Muniz should provide another fun grappling battle for the BJJ world champ.
OTHER BOUTS: Drakkar Klose vs. Magomed Mustafaev, Li Jingliang vs. Warrley Alves, Max Griffin vs. Ismail Naurdiev, Mark O. Madsen vs. Omar Morales, Austin Hubbard vs. Jessin Ayari, Saparbek Safarov vs. Antonio Arroyo, Gerald Meerschaert vs. Darren Stewart/Marvin Vettori winner, Deron Winn vs. Charles Byrd, Giga Chikadze vs. Charles Jourdain, Jamall Emmers vs. Darrick Minner, Batgerel Danaa vs. Journey Newson, Guido Cannetti vs. Felipe Colares
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