Considering the way the UFC Vegas 31 card looked on paper, it really went as well as could be expected. Sure Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises and Miesha Tate vs. Marion Reneau weren’t exactly thrillers, but they both finished impressively inside the distance on an event where only two bouts saw the final bell. For a fight card whose thrilling high point was Billy Quarantillo vs. Gabriel Benitez, that’s all anyone could really ask.
So, can the UFC finally find Makhachev a top-ten opponent? Is Miesha Tate really about to go on a title run? And how fast can the UFC move Amanda Lemos up the strawweight division?
To answer those questions – but very little else – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.
An absolutely dominating victory for Makhachev, who out-struck Moises 5-to-1 in significant strikes and more than 8-to-1 overall. There wasn’t one area of this fight, neither at range, in the clinch, nor even on the mat, where Moises truly competed with the Dagestani. And at 29-years-of-age with more than a decade of fighting experience, it’s time for the UFC to start booking the Khabib heir-apparent like a true contender. There’s no real reason he couldn’t be fighting Beneil Dariush or Tony Ferguson next time out. Other than the high probability that neither man wants to take that kind of fight.
Instead, the more likely result seems like bouts against Rafael Dos Anjos – who Makhachev himself called out – or Gregor Gillespie (a fight I’ve personally been campaigning to see for years now). Given all the options on the table, this really does seem like the right time to re-book RDA vs. Makhachev. It’s not quite a top contender’s bout, but it’s clearly the kind of fight that – if he wins – would put him in the top 5 and ready for contention. Makhachev vs. RDA seems like a fight the UFC needs to try booking again.
Considering all her time away, Tate looked pretty damn good in her UFC return. She had a lot of even exchanges with Reneau standing, but started getting the better of even those by the third round. And, most notably, when she did have to eat hard shots, she did it without shying away from the contact. Given where Tate was mentally against Pennington when she retired, that seems like an especially good sign.
After the bout, she made it clear that she has title aspirations first and foremost on her mind. She’s also got Holly Holm calling her out on social media if she wants to try to fast track her way to the belt. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing her take at least one more fight before we plug her right back into the top contender’s picture. Irene Aldana just got a big win, but has had trouble picking up that top tier name victory that would truly make her a member of the elite. Tate could be that fight. And if Tate can win it, then bouts with the likes of Holm or de Randamie and others make a lot more sense. Miesha Tate vs. Irene Aldana seems like a solid next booking for the former UFC champ.
Huge win for the ‘Gamer.’ He went out and hit his low single leg right out of the gate, got Stephens to the mat, transitioned to the north-south, and had the kimura wrapped up just a few seconds later. The fight couldn’t have gone any more perfectly for him. After the victory, he called for a top-15 opponent. Unfortunately, even top 15 fighters find those hard to come by in the lightweight division. Still, if Gamrot wants a real, serious challenge next time out – the kind of challenge that could build his resume as a contender in the making – then I’ve got one all picked out.
Arman Tsarukyan has blitzed his way into the UFC as one of lightweight’s most promising young talents. He’s got a fantastic grappling game, a top shelf wrestling game, and the persistance as a striker to make life difficult on anyone who can’t find a way to hurt him. Hell, he’s even got a number next to his name right now. Can Gamrot out-grapple Tsarukyan? Can he crack him standing? It’d be a huge challenge, but exactly the kind he needs to win if he’s gonna make himself a title contender as fast as he wants. Mateusz Gamrot vs. Arman Tsarukyan is a top tier lightweight battle.
It wasn’t an easy win for him, and I’m not entirely convinced he actually won any of the rounds up until hitting that fantastic back take to RNC in the third round (officially it was 1-1). But Vieira did show a lot of improvement and gave a stark reminder of just how dangerous he can be given even the smallest opportunity. That win puts him back on track to climb up the middleweight division. Opponents like Andreas Michailidis, Jacob Malkoun, and Jordan Wright all seem ideally situated to provide that. But, I’d also be a big fan of a matchup against Roman Dolidze. The Georgian styles himself as something of an expert grappler in his own right, and otherwise has a funky, low-output striking style that should give Vieira room to move standing. However, his size as a former LHW very well could nullify one of Vieira’s biggest advantages: his strength. Can Vieira beat someone he can’t easily out-muscle? Seems worth finding out as his LHW career continues. Vieira vs. Dolidze should be a fun contest at 185 lbs.
Quarantillo had a decent callout ready, in veteran Charles Rosa, who’s fresh off a bounce-back win over Justin Jaynes. And I can see the appeal. Both men like to grapple, both have unstructured striking games. But, I’ll admit, it’s not exactly the first fight I’d have on my bucket list. Quarantillo has been such an exceptionally over-performing fighter in the UFC, off his impossibly high pace and pressure. Every fight of his is wildly entertaining, and I feel like I’d like to see him take on someone delivers their own style of high paced action. Maybe Alex Caceres, Chas Skelly, or even Lando Vannata. For some reason, the Chas Skelly fight really appeals to me. Maybe just because Skelly’s a strong wrestler in his own right, and I’m interested to see how Quarantillo hangs with him on the mat. Chas Skelly vs. Billy Quarantillo sounds like a fun, messy action bout.
Obviously a win Rodriguez had to have if he wanted to turn his persistent success into a real drive up the welterweight division. Parsons was coming in on short notice, but had been a dangerous finisher regionally, and looked sharp out of the gate. Unfortunately for him, Rodriguez hits a little too hard to try and hang with him in a fire fight; the 1-2 that became the beginning of the end looked as though it may have busted Parsons’ orbital. That’s two straight wins after a pretty questionable loss to Nicolas Dalby, and it should get Rodriguez closer to a top 15-20 opponent. Someone along the lines of Muslim Salikhov, Randy Brown, Alex Morono, or Jake Matthews. On the other hand, Khaos Williams just put together an excellent performance of his own last time out and has a similar reputation for huge, fight-changing power. Khaos Williams vs. Daniel Rodriguez seems like a fight I have to see.
This fight really shouldn’t have been booked. And Lemos made it apparent why just a few seconds into the bout, cracking ‘Conejo’ with a devastating body kick. Some sharp counter-punching followed and this fight was over before it really even got started. That should get Lemos a really top-flight opponent next time around. Someone like Marina Rodriguez, Virna Jandiroba, or Nina Nunes. I would have loved to see the Jandiroba fight, but it seems she’s already booked to take on Amanda Lemos sometime soon. So how about a winner/loser matchup instead. Nina Nunes was nearly a title contender before taking a hiatus from the Octagon. Her loss to Mackenzie Dern might have been a rough re-entry to the UFC, but she still has a reputation as a heavy handed, consistent striker on the feet. Can Lemos implement her game against a seasoned vet? Can Nunes bounce back and carve out her spot in the top-10 again? Nunes vs. Lemos seems like it’d be a damn fun striking battle.
OTHER BOUTS: Thiago Moises vs. Drew Dober, Jeremy Stephens vs. John Makdessi, Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Antonio Arroyo, Gabriel Benitez vs. Gavin Tucker, Preston Parsons vs. Louis Cosce, Montserrat Ruiz vs. Liang Na, Sergey Morozov vs. John Castaneda, Khalid Taha vs. Journey Newson, Malcolm Gordon vs. Jeff Molina, Francisco Figueiredo vs. Cody Durden, Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Josh Parisian, Alan Baudot vs. Chris Barnett
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