A remarkable event, even by UFC standards. The fact that it wasn’t even a PPV event just makes it that much sweeter. This is the kind of card that the UFC can hang their hat on, as to why they’re still the industry leader in mixed martial arts. The quality and variety from top to bottom, the drama, the stakes, it’s near impossible to match. Glovery Teixeira winning UFC gold at 42-years-old, Petr Yan making snatching his second piece of a UFC title (and making a strong P4P claim in the process), and Islam Makhachev looking every bit the part of a title contender—all this and more made UFC 267 a card not to be missed.
So, is Teixeira really that eager to face Jiri Prochazka for the first defense of his belt? Can the UFC convince Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling to step back into the Octagon against one another? And can Makhachev make his way past the logjam surrounding the lightweight title?
To answer those questions – and much, much more – 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.
Glover Teixeira is UFC champion. For many (most?) fans it’s a day that seemed as though it would never come. Jon Jones, nearly a decade younger, has dominated the division for almost the entirety of Teixeira’s UFC career. And while Blachowicz wasn’t a much younger man, it seemed most likely that the Brazilian’s improbable recent title surge would end in disappointment. But it didn’t. Teixeira came out determined to force his fight on the champ, and Blachowicz, for his part, just seemed a half step behind all the way. He landed hard shots on the counter but couldn’t dissuade Teixeira from pressing forward and looking for takedowns. A real Randy Couture moment inside the Octagon.
If the bulk of this story is one of fairy tale endings, however, there’s a dragon still out on the horizon. After Teixeira’s win, Daniel Cormier reminded the newly crowned light heavyweight king that his heir apparent was out in the audience. Jiri Prochazka had flown out to Fight Island to act as a replacement should Teixeira be forced to withdraw. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing a fight like Prochazka vs. Ankalaev to determine a contender, but Teixeira sounded bullish on facing ‘Denisa’ sometime early next year. Even more remarkable than winning the belt would be finding a way to defend it. Prochazka vs. Teixeira seems likely to be the champ’s first title defense.
I don’t know if he left the Polish Power in the hotel room, or maybe if it got lost during travel and ended up on a plane to Des Moines. Either way Blachowicz looked notably cold to start the second defense of his UFC title. And if he was starting slow, Glover Teixeira came out with all guns blazing. The end result is the close of the ‘Blachowicz Era’, and what could very likely be the beginning of a carousel of title holders in the wake of Jon Jones’ departure. What that means for the former king is a return to the churn of the top five title contention. There’s the potential of a rematch with Thiago Santos, or a fight with Anthony Smith, or perhaps a rematch against Dominick Reyes. Of those, the Thiago Santos fight seems like the best idea. It’s a loss that I’m sure Blachowicz would love to have back, and a fight that would still do a lot for Santos’ hopes to contend again. Santos vs. Blachowicz 2 seems like the perfect fight for both men right now.
A fantastic performance from Yan. Sandhagen gave him absolutely everything he had inside the Octagon, but Yan handled it all and found ways to break his opponent down over the back half of the fight. Even with that, Sandhagen made the last round razor close. But that performance only reaffirms what was already pretty apparent from Yan’s fight with Aljamain Sterling, that the Russian is the best bantamweight in the world right now. Few MMA fighters are as capable of striking in all phases the way Yan can. He can fight off the front foot, fight off the back foot, from range, in the pocket, or in the clinch. He’s a brutally difficult fighter to deconstruct. I get that he’s not interested in re-matching Sterling, but it is the first fight the UFC should try to make. TJ Dillashaw is a fine replacement if Sterling isn’t ready soon, otherwise book Yan vs. Sterling. Putting that fight truly to rest and unifying the belts is the first thing UFC should be looking to do.
Two incredibly competitive outings in three title/contender bouts from Sandhagen (one of which he arguably won), but the Elevation Fight Team product is nonetheless struggling to cross the bridge from contender to champ. Early on here, he had plenty of success with his high volume, creative output behind a constant, pawing jab. But once Yan started to read the patterns in his footwork, he landed the kind of pure power shots that Sandhagen just couldn’t match. Still, there are plenty of top tier fights I’d love to see Sandhagen get atop the featherweight division.
A bout against the Font/Aldo loser would thrill, or there’s the possibilty of a Dillashaw rematch. Further down, opponents like Dominick Cruz, or Marlon Vera (should he beat Frankie Edgar) would both be solid options as well. If I thought Dillashaw would actually take that rematch booking, I’d lean hard on that as my first option here. But, I very much doubt he’d be interested. So I’ll say Sandhagen vs. the Font/Aldo loser is a top quality action bout that should satisfy everyone’s thirst for more violent thrillers.
If the book on Makhachev earlier in his career was that he was more dominant than he was dangerous, the Dagestani is re-writing that narrative in a hurry. Back to back submission wins, and an especially dominant showing against Hooker here, have him looking every bit the part of a title contender. Unfortunately for him, that Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje fight coming up also looks like a surefire top contender’s bout. Makhachev unquestionably deserves the nod, but whether or not he gets one from the UFC could very well just be a matter of timing or sales numbers. Islam Makhachev vs. the Oliveira vs. Poirier winner is the fight Makhachev deserves. If that can’t happen, however, book him against Beneil Dariush. With the way Dariush has been fighting lately, that should be a war.
Not a pretty fight from Volkov. Tybura spent a lot of it leaning on him, looking for takedowns—and the combination of that clinch grappling along with Tybura’s insistent pressure really seemed to wear on the Russian. Still, he gritted out the victory, and keeps his spot as a firm fixture in the heavyweight top ten. That could mean bouts against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Chris Daukaus, or Tom Aspinall. Volkov already has losses to Blaydes and Lewis and I don’t see Stipe giving him a bout, so his opportunities to fight dudes ahead of him are pretty limited. Which is why I’ll go ahead and say the UFC should book Volkov vs. Rozenstruik. I know ‘Bigi Boy’ is coming off a loss, but if Volkov approaches him like he did Tybura here, it seems like he’s primed to walk into some serious power punches. Volkov vs. Rozenstruik is a solid heavyweight striking battle, and a chance for either man to try and find a way further up the rankings.
Chimaev may have had a few straggling doubters headed into the Octagon for UFC 267; people who were worried about his health, or his commitment to the sport, or his weight cut. But it seems unlikely he’ll have many questioning his ability to compete at a high level coming away from a win like this. Jingliang is a tough out for just about anyone in the UFC, and Chimaev ran through him like a hot knife through butter. An instant takedown to start the fight turned into minutes of wrestling ride control, GnP, and eventually a back take for the rear naked choke. Chimaev isn’t just a powerful athlete, but he’s incredibly technically slick as well. And that combination leaves the welterweight division pretty much an open book as for who he might face next. Anyone from Michel Pereira or Niko Price to Belal Muhammad and Neil Magny would be reasonable matchups. Chimaev is a thrill to watch and the UFC seems fine letting him take whatever fight he can get. To that end, Belal Muhammad vs. Khamzat Chimaev feels like a reasonable next step into the rankings. Win that and we’ll be talking about Chimaev against Wonderboy or Luque next. Muhammad vs. Chimaev feels like a solid step forward.
At this point it’s pretty clear that the next bout for Magomed Ankalaev should be a top contender’s bout. That could come against Anthony Smith, Aleksandar Rakic (or the winner for a fight between the two), Jiri Prochazka, or Thiago Santos. Any of those would be must-see. I’d love to see Ankalaev face Jiri Prochazka to determine the next title contender, but it seems more likely that Prochazka just bypasses that whole process straight to his first shot at UFC gold. My next thought would have been Ankalaev vs. Santos, but Santos vs. Blachowicz 2 feels like a much more meaningful battle for both those men. Instead, Ankalaev will have to hope that Smith vs. Rakic doesn’t go off as planned, at which point Ankalaev vs. Rakic is a superb fight to book. Or, if the rematch does go ahead, he’ll just have to wait for the winner. Magomed Ankalaev vs. Aleksandar Rakic is a quality top-contender’s bout. But Ankalaev vs. the Smith/Rakic 2 winner would work if the UFC is intent on booking that fight first.
It wasn’t an easy win, but Ribas gutted through a bad first round and started putting her conditioning and dynamism to good use over the back end of the fight to grit her way to a solid victory. And with that victory, she keeps her steady crawl up the women’s strawweight division going. That could mean bouts against Claudia Gadelha, Michelle Waterson, Tecia Torres, or the Nunes/Lemos winner. Of those, I’m gonna say Ribas vs. Torres is the fight to make. The ‘Tiny Tornado’ has looked dominant in victory lately, and may be primed for her own title run. Is Torres ready to deal with Ribas’ grappling? Can Ribas out work a striker as athletic as Torres? Seems like a quality next step to see if either woman can put themselves in among the division’s top 5. Amanda Ribas vs. Tecia Torres is a quality strawweight scrap.
Tukhugov’s UFC career has had its fits and starts. There have been suspensions, both for PEDs and poor conduct, some less than decisive performances, and a couple of close losses. Still, the long arc of his time in the Octagon has been that of a fast, powerful, tough fighter to beat, and one who is constantly improving. At this point the 30-year-old is 5-2-1 in UFC bouts, with tons of experience, and should be knocking on the door of the top 15. Bookings against Andre Fili, Cub Swanson, or Movsar Evloev might all fit the bill. But, what about a fight against Sodiq Yusuff?
‘Super’ Sodiq battled his way into the elite off a string of powerful victories, but failed to find his way past Arnold Allen last time out. Tukhugov could be a welcome small step down in competition to reinforce his credentials as a top tier featherweight. And for the Chechen, it’s a big opportunity to turn his success in the cage into an actual run up the division—and not just a long series of somewhat meaningless wins and losses. And with the way Tukhugov was throwing his hands against Ramos, it also seems sure to be a hell of a lot of fun, no matter who comes out the winner. Tukhugov vs. Yusuff would be a great chance for the AKA talent to make a statement.
OTHER BOUTS: Dan Hooker vs. Tony Ferguson, Li Jingliang vs. Kevin Lee, Volkan Oezdemir vs. Ryan Spann, Virna Jandiroba vs. Angela Hill, Ricardo Ramos vs. Omar Morales, Albert Duraev vs. Nick Maximov, Roman Kopylov vs. Alen Amedovski, Elizeu Zaleski vs. Mickey Gall, Benoit St. Denis vs. Preston Parsons, Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Dustin Jacoby, Shamil Gamzatov vs. the Marques/Almeida loser, Lerone Murphy vs. Trizano/Dawodu winner, Makwan Amrikhani vs. Daniel Pineda, Andre Petroski vs. Abu Azaitar, Hu Yaozong vs. Cody Brundage, Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Jeff Molina, Allan Nascimento vs. Daniel Lacerda
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