It wasn’t necessarily the most spectacular looking UFC offering on paper, but everyone turned up to put on a show for UFC Vegas 42 this last Saturday. Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez left every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears they had inside the Octagon in the main event, while Song Yadong and Khaos Williams both reminded everyone of just how dangerous they can be.
So, is Alexander Volkanovski ever going to be able to rid himself of Holloway? Does Khaos Williams have the makings of a top 15 welterweight? And can Joel Alvarez find a way to get his weight struggles under control and keep his climb up the lightweight division going?
To answer those questions – and a few other things – 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!
Holloway has made himself something of a problem for the UFC. He’s an absolute thrill to watch, but the most obvious fight out in front of him is one he’s already lost twice. And yeah, I get that those fights were close, and that there’s a solid argument that Holloway may have won one of them—but I’d by lying if it were the priority of my interests as a fan. I’ve seen this fight. It’s very good, it’s very competitive, it’s very high level, but it’s not really a must-see battle for the ages. The dynamic shifts of the fight feel more like minor tactical moves that nudge rounds from favoring one man to the other. The fact that Holloway hasn’t been able to convince judges that he’s won that fight twice now kinda makes me feel like Volkanovski should get to move past it for a while longer. Especially considering how remarkable both men have been in fights where they’re not facing one another. Getting more battles like Holloway vs. Rodriguez and Holloway vs. Kattar or Volkanovski vs. Ortega feels a lot more thrilling to me.
Of course, the problem there is what a quick glance at the UFC rankings shows so clearly, that there’s no one else in position for a title shot right now. Arnold Allen and Giga Chikadze both could get there in the next year, but neither man feels like an obvious choice in the moment. For his part, Holloway mentioned a McGregor fight. But banking on McGregor to be back in the Octagon any time soon feels foolish. Holloway vs. Volkanovski 3 seems like the fight to book. It’s not my first choice, but it’s the best fight available for both men.
A remarkable performance from Rodriguez. He may not have got a win, but it’s the best he’s ever looked in his MMA career. Rodriguez’s boxing looked cleaner and more powerful than ever, his kicking game was still devilishly sharp, and his cardio kept him delivering hard strikes all the way to the final bell—even capturing the last round on two judges scorecards. It may not go down as a W on his record, but it made absolutely clear that Rodriguez is an elite fighter in the featherweight division. It’s too bad that Zabit Magomedsharipov has been sidelined by illness, because that still feels like a fight I’d love to see. But until I see him making the walk back to the Octagon, I’m not going to be confident about when he’ll return to action. That said, the fight in front of Rodriguez is pretty clear. There’s one other man atop the featherweight division right now who is just a hair off champion status: Brian Ortega. Ortega vs. Rodriguez is a must make fight.
MARCOS ROGERIO DE LIMA
I don’t know that it gets him the rankings spot he’s looking for, but Marcos Rogerio de Lima has put together two straight wins in the UFC for the first time since 2014. He’s always dangerous and, for as long as his cardio holds up, he’s nearly always a must watch action fighter. That should line him up for another fun action fight in the heavyweight division. Wars with the likes of Tai Tuivasa, Ilir Latifi, Andrei Arlovski, or Tom Aspinall. Personally I’d have loved to see that Tuivasa fight, but the Aussie has been booked for something far less thrilling against Augusto Sakai. So let’s go de Lima vs. Arlovski. The Brazilian’s power should be a real threat to ‘Pitbull’, but then Arlovski’s only been KO’d once in his last 14 fights—and that was by Jairzinho Rozenstuik. Arlovski vs. ‘Pezao’ should be another good resume building opportunity for de Lima’s ranking hopes.
It wasn’t the prettiest win of Williams’ career, but after letting Baeza into the bout via some brutal low kicks, he made the decision to just bite down and start throwing—and it paid off huge. Williams is pushing his way toward the welterweight top 15 almost entirely off his brutal power and I, for one, am here for it. Fights against Daniel Rodriguez, Warlley Alves, or Niko Price would all be decent. Could even go for a fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio, after all, they’re both coming off hard fought wins over Baeza at this point. I’ll say Williams vs. Price is the fight I’d like to see next. But if the UFC wants to give him something bigger, he’s earned it. Williams vs. Price should be a fun welterweight action fight.
A tough, under-appreciated match for Song, coming in against former featherweight Julio Arce. But the Alpha Male talent looked quick and confident hanging in the pocket with the Team Tiger Schulman fighter, eventually finishing things with a gorgeous headkick. That puts Song on two straight wins since his loss to Kyler Phillips and it should earn him another top 15 opponent. Personally I’d love to see him take on the winner of Dominick Cruz and Pedro Munhoz, especially if it’s the Brazilian walking out of that fight with the win. That feels like a guaranteed action war. But, if Cruz wins that fight it seems likely that he’d avoid fighting someone like Song at all costs. So how about Song Yadong vs. Merab Dvalishvili? Should be a real war, and it’s a great test of Song’s wrestling and of Dvalishvili’s striking. Dvalishvili vs. Yadong should be chaos in the cage.
An absolutely marvelous performance from Alvarez, who really is looking more and more like a problem at 155 lbs (provided he can actually make 155 lbs). Alvarez is a huge lightweight, he has a fantastic power kicking game and some brutal strikes, and he chains that all to a guard grappling game perfectly tuned to tapping out desperate opponents who want to get off the end of his range. It’s the kind of skill set that guys like Charles Oliveira and Luke Rockhold turned into championship level styles. Can Alvarez do it too? This was definitely a step in the right direction. Arman Tsarukyan doesn’t have a fight booked, seems like a perfect test to see if Alvarez can keep things rolling against a lightweight that’s incredibly confident in his ability to out-wrestle and out-grapple opponents. Tsarukyan vs. Alvarez is a fantastic top-15 lightweight bout. If Alvarez can’t make lightweight, then throw him in with Daniel Rodriguez at 170 and see what happens there.
The potential in Lee’s game has always been obvious, but the delivery inside the cage hasn’t been nearly so consistent. She’s struggled to keep fights on the feet when necessary, and struggled to keep pace with other strikers when she’s had the opportunity to stand and bang. That makes this fight with Calvillo a very welcome change. She looked fast and focused inside the cage like never before. Firing sharp 1-2s, uppercuts on the counter, and a steady diet of body kicks. It helps too that Cynthia Calvillo was clearly trying on a new camp and a new style. And while that may have included a better emphasis on creating takedowns, it wasn’t a comfortable fit—at least not yet. The end result is a great win for Lee and a very hard loss for Calvillo.
It wouldn’t be the worst idea to re-book the Eye vs. Lee fight, but since I’m not sure when Eye will be fit again I’ll say go with Lee against the Maia/Chookagian winner. Normally that’d be a top contender fight in its own right, but both women likely have long paths back to the belt and a win for Lee over either could put her in Shevchenko’s sights as a fresh challenger. Lee vs. the Chookagian/Maia winner seems like a good way to see if ‘KGB’ can contend for the belt.
There’s no question that Alves is a dangerous, dangerous man in the lightweight division. The problem has always been, whether or not he can channel his obvious speed and power into consistent high level wins inside the Octagon. I’m not sure what this victory over Diakiese says for his long term future, but it certainly shows the kind of things he’s capable of when everything is clicking. And, given that Alves is already 31 with 14 years of fighting under his belt, it also suggests that the UFC needs to start fast tracking him into the upper echelons of the division.
With his level of athleticism and experience, he’s probably never going to be more dangerous in the cage than he is right now. A fight against Alexander Hernandez would have been a perfect test to see just where Alves is at, but Hernandez is booked to take on Moicano. So how about Jalin Turner instead? Turner’s now on three straight stoppage victories, and his height and length could be a real problem for Alves—who stands just 5’8” at 155 lbs. Turner vs. Alves has some great potential to end violently and early.
DA UN JUNG
It couldn’t have been a much better day at the office for the South Korean light heavyweight prospect. Jung and Nzechukwu both opened the bout with cautious, probing attacks, looking to find their way past one another’s defenses. It was the switch up to lead elbows from Jung though that really changed the game and caught Nzechukwu by surprise. A powerful early KO has him unbeaten through five trips to the Octagon. Time to take on another rising contender. Dustin Jacoby just picked up a one sided victory on short notice, seems like he and Jung would make a great battle between fighters well on their way up the rankings. Jung vs. Jacoby is a great battle of potential future contenders.
OTHER BOUTS: Ben Rothwell vs. Ilir Latifi, Felicia Spencer vs. Germaine de Randamie???, Leah Letson vs. Danyelle Wolf, Miguel Baeza vs. Kenan Song, Julio Arce vs. Jonathan Martinez, Cynthia Calvillo vs. Sabina Mazo, Sean Woodson vs. Damon Jackson, Collin Anglin vs. Tristan Connelly, Cortney Casey vs. Molly McCann, Liana Jojua vs. Mandy Bohm, Marc Diakiese vs. Joaquim Silva, Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Shamil Gamzatov
About the author