Despite a main event that truly lacked luster, UFC 270 sort of over-delivered. Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane may be nobody’s idea of a thrilling fight to go back and watch over again, but in the moment it was highly compelling theater. Deiveson Figueiredo’s third battle with Brandon Moreno provided all the high stakes, back-and-forth action of their first two fights. And a card of otherwise relatively unknown talents put on some solid action to carry the rest of the night.
So, is there any fight on deck the UFC can off Francis Ngannou to entice him to stay? Are we going to get the first quadrilogy in UFC history? And should the UFC throw Victory Henry straight back in to the deep end of the bantamweight talent pool?
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!
No fighter’s future is more unclear than that of the UFC heavyweight champion. With no bouts left on his current deal, Ngannou seems positioned to wait out the end of his contract and test the free agency market. Both he and the UFC have hinted at the idea that they’re willing to come to some kind of terms, but for Ngannou it seems a key part of those terms needs to be the option to take boxing bouts. That’s the kind of exception that the promotion has never been willing to grant, with one very notable outlier. And whatever Ngannou’s status as a top shelf fighter for the world’s largest MMA promotion, he’s hardly a star on the level of Conor McGregor. Would the UFC willingly let a heavyweight champion walk from their organization in his prime years? Can Ngannou really cash in on a higher-earning combat sports career without the UFC’s backing?
If a thousand different fates aligned, this still seems like a fairly ideal time for the UFC to try and put together Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones as a high-profile, high-money PPV offering for both men—possibly coupled with a couple other notable draws to make sure the whole thing really sells. A more plausible (as wild as that is to say) possibility is that the next thing we see is Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury, either with or without the UFC’s help. Just because that seems like the fight most likely to scratch his boxing itch. The most pedestrian answer would be the winner of Lewis vs. Tuivasa, especially if that winner is Lewis. Or maybe a 3rd Stipe Miocic fight, since it might be the only thing that gets him back in the cage. I’ll say Ngannou vs. Fury is what we’re gonna get, just because it seems like a key part of negotiations, whether they fail or succeed.
By the end of round 2 just about anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Ciryl Gane had this fight in the bag. The Francis Ngannou who had looked so calm and composed into the second frame against Stipe Miocic looked surprisingly winded after even a competitive five minutes with Gane. Unfortunately for MMA Factory talent, some solid Muay Thai experience and ten pro MMA fights don’t necessarily prepare a fighter for everything. And when Ngannou switched things up to a wrestling heavy attack, Gane had very few answers. But it’s those ten pro fights – over just three years and change – that really should be the context of this loss for ‘Bon Gamin’. Even entering his early 30s, the Frenchman is very much a young heavyweight by reasonable standards. And even if the only thing he does over the next decade is get more fight experience, I still expect he’ll be champ at some point in the future.
At the moment, however, options are a little limited. A fight with Curits Blaydes would be an obvious choice, but it also feels like it could be a terrible risk for Gane off a contest where getting taken down was a major issue. The other obvious option would be Stipe Miocic, but I’d be lying if I said I had any confidence in Miocic stepping into the cage for something other than a title fight or some kind of big-money superfight opportunity. That leaves Tai Tuivasa or Tom Aspinall if either man wins their next bout. Or a fight with Chris Daukaus. End of the day, I’ll say Gane vs. Miocic (possibly for another interim belt). It feels the most like the fight I want to see right now, even if I’m not sure there’s a chance it happens.
What’s old is new again. Deiveson Figueiredo has recaptured flyweight gold with a nip-tuck display of striking against Brandon Moreno. He started the bout out with a bevy of crushing low kicks that Moreno did little to stop—and even while Moreno often got the better of striking exchanges in the pocket, he was also the one who ended up getting put on the canvas. After the bout ‘Deus Da Guerra’ said that he’d be happy to meet Moreno for a 4th fight in Mexico. And while I’d love to see that, I’m not sure that that’s the way the UFC is going to go right this second.
It seems just as likely to me that the winner of Kai Kara-France and Askar Askarov will get to compete for the belt, and that Moreno (fair or not) may find himself needing to get another win to return to contender status again. If the UFC wants to do Figueiredo vs. Moreno 4, I’m all for it. But I suspect we’ll see Figueiredo vs. the Askarov/Kara-France winner instead.
I don’t want to say that Brandon Moreno fought a bad fight here, but it really felt like he didn’t pay that much attention to what Figueiredo was bringing to the table—and ultimately paid a big price for not respecting the Brazilian’s power and strike selection. Leg kicks went unchecked and Moreno did a lot of brawling inside. And while the latter won him battles in large stretches, both lost him the war. He may just come back from defeat with an immediate title rematch, a fourth turn in the stagnant flyweight division. But if the UFC wants to change things up a bit, I wouldn’t blame them either.
Fights with the Askarov/Kara-France loser, the Schnell/Perez winner, or a rematch against Alexandre Pantoja would all be quality options if the quadrilogy isn’t forthcoming. Of those, I gotta roll with the Pantoja fight. The Brazilian seemed like he’d got himself lined up for a chance at the belt last year, before injury derailed him. And given that he’s already beat Moreno twice, that seems like a win the ‘Assassin Baby’ might want to get back. Moreno vs. Pantoja 3 (ish) is a great bout if the UFC isn’t going to go with Moreno/Figueiredo 4.
To his credit, Andre Fialho did a very good job of proving he wasn’t going to be easily out-classed in his UFC debut. He did well to fight off Pereira’s creativity early and land hard shots of his own. But, the Brazilian showed that his cardio issues aren’t nearly the same Achilles heel they once were, keeping the pace high and the power sharp all the way to the final bell. The end result should reassert Pereira’s quest for a higher profile welterweight test.
He was previously booked to take on Muslim Salikhov, and I’d love to see that fight get put together once again. Otherwise, bouts with, Daniel Rodriguez, Geoff Neal, or Li Jingiang would all be quality matchups. Since I don’t know when Salikhov will return, how about the fight with Neal. Neal hit a serious skill wall vying for the top 10, but returned with a pretty decent showing over Santiago Ponzinibbio. Is his boxing enough to pick Pereira apart? Or will the Brazilian’s dynamic, quixotic approach catch Neal off balance? I’d like to find out. Michel Pereira vs. Geoff Neal would be a great step forward for ‘Demolidor’.
I expected this fight to be an absolute nail-biter, down to the final bell. Stamann is always tough and Nurmagomedov has had struggles before against durable fighters capable of putting the grind on him. Obviously, then, Nurmagomedov had to go out there and submit Stamann in the first minute of the fight and leave absolutely no doubt as to who the better man in the Octagon was that night. The victory has left him primed for another top 15 opponent, and there are a few high quality options. Most notably, Ricky Simon and Song Yadong both look like perfect options for the Dagestani right this moment. Between them, I’ll say Simon seems like the tougher style matchup. Nurmagomedov vs. Simon should be a great test to see if the 29-year-old can keep carving his way through to the bantamweight elite.
Few fighters had as daunting a task ahead of them as Victor Henry on Saturday night. The Josh Barnett-trained bantamweight stepped into the Octagon against one of the UFC’s most underrated talents, Raoni Barcelos, and put on a remarkable show of grit, technique and pace. Despite Barcelos’ reputation as a heavy-handed slugger, Henry stepped straight into the pocket and let loose a constant barrage of combinations, creating a non-stop war of attrition that Barcelos could just couldn’t match. The end result is a huge win for Henry to start his UFC career. And with so much mileage already under his belt, it should be a win that catapults him right into another tough, high-profile fight. I’m not sure he’ll get a top 15 bout off of this, but it should be someone right on the edges. Opponents like Rani Yahya, Brian Kelleher, or Casey Kenney.
That considered, I’ve been saying that Kelleher should be seen as the gatekeeper to the top 15 at 135 for a minute now. And this seems like a perfect chance for him to assert that role. Henry vs. Kelleher is a great way to see if ‘La Mangosta’ is really out to make an instant impact in the division, or if this was a singular performance.
JACK DELLA MADDALENA
A last minute opponent change for Australia’s Jack Della Maddalena really set him up well for success in his UFC debut. Pete Rodriguez simply didn’t have the same depth of pro experience, especially not when considering Della Maddalena had been set to fight Warlley Alves. That said, it’s still always a great sign when a fighter goes out and does exactly what they should do with a prime opportunity. The Aussie didn’t get wild or sloppy, didn’t make any big mistakes. He just worked carefully behind his jab until he had Rodriguez biting on his feints and getting desperate. Then he put Rodriguez away.
A great debut for Della Maddalena, but there’s no reason to rush him too high up the division. Welterweight is a deep pool with lots of time to grow and improve. So for a next step, how about a matchup with a slightly more experienced heavy-handed puncher also looking to make his reputation. Matthew Semelsberger is 3-1 since debuting with the UFC back in 2020. A fight with Della Maddalena should be a surefire slug-fest. Semelsberger vs. Della Maddalena is just the right fight to test both men’s toughness.
It’s been a rough couple of years for Team Serra-Longo’s Matt Frevola. Fortunately for him, Genaro Valdez gave him one hell of a chance to jump back on the horse and prove that he’s not just a fun fighter, but can be a tough one to put away as well. Both men hit the Octagon at 100 mph and didn’t stop throwing until Valdez had gone down half a dozen times in 3 minutes and change. The win has Frevola primed for another all-action fire fight in the middle of the lightweight division. And while there are plenty of options out there, I love the idea of a fight against Mike Davis. Another dynamic power-striker who can push Frevola to the brink. Frevola vs. Davis should be a war.
OTHER BOUTS: Andre Fialho vs. Benoit Saint-Denis, Cody Stamann vs. Kyung Ho Kang, Michael Morales vs. Weeks/Garry winner, Trevin Giles vs. David Zawada, Raoni Barcelos vs. Casey Kenney, Pete Rodriguez vs. Martin Sano, Tony Gravely vs. Vince Morales, Saimon Oliveira vs. Gaetano Pirrello, Genaro Valdez vs. Natan Levy, Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Ariane Carnelossi, Silvana Gomez Juarez vs. Maria Oliveira, Jasmine Jasudavicius vs. Melissa Gatto, Kay Hansen vs. Victoria Leonardo
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