All things considered, UFC Vegas 49: Makhachev vs. Green was a good night for the UFC. The card wrapped with a dominant showing from Islam Makhachev in the main event, and even less auspicious main card fights like Turman vs. Cirkunov & Kim vs. Cachoeira didn’t fail to entertain. We got finishes, controversies, and a couple bloody wars—everything the card needed to be.
So, is there any reason at all to deny Islam Makhachev a shot at the lightweight title? Can Arman Tsarukyan convince a top 15 lightweight to square off against him? And is anyone going to slow Terrance McKinney’s roll at 155?
To answer those questions – but almost nothing 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!
There’s a (somewhat) reasonable argument to be made that Islam Makhachev should fight one of the other lightweight top contenders on his way to a title shot. Bouts against Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, or Michael Chandler would all help silence what few doubters out there may remain—as to whether or not the heir apparent is truly capable of replicating Khabib’s dominance at the highest level. Heck, even a re-booking of the Dariush fight would still prove a point. But why bother?
If Oliveira vs. Gaethje is the next lightweight title fight, Makhachev vs. either man is an absolutely fantastic booking. And when fighters put together runs like Makhachev has, even the most entertainment-focused MMA fans have to know that there’s an aspect of sporting interest that shouldn’t be ignored. Very few people in this business can string together five or six straight wins at the UFC level. And doing it while making guys like Dan Hooker and Bobby Green look absolutely ordinary is a clear sign that Makhachev is a top-tier talent in the division. Plus, there’s no better way to ensure that he fights the other elite 155ers out there than if he has a belt around his waist. Islam Makhachev vs. the Oliveira/Gaethje winner is the most obvious title fight to make in the lightweight division.
Obviously this wasn’t the fight Bobby Green might have hoped to have. There’s a small mercy in it, though, that he didn’t take a more prolonged beating. But, Green even sounds a bit unhappy about that—claiming that the fight was waived off too early. It wasn’t. Green stepped up against an overwhelming opponent on short notice, took a big chance, and got totally run over for his efforts. There’s no shame in it, but it’s also hard to see him getting that quick rematch he called for anytime in the near future.
Instead, it’s a great opportunity to introduce Green to a host of other reasonably high profile options at 155. Fights with Tony Ferguson, Carlos Diego Ferreira, or Brad Riddell would all be a lot of fun. Of those, the Ferreira fight seems the most likely. Ferreira’s been on a hell of a skid lately, but he’s still an aggressive striker and dangerous grappler. Either man who walks out the winner from that bout will be right back in the mix among the top 10. Green vs. Ferreira is a good bounce back fight, no matter who wins.
This fight had disaster written on it for Turman after he failed to get that round 1 rear naked choke. Cirkunov was absolutely dominating him from top control. And while both men started round 2 looking winded, when Cirkunov hit the trip takedown it seemed like Turman was heading for a bad loss. So when the ‘Prodigy’ hit that armbar it came as a shock to everyone, especially Cirkunov. A great win for the Brazilian, even if it wasn’t a perfect performance. His Octagon career stays alive and well, and now he’s on a two-fight win streak. Bouts with Brendan Allen, Eryk Anders, or a re-booking of the Vieira fight would all be decent next moves. I would have argued for a fight with Nick Maximov, but Maximov is already booked again after his win earlier this month. So instead I’ll say the UFC should go back the Vieira fight. The battle of grappling games should make an interesting match, and Vieira could still use more time to prove he’s a capable competitor in high level MMA. Turman vs. Vieira seems like a good chance for both men to keep building momentum.
This fight couldn’t have gone any better for Arman Tsarukyan. He threw himself into the teeth of Joel Alvarez’s offense from the jump and just straight up manhandled the Spaniard on the mats. It was a fantastic display of confidence and skill that ended up with Alvarez pouring blood as Tsarukyan put a serious beating on him. After the bout, Tsarukyan made it clear that he’s aiming for a rematch with Islam Makhachev. And I’d love to see it, but there’s gonna have to be a couple more steps to get there first. The first of which should be a bout with Gregor Gillespie. Two tireless, hard punching, constantly scrambling wrestlers with quality grappling games and unflappable confidence in their abilities. It’d be an absolute nail biter. Of course, it’s hard to know just when Gillespie is going to fight. The ‘Gift’ has only seen the Octagon once in the better part of the last three years. So, if the UFC can’t get that fight booked, then I’d take a battle between Tsarukyan and Mateus Gamrot. Another grappling heavy battle of wills. Should be fun either way.
A brutal, bloody war from Petrosyan to make his UFC debut. ‘Robocop’ gave him everything he could handle for 15 minutes, but Petrosyan’s high-output kicking game gave him a definite edge with the judges in what were otherwise very close rounds. The end result is a new action-fight striking talent at 185. That could mean scraps with Chidi Njokuani or the Du Plessis vs. Curtis winner. But, it’s a pretty easy choice. Chidi Njokuani entered the UFC with a fantastic striking win, Petrosyan can crack, Njokuani vs. Petrosyan is a perfect fight to make.
A near perfect performance for Ignacio Bahamondes against Rong Zhu. Bahamondes started fast with his trademark volume kickboxing approach, working well to land at all levels on his opponent. Rong, to his credit, pressured well in round 2 to try and stem the tide, but he just couldn’t keep pace with the Chilean fighter. And, in round 3, Bahamondes showed off some of the most underrated parts of his game, with an excellent front headlock choke to get the tap off a double leg attempt. That puts Bahahmondes on two straight wins after dropping his debut. And it should line him up for another fun lightweight bout. Matt Frevola has carved out a spot for himself as an-all action entertainer in the division, and is coming off a strong win. Frevola vs. Bahamondes would be a surefire war, and give the ‘Steamrolla’ a chance to take out another too-tall talent.
There’s no question that McKinney is a special athlete inside the cage. The speed and grappling technique he has on display, alongside an absolutely fearless approach to striking, makes him a tough ask for just about anyone he might match-up with. Can he fight that way for multiple rounds if his first volleys aren’t successful? That remains to be seen. But there are plenty of fighters in the lightweight division that won’t be able to handle him long enough to find out.
That means it’s time for another high-octane lightweight action fight. Bouts against Steve Garcia, Rafael Alves, Ottman Azaitar, or Mason Jones would all be decent ideas to give McKinney his next test. But, there’s also something of a mirror match out there that I’d love to see, another powerful, lightning-fast wildman, with strong wrestling chops: Magomed Mustafaev. Mustafaev vs. McKinney would be a crazy battle of two absolute buzzsaws at 155.
It wasn’t a particularly interesting fight, at least not until round 3, where Perez tried to push the action and forced a more meaningful counter game out of Martinez as a result. But it’s still a badly needed win for ‘Dragon’ as he looks to try and build some momentum in what I assume will continue to be the bantamweight division (this fight was at featherweight). Had this win been more dominant, it might have signaled a big step forward in competition, but for now, I’ll say Martinez should just keep treading water with action bouts. Bookings against Nate Maness, John Castaneda, or Mario Bautista would all serve that purpose fine. I’ll say the UFC should go with Martinez vs. Bautista. Two scrappy strikers who are still searching for a path up the bantamweight ladder. Should provide more action than this Perez fight did.
OTHER BOUTS: Misha Cirkunov vs. Jack Marshman, Priscila Cachoeira vs. Ariane Lipski, Ji Yeon Kim vs. Agapova/Moroz loser, Joel Alvarez vs. Joseph Solecki, Gregory Rodrigues vs. Punahele Soriano, Zhu Rong vs. Alex Munoz, Josiane Nunes vs. Stephanie Egger, Ramona Pascual vs. Zarah Fairn, Fares Ziam vs. Alex da Silva, Alejandro Perez vs. Miles Johns, Ramiz Brahimaj vs. Philip Rowe, Michael Gillmore vs. Niklas Stolze, Carlos Hernandez vs. Vergara/Rodrigues winner, Victor Altamirano vs. Victor Rodriguez
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