UFC Vegas 53 ended up being a pretty good time. Notably, Rob Font and Marlon Vera put together an absolute thriller over five rounds—with Font following a perfect gameplan to win, only to have it detonated by Vera in each and every round after the first. Alongside the main event, Joanderson Brito announced himself as a must-see featherweight on the rise, and Grant Dawson proved he’s ready for a serious step up.
So, is Vera gonna get his wish for a top-5 opponent? Is there someone out there that can bring some excitement out of Krzystof Jotko’s game? And who’s ready to be the next victim on Alexander Romanov’s hit-list?
To answer those questions—but 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!
I don’t know if anyone could call this a perfect fight for Marlon Vera, but I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of what will keep him a relevant fighter in the bantamweight top 5 for years to come—even if the title belt he dreams of continues to elude him. As shown by Petr Yan’s post-fight message, congratulating Vera on his win, ‘Chito’ is the kind of guy other great athletes want to face. He’s an opponent who, win or lose, will guarantee action and thrills, and a crowd that is cheering. At this point he has to be one of the most legendarily iron-chinned fighters in UFC history, having never been so much as knocked down in 19 UFC bouts—including fights with hitters like Jose Aldo, John Lineker, and Song Yadong to name a few.
After the victory, Vera said he was looking for fights with the 2, 3, or 4 fighters in his division, which means an Aldo rematch, the Yan fight, or a matchup with Cory Sandhagen. If those are the only fights he’s willing to take, then the Sandhagen bout is the one I want to see. Sandhagen’s constant creativity brings a nuance to it that Font may have lacked, and could make Vera’s slow start that much more costly. But the fact that Sandhagen is also not the biggest puncher out there should leave a lot of opportunity for Vera to claw his way into the fight just like he did here. Vera vs. Sandhagen is a must-see bantamweight war.
It was a bad day all over for Rob Font in the Octagon. For two straight fights now, he’s come with what seems to be the perfect game plan, executed just the right way, and it’s gained him nothing. The loss is especially hard, in this case, in that he missed weight ahead of the bout. Which means not only did he forfeit 20% of his show money to Vera, but he lost an additional $50k when the bout was awarded Fight of the Night as well. Can he go back to the drawing board? Is there a drawing board to go back to when it seems like the plan was followed to perfection and the opposition was just stronger and more creative, and more durable? I don’t know.
At the very least, there are other top 15 talents who are going to be looking at Font as a very winnable fight right now, which should give him no shortage of potential next bouts. And while I could list of several different options, there’s one that jumps out right away as the best possible move: Pedro Munhoz. Font and Munhoz faced off back in 2017, with the ‘Young Punisher’ grabbing the first round submission. But the years since have delivered a lot more, consistent high-end success for the New England Cartel stalwart than his Brazilian counterpart. With Munhoz riding two losses of his own, this seems like the perfect time to run it all back. Has the dynamic changed, or does Munhoz still have Font’s number? Rob Font vs. Pedro Munhoz 2 is a great fight for two top 10 bantamweights sitting at a career crossroads.
Not the result most people expected here, with Fili being the historically durable, and much more Octagon-tested athlete in the cage. But Brito didn’t look even slightly cowed, landing heavy kicks early as Fili searched for a way to work into the pocket behind his jab. And when Fili finally did sit down to try and really trade with Brito, he ate the kind of hook that would put just about anybody on their ass. A few followup punches later and the fight was over. A huge victory for Brito after a disappointing UFC debut, and a fight that should set him up for another fun action contest in the upper half of the division.
Opponents like Julian Erosa, Ricardo Ramos, Hakeem Dawodu, or Charles Jourdain would all be pretty choice. Among those, I especially like the idea of the Erosa fight. Erosa’s a crafty vet who can find ways to compete with just about anyone. But he’s also had a bad habit of getting absolutely starched out of the gate by aggressive, big punchers. A chance for Brito to create another highlight, and chance for Erosa to teach another guy a hard lesson. Brito vs. Erosa should be a banger.
Given Dawson’s back-take heavy game, this wasn’t quite a thriller. But, the fact that Dawson turned it into a late sub victory goes a long way to silencing doubts that he fades late in fights. He still wasn’t nearly as crisp in the third as he was in the first two frames, but he had enough left to keep Gordon off balance and find the takedown that led to the win. That also keeps Dawson unbeaten in the UFC with nine wins and a draw in his last ten bouts. That should put him in the mix around the lightweight top 15. Fights with Arman Tsarukyan, Mateusz Gamrot, Diego Ferrera, Damir Ismagulov, or Ilia Topuria should all be on offer. Of those, I’ll go with the Topuria fight. He’s already proved he can break down great grapplers, and both men are former 145ers. Time to see which top prospect can shine. Dawson vs. Topuria seems like an ideal challenge for both men.
A pretty ugly fight between career grapplers forced to spend most of the bout at range, but even when it went to the mat, Jotko had a clear advantage—holding strong positions and landing enough GnP in Meerschaert’s guard to keep the ref from waving him up. Not the best win ever, but it gives Jotko 5 victories in his last six trips to the Octagon. That should line him up for another chance to work his way into the top 15. That could be a fight with Nassourdine Imavov, or even a winner/loser fight with Edmen Shahbazyan. There are also fights with Marc-Andre Barriault or Anthony Hernandez. But I’ll go ahead and say Jotko should target the Imavov fight. It’s a hot prospect on the rise who just needs more opportunities to get in front of fans. Jotko isn’t a name opponent like Gastelum would have been, but it’s still a difficult test. Jotko vs. Imavov gives the Polish fighter a chance to grab a ranking and the Frenchman a chance to continue proving his quality.
A brutally one-sided fight for Romanov, who did exactly what was needed—taking Chase Sherman down from the jump and working him over with that heavy-duty top game. The win marks 5-straight victories for Romanov with the UFC, and time for a serious step up forward. After the victory, Romanov called out Augusto Sakai. While that may still be a decent fight if the UFC wants to book it, with Sakai coming off three straight stoppage losses, it doesn’t feel like a bout with much momentum to it.
Match-ups with Sergei Pavlovich, Chris Daukaus, or even Sergei Spivak all feel like they’d be more reasonable. Unfortunately, Pavlovich is signed to fight Derrick Lewis, because that’d really be the best bout to make. I was going to say there’s the Ivanov/Lima fight coming up and Romanov could take on the winner, but instead I’ll say Marcin Tybura. Sure Tybura is coming off a loss too (and has lost to Sakai), but he’s also done a lot more winning in-between. It just feels less cruel. Alexander Romanov vs. Marcin Tybura is a good step forward.
The younger Figueiredo brother may not be out from under the shadow of his brother, but this was a damn impressive way to start crafting a legacy all his own. Daniel Da Silva looked like he had the ‘Sniper’ right where he wanted him after an early power double leg takedown, and was prepared to make a quick pass to side control. A decision that he’ll likely be regretting for weeks to come. That kneebar transition Figueiredo hit was a thing of beauty, and badly needed coming off that loss to Malcolm Gordon. That keeps the Brazilian in the mix at the bottom of 125, and should line him up just perfectly for a fight with another flyweight still trying to find his place in the UFC. Bruno Silva had a rough start to his Octagon career, but he’s turned it around lately to get a couple big wins. Silva vs. Figueiredo is a perfect matchup to see which Brazilian flyweight can keep their momentum going.
As expected, the early stages of this fight were rough going for Gabe Green. Yohan Lainesse may still be a developing talent, but he hits like a truck and is big enough that he can’t be easily bullied off of his style. For a fighter that depends on toughness and endurance like Green does, there was no way he wasn’t gonna eat some big shots early. He did, but he also rallied well. The moment Lainesse started to flag Green was right there to pour on the aggression. A fantastic comeback win for Green, who now has two-straight victories after dropping his debut. That could set Green up for fights with Sergey Khandozhko, Matthew Semelsberger, or maybe even Ian Garry. I’ll go with the Semelsberger fight. Both men have made a reputation for their pace and ability to take damage, it seems like a guaranteed fire fight. Green vs. Semelsberger would be fantastic welterweight action.
OTHER BOUTS: Andrei Arlovski vs. Ilir Latifi, Jake Collier vs. Sergey Spivak, Andre Fili vs. Lando Vannata, Jared Gordon vs. Vinc Pichel, Darren Elkins vs. Bill Algeo, Tristan Connelly vs. Danny Henry, Gerald Meerschaert vs. Misha Cirkunov, Chase Sherman vs. Harry Hunsucker, Daniel Lacerda vs. Victor Altamirano, Yohan Lainesse vs. AJ Fletcher, Natan Levy vs. the Garcia/Maheshate winner, Mike Breeden vs. Rongzhu, Shanna Young vs. Luana Carolina, Gina Mazany vs. Victoria Leonardo
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