The UFC’s latest Fight Night, UFC Vegas 56, didn’t have many fans salivating from the outset, but it managed to turn in a pretty solid night of action—with violent knockouts, sneaky submissions, and even a touch of judging controversy. Alexander Volkov picked up a quick win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the main event, Movsar Evloev dominated Dan Ige in the co-main, and Karolina Kowalkieiwcz got a badly needed victory down on the prelims.
So, is there anyone out there in the heavyweight top 10 that Volkov hasn’t fought yet? Can Evloev really bait Arnold Allen into a fight on the Englishman’s home soil? And did Alonzo Menifield just put an end to Askar Mozharov’s Octagon career?
To answer those questions—and a couple 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!
Even with quality wins in the past over Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, it’s hard for me to think of a better start-to-finish performance from Volkov inside the Octagon. He managed distance well behind a string of kicks and jabs, he weathered a blitz of power strikes from Rozenstruik with ease, he found counters, and when he pushed forward he did so fearlessly and with bad intentions. It all adds up to a first round finish for the Russian, and a welcome return to form after a string of recent struggles. The victory lines him up for another top end heavyweight bout, and while there may not be a single really obvious booking, there are two or three options that could easily fall into place in the coming months.
Should Tai Tuivasa lose his upcoming fight against Ciryl Gane, ‘Bam Bam’ vs. ‘Drago’ would be high entertainment. Or, for a more guaranteed result, there’s the upcoming fight between Sergei Pavlovich and Derrick Lewis. Lewis vs. Volkov I played host to one of the most dramatic comebacks in UFC history, should Lewis win his next bout, a rematch of that fight seems like a totally worthwhile booking. And if Pavlovich wins, then a fight with Volkov is a great way to keep building his resume as a future title contender. Volkov vs. the Lewis/Pavlovich winner seems like the best fit given the options in the division right now.
A complete, unmitigated disaster of a fight for Rozenstruik. Outside of a wild blitz from Francis Ngannou, ‘Bigi Boy’ had managed to maintain the aura that if opponents stood in easy punching range of him and traded shots, he was going to get the better of those exchanges. Beating him in the cage meant giving him nothing to hit, either by being too far away, or taking him to the mats. Volkov flipped that narrative right on its head, walking into the teeth of Rozenstruik’s offense, trading the hands, and coming away with the TKO win. Time for a step back for the fighter from Suriname. Bouts against Marcin Tybura, Chris Daukaus, or Blagoy Ivanov would all fit the bill nicely. All things considered, that Daukaus fight seems like the most surefire slobber-knocker. Daukaus vs. Rozenstruik would be a quality battle of heavyweight punchers.
An absolutely crushing victory for Evloev in the Octagon. He hurt Ige standing, out-wrestled him in open space, and out-grappled him on the mats. He did damage in every phase and had no trouble handling Ige’s power in standing exchanges. If fans had any questions about Evloev’s ability to compete at the highest levels of the featherweight division this should answer them.
After the bout, Evloev called out ‘bullshit guy’ Arnold Allen, and that’s a fight I’d love to see. But it’s also not a fight that makes much sense for Allen who is just about in spitting distance of a title shot these days. Allen should be targeting the very highest tier of the division, taking a fight with the likes of Evloev instead would be an extremely dangerous proposition. However, that still leaves bouts with Bryce Mitchell, Sodiq Yusuff, and Giga Chikadze. But, how can anyone not want to see Movsar Evloev vs. Bryce Mitchell? That fight is hot fire, and whoever comes out the winner has a strong claim to grabbing their own top 5 spot in the division.
Watching tape from earlier in Almeida’s career, it was always clear that he was a potent first round fighter. But against an opponent with the skill and toughness to take his shots (like Daniel Zellhuber showed on the Contender’s Series), it remained to be seen if Almeida could stay the same kind of fearsome puncher and opportunistic submission artist he’d been on the regional scene. This win over Mike Trizano feels like it went a long way to answering those concerns. As expected, Almeida looked great out of the gate early. And when Trizano hurt him badly late in round 1, he rebounded with composure and confidence to take the 2nd round—and then to finish the fight in the third. Hard to do better in a debut than that. Book the Brazilian in another standup war ASAP. Lucas Almedia vs. Melsik Baghdasarian is a perfect fight to make.
Osbourne has the size and the speed to be a factor in the flyweight division, he’s just got to keep stringing together the wins. A quick KO over Zarrukh Adashev was a great way to start building momentum and should line Osbourne up for another quality flyweight action bout. Opponents like Malcolm Gordon, Tatsuro Taira, or even David Dvorak would all be solid ideas. I’m gonna go ahead and say the Taira fight seems like the most fun to me. Taira can compete everywhere, even with Osbourne’s length, but he’s still a very raw prospect. A chance for Osbourne to show that he’s a cut above the young guns at 125, and a chance for Taira to prove that he can handle someone that has the physical tools to compete with him. Osbourne vs. Taira should be a thriller.
This was exactly the fight Menifield was supposed to have over a man whose record was pretty much entirely made of can crushing (at least the parts that were real). He went out, landed big shots, hit big takedowns, and got to offensive grappling positions. It wasn’t all the cleanest, most impressive technical fighting in the world, but once he got to the mounted crucifix it was clear this fight was all wrapped up. A powerful elbow TKO will make a nice addition to the highlight reel and gets Menifield off that rough loss to William Knight. That could make for fights with Philipe Lins, Maxim Grishin, or Tyson Pedro. I especially like the idea of the Pedro fight. The Aussie looked great after years on the sidelines, picking up the victory over Ike Villanueva. Menifield would be a strong step up from that. Pedro vs. Menifield is a good way for both men to try and make a run to the top 15.
A badly, badly needed win for Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She’s struggled a lot with confidence in her recent career slide and it felt like this was a great return to the kind of classic form she had when she was walking through damage to bring her own offense to her opponent. Herrig had her moments, landed some solid shots, but Kowalkiewicz was able to keep pressure on, sprawl out a takedown, and absolutely dominate on the floor. What exactly that means for Kowlkiewicz’s future and her place in the division right now is hard to say, but at the very least, she’s back in the win column and ready to take on another challenge. That could be fresher faces like Luana Pinheiro or Lupita Godinez or Tabatha Ricci. I like the idea of a fight with Angela Hill, however. She’s on a bit of a slide right now, but she’s another long time Octagon vet, and it really feels like a fight both women should have had before. Kowalkiewicz vs. Hill is a high profile fight for both women at a time when they both still have a lot to prove.
Wasn’t much of a fight all things said and done, but Gravely walks away with a solid, definitive win in his pocket. A short uppercut as Munoz was shooting in was all it took to pick up a first round KO victory. Bantamweight is always a sharktank, so there are plenty of tough fights for Gravely to jump into after this success. Bouts against Kyler Phillips, Heili Alateng, John Castaneda, or Montel Jackson would all be decent moves. Of those, I like the idea of the Alateng fight. Two vets with fairly complete games looking to climb their way up to the rankings at 135. Gravely vs. Alateng would be a quality scrap.
Some struggles in the cage this time around for Erin Blanchfield. She couldn’t find her way into takedowns against Aldrich’s stout wrestling defense, and found herself repeatedly stuck eating strikes as she tried to pressure her way into the pocket. Still, her willingness to crash inside, repeatedly, started to wear on Aldrich in round 2. All leading to a clash that put Aldrich on the mat and saw Blanchfield snap up the sub in the scramble. After the victory, ‘Cold Blooded’ had a callout all ready to go. She asked for the winner of the upcoming bout between Maycee Barber and Jessica Eye. I could easily see both women having higher aspirations coming off that fight, but I’d love to see it no matter who gets the win. Other options could be Tracy Cortez or the Moroz/Eubanks winner. But if she can get the Eye/Barber fight winner, that’s a great challenge to chase. Blanchfield vs. the Eye/Barber winner is a the kind of next step Blanchfield needs.
OTHER FIGHTS: Dan Ige vs. Edson Barboza 2, Mike Trizano vs. Kamuela Kirk, Karine Silva vs. Shanna Young, Poliana Botelho vs. the McCann/Goldy loser, Zarrukh Adashev vs. Victor Rodriguez, Askar Mozharov vs. Marcin Prachnio, Joe Solecki vs. Mark O. Madsen, Alex da Silva vs. Jai Herbert, Damon Jackson vs. Julian Erosa, Dan Argueta vs. Liudvik Sholinian, Benoit Saint-Denis vs. Natan Levy, Niklas Stolze vs. Charlie Ontiveros, Johnny Munoz vs. Mana Martinez, Jeff Molina vs. Francisco Figueiredo, Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Daniel Lacerda, Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Preston Parsons, Andres Michailidis vs. Jason Witt, JJ Aldrich vs. Montana De La Rosa
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