UFC 276 was okay, not great. Israel Adesanya cruised past Jared Cannonier in the main event, Alexander Volkov put a one-sided masterclass on Max Holloway, and Alex Pereira put an end to Sean Strickland’s title hopes for the immediate future.
So, have the stars truly aligned to put Adesanya back in front of his most dangerous foe, this time inside the Octagon? Is Volkanovski’s biggest fight up in the lightweight division? And is Jalin Turner on his way to a chance at UFC gold?
To answer those questions—and a whole lot more—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!
It’s hard to deny a certain feeling of ‘cruise control’ about Adesanya’s performance in this bout. He clearly won just about every round, but Cannonier wasn’t interested in bringing much of a fight to him—and Adesanya was more than happy to just pick him apart out at distance without creating much more than what his opponent gave him to work with. Still, I can’t blame Adesanya much for delivering something less than spectacular, frankly. The fight was never in danger of slipping away from him and, outside of round 3, he never dropped into complete inactivity—taking bigger risks would have been foolish.
But, it does make the thought of an upcoming bout with Alex Pereira all the more interesting. The Brazilian has found ways to beat Adesnaya in striking matches before, and he’s powerful enough that if Adesanya can’t create a comfortable lead early, then he’d likely be forced to put himself in extreme danger. It’s the fight both men want and it’s the most interesting booking in the division—Adesanya vs. Pereira should be a fascinating title fight.
It was the biggest stage of Jared Cannonier’s career, and he didn’t seem prepared to seize the moment. Adesanya was able to keep him on the end of his jab and land low kicks for the better part of five rounds, punctuated by occasional clinch exchanges. Even though the ‘Last Stylebender’ admitted that the ‘Killa Gorilla’ was well set, defensively, to stall his offense, Cannonier didn’t seem to have a plan to produce much danger of his own. The end result could be a hard end to Cannonier’s championship hopes. At 38-years-old, chances he returns to title contention—even in a division as thin as middleweight can be—seem slim. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some good top 10 fights still waiting out there for him though.
Sean Strickland just suffered his own upset loss further down the card, and upcoming bouts between Marvin Vettori & Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa & Luke Rockhold both seem like they’d produce something worth seeing. Looking at those options, I’d say the best one is a booking against Paulo Costa. Whether he wins or loses against Luke Rockhold, he’s not going to be in position to contend for the belt, and Cannonier vs. Costa seems like an otherwise excellent display of slugging power.
Alexander Volkanovski went out and put on another masterclass to defend his featherweight title. Holloway did well to press the action early, forcing Volkanovski to sit down on counters and work through prolonged exchanges—but the further the fight went, the more Volkanovski established his jab, and the more trouble Holloway had fighting his way around it. The end result was a dominant five rounds from the Aussie, who announced after the bout that he wants to fight for the lightweight title. It’s not a bad idea considering that Josh Emmett isn’t the world’s most thrilling top contender. But is it something that the UFC is interested in making happen, considering that Charles Oliveira has been calling for a fight with Conor McGregor? If the UFC wants to make Oliveira vs. Volkanovsi, I’m absolutely here for it. If they don’t, then Volkanovski vs. Emmett is fine. For now, I’ll hedge against McGregor getting booked in the immediate future and say the ‘Great’ gets his wish. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Charles Oliveira is a superb fight if both parties want it.
The first fight may have been decently tight, the second fight may have been razor thin, but there was absolutely no question as to who walked away from this third bout with the victory. Alexander Volkanovski has Max Holloway’s number, and down 0-3 over their careers against the champ, it seems really unlikely that Holloway sees another title shot as long as the Aussie is king. That said, Holloway is still an absolute thrill to watch. If Josh Emmett’s not going to get his shot at gold right away, then I’ve got no problem seeing Emmett vs. Holloway. Holloway has also talked about fighting up at 155, where there’s always the off chance of a McGregor rematch. For now I’ll assume Holloway is going to stay at 145, and if he does then I’ll say book Holloway vs. Josh Emmett. Emmett deserves a chance at gold, but Holloway’s beat everyone else in the top 5. I guess there’s always Giga Chikadze or Arnold Allen if that can’t happen.
If Sean Strickland had just been willing to fight against type, he very well may have walked away from this bout with a title shot in hand. Instead, true to his form, he tried to walk Pereira down and fight behind his jab and front kicks—seeing if he could overwhelm the power-punching Brazilian with sheer volume. It didn’t work. Instead, against all odds, ‘Poatan’ looks to have fought his way into title contention; Adesanya’s old foe has arrived at the top of the heap. There’s no more meaningful, interesting, or fated match to make in the middleweight division. Hell, even if Adesanya had lost Adesanya vs. Pereira would have been the best fight to make. Alex Pereira vs. Israel Adesanya is the perfect fight for middleweight gold.
A big win for Barberena in an absolute dogfight with Robbie Lawler. The former UFC champion was landing well with serious power, but just couldn’t keep pace with Barberena’s constant output. Once Barberena started mixing elbows into the fight, the tide really turned. That puts ‘Bam Bam’ on a nifty little 3-fight winning streak. And with Lawler and Brown both under his belt, it should give him a bit of cache coming into his booking too. Fights with Gunnar Nelson, James Krause (if he’s not retired), Santiago Ponzinibbio, or Francisco Trinaldo all seem like sensible bookings. Given that Trinaldo is still trucking along and winning fights at the ripe old age of 43, it seems like a fun way for Barberena to continue carving his way through the UFC’s welterweight veterans. Barberena vs. Trinaldo would be a rock solid next bout coming off this win.
PEDRO MUNHOZ & SEAN O’MALLEY
We didn’t really get to see the best this fight had to offer the first time, and I can only assume that there’d be more heat between the two men after this result. It may not have been a thrill and neither man did a lot of damage, but O’Malley losing the first round already makes it a pretty lame fight for him to try and say Munhoz quit on. Both men got a chance to work on some good ideas, neither of them got the chance to carry them truly to fruition. All told, it just seems like a fight that needs re-booking. Put O’Malley and Munhoz back in the cage together and see if they can’t find their way to an actually exciting fight this time.
An absolutely perfect performance from Turner. He had Riddell on the back foot from the jump, landed a hard combo, got Riddell looking to shoot, and then wrapped up his neck in a hurry for the submission. No way to improve on a win like that for the 6’ 3” ‘Tarantula’, who looks like a real problem in the lightweight division. And fortunately for him, last week’s fight card offers the perfect next step up the ranks. Arman Tsarukyan arguably won just about every round of his main event scrap with Mateusz Gamrot, he just wasn’t able to convince two of three judges of that idea. Coming off a highly contested loss, he needs another fight against a ranked opponent with some real momentum. That looks a lot like Turner right now. Jalin Turner vs. Arman Tsarukyan is a great next test for Turner and a perfect rebound opportunity for the Armenian.
An uncharacteristically slow start for Miller let Cerrone in this fight a lot more than I might have expected. It seemed like the kicking game ‘Cowboy’ beat him with in their first bout was still very much on the mind of ‘A-10’. But Miller hung tight in striking exchanges, and used those kicks to look for grappling opportunities. It gave him a takedown in the first round, and in the second it initiated the scramble that saw Miller snatch up the sub. That’s 3-straight round 2 wins for the man long known for his round 1 finish ability.
Given that the UFC has already re-signed Miller ahead of his victory, there are still some solid bouts out there for him. I’d still love to see the longtime vet take on Paddy Pimblett, but bouts with Rafa Garcia, Claudio Puelles, or Ricky Glenn would all be fun. Hell there’s even an upcoming bout between Nasrat Haqparast and John Makdessi that I’d love to see him fight the winner of. For now, I’ll say Claudio Puelles vs. Jim Miller seems like a great next fight. But I really want that Pimblett bout that I’ve written up previously.
DRICUS DU PLESSIS
Du Plessis’ blitzing, power-striking style leaves him wide open to counters and leaves him looking exhausted. But with his combination of size and determination, he can make himself a dangerous fighter to face round after round after round. Tavares looked like he had his number early, but he couldn’t keep up with constant extended combinations du Plessis brought to him, or the power coming back every time he threw. With that win, Du Plessis is now out to 3-0 in the UFC and firmly entrenched in the middleweight top 15. Post fight, he had a pretty reasonable callout to make. Kelvin Gastelum is currently recovering from injury, but he and Du Plessis were set to face off back in April. If Gastelum is going to return to action any time soon, that’s only a better fight to make off this win. Du Plessis vs. Gastelum seems like a great way for Du Plessis to establish himself as a potential future contender.
OTHER BOUTS: Sean Strickland vs. Derek Brunson, Robbie Lawler vs. Court McGee, Brad Riddell vs. Matt Frevola, Ian Garry vs. Daniel Rodriguez, Gabriel Green vs. Andre Fialho, Brad Tavares vs. Eryk Anders, Andre Muniz vs. the Till/Hermansson winner, Uriah Hall vs. Ian Heinisch, Maycee Barber vs. Jennifer Maia, Julija Stoliarenko vs. Josiane Nunes, Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
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