UFC San Diego was a far better event than the UFC deserved, given how slapdash much of the card’s booking felt. Marlon Vera picked up a statement win in the main event, Nate Landwehr & David Onama put on a fight of the year contender in the co-main, and Yazmin Jauregui made a splash in her UFC debut against Iasmin Lucindo.
So, how many more fights does Vera need to win before he’s the top contender in the bantamweight division? Is there any way we can get Landwehr vs. Shane Burgos booked, like, tomorrow? And is Gerald Meerschaert suddenly a darkhorse contender at 185?
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!
Exactly the kind of performance Marlon Vera needed to announce himself as a likely future bantamweight title contender. Dominick Cruz made all the right moves, starting fast, throwing lots of his own kicks, pushing Vera backwards with blitzing flurries, and avoiding staying in the pocket long enough to eat many counters. But Vera is an athlete entirely built around gaining momentum. Cruz may have won the first two rounds, but he did so while giving ‘Chito’ all kinds of reads on his movement and timing. Leading right into a perfect high kick KO on the counter as Cruz was ducking out of the pocket.
After the fight, Vera didn’t exactly demand a title shot, knowing full well that upcoming bouts between Aldo & Dvalishvili, Yan & O’Malley, and Sandhagen & Song all have potential to crown top contenders in their own right. But, that should also leave the Jason Parillo-trained fighter perfectly poised to take on the winner of at least one of those matchups. Just for all the narrative nonsense involved, and the thrill I’d have to see either fight, I’ll say the UFC should go ahead and book Vera against the Yan/O’Malley winner. Yan vs. Vera would be an absolute war, and I’d be fascinated to see the O’Malley fight again.
For large sections of this fight, Dominick Cruz appeared to be in absolute control. His blitzing combos kept Vera from building consistent pressure and had the Ecuadorian fighter covering and waiting for the better part of two rounds. But when Vera didn’t wait, when he stayed planted and fired his own shots back at Cruz, they did damage every time.
I’m sure Cruz isn’t about to walk away right now, but more than his other losses, this felt like a real sign that he isn’t the fighter he used to be anymore. In the past, whenever the ‘Dominator’ got off to a hot start in one of his fights, he carried that momentum all the way to the finish line. This is the first time an opponent has taken has been able to work there way into winning a fight against Cruz that they had been losing. As such, it’s worth wondering, what’s left for Cruz to prove? There’s talk of matching him up with Jose Aldo, if Aldo loses to Dvalishvili in his next bout. I’d still be willing to watch it, but it’s not nearly the matchup it would have been even just a couple years ago. The other option would be a fight with Frankie Edgar, who has been struggling a lot more than Cruz lately. I’ll say the Cruz vs. Edgar fight is the way to go, but options are feeling slim for meaningful bouts I’d want to see the former bantamweight champ taking.
An absolutely insane brawl from Landwehr, who was practically knocked cold in round 1, only to storm back and dominate Onama in round 2 for a 10-8. And then let Onama far enough back into the fight that one judge even scored the whole thing a draw. An absolutely wild slobberknocker that defied expectations at every single level. After the bout, Landwehr called out Billy Quarantillo and Shane Burgos. Both those fights would be insanely fun wars. With Quarantillo coming off a loss and Burgos coming off a win, seems like an easy choice. Shane Burgos vs. Nate Landwehr would be an absolutely insane war, and if Burgos can’t put Landwehr away early, then it’s a fight either man is fully capable of winning late. Landwehr vs. Burgos is pure madness in the making. The UFC would be fools not to try and get it booked.
Devin Clark put a scare into Murzakanov at the end of the first round with a sneaky head kick, but other than that moment, the fight was almost all one-way traffic in the Russian’s favor. He landed killer shots upstairs, yet eventually it was a focus on bodywork that broke Clark down and got him out of there. That’s two quality wins for Murzakanov to start his run in the Octagon and it seems like he’s going to be on his way toward the division’s top 15 in a real hurry. That’s a path that could lead through Nick Negumereanu, Da Un Jung, or Kennedy Nzechukwu. Of those, Negumereanu is the man with momentum behind him right now. And given his insane durability, that seems like a great test to see if Murzakanov can find a way to out-work an opponent he can’t necessarily put away on strikes alone. Murzakanov vs. Negumereanu looks like a great battle of rising talents.
An absolutely perfect performance from Gerald Meerschaert. His body kicking and low kicks appeared to really trouble Silva right out of the gate, who seemed as though he wasn’t at all comfortable chasing down a left-handed opponent. Throw in a takedown and some dominating top control and by the time Silva got to round 2, he looked like he didn’t have a clue how to create the fight he needed to win. All of that led to some visible frustration and wilder and wilder exchanges, and eventually a left hook into a guillotine to wrap the whole thing up for ‘GM3’. A perfect bounceback from the Jotko loss.
After the fight, Meerschaert made a somewhat surprising call-out, answering a challenge from former TUF talent Andre Petroski. Petroski has claimed that he wants to prove himself the best grappler in the middleweight division. A fight against Meerschaert is a great way to do it. Meerschaert vs. Petroski seems like an easy fight to make if both men want it.
Another close decision for Angela Hill, but she recovered great after a rough opening couple minutes of the fight and just stayed a small step ahead of Loopy Godinez all the rest of the way. Lots of jump knees, lots of hooks traded in the pocket, and very very little in the way of effective wrestling from Hill’s opponent. That breaks a three-fight losing streak for ‘Overkill’, giving her just her second victory in her last seven fights. Badly needed for the Alliance MMA fighter if she’s going to keep her place as the gatekeeper to the top 15 in the women’s strawweight division.
Hill will always be an anyone, anytime, anywhere kind of talent, so there’s no real telling who she should fight next. But if she’s going to keep doing her thing, then contests with Luana Pinheiro, the Ricci/Vlismas winner, or Karolina Kowalkiewicz would all be solid options. Of those, the Kowalkiewicz fight seems most like the one that should have happened five years ago. Hill vs. Kowalkiewicz is a great bout to see if Hill can keep her momentum going or if the former title contender can truly regain her form.
A wild brawl of a fight for Gabriel Benitez, but that’s the way almost everything seems to be going for him lately in the Octagon. Lots of speed, lots of power, lots of brutal exchanges. Charlie Ontiveros caught him early with a couple fun axe kicks and both men landed big hooks in the pocket, but the moment Benitez hit that slamming takedown, Ontiveros had no answers on the mat. A solid GnP victory for Benitez breaks a streak of back-to-back KO losses and should line him up for another thrilling lightweight action fight. Fortunately, I’ve got just the right opponent in mind. Another longtime UFC talent who has had his share of rough outings lately, but is no stranger to out-of-control striking battles. Michael Johnson may be coming off a loss, but it was a razor close one against Jamie Mullarkey. And with a recent win over Allan Patrick, it seems like he’s in just the right spot to thrash it out with ‘Moggly’. Gabriel Benitez vs. Michael Johnson would be a surefire thriller.
This fight couldn’t have gone more perfectly to script. Ode Osbourne came out with all the speed and volume, picking Nam off at will with hard body kicks, hooks in the pocket, and lots of darting combinations. Nam, however, stuck to his patient counter-punching style, and when Osbourne started showing jump knees without any setup, the Gracie Technics talent plucked him out of the air with a quickness. A great bounce back from injury for the Hawaiian, and a fight that should line him up to tackle the rankings once again. Fights with Jeff Molina, Manel Kape, or Tagir Ulanbekov would all be perfect ways to do that. I especially love the idea of Kape vs. Nam. Both men are pressure-first fighters with serious power in their hands. I think that’d keep it from being too much of a staring contest, despite the fact both love to counter. Nam vs. Kape is a great bout to see who can challenge for the mantel of UFC’s hardest hitting flyweight.
OTHER BOUTS: David Onama vs. Kamuela Kirk, Yazmin Jauregui vs. Maria Oliveira, Iasmin Lucindo vs. Montserrat Conejo, Devin Clark vs. Da Un Jung, Priscila Cachoeira vs. J.J. Aldrich, Ariane Lipski vs. Hannah Goldy, Bruno Silva vs. Rodolfo Vieira, Lupita Godinez vs. Vanessa Demopoulos 2, Martin Buday vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab, Lukasz Brzeski vs. Parker Porter, Cynthia Calvillo vs. Montana De La Rosa, Charlie Ontiveros vs. Kyle Nelson, Ode Osbourne vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov, Josh Quinlan vs. Mike Malott, Jason Witt vs. Gabriel Green, Youssef Zalal vs. Raulian Paiva, Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Saimon Oliveira
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