It’s a week off from the UFC. That doesn’t mean there isn’t other MMA action to partake in – Bellator has already come and gone – but many keep their focus on the UFC and that’s about it. Think of it in terms of the NBA and NFL; there are other basketball and football leagues out there, but that’s the only ones most pay attention to. Granted, the disparity between the UFC and other MMA organizations isn’t as grand as it is in basketball and football, but the point remains the same: many people only have enough time to follow just one organization.
With a week off, I thought it would be fun to take a look at each division and find a fight Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard should make. After all, everyone loves to imagine what they would do if they were in their situation. I recognize there is more to it than just pitting fighters together and everything is peachy – there is injury suspensions, fighters have to agree to their opponents, pay disputes, etc. — but I’m going to try to pick the most high-profile fight I can that would appear most logical based on who doesn’t have a fight scheduled. There are exceptions, that I will explain in each subsequent division. Thus, let’s get into it.
Obviously, what everyone wants to know is what is going to happen in the title picture. It’s more than a bit convoluted with Francis Ngannou at odds with management and the likes of Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic vying to fight for the title. Whichever of those two doesn’t get the title shot could face either Ciryl Gane or Curtis Blaydes and it would make complete logical sense. Rather than try to speculate which of them gets the cold shoulder – or opts for it – I’m going to skip all the way past each of them. Given it’s unknown how long Tom Aspinall will be on the sidelines, I’m not involving him in the speculation either. At this point, Tai Tuivasa appears to be the man everyone should be circling. Sure, he hits like a truck and can take one hell of a punch himself. However, there are still questions about his ground game. Plus, a win over Tuivasa would have whoever beats him knocking on the door to the elite. Alexander Volkov has been serving as the high-level gatekeeper for several years now, so many would point to him as Tuivasa’s next logical challenge. However, with Tuivasa coming off a loss, it feels more appropriate he plays the role of gatekeeper before he attempts to ascend further. Thus, how about Sergei Pavlovich? Like Tuivasa, his last win was a KO of the UFC’s own KO king, Derrick Lewis. It makes a LOT of sense. Plus, it’s hard to believe one or the other won’t be taking a nap. Tuivasa vs. Pavlovich needs to happen.
The UFC hasn’t made it official quite yet, but it looks like they’re doing a rematch of Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira. Their first fight was spectacular, so it’s not like there’s anything to be upset about with that. The obvious thing to do is to pit the other title hopefuls – Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev – against one another, preferably on the undercard of the Prochazka-Teixeira card in case of injury. However, while I do like that fight, it’s a little TOO obvious. I’d rather exhibit some level of creativity. Alexander Rakic and Anthony Smith are both recoving from injury, so I’m excluding them. That leaves a circle of three fighters who aren’t booked to speculate about: Jamahal Hill, Paul Craig, and Johnny Walker. Hill has faced both Craig and Walker, so that leaves Craig and Walker to do the damn thing. Given Craig is the division’s ultimate overachiever and Walker is the ultimate underachiever, it seems like a natural fit. Craig vs. Walker is the only way to go.
There isn’t a lot at the top of 185 that isn’t booked at the moment. That leaves a lot of air that needs to be cleared. Robert Whittaker is free, but I believe it would be best to see what happens with some of the upcoming contests before committing him to anything. The same goes for Marvin Vettori, whom Whittaker just defeated. Thus, I have to slide a way down the ladder for an available booking that would make sense. Yes, I know I could book something with Khamzat Chimaev, but there’s no clarity about whether he is staying at welterweight or if he is going up to middleweight.
Andre Muniz is probably looking at having the air clear in hopes of securing an opponent who is clearly ahead of him in the standings. However, given his two best wins are no longer on the roster – Jacare Souza and Uriah Hall – I think he’d be better off staying busy. I don’t see Paulo Costa accepting a fight with him, so I’ll move on from him. Kelvin Gastelum is the next highest ranked fighter who is unbooked, but his stock is low enough that I’m not sure a win does much for Muniz. Nassourdine Imavov didn’t look at his peak in his win over Joaquin Buckley, but no one can deny that he’s an ascendant talent. It’s a smart fight for Muniz to take as Imavov appears to be a favorable contest for him while it’s a step upward for Imavov. Thus, with limited options, I’d be willing to book Muniz and Imavov.
It’s hard to believe the UFC won’t be booking a rematch between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman. I’m not even going to bother thinking about anything else for the title. Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington are floating out there and it would make a LOT of sense to book them against one another. Hell, Burns has been lobbying for the fight. However, word is Covington is out of action until next spring. Given the uncertainty around Chimaev, I’m not going in that direction. However, there is another specimen that looks like a future champion in Shavkat Rakhmonov. Rakhmonov has been given a gradual ascent and I wouldn’t want to change that, even as he looks to advance into the top ten. Geoff Neal is going to have a hard time getting anyone ranked ahead of him to take a fight with him… but he’d make an earth-shattering statement if he were the first to hang a loss on Rakhmonov. Neal vs. Rakhmonov is the perfect fight for both combatants.
Like middleweight, most of the top of lightweight is booked up. There is an obvious fight to book between Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev, but given Fiziev has been adamantly called out Gaethje, I don’t feel right nabbing that matchup for my purposes. Thus, I’ll slide down a bit further and highlight Arman Tsarukyan. The Armenian is coming off a controversial loss to Mateusz Gamrot, leaving him still looking for a signature win. It’s crazy to think Rafael dos Anjos is still hanging around, but he gave Fiziev a hell of a fight before faltering in the fifth. Dos Anjos still believes he has enough in the tank to reclaim the title that was once his, but he’ll need a win as soon as possible for that to happen. A win for either man could realistically award them with a contest against a top five opponent. On the flip side, a loss to one or the other doesn’t hurt them too badly, barring they don’t get blown out. Tsarukyan vs. Dos Anjos is the obvious route to take.
The top of featherweight is a mess. Alexander Volkanovski has two perfectly valid contenders sitting in front of him in Josh Emmett and Yair Rodriguez and he’s looking past them to the lightweight division. There’s a reason I was never a fan of fighters holding two belts at once…. Unfortunately, Pandora’s Box has been opened and it could be a while before we see a title fight at featherweight. Perhaps we see an interim title fight between Emmett and Rodriguez, perhaps we don’t. I’ll look beyond those two until we know what’s up with Volk. That leaves Max Holloway to take a look at. With three losses to Volk, Holloway is out of the title picture, perhaps permanently. However, even though he has taken all comers dutifully, that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting fights for him still. In fact, can anyone else believe he hasn’t fought Chan Sung Jung? There are questions if the Korean Zombie has seen better days, but this feels like a fight that NEEDS to happen. Even if lightweight is in Holloway’s future, I don’t see him saying no to an opportunity to add one more legend to his list of victims. Besides, who doesn’t want to see the Korean Zombie and Holloway throw down?
Just last week, we had a high-profile bantamweight main event between Cory Sandhagen and Yadong Song. Given all the hot takes that have been made over the last week involving those two and anyone else involved in potential fights with them over the last week, it feels only appropriate for me to skip past those two and the names I’ve seen associated with them. The retirement of Jose Aldo eliminates the possibility of Aldo and Dominick Cruz throwing down, a contest I very much wanted to see. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Cruz will be throwing in the towel either, but if he doesn’t, there is another legacy fight out there to be made. Frankie Edgar obviously isn’t what he once was, but he was winning against Marlon Vera before eating a front kick from hell. I don’t believe either Cruz or Edgar can win the belt again, but both have made careers out of proving people like me wrong. Throw in that Cruz doesn’t have the power that appears to be doing Edgar in and I’d expect it to be a competitive scrap. Edgar vs. Cruz is a fantastic legacy fight.
The future of Deiveson Figueiredo at 125 is up in the air. He claims he’ll defend against Brandon Moreno, but nothing has been signed. Alexandre Pantoja appears determined to wait to see how that situation plays out as he’s likely to fight Moreno if Figueiredo can’t make the weight anymore. Most of the fighters directly beneath those three are booked up, leaving a bit of a wild card situation. Like many others, I believe Manel Kape is a major player very soon. He has the highlight reel; now he needs some recognizable scalps. Kai Kara-France is the most recognizable name available. I wouldn’t mind seeing that fight, but I get the feeling Kara-France won’t be willing to take a step down that large. I do believe Tim Elliott would go for it. The former title challenger has had a bit of a resurgence the last couple of years, so even if he isn’t what he once was, Elliott is still a quality win. However, if Elliott were to put a stop to Kape’s momentum, he’s in line for a big fight. Kape vs. Elliott is the under-the-radar fight that needs to happen.
There is no division. We all know it. Until the UFC gets serious about recruiting the best talent for the division, they should just scrap it. Moving on….
There is next to nothing scheduled in this division. There is no clear challenger for Amanda Nunes, though I acknowledge Ketlen Vieira and Irene Aldana have the strongest resumes to campaign for that position. Rather than make a case for which one, I’d rather focus on what’s just outside the title picture. Some may say Julianna Pena deserves an immediate rematch against Nunes, but I’d much rather see her earn her way back to the top after being decimated in her losing bid to hold onto her title. Prior to Pena’s winning bid for the title, she was scheduled for a contest with Holly Holm that never went down. After a long delay in action due to a knee injury, Holm looked like she had lost a step. Was it due to the knee injury or her age? At 40, it isn’t unreasonable to believe age is the greater culprit in her losing effort to Vieira. Then again, given Holm has always kept herself in great shape, is it possible she was suffering from cage rust? Possible… but I can’t say for sure. If Holm was rusty, she should stylistically be able to piece up Pena. If she has lost a step, well… we should find out. Holm and Pena should be booked before it’s too late.
We’re still waiting to see who Valentina Shevchenko’s next opponent will be. I get the feeling it will be Manon Fiorot if she gets past Katlyn Chookagian next month, but that’s something that still needs to play out. If it isn’t Fiorot, the winner of Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo seems likely to get the spot. There is one person many would like to see rematch Shevchenko, but it looks like Taila Santos is going to have to win at least one more fight before getting that opportunity. The foolish thing to do would be to have her potentially knock off an up-and-comer. It makes more sense for her to square off against another one of Shevchenko’s previous victims. Lauren Murphy is currently unbooked and would require a dominant run eliminating every other potential Shevchenko opponent she could knock off if she were to get a coveted rematch. Out of all the fights I’ve said the UFC should book, this is the one I’m the most shocked the UFC hasn’t booked. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Regardless, we need to see Santos and Murphy square off.
This was a difficult spot for me to figure. Most of the division is booked out. Those who aren’t booked – Rose Namajunas, Jessica Andrade, and Tecia Torres – have already fought one another. Moving further down the rankings, Virna Jandiroba appears to be next in line. I certainly wouldn’t pit her against Namajunas or Andrade, leaving them in a situation where a few contests play out before deciding what to do with them. So, would I book Torres and Jandiroba? My first instinct was no. However, looking at some of the fights that will be playing out, I’m not sure I like the potential fights that would come out of those contests for either Torres or Jandiroba any better. Neither are exactly ancient, but time isn’t on their side either. It would be beneficial for both to keep moving rather than wait around for the perfect matchup that may never materialize. Thus, the most logical thing to do is book Torres and Jandiroba.
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