UFC Vegas 62 is all wrapped up and the end result of a fight card that didn’t have many fans excited going in wasn’t something likely to change many hearts and minds. Alexa Grasso kept her spot as a top 5 flyweight with a closer than the cards would suggest decision. Jonathan Martinez made Cub Swanson regret trying his hand at bantamweight. And Raphael Assuncao turned back the clock to pick up a win over Victor Henry.
So, is Grasso any closer to gold after her fourth-straight win? Is Dominick Cruz going to spend more than 1 second considering a fight with Jonathan Martinez? And is Tatsuro Taira flyweight’s next top prospect?
To answer those questions—and nothing 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!
She got the important part done at UFC Vegas 62, but if Alexa Grasso is hoping to turn a string of victories into a title shot, it feels like she’ll need to put a much stronger stamp on things than she did here. Grasso had the cleaner strikes, the better form, and the more consistent footwork. And when she stepped forward with pressure, she cleaned Araujo’s clock. But she only did that with any sustained effort for about 30 seconds at the end of round 2. After that she was happy to work off the back foot our out in neutral space, having 1-for-1 exchanges and hoping that the judges rewarded her form over Araujo’s power. There are two clear former title contenders out there right now that seem like great fits to test if Grasso can keep her momentum going: Taila Santos and Lauren Murphy. Either fight would be a strong contender’s bout, but I like the feeling of the Santos fight more. Her physicality and grappling ability feel like they’d pose much clearer questions to Grasso than the likely sticky standup fight she’d have with Murphy. Grasso vs. Santos is the kind of win Grasso needs to be the no. 1 contender.
I have to think that Viviane Araujo will look back at this as a fight she very well could have won, had she taken more chances with her aggression both standing and on the mats. Instead, Araujo fell into the same kind of problem that defined her losses to Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Eye—notably that she just gets too caught up trying to do one thing at one tempo even when she’s consistently falling behind doing it. Grasso had a slight technical edge standing, and despite getting a couple takedowns early, Grasso was mostly happy to just engage in a slow kickboxing bout she didn’t win.
Still there are plenty of flyweights for her to contend with; fights with Lauren Murphy or Maycee Barber would both make strong options right now, or possibly the winner of Jennifer Maia vs. Maryna Moroz. I’ll go ahead and say book Araujo against Barber. Barber’s coming off a solid win over Eye (a fight Araujo dropped), and has her own loss against Grasso hanging over her. A win for either woman would do a lot to assert them as elite talents in the division. Barber vs. Araujo would be a fun flyweight battle.
Rock solid showing from Jonathan Martinez in the highest profile fight of his career so far. Swanson tried to do his best to make this fight a brawl and stay out of kicking range, but every time he stepped into the clinch, he got met with huge shots inside. That left Swanson with nowhere else to go but distance. The TKO via low kicks followed shortly after. After the fight was over, Martinez called for a bout with Dominick Cruz, who was on commentary for the bout. To say Cruz sounded uninterested in the idea would be putting it mildly.
If the UFC is happy to toss Martinez into the deeper end of the division, then fights with Song Yadong, Pedro Munhoz, or Ricky Simon would all be huge tests. Otherwise, bouts with Cody Stamann, Raoni Barcelos, Adrian Yanez, or Alatengheili would all be decent options. Munhoz has been struggling mightily with consistency lately and had his share of setbacks, why not give Martinez a chance to jump into deep water and prove himself. Martinez vs. Munhoz would be the kind of big test it sounds like the ‘Dragon’ wants.
This fight could never go any other way than it did. Jordan Wright came out, hit some strong takedowns and spent the entire first round on top of Dusko Todorovic dropping heavy shots on him. But Todorovic survived, and Wright’s cardio and confidence took a big hit in the process. ‘Thunder’ entered round 2 with a serious fire under his ass and took a brawl to Wright. From there it was only a matter of time before Wright folded.
That win takes Todorovic to 3-3 in the UFC and keeps him firmly in position as a dependable mid-card action talent who will put on a show whether or not he gets his hand raised. Given that, fights with Denis Tiuliulin, Roman Kopylov, Jacob Malkoun, or Abdul Razak Alhassan would all be fun options. I really liked the way Tiuliulin showed up against Jamie Pickett last time out, showing a similar willingness as Todorovic to swarm his opponent with pressure and aggressive punching. Feels like Todorovic’s wrestling would be a good test for Tiuliulin as well. Denis Tiuliulin vs. Dusko Todorovic would be a hell of a fun battle at 185.
An absolutely masterful performance from the veteran. It’s rare enough to see fighters in their 40s finding success in the higher divisions, but get down into the lower weights and it’s exceptionally rare. With that in mind, seeing Assuncao go out, find his counters, keep his defense tight, and slow Victor Henry to his pace—coming off a fight when Henry set the record for landed strikes in a 3-round BW fight—couldn’t have been more impressive. After the bout, Assuncao revealed that he has been thinking about retirement, but wasn’t quite willing to make a decision just yet.
If he’s gonna get back in the Octagon anytime soon, then fights with Raoni Barcelos, Adrian Yanez, Umar Nurmagomedov, or Jonathan Martinez would all make sense. Given that Barcelos just dropped a bout to Henry and then came back with a shutout win, that feels like an interesting test to see how much the matchup makes the difference. Assuncao vs. Barcelos would be a fantastic battle of Brazilian vets.
In the past, when fighters have pushed back on Alonzo Menifield, they’ve found an opponent willing to let the fight slip away from him. So it’s entirely to ‘Atomic’’s credit that when Misha Cirkunov stepped in, traded shots, and looked for takedowns early, Menifield never took a step back. He kept the pressure on, kept throwing big shots, and walked away with the first round knockout as a result. That lines him up for potential fights with Jim Crute, Tyson Pedro, and Da Un Jung. With Pedro looking great in his comeback to the UFC lately, that seems like the best of the options available. Two men known for throwing heavy leather who are stringing together some good wins after hard setbacks against better competition. Menifield vs. Pedro is a great fight to see which fighter is ready to take aim at the top 15.
Short notice bouts against UFC newcomers have the feeling of high-risk, low-reward danger. But Joanderson Brito did exactly what every fighter hopes to do with a matchup like that, he blew Alexander away. Lots of pressure, huge slamming takedowns, and an instant back take into the RNC submission. A perfect fight from the Brazilian. After the bout, he called out Dan Ige for a fight in Rio. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for a card that’s already filling up fast, so I’m not sure that it happens, but a booking against Ige in general would be a hell of a lot of fun. If that can’t get booked, then fights with Lerone Murphy, Nate Landwehr, or Damon Jackson would all be awesome too. Ige vs. Brito is a great option A, but I’d also love to see Brito vs. Jackson.
All things considered, this was a really fantastic performance for Tatsuro Taira. CJ Vergara was fresh off a big upset win over another top prospect and was proving his quality in the UFC as a iron chinned, non-stop pressure fighter. Taira immediately nullified that game with a variety of slick bodylock takedowns, however, that instantly put the fight in an arena where he could be entirely in control of the pace. A few quality ground scrambles later and Taira hit a slick RNC to armbar transition to take home the submission victory.
That could lead him into bouts against the likes of Bruno Silva, Tyson Nam, Manel Kape, or David Dvorak. My first thought among those is that a bout against Dvorak would be a great way to test Taira against another high-output striker, this time one who can match him for speed and technique. But now that I think about it a little more, I like the idea of a fight with Tyson Nam. Nam’s power could be a big problem for Taira, and otherwise it seems like his slow paced pressure will be a great chance for Taira to work on his own counters and setups a bit more. Nam vs. Taira seems like a good slow step forward for the unbeaten youngster.
OTHER BOUTS: Cub Swanson vs. Brian Kelleher, Jordan Wright vs. Dustin Stoltzfus, Victor Henry vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade, Misha Cirkunov vs. Ed Herman, Mana Martinez vs. Daniel Santos, Brandon Davis vs. Trevin Jones, Jacob Malkoun vs. Punahele Soriano, Nick Maximov vs. Roman Kopylov, Lucas Alexander vs. Jarno Errens, Piera Rodriguez vs. Luana Pinheiro, Sam Hughes vs. Ashley Yoder, CJ Vergara vs. JP Buys, Pete Rodriguez vs. Orion Cosce, Mike Jackson vs. Martin Sano
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