It’s official: the theme for Fight Night main events of 2022 is injuries. Tom Aspinall blew out his knee. Brian Ortega separated his shoulder. Now, Calvin Kattar also blew out his knee. The injury came near the end of the first round, right as it looked like the action was about to explode. It ruined Arnold’s opportunity to make a statement and put a major cloud on what was a solid, if unspectacular, card up to that point.
So where does Allen go from here? Did Max Griffin make enough of a statement to fight a ranked opponent next? What about Roman Dolidze?
To provide the proper answers to those questions, I’ll use the strategy utilized by my comrade, Zane Simon, of the classic Joe Silva strategy of matching winners with winners and losers with losers. There will be some exceptions – there’s always exceptions – but only when it appears to be unquestionably the best option.
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The last thing a fighter wants when their looking to make a statement is to see their opponent go down with an injury. Unfortunately for Allen, that’s what happened to him as Kattar came down awkwardly from a flying knee, adding an asterisk to Allen’s 10th consecutive UFC win in the eyes of many. To be fair to Allen, he did appear to be winning the fight prior to the injury, but that was only a single round, so it’s hard to put too much stock in that. Regardless, it is a win and Arnold deserves to continue moving up the UFC ladder as a result.
The win does put Allen in a weird position. The UFC now has three fighters who appear worthy of fighting for Alexander Volkanovski’s featherweight title: Allen, Josh Emmett, and Yair Rodriguez. However, the UFC clearly doesn’t like any of those options. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be encouraging Volkanovski to go challenge Islam Makhachev for lightweight gold. An interim title feels appropriate, but who ends up being the odd man out? If only we could arrange a WWE-style triple threat match….
This could get complicated, so bear with me. A fourth dance partner is needed for my scenario. The easy choice would be Max Holloway, but it’s hard to justify inserting him back into the title picture if Volkanovski is to return to defend his gold. Besides, I’d rather see him in a legacy fight with the Korean Zombie at this point because I’m baffled we haven’t seen that fight yet. Next in line is an easy pick, but I haven’t heard an update on Brian Ortega’s shoulder issues. I could be out of line, but I’m going to suppose Ortega will be ready in time for my ideal scenario. I like the idea of wins meaning something and given Arnold is on a ten-fight win streak and Emmett on a five-fight win streak, that leaves Rodriguez – he of three wins in his last six fights – as the odd man out, despite his having the highest ranking. Thus, my scenario has – all on the same card — Holloway vs. Zombie, a rematch between Rodriguez and Ortega, and Arnold vs. Emmett for the interim featherweight title with Rodriguez filling in if either Arnold or Emmett is forced to pull out.
It sucks to matchmake for a fighter who appears to have suffered a serious injury, but not as much as it sucks to be the fighter who suffered the serious injury. It’s possible the injury has permanently removed Kattar from the title picture as he’ll be at least 35 the next time he fights while coming back from a blown out knee. However, I don’t want that to be the reason for him to be out of the picture, so I wouldn’t want to give him too far of a step down. So, hoping he’s not completely shot himself by the time Kattar returns – he does turn 37 early next year — I’d love to see the striking battle between Kattar and Edson Barboza.
Griffin has been aging like a fine wine. Despite staring down his 37th birthday next month, he continues to improve, picking up his fourth win in his last five fights over the always tough Tim Means. The lone smudge in that time was a contentious decision against the ranked Neil Magny, which is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a seemingly endless list of welterweights in a similar position to Griffin, all of them jockeying to get an opportunity against a ranked opponent. Khaos Williams, Alex Morono, Randy Brown, Li Jingliang… all of them are unbooked and would make sense. Yes, even Morono, despite Griffin having lost to him a few years ago. Despite being fine with any of those, I prefer someone who has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the division as his grappling ability is something I foresee Griffin struggling with. Thus, I’m booking Griffin vs. Jake Matthews in a clash of styles.
The performance of Cortes-Acosta was a bit of a mixed bag. He showed some mettle by persevering through the assault on his lead leg to score the decision win over Jared Vanderaa. Then again, he struggled to come up with a strategy for how to deal with kicks from Vanderaa. He’s still young in his career, so he gets quite a bit of leeway. The UFC sees some promise in him given he’s from the Dominican Republic, an area that is untapped. Thus, in order to help boost his image, how about giving him an opponent who will bring out the dog in him? There would be an imbalance in terms of their experience level, but tell me it wouldn’t be fun to see Cortes-Acosta throw down with Chris Barnett?
It took three fights into his UFC career, but Gore finally started to make good on the promise everyone saw in him on TUF. Not that it was a flawless performance – he arguably dropped the first round after a hot start – but it was enough for Gore to pick up a win over Josh Fremd. Those cracks were enough to show that Gore still isn’t ready for a noted step up in competition. Had Fremd not gotten caught in that guillotine, the general consensus is he probably would have completed his comeback over Gore. The problem is, there aren’t many who are lower on the totem pole than Fremd. Looking through the list, there is one fighter at that level whom I believe Gore should style on based simply on physical skills. However, Denis Tuiluilin has proven to be as hard-nosed as they come. Those are the type of tests that will help Gore grow. Thus, pit Gore with Tiuliulin next.
Whether you agreed with Rountree getting his hand raised, it can’t be denied the longtime roster mainstay turned in the best performance of his career against an always tough Dustin Jacoby. However, given the contentious nature of the decision, it’s hard to justify giving Rountree a definitive step up. But a step sideways? That sounds about right. However, if I’m not going to give Rountree a step up, giving him a different look should be justifiable, right? Someone who might be more willing to test Rountree’s ability to stop a takedown. Thus, after sifting through names like Jimmy Crute and Alonzo Menifield, I settled on Azamat Murzakanov as the best option for Rountree.
I was in the majority who believed Jacoby was the rightful winner. I hate saying the word “robbery,” but I’m tempted to use it. Regardless, Jacoby’s stock shouldn’t be hurt in the least given both he and Rountree put forth solid performances. However, rather than give him a step up in competition, a sideways step feels more appropriate… kind of the same approach I took towards Rountree. Thus, it only makes sense for me to look at the same people I looked at for Rountree. Between Crute and Menifield, the logical thing to do would be to go with Crute given he, like Jacoby, is coming off a loss. However, I did say I was treating Jacoby like he won. Besides, I find a contest between Jacoby and Menifield to be more intriguing.
After dropping his middleweight debut, Dolidze has since rattled off three wins in a row against increasingly difficult competition, topping things off with a violent KO of Phil Hawes. Dolidze called for a contest against a ranked opponent, which does make sense given his momentum. And while I agree with that sentiment, it was hard for me to find a contest I really liked against someone with a number next to their name. The loser of Darren Till and Dricus du Plessis makes sense. Maybe the winner of Chris Curtis and Joaquin Buckley. However, there’s a name just outside the ranking that I really like for Dolidze who has the type of game that is perfect to test Dolidze. Thus, while he may not be a ranked fighter, I see the crafty Gerald Meerschaert as the perfect test for Dolidze.
MARCOS ROGERIO DE LIMA
The heavy-handed Brazilian wasted little time in securing a win over the biggest name of his career. Unfortunately, while Andrei Arlovski has name value, he isn’t the same fighter he was in his prime now that he’s 43. Thus, while I admit de Lima looked like a force to be reckoned with in his demolition of the former champion, a very big grain of salt needs to be taken with the win. Thus, while he was won three of his last four fights, there is a lot of hesitancy to give de Lima a big step up. Even if he doesn’t get a big step up, there’s several fighters with respectable UFC records he could match up with in Tanner Boser, Martin Buday, and Parker Porter. Given I said I’d keep the number of exceptions when it comes to matching winner and losers and none of them particularly stand out to me as being superior contests, I’d better stick to the rules this time around. Thus, de Lima vs. Buday is the way to go.
JUN YONG PARK
I wasn’t crazy about Park being match with the inexperienced Joseph Holmes in the first place as I felt a win over Holmes would only have Park treading water. No disrespect intended to Holmes, but he seemed like a step down from Eryk Anders, whom Park beat prior to the Holmes fight. Regardless, the win puts Park at a more then respectable 5-2 in the organization, a record that’s often good enough to warrant a fight with a ranked opponent. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be enough quality to those wins, thus why I questioned the matchup with Holmes. In other words, there’s still a lot of questions about Park to be answered before that happens. Middleweight has no shortage of options of fighters in a similar boat, such as Armen Petrosyan, Punahele Soriano, Jacob Malkoun, and Absupiyan Magomedov. Of those, Magomedov appears to have the highest upside, which would also be the most rewarding for Park. It seems like a reasonable step up for both men given where they’ve recently been and would best answer what the upside is for both. The UFC should book Park vs. Magomedov.
OTHER BOUTS: Tim Means vs. Carlston Harris, Jared Vanderaa vs. Zac Pauga, Josh Fremd vs. Dustin Stoltzfus, Phil Hawes vs. Ian Heinisch, Andrei Arlovski vs. Don’Tale Mayes, Joseph Holmes vs. AJ Dobson, Steve Garcia vs. Kamuela Kirk, Chase Hooper vs. Jarno Errens, Cody Durden vs. Bruno Silva, Carlos Mota vs. Victor Rodriguez, Christian Rodriguez vs. Mana Martinez, Joshua Weems vs. Saimon Oliveira
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