UFC Fights to Make – Off Week Edition

With a week off from UFC action, I figured it was as good as time as any to pinpoint the contests the UFC needs…

By: Dayne Fox | 4 months ago
UFC Fights to Make – Off Week Edition
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

With a week off from UFC action, I figured it was as good as time as any to pinpoint the contests the UFC needs to make in each division. I’ve done this before and was shocked at the amount of fights that ended up coming to pass. So, what the hell, lets do it again! As it was the last time, one fight for every division. It doesn’t have to be the most relevant contest, but I will try to make it as relevant to the title picture as possible.

It needs to be acknowledged there’s more to putting together fights than just picking out the names that appear to fit best. There’s things such as injury suspensions, getting both fighters to agree to clash… there’s no shortage of reasons why fights won’t happen. I’ve done the best I can to take those into account and make one fight per division that would appear to be a realistic option. Take a look at what I’ve come up with and feel free to disagree…

Heavyweight: From a fan’s perspective, it’s a bummer to see Francis Ngannou walk away from the UFC. I understand why and support his decision, but it’s still a bummer to know we could miss out on some of the most intriguing heavyweight contests as a result. However, with his exit, it does allow the title picture to advance. That said, there’s still a lot of politics to be played. I’d love to see Curtis Blaydes and Stipe Miocic battle it out for the #1 contender spot, but Miocic has proven he’s willing to sit on the sidelines if he isn’t fighting for the title. I see him waiting for Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane to resolve their business. So, is there another fight for Blaydes? You bet your ass there is. Sergei Pavlovich has been mowing down everyone in his way, owning five consecutive first round finishes. I can see Blaydes be willing to play the same game as Miocic. Hell, Blaydes has fought – and won – three times since Miocic lost the title, which is also the last time Miocic stepped in the cage. A hell of an argument can be made Blaydes is more deserving. Regardless, if Blaydes are Pavlovich are willing to throw down in short order, it would be hard to justify giving Miocic a title shot ahead of the winner of that fight. I don’t dislike Miocic, I see a potential opportunity for Blaydes and Pavlovich. Thus, Blaydes and Pavlovich is the best available fight.

Light Heavyweight: With a new champion atop the division, it’s wide open. There’s also a lot of uncertainty. There’s no solid timeframe for when Jiri Prochazka will be ready to fight again. Thus, we don’t know who Jamahal Hill makes his first defense against. If it isn’t Prochazka, Magomed Ankalaev appears most deserving. Unfortunately for him, he appears to be on the wrong side of Uncle Dana. The UFC President might look to go another route until Ankalaev regains his trust. Thus, perhaps Jan Blachowicz has next. Aleksander Rakic also hasn’t announced when he’ll be back in the cage following his own injuries. Rather than play a guessing game at the very top of the decision, I’d rather move down the division and look at more concrete possibilities. There are three fighters unscheduled that are all separated from the fighters already listed: Anthony Smith, Johnny Walker, and Volkan Oezdemir. What makes the most sense is Oezdemir and Smith, but they’ve already done the damn thing. Thus, even though I don’t want to pick anyone who just fought last week, I’ll say Smith vs. Walker is the way to go.

Middleweight: While the tip top of the division is unscheduled, there’s a degree of uncertainty with what’s going to happen there. Thus, I’d rather leave that untouched. The rematch between Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya has been scheduled. The remaining gentlemen near the top of the division would be better off waiting to see how the currently scheduled contests play out. That leaves me looking outside the top ten those immediately below the top five are booked up. I looked up and down for who was available and circled the potential contest that made the most sense. Nassourdine Imavov came up short in his attempt to break into the top of the division, indicating he’ll need a bit more seasoning. Brad Tavares was forced to pull out of his fight with Gregory Rodrigues, but I’d imagine he wants to pick up a paycheck soon enough. Tavares isn’t a gimme by any means, but he’s also not at the level of Sean Strickland, the one who recently turned Imavov away. In other words, he’s the perfect candidate to offer Imavov some extra seasoning while still providing a viable threat. Imavov vs. Tavares is a perfect middleweight scrap.

Welterweight: Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman are booked while Belal Muhammad and Colby Covington appear to be circling one another. I’m not going to touch either of those and I don’t want to book what appears to be that obvious. Khamzat Chimaev is the highest profile option outside of that, but there’s no guarantee he can make the weight anymore. Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal were just barely booked. A good chunk of the fighters that are unscheduled in the rankings have already fought each other, but as I look at the available contests, there’s one that pops out as a fight that I’m shocked hasn’t come to fruition. It’s been scheduled, but Neil Magny and Vicente Luque has never happened. That seems like something that should be rectified before one or the other loses relevance in the division. Again, I hate circling a fighter who fought just last week – Magny losing to Burns – but it makes way too much sense for me to pass over it. Besides, they’re also both coming off losses. It’s hard to believe we’re going to see a better time to set them up.

Lightweight: I hate trying to figure out this division. It will be further complicated if Alexander Volkanovski takes the belt from Islam Makhachev as the Aussie claims he wants to defend both the featherweight and lightweight title. There’s a reason I don’t like champ-champ scenarios…. Regardless, Beneil Dariush has said he’s willing to fight anyone… and all those he should be fighting don’t seem willing to sign the dotted line to fight him. Hopefully, Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, or Michael Chandler will agree to fight him, though I won’t predict which one. Many would say Arman Tsarukyan would fight him and I’d love to see that. However, both men deserve a crack at a big name. I’m not willing to pit them against one another. Thus, I have to look beyond them. Mateusz Gamrot is in need of getting back on track after losing to Dariush. He’s got enough name value that I see any fighter beneath him would love a crack at him. If I’m Gamrot, I’m looking for a fighter who will help me win over fans. Narrowing it down that way, the choice is clear: Drew Dober and Gamrot is absolute fire.

Featherweight: The last time I made a list like this, I called for Max Holloway and the Korean Zombie to throw down. That’s still an available fight to be made, but I’ll hold off on calling for it a second time. Not that I’m against it. I still want to see it. Ultimately, I just want to avoid repeating myself. My first thought was pitting Brian Ortega and Calvin Kattar. Both are coming off injury losses and have lost three of their last four overall. Unfortunately, I don’t know when they’ll be ready to fight. What I do know is both Giga Chikadze and Bryce Mitchell built up a lot of hype with long winning streaks – both capped with wins over Edson Barboza – before suffering hugely disappointing losses. I don’t see a fight that makes more sense for either fighter. Mitchell vs. Chikadze is a no-brainer.

Bantamweight: Just about every top fighter is booked. Aljamain Sterling is injured and the UFC appears to have Sean O’Malley penciled in to face him when he’s healthy, so I’m not going to speculate either of those two. In the official rankings, I don’t see any of the fighters who are unscheduled fighting one another. In fact, I anticipate things will have to play out a bit more before they find their next opponents. Thus, I have to drop out of the official rankings to find an unmade fight I would like to see made. Given the depth of 135, that’s not a miserable thing in the least. Scrolling through names, I came across Casey Kenney. The former flyweight hasn’t fought in almost 18 months, but was fighting opponents with numbers next to their names prior to his hiatus. Perhaps an opponent who provides a strong likelihood of him producing an extra $50K might entice him back. Davey Grant has secured Bonuses in four of his last five contests. It’s a winnable contest for both men. Perhaps more importantly, it appears to be a true barnburner. Kenney vs. Grant is pure dynamite.

Flyweight: While I don’t want to disparage what the quadrilogy between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo did for the division, it feels nice to know we’re about to get a fresh matchup for the flyweight title. It looks like the UFC is planning to have Alexandre Pantoja challenge the freshly crowned Moreno, a course of action I fully support. However, it’s still up in the air who might fall in line behind Pantonja. Kai Kara-France came up short in his bid for interim gold, so I don’t see him as a likely candidate. Manel Kape is already scheduled to fight Alex Perez, but Perez hasn’t won a fight against anyone currently on the roster. How much stock should be put into a win over Perez? There’s a very simple solution in my mind. Matheus Nicolau has won four consecutive fights since returning to the organization, all over opponents with numbers next to their names. Unfortunately for Nicolau, he’s not the most aesthetically pleasing fighter. On the flip side, Brandon Royval doesn’t know how to have a boring fight. Pit them together on the same card as Moreno-Pantoja with the winner guaranteed a crack at the winner. If Royval wins, the UFC will be perfectly happy to have someone with his recklessness challenge for gold. If he loses, he will likely have dragged a fun fight out of Nicolau. Nicolau vs. Royval makes too much sense to ignore.

Women’s Bantamweight: This division is a HUGE mess. The UFC had a fighter who had done enough to warrant a shot at Amanda Nunes’ title in Ketlen Vieira. Instead of setting that up and striking while the iron was hot, they opted to have Vieira fight one more time against the eternally scrappy Raquel Pennington. Now, Pennington, someone who lost an incredibly lopsided contest to Nunes several years ago, is the most deserving of a title fight. The UFC doesn’t want to see it; reports are they’re trying to set Pennington up against Irene Aldana. If that’s the case, it looks like we’re getting a trilogy between Nunes and Juliana Pena. Given how one-sided their second contest was, most would rather see Pena win a fight before getting a rematch. Nothing is official, but I’m going to assume that’s how things will play out. Vieira is available and I’d imagine she’d want to get back on track as soon as possible. After all, there’s only so many opponents Nunes can beat before it becomes Vieira’s turn… provided she gets back on track. There’s only one option available I can see that would make sense: Pannie Kianzad. Kianzad did come up short against Raquel Pennington 16 months ago, but that’s also the only blemish on her record in her last six contests. It isn’t the sexiest matchup, but it’s extremely logical, whether my earlier assumptions play out or not. Vieira vs. Kianzad needs to be booked.

Women’s Flyweight: There had been a lot of speculation about who had next with Valentina Shevchenko. Now that it’s been settled that Alexa Grasso was the winner of those sweepstakes, it makes it easier to settle up the rest of the division. Well, it would if the rest of the division wasn’t already booked up. Well, maybe not ALL the ranked fighters are booked, but there’s caveats with those who aren’t. Manon Fiorot is injured. Lauren Murphy could be looking at a lengthy injury suspension. Katlyn Chookagian has already fought both of those ladies. Tracy Cortez is also in the rankings, but it doesn’t make sense to pit her against any of those women. But are there women who would be interesting to pair against Cortez outside the rankings? Absolutely. In fact, there’s a strong argument Miranda Maverick is more deserving of a spot in the rankings than Cortez. There may be some health issues Cortez needs to clear up before the fight could be made, but it’s hard to find a fight for Cortez that makes more sense than Maverick.

Women’s Strawweight: This division is wide open, with no fighters in the top ten of the rankings booked to fight. That gives me a wide berth to figure out what makes the most sense to me. Rose Namajunas has a good claim to challenging Weili Zhang for the belt given she already has two wins over the champion. Unfortunately for Namajunas, she crapped the bed so badly when she lost her title to Carla Esparza, I don’t see Uncle Dana giving her that opportunity until she can win at least one fight in the interim. Fortunately, due to Namajunas fighting so many rematches, there are fresh opportunities abound. The one that stands out to me: Marina Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been a good soldier for the UFC, headlining several cards and pulling out a couple of wins in those opportunities. At 35, it’s easy to believe she could be sliding backwards sooner rather than later. If she’s going to get a truly high-profile opponent, it’s now or never. Throw in that Namajunas and Rodriguez are both coming off disappointing losses where they were notable favorites and it only makes that much more sense. Namajunas vs. Rodriguez helps establish the divisional hierarchy.

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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