UFC 285 was the kind of card that built the UFC’s reputation for delivering top-to-bottom high stakes fighting action. Jon Jones returned from a long hiatus to demolish Ciryl Gane and remind everyone why he’s one of history’s best MMA talents. Alexa Grasso did the impossible and dethroned Valentina Shevchenko. And Shavkat Rakhmonov made it abundantly clear that he’s on his way to a welterweight title shot in the very near future.
So, can Jones become a dominant champ in a division that’s never had one? Is Grasso going to have to beat Shevchenko twice? Is Bo Nickal going to have to give back his performance bonus if the NSAC overturns his debut win?
To answer those questions—and a whole lot more—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!
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Like it or not, Jon Jones is back on top and firmly in control of his destiny. The UFC seemed unwilling to negotiate with him, fans seemed like they were getting tired of his constant destructive behavior outside the cage, and his recent performances had felt anything other than special. It was worth wondering if Jones was ever going to actually return to competition, and whether he could still be a championship fighter when he did return. Instead, we witnessed Jones get his first one-round finish in a decade and do it against the biggest, strongest competition of his whole career. He made beating Gane look easy.
After the bout, he had a callout all ready: a fight against former heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic. It’s exactly the kind of bout Miocic has been sitting on the sidelines waiting for. Considering especially that Blaydes vs. Pavlovich is in the works, it also leaves Miocic as the only obvious title fight. I’m not at all sure that Jones won’t make the Ohio native look just as over-matched as he did Gane, but I also can’t think it’ll be anything other than a must-see booking. Jones vs. Miocic is too easy a title fight to make anything else.
Ciryl Gane did not have a good day. Heavyweight has always been a division that’s prone to overnight success. Everyone from Cain Velasquez, and Brock Lesnar all the way back to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez had seeming overnight runs to title contendership (and in all those cases, actual UFC gold as well). That’s also likely why, in part, it’s rarely a division of sustained success. The kinds of fighters that could win a title within the first few years of their career are also going to be fighters with a lot of polishing and development to do in the long run. There’s no doubt that Gane has the skills to be a long time contender at heavyweight, but his two losses have also exposed that there’s a lot of work left to be done before his game is complete. Especially when it comes to wrestling and grappling.
Jones scored the easy bodylock off a missed hook, wrenched Gane to the mat and had him tapping what felt like only seconds later. I’d like to say that makes this the perfect time for a Curtis Blaydes fight, but Blaydes appears to booked against Pavlovich. So instead, I’ll say go with the other wrestle-grappler knocking on the door of contention. Ciryl Gane vs. Serghei Spivac is the fight to make.
Honestly, I’m still in a bit of shock. Of all the opponents Valentina Shevchenko has fought lately, Alexa Grasso was pretty far down the list of women I would have expected to take the upset victory. She was certainly behind Jessica Andrade, Taila Santos, Katlyn Chookagian, and maybe even Jennifer Maia. Her only other finish in the UFC (and only other sub win of her pro career) came last year against a version of Joanne Wood who has been struggling hard to find winning form. She went tit for tat with Viviane Araujo and Maycee Barber on her run to get here, and this seemed set to be another bout where she would struggle to control the action against a more physical force.
For the most part, that’s how things were playing out as well. When she could stand and trade in the pocket, Grasso did well to land clean. Otherwise Shevchenko popped her with jabs from range and controlled her on the mat. Still, Grasso proved the value of being a challenger with a long reigning champ to face; namely she had lots of time for specific prep for the precise moments when Shevchenko would give her back to create spinning strikes. One spin too many, and we got a new flyweight queen. Most likely, this is a fight Grasso will just have to win over again. If the UFC wants to get crazy, I’d be happy to see Erin Blanchfield get her shot, but Shevchenko vs. Grasso 2 seems like it has to happen.
It seems beyond likely that the next fight we’ll see for Valentina Shevchenko will be a rematch against Alexa Grasso. ‘Bullet’ has ruled over the division with an iron fist going all the way back to 2018. While there’s no denying that Grasso had some early success, it’s also hard to dismiss Shevchenko’s view that she more or less had that fight in hand before that excellently timed back take.
That being said, what if she doesn’t get the chance to run it all back immediately? There are no guarantees in the UFC, even for top performers. Maybe Grasso wants to fight on a different schedule than Shevchenko? Maybe the UFC thinks Blanchfield will make a more interesting draw (unlikely, I know)? Maybe Grasso will get injured? If any of that happens, then there are a couple other obvious options for the former title holder. She could take on Manon Fiorot, she could take on Jessica Andrade again, or she could rematch Taila Santos. That last one seems like the best option to me. Santos was one of the few women at 125 to ever hang with Shevchenko in tie ups, and a lot of people seemed to feel she had a good case to win their first meeting. Grasso vs. Shevchenko 2 is the obvious booking here, but a Santos rematch is a great backup plan.
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