UFC Vegas 71 had the look of a fantastic Fight Night card on paper, and it delivered quite well on that promise. Merab Dvalishvili firmly announced himself as a title contender with a dominating win over Petr Yan in the main event. While Alexander Volkov and Nikita Krylov slammed the door on rising talents in their respective divisions.
So, is there any way we see Merab Dvalishvili fight again in 2023 if Sterling doesn’t lose? Is there a top-5 fight out there for Volkov? And is Jonathan Martinez a dark horse at 135 lbs?
To answer those questions—and a few other things—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!
There may have been an almost mind-numbing consistency to his pace and pressure on Saturday night, but there’s no doubt that Merab Dvalishvili put on a career defining performance against Petr Yan. The ‘Machine’ put the pedal to the metal from moment one, battering Yan’s lead leg with low kicks, and forcing the Russian to defend a never ending stream of single and double leg takedowns. He coupled that with more than 400 strikes thrown, landing at a better than 50% success rate. No matter how you slice it or dice it, the Team Serra-Longo fighter dominated one of the world’s best bantamweights like he had never been dominated before.
Unfortunately, exactly what that means for Dvalishvili long term is much less clear. He and Aljamain Sterling appear to have the kind of relationship that is truly rare among elite combat sports athletes in the same division, which is to say that they absolutely won’t fight each other, no matter the prize on the line. Sterling has said he’d go up to featherweight and vacate his belt for Dvalishvili (a move without precedent for a sitting champion in the UFC). Meanwhile Dvalishvili seems willing to sit on the sidelines in the prime of his career and wait to see what Sterling does first. A fight between Dvalishvili and O’Malley would make a ton of sense right now if either man were interested in staying busy. Otherwise the Georgian will just have to wait and see if Henry Cejudo or the ‘Sugar Show’ can topple his BFF and create a path to the belt for him. It’s either that or bank on Sterling being as magnanimous as he says claims he will be.
This one has to sting for ‘No Mercy.’ In his 8+ year, 21-fight career no man has truly ‘beaten’ Petr Yan. Sure, he’s taken a few losses, but every one a split decision (and that DQ of course). There’s never been a fight Yan walked away from where neither he nor his fans couldn’t claim some kind of victory. Not until now. Yan has always been a fighter who likes to progress through modes of offense. Which means there’s always a chance he can get stuck in one mode and denied the ability to build up to another. That feels like exactly what Dvalishvili did. He set the pace so high, and the wrestling attacks so constant, that Yan could never get past pure counter-puncher stage; no time to establish his jab, and absolutely got zero chances to pressure at all.
He’s still only 30, so there’s no reason to think he’s just done as a top competitor. But this may be a point where he has to ask himself what he can change with his game to win a fight like this. Whatever the answer might be, it’s doubtful that it’ll be an easy one. In the meantime, Song Yadong and Ricky Simon have a bout coming up. The winner of that seems like they’d be ideally placed for the kind of challenges Yan can offer on the way to contender status. Petr Yan vs. the Song/Simon winner would be another elite top-tier fight for the Tiger Muay Thai mainstay.
I thought Alexander Volkov would be able to rally against Alexandr Romanov after surviving a couple strong takedowns early, but things didn’t even get that far. Volkov stuffed the first single leg attempt, started attacking Romanov’s doughy midsection with kicks, and then sprawled him out heavy on a low single. After that it was all GnP for Volkov. To the point that Romanov seemed more like he wanted out of the fight than anything. Whatever might have triggered the Moldovan’s performance, it was an exceptional showing of Volkov’s continued venom as a top level fighter at 265.
That being the case, and given how many top UFC heavyweights he’s already fought, finding a next booking for the Russian might be tough. He could rematch Ciryl Gane, or take on Tai Tuivasa or Sergey Spivak? The other clear option would be a rematch against Derrick Lewis. Unfortunately, Lewis is on three-straight losses and may need a bigger step back. I already suggested Gane vs. Spivak last week, so I’ll go ahead and say match Volkov against Tai Tuivasa. Even off a couple losses, Tuivasa always comes to bang. Should be a thriller.
It wasn’t even so much Nikita Krylov’s wrestling that proved a death sentence for Ryan Spann out there, but the grappling was a major problem. Spann did well to fight through takedowns, and get on top himself, but the more he scrambled with the ‘Miner’ the more opportunities he left open, until the moment he jumped right into a triangle choke. A great win for Krylov to keep him clearly in the conversation among the light heavyweight top 10.
Considering Krylov said he wanted to take some time off after this latest win, I think Aleksandar Rakic would make a pretty ideal matchup. The Austrian is recovering from a torn ACL at the moment. That should mean Krylov can take a nice long break, and come back to the Octagon against a top-5 opponent. Krylov vs. Rakic is a great elite LHW booking.
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