It’s an off-week for the UFC – the last one for a long time – meaning it’s as good of a time as any to take a look at the state of each division and determining what fight needs to be made by the UFC matchmakers. I’ve done this a few times previous — here‘s the most recent edition — and have hit the nail right on the head a few times. Even better is the UFC came out and announced a boatload of contests last week, so the field isn’t as wide open as it would have been a week ago. It makes it so much easier to decipher which fights to make.
I acknowledge there’s more to just putting two fighters together. There’s a lot of intricacies involved, but I’m not privy to those most of those details. As it is, I’ll do the best I can with what I know to make the most high-profile contest that makes sense for each division, along with my reasoning. Let’s get into it!
This may be the easiest contest to figure out. I have a hard time believing the UFC isn’t negotiating between the camps of Curtis Blaydes and Ciryl Gane. Both are coming off high-profile losses, one to the current heavyweight champion and the other to the man expected to challenge for the title within the next year. Blaydes is vulnerable to strikers like Gane; Gane has proven vulnerable to wrestlers like Blaydes. Other fighters that would make sense for either are already tied up or in negotiations for other fights. Unless there’s an unknown injury, this is the fight that NEEDS to be made.
Fight to make: Curtis Blaydes vs. Ciryl Gane
I understand Magomed Ankalaev’s frustration. There’s good reason to argue the judges’ got the decision wrong when he fought to a draw with Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title. Unfortunately for Ankalaev, he can’t change that, nor can he change Dana White’s dissatisfaction with that fight. Given he hasn’t lost in his last ten appearances, he has the clout to fight for the title next… except for the taste in White’s mouth. To clear it, Ankalaev needs to get back into the cage. Blachowicz has figured that out; that’s why he’s fighting Alex Pereira.
Given the uncertainty around Jiri Prochazka’s rehab, I’m of the belief the UFC should have just booked Jamahal Hill to defend against Ankalaev, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. They seem dead set on waiting for Prochazka. Thus, Ankalaev needs someone available right NOW. For those in his orbit and unscheduled, Aleksander Rakic is coming off a loss and he’s already defeated Nikita Krylov. That leaves only Johnny Walker available. If the winner can produce a solid highlight reel finish, they would have a solid case to fight for the title.
Fight to make: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker
Most of those in the official rankings are booked up. For those in the rankings that are unbooked, there isn’t a single fight amongst them that must be made; there’s reasonable options for all of them. Thus, for a fight that must be booked, I have to go down the pecking order a way. Brad Tavares and Gerald Meerschaert are two vets who are going through rough patches. Plus, they’ve both recently faced Bruno Silva. The UFC seems to love to complete those types of triangles. Both are also closer to the end of their UFC runs than they are the beginning. Neither appears completely spent, but we find out who has more left to offer this way.
Fight to make: Brad Tavares vs. Gerald Meerschaert
I’m not going to try to figure out the title picture. Leon Edwards is facing either Colby Covington or Belal Muhammad next and I’m not going to make any speculations about who should get next. Especially given whoever is left out is likely to wait until business is taken care of. Thus, I’m moving down the hierarchy a bit.
Shavkat Rakhmonov is becoming the odd man out in the title picture despite the appearance of the title being his destiny. He could jump the line on whoever ends up being the odd man out – most likely Muhammad – if he can secure a win over someone with some real name value. Kamaru Usman was being discussed as the welterweight GOAT just a year ago. He’s got name value and needs a major win if he hopes to get back into the picture himself. Derailing Rakhmonov would be the type of win he needs. It’s a big jump for Rakhmonov, but anything else would be a step backwards for him.
Fight to make: Kamaru Usman vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
The UFC made things easy for me with their booking of Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. That leaves only Rafael Fiziev and Mateusz Gamrot without a clear opponent for those continuing to fight at lightweight in the top 12. They’re in a similar circumstance, having lost to an opponent in the top five recently and needing a notable win before they can get another crack against one of the bigger names in the division. It’s a hell of a clash of styles, making it hard to predict who emerges victorious. I’d also expect both to be fully equipped to go a hard five rounds. Seems like a perfect Fight Night main event to me.
Fight to make: Rafael Fiziev vs. Mateusz Gamrot
There is only question marks as to what happens at the top of the division after Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez take care of business in July. Perhaps more time will be bought if Rodriguez wins – a rematch would be guaranteed – or Volk gets another shot at lightweight gold should he dispose of Rodriguez. Despite that, the UFC would be foolish to not attempt to get someone set up to be next in short order. Arnold Allen could have filled the role without needing anything else, but he lost a close decision to Max Holloway. Is there a way to get him back on track in a hurry?
Brian Ortega has name value, but he’s won a single fight in the last four years and is coming off a tricky shoulder injury. I can’t say when he’ll be ready. Movsar Evloev may have hurt himself by barely squeaking by a debuting Diego Lopes, but he’s still undefeated, including seven wins in the UFC. Should Evloev beat Allen, that will be enough to make him a viable contender for the belt. A win over Evloev would do the same for Allen. I’m not saying either would have bulletproof cases for a title shot, but it would be stronger than many others who have received golden opportunities.
Fight to make: Arnold Allen vs. Movsar Evloev
There’s an interesting triangle between Merab Dvalishvili, Henry Cejudo, and Cory Sandhagen. I’m not going to touch what happens with those three. I know the recent drama is between Dvalishvili and Cejudo, but it doesn’t make sense to have Sandhagen fighting down. Plus, he did call out Dvalishvili a while ago. He can’t be discounted from the drama.
The division is wide open in terms of bookings at the moment, leaving it difficult to drive down what needs to be booked. Looking over everything, the only contest that doesn’t appear to have something else that could reasonably fill in is Rob Font and Song Yadong. Both righted the ship off losses, but are still a notch below the previously mentioned field. There isn’t anyone else quite in their position. Umar Nurmagomedov is a possibility for either, but he hasn’t faced a ranked opponent yet. Given there’s no shortage of contenders in the division, I see no reason to rush him. Thus, Font and Song is the way to go.
Fight to make: Rob Font vs. Song Yadong
Manel Kape has the worst luck. Originally scheduled to fight Alex Perez in March, medical issues canceled that contest the day it was scheduled to happen. It appeared Kape lucked out as he was booked with former champion Deiveson Figueiredo. Then it turned out Figueiredo wasn’t medically cleared and now Kape is left holding the bag again. Flyweights have the shortest window, which means the UFC should want to get him booked in a meaningful fight as soon as possible.
They could wait to have him face the winner of Kai Kara-France and Amir Albazi, which is less than two weeks away. But I wouldn’t even want to wait that long. Not when Matheus Nicolau is wanting to erase his loss to Brandon Royval. Yes, Nicolau already defeated Kape two years ago, but beating Kape again would put him perhaps one more win away from fighting for the title while eliminating someone the UFC would rather push ahead of him. A win for Kape would also put him another win away from fighting for gold, perhaps even fighting for it. No other available opponent would do that for Kape. It makes sense for both to rematch.
Fight to make: Matheus Nicolau vs. Manel Kape II
A youth movement is badly needed in this division. Should Amanda Nunes dispose of Irene Aldana – as most expect – the most likely opponent for Nunes would be someone she has already badly beaten. That goes for either Raquel Pennington or Julianna Pena.
Amazingly enough, even though both have been in the organization close to a decade – they entered on the same season of TUF – they’ve never squared off. Hell, they’ve never even been scheduled to face off. It’s hard to sell either one as a challenger for either against Nunes – there was nary a groan when the trilogy fight between Nunes and Pena was cancelled due to a Pena injury – but there wouldn’t be anyone else with a reasonable resume should one eliminate the other. Pena has been stubborn about taking any other fights aside from Nunes, she might not have any other choice if enough time goes by.
Fight to make: Julianna Pena vs. Raquel Pennington
The division is wide open – only three fighters in the official rankings are booked – but there is one fight that is so obviously in need of being made, this was one of the easier calls to make. Manon Fiorot emerged as a clear cut number one contender when she beat Katlyn Chookagian last fall. Unfortunately, she’s been dealing with injury issues since, allowing Alexa Grasso to leapfrog her. It’s possible Erin Blanchfield has also leapfrogged her by disposing of Jessica Andrade. Grasso still needs to attend to her rematch with Valentina Shevchenko, so a fight with Fiorot and Blanchfield to be number one contender makes all the sense in the world.
Fight to make: Manon Fiorot vs. Erin Blanchfield
Given the plethora of strawweight fights that went down last week, it makes me reluctant to put some of these contests together. After all, my colleague Zane Simon has done a fine job figuring out a good route for the UFC to take with this division. The pregnancies of Carla Esparza and Tecia Torres also add complications in terms of putting together high-level fights. So rather than repeat Zane, I’ll move down the line a bit.
The UFC has done an excellent job of matching up many of the older vets against one another. For example, we saw Matt Brown and Court McGee square off a couple of weeks ago. Why not do the same thing with the women? I’m eyeballing Michelle Waterson-Gomez and Jessica Penne. I know it’s a rematch, but that was a decade ago. Both are no longer going to be fighting for the title, but they should have something left in the tank. This contest would help us figure out who and should provide for a fun and competitive chess match on the mat.
Fight to make: Michelle Waterson-Gomez vs. Jessica Penne
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