The latest UFC Fight Night event was fine enough, all things considered. Amir Albazi and Kai Kara-France put on a decent fight, that was nothing to write home about until fans got heated over the scorecards. Alex Caceres had a fantastic war against Daniel Pineda, and Jim Miller punched a hole in some unfortunate late-notice newcomer.
So, is Albazi really next in line for flyweight gold? Can Alex Caceres get himself a rematch with Yair Rodriguez? And is Karine Silva the next women’s flyweight fighter rising to the elite?
To answer those questions—and little else—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!
It wasn’t a dominant or decisive win. Depending on who you ask, in fact, Amir Albazi shouldn’t have even had his hand raised at all. But, he did fight a pretty consummately professional elite-level bout for five rounds. Albazi may not be a clear cut above his best competition, but he wasn’t overwhelmed or shut out against Kai Kara France either. He’s capable of challenging opponents at the highest levels.
Even at just a reported 5’5″ Albazi is something of a brick house. He’s got the obvious strength and power to keep opponents at bay when he’s on the front foot getting to pressure. On Saturday, he also showed, some rock solid defensive reactions while pushing forward. If Albazi can maintain his pressure while slipping shots, he’s going to stay a tough puzzle for most opponents to solve.
On the flip side, it’s also clear that he needs to add more consistent range tools to his game, things he can deliver as he moves forward, and not just once he’s all the way in the pocket.
In the meantime, Albazi wants his shot at a UFC title. If everything falls just right, he might get it. Especially if Brandon Moreno walks out of UFC 290 with his belt still intact, he’ll be in need of a fresh title challenger. That would likely mean the job falls either to the ‘Prince’ or to the currently streaking ‘Raw Dog’ Brandon Royval. But trying to pre-plan title shots when there’s already a title fight yet to happen is no kind of guarantee.
Albazi wants to fight in October, UFC 290 is in July. There’s no way to know if the champ (whoever that may be) will be ready for that kind of turnaround. In the meantime, I did mention that Royval and Albazi are both in position to be top contenders. So, let’s find out which one deserves it more. Brandon Royval vs. Amir Albazi would be the perfect way to determine the next challenger for UFC gold.
If we’re going to ‘bright side’ this for Kai Kara-France, at least he didn’t lose in a way that at all diminishes the feeling that he’s currently one of the world’s best flyweights. Had he found a way to push the pace earlier in the fight, rather than sitting on his heels and looking for chances to counter, we’d likely all be talking about how solid he looked on his way back to title contention. Instead, we’re neck deep in another judging controversy.
The hope for Kara-France has to be that he’ll come back from this with his game evolved. He’s got the toughness, the skill, and the tenacity to fight more confidently on the front foot, as he did in the later rounds. At the elite levels of the sport, pace is king.
That said, the question becomes, who among the top 10 does Kai Kara-France fight next? Deiveson Figueiredo is right there, riding a loss—as is Matheus Nicolau and Alex Perez. Hell, Matt Schnell’s coming off a loss too. All these men are un-booked, and Kara-France hasn’t faced any of them. I was going to suggest that the UFC would be better off holding Figueiredo for a fight with Albazi, but looking at the division, there are so many options the UFC could go to that Figueiredo vs. Kara-France really is the coolest fight that could be booked.
This was never going to be a clean or easy fight, but there was never any doubt it would be a fun one. Alex Caceres has always had trouble keeping opponents from getting whatever kind of engagement they want with him, whether it’s a brawl, a range kickboxing bout, or a scrambling grappling match. In this case, that meant Daniel Pineda got a whole round to out-grapple Caceres, but Pineda’s own cardio issues and lack of controlling game came back to bite him and he couldn’t replicate his success at all in round 3.
As a result. Caceres rallied hard in the 3rd, chewing Pineda up with body kicks on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Given Caceres’ spot in the featherweight top 15, he needs some kind of solid booking next. Unfortunately, when asked, he didn’t have any ideas. Bouts against Edson Barboza and Bryce Mitchell would be choice options. But I’ll get a little bit wild here and say the UFC should book Caceres against the ‘Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung. If nothing else to keep TKZ away from that Holloway fight.
A brutal victory for Jim Miller. Usually when fighters come in on short notice, they go crazy to try and throw their opponent off balance and get the fight done in a hurry. This time it seemed like Miller wanted to set that kind of madcap tempo, blitzing Jesse Butler from the opening bell, only to sleep him within 30 seconds with a huge left hook. That win puts Miller back on track after getting derailed by Alexander Hernandez earlier this year, and keeps his dream of fighting at UFC 300 alive.
‘A-10’ says he wants to stay active, and given his resume and credentials that makes him eligible for just about any fight at 155 from the edges of the top 15 on down. Fights with John Makdessi, Carlos Diego Ferreira, Drakkar Klose, Thiago Moises, Paddy Pimblett, or Rafa Garcia would all make sense. I especially like the idea of Miller vs. Ferreira.
The Brazilian didn’t look great against Michael Johnson in his comeback before getting that huge KO. Feels like this would be the right kind of chance to get his groove back against another vet, or to give Miller a chance to add another quality name to his record. Miller vs. Ferreira would be a crafty battle of rock solid veterans.
It wasn’t pretty, but Tim Elliott got the job done. Altamirano’s wild striking style gave Elliott fits standing, but it also provided him with a ton of opportunities to take the fight to the mat where his grappling and top control wrestling could really shine. Not apparently a fight that made Elliott all that happy, as he’d hoped to show off his own standup skills, but struggled to get that part of his game going at all. Given his recent struggles, though, hopefully Elliott gets at least some joy out of walking off with a win.
He’s still smack dab in the middle of the UFC’s flyweight rankings, so he should be getting a more high profile opponent his next time around. If Muhammad Mokaev is gonna be back from his horrible knee injury any time soon, let it be him. If not? Then do Elliott vs. Alex Perez. Elliott vs. Mokaev is exactly the kind of fight I need to see.
My feeling on Karine Silva heading into this fight was that she didn’t look active enough as a striker to be a real top contender threat in the future. If that was the read, though, then she really kicked it up a notch for her bout against Ketlen Souza. Silva started round 1 immediately pumping the jab and throwing kicks, backed Souza up, shot in and tapped her with a nasty ankle lock that blew out Souza’s knee.
That’s 2-0 for Silva to start her Octagon career. Not against the best competition out there, but clearly she’s ready for a big step up. If they want to give her a ranked opponent then Tracy Cortez or Andrea Lee could both be decent options. Otherwise Maryna Moroz or Montana De La Rosa would be solid. I feel like I like the Moroz option more than any other. She’s a solid vet with a well rounded game, a great test to see if Silva’s ready for elite competition. Silva vs. Moroz is the step the Brazilian needs.
Not an easy night for Zaleski. In reality it couldn’t have started much worse, with Abubakar Nurmagomedov scoring some heavy shots early and slowing Zaleski to a grind. But the Brazilian refused to let his Dagestani foe take over with pressure and wrestling, shucking multiple takedowns to start forcing Nurmagomedov to lean more and more on his striking alone. The longterm upside was, by the time the fight got to round 3, Zaleski was having it pretty much all his own way.
Not a thriller all things considered, but after months on the sidelines, it’s gotta be good just to get any win at all. It’s too bad Gunnar Nelson is semi-retired these days, because a fight between him and Zaleski would be fascinating if this takedown defense here wasn’t an aberration. Oh, but hey, Joaquin Buckley just arrive at welterweight and that fight would be dope as hell. Buckley vs. Zaleski for all the fun spins.
Not a bad fight from Don’Tale Mayes, given how grinding some Andrei Arlovski fights can get and how lackluster Mayes’ own recent wins have been. Arlovski was doing his normal thing of fighting behind his jab and keeping his output up while Mayes did a lot of his spinny, jumpy, throw-random-single-strikes fighting. But, when those single strikes did land, they landed really hard. Eventually that kind of math paid off with a huge hook in the second round that sent the ‘Pitbull’ crashing to the mat. A few followup shots and the ref had to intervene.
That win keeps Mayes afloat in the middle of the heavyweight division, looking for more action fights. Karl Williams is a new prospect on the rise who badly needs cage time and testing. Mayes may not be a big step up, but he’s got the physicality to challenge Williams and that’s really the most important thing. Williams vs. Mayes seems like a solid stay busy fight for both men.
After the first five minutes, it seemed that Muhammad Naimov was fated to suffer a “solid, but not good enough” debut like so many other short notice UFC signings. Jamie Mullarkey was doing well to land long strikes from distance and clinch up and slow Naimov down every time ‘Hillman’ tried sit down in the pocket.
But closing from distance to clinches also meant Mullarkey gave plenty of chances for Naimov to land single big shots, and it only took one perfect counter hook to send Mullarkey to the canvas and give Naimov a fantastic debut win. With that behind him, I assume he’ll be headed down to 145. If that’s the plan, then there’s another fantastically fun, brawling Aussie fighter ready and waiting to put on a thriller. Muhammad Naimov vs. Jack Jenkins would be a must-see featherweight prospect war.
OTHER BOUTS: Daniel Pineda vs. Damon Jackson, Jesse Butler vs. Nick Aguirre, Victor Altamirano vs. Charles Johnson, Ketlen Souza vs. Juliana Miller, Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Mounir Lazzez, Daniel Santos vs. Victor Henry, Johnny Munoz Jr. vs. Journey Newson, Andrei Arlovski vs. Waldo Cortes-Acosta, John Castaneda vs. Sergey Morozov, Muin Gafurov vs. Saimon Oliveira, Jamie Mullarkey vs. Ricky Glenn, Elise Reed vs. Polyana Viana, Jinh Yu Frey vs. Jessica Penne, Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Brady Hiestand, Luan Lacerda vs. Chad Anheliger, Philipe Lins vs. Ion Cuțelaba, Maxim Grishin vs. Tyson Pedro
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