There wasn’t a lot of hype around UFC Fight Night: Vettori vs. Cannonier. Despite that, those who opted to tune in were richly rewarded for taking the time to check out the UFC’s latest version of random fights. Though ultimately proving to be one-sided, Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori put together a dark horse candidate for FOTY. Cannonier displayed his power and stamina while putting together a middleweight record number of significant strikes. Vettori proved he may be the toughest SOB on the planet, though he paid a heavy price to do so.
The rest of the fights largely delivered as well, answering some questions while creating new ones after UFC Vegas 75. For instance, though Arman Tsarukyan ultimately defeated Joaquim Silva, was the performance impressive enough to get him the step up in competition he’s been demanding? What about Armen Petrosyan’s call for a top 15 opponent? And will Manuel Torres be fast-tracked after back-to-back highlight reel finishes?
To answer those questions—and a bit more—I’ll be using Zane’s 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 go from my head, to print, and finally inside the UFC cage. Now, let’s get to the fights!
Cannonier is the hardest fighter to figure out what to do with, at least immediately. That’s because the former heavyweight’s situation is completely dependent on what happens between Robert Whittaker and Dricuss Du Plessis at UFC 290. Should Du Plessis win, the South African native is likely to get a crack at Israel Adesanya’s belt. Should Whittaker emerge victorious, Cannonier’s hopes for a rematch with Adesanya improve dramatically.
That’s because Cannonier did everything he needed to do get people onboard with the idea of him again fighting for a belt. In fact, it’s likely he benefits from not having finished Vettori when he had the Italian on the ropes. Cannonier’s performance against Adesanya was perhaps the most ho-hum of Adesanya’s defenses. He was fairly tepid and didn’t push much of a pace. Against Vettori, Cannonier was anything but tepid, pushing an insane pace over five rounds. This version of Cannonier has me willing to advocate for a rematch, something I didn’t think I’d ever be doing.
Unfortunately, Cannonier’s fate is dependent on Du Plessis. While Cannonier is still improving, he is 39, meaning the fall off the cliff can occur at any moment. Du Plessis would likely benefit from more seasoning before fighting Adesanya, but you also take title shots when you get the opportunity. Should Du Plessis get the opportunity, pit Cannonier against the winner of Paulo Costa/Ikram Aliskerov. Should Whittaker win – the most likely scenario – I’m ready to see Adesanya and Cannonier run it back for the title.
It might be a while before we see Vettori again. His body could use a long layoff to heal up. It’s not like he’s been inactive anyway; this was his third fight in just over nine months. In terms of matchmaking, that’s probably beneficial as Vettori has fought so many of the names within his radar that it might be best to let some of the scheduled matches within the division sort themselves out before choosing the best direction for him.
At this juncture, I’d be looking to use Vettori as a gatekeeper. In addition to Cannonier, losses to Adesanya and Whittaker establish he’s not quite at the top of the division. Thus, gun to my head, I’m probably not going with the classic Silva formula for this one. Kelvin Gastelum looks like he’d produce a FOTN scrap with Vettori, but rumor is he wants another go at 170. However, Nassourdine Imavov was on pace for victory last week before some unfortunate circumstances. He creates a unique challenge for Vettori. Imavov vs. Vettori is a perfectly reasonable matchup.
There’s no doubt Tsarukyan is persona non grata in the lightweight division. His lack of name recognition combined with how good he really is creates a space where anyone is reluctant to sign the dotted line against him. And while he was dominant against Joaquim Silva, he needed a special performance against the Brazilian striker to get the needle moved for him. Tsarukyan did what he needed to keep from suffering any slippage, but it wasn’t the special showing he needed to improve his circumstance. I don’t see Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, or Justin Gaethje being willing to step in the cage with him.
Tsarukyan is fortunate enough to have a couple of names potentially available. He’s also smart enough to recognize those are his best options, already mentioning both names. Beneil Dariush just had his eight-fight win streak snapped by Oliveira and has been willing to fight just about anyone. Michael Chandler’s immediate fighting future is in the air as Conor McGregor, whom Chandler was anticipated to fight soon, has another legal situation to sort out. Thus, the most likely fight for Tsarukyan appears to be Dariush. Guess what? Dariush vs. Tsarukyan is an outstanding Fight Night main event.
After a straightforward victory over the flashier Christian Leroy Duncan, Petrosyan asked for a top 15 opponent. The Armenian striker isn’t going to get that, at least not if his management is smart. Petrosyan would do well with a bit more seasoning before making that jump. After all, a win over Duncan, owner of a lone UFC victory that came via injury stoppage, doesn’t exactly scream ready to have face someone with a number next to their name.
There’s no shortage of names that make sense for Petrosyan next. Marc-Andre Barriault has hit his stride and is a similar spot as Petrosyan. Rodolfo Vieira provides a unique matchup. There’s several fights that could play out soon enough to provide Petrosyan his next opponent. The direction I like though involves another DWCS alum who has been given a fast track. Joe Pyfer’s wrestling offers a tough matchup for Petrosyan. Petrosyan offers durability Pyfer hasn’t faced yet. Petrosyan vs. Pyfer is the way to go.
Sabatini couldn’t have done anything different to get people excited about his prospects than mauling Lucas Almeida the way he did. Sabatini’s wrestling never looked better and his grappling lived up to the lofty reputation he’s built for it. It made everyone who even considered picking against him in this contest – which includes me – feel foolish for doubting him. It could be argued Sabatini had the best night of anyone.
The win should put Sabatini right back where he was before his loss to Damon Jackson last year. There’s a lot of fun options available that make sense. Joanderson Brito, Charles Jourdain, and Bill Algeo were what came to mind. While all three are perfectly acceptable, Jourdain catches my attention the most. Jourdain’s athleticism could be a real problem for Sabatini, but Jourdain’s Achilles heel has been his ground game. Matching them up potentially answers the most questions we have about the two. Book Sabatini vs. Jourdain.
Torres has a LOT of momentum behind him right now. Not that he’s defeated any world-beaters, but he’s been plowing through whoever the UFC has put in front of him dating back to his appearance on DWCS, securing a first round finish each time. Given the momentum the UFC has with Mexico at this point, Torre looks like someone they’ll want to give a push to. The question is if they’re going to get overanxious and push him too hard, too soon.
Names like Drakkar Klose and Nasrat Haqparast came to mind, but they feel like they’d be a step too far. The likes of Uros Medic and Natan Levy don’t feel like they’d be enough of a step up. There were roughly 15 names I went through and my absolute favorite, Rafa Garcia, appears unlikely given the Mexican heritage of both. Thus, I settled on Christos Giagos: a battled-tested vet who is still on the upswing. Sounds perfect. Torres vs. Giagos is just right.
Despite his 38 years of age, Dalby still appears to be getting better. Despite a rough start against Muslim Salikhov, Dably managed to break the Russian striker mentally, largely cruising to victory over the second half of the contest. Dalby called for a top 15 opponent in his post-fight interview. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but it seems more likely he’ll get someone sitting just on the outside fringes of the official rankings. Regardless, Dalby is at the peak of his career at the moment.
The fringes of the rankings of welterweight is a crowded spot, offering no shortage of options for Dalby. Khaos Williams, Jeremiah Wells, Elizeu Zaleski, Mike Mallot, and Alex Morono all find themselves just on the outside coming off a win and unbooked. However, the name that caught my attention is someone coming off a controversial loss. Granted, Li Jingliang pulled out of a recent contest with a spine issue. That’s a tricky issue and Li could be on the sidelines a long time. If not, he’s a perfect test for Dalby. Thus, provided he’s healthy, Li vs. Dalby is the ideal way to go.
Kyung Ho Kang
Kang has been somewhat of a frustrating figure. There’s never been any doubt about his talents. It’s always been his fight IQ as Kang often seems to take the most difficult route to victory. Even in his win over Cristian Quinonez, Kang opted to engage in a striking contest rather than take the fight to the mat, which is where he had the biggest advantage on paper. Fortunately, it turned out alright for Kang, but not before enduring a slight scare.
Now 35, time is short for Kang to make any sort of a run. Fate hasn’t been kind to him either. While his 8-3 UFC record is impressive, Quinonez is the only fighter still on the roster and Guido Cannetti having the most UFC victories out of those victims. Thus, it’s best to find someone established rather than looking to establish themselves for his next challenge. Like Kang, someone who continues to defy Father Time is Douglas Silva de Andrade. Both are on the outside fringe on the rankings too. It’s hard to find a better pairing than Kang and de Andrade.
OTHER FIGHTS TO MAKE: Joaquim Silva vs. Damir Hadzovic; Christian Leroy Duncan vs. Julian Marquez; Lucas Almeida vs. Tucker Lutz; Nikolas Motta vs. Gabriel Miranda; Muslim Salikhov vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio; Alessandro Costa vs. Winner of Jesus Santos Aguilar/Shannon Ross; Jimmy Flick vs. Malcolm Gordon; Cristian Quinonez vs. Chad Anheliger; Carlos Hernandez vs. Clayton Carpenter; Denys Bondar vs. Carlos Candelario; Tereza Bleda vs. Mandy Bohm; Gabriella Fernandes vs. Victoria Leonardo; Daniel Argueta vs. Brady Hiestand; Ronnie Lawrence vs. Luan Lacerda; Modestas Bukauskas vs. Winner of Marcin Prachnio/Vitor Petrino; Zac Pauga vs. Ihor Potieira
About the author