All things considered, UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs. Magomedov could have been worse. The card featured a lot of grinding decisions in lackluster affairs, but the main event wasn’t one of them. Sean Strickland found himself with a rapidly fading Abus Magomedov in round 2 and pounced on him for a strong TKO victory. In the co-main, Grant Dawson put the grappling screws to Damir Ismagulov. And Benoit Saint-Denis put on a career best performance to get by Ismael Bonfim.
So, does Sean Strickland have a chance at fighting for a UFC title in the next year? Is Grant Dawson going to finally start getting top-tier lightweight matchups? And is Michael Morales a darkhorse in the welterweight division?
To answer those questions—and a bit 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!
Is Sean Strickland turning over a new leaf? The man known for his trying personality and exhausting fight style walked out of his latest UFC main event with a thrilling win and an attempt to walk back some of the more obvious recent nonsense he’d been spouting. Abus Magomedov gave him a lot to handle for a few minutes, but it tends to take a lot more than that to put the Xtreme Couture talent away, as he once again proved with his second round TKO rally.
After the bout, the 32-year-old even had a callout ready, claiming that he wanted to take out the UFC’s “first and only Chinese champion”—a shot at Israel Adesanya and the Nigerian-born New Zealander’s past adoption of Chinese identity during his kickboxing career. If he’s hoping to follow Dricus Du Plessis’ path and get under Adesanya’s skin, however, it seems more likely that Strickland will continue to find himself outside of the elite looking in for at least the short term. His win over Magomedov may have been strong, but it was hardly the stuff to demand UFC gold.
It’s too bad that Strickland and Marvin Vettori seem like they’re pretty good friends. That feels like a fight that would be good for both men right now, and test both their willingness toward volume and pace. It’s also too bad that Paulo Costa is already booked against Ikram Aliskerov. That’s a UFC fight nobody needs to see and Costa vs. Strickland feels like it needs to happen at some point in the near future.
The other option would be a fight with Roman Dolidze, but that doesn’t hold much draw in my opinion. Given all that, then, I’ll say book Strickland against the Costa/Aliskerov winner. Aliskerov could use some resume building on his way to the top and, even with a win, Costa probably won’t be in contention.
Credit to Abus Magomedov, he took about as big a step up in competition as someone can take from their first UFC bout to their second. And while he wasn’t nearly so successful in that attempt, he did at the very least look dangerous against Strickland whenever he was pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, he was also entirely unprepared for the breakneck pace and pressure that top level UFC fighters like Strickland present. After a solid enough first round, Magomedov was already gasping for air. The end followed shortly afterward.
Given the man’s age and experience, and wildly disparate first two UFC fights, the promotion should search out some middle ground for the Dagestani. Find him a UFC fight or two against other solid talent still looking to battle their way up the ranks. Men like Eryk Anders, Michał Oleksiejczuk, Bruno Silva, and Chidi Njokuani would all be totally reasonable options. As is often the case, just having written that list out takes me to one obvious option.
Like Magomedov, Njokuani came to the UFC with a ton of experience and ability already under his belt. Similarly, his results have been mixed. Seems like two men at the same point in their career; Njokuani vs. Magomedov would be a quality battle of journeyman veterans.
I am depressed. Grant Dawson’s not a bad UFC fighter in his own element, but he’s built a reputation over the years as a clinging grappler with a decent wrestling game, and without much else to offer. Given the difficulty past opponents have had in holding Ismagulov down, it seemed likely that Dawson would struggle. He did not.
Dawson was continually able to find takedowns and turn them into backtakes. He didn’t do a lot of damage or get to many dangerous submission chances, but he absolutely controlled Ismagulov for almost every minute of three rounds. That has to get Dawson a top ranked lightweight; he’s unbeaten in his last seven years and twelve bouts. The methods may not be pretty, but the results are inarguable.
I’d love to see Dawson take on Mateusz Gamrot. It seems like the perfect point to see if his grappling skill can take him all the way to contender status. If that can’t happen, then a bout with Renato Moicano would be more than acceptable. Dawson vs. Gamrot is the kind of test ‘KGD’ needs.
Not an easy, or hype building win for Michael Morales, but then Max Griffin is a hard fighter to look good against. Credit to Morales, he was more patient and controlled for this bout than he has been in any of his previous UFC fights; focused more on working behind long strikes and forcing Griffin to deal with his speed rather than just making the bout all about physicality. No matter the strength of the result, the important thing is that the Ecuadorian is now 15-0 and climbing toward the top of the welterweight division.
As such—and with a win like Griffin under his belt—Morales should be primed for a more difficult test. If he really wants to try his luck and find out how ready he is for a top fight opponent, then they could always throw him in with Neil Magny. But it feels like he could use another mid-tier challenge or two to keep building his game. Someone like Nicolas Dalby, or Joaquin Buckley, or Bryan Battle would be strong options. I’ve been nicely surprised by the quality Battle has been bringing to the Octagon lately. How about a prospect vs. prospect matchup? Battle vs. Morales would be a great meeting of young UFC fighters.
A shockingly effective fight from the the Frenchman. Benoit Saint-Denis has seemed too wild for his own good at times in the Octagon. His bout with Elizeu Zaleski became one prolonged beating when they met in 2021. Credit to Saint-Denis, however, he seems to have kept his confidence and aggression since that setback, and has a lot more physicality to offer down a division at lightweight.
Along with an obviously improving and sharpening skill set, that seems all set to make him a real problem. The ‘God of War’ tore up Bonfim’s body with kicks, took him down with ease, and eventually locked in a face crank so brutal the Brazilian had no choice but to tap out.
After the bout he called for any of three top ranked lightweight fights against Arman Tsarukyan, Mateusz Gamrot, and Rafael Fiziev. Normally, I’d just ignore that kind of callout, since top ranked UFC fighters rarely ever look to fight down the division. But I could actually see him getting the Fiziev bout, just for how much fun Saint-Denis’ game is.
Fighters like to face action-focused opponents and Fiziev coming off a hard loss needs a bounceback. If that fight can’t get made, then fights with Jim Miller, Matt Frevola, or Carlos Diego Ferreira would all be rock solid. Saint-Denis vs. Fiziev would rock, but Frevola vs. Saint-Denis would be a great consolation.
Gaddamn. Kevin Lee came back to the UFC after a lackluster win over Diego Sanchez, but for a man who once seemed like he’d be a perennial top contender it still seemed likely he had a lot left in the tank. If he does though, he didn’t get to show an ounce of it against Rinat Fakhretdinov. The Russian absolutely blew Lee out of the water with a right hand into a guillotine that left Lee asleep on his knees inside of a one minute.
Will that catapult Fakhretdinov up the division? Lee’s name certainly used to carry a lot of weight, but I’m not sure it still does. UFC fights with Mike Malott, Khaos Williams, or Joaquin Buckley would all be reasonable jumps, however. I’ve really been enjoying how Malott has shown up in the cage so far, and he also seems primed for tougher opponents. Malott vs. Fakhretdinov would be a great next test for both men.
It wasn’t pretty, and it took Karol Rosa a worryingly long time to feel her way into the bout, but once she did finally start to get her game clicking it was clear she had a lot more danger to offer than Yana Santos did.
All things considered it was a pretty grimy performance in the end, with Rosa finding just enough offense in the last two rounds to tip it in her favor, but the win puts her back in play at bantamweight anyway (assuming that’s where her next fight will be). Macy Chiasson is still ranked higher than Rosa and isn’t booked, that’s the easy fight to make. Otherwise a bout with Josiane Nunes would be about right. Chiasson vs. Rosa is a solid way to welcome Rosa back to 135.
I’m not going to say I saw this coming, because I still picked Guram Kutateladze to win this fight. But, Brener’s mix of insane toughness and insistent output always seemed like it had the chance to be a real rough night of the Georgian, who performs best against opponents that fade in the face of his speed and power. Brener got hurt badly, multiple times, but never let Kutateladze off the hook for even a moment. And when Kutateladze found himself still facing the onslaught late, he couldn’t do anything to prevent the Brazilian from pouring it on.
Viacheslav Borshchev just had a fantastic win in his last bout. His style of high-output kickboxing seems like it’s tailor made for another war. Brener vs. Borshchev would be a killer fight.
It’s a desperately needed win for Alexander Romanov, so I can’t knock it too hard. But it’s pretty remarkable how poorly Blagoy Ivanov showed up in this fight. Romanov kept a messy jab and some low kicks on Ivanov and the Bulgarian just couldn’t force himself forward with enough conviction to turn the tide. A little wrestling helped seal the deal, but largely this was just a chance for Romanov to lean on his kickboxing arsenal against an opponent who didn’t bring anything back to him.
Normally, for a ranked fighter, I’d argue that they should get another ranked foe off a win. But with the bottom half of the HW division coming off losses and already booked, Romanov could just use another fight against any reasonable body. Martin Buday is 3-0 and big as a house. Buday vs. Romanov is a fine chance for Romanov to do some HW gatekeeping.
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