UFC Nashville seemed perfectly booked on paper to be a highly entertaining card. Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font are elite action-forward bantamweights; Tatiana Suarez vs. Jessica Andrade was a perfect ‘former champ meets new challenger’ booking; and the rest of the card was dotted with notable talent all the way through the prelims.
Instead, we’re left to ask: Can Sandhagen get a title shot off one of the most boring main events in UFC history? Did Dustin Jacoby benefit from referee error? And did Kyler Phillips really beat Raoni Barcelos?
To answer those questions—and one or two 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!
UFC Nashville Fights to Make
That certainly was some performance from Cory Sandhagen. Credit to him, I guess, if his arm injury really was a bad one, then he found a solid way to bag a win without taking much in the way of extra damage. That’s smart. But, if he was hoping that this was his last stop before the belt, then I doubt even an injury explanation is bound to garner much sympathy with UFC brass.
Shout out to Jed Meshew over at MMA Fighting, who noted that the combined 45 significant strikes that Sandhagen and Font landed was one of the lowest totals in the history of UFC 5-round main events. Lower even than Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas 2. The lowest since Sean Sherk’s 2007 victory over Hermes Franca.
That said, there just might be one bright light out there for Sandhagen’s title dreams, and that’s that the other top contender is Merab Dvalishvili—one of champion Aljamain Sterling’s best friends and training partners. If Sterling beats Sean O’Malley at UFC 292 in a couple weeks and doesn’t vacate, then he won’t fight Dvalishvili. And if he does vacate the belt, then Dvalishvili vs. Sandhagen could easily be the vacant title fight.
The other wildcard out there, however, is Henry Cejudo. ‘Triple C’ is targeting his own fight with ‘The Machine’ and would be the bigger draw for a vacant title booking that leaves Sandhagen out in the cold. If Sean O’Malley wins instead of Sterling, then all plans go out the window (and IMO, Sandhagen likely gets pushed to the back of the line anyway). I’ll go ahead and say the fight to make here is Sandhagen vs. Dvalishvili, under the assumption that A) Sterling beats O’Malley and moves to 145; or B) that O’Malley wins and the UFC gives Cejudo a title shot—or Sterling a rematch—instead.
This isn’t the end of days for Rob Font, but if he was hoping that a big upset win over Cory Sandhagen would propel him into contention, then this loss has probably forever removed him from the title conversation. Every top contender Font has ever faced has sent him packing, and even if he has never been KO/TKO’d those losses have all been extremely decisive. At 36, and with three defeats in his last four fights, the Team Sityodtong talent is clearly still a top 10 fighter, but the chances of him putting together the victories to be a contender or getting another sudden opportunity like this one feel very slim.
That said, just what fight Font gets next doesn’t feel all that clear. If the UFC wants to reward (ish) him for stepping up on short notice, they could bounce him straight from this loss into another Fight Night headlining caliber battle against Petr Yan. Otherwise a booking with Song Yadong, Dominick Cruz, or a Ricky Simon rematch could all be decent. Cruz is supposedly in talks to fight Deiveson Figueiredo sometime in September, but we’re already in August and the contest hasn’t been made official yet, so who knows what’s happening there.
The other option would be for Font to face Umar Nurmagomedov, considering that Sandhagen has seemingly moved on from that fight, and would probably be better suited to a bout against Merab Dvalishvili anyway (if he’s so determined to show off his wrestling chops). All options on the table, I don’t really like Cruz against a power hitter like Figgy, so I’ll say make Font vs. Cruz. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in with Song Yadong or even someone like Jonathan Martinez (if Martinez beats Yanez) instead.
It wasn’t exactly a crushing, dominating win from Suarez, but it didn’t feel like an exceptionally difficult one either. Andrade was tentative early and did well to fight her way out of trouble. After dropping the first, the Brazilian tried to press the action more in round two at which point both women traded jumped guillotines off reactive shot attempts. Suarez’s worked, Andrade’s didn’t. After the bout, Suarez made it clear that she has the title dead in her sights.
Will this win get her a shot at the belt? Hard to say. Zhang Weili and Amanda Lemos are set to face off at UFC 292. The winner could very well face Yan Xiaonan next. If that happens, then I’d love to see Suarez take on Mackenzie Dern. That still feels like a must-see fight in the women’s strawweight division. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s probably because Suarez is fighting for the title. I’ll say the UFC should book Suarez vs. Dern, build they hype for her title run just a little bit more and make one of the coolest style clashes the promotion can offer.
Short work for Dustin Jacoby against Kennedy Nzechukwu. The ‘American(?) Savage’ tried to set a fast pace early with lots of pressure against the ‘Hanyak’ to open the bout. A questionably strategy considering how cold Nzechukwu has looked early in his other UFC fights. He tends to be an athlete who gets better as time goes on. Instead, he walked onto a hard 1-2 that sent him to the mat. Was the ref too quick jumping in for the TKO? Yeah, probably—but I doubt it’s a loss Nzechukwu can get overturned.
After the bout, Jacoby called for a top 15 matchup, with someone like Volkan Oezdemir. Unfortunately, Oezdemir is currently booked. The best options without a fight already set are Alonzo Menifield and Dominick Reyes. The Reyes booking is way more high profile, but I also want to see it less… I guess I’ll say book Dustin Jacoby vs. Dominick Reyes. A last hurrah for the former title contender.
A really strong performance from L’udovit Klein, who found ways to consistently get inside of Ignacio Bahmondes’ reach and land the bigger harder shots for 3 rounds. Coupled with aggressive, well timed takedowns, it made for a strong performance for the Slovakian fighter. Despite a few early bumps in the road, Klein has looked rock solid since making the jump up to the lightweight division. He’s now unbeaten in his last four fights and should be headed for a high profile action bout that could put him on the cusp of the top 15.
That could mean fights with the likes of Jim Miller, Bobby Green, Joe Solecki, Paddy Pimblett, or Joel Alvarez. I’ve been arguing for Jim Miller vs. Paddy Pimblett forever, but it doesn’t seem like a fight either man cares about, so how about Miller vs. Klein? Just the kind of veteran test ‘Mr. Highlight’ could use to see if he’s ready for bigger things.
A terribly close scrape of a fight for Kyler Phillips. He did well to hurt Raoni Barcelos early, but most of the rest of the fight saw both men get big bursts of success between long periods of stalemate. Phillips did well to land punches and kicks from distance, while Barcelos got more done with his hands in the pocket. Ultimately, judges like Phillips’ work a little more, which is fine, but hardly the kind of definitive win the ‘Matrix’ might have hoped for.
Phillips has been running along the bottom end of the bantamweight rankings for years now, and this could be the kind of win to get him into the mix. If that’s the case, then a bout against Chris Gutierrez would be the obvious fight to book him in. Othewise, bouts with Javid Basharat, a re-booking against Said Nurmagomedov, or a fight with Douglas d’Silva would all be solid. Honestly, looking at all these, the Basharat fight is far and away the coolest. It’s not a big step up, but Basharat vs. Phillips is too awesome not to make happen.
As hoped, an absolutely wild fight between Billy Quarantillo and Damon Jackson. ‘Action’ Jackson started out strong, beating Quarantillo to the punch early in round 1 and then out-grappling him on the mats. But the ridiculous pace of the action clearly started to wear on him as the fight went on, and Billy-Q started to take over in the back half of the fight. Credit to Jackson, he fought like a madman all the way to the final bell, but he couldn’t cover the gap in power once his cardio started to go.
A solid win for Quarantillo that keeps him firmly in that mid-card action fighter spot he’s claimed so well inside the Octagon. That could set him up for fights with Nathaniel Wood, Pat Sabatini, Lerone Murphy, or Melsik Baghdasaryan. Baghdasaryan seems like he could use a step up and a tough test for the well-roundedness of his skills, how about Quarantillo vs. ‘The Gun’? A tough step up, but at 31, it’s the kind of test Baghdasaryan needs.
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