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The UFC’s sole trip to Asia in 2023 provided a largely okay night of action, capped off by what ended up as a very definitive retirement fight for former featherweight title contender Chan Sung Jun. Max Holloway got the honor of sending the ‘Korean Zombie’ off into the sunset, with a brutal 3rd round KO. Otherwise, Anthony Smith got himself another W over Ryan Spann, and Giga Chikadze put a stop to Alex Caceres’ momentum.
So, what’s left for Max Holloway at 145 lbs? Is Anthony Smith lined up to take on another top contender? And is Erin Blanchfield set to challenge for the women’s flyweight title?
To answer those questions—and maybe 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!
UFC Singapore: Fights to make
This was always set up to be a pretty good night for Max Holloway. Even in their prime, the Hawaiian’s iron jaw and high volume style seemed poised to play hell with Chan Sung Jung’s increasingly counter-focused style. With Jung clearly missing a step lately, however, the table was set for Holloway to win in style.
It’s a credit, then, to the ‘Korean Zombie’ that he actually had a few big moments of success in this bout. His power clearly put a jolt into ‘Blessed’ especially early in round 1. But, with the fight slowly and surely slipping away from him, TKZ bit down in round 3 and decided that he needed to try and make something happen. He definitely succeeded, unfortunately it happened to him.
A massive KO of Holloway has the 31-year-old former champion still seemingly in elite form among the featherweight top 5, but with no real clear path back to the title. Having defeated a large portion of the divisional elite already, no doubt pressure will be mounting for him to make another move back to lightweight.
Given how his fight with Dustin Poirier went in 2019, however, it’s worth wondering how well Holloway would fair at 155. Bouts against the likes of Chandler, Fiziev, or Gaethje all seem like they’d put the Gracie Technics talent at a big power disadvantage, while fights against Makhachev, Gamrot, or Tsarukyan might just see Holloway get firmly out-wrestled by some real top-flight grapplers.
There are two fights up in the lightweight elite that do feel like they could be fun, however. And that’s Charles Oliveira or Beneil Dariush. Oliveira is currently booked to fight the lightweight champ in October, but a loss there would still make for an exciting booking with Holloway. If Holloway wants to stay at 145, then a fight with Giga Chikadze would be solid, but I’ll say Holloway should move up, take a chance and fight Dariush. That seems like the most interesting available option right now, barring a potential move to 145 of Aljamain Sterling in the near future. Holloway vs. Dariush seems like a solid idea.
Much like Holloway, Anthony Smith finds himself in position at light heavyweight as a long-tenured high ranking challenger in need of fresh tests. He may never have held the belt, but Smith has already faced five of the current top 15 inside the Octagon, to varying results. In Singapore, the UFC set him up with a deeply unnecessary rematch against Ryan Spann—which proved far more competitive than their first booking, but from which ‘Lionheart’ still walked away with the victory.
I wouldn’t at all mind seeing Smith take on someone like Khalil Rountree or Azamat Murzakanov just as sort of a gatekeeper to the divisional elite, but something tells me he’ll probably be focused firmly on fighting up ahead of him in hopes of securing another title shot. That could mean getting a chance at revenge against Aleksandar Rakic (a fight I personally have no need to see again), or maybe a bout against Nikita Krylov.
As much as I’d be down for Smith/Krylov, I’d rather see Krylov take on someone like Rountree. With that in mind, I’ll say this is a great chance to give Smith exactly the kind of fight he’s looking for—a big test against former champion Jan Blachowicz. Smith’s name still seems to carry enough cache that it seems likely ‘Polish Power’ would sign on for the bout, and it’s the kind of fight either man could use to bounce into title contention once again, especially with a vacant belt that still needs filling. Blachowicz vs. Smith seems like just the right fight for both men.
It wasn’t exactly a special performance from Giga Chikadze, but he did well to remind Alex Caceres that the Georgian is a true force to be reckoned with in a range striking battle. Give Chikadze time and space to set up his counters and get creative and he’ll land with power all fight long.
Coming off that fight, the smart thing for the Kings MMA talent to do would likely be to chase after a fight with Max Holloway. At 35, time is only ticking faster for Chikadze to make any kind of title run and a win over the former champ is pretty much the best way to guarantee contender status. Simpler said than done, for sure—but MMA is a sport built on taking wild risks.
As I outlined above, however, I kinda feel like Holloway’s time as a featherweight is through. Sure he could fight guys like Topuria or Chikadze or Evloev… but why? He’s as much a title contender as any man could ever hope to be, but as long as Volk is champ, he’s almost certainly never fighting for that belt again.
If Holloway goes off to take other risks of his own, I think the best option for Chikadze are bouts against Josh Emmett or Brian Ortega. The Emmett one is especially set up for the former kickboxer to shine, given Emmett’s own tendencies to stay out at long range. Unfortunately, both those men are coming off back to back losses and, in Ortega’s case, a serious injury. Which leaves Yair Rodriguez and Arnold Allen. If Rodriguez would take the fight, then Rodriguez vs. Chikadze would be a thriller, but I get the feeling Allen might be closer to what he ends up with.
This fight may very well serve as something of a wake-up call for Erin Blanchfield. She’s made a lot of waves in the UFC behind toughness, pressure, and determination. A lot of that didn’t work too well against Taila Santos, who lit her up with counters early, and effectively nullified a lot of Blanchfield’s work late. ‘Cold Blooded’ still ground her way to a win behind a whole lot of clinching, but it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t definitive.
If it weren’t for the fact that Manon Fiorot is set to take on Rose Namajunas in Paris this week, I might argue that Blanchfield’s win could still be enough to get her at title shot, especially if Grasso wins her rematch against Valentina Shevchenko. But, more likely, the 24-year-old will need at least one more win. To that end, Maycee Barber is the only woman in spitting distance of her coming off a victory. Barber vs. Blanchfield would be a great fight to make a future contender.
Win or lose, Michal Oleksiejczuk is pretty much always a thrill. Chidi Njokuani started this fight like a house on fire, punishing ‘Hussar’ to the body with massive clinch knees over and over and over again. However, the Polish middleweight’s pressure and aggression have long been a difference maker in his fights, and proved so again here. He found Njokuani backing to the cage one too many times and started landing big overhands, which led to a takedown. The finish followed shortly after.
It’s exactly the bounce-back Oleksiejczuk needed to keep himself in the thick of things as a mid-card action talent, and should set him up nicely for another war next time around. That could mean fights with Jun Yong Park, Eryk Anders, Paul Craig, Brad Tavares, or Gregory Rodrigues. Just writing Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Gregory Rodrigues feels dangerous, so I think that has to be his next fight.
This was pure must win territory for JJ Aldrich. Coming off back to back losses, she got something of a physical layup in Liang Na. A loss here could only have led to an obvious question: If you can’t beat this opponent in the UFC, who can you beat? Fortunately for her, that question got put to rest with a fiarly dominating two round performance on her way to a TKO victory.
With that done, it’s time to throw Aldrich in against another talent looking to make headway near the bottom end of the flyweight rankings. That could be someone like Karine or Natalia Silva, both of whom secured a top 15 spot in their last bout. Or veterans like Molly McCann, Maryna Moroz, and Montana De La Rosa, who have failed to find consistent success over time. I like the idea of the McCann fight, her power and aggression should provide some problems for Aldrich, while the Elevation talent has all the wrestling and grappling to give McCann fits. McCann vs. Aldrich seems like a solid battle of veterans at 125.
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