The UFC’s first title fight off PPV in a month of Sundays proved to be a great idea. Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko waged a pitched back and forth battle for the flyweight title that looked to be judged on the narrowest of margins. Well at least it should have been. A wild 10-8 scorecard ruined the mood a bit, but it was still a hell of a fun fight. Throw a solid welterweight scrap between Jack Della Maddalena and Kevin Holland in the mix and it ended up being a solid night of action.
So, is it time for for the Grasso/Shevchenko trilogy? Is Della Maddalena on his way to the top 10 at 170? And is Lupita Godinez a dark horse at 115 lbs?
To answer those questions—and maybe some other stuff too—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!
Noche UFC: Fights to make
ALEXA GRASSO & VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO
Honestly, while the draw sucks from a practical judging standpoint and from a fan satisfaction standpoint, it just might be the best result the UFC could hope for. Manon Fiorot struggled to take three rounds off a one-handed version of Rose Namajunas, Erin Blanchfield wall-n-stalled her way to victory past Taila Santos. These are not the kinds of performances that make for thrilling new title fight bookings.
By contrast, Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko 2 was a great fight. It was highly competitive in nearly every round, had major momentum swings, and there were clear dangers that both women have yet to find a way to neatly navigate. Grasso still had no answer to Shevchenko’s wrestling game. And the ‘Bullet’ struggled hard with Grasso in a southpaw stance.
Book Shevchenko vs. Grasso 3 and book Fiorot vs. Blanchfield along side it. That way there’s a backup plan if the title fight falls through and hopefully we can exit those fights with a clear champion and a clear new number one contender. Otherwise, if we absolutely have to, I suppose I’m most interested in Blanchfield vs. Grasso, given the champ’s wrestling struggles.
JACK DELLA MADDALENA
It wasn’t exactly a definitive performance from Jack Della Maddalena, but I’d say Kevin Holland came in with a pretty reasonable gameplan to defeat the Aussie. The fact that it didn’t work is a testament to JDM’s skill and dedication as a pocket puncher. Holland threw out a ton of volume, looking to keep JDM at bay at the edge of range—where Holland’s reach meant he could land first and skate away from counters. It was on JDM to eat, slip, or catch those shots and fire back with his own offense and to make that offense count. He did that well enough to eek out the victory, even if it wasn’t decisive.
With his spot in the rankings already secure, that’ll only bounce JDM further up the division. Fights with Ian Machado Garry, Vicente Luque, Sean Brady, or Geoff Neal would all be reasonable. My knee-jerk reaction is Garry vs. Della Maddalena, just because it’s such a solid prospect vs. prospect booking, but honestly I doubt Garry has any interest. Vicente Luque, however, looked surprisingly decent last time out, and has a great style to match JDM’s violence. Luque vs. Della Maddalena would be ‘can’t miss’ action.
RAUL ROSAS JR.
It wasn’t exactly a level of opposition that demands thoughtful matchmaking for Raul Rosas Jr. next time out, but the young man did exactly what he was supposed to do given an opponent that wasn’t really ready to compete at his level. Terrence Mitchell went after Rosas hard from the jump, traded a few wild swings, and then got dropped in a heap and put away.
If fan reactions on Twitter were anything to judge by, the win did a great job putting the Rosas hype-train back on the rails. People are excited to see this kid perform.
Even with a win it still feels like Rosas shouldn’t be taking any big steps up. Fights like Gaston Bolanos, Chad Anheliger, or Ronnie Lawrence all make sense. After getting absolutely sonned last time out by Daniel Argueta, Lawrence seems like he could most use a chance to prove himself. And his chain wrestling game should make for an interesting matchup. Lawrence vs. Rosas is a solid experience building contest for the 18-year-old.
These are the kind of performances that make Lupita Godinez look like a surefire future title contender. When her game is all clicking together she’s one of the most dynamic, dominating wrestlers that women’s strawweight has ever seen. Meshing that with her improving striking game, as she did here, has her looking like she needs a ranked opponent now. All told, Godinez made Elise Reed look like a rank amateur.
It’s too bad her fight with Sam Hughes fell apart, because that would have been a much better test of her physicality. That could mean the UFC should re-book the Hughes fight, or possible a fight with Gillian Robertson or Loma Lookboonmee. But, Tabatha Ricci has shot into the rankings with a pretty thin game built on aggression and top-flight grappling. Feels like a great chance for Godinez to announce herself, or for Ricci to prove that she can handle a physical, well-rounded opponent. Godinez vs. Ricci is a rock solid strawweight bout.
Despite a bunch of recent success, Roman Kopylov has still found himself stuck facing the bottom end of the middleweight division. That said, when matched up with these lower tier fighters he’s doing exactly what he should and stomping them. Fremd did well early to put out a lot of strikes and try to keep kicks on Kopylov at distance, but he couldn’t match the Russian for power or precision. The further the fight went, the more the damage started to stack up against him.
Kopylov really should get a tougher matchup off of this. That could be someone like Chris Curtis or Andre Muniz at the bottom end of the rankings, but I’d argue for fights against Jun Yong Park, Michal Oleksiejczuk, Andre Petroski, or Marc-Andre Barriault as one last stop before hitting the top 15. Jun Yong Park is a great top control fighter with a pretty deft, active jab, seems like someone who could give Kopylov some trouble. Jun Yong Park vs. Roman Kopylov is a fight I’d love to see.
It wasn’t a clean fight from Tracy Cortez, but after so much time on the shelf just getting back in and getting a victory was the important part. Jasudavicius was out-gunned early, but battled her way back well behind persistent aggression and even a couple takedowns. It’s a testament to Cortez’s toughness that she was willing to sit in the pocket late and land the bigger shots to secure the win.
After the fight, Cortez claimed she’d be champion by the end of 2024. If that’s the goal, she has to be active. If she can get a quick turnaround against someone in the rankings, that should mean battles against Natalia Silva, Casey O’Neill, or Maycee Barber. Considering how competitive this fight felt, I’d say rocketing her up the division against Barber doesn’t feel right, so I’ll say book Cortez vs. Natalia Silva. The Brazilian’s speed and power should be a big problem.
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