If it hadn’t been for the lackluster atmosphere of the UFC Apex, UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs. Barboza might have really felt like something special. Edson Barboza added another elite showing to his long and storied career; Jonathan Martinez showed Adrian Yanez he’s just not ready for the deep end of the bantamweight pool; and Michel Pereira looked like a monster in his first UFC fight at 185 lbs.
So, is Barboza finally primed to make that title run? Is Martinez a dark horse at 135 lbs? And how soon before we can get Pereira mixing it up with the middleweight elite?
To answer those questions—and a couple others—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 Vegas 81: Fights to Make
What a remarkable performance from Edson Barboza. Personally, I might have scored the fight a draw, just because Barboza took so much damage over the first couple rounds. But it’s also hard not to feel that, over the long run, the Brazilian won the war. The loss seemed all but certain for the 37-year-old by the end of the opening minute; Sodiq Yusuff was absolutely shelling him. But even mostly dead is still slightly alive.
Behind a barrage of body work, Barboza slowly rallied his way back into the fight. By the end of round 2 the tide was turning. By the end of round 3, the fight was firmly in his hands. A couple more solid rounds and Barboza had executed a comeback somewhere on the continuum of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2 & 3.
That keeps Barboza firmly in the conversation among the featherweight top 15. Does it make him a title contender? No. Heck it might not even put him among the top 10. But there is a big fight I think it could reasonably line him up to get. At 38-years-old and coming off back-to-back losses, Josh Emmett needs a step back from the top 5. As a longtime elite fighter at both 145 & 155, Barboza deserves to stay in meaningful competition. Barboza vs. Emmett would be a violent clash of two top tier fighters nearing the end of their time as elite competitors.
Entirely a bad day for ‘Super’ Sodiq. The 30-year-old Nigerian-born fighter has been working patiently for a bout of this magnitude for years. After the loss, Yusuff told reporters that he’s “still young in this game,” but with seven years as a pro under his belt, this is also the point that most athletes in his shoes are hitting their prime. That’s not to say that this is some kind of career defining setback, just that this was also clearly a moment for Yusuff to announce himself as a potential contender and he didn’t make it happen.
Fortunately for him, Dan Ige is also coming off a loss right now and doesn’t have a fight booked. Yusuff vs. Ige couldn’t be a more obvious matchup. Two men who have a lot more power than they do finishes inside the Octagon, and who have struggled to make the jump from mid-card action fighter to elite competitor. Give one of them a chance to right the ship in a hurry.
Not a clean or clear win for Vivi Araujo, but she was able to control Jennifer Maia over the middle of the fight and got the nod for what was mostly a tossup opening round. The win isn’t going to make her any kind of instant top contender, but it does keep her in that conversation and just a win or two away from really being ‘in the mix’.
Fights with Maycee Barber, Taila Santos, would both be reasonable options, as well as a rematch with Katlyn Chookagian would all be reasonable. Given that a fight between Santos and Chookagian actually feels like it would make more sense, I’ll go ahead and say Barber vs. Araujo is the fight to make. A win for either woman could have them up among with the flyweight top 5.
Even if Adrian Yanez was heading straight toward this kind of low kick TKO loss, it’s still a great credit to Jonathan Martinez that he went out and got it. Martinez was hyper insistent on targeting the legs from jump and Yanez couldn’t ever find the pressure to shut down the onslaught. The result? A second round TKO for the ‘Dragon’.
After the bout, Yanez called for a fight with Merab Dvalishvili. It’s not a battle he’s that likely to get, but with the possibility that the Serra-Longo talent could get frozen out of the title picture, there’s no harm in asking. Frankly, with the division absolutely wide open right now, there’s any number of fights Martinez could be lined up for. Song Yadong needs an opponent for December.
If Martinez isn’t too injured, that’s probably something he should target. Otherwise there’s Cory Sandhagen or Pedro Munhoz or even Dominick Cruz are out there spinning their wheels. Martinez wants a big fight, the UFC needs a ranked BW, Martinez vs. Song is the fight to make if Martinez can make a quick turnaround.
A classic performance from Michel Pereira. I said it before he made his Octagon debut at 185 this week, but there’s rarely been a fighter I’ve looked at before and thought that they were so clearly a natural MW. Pereira still looked like the bigger man against Andre Petroski inside the Octagon. One punch was all it took to put the wrestler away and move on to something more important. Someone near the edges of the top 15 should be the path.
That could mean someone like Brad Tavares, and of course there’s always Michał Oleksiejczuk or Roman Kopylov. But, if Nassourdine Imavov can get his Visa issues sorted out, then that feels absolutely perfect. Imavov vs. Pereira would be fascinating.
A classic performance for the ‘Damage’. Darren Elkins caught TJ Brown with a takedown early and while Brown had a few moments of his own success over the next couple rounds, he could never stop wrestling with Elkins. Do that long enough and it’s pretty much always a fight that the longtime Team Alpha Male talent will win. Eventually, Elkins found back control off a scramble, got an arm under the neck, and got the finish.
That doesn’t set him up for anything especially notable, but the UFC can absolutely find a few more fun matchups for him. Fights like Damon Jackson, Sean Woodson, Gavin Tucker, or Josh Culibao would all make sense. With Woodson coming off a win, I’ll say Sean Woodson vs. Darren Elkins is the way to go.
Not a surprise here. After Chris Duncan pulled out, the UFC needed a late replacement for Terrance McKinney and found a guy with a pretty thin regional record and a solid camp behind him. McKinney just wrecked the man. A first round knee into some GnP and the fight was over inside of 30 seconds. That kind of win sets McKinney right back up for the kind of bouts he tends to lose.
I’d love to see the UFC rebook that Duncan fight, but not knowing how long he’ll be out and knowing how often McKinney loves to compete, I have to assume something else will happen instead. Rafa Garcia is free, that’d be a good option. But so is Jamie Mullarkey, and that feels like just the right combination of lesser athlete/more well-rounded fighter. Mullarkey vs. McKinney would be a fun scrap.
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