3/10 – EVENT

9/21 – ALL TIME

Only 4 days removed from UFC 249 and fight fans were gifted a mid-week fight card Wednesday. While the event wasn’t loaded with title fights and contenders top to bottom, it was a real card for real fight fans, rising stars and seasoned veterans alike. As you can see from my failed predictions above, I was clearly surprised at the outcome of many of these match ups, apparently being a lifelong fan of combat sports makes me no more qualified than flipping a coin to pick winners. Alas, another night of fights have concluded which means you get to see me play matchmaker again. Here’s what I think should be next for the 20 fighters who competed last night:

Chase Sherman – Yorgan De Castro

After a 2-5 run in the UFC, Chase Sherman (15-6 Career, 3-5 UFC) returned to the octagon after three straight wins on the regional circuit and a pair of bare knuckle bouts, and absolutely put on a clinic in his comeback fight. The Mississippi native was as impressive as he was exciting, and deserves an equally exciting and impressive matchup with Yorgan De Castro (6-1, 1-1 UFC). De Castro picked up a decision loss against Greg Hardy last week, so a top contender is out of the question, making sense to pair him up with Sherman who is getting back in the swing of things. Who doesn’t love a heavyweight slugfest on a fight card?

Ike Villanueva – Justin Tafa

COVID-19 conditions and empty arena’s or not, octagon jitters are alive and well for fighters making their first UFC walk. Ike Villanueva (16-10 Career, 0-1 UFC) felt those jitters in his knockout loss to Sherman. Keep in mind, he is 9-2 in his previous 11 fights outside of the UFC, and I have a hard time believing the UFC will not give him a second chance to stay on contract. A good test? Justin Tafa (4-1 Career, 1-1 UFC). Tafa also has a lone loss in the UFC to De Castro, and two bruising heavyweights who are known for standing right in front of their opponent is an even, exciting matchup for two men looking to generate career momentum.

Brian Kelleher – Sean O’ Malley

Fight promoters often say that the best way to get the fight you want, is simply to ask for it. Brian Kelleher (21-10 Career, 5-3 UFC) followed this strategy, calling out dynamic young fighter Sean O’ Malley (11-0 Career, 3-0 UFC) following his spectacular KO victory. While Kelleher’s win was at featherweight, he has fought many times at bantamweight before with no issues, and a high profile fight with a popular rising star in O’Malley could be just the type of bout he needs to jump from tough veteran to contender in the UFC.

Hunter Azure – Seung Woo Choi

Up-and-Comer Hunter Azure (8-1 Career, 1-1 UFC) Had his first smell of defeat at the hands of Kelleher, snapping his 8-fight win streak and slowing down the hype train a bit. I think the UFC realizes now that Azure needs a few tests against fighters who are also in their first couple of bouts in the big leagues, therefore matching him up with Korean striker Seung Woo Choi (8-3 Career, 1-2 UFC) is the next play. Choi earned his first UFC win in December of last year, and considering he has no fight booked yet, him and Azure would be a good test for each other to ear their keep in the league.

Omar Antonio Morales Ferrer AKA Omar Morales – Lando Vannata

Omar Morales (10-0 Career, 2-0 UFC) kept momentum rolling after finding a way to grit out a tough decision victory to keep his pro record unblemished. Clearly in the early stages of his career, I am not jumping to get Morales in the cage with a ranked contender yet. Morales was scheduled to fight Alexander Hernandez (I will discuss him in a bit) earlier this year, so I was considering squaring those two up in their next one. However, following a Hernandez loss last night, I thought a better fit for Morales would be a seasoned veteran who is coming off a win. Dynamic lightweight Lando Vannata (11-4-2 Career, 3-4-2 UFC) immediately jumped in my head. Vannata isn’t in a contender position at the moment, but he has several fight of the night bonuses and the only man to ever finish him in a fight is Tony Ferguson. I think that type of challenge can bring the dog out of Morales.

Gabriel Benitez – Joe Duffy

I am not sure when Gabriel Benitez (21-8 Career, 5-4 UFC) will fight next after his gruesome shin gash he suffered last night in his loss (If you are squeamish, I would avoid google images with this one). I also am not sure if Benitez would have lost at all if he wasn’t moving his hair out of his face every 5 seconds in striking exchanges. When he does return, I like Irish grappling whiz Joe Duffy (16-4 Career, 4-3 UFC) as his opponent. Both fighters are on back to back loss runs, and they both have 10 career submissions to their name. Duffy also has a heavy Irish following, exacerbated by his early career victory over world famous Conor McGregor in 2010.

Sijara Eubanks – Lina Lansberg

If I was in Sean Shelby’s (UFC Matchmaker) shoes, I don’t know what I would do with Sijara Eubanks (5-4 Career, 3-2 UFC). Her 4 losses are to tough competition, and her wins are against women she was heavily favored over. It feels like a top contender is too much, but an up-and-comer is a layup. The perfect middle is  Muay thai expert Lina Lansberg (10-5 Career, 4-4 UFC). Lansberg is coming off a loss to Sara McMann this January, and I think a tough battle between her and Eubanks would serve as a ticket to thrusting the winner back into contender status.

Sarah Moras – Alexa Conners (Invicta FC)

I’m going to keep it real, I don’t know if Sarah Moras (6-6 Career, 3-5 UFC) is going to hang on to her roster spot following her loss to Eubanks. That is far from a death sentence in MMA, fighters like Robbie Lawler, Matt Serra, and Fabricio Werdum have lost their jobs, only to return and win UFC Championships on their comeback run. So what do I think is next? Hopping over to women-only organization Invicta FC (who has close ties with the UFC) and take on one of their gritty roster members. Alexa Conners (5-4 Career, 1-4 Invicta) seems like the best first fight to get her legs back.

Thiago Moises – Stevie Ray

Following his “Where the fuck did that come from” leg lock last night, Thiago Moises (12-4 Career, 2-2 UFC) took a stab at last weekends winner Anthony Pettis, saying he would, “Like to welcome him back to the lightweight division.” I do not think this is going to happen for two reasons. 1. Anthony Pettis looks awesome at 170 lbs and should not start cutting weight again and 2. As tough as Moises is, Pettis isn’t coming back to 155 to chase a young stud that doesn’t have immediate promotional value.

So who am I thinking? Well rounded Scottish standout Stevie Ray (23-9 Career, 7-4 UFC). First off, they share a mutual win over Michael Johnson now, and it will be a fun challenge for Moises, considering I have trouble seeing Ray, a BJJ brown belt under Roberto Atalla, getting caught in bad spots on the ground like Johnson.

Michael Johnson – Bellator MMA Contract

Do I think Michael Johnson (19-16 Career, 11-12 UFC) is incapable of fighting in the UFC? Not at all, he certainly is. However, Johnson is approaching his 10 year anniversary in the UFC, and since his loss to current UFC Lightweight Champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, Johnson is 2-5 with three straight losses. He is only 33, and if you saw last night, he isn’t getting demolished in long winded beatings in these losses (excluding Khabib), but is it worth trying to grab another young fighter and hopping to get back in the win column? I say pop over to Bellator, still a big organization with big names, but not a bottomless pit you have to wade through to stay afloat.

Andrei Arlovski – Fabricio Werdum

Before his fight last night, my guess would have been that I would be encouraging the 41-year-old Andrei Arlovski (29-19 (2) Career, 18-13 (1) UFC) to hang it up. Much to my surprise, the 21-year MMA veteran keeps on rolling after a strong win last night. So what is my thought process now? Sharing a farewell fight with Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1 Career, 11-6 UFC). I think it would be awesome. Two former champions at the end of the road, leaving it all in the cage one more time to put a final stamp on their storied careers? Great for the old fans who have followed them for two decades.

Philipe Lins – Tai Tuivasa

I guess the theme of this fight night was young hype trains getting derailed. No one felt that more than 2018 PFL Champion Philipe Lins (14-4 Career, 0-1 UFC). With his four fight win streak snapped, the UFC is likely going to look for a fighter who is on a downturn looking for a win. Heavy handed Aussie Tai Tuivasa (9-3 Career, 3-3 UFC) fits that narrative. After winning three in a row in the UFC, Tuivasa has now last three straight, beginning to feel the wrath of the UFC’s top grapplers. Lins has a handful of submission victories and a BJJ black belt, so if he wants to stick around at heavyweight, Tuivasa could be  a matchup he finds favorable.

Ricky Simon – John Dodson

Coming into last night’s event with back to back losses, bantamweight Ricky Simon (16-3 Career, 4-2 UFC) squeaked out a very close split decision to get back in the winning column. If an immediate rematch does not happen, I would bet to say that a rising star like Simon would pair well with uber quick veteran John Dodson (21-11 Career, 10-6 UFC). Dodson is coming off of a win, and in his illustrious 16-year career has still never been finished. Simon has only one finish in his run, so being the first man to stop Dodson could be a notch to define him as a contender.

Ray Borg – Benito Lopez

Ray Borg (13-5 Career, 7-5 UFC) came back to bantamweight only to lose a very thin decision, but I think he should try to stay in the division due to the fact that he has had real trouble getting down to flyweight in the past. Borg is a rock solid striker, and I would love to see him throw with wild man Benito Lopez (10-1 Career, 2-1 UFC). Lopez is a new kid on the block, but he sets a pace that would be at the very least an interesting test for Borg to survive, if not be a fight of the night contender.

Drew Dober – Islam Makhachev

I was not right about most things regarding this event, but one assessment that was confirmed: Drew Dober (23-9 (1) Career, 9-5 (1) UFC) shined, solidifying himself as the best kept secret in the UFC. After his KO win, Dober called out Paul Felder, who was doing commentary and one of the very few in attendance. I cannot see that fight happening at all – following Felder’s loss to Dan Hooker, he was skeptical about wanting to continue competing, and a fight where Felder has everything to lose and nothing to gain isn’t going to be the fight to drag him back.

With that said, Dagastani standout Islam Makhachev (18-1 Career, 7-1 UFC) could be the HUGE leap Dober deserves following last nights performance. I have a suspicion that the UFC is going to give Makhachev to a top 10 fighter later this year, but if they struggle to make that happen, two stud lightweights in their prime will make for great action.

Ben Rothwell – Aleksei Oleinik

I have had a change of heart since last week when I was suggesting what could be next for Aleksei Oleinik (59-13-1 Career, 8-4 UFC). I figured the loser of last night’s co-main event would be best for him. Now after seeing the heavyweight landscape, and how strong Ben Rothwell (38-12 UFC, 9-7 UFC) looked in his second straight win, perhaps Oleinik is the better move? Both fighters are off back to back victories, both are veteran fighters who feel they are on the cusp of contender status, so I can see this as a good prelim fight on a Pay-Per-View in the near future.

Ovince Saint Preux – Chris Weidman

After losing his heavyweight debut, the only description of how Ovince Saint Preux (24-14 Career, 13-9 UFC) looked was: uncomfortable. I thought he was not nearly as fluid as he usually is, and clearly felt the mass of Rothwell in cage clinch situations. If he want to stay up at heavyweight, he is going to have to deal with a lot more big burly guys like Rothwell, and I am not sure that is the best career move.

I would prefer to see him drop back to 205 lbs and take on former UFC Middleweight Champ Chris Weidman (14-5 Career, 10-5 UFC). It has been tough recently for Weidman. Starting his career with 13 straight wins, he is now 1-5 in his last 6 fights. He made his debut at 205 lbs. last October, only losing to #1 Contender Dominick Reyes. I think Weidman owes it to himself to stay at 205 to fight lower ranked competition, and Saint Preux would love to return to display his size and speed to the former title holder.

Glover Teixeira – Thiago Santos

There cannot be anyone happier from last night than 40-year-old Brazilian veteran Glover Teixeira (31-7 Career, 14-5 UFC). He put on the performance of a lifetime in the most brutal fashion against a top 5 Light Heavyweight to extend his win streak to 4 fights, and slotted him about two, maybe even one big win away from a rematch with Jon Jones for a championship.

After beating the #3 fighter in the division, to me the only logical fight to make is against fellow Brazilian contender Thiago Santos (21-7 Career, 13-6 UFC). Santos is recovering from a knee injury he suffered in a title fight over Jones last summer, his only loss at 205 lbs in his career. He has to be thinking that a dominant win over Teixeira will get him automatically back to rematch contention, and Teixeira likely feels the same.

Man, a showdown between those two in Brazil with a sold out crowd would be beyond electric.

Anthony Smith – Corey Anderson

I think it might be a while before we see Anthony Smith (33-15 Career, 8-5 UFC) back in the cage. It is one thing to lose a fight, it is another to get knocked out, and its ANOTHER to absorb that much damage in 21 minutes of combat. He really should take his time coming back. This is only his second loss at 205 lbs (His only other was a loss to champ Jones), and he has beaten enough top-10 competition to show he does belong at the top of the Light Heavyweight Division.

In terms of scheduling and career progression, Corey Anderson (13-5 Career, 10-5 UFC) is in a similar spot. He was on a four fight win streak coming into February, only to be knocked out in devastating fashion by Polish punisher Jan Blachowicz. When both these two are ready and recovered, I would expect nothing but fireworks – considering they have six performance of the night bonuses between the two of them.

Hopefully you aren’t too sick of me, we have another event in two days. Enjoy everyone.