UFC Wichita: Fights to make
All the best, most interesting, and unashamedly coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event in Wichita, Kansas.
UFC Wichita eventually ended up about as expected, provided expectations weren’t for it to over-perform. A Fight Night card packed with middling match-ups provided a few really cool moments, but a lot of fights best left forgotten as well. The most notable part of the whole thing – outside Nike Price’s shocking comeback KO – was the speed of the ESPN+ broadcast. Even with 7 decisions, the card still only clocked in at about five and a half hours. Good times.
With that said, has is Junior dos Santos a title contender again? Can Elizeu Zaleski finally get a big fight? What about Anthony Rocco Martin? Where does his win streak land him?
To answer these – and one or two other questions – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby method of fight booking from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy fight booking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “He got me with the head shot, made me bleed. Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘Mentoch’ (aka Ewan Ross):
Hi, I’m Ewan Ross (@Mentoch on Twitter), a Canadian with a love for all things weird MMA. While I’ve been an MMA fan since Rampage knocked out Chuck – and I appreciate the finer points of a technical ground game – I’m really just here for when people’s balls are hot, or when a bag of ice spills across the cage. I spend more of my week listening to Bloody Elbow podcasts than doing anything else, so its an honor to contribute to one of my favorite websites. Thanks Zane!
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS
Ewan - With three straight wins – and now a knockout of the #3 ranked heavyweight – JDS needs to be moved to the very front of the line into the suddenly rather crowded field hunting down Daniel Cormier. I’d be fine with any matchup between JDS, Ngannou, Miocic, or Cormier at this point, but I think the fight of those that interests me the most is a trilogy fight with Stipe Miocic. Dos Santos vs. Miocic III
Zane - What happens to JDS next is largely going to be based around what happens to Daniel Cormier next. The UFC and Cormier both want that fight with Brock Lesnar, but what does Lesnar want? Is he just using the UFC to get more money out of the WWE? Or is it really time for another comeback from the Brockness Monster? If Brock comes back, I absolutely unquestionably want to see JDS vs. Ngannou. Dos Santos is a more consistent and patient range fighter than just about anyone Ngannou has faced — at least other than Overeem, and he’s more durable than the Demolition Man. Either man would be an unquestionable no. 1 contender with a win. If Lesnar doesn’t return, however, Ngannou vs. DC seems likely. At that point, a trilogy with Stipe would be fine, although I might rather see him against the Overeem/Volkov winner. JDS vs. Ngannou is the fight to book, if DC is fighting Lesnar.
Ewan - I love Derrick Lewis more than life itself. Even in a loss he manages to almost intentionally Scott Smith his opponent. He’s the best. I only want to see him in stupid slugfests, so lets pair him against the last guy that JDS defeated, in Aussie Tai Tuivasa. I might prefer to give Tuivasa a softer touch coming off his first loss, but everyone else is booked, and this fight leads to someone going to sleep. Lewis vs. Tuivasa
Zane - This bout was sort of a perfect encapsulation of why Derrick Lewis can beat 90% of the heavyweight division and why he likely will never consistently win against the top 10%. He is phenomenally dangerous at all times. JDS is likely lucky that his leg got in the way of that leaping right hand Lewis threw after getting doubled over by Cigano’s spinning back kick to the gut. But, for a huge heavyweight with tons of power, Lewis seems so continuously hurt-able. He’s great at rallying from adversity, but the best won’t give him that chance. Considering it sounds like he’ll need knee surgery – reports are he tore his ACL/MCL/Meniscus – then what about a fight with Cain Velasquez. It’s been years since Cain has hit a takedown in the Octagon. Time to prove he still can, or risk getting slept again. Derrick Lewis vs. Cain Velasquez (when both men have good knees again).
ELIZEU ZALESKI DOS SANTOS
Ewan - The man with too many names continues to wrack up finishes in explosive fashion. At this point he’s won 7 fights in a row, and while he’s not gonna get the top 5 fight he asked for, its past time for him to get a name opponent. The Leon Edwards//Gunnar Nelson fight next week in London seems it’ll produce the perfect opponent for Zaleski. Zaleski dos Santos vs. Edwards//Nelson Winner
Zane - Zaleski definitely deserves a bump into a bigger fight, but figuring out just what that fight would be could be a bit of a challenge. The winner of Edwards vs. Nelson is a strong possibility, but also seems like both men would want a bigger fight than Zaleski off a win as well. Otherwise much of the top 10 is peppered with vets looking for high profile bouts: Maia, RDA, Lawler, & Woodley all need fights, but does Zaleski really make sense for any of them? Vicente Luque called out Neil Magny, which probably means that fight books itself. End of the day, I’ll say the UFC should push to book Zaleski against rankings adjacent fighter Michael Chiesa. Chiesa likely wants something bigger too, especially off a win over Condit, but beating Zaleski would put numbers by his name and make bigger fights more likely. And it’s the kind of higher profile opponent Zaleski deserves. Zaleski vs. Chiesa is a solid booking.
Ewan - Welcome to the team Niko Price! I thought you were one of my guys when you KO’d Randy Brown from your back, but to do that to Tim Means, and then call out an accused rapist afterwards? You get a gold star, sir. It seems highly doubtful he’ll get the fight with Abdul-Razak al-Hassan he requested – given al-Hassan’s legal troubles – so for his next fight, I just want some assured violence. Mike Perry’s coming off a loss, but I really don’t care. Price vs. Perry
Zane - Price definitely deserves all the wild action fights he can eat after a win like that. A bout against Mike Perry would indeed be bananas, but Perry has been losing a lot lately, and putting him in with another power-punching wildman may just deepen the skid. Instead, I’ve got two bouts I’d really love to see Price in right now: fights with Li Jingliang and Geoff Neal. Neal is a prospect on a serious run right now, and Price would be a fun test to see if he can keep his composure against a less polished talent that has the ability to KO him at any time. And, of course, the Leech is a prime candidate for getting blasted by punches early, and then rallying back to drown opponents in volume late. Considering that I feel like Neal can build his career off a lot of fights right now, I’ll say book Niko Price vs. Li Jingliang. It’s the kind of funky action fight my soul craves.
Ewan - I don’t think Ivanov won this fight, but it was pretty close, and the guy got stabbed in the damn heart, so I’m OK with good things happening to him. Its heavyweight so who knows? But, I guess I’d like to see him fight the winner of Andrei Arlovski & Augusto Sakai next month. Ivanov vs. Arlovski//Sakai Winner
Zane - Ivanov seems to have slotted himself in perfectly as a mid-tier test for the heavyweight division. A chance for seasoned vets to see if they are still the elite fighters they’re supposed to be, and for young fighters to prove that they have what it takes to beat tough, composed opposition. To that end, after fighting a couple vets, I think it’s time for Ivanov to give a young prospect a shot. Even coming off a loss, I’d be damned interested to see how Tai Tuivasa approaches the Bulgarian counter-puncher. Ivanov isn’t nearly the challenge dos Santos was, so win this fight and Tuivasa can prove he’s still climbing back to the top. And if Ivanov gets the win, it’s a chance to keep building his resume from being the regional champ that only beat poor competition. Blagoy Ivanov vs. Tai Tuivasa for a chance to see just how firm a gatekeeper Ivanov can be.
Ewan - Benny’s looking pretty old out there. The hair’s starting to go salt and pepper, and he’s never really been much of an athlete to begin with, but he’s still as crafty as ever on the ground. I want to set him up with fights where we can see some fun grappling, so lets pair him with Gilbert Burns, and see what happens. Dariush vs. Burns
Zane - Dariush really does look the part of a wizened veteran out there, doesn’t he. So much so that the fact that he’s younger than Drew Dober just seems absurd. This win over Dober isn’t likely to bump him back into the lightweight rankings, or get him a way bigger fight, but it does solidify his position as a borderline elite test for 155 lbs. A fight with Francisco Trinaldo would be a solid meeting of two such talents, as would Nik Lentz. But if he’s really going to inhabit that role, then a fighter looking to climb the ranks like Gilbert Burns makes a lot more sense. Drakkar Klose just squeaked out a fight against Bobby Green and – although he’s been at this game a half decade less than the Kings MMA fighter – he’s also a year older than the Iranian-American. Give Klose a chance to get another name win. And Dariush a chance to get another good win to push back toward the top 15. Dariush vs. Klose makes good sense right now.
ANTHONY ROCCO MARTIN
Ewan - Rocco is on a roll — having now won 4 straight, and 7 of his last 8. Martin probably deserves a ranked opponent at this point, however it seems doubtful that any ranked opponent is going to take that fight. The lone exception might be young upstart Geoff Neal, and if that could get made for the Minneapolis card that seems like an awesome fight for the hometown Martin. Martin vs. Neal
Zane - Martin’s post-fight callout of “the toughest guy in the world” is just priming him to get an unknown super-tough fight like Neal or Alexey Kunchenko. And it’s probably not what Martin meant. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t be down to see either fight, but my guess is he’s thinking someone more along the lines of Cowboy Oliveira, Diego Sanchez, or even more hopefully someone up in the rankings. If he were to get exactly what he wanted, the UFC could throw him at Demian Maia, but it’s not actually a fight I feel like I need to see for Maia. End of the day, I’m going to say book Martin vs. Alexey Kunchenko. It’s not a high profile bout, but the Russian’s massive unbeaten streak and pair of high profile UFC wins would probably be just enough of a selling point to make the fight happen. Martin vs. Kunchenko for the be-careful-what-you-ask-for call-out.
Ewan - The most inactive division in the sport has finally started to stir to life with four Bantamweight fights booked for May. Combine that with Julianna Pena & Sara McMann being out on maternity leave its kinda tough to find a fight for Kunitskaya. That said, a trilogy fight between her and Tonya Evinger seems like it could generate some interest. Evinger is coming off two losses, but given that she’s 1-0-1 against Kunitskaya I think running it back a 3rd time could be fun. Kunitskaya vs. Evinger
Zane - With the way that division is limping along, Evinger vs. Kunitskaya III could easily be what we end up with. But, I don’t feel a great need to see it. A fight with the Eubanks/Ladd winner seems like a more interesting prospect, and I’d also be interested in seeing Kunitskaya take on either Ketlen Vieira when she returns from injury or even a winner/loser fight with Raquel Pennington. Off a win like this there’s even a chance they throw her at Holly Holm — after all, without Nunes defending until the fall, what’s Holm gonna do? Eventually, Kunitskaya vs. Ladd/Eubanks winner seems like the best path to push any of those three women into a much bigger fight down the road.
OTHER BOUTS: Curtis Millender vs. Bryan Barberena, Tim Means vs. Ben Saunders, Ben Rothwell vs. Oliynyk/Harris loser, Drew Dober vs. Yancy Medeiros, Omari Akhmedov vs. Uriah Hall, Tim Boetsch vs. Trevor Smith, Sergio Moraes vs. Michel Prazeres, Marion Reneau vs. Tonya Evinger, Grant Dawson vs. Moffett/Mitchell winner, Julian Erosa vs. Austin Arnett, Maurice Greene vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Jeff Hughes vs. Adam Wieczorek, Matt Schnell vs. Luke Sanders, Louis Smolka vs. Renan Barao, Alex Morono vs. Dwight Grant, Zak Ottow vs. Chad Laprise, Alex White vs. Steven Ray, Dan Moret vs. Matt Frevola