UFC 237: Fights to make
All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book, following their latest fight card in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
UFC 237 is in the books. And while it brought about some big changes, especially for the UFC strawweight and featherweight divisions, it was overall an event that will rank pretty low on the historical PPV totem pole. Outside the main event, Jose Aldo’s fight with Alex Volkanovski was the other ‘big’ fight meant to carry the main card. The bout crowned a new contender, but otherwise fell entirely flat. Throw in another brutal Anderson Silva leg injury and a lot of bouts without any real narrative to them and the whole night mostly ended up being about Jessica Andrade’s strawweight title win.
So, how quickly does Joanna Jedrzejczyk try and get that title back? Is anyone excited for Volkanovski vs. Holloway? And what will it take for the UFC to stop booking yesterday’s PPV stars in fights they don’t seem to be able to win?
To answer all these questions – and not really any others – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking method of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talents against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some fantasy fight-booking magic, leave a comment below starting with, “I’m rock hard right now with emotion.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses below to join me for the next fight card.
This week’s winner is BE reader BPCollins (AKA ‘Brandon’):
Hey I’m Brandon. I once photoshopped Zane and Wilson Reis’ face onto the poster of Old Yeller. My dreams include touching John Dodson’s hair and for Zane Simon to follow me on twitter (@BrandonPCollins) where I post my fanart. I also write poems.
Brandon - Good lord. Jessica Andrade is one of the most terrifying women on earth. What an absolute tractor. After surviving a drubbing in the first, Andrade came out swinging and put her style to work. She shredded Rose with hooks from the clinch, pushed her to the fence, and finally pile drived her skull through the center of the earth. When the chips were down after a poor night for the Brazilians, Andrade bucked up and took the gold home for the crowd. She should absolutely face the winner of Tatiana Suarez vs Nina Ansaroff, but for now we’ll allow Jessica to bask in her vicious finish and her status as the scariest woman south of 125 lbs.
Zane - There is no doubt in my mind that the moment Namajunas’ head hit the canvas, Joanna Jedrzejczyk started prepping her cut back down to 115 lbs. The former champion has to feel like she absolutely has Andrade’s number and could beat her just as handily as she did the first time. Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen. Obviously, there’s also a case for Rose Namajunas to get an immediate rematch. I’d have zero problem with that; she was largely wiping the floor with Andrade before the loss. But, Namajunas may not actually be interested. She seemed relieved to no longer have the belt, and is already talking about possibly retiring. If she doesn’t want a title fight right now, there are plenty of other women who do. End of the day, with UFC 238 just around the corner, it feels like the right time to let someone new have a chance. In this case, the winner of Nina Ansaroff and Tatiana Suarez at that next PPV. If the event were further away, I might suggest Joanna get an instant title shot. Instead, let Joanna fight someone like Michelle Waterson or Weili Zhang, let Andrade try and defend the belt, and they can both build some heat for a rematch, or a string of possible new fights. Jessica Andrade vs. the Ansaroff/Suarez winner seems like the title fight that makes the most sense.
Brandon - After an absolutely dominant first round, Rose found herself on the receiving end of one of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history, and arguably THE most in the history of the strawweight division. She came out and started fast, looked slick, but was unable to overcome the style-matchup which most predicted would be the end of her reign. Yet she was amiable in the her post-fight, seemingly finding peace in no longer having the belt sag around her waist. Still only 6 years into her career, Rose is likely to continue to improve and be a stalwart in the best division in women’s MMA. If Rose decides to return to the sport, a rematch against old rival Carla Esparza would be an opportunity for Rose to showcase how far she’s come since her UFC debut.
Zane - Namajunas talking about her relief at no longer having the belt, and talking about her possible retirement may mean she’s just going to be done fighting. If that’s the case? Good on her. She made her run, she put on some great fights. Enjoy doing other things. If she does want to keep going, she could argue for the rematch, but I’d rather see someone that wants the belt more get that fight. This could be the time to take trilogy fights with Jedrzejczyk or Torres, but she already beat Joanna twice, and I’m not sure anyone’s clamoring for the Torres bout again. There’s also a possible rematch with Carla Esparza that seems like it could bring things nicely full circle for ‘Thug’ Rose. If the UFC wants to do something new, the Suarez/Ansaroff loser or the Gadelha/Markos winner would be fine choices. I think I’d lean toward the Carla Esparza rematch, however. A win would re-assert how far Rose as come in the years since the first fougth. And a win for Esparza would be huge for putting her back among the elite. Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza 2 sounds like it’d be a good way for Rose to find a next fight with some meaning to it.
Brandon - What do I say? Cannonier is powerful and explosive and has just defaced a national Brazilian monument. His next fight should’ve been against the entirety of that Brazilian crowd, but that crowd is infamously partisan and I digress. Cannonier’s next fight will be interesting as he now finds himself on collision course with middleweight’s elite. Chris Weidman is in a desperate need of a step down from elite competition, and having him fight Cannonier would probably be cruel, but it’s completely in line with how the UFC insists on booking the All-American. If instead we want to save Weidman from potential brain damage, a bout against Jacare Souza would be a slightly more demanding version of the Dave Branch fight, while also offering Cannonier another marquis name to cement himself in the evolving middleweight elite.
Zane - Even if Anderson Silva is nothing like the fighter he once was, he’s still a huge addition to Cannonier’s resume. Cannonier looked nicely cautious against Silva, sticking to low kicks and long punches to keep out of the way of counters. Silva may have been injured coming in, but that doesn’t change that Cannonier’s approach to fighting him paid off huge. Derek Brunson just got himself a damned ugly win over Elias Theodorou, a fight between he and Cannonier would be just right, right now. Other options would be Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares, and Jacare Souza. Still, I’ll say book Cannonier vs. Brunson. It’s a solid matchup for Cannonier to prove he’s really upped his takedown defense, and a chance for Brunson to prove that he really is reinventing himself against a much more dangerous striker. Cannonier vs. Brunson for a very middleweight top 10 battle.
Brandon - If a spider has eight legs, Anderson has used up two of his. Circumstances or not, Anderson now has 1 win in his last 8 fights, and that one itself is highly debatable. Anderson’s infamous durability is beginning to erode as his body fails him, and his next serious consideration should be as to his future in the sport. Most of the men of his era have moved on to their promotional retirement homes, but if he does opt to continue fighting, the UFC needs to stop booking him in fights against prospects. What was the purpose of having Andy square off against the thunderous Cannonier? Surely they had to have considered there was a strong possibility this fight would have left everyone leaving sad. The better option is legacy fights. A showdown between Brazilian legends against Shogun Rua would be the culmination of an often-requested dream fight. Or a Uriah Hall match would give Anderson plenty of opportunity to set up his strikes. But deep down in our hearts we all feel the beating of the fight we actually need. It’s time for the prettiest man in the UFC to step forward and fulfil his destiny. Anderson Silva vs Elias Theodorou is an essential fight for the history of MMA.
Zane - Assuming everything isn’t as bad as it looked in the cage, and assuming that the UFC isn’t going to exit the Anderson Silva business as long as he could be a draw in some other promotion, then Anderson Silva is going to need another fight. Is Hector Lombard still around? That might be about the right speed right now. I’ve also campaigned for a bout between Silva and Gokhan Saki in the past and think the UFC should be looking at bouts like that instead of trying to see which ranked middleweight can pick off the former GOAT next. Hell, book him against BJ Penn if the UFC is going to insist on keeping him on fight cards (please don’t actually do this). If Lombard’s still there, book him against Silva. If he’s gone? Wait until Saki is healthy. If all of that fails, I guess he could fight Uriah Hall, but I’d rather he didn’t.
Brandon - Alex the Great put on his hardhat and went to work against the greatest Brazilian to grace the cage. Needling offence, cage control and a pace that the decorated Aldo simply could not match led Volkanovski to a sweep on the scorecards and a position as the number one contender. After this impressive performance there is no question as to Volkanovski’s next opponent. He has torn his way through the division since his arrival, stringing together 7 wins and 7 impressive performances. Once the champion emeritus Max Holloway heals from his battle with Dustin Poirier, he should be facing down the Australian tank in his next bout—ideally as the co-main to Bobby Knuckles vs Stylebender.
Zane - This is both the best and worst result for the UFC. On the one hand, Aldo had already lost twice to Max Holloway, and Frankie Edgar has never really been a PPV draw for the promotion. A new face in contention is exactly what the division needed. On the other hand, this was about the most lackluster way for Volkanovski to announce himself as a challenger for the belt. He did a great job neutralizing Aldo, and... not a whole lot else. Still, he’s clearly the man at 145, and Frankie hasn’t fought for over a year now. Book Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway, and let Edgar get another more meaningful win before he contends for the title again.
Brandon - It’s broadly clear now that Aldo’s time is limited within the sport, and while he is absolutely capable of competing in the deep end of the division he once reigned over he is unlikely to ever hold gold again. Aldo’s final bouts are thus better spent on fulfilling the fan’s lust for fun and interesting bouts. Anthony Pettis, was always the dream but seems to have gotten comfortable in his new home at welterweight, so a lightweight fence with Edson Barboza would be enjoyable. If he insists at featherweight matching him up with Josh Emmet who fights at such a low pace it will give Aldo plenty of time to work. Otherwise, and this may be extreme, but a move to Bellator to face newly crowned double champ Patricky Pitbull would be of great interest to me and give the legend a chance at snagging a belt in a major organisation.
Zane - It seems less likely than ever that Jose Aldo’s retirement tour ends with him recapturing the featherweight belt and riding off into the sunset. Some part of me still wants to see Cub Swanson get that long awaited rematch with his former (very brief) nemesis. But, at this point in Cub’s career, it doesn’t feel like the most meaningful fight. So the question is, what prospect should Aldo try to kill off next? Yair Rodriguez? Josh Emmett? Zabit Magomedsharipov? What about Brian Ortega? I get the sneaking suspicion that Ortega is going to jump at the chance to take that fight if the UFC will let him have it. And with a title loss already under his belt, it feels less like potentially killing off a new contender than some of these other options. Part of me says, maybe we should book ‘T-City’ in something a little softer? But, he beat Frankie Edgar, how soft a rebound does he really need? Jose Aldo vs. Brian Ortega it is, and damn it if I’m not already looking forward to the idea.
Brandon - Am I completely sold on Aldana? No, but having a jab in women’s bantamweight puts you head and shoulders above most of the competition. However, on the feet she hasn’t got much else, and Bethe’s grittiness allowed her to adapt in the second round to start landing over Aldana’s predictable combinations. Yet following a competitive second, D1 Bethe decided to self-sabotage by shooting herself in beneath the more athletic fighter and quickly submitted to the Mexican’s slick armbar. Now on a three fight march, Aldana is in a firm position to besiege the top 10. Yana Kuntiskaya has recently appeared in the bantamweight top 10 with her win over Marion Reneau so why not that for a gangly striking matchup.
Zane - If fans were hoping that Aldana would once again look like the killer she was back in Invicta, this wasn’t exactly the performance to convince them. For the most part, Aldana looked tentative and unwilling to deal with Correia in exchanges. The result being that she really let a much shorter, slower fighter figure out her offense and have a whole lot of success before a busted takedown attempt turned into an instant submission for ‘Robles.’ Basically, even off her third straight win, the UFC shouldn’t probably be that eager to rush her into a much tougher fight. A bout against Yana Kunitskaya would be just about the best proving point for her. Another fighter whose technical acumen seems to come and go depending on the situation. But one who can really compete with Aldana for size, and is pretty dedicated to producing offense minute to minute. Can Aldana compete with someone she can’t physically overwhelm, or would this just be the Leslie Smith fight all over again? Time to find out. Aldana vs. Kunitskaya to see which woman is ready try competing with division’s top contenders.
Brandon - It’s as if millions of Connor Ruebusch’s suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. A wonderfully tight and composed kickboxing performance from Alves culminated in an absolutely disgusting knockout as the Brazillian begins to re-establish himself with his best win since Colby Covington. Welterweight is so deep that you could reach into a hat and pull an exciting matchup for Alves, but I like violence so I’d be especially interested in a contest against the most fire MMA warrior in all of China. Li Jingliang should be the next man to stand across from Warley Alves. Or if you’d like to save the Leech to knockout some nobody next time the UFC goes to China, Max Griffin is always down for a scrappy kickboxing match.
Zane - It’s come with a couple of ugly losses, and perhaps an undeserved win, but Warlley Alves has quietly built up a really decent 7-3 record in the UFC welterweight division with all but two of those wins coming by way of stoppage. His most recent wins have showed him to be a more patient, careful version of the fighter he started out as—even if that KO loss to James Krause set him back a bit. Unfortunately finding a good winning matchup out ahead of him is a little difficult at the moment. Most of the upper tiers of welterweight are either coming off losses (like Gunnar Nelson and Alex Oliveira) or are already booked. And it seems unlikely that fighters like Edwards and Ponzinibbio would have interest in giving him a shot when they’re both talking about paths to title contention. Since he’s had his ups and downs, instead, I’ll say give Alves a top prospect on the rise. Someone looking to snag a quick spot among the elite. A dangerous striker, with speed and power. Warlley Alves vs. Goeff Neal would be just right.
Brandon - Ronny Barcelona is a barbarian, but the slick kind who can probably also riverdance. After a competitive start by the late notice Huachin, Raoni put him down with a crashing right and mauled him on the floor, eliciting a last second stoppage from the ref and the ire of Dominick Cruz. Bantamweight is a veritable fire ant farm of rabid finishers, and while the originally scheduled match-up of Said Nurmagomedov is appetizing I’d rather not kill the momentum of either prospect. Instead let’s smash two Brazilian cinder-blocks against one another and see what happens. Give me violence. Give me Douglas Silva de Andrade.
Zane - Here’s the thing, Raoni Barcelos at this point really isn’t a prospect. He’s a great fighter in his prime, and the UFC needs to stop slow-playing him, or by the time he reaches big fights, that prime may already be over. Barcelos is a 34-year-old with 7 years of pro fight experience to his name. He’s a powerful striker, wrestler, and grappler. Huachin provided a bit of a shock with his slicker-than-expected counter-punching for a round. But Barcelos found his timing and his range and put him away with ease in the second. I’d like to see him get a fight like John Lineker or John Dodson next. Even Alejandro Perez wouldn’t be bad. But all three of them are coming off losses. Unless he’s going to crash the elite (which seems very unlikely right now), his only other choice of a ranked opponent is Cory Sandhagen. I’d be all about that fight, but get the feeling the UFC has bigger plans for him. End of the day, put Barcelos in there with Ricky Simon. Simon has held a rotating no. 15 ranking, ever since his win over Rani Yahya, and he’s been an absolute wild-man so far in the UFC. Barcelos vs. Simon would be a great way for one of these two 135ers to make sure they get a ranked opponent next time out.
OTHER BOUTS: Laureano Staropoli vs. Dwight Grant, Thiago Alves vs. Alan Jouban, Bethe Correia vs. Jessy-Rose Clark, Ryan Spann vs. Magomed Ankalaev, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Gian Villante, Thiago Moises vs. Devonte Smith, Kurt Holobaugh vs. Jason Gonzalez, Sergio Moraes vs. Alex Garcia, Clay Guida vs. Jim Miller, Luana Carolina vs. Sabina Mazo, Priscila Cachoeira vs. Veronica Macedo, Carlos Huachin vs. Boston Salmon, Viviane Araujo vs. Cortney Casey, Talita Bernardo vs. Gina Mazany