UFC 238: Fights to make
All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest PPV card in Chicago, Illinois.
A strong fight card on paper played out as a largely thrilling event for fans. Henry Cejudo overcame early adversity to put a beating down the stretch on Marlon Moraes and capture his second title. While Valentina Shevchenko utterly dominated Jessica Eye in the co-main event to retain her flyweight belt via second round knockout. Meanwhile bantamweight suddenly has a rush of potential title challengers, with both Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan making their case for a chance at the triple champ.
So, is the UFC really going to try and make Cejudo defend the flyweight belt? Is there any flyweight in the UFC that makes sense for Shevchenko right now? And, while Cerrone vs. Ferguson 2 would be thrilling, what will it take to get a little more movement in the lightweight title picture?
To answer these questions – and many more – I’ll be using the matchmaking strategy laid out by the Joe Silva/Sean Shelby era of UFC fight booking. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured opponents against one another. If you’d a shot at creating your own fantasy matchups, leave a comment below starting with, “Feel the muzzle-fuzz. It’s there. The power of the mustache.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time.
This week’s winner is BE reader ‘xyzxzy94’:
Hello all, this is xyzxyz94. I’ve been watching MMA for about four years now and have been training BJJ for the past two, where I have developed a nice fundamental game of going almost exclusively for calf slicers and scarf hold chokes. Great base to build on... I’m also a long time reader of these columns but this is my first time contributing. I’m not using any particular formula for my picks, just fights I’d like to see and think are realistic given the rest of the division, upcoming cards, etc.
XYZ - As he alluded to during media week Henry can really pull a rabbit (or was it a snake?) out of a hat. Confusing gimmicks aside, you’ll be hard pressed to find 3 better names in a row on anyone’s record and Henry deserves more respect from fans. The UFC has been giving the Flyweight division a slow, tortuous death but this seems like a perfect opportunity to put the final nail in the coffin. With bigger fights to be had, I’m sure Henry will be on the same page and the Flyweight belt will be vacated and never spoke of again. Cruz is the sexiest option here, but Sterling’s the rightful contender and this division needs some normalcy.
Zane - Is Cejudo really going to go back down to flyweight and defend that belt? Is the UFC really keeping flyweight around? Because if he is and they are, I’ve got to say they’ve killed every ounce of interest possible in that fight over the past few months. There are 9 flyweights on the roster right now. 9! All meaning in that division has been stripped out of it. I’m much more interested to see how Cejudo does against Sterling or Sandhagen or Yan than I am to see him in a rematch against either Benavidez or Formiga. That’s just the way it is. If he and the UFC feel he must drop back down, then clearly the Joe-B/Formiga winner is next. But otherwise, give Aljamain Sterling his crack at the belt. And if not, let Petr Yan make his run, or see if Sandhagen can get by Assuncao. Any of those fights would be a ton of fun.
XYZ - Well can’t say I saw that coming. Marlon looked real questionable when things got tough and he needs a strong comeback if he wants a shot anytime soon. With that in mind, I heard Dom Cruz plans to be back by the end of the year. Both are coming off a title losses, and this matchup offers each a chance to quickly get back into the picture.
Zane - A rough landing for Moraes’ fast rise to the bantamweight title picture. He looked like he had this fight in complete control early, but then Cejudo took it off the rails and things fell apart in a hurry. Still, he’s one of the most creative, powerful strikers in the division and there are no shortage of bouts out there for him. If Cory Sandhagen loses to Raphael Assuncao, he and Moraes would be a thrilling fight, and Pedro Munhoz is sitting out there with his own rough loss tonight as well. It’s too bad Dominick Cruz likely won’t be back anytime too soon, because I’d love to see Moraes try his hand at stopping Cruz’s funky movement. It’d be off three straight losses, but there’s Cody Garbrandt in need of a next bout himself. I really want to see Munhoz and Lineker fight, so it’s hard for me to break that up, but it’s also hard not to feel that Moraes is the biggest part of that triangle of violent Brazilians right now. If Lineker beats Font, book him vs. Moraes. If he doesn’t, then book Marlon Moraes vs. Pedro Munhoz.
XYZ - Coming in Chookagian - Calderwood seemed like a title eliminator but I don’t know if that’s the case now. I don’t think the commentary team gave her the most fair analysis, but Chookagian’s performance still wasn’t one that demanded a title shot. Liz Carmouche beat Chookagian back in 2016 and TKO’d Valentina back in 2010, so if she can make it past Roxanne Modafferi next month there’s a more compelling story there and this division desperately needs that. If she doesn’t win give Chookagian the shot.
Zane - The easy answer is that Shevchenko is going to fight Katlyn Chookagian, but... that doesn’t seem like a fight anyone really NEEDS to see. It still might happen, however matchmakers could get a bit more creative if they want to make a women’s flyweight title fight that’s competitive. It could be time to push Shevchenko back toward bantamweight and the winner of Nunes vs. Holm. Or to take advantage of the fact that Suarez doesn’t seem like she’s quite as ready as she should be and push for Jessica Andrade vs. Valentina Shevchenko. In fact, let’s just do that. Andrade is complete tank and as tough as they come. Shevchenko may just bust her up and out-muscle her, but it’s far and away the best test out there for her—at least against someone capable of making 125 lbs. And neither woman has a great next fight lined up. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade for a women’s flyweight superfight.
XYZ - Don’t really have much to say here. She should take a lengthy break then fight a top 10 fighter. Let’s go with Jeniffer Maia.
Zane - It’s not that Eye didn’t deserve her shot. She earned it. The last woman she beat is probably going to get the next shot at the belt... off the opening prelim of this card (which says a lot in its own right). But, this loss did show that there’s a serious dividing line between Shevchenko and the rest of her division. When Eye is ready to come back, Joanne Calderwood would be a good bounce-back fight, or maybe a bout against Jennifer Maia. Eventually, however, I think she’d be the perfect matchup for the loser of Roxanne Modafferi vs. Liz Carmouche. All three women are tough vets who have been through multiple ups and downs in their career to carve out solid spots in the current flyweight top 10. Eye would make an interesting matchup for whoever comes out on the wrong side. Jessica Eye vs. the Modafferi/Carmouche loser seems like a fight that one of these women should have had before.
XYZ - Well that wasn’t ideal. Exactly what needed to happen for the UFC to justify not giving him a title shot. I’m not the UFC though, so I’m going to do the obvious thing and match Tony up with the Khabib/Poirier winner.
Zane - Ferguson may say he doesn’t care about a title shot after that disappointing result against Cerrone, but he’s still the guy who deserves it most, unquestionably. His combination of pace, pressure, and variety are just an impossible puzzle for most fighters to solve. Otherwise, much like Cerrone, fights with Justin Gaethje or Conor McGregor are out there and would be absolute thrillers if the UFC wanted to go that way. It’s just, we need some movement in this lightweight division. We need more title fights lined up, and Tony Ferguson seems like the answer of the moment to keep things from stagnating (provided he doesn’t get hurt again). Tony Ferguson vs. the Poirier/Nurmagomedov winner. He’s all alone as lightweight’s top contender.
XYZ - Controversial ending aside, that fight wasn’t about to get any better for Donald. Tony said he’d be willing to run it back, but competitively I don’t think there’s a need for that. Gaejthe is the obvious choice going by the rankings – and no one would complain about seeing it – but this seems like a good time for some creative matchmaking. Have Donald vs Aldo headline the November Brazil card in Jose’s retirement fight.
Zane - The UFC could definitely run this fight back, but at the same time, late punch aside, it really didn’t feel like this result was a fluke. Cerrone hung tough in there and got his shots in, and yet he was getting badly busted up by the end of the second round. If Cerrone isn’t going to get a rematch, I still see zero reason he couldn’t (or shouldn’t) fight Conor McGregor. That’s an awesome fight that would be as fun as anything the UFC could put McGregor in. That said, there’s no banking on McGregor as a next fight. There’s too much money at play, and with his brief retirement and legal woes, too much potential that he doesn’t fight anytime soon. So, how about a fight between Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje. It’s a fantastic action fight, the kind of thing everyone would show up for, and it doesn’t punish Cerrone too much off a rough/weird loss. Otherwise there’s always the loser of Khabib/Poirier, but that’s still a few months away. Cerrone vs. Gaethje for all the action violence lightweight can deliver.
XYZ - Awesome fight. Jimmie looked more elusive than ever, and Yan showed a wide array of weapons and some awesome scrambles. Might not be quite the performance we were expecting from Yan, but I’m just happy that even in a loss Jimmie won’t lose too much stock. Considering Aljo’s performance, I don’t see a title shot next for Yan. Have him take on the winner of Assuncao/Sandhagen for the next title eliminator.
Zane - Yan called for a title shot after his win over Rivera and he’s definitely well on his way to one, if not quite there yet. If Lineker beats Font again, the UFC could definitely book Lineker vs. Yan. A fight with Cody Garbrandt would also be possible, but Garbrandt is in a really strange space off three straight losses. The best way forward for Yan is to find that surefire number 1 contender’s bout. And that fight is against the winner of Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Sandhagen. Sandhagen has charged through the ranks at bantamweight and it’s clear that the UFC sees him as a title contender in the very near future. If he beats Assuncao, a fight between he and Yan would be must-watch stuff and a great way to build a championship bout. If Assuncao wins, then Yan would become the latest prospect to test himself against the division’s gatekeeper to the belt. If Yan can beat Assuncao, that title shot has to be his. Petr Yan vs. the winner of Assuncao/Sandhagen is the way to go.
XYZ - Mixed feelings on Suarez here. She showed off her great chain wrestling through the first couple rounds, but as she got tired Ansaroff’s footwork proved problematic. She’s still probably the most deserving of all potential contenders right now, but I doubt it’s happening next. A matchup against Michelle Waterson or Joanna Jedrzejczyk (whichever doesn’t get the next shot) will give her a great opportunity to address her issues and cement her claim.
Zane - Putting her in a title fight at strawweight suddenly feels a bit premature. But, there aren’t many better options. She could fight Michelle Waterson in another top-contenders bout, but Waterson is a tiny strawweight and it doesn’t seem like a matchup that’d do her any favors. If Andrade is willing to wait the UFC could also do Suarez vs. Jedrzejczyk. That would be a much more meaningful top contender’s bout, especially if it were 5 rounds. If Suarez could win that, she’d prove she was ready for the champ. And if she couldn’t, it perfectly builds Joanna back for the Andrade rematch that she’s gotta be gunning for. If Andrade doesn’t want to wait around, then yeah, Suarez has earned her shot. But, I’d rather see Suarez take on Joanna Champion to really build a title fight for either woman.
XYZ - This was an exciting fight, start to finish. Any normal human would have been put down at some point by the offence Aljamain put on here, and I really hope he’s not punished for going to a decision. This should be an easy call; him vs the new champ. Let’s bring some order back to this division.
Zane - Incredibly impressive performance from AlJo in Chicago. He fought Munhoz’s fight, in the pocket, with prolonged exchanges, and he won it—largely behind his jab and front kicks. A brutal win that shows he can beat people in their strengths even at the elite level. That should leave him well set up for a title shot, although Petr Yan made his own excellent case for one. Raphael Assuncao is the only other man in the running, and both he and Sterling have bad losses to Moraes. So, if Assuncao beats Sandhagen (and he might) then the title picture gets that much cloudier, but the UFC’s disinterest in Assuncao as a challenger makes it feel a lot more likely that Sterling cuts him in line. Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight title.
XYZ - Standout performance from Grasso. We already knew she had fast hands, but I was particularly impressed by her moments in the clinch—and not mentally backing down when Karolina came forward strong in the second. I’d like to see her grappling tested again next. Carla Esparza is available and also coming off a win and a Tatiana Suarez beatdown. This would be a great co-main for the upcoming Mexico card in September.
Zane - Very much a ‘coming of age’ performance from Alexa Grasso, who has always been fast and had decent technique on her strikes, but seemed to lack the composure to make it count like it seemed it should. Against Kowalkiewicz, she kept her form tight and her footwork consistent and delivered a great win. A bout against Xiaonan Yan seems like an easy pick, but it’s also a pretty lazy option. Fights against Cynthia Calvillo, Tecia Torres, or Carla Esparza would carry a lot more meaning coming off a win like Kowalkiewicz. Unfortunately, Torres is on a hell of a skid right now, and Calvillo is injured. That likely makes Grasso vs. Esparza best fight for Grasso.
OTHER BOUTS: Jimmie Rivera vs. Cody Stamann, Blagoy Ivanov vs. Sakai/Tybura winner, Tai Tuivasa vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Nina Ansaroff vs. Weili Zhang, Pedro Munhoz vs. Sandhagen/Assuncao loser, Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Cortney Casey, Calvin Kattar vs. Yair Rodriguez, Ricardo Lamas vs. Cub Swanson 2, Xiaonan Yan vs. Tecia Torres, Angela Hill vs. Virna Jandiroba, Darren Stewart vs. Peter Sobotta, Bevon Lewis vs. Julian Marquez, Eddie Wineland vs. Raoni Barcelos, Grigory Popov vs. Carlos Huachin, Katlyn Chookagian vs. Valentina Shevchenko, Joanne Calderwood vs. De La Rosa/Lee loser