Somehow all 30 fighters at UFC 259 made it to fight night. The evening didn’t exactly go off without a hitch (thanks to a little creative rule interpretation from Petr Yan), but three titles were put on the line and a whole bunch of necessary divisional sorting was done. Jan Blachowicz still sits on the throne at light heavyweight, while Israel Adesanya returns to his middleweight kingdom. Amanda Nunes is in bad need of some competition, if not at 145, then at least at 135. And we’ll just have to see Yan fight Aljamain Sterling one more time.
So, is the UFC ready for a light heavyweight title fight with a combined age of 79? Is there anything at all for the UFC to do with the ‘Lioness’? And just what in the hell was Petr Yan thinking?
To answer those questions – and much much more – 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.
The fight may not have been a thrill, but Blachowicz clearly had everything to lose by getting reckless with the ‘Last Stylebender.’ Well on the wrong side of 35, the light heavyweight champ isn’t likely going to see a second title reign if he drops the belt early in this one. But he worked expertly behind his jab and body kicks, kept his flurries short and unambitious, and took advantage of Adesanya’s willingness to trade single shots at range without pushing the pace.
After the win, Blachowicz made it perfectly clear who he thinks should be next in line: fellow longtime veteran and former title challenger Glover Teixeira. Having just turned 41 last October, Teixeira is on a 4-fight winning streak and served as backup here—just in case Adesanya couldn’t make it to fight night. The battle of crafty vets really feels like just the right bout. And in the meantime Prochazka, Reyes, Ankalaev, and Rakic can work to separate themselves and pick out who the next young man to and take on the old lion will be. Teixeira vs. Blachowicz for the battle of old man strength.
Izzy made his bid for a second belt, but unlike Blachowicz, the stakes for him weren’t near as high. He lost a slow, and somewhat uneventful decision, which likely hurts his stock as a PPV draw just a little in the short term. But, he’s still got his middleweight belt and, over the long run, the more chances he has to headline fight cards, the more familiar fans will be with his personal brand. Since he didn’t pack on the pounds, a return to 185 and a next title defense should be relatively straight forward business. The only trouble is, there’s no one waiting for him back down in his home division.
Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa is the only real top contender’s bout booked, but those are two men that Adesanya already beat convincingly. Just for his own victories over other contenders, a win for Whittaker over Costa likely puts him back in front of the champ. But, if Costa wins? That’s less convincing, and a fight like Till vs. Vettori might just decide the next contender instead. Whittaker vs. Adesanya seems likely with a Whittaker win, everything else is far less obvious.
She absolutely crushed Megan Anderson, just as expected, so a trip back to Bantamweight is probably next up for Amanda Nunes. But what’s waiting there? I guess if Julianna Pena gets by Holly Holm that’s an option. Aspen Ladd and Yana Kunitsakaya and Irene Aldana are out there too, but Ladd’s hurt, Kunitskaya barely scraped out her last win, and Aldana is coming off her own loss to Holm. None of those really feel like great options. Truth be told, Amanda Nunes just needs to sit and wait and see what happens. Hopefully one of the women at 135 makes a serious bid for contention, but until that happens, she’s got no clear fight to make. Nunes vs. Pena is the hope, off a win over Holm, but that’s nowhere near a guarantee.
PETR YAN & ALJAMAIN STERLING
For the first time ever in a UFC title fight, a champion lost his belt via DQ. Yan had Sterling down on one knee, took a look, asked his corner about it, gave it all a bit of a long think, then kneed Sterling straight in the temple, knocking him silly. A completely stupid move from Yan, that lost him a fight he otherwise looked to be very much in control of heading for round 5. Sterling is the new champ, but he hardly sounded happy about it. By all indication the UFC will be running this one back right away. Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling 2 is the clear fight to make, just as soon as the UFC can book it.
Exactly the kind of stifling performance Makhachev was expected to get, but wrapped up with a nice submission victory just to prove the point that the Dagestani isn’t out here playing for points. After the bout he called for someone in the top 5. I’m not sure if he’ll find anyone lining up to fight him and make that happen, but it definitely feels like it’s past time for the 29-year-old to get a prominent booking. Fights with Carlos Diego Ferreira, Dan Hooker, Paul Felder, or Al Iaquinta would all be worth a look. Charles Oliveira also seems like an obvious choice, but Oliveira has been turning down anything without a lightweight title attached to it. Doubt Makhachev is the man to make him change his mind. Since everyone else is coming off a loss from that list though, how about Beneil Dariush? Dariush has been on an absolute tear. Win that fight, give some of these top 10 LWs a chance to get back a W of their own, and then take that step into the very best. Islam Makhachev vs. Beneil Dariush seems like a great next step for Nurmagomedov’s heir apparent.
Not the thriller we were all hoping for out of a Rakic vs. Santos fight, but the Austrian is showing the kind of patience a fighter needs to survive at the elite levels of the sport. He may not have done a lot of damage to Santos, but he also kept Santos from doing any significant damage to him. And with a fighter like ‘Marretta’ in front of you, that’s no easy feat. That should line Rakic up for a real top contenders bout next. I’d love to see him fight Magomed Ankalaev personally, more-so just because I don’t think either man proved that they’re the kind of challenger to get fans excited with their most recent bouts. A fight between them would be that much more of a proving point that they deserve a shot. If Rakic has his sights set higher, however, then the obvious bouts to target are Glover Teixeira and the winner of Dominick Reyes vs. Jiri Prochazka. Teixiera’s probably getting the title shot, so put Rakic in there with the Reyes/Prochazka winner and see if he can’t find the thriller he missed here.
Following his victory, Cruz had a strange call-out all ready to go. Some guy named Hans Molenkamp, a marketing executive with Monster Energy. Cruz claims that Molenkamp has been holding fighters’ contracts hostage in order to get personal PR for his Instagram. Not sure if the UFC will endorse Cruz going rogue for a charity match, but it definitely seems to be something Cruz is passionate about. Otherwise, in the UFC, there are two obvious fights for Cruz I want to see right now: Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar. I’ve been wanting to see that Edgar/Cruz fight for years, even back when there were two weight classes between them. It just seems like it could be an insane amount of fun. Still, given Edgar’s recent KO loss, Aldo is clearly the much more easily hype-able fight right now. I guess I’ll put my ‘Answer’ vs. ‘Dominator’ dreams aside and say Jose Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz is a must book fight.
It may not have been the most electrifying win of the prelims, but Kyler Phillips just threw open the doors to bantamweight division—to the point that he could fight just about anyone between the top 30 to the edges of the top 10 and it’d make sense. Song Yadong is a seriously elite prospect and Phillips gave him hell for three solid rounds for the decision win. That could line him up with bouts against Raoni Barcelos, Chris Gutierrez, Merab Dvalishvili, Ricky Simon, or Cody Stamann. But, I like a bout with former Song Yadong opponent and perennial borderline top-15 talent Marlon Vera. Vera has been a hell of a difficult challenge for any and every prospect looking to prove that they’re an elite fighter in the UFC. Seems like exactly what Phillips needs. And given Vera’s momentum stealing, muay thai style, it seems guaranteed to be a thriller no matter how it goes. Marlon Vera vs. Kyler Phillips should be electric.
I needed to see it to believe it, but Askar Askarov absolutely dominated Joseph Benavidez. Not just on the mat, not just in the clinch, but standing too. He had Joe-B’s number everywhere. While that may put the former multiple-time title contender on that long ride out into the sunset, it also puts Askarov square in line for a shot at gold. If he doesn’t want to wait until Moreno vs. Figueiredo 2 is over, he could fight the winner of Perez vs. Schnell or something. But, with flyweight the way it is right now, I don’t see the point. Askarov has a signature win to claim his spot as top dog. Time to take advantage. Askar Askarov vs. the Figueiredo vs. Moreno 2 winner. Should be a hell of a fight no matter who’s wearing the belt.
A spectacular comeback for the City Kickboxing talent, who looked absolutely overwhelmed by Bontorin on the ground early. Still, Kara-France showed great poise in defense with his opponent draped all over him hunting for the submission, and turned a very short window of opportunity into a huge stoppage victory at the end of the first round. That win should line the New Zealander up for a bigger fight next time around. And with Alex Perez fighting Matt Schnell this coming May, that really seems like the only bout primed to to offer Kara-France the right step up. Perez will likely have bigger fights on his mind if he gets the victory, but with Moreno/Figueiredo 2 already in the UFC’s plans and Askarov seeming like the next contender after, Kara-France vs. the Perez/Schnell winner seems like the best option for a top-shelf flyweight action bout.
OTHER BOUTS: Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green, Thiago Santos vs. Volkan Oezdemir, Casey Kenney vs. Enrique Barzola, Song Yadong vs. Nathaniel Wood, Joseph Benavidez vs. Schnell/Perez loser, Rogerio Bontorin vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov, Tim Elliott vs. Dvorak/Paiva winner, Jordan Espinosa vs. Tyson Nam, Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Danilo Marques, Carlos Ulberg vs. Aleksa Camur, Sean Brady vs. Muslim Salikhov, Jake Matthews vs. Claudio Silva, Amanda Lemos vs. Hill/Yoder winner, Livia Renata Souza vs. Mizuki Inoue, Uros Medic vs. Jordan Leavitt, Aalon Cruz vs. Brok Weaver, Trevin Jones vs. John Castaneda, Mario Bautista vs. Pingyuan Liu