UFC Sao Paulo: Fights to make
All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book, following their latest event in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
So, the UFC’s latest trip to Sao Paulo didn’t exactly come off with a bang. Jacare vs. Blachowicz wasn’t necessarily booked to be an all-time thriller, but the hope was that they’d at least entertain. Add in a funky split draw in the co-main event and it made for a night of fights that left many fans feeling like they’re now really ready for the upcoming non-event weeks.
So, did Jan Blachowicz just un-make his case as a potential title challenger, even with a win? Who’s the next mid-tier brawler that Charles Oliveira will have to fight? And is James Krause really making a late career turn as a knockout artist?
I’ll be answering those questions – and maybe one or two more – using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methods from years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Watch out for the UFC on ESPN 7: Overeem vs. Rozenstruick - Fights to make article, where readers will get their own chance to do some fantasy matchmaking for UFC 245.
Now let’s get to the fights...
There are always a few fighters spread across the UFC’s many divisions who seem like they’re perennially knocking on the door of a title shot they’re just not going to get. At this moment, Jan Blachowicz is one of those men. For every highlight finish he’s created, he’s also put together a totally unthrilling decision. Couple that with some big losses and an inability to create hype with fans, and it’s the perfect recipe for Jon Fitch territory. He could try to get back his loss to Thiago Santos, whenever Santos’ leg his healed. Or see if he can get that Anthony Smith fight in place of Corey Anderson. But really, I think that a rematch between he and Anderson is just about the best bout the UFC can make between two men they seem to having left treading water in the top 5. The winner of that bout should be a surefire top contender. But they may just as likely watch Aleksandar Rakic make an end run around them. Corey Anderson vs. Jan Blachowicz 2 is absolutely a top contenders bout—even if it doesn’t end up creating a top contender.
Jacare may feel he got robbed out there, but I don’t think there are many fans clamoring to see him get a chance to get this one back. His single-shot striking style, combined with Blachowicz’s back-foot jab, just didn’t make for a pretty fight at all—or one that would emphasize Jacare’s skills. A bout with Glover Teixeira would be fascinating, given Glover’s tendency to rely on power striking and his own takedown game. And Misha Cirkunov’s chin issues always make for a wild fight. Between them, I think the Teixeira fight feels like the most ‘must see.’ Two longtime veterans who have made a career out of their power and lockdown top control BJJ. And both at the point where they’re closer to wrapping up their careers than anything. Book Jacare vs. Glover Teixeira and give one of these old guys a chance to add another moment to their highlight reels.
It didn’t start well for Mauricio Rua, but he found his way back into his bout against Paul Craig, and fought it out for a draw. That said, there aren’t a whole lot of fights out there that I’m dying to see him step back into. Bouts with Ed Herman or Chris Weidman would be fine (actually that Weidman fight may be one of the few I’d really be interested in, in a morbid sort of way), but since Rua and Craig both want a rematch, that seems like an easy bout to re-book. Craig clearly has something to prove—he started this fight hot, and just didn’t have the consistency to keep it in control. And for Rua, bouts that he can stay in and be competitive are worth enough to not let them slip away quickly. If, for some reason, injury or timing mean the rematch can’t happen, then book Shogun vs. Weidman. Otherwise Mauricio Rua vs. Paul Craig 2 is a totally fine fight.
Performances like this are all the more impressive for how rare they really are. Charles Oliveira was supposed to blow by Jared Gordon, but in the UFC it’s rare that even good match-ups make for easy wins. Fighters are just too tough and too well rounded; Oliveira is clearly on a tear. His game has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two years, and the UFC needs to get him some elite match-ups while the iron is hot. Bouts against Alex Hernandez, Islam Makhachev, Kevin Lee, or even Dan Hooker would all be great. Of those, the Lee fight feels like the most high profile bout he could get. Lee has gone through some rough struggles, but picked up a KO of the Year contender in his re-introduction to 155. A bout with Oliveira would be a great way to see if Lee can remold himself as a top contender. And it’s a great chance for ‘Do Bronx’ to prove that he can beat fighters who have the potential to hang with him on the floor and push his durability. Charles Oliveira vs. Kevin Lee is a fantastic elite lightweight battle... but he’ll probably end up with Scott Holtzman or something.
All credit to Sergio Moraes, he came out with exactly the right idea, and got Krause down immediately. But, Krause showed great composure and veteran savvy and kept Moraes in the kind of prolonged exchanges that absolutely sapped the Brazilian’s gas tank. The result is two straight KOs for Krause, who was somewhat defined by his lack of punching power as a technical, scrappy lightweight. No telling how fast he’ll get back into the cage, since he seems pretty dedicated to his coaching career these days, but he’ll be a thrill to watch whenever he returns. Fights against Alex Oliveira, Rocco Martin, Michael Chiesa, or Li Jingliang would all make excellent options. Of those, I’ve really been enjoying the technical development of Rocco Martin into a slick counter-puncher with a patient, technical style. That seems like it’d match-up excellently with Krause’s more dedicated combination work behind the jab. James Krause vs. Anthony Rocco Martin would be a great technical striking battle.
Exactly the kind of introduction to featherweight Ramos had to be looking for. He avoided Garagorri’s kickboxing early, got in on a takedown, took the back, and ended things with a swiftness. That should lead to a more meaningful fight, especially with his 5-1 record in the Octagon so far. To that end Hakeem Dawodu, Zubaira Tukhugov, and Sodiq Yusuff all seem like great opportunities. And while a fight with Dawodu seems like it would be a firefight standing, I’m not especially convinced it wouldn’t lead to something similar on the mat. So instead, I’d go with that Tukhugov fight. The Chechen is a powerful, wild fighter in all areas, which should create fascinating exchanges both on the feet and on the floor. Ricardo Ramos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov would be action from start to finish.
The last couple years of Trinaldo’s career have seen him turn into a much more low-output version of the powerhouse fighter he started his UFC career as. And it’s made for some unfortunately dull performances. Which means he needs an opponent that can really push the pace on him, force him into a firefight. Nik Lentz has a solid history as an aggressive wrestle-boxer, as does Beneil Dariush and Scott Holtzman. The Holtzman fight seems like it’s somehow the most practical of those. He’s coming off a great highlight KO of Dong Hyun Ma, and has always been ready to throw down everywhere. If he can beat Trinaldo, that could put him into the edges of the top 15. And if Trinaldo can neutralize him, then maybe it’s time he gets another bout closer to the division’s elite. Scott Holtzman vs. Francisco Trinaldo is a great way to see which man can stake a claim to a spot in the top 15.
This was a remarkable comeback win for Brown, who looked on his way to getting firmly out-grappled by Alves before snapping up that triangle in the second round. It’s not perhaps the performance to suggest that Brown has closed the gaps in his defensive wrestling, but he’s clearly a dangerous fighter at all times—and one who has been steadily improving. Bouts with Alex Morono, Lyman Good, Nicolas Dalby, or Danny Roberts would all make a lot of sense for Brown right now, as an evolving action fighter in the welterweight division. Of all those bouts, I feel like the Danny Roberts fight would be the most guaranteed fun. Two fast, rangy action fighters who are capable of taking bouts to the ground, but rarely control them there. Should make for a good time. Danny Roberts vs. Randy Brown is guaranteed to be wild.
OTHER BOUTS: Jared Gordon vs. Damir Hadzovic, Andre Muniz vs. Rodolfo Vieira, Antonio Arroyo vs. Julian Marquez, Wellington Turman vs. Anthony Hernandez, Markus Perez vs. Trevin Giles, Sergio Moraes vs. Court McGee, Luiz Eduardo Garagorri vs. Zhenhong Lu, Bobby Green vs. Nik Lentz, Warlley Alves vs. Max Griffin, Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Charles Rosa, Ariane Lipski vs. Veronica Macedo, Isabella de Padua vs. Diana Belbita, Tracy Cortez vs. Bea Malecki, Vanessa Melo vs. Liana Jojua