UFC 274 may have ended with a bang, but there was a whole lot of whimper along the way. Charles Oliveira made it clear that stripped of the belt or not, he’s still the lightweight king. Meanwhile Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas put together one of the worst title fights in the history of the UFC. And while Michael Chandler picked up a highlight KO for the ages, he carried a serious feeling of dread for Tony Ferguson’s ongoing MMA career.
So, will either Oliveira or Chandler get the Conor McGregor fight they’re searching for? Would the UFC ever consider booking Namajunas vs. Esparza for a third time? Did Brandon Royval just throw himself into the flyweight title contender’s circle?
To answer those questions – and a whole lot 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!
Another tough fight, another decisive victory for Charles Oliveira. At this point, getting hurt and knocked down seems more like a death sentence for his opponent than it does a sign that ‘Do Bronx’ himself might be in trouble. It’s become a huge advantage for him, that being flat on his back on the mat, slightly dazed, brings exactly zero threat that someone will chase him with followup shots—no matter how big a puncher they are.
After racking up his 11th-straight victory Oliveira made something of a non-callout callout of Conor McGregor. I get it, the ‘red panty night’ thing still holds some sway over fighters in the lightweight and welterweight divisions. But, I’d be lying if I said it felt like any kind of reasonable booking. McGregor has only looked less like a dangerous title contender lately. Although it may not have the curb appeal of a McGregor/Gaethje/Poirier fight, Islam Makhachev really looks like the top contender for the lightweight title right now, especially with Dariush recently going down to injury. It’s also as close as we can get to the Khabib/Oliveira fight that we’d all have loved to see. Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev is the lightweight title fight to make.
All things considered, Justin Gaethje got exactly the fight he needed. Fast paced, chaotic, lots of chances to exchange in the pocket. Charles Oliveira simply did it all better. Once ‘Do Bronx’ gets rolling there’s no safe place to hide, no outlet for the constant pressure he can insist on. He’s dangerous from distance, he’s dangerous in the pocket, dangerous in the clinch, and dangerous on the mat. Gaethje’s extremely violent in his own right, but there were places Oliveira could take him that Gaethje didn’t want to go. The same couldn’t be said of the (stripped) champ.
There’s still no doubting, however, that the ‘Highlight’ is a big problem for anyone who chooses to step into the Octagon against him, and he’s got plenty of fun fights left that he can take. Rafael Fiziev and Rafael dos Anjos have a booking coming up, the winner would be a great matchup for Gaethje—especially if it happens to be Fiziev. A Dustin Poirier rematch wouldn’t be a bad idea either, considering both men are coming off the same defeat. The other option I see would be a fight against Beneil Dariush, whenever he returns from injury. Since I don’t know when that will be, I’ll say Gaethje vs. Poirier 2 is the best booking for both men right now.
Carla Esparza is UFC champion again, I guess. What a miserable, god awful, painful title fight performance, not just from her but from Rose Namajunas as well. The worst part is that it kills absolutely all interest to see any kind of trilogy bout to make up for the complete lack of fight they just had. More than anything else, though, that means the upcoming fight between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk is unquestionably a no. 1 contender’s bout. The winner of that fight has to be next in line for the title. Carla Esparza vs. the Weili Zhang/Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2 winner is the only title fight to make.
No idea what was going through Namajunas’ head. Every time she actually brought the fight to Esparza she seemed to come away with solid offense. But she did so with so little frequency that the judges couldn’t see a way to give her the win. A miserable performance from her in a fight she was generally expected to walk through. Jessica Andrade just snagged a big win. Time for a trilogy bout. Andrade vs. Namajunas 3 will at least guarantee some action. Either that or the loser of Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk.
A crushing KO for Michael Chandler after a rougher than expected first round against Ferguson. He uncorked the kind of front kick that you expect to see in a Chuck Norris movie; a full on field goal that blasted Ferguson’s soul into the astral plane. After the win, Chander had no shortage of callouts. Most particularly he called for rematches with either Charles Oliveira or Justin Gaethje, whoever comes out of the main event with the belt around their waist. But, if that doesn’t happen, he had the provisional callout ready for a Conor McGregor fight in the welterweight division. I don’t know that McGregor wants any part of that, but I’d love to see him take it if he’s willing. Otherwise, the obvious fight to make would be against Islam Makhachev (or the Makhachev/Dariush winner, if that’s the way the UFC wants to go). I’ll say the UFC should go with the McGregor idea, as it seems like a truly fun booking. Otherwise, if the UFC does give the ‘Notorious’ a title shot, book Chandler vs. Makhachev just for the wrestling chaos.
It wasn’t the clean win Brown might have been hoping for, but he gutted through a couple of very bad spots to take over the bulk of the bout with his slick range strikes and powerful clinch knees. A hard fought decision that sees ‘Rude Boy’ on three straight victories and likely headed for higher profile tips. That could be a fight against Alex Morono, or perhaps Li Jingliang, but I like the idea of a bout against Gunnar Nelson. Nelson was once one of the highest profile prospects in the welterweight division. Time and a few losses have dimmed that somewhat, but he recently made a strong return, picking up a controlling decision over Takashi Sato. Brown may not be anything like Gunni’s level of grappler, but he also offers a whole different set of technical problems than what Nelson faced last time out. Seems like a good way to see if Brown can climb toward the top 15, and a great way to keep testing Nelson to see if he’s ready for another run. Nelson vs. Brown feels like a great test for both men.
I don’t care if it’s magic potion, a deal with the devil, or just a series of fitness DVDs, Francisco Trinaldo needs to let the world in on his anti-aging secret. Down below the middleweight division, fighters aren’t supposed to stay this competitive this late in their careers. But here he is at 43-years-old absolutely taking every round from Danny Roberts on a UFC event in 2022. A great win for him that should have everyone primed to see him in another feature action bout. And while I could list a bunch of different options—from guys like Tim Means and Matt Brown down to fighters like Mounir Lazzez and Sergey Khondozhko, there’s one dude I absolutely want to see Trinaldo face. Alex Morono has carved out his own spot as a thrilling mid-card action talent at 170 lbs, a fight between he and ‘Massaranduba’ seems like it’d be guaranteed fun. Morono vs. Trinaldo is just the kind of fight I need to see both these guys in.
When Brandon Royval is getting his fight, few athletes are more fun to watch. The man thrives in chaos, pushing a pace that even other flyweights find stress inducing. He may make a lot of mistakes on his way to a win, but he’ll just force as many out of his opponents. Matt Schnell had his opportunities for victory, but when he left his neck out for Royval, ‘Raw Dog’ pounced on it with a quickness.
That puts the Factory X fighter back on two straight wins after taking a couple hard losses, and it should put him in line for another top 5 flyweight fight. He called for a title shot, but I’d like to see him get one more victory. Unfortunately for him, two of them above him are the ones that gave him those back-to-back losses. Assuming that the UFC is still going ahead with Moreno vs. Figueiredo 4 and that Kara-France is still next in line, Askar Askarov and Alex Perez have a bout coming up. The winner of that fight would make an excellent top contender’s match for the crown. Royval vs. the Askarov/Perez winner seems like the best available next fight.
For a minute or two, it seemed like Cameron VanCamp had some right ideas for facing Andre Fialho. Notably, he kept baiting the Portuguese fighter into wild exchanges and finding odd angles to land big hooks. But, that was always going to be a shockingly dangerous game plan against someone with the power and tight technique that Fialho possesses. One wild exchange too many and VanCamp was collapsing to the mat with his chin on his knees. Immediately after the bout Fialho asked the UFC to put him on the upcoming Singapore PPV card next month, and it sounds like he got his wish. Given the short turnaround I’ll pick him to fight someone that should have some closer proximity for the fight. That could be Jake Matthews or Song Kenan, but I love the idea of Sergey Khondozhko. He’s spent plenty of time training at Tiger Muay Thai, seems like a possible bout he could take—and it’d be an awesome action fight. Andre Fialho vs. Sergey Khondozhko would be a banger.
OTHER BOUTS: Tony Ferguson vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira, Shogun Rua vs. Ed Herman, Ovince St. Preux vs. Maxim Grishin, Khaos Williams vs. Carlston Harris, Danny Roberts vs. Mickey Gall, Macy Chiasson vs. Mayra Bueno Silva, Norma Dumont vs. Leah Letson, Matt Schnell vs. David Dvorak, Blagoy Ivanov vs. Sergey Spivak, Marcos Rogerio of Lima vs. Jake Necklace, Cameron VanCamp vs. Yohan Lainesse, Tracy Cortez vs. Miranda Maverick, Melissa Gatto vs. Luana Carolina, Kleydson Rodrigues vs. Victor Altamirano, CJ Vergara vs. Francisco Figueiredo, Ariane Carnelossi vs. Kanako Murata, Lupita Godinez vs. Luana Pinheiro, Journey Newson vs. Mario Bautista, Fernie Garcia vs. Jay Perrin