UFC 251 – 8/13
All-Time – 26-45
With UFC 251 in the books, the UFC’s Fight Island endeavor is off to a good start. No travel issues, no positive COVID tests among fighters, and the UFC landed amount of PPV buys (1.3 Million!).
With 13 fights in the books from Saturday night, I break down what should be next for each fighter – win or lose – from UFC 251. Let’s jump in.
Davey Grant – Jack Shore vs Aaron Phillips winner (Wednesday)
The first winner of the night was English brawler Davey Grant (12-4 Career, 3-3 UFC), who knocked out Marvin Day with a few minutes left on the clock. This was Grant’s first KO victory in the UFC and his first back to back victory in the UFC as well.
Davey is tough and wildly entertaining, and would be a perfect main card slot on a cable TV card in England (if sporting events with fans will return soon). The winner of Wednesday’s bout between undefeated Jack Shore (12-0 Career, 1-0 UFC) and Aaron Phillips (12-3 Career, 0-0 UFC) would ensure that a young, hungry prospect will give him the slugfest that makes him popular.
Martin Day – Nathaniel Wood vs John Castaneda loser on July 25th
Martin Day (8-4 Career, 0-2 UFC) is clearly a fighter who belongs in the UFC but is off too a rough start. Following a close decision with Pingyuan Liu in 2018, he was dropped in a competitive fight this Saturday, still searching for his first victory inside the octagon.
In a little less than two weeks, young British prospect Nathaniel Wood (16-4 Career, 3-1 UFC) will square off with UFC newcomer John Castaneda (17-4 Career, 0-0 UFC) on Fight Island. I think the fighter who falls short would make for an appropriate “loser gets released” type of fight in the fall.
Karol Rosa – Tracy Cortez
Brazilian rising prospect Karol Rosa (13-3 Career, 2-0 UFC) cruised go victory on Saturday, marking a fresh start to her UFC journey and clearly ready to move up in competition. Contender Series Alum Tracy Cortez (7-1 Career, 1-0 UFC) seems like a perfect career alignment for a fight.
They both have less than three UFC fights, in their mid 20’s and share a mutual win over Vanessa Melo. The victor can evolve from the feel out stage of being a prospect, and start to dive in with some veterans.
Vanessa Melo – Faith Van Duin (Invicta FC) at Featherweight
I think Vanessa Melo (10-8 Career, 0-3 UFC) is going to be released from the UFC shortly. She has lost three in a row, hasn’t won a fight on the organization and missed weight, a bad competition to keep your job.
Melo can join the ranks of fighters who have been cut from the UFC who try to crawl their way back in the organization, by heading over to all women’s promotion Invicta FC and strong together some wins.
A foundational first fight is journeywoman Faith Van Duin (6-4 Career, 2-3 Invicta). Van Duin has fought Cris Cyborg for an Invicta Championship, and has some name recognition but has lost 3 of her last 4, sharing a mutual loss with Melo – Irene Aldana. A good litmus test on if Melo can hang in the promotion is taking this fight.
Raulian Paiva – Raoni Barcelos (Bantamweight)
While it’s hard to hold missing weight against a fighter in such strange times and circumstances, I’m not sure why Raulian Paiva (20-3 Career, 2-2 UFC) even fights at 125 lbs. he is 17-1 at 135, dropped weight to enter the UFC and has gone 2-2, he’s also 5‘8”and not too small framed for 135 lbs fighters either. After missing weight, I’d like to see him move up a weight class and fight fellow Brazilian Raoni Barcelos (15-1 Career, 4-0 UFC).
Barcelos is on a hot streak, but hasn’t beaten a jaw dropping opponent besides Said Nurmagomedov, so this fight could serve as a good launching point for both fighters. Feels like a good matchup for a prelim fight on a future PPV.
Marcin Tybura – Tai Tuivasa
Marcin Tybura (19-6 Career, 6-5 UFC) is in a difficult position that I usually refer to as fighter limbo. By fighter limbo, I mean that everyone he loses to is really good, and everyone he beats is usually at the prospect or unpopular stage, leaving him stuck.
He has back to back victories following Saturday’s win over Maxim Grishin, but he hasn’t had a true notable win since his Stefan Struve victory in 2018. Tai Tuivasa (9-3 Career, 3-3 UFC) is an exciting personality with ballistic power, who just so happens to be on a three fight losing streak. While it seems like a backtrack for Tybura to fight someone like Tuivasa, the name recognition factor can help Tybura string the wins together to enter contender status.
Maxim Grishin – Todd Duffee
Marcin Tybura is about as tough as a test a newcomer in the UFC can get, and Maxim Grishin (30-8-2 Career, 0-1 UFC) came up short during the tough test. I’m sure he will stick around, and while he lost he clearly appears capable of staying in competitive fights with veterans.
Veteran UFC power puncher Todd Duffee (9-3, 1 NC Career, 3-2, 1 NC UFC) seems like a great matchup for the PFL veteran. While Duffee only has 13 pro fights, he’s been active in the UFC for nearly 11 years, and creates a high risk but manageable test for Grishin’s second run.
Leonardo Santos – Diego Ferriera
Leonardo Santos (18-3-1 Career, 7-0-1 UFC) got the win on Saturday, but likely not in the way he imagined he would. Following a stern two point deduction after repeated low blows and illegal strikes from Roman Bogatov, Santos was able to earn a decision victory and extend his record of 7-0-1 in the UFC and remains undefeated at lightweight this year.
At 40 years old with a beyond elite grappling pedigree, I think the move is to fast track Santos at lightweight with his limited time. Diego Ferreira (17-2 Career, 8-2 UFC) is red hot on a six fight winning streak coming off a submission victory over Anthony Pettis. The two could battle out to see who emerges as a legitimate contender in a stacked 155 division.
Roman Bogatov – Scott Holtzman
A bad look for a hot prospect’s UFC Debut, Roman Bogatov (9-1 Career, 0-1 UFC) appeared to be en route to defeating a strong competitor, but then got in his own way and racked up countless illegal strikes to lose on the scorecards after a two point deduction. He can clearly hang in the UFC, but is going to need to show the organization that this type of performance won’t be repeated.
Scott Holtzman (14-3 Career, 7-3 UFC) has been in the UFC for nearly 5 years and coming off a win vs Jim Miller. A classic talented prospect vs gritty veteran matchup can give Bogatov room to get back into graces with the UFC.
Makwan Amirkhani – Ryan Hall
In his stunning UFC debut where he knocked out Andy Ogle in 8 seconds, Makwan Amirkhani (16-4 Career, 6-2 UFC) put the fight world on notice as featherweight’s new rising star, and promoted him accordingly. He experienced a few hiccups over tough competition vs Arnold Allen and Shane Burgos, but Amirkhani is back in the win column and needs a big splash in his next appearance.
Ryan Hall (8-1 Career, 4-0 UFC) is the awkward grappling phenom who’s obscure guard pull style to avoid striking confrontation has made him wildly unpopular with live audiences, and he is avoided by nearly the entire featherweight roster, unable to secure a bout in over a year.
Amirkhani would be the best grappler in terms of prime activity that Hall has ever faced, and stepping up to fight him locks in a ranked opponent, allowing Mr. Finland to potentially make a statement.
Danny Henry – Grant Dawson
While he has lost back to back fights in the UFC, Danny Henry (12-4 Career, 2-2 UFC) had faced brutal competition early in his run, and will certainly get more chances to succeed in the organization.
As it stands, he is likely going to have to stand in as a gatekeeper for young talent, which is what he should be for rising star Grant Dawson (15-1 Career, 3-0 UFC). Dawson is a 26 year old submission wizard who has looked flawless since his UFC debut last year. Henry needs to prove he can defend submissions and defeat great grapplers, here’s his chance.
Muslim Salikov and Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos – Immediate Rematch
Sean Shelby must get migraines about having to book fights at welterweight. There’s about 30-40 recognizable names to manage, Theres star power at the top making it tough for new names to break through, and serves as a landing spot for many lightweights who no longer want to cut weight funneling into the division year round.
Because of this, and the fact that their fight on Saturday was a close decision – why not just have Muslim Salikov (17-2 Career, 4-1 UFC) and Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos (22-7 Career, 8-3 UFC) run it back? It was a fun matchup, both fighters are in similar places in their career, and it’s hard to piece together welterweights at the middle level as it is. If Abdul Razak-Alhassan wins on Wednesday, maybe we have him fight Salikov instead, but that’s all I’ve got so far.
Jiri Prochazka- Corey Anderson
The toughest test of the night not involving Jorge Masvidal’s six day notice title fight was UFC newcomer Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1 Career, 1-0 UFC) who earned an earth shattering knockout over former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in his UFC debut.
The former Rizin challenger shot immediately up to 7th in the World, and now is in a position where the UFC will likely take him in one of two directions. One, give him a similarly ranked fighter to Oezdemir in a slower build of his brand, or keep fast tracking him against a top 4 opponent.
My guess is that the UFC will opt with the former. 8th ranked Corey Anderson (13-5 Career, 10-5 UFC) was in a title eliminator in February and right in Prochazka’s level. It’s an exciting fight, and perfect for a cable TV headliner to help build Prochazka’s brand.
Volkan Oezdemir- Nikita Krylov
Former title contender Volkan Oezdemir (17-5 Career, 5-4 UFC) Is back in the loss column following Saturday’s tough knockout loss. He was coming off back to back wins, and losing to a fighter in their debut at his level is a tremendous setback.
I think time will give him the benefit of the doubt when we see how dominant Prochazka is in the future. For now, Oezdemir is clearly top ranked, and should fight someone ranked in his next bout. Nikita Krylov (26-7 Career, 2-2 UFC) fits the bill. He is coming off an upset over Johnny Walker, and his two UFC losses are against top 5 talent. I can easily see this as an early main card PPV bout this fall.
Amanda Ribas – Jessica Eye
After making quick work of Paige VanZant, Amanda Ribas (10-1 Career, 4-0 UFC) is making it clear how great she can be in the women’s flyweight division. While she’s only four fights in, I think a fast track big test should be on the menu to launch her into contender status with a win.
Jessica Eye (15-8, 1 NC Career, 5-7, 1 NC UFC) makes the most sense to me. Eye is coming off a loss to Cynthia Calvillo, she’s not on a major tear right now and she competes against top ranked talent. She serves as a great litmus test for if Ribas belongs amongst the best yet.
Paige VanZant – Heather Hardy (Bellator)
I think this is the end of the road for Paige VanZant (8-5 Career, 5-4 UFC) in the UFC. She’s 2-4 in her last 6 with the organization, and those two wins are over fighters who have been released.
She is a free agent, and has been open about how she makes less fighting in the UFC than her social media ad posts bring her. With her husband in the Bellator organization, I can easily see her continuing her journey over there.
I think that a fight against pro boxer and Bellator flyweight Heather Hardy (2-2 Career, 2-2 Bellator) could generate enough commercial success to headline a Bellator event. Hardy has brought fans over from boxing that could make for a high profile bout, and Hardy’s grappling is limited, allowing VanZant to take a fight where her submission defense issues aren’t as easily exposed.
Rose Namajunas – Weili Zhang for the UFC Strawweight Championship
After avenging her loss in a tough fight and back in the win column, Rose Namajunas (9-4 Career, 7-3 UFC) really has two options in the eyes of the UFC. She will either rematch Andrade in a third fight now that it is one win a piece, or Rose will fight current champion Weili Zhang (21-1 Career, 5-0 UFC) for the title.
One of the major reasons I like Rose for an immediate title shot, is because Zhang doesn’t have any organic contenders outside of her. Joanna Jerdrezjczyk and Zhang had a close fight in March, but the UFC is better served having Jerdrezjczyk earn that shot after a win in her next appearance. From a marketability and competitive matchup scenario, Rose for the belt is the fight to make.
Jessica Andrade – Rematch with Joanna Jerdrezjczyk
Although the first fight was a unanimous decision, Jessica Andrade (20-8 Career, 11-6 UFC) kept her fight with Joanna Jerdrezjczyk competitive stars a time in her career where she was cutting way too much weight to get to 115.
It appears that she has straightened that out now, and with both fighters coming off of losses to top tier talent, a bout between them seems to make the most sense. The winner would likely be on the doorstep of a title fight, and with two former champions knowing that is on the line, it can make for fight of the night level chaos.
Petr Yan – Aljamain Sterling for the UFC Bantamweight Title.
Newly crowned champion from Russia Petr Yan (15-1 Career, 7-0 UFC) dominated José Aldo in what was a horribly late stoppage courtesy of referee Leon Roberts, nevertheless he has captured the vacant crown.
I was critical of the matchup in my preview on Friday, and the result of the fight confirmed my suspicions. I still am not sure why the UFC booked Aldo over clear top bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling (19-3 Career, 11-3 UFC).
Sterling has currently won 7 of his last 8, beating the top dogs the UFC has to offer. I think an argument can be made that Sterling has a better resume as of late than Yan, the new champion, does.
This fight should have happened Saturday, now it is definitely time to make it. I’m hoping for something in October, two well rounded fighters in a title fight – sure to bring fireworks.
Jose Aldo – Retirement
After being crowned the UFC’s inaugural Featherweight Champion, sure to be a first ballot hall of Famer, I think it is time for Jose Aldo (28-7 Career, 18-6 UFC/WEC) to walk away from the fight game.
After going 0-2 at 135 lbs and suffering some brutal knockout losses on the way, I’m not sure what the 33 year old sees as the endgame for himself. He can certainly compete and win in the UFC, but to see what he once was to the beating he took on Saturday, it is hard to watch and hope he takes a role in the sport away from the cage.
If retirement was not an option, perhaps Dominick Cruz (22-3 Career, 13-3 UFC/WEC) would be a fun farewell fight for both men before they both walk away together. Otherwise, I would encourage Aldo’s friends and family to talk him into walking away.
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway – Immediate Rematch for a third straight fight
In the fight business, it is remarkably rare for the same fight to be booked three consecutive times no matter how close the fight was, and can result in a log jam for the rest of the contenders in a weight class.
However, after sitting with this for a bit, thinking about what should be next following their fight on Saturday, I have no better option that champion Alexander Volkanovski (22-1 Career, 9-1 UFC) and Max Holloway (22-6 Career, 18-6 UFC) going at it once again.
I personally think two of the judges made a huge mistake in awarding the decision to Volkanovski. I had the score clearly 48-47, and I know that in a tight fight like that judges opinions sway, but I have no idea how two judges looked at Rounds 1,2, and 4 and didn’t see Holloway winning them.
If Holloway won, it would be a no brainer they’d run it back for a third fight. But with Volkanovski winning twice it makes things tricky. But if we look on the horizon, if Holloway wasn’t fighting for the belt, who would you rather have?
Zabit and Rodriguez are already booked against each other
Kattar and Ige are going to need one more big win before fighting for a title (likely the Zabit and Rodriguez winner)
Ortega is battling personal issues and even when he’s cleared the UFC says they’ll book him vs Zombie.
Edgar moved to 135
So the options are: a third fight between Holloway and Volkanovski, wait for a Zabit v Rodriguez winner, or Josh Emmett. I think everyone wants to see option 1, tell me if I’m wrong.
Kamaru Usman – Gilbert Burns
Kamaru Usman (17-1 Career, 12-0 UFC) fought an excellent fight to retain his championship on Saturday, but likely wasn’t as appealing to the more casual audience who aren’t as forgiving of a methodical performance.
This doesn’t matter to the vast majority of the UFC roster, where the goal is win by any means necessary. However, when you are a defending champion who is unbeaten in the UFC, those goals begin to expand to mainstream success, and generating excitement is often as important to that goal as the outcome of the fight itself, ask Conor McGregor or Nate Diaz.
Point being – the UFC likely won’t rush out to book some cash grab fight with Usman following his performance. A fight with McGregor, Georges St. Pierre, Israel Adesanya etc. would make Usman a very rich man, but his legacy is likely veering toward the unstoppable force who drags contenders into deep water, moreso than a cash cow for the UFC.
Because of this, they might as well book the fight they orginally wanted, a bout with Usman’s gym teammate Gilbert Burns (19-3 Career, 12-3 UFC).
Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from Saturday’s event. It seems that he is recovering well and will be ready to go again soon. Barring any random injuries Usman may have developed, they could get that fight going soon. It would be best to book this one as a co main on a two title PPV with one of the UFC’s biggest stars like Adesanya.
Jorge Masvidal – Nick Diaz or Leon Edwards (depending on what his goals are)
We learned a few things about Jorge Masvidal (35-14 Career, 12-7 UFC) through the events that have transpired before, during and after UFC 251. 1. Masvidal has massive balls pinning a title shot on a short camp when his popularity alone could get him a shot later this year. 2. Estimated at 1.3 Million PPV buys, Masvidal is clearly the second biggest draw in the UFC to McGregor. 3. He is as much a legitimate contender as he is a popular fighter.
Masvidal is going to have to ask himself an important question following his loss to Usman – Do I want to make the most money possible? Or do I want to put myself in the best position to get a rematch with Usman?
In his case, the answer to that question will lead him to two different men. If he wants to headline a massive PPV in a fight he would be a favorite in, where they would sell a shot ton of PPVs, and would grow his brand – Nick Diaz (26-9, 2 NC Career, 7-6, 1 NC UFC) is the fight.
Masvidal headlined a PPV in Madison Square Garden against Nick’s brother Nate, where Masvidal looked spectacular in victory and throttled his fame to new heights. A storyline that features Nick Diaz, someone who hasn’t fought in nearly 6 years coming out of retirement to avenge his baby brother’s loss is almost a Hollywood Script.
However, Nick is not relevant among the UFC Rankings due to inactivity, and would not do much for Masvidal’s title trajectory. To fulfill that need, he’d have to take a fight with British contender Leon Edwards (18-3 Career, 10-2 UFC).
Edwards hasn’t lost since 2015 (to Usman) and is one step away from a rematch for a championship. Masvidal could get his very own rematch with Usman immediately if he wins that fight. Following a backstage altercation between the two, Masvidal and Edwards have bad blood, which also could add to the drama.
Either way, whatever Masvidal chooses. The world will be watching.