Cain Velasquez was welcomed back to the UFC with a quick right uppercut and a knee injury that could set the once heavyweight champion back even longer.
In the co-main we saw that Paul Felder has more than mic skills as he picked apart a hungry James Vick en route to a convincing decision victory. On the lower part of the card we saw impressive victories by the likes of Kron Gracie, Andre Fili and Cynthia Calvillo.
Who will the winners and losers of UFC Phoenix meet next?
He’s back, everyone. Francis Ngannou is back and earned the biggest victory in his career in just 26 seconds. Controversy or not, Ngannou won the fight. Did his knee buckle on his own? Did the punch cause it? It does not matter (the punch caused it). So what is next for Ngannou? The heavyweight division is kind of in the air right now as Daniel Cormier is still injured and is looking for a high profile fight to send him off into the sunset (most likely Jon Jones or Brock Lesnar).
Does Francis Ngannou deserve a title shot? Absolutely. He just smoked Curtis Blaydes and then knocked Cain Velasquez. Yes, he deserves it. Does he deserve it more than Stipe Miocic? Eh, it’s up for debate. Morally, no. Stipe has the most title defense in UFC history but hasn’t fought since. Francis has fought three times since. Anyways, where does this leave Francis Ngannou? I wouldn’t mind seeing Francis vs Stipe 2 but I’m not sure Stipe will take a fight outside of a title bout. This fight would make sense most though and I think Francis will push for it heavily in order to get vengeance.
The only fight that logically makes sense after that would be the winner of Junior Dos Santos vs Derrick Lewis at UFC Wichita. Lewis holds a victory over Ngannou already but it was perhaps the most boring fight in the history of the UFC and if Junior wins it would be a fresh opponent and potentially an equally as exciting matchup.
Cain Velasquez has fought 3 times in 4 years and was stopped in two of them. He also has a slew of horrific injuries and if his knee is bad, it could set him back for at least another 6-7 months. One has to worry how this injury will affect his activity and as a fight fan, it’s truly sad to see. At one time, and even still to this day, Cain Velasquez is nightmare to heavyweights but injuries have plagued his career. This loss shoots him down the ladder but he’s not completely out of the picture, honestly he would beat 90% of the heavyweight division right now and maybe he would have beaten Francis had he not been hit so early on.
Let’s say Cains knee is fine and he is able to fight whenever he feels fit. I would love a Curtis Blaydes fight if Blaydes gets passed Willis on March 23rd. Blaydes is looking to rebound from a quick knockout loss to, you guessed it, Francis Ngannou. Prior that, Blaydes was on a path of destruction, dismantling the likes of Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt and Alexsei Oleynik. If not Blaydes then maybe the winner of Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov on April 20th. Overeem is back in the winning column after a TKO victory over Sergey Pavlovich and Volkov is looking to rebound from a last second KO loss to Derrick Lewis.
I’d prefer the Overeem matchup due to Overeem’s recent move to Team Elevation in Colorado with the likes of Curtis Blaydes and Neil Magny, so it would be interesting to see the improvement and game plan set up by Overeem. Volkov is also an interesting fight and an overall mean dude. 30-7 overall and his only loss came with 11 seconds remaining in the final round due to an atomic bomb landed by Derrick Lewis. Just one year ago Volkov left Fabricio Werdum, a man who submitted Cain Velasquez, eyes wide spark out at O2 Arena. At 6’7″, Volkov would be a very interesting matchup for Velasquez.
Yeah you know that commentator guy? That Irish Dragon guy? Yeah, he’s got some hands. At UFC Phoenix he looked incredible and it was perhaps his best performance ever against the most underrated fighter in the lightweight, James Vick. He kicked out the Texan’s legs and picked his shots perfectly to notch his 8th UFC win. In his last outing, Felder dropped a razor close decision to Mike Perry in an absolute war on a weeks notice and a weight class up with a broken arm. Now, the lightweight division is completely log jammed at the moment with the Khabib/Conor situation, but Felder is a solid 3-4 wins away from a title fight anyways.
James Vick was ranked 10th and I expect Felder to jump in the rankings to 11 or maybe even 10, but nothing more. However, Felder suffered a collapsed lung and a banged up foot and we don’t know the extent of the injury. A good next step for him would be a scrap with Alexander Hernandez or Gregor Gillespie. Hernandez will be looking to rebound from his first UFC loss at the hands of Donald Cerrone and would be an exciting bout that would prove to be important for both men.
Gregor Gillespie is an extremely tough fight for everyone in the division, absolutely everyone. He’s ranked 11th right now but I’m guessing he will move up to 9 or 10 with Vick losing. Gillespie and Felder would be a bout of polar opposite styles. Gillespie is known as the American version of Khabib Nurmagomedov and is a destroyer who has finished all but one of his UFC bouts including his most recent one-sided TKO victory of Yancy Medeiros. Felder stated he wants a top 10 opponent but truthfully that isn’t really possible right now.
Khabib or Conor? Not happening. Poirier? Too high risk, low reward for Poirier so I can’t imagine that. Kevin Lee looks to be meeting up with Islam Makhachev. Edson Barboza is meeting Justin Gaethje in March and if Gaethje loses I could maybe see that one. It would be a wild fight for sure and would be a fight of the year candidate. Pettis is meeting Wonderboy Thompson at welterweight on March 23rd so that can’t happen. Nate Diaz is #9 but I can guarantee he will not accept a fight with Felder. Al Iaquinta is ranked #4 without an opponent right now but that’s a huge jump in the rankings. My guess is Gregor Gillespie, Alex Hernandez or Justin Gaethje.
“The Texecutioner” is in a tough spot right now. He’s now on two fight skid dropping the fight with Felder which was relatively convincing and then was knocked out violently by Justin Gaethje. Vick won’t drop below 15 but I see him floating around 13 or 14. At 6’3 and a 79’ inch reach, James Vick is a very large lightweight and is certainly the most overlooked fighter in the division but it seems like every time he has a big fight in order to take the next step, he drops it. Like I said previously, the lightweight division is log jammed and very competitive at the moment so it will be tough to match him up with anyone in the top 13.
He currently holds notable victories over Francisco Trinaldo and Joe Duffy which are respectable at best but with convincing losses to Beneil Dariush, Justin Gaethje and Paul Felder, Vick will have a long way back to the top 10. A good next fight would be Charles Oliveira who is currently on a 4 fight winning streak, all by way of submission. Vick owns 5 victories by way of submission himself but Oliveira continuously breaks his own record, previously set by Royce Gracie, for most submission wins in UFC history now at 13.
An even more exciting bout would be one with New Zealand’s Dan Hooker who is fresh of a scary loss to Edson Barboza but was on a nasty finishing streak which includes the likes of Gilbert Burns, Jim Miller and Marc Diakiese. This makes sense most due to both men coming off of convincing losses but are still promising and exciting lightweight prospects.
“Ice Cream” Kron BABY! Kron became the first Gracie to win a UFC bout since 1994 when Royce Gracie triangle choked Dan Severn at UFC 4. Kron Gracie is arguably the best and most decorated jiu jitsu practitioner in the UFC with Demian Maia, Jacare Souza and Fabricio Werdum rivaling him. Now, let’s jump all over his nuts and shove him into a fight with Brian Ortega. No. Stop it. He’s 5-0 and his debut was against a 14-12-1 Alex Caceres. Granted, Caceres is a tough first fight and big jump in competition from his previous bouts in Rizin, but don’t rush him and let him take his time.
With Max Holloway’s move to lightweight looming, the featherweight division needs a star and with hot prospects in the featherweight pool such as Zabit Magomedsharipov and Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC should feed Gracie stiff competition but avoid the Chan Sung Jung and Yair Rodriguez matchups for now. Gracie stated he wants a top-10 opponent next but Caceres wasn’t even in arms reach of the top 20 so lets slow the roll for a little. Gracie will cause problems for a lot of people but I’m slightly skeptical of his striking and I’m curious to see how he will fair against someone who can keep him at range and defend takedowns.
If the UFC wants to build him up they will pit him against Arnold Allen who is riding a 6-fight win streak stemming back to 2014 including a decision over Makwan Amirkhani and is a formidable striker. Allen has not fought in almost a year where he scored a submission victory over Mads Burnell. However, with Allens recent legal trouble it will be difficult for him to get a fight outside of the UK let alone Europe.
If not Allen then maybe the UFC will take a slight risk matching Gracie up with “The Korean Superboy” Doo Ho Choi who is on a two fight skid and is around the same overall size as Gracie. However, matching Gracie up with anyone inside the top 15 right now could be dangerous. If not those two, then maybe a matchup with Chas Skelly, Skelly isn’t particularly known for his striking and would provide of wealth of experience.
Undoubtedly Sterling’s best performance inside the Octagon as he handedly defeated Jimmie Rivera who is extremely dangerous. Sterling is now riding a 3-fight winning streak after suffering his first knockout loss of his career to Marlon Moraes but has solid names on his resume such as Renan Barao (use solid lightly), Johnny Eduardo and now Rivera. You can’t give him the rematch with Marlon Moraes just yet because Moraes just knocked him out and then also finished Raphael Assuncao, whom also defeated Sterling.
With Tj Dillashaw eyeing a rematch with Henry Cejudo at either 125 or 135, that leaves Moraes waiting and I don’t think he’ll take a fight with anyone outside of the top 3. Dominick Cruz is out for at least another year with a shoulder injury so he’s out of the picture for now. So here’s what you do. Bantamweight Tournament. Dillashaw and Cejudo will likely rematch, cool. Cody Garbrandt is facing a stud in Pedro Munhoz but if Garbrandt and TJ win, there’s no legs for a rematch so he would need one or two more impressive wins to get the shot which lines Garbrandt and Moraes up, again assuming Garbrandt wins.
#6 ranked John Lineker is taking a huge risk in fighting an unranked Cory Sandhagen, a new and dangerous addition to the division. This leaves Raphael Assuncao and Aljamain Sterling left with no opponents, a rematch in which many people believe Sterling won the first time around.
Assuncao has fought pretty much everyone in the division and has wins over Marlon Moraes (#1 contender), Tj Dillashaw (champion), Pedro Munhoz and Aljamain Sterling. A win by either men would vault them right into conversations of a title shot. That’s a lot of information I threw out at once so I’ll refresh. Garbrandt vs Munhoz March 2. Garbrandt wins give him Marlon Moraes, Munhoz wins give him the winner of Lineker vs Sandhagen on April 27th. Aljamain Sterling vs Raphael Assuncao with the winner matching up the loser of Garbandt/Munhoz.
This will probably take around a year to complete so that will insert Dominick Cruz which will create more exciting matchups.
Fight of The Night performance undoubtedly. Luque was down on the scorecards and it seemed to be over before two big knees sealed the show with seconds to go. Luque is impressive and ultra aggressive but he’s in a nasty division. Despite an impressive comeback win, Luque is not ready for a top-10 guy. I like a fight with Dong Hyun Kim next, Kim has a massive resume of contenders and would be a good test for Luque. Michael Chiesa is currently an unranked welterweight but is a very very tough fight for Luque.
Finally, if those two don’t happen I would like to see Geoff Neal who is currently at #14 and that is the highest in the rankings I’m willing to go until we see more from Luque.
Andre Fili: Very impressive win but Fili is pretty inconsistent so matching him up with a guy below the top is tough. On the bubble of #10 is feasible. Fili left relatively unscathed in the bout with Miles Jury so we could expect him back sooner than later. #15 Calvin Kattar, #8 Mirsad Bektic are good tests for Fili but I really like a bout with The Korean Zombie who is the most dangerous #11 ever.
Cynthia Calvillo: Calvillo showed improvements in her striking and patience-ish in this fight with Cortney Casey. However, the performance didn’t blow anyone’s hair back and it certainly didn’t warrant her a fight with Tatiana Suarez whom she called out. Calvillo is a very dangerous fighter but has holes that will be exposed by the upper echelon of strawweights so I’m not eager to throw her into a bout with someone in the top 5 yet.
Right now I see only three possible matchup for Calvillo with the latter being a big jump. First, I like #10 Felice Herrig and I prefer this because Herrig has loads of experience and Calvillo again did not put on a top tier performance. Next, I would be okay seeing a rematch between her and Carla Esparza. Lastly and I mean if the UFC really wants to push her quick, give her Claudia Gadelha.