Fights to Make Next after UFC Phoenix

By Cole Henry, MMATorch Contributor

Feb 17, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Francis Ngannou (red gloves) and Cain Velasquez (blue gloves) react as the official decision is announced after their heavyweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Ngannou won via first round TKO. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Francis Ngannou def. Cain Velasquez (TKO/Punches)

I would call Francis Ngannou the boogeyman, but he seems like he’s a really nice guy and I’m not sure that’s a quality that would be possessed by a monster that’s supposed to live under your bed, or in your closet. But that power is something else… It’s really all that we have seen from Ngannou. He does have a couple of submission wins, but most of his victories have come from his punches, and that seems to work just fine for him. In MMA “one punch KO power” or a variation of that phrase is something that you will often hear used to describe a fighter’s ability to stop an opponent with a single punch, but it’s rarely an accurate statement. With Ngannou it is.

He has stopped Cain Velasquez, Curtis Blaydes, Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski, and Bojan Mihajlovic all in under two minutes… He is running through elite competition in the way that most skilled fighters run through the regional circuit, and after a two-fight losing streak, he seems to have put himself right back into a position to earn a second crack at the World Championship. But I just can’t get back one thing.

As destructive as Ngannou has been, he has been defeated before. Derrick Lewis was one thing, it appeared to largely be a mental lapse that led to Ngannou’s poor performance, but with Stipe Miocic it appeared to be something else entirely. Ngannou landed, but Miocic survived, and eventually went on to flawlessly execute the perfect game plan. While I would love seeing Ngannou vs. Daniel Cormier, I think a rematch with Miocic fits here. Miocic has been a bit of a complainer as of late, but he does have some valid points and it wouldn’t feel right giving Ngannou the shot here when Miocic is still very much a viable contender. So, I like this fight as a potential title eliminator bout…

Fight to make next: Francis Ngannou vs. Stipe Miocic II

Cain Velasquez has at times been called the greatest heavyweight fighter in MMA history, but his career has been marred by injury, and now after suffering a devastating loss in his first fight back from a layoff, it’s fair to wonder what’s next for the former two-time World Champion. With a win over Ngannou, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and we would instead be pointlessly discussing what it would take to get Cormier to face Velasquez. But Velasquez didn’t get the win, and in fact, it wasn’t even close.

Velasquez had a questionable game plan, as we saw with some of the high kicks at the start of the fight, and the takedown attempt on Ngannou left him open to the shot that ended the night. He has blamed the loss on a knee injury and an illegal strike, but ultimately, he was knocked out in under a minute in his first fight back in nearly three years.

Is this the end for Velasquez or just a bump in the road? His next fight will be a crucial test for him, and it will be an experiment for the fans as well. Can Velasquez still compete at an elite level? Probably yes, but we haven’t seen him do it since mid-2016… at 36 years of age, and with a history of injuries, will Velasquez stick around if he is just going to be a middle of the road type of fighter? This is all hypothetical of course, and perhaps Velasquez will be champion again someday after all, but I think he should take it slow and work his way back up the rankings rather than face a top two or three guy in his next outing.

Fight to make next: Cain Velasquez vs. Aleksei Oleinik

Paul Felder def. James Vick (Unanimous Decision)

Paul Felder is both a voice and a force in the sport of MMA. Felder has become well known for his commentating duties as of late, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s any less focused on his fighting. In fact, Felder is arguably enjoying the most successful run of his career right now. He’s won four straight fights in the lightweight division, and his only loss during that period was a split decision to Mike Perry. He’s picked up back to back quality lightweight wins over Charles Oliveira and James Vick, and for the first time ever he is in a real position to make a run up the rankings.

Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza are scheduled to face each other in what will no doubt be one of the most violent fights ever, and I think that the winner should have Felder waiting for them on the other side. Felder is a guy whose name might always be bigger than his ranking, but his popularity should help him in getting fights against higher ranked guys and then he will have the chance to capitalize. And besides… Paul Felder vs. Justin Gaethje or a rematch with Barboza…either one makes my mouth water.

Fight to make next: Paul Felder vs. Winner of Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza

James Vick just may be one of the most hated men in all of MMA and I’m not sure why… I have ideas but that’s a different point for a different article. When it comes to fighting, he has been good but not great, and we saw another case of that in his fight with Paul Felder. Felder was just quicker, and more powerful, which translates to Vick being slower, and less powerful. It seems that Vick has a harder time utilizing his reach against the more skilled strikers that he faces, and when he’s forced to move backward, he isn’t very effective.

Felder damaged his legs, affecting his movement, and forced him to stand in front of his opponent and take a beating. It was a rough night for Vick, and it’s been a rough time for his career as a whole as he is now riding the longest losing streak of his career. So, what next for the Lloyd Irvin trained fighter? Alexander Hernandez makes a good bit of sense.

On paper, Hernandez will provide a problem with his forward movement, but if Vick realizes that then perhaps, he can take advantage of Hernandez’ sloppiness. Either way, we have two guys in the same spot in the division and something needs to give.

Fight to make next: James Vick vs. Alexander Hernandez

Cynthia Calvillo def. Cortney Casey (Unanimous Decision)

When typing the fight result above I accidentally typed Casey Anthony instead of Cortney Casey… Had that been the actual matchup I would be willing to bet that it would have broken all TV records. Anyway, Cynthia Calvillo continues to do more to erase the only loss of her career from people’s minds. Though she struggled at times with Casey’s pressure, she ultimately won a good decision and has put herself back in place as one of the divisions finest prospects. Post-fight she called out a fellow prospect and it happens to be one that Dana White has said that nobody wants to face. Calvillo makes White’s job and mine easier with those types of comments… Calvillo vs. Suarez is the fight to make if not only because Calvillo is willing to fight the female terminator.

Fight to make next: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Tatiana Suarez

Cortney Casey is just a few judges away from being in a much different place in her career. Three of her last four fights have ended via split decisions and unfortunately for her only one was in her favor. She ran into a better fighter in Cynthia Calvillo, but Casey has proved that she is capable of hanging with the top fighters in the division even if she does come up just short. I’d like to see her get a chance to regroup in her next fight, perhaps get some more confidence under her belt, and then she can take another crack at a top contender. She seems to be a good fighter, but she just hasn’t put everything together yet.

Fight to make next: Cortney Casey vs. Ashley Yoder

Kron Gracie def. Alex Caceres (Submission/RNC)

Kron Gracie… Ice Cream Kron… The son of Rickson… The heir to the Gracie family throne… is also a flat earther. I want to go into this… I want to both defend Kron and admonish him… But he won’t hear it, and he likely wouldn’t care if he did.

Kron Gracie is no astronomer, but does he need to be? Here’s an interesting fact about Gracie: his last three opponents have had a combined 144 pro fights, while Gracie himself has competed in just 5. He is a phenomenal grappler, that much we know, and we have never seen him have a problem getting a fight to the ground. But what can he do on the feet? He did try throwing some strikes in the early moments of the fight, but he didn’t land anything significant before taking the fight to the ground and sealing the deal. At this point in his career, I like the idea of matching him up with veterans like Caceres.

Gracie would likely blow through a lot of the low-level fighters on the roster that can match his record, but you also don’t want to throw him to the wolves against the current, prime level fighters in the division. So that leaves the established vets, who have seen better days. They can test Gracie, and he can be allowed to develop, and eventually, we could have the first modern-day title contender from the Gracie family.

For his next fight, I like Gilbert Melendez. Melendez was once one of the best lightweights in the world, but he’s fallen on hard times. It’s never a bad thing for a vet to pick up a win over an up and comer so maybe this is a fight that Melendez could be extra motivated for.

Fight to make next: Kron Gracie vs. Gilbert Melendez

Alex Caceres has fought everybody it seems… he has had over twenty fights in the UFC and has been a mainstay ever since he was a fan favorite on the ultimate fighter some time ago. He is a good test for young fighters, and he is very capable of hanging with most fighters in the division. It seems like we’ve missed the boat on him ever becoming a real contender, but he will likely stick around in his sort of enhancement talent role as long as he is able to win one every now and then.

Fight to make next: Alex Caceres vs. Hakeem Dawodu

Vicente Luque def. Bryan Barberena (TKO/Knee and Punches)

Vicente Luque is one of the unsung contenders of the welterweight division. With 8 wins in 10 fights, he has stopped every opponent that he’s defeated, and its time he gets a crack at the top of the division. Luque landed some absolutely devastating shots on Bryan Barberena in the first round of their fight, and most mortal men would have crumbled, but Barberena is something else entirely and weathered the storm. Because of that though we were able to see all of what Luque can be capable of. We saw him show his power, and his grappling chops, as well as his ability to recover from what appeared to be a bit of a cardio dump in the second round. He put it all together and eventually earned a stoppage, which he often does.

The man is like a red light, he stops everybody… That was an attempted joke and it was not funny and I’m sorry. Up next a fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio would make sense, at least for Luque. Ponzinibbio is a high ranked opponent and that’s something that Luque certainly wants. It doesn’t make sense for Ponzinibbio, at least on the surface, but the division isn’t short on contenders and he doesn’t seem to be very high on the UFC priority list. Perhaps he could see some value in staying busy over a surging potential contender.

Fight to make next: Vicente Luque vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio

Bryan Barberena is well on his way to becoming a fan favorite. His nickname is Bam-Bam, he entered to that Baby Shark song, and he can take a punch like few others on the roster. That’s all the evidence I have but I’ll stand by the claim. Bryan Barberena’s stock is at an all-time high despite losing, and I don’t think I am alone in saying that I am looking forward to his next fight. His style is brutal, and while it may be bad for his health, it works for him and it certainly entertains the fans. Siyar Bahadurzada is another guy who hits hard and takes a good shot as well. Both guys are a few wins away from top 15 consideration, but this is a matchup that could certainly boost the image of the winner.

Fight to make next: Bryan Barberena vs. Siyar Bahadurzada

Andre Fili def. Myles Jury (Unanimous Decision)

Andre Fili has won three of his last four fights and is enjoying the best stretch of his career in the UFC so far. He has largely been an afterthought in what has been a crowded division but he seems ready to take the next step. He trains with a great camp and has shown the ability to win both on the ground and on the feet. Cub Swanson is the ultimate gatekeeper in the division right now. He is the guy that you need to beat to prove that you belong among the top 10. If Fili can beat them then perhaps, he can look at a higher ranked opponent, but with a loss, he would be back to the drawing board.

Fight to make next: Andre Fili vs. Cub Swanson


Myles Jury has had a bit of an odd career up to this point. He came into the UFC and developed into a very good prospect in the lightweight division, but after a loss to Donald Cerrone some years ago it seems like he’s been floundering. He had a fairly uninspiring performance against Fili and coupled with a slew of injuries, it’s been a rough few years for Jury. Chaz Skelly is a guy in a similar position, he’s dealing with several losses after starting off very strong. A fight between these two would really just serve as a springboard for one guy to move forward, and for the other guy to fall further down the line.

Fight to make next: Myles Jury vs. Chas Skelly

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