UFC 285 was the type of card that cemented the UFC’s reputation for delivering top-to-bottom fighting action. Jon Jones returned from a long hiatus to demolish Cyril Gane and remind everyone why he is one of the greatest MMA talents in history. Alexa Grasso did the impossible and defeated Valentina Shevchenko. And Shavkat Rakhmonov made it quite clear that he is on his way to a welterweight title shot in the near future.
So, can Jones become the boss of a division that never had one? Will Grasso have to beat Shevchenko twice? Will Bo Nickal have to give back his performance bonus if the NSAC turns in its first win?
To answer those questions – and many more – I will be using the classic Silva / Shelby fight booking methodology from UFC years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against each other. Hopefully, by continuing that model, some of these bout ideas will make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
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Like it or not, Jon Jones is back on top and firmly in control of his destiny. The UFC seemed unwilling to negotiate with him, fans seemed to be growing tired of his constant destructive behavior outside the cage, and his recent performances felt anything but special . It was worth wondering if Jones was ever going to return to competition, and if he could still be a championship fighter when he did return. Instead, we saw Jones get his first one-round knockout in a decade and do it against the biggest and strongest competition of his entire career. He made beating Gane look easy.
After the bout, he had a call-out ready: a fight against former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. That’s exactly the kind of bout Miocic was sitting on the sidelines waiting for. Especially considering that Blaydes vs. Pavlovich is in the works, it also leaves Miocic as the only obvious title fight. I’m not at all sure that Jones won’t make the Ohio native look as good as he did Gane, but I also can’t help but think that he won’t be a must-see booking. Jones vs Miocic is too easy a title fight to do anything else.
Cyril Gane was not having a good day. Heavyweight has always been a division that has the potential for overnight success. Everyone from Cain Velasquez, and Brock Lesnar all the way back to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez seemed to have an overnight run to title contention (and in all of those cases, actual UFC gold as well). This is probably also why, in part, lasting success is rarely shared. There will be the types of fighters who could win a title within the first few years of their career as well as a lot of polishing and development to be done in the long run. There is no doubt that Gane has the skills to be a contender for a long time, but his two losses also showed that there is a lot of work to be done before his game is complete. Especially when it comes to wrestling and grappling.
Jones scored the easy takedown off a missed hook, stretched Gane to the mat and made him tap out for what felt like seconds later. I’d like to say that this is the perfect time for a fight with Curtis Blaydes, but it looks like Blaydes is booked against Pavlovich. So instead, I’ll say go with the other wrestle-grappler knock on the door of wrestling. Cyril Gane vs Serghei Spivac is the fight to be had.
Honestly, I’m still in a bit of shock. Of all the opponents that Valentina Shevchenko has fought recently, Alexa Grasso was way down the list of women I would expect to win the upset. She was definitely behind Jessica Andrade, Taila Santos, Katlyn Chookagian, and maybe even Jennifer Maia. Her only other UFC finish (and the only other submission of her career) came last year against a version of Joanne Wood who was struggling to find winning form. She went to tat with Viviane Araujo and Maycee Barber on her run to get here, and it looked like it was going to be another bout where she would struggle to control the action against a more physical force.
For the most part, that’s how things were playing out as well. When she could stand and trade in the pocket, Grasso did well to clear ground. Otherwise Shevchenko popped her with jabs from range and controlled the mat. However, Grasso had the value of being a competitor and was a long-time leader; that is, she had plenty of time for specific preparation for the precise moments when Shevchenko would bring her back to create spinning strikes. One turn too many, and we got a new flyweight queen. This is likely to be a fight that Grasso will have to win again. If the UFC wants to go crazy, I’d be happy to see Erin Blanchfield get her shot, but Looks like Shevchenko vs Grasso 2 has to happen.
It seems unlikely that the next fight we will see for Valentina Shevchenko is a rematch against Alexa Grasso. ‘Bullet’ has dominated the division with an iron fist going all the way back to 2018. While there’s no denying that Grasso had some early success, it’s also hard to dismiss Shevchenko’s view that that fight was between her hands more or less. excellent timing back.
That being said, what if she doesn’t get the chance to run him back right away? There are no guarantees in the UFC, even for the best performers. Maybe Grasso wants to fight on a different schedule than Shevchenko? Maybe the UFC thinks Blanchfield will make for a more interesting draw (unlikely, I know)? Maybe Grasso will be injured? If any of that happens, there are a few other obvious options for the former title holder. She could take on Manon Fiorot, take on Jessica Andrade again, or rematch Taila Santos. That last option seems like the best option to me. Santos was one of the few women at 125 to ever hang with Shevchenko, and many seemed to feel she had a good case to win their first meeting. Grasso vs. Shevchenko 2 is the obvious booking here, but a Santos rematch is a great backup plan.
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