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UFC Vegas 61: Mackenzie Dern vs. Yan Xiaonan – Fights to make

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UFC Vegas 61 started strong, but couldn’t carry that energy to the final bell. Yan Xiaonan escaped Mackenzie Dern’s clutches with a hard-scrabble victory in the main event. Randy Brown scraped through three rounds for a victory over Francisco Trinaldo in the co-main, and Raoni Barcelos put together an absolutely one-sided domination of Trevin Jones earlier in the card.

So, did Yan make any kind of case for herself as strawweight’s no. 1 contender? Is Brown really ready to start taking on ranked welterweights? And how long do we have to wait to see Brendan Allen vs. Andre Muniz.

To answer those questions—but not much else—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!

YAN XIAONAN

I don’t want to say that Yan Xiaonan didn’t deserve to win this fight. Any time someone takes three out of five rounds off their opponent they’ve at the very least clearly set the table to earn a victory. That said, the result didn’t make me feel any more sure of Yan as a challenger to the women’s strawweight title. The two rounds she lost to Dern were so entirely decisive and controlling that fans could easily argue that both should have been a 10-8.

Considering Weili Zhang already has the next title shot in hand and Marina Rodriguez has made her own strong case for a look at gold—and Jessica Andrade is right there in the mix if Esparza doesn’t lose the belt—the best Xiaonan can do is to get another top contender’s bout and keep treading water. That could mean Amanda Lemos or the Esparza/Zhang loser, or Rose Namajunas. In that kind of field, ‘Thug Rose’ really is the obvious choice. A win there and Xiaonan has a much, much better case to fight for the championship. Namajunas vs. Yan is the strawweight fight to make.

MACKENZIE DERN

If Yan Xiaonan didn’t walk away from UFC Vegas 61 with the most definitive win in the world, then Mackenzie Dern’s problems were on even more stark display. Every moment this fight wasn’t on the mat, Dern seemed in danger. She constantly found herself off balance in exchanges, got hit hard on the counter consistently, and had her lead leg entirely chopped away. When she got the fight to the mat, she made clear—as always—that she’s just a huge level above all her opposition. But without a top quality wrestling game and without a dependable striking game, her time outside of grappling exchanges has the feel of a high wire act.

For the moment, it’s time for some kind of step back. To that end, a bout with Amanda Lemos feels just perfect. While Lemos is currently booked against Marina Rodriguez a win or loss there would still leave her perfectly set to face Dern. The Brazilian has all the power to make Dern really pay for any sloppiness standing, but also the kind of low pace and gas tank issues to give Dern all the chances she’ll need to tip the scales in her favor. Lemos vs. Dern seems like another good proving opportunity for both women no matter how Lemos does in her next fight.

RANDY BROWN

Not exactly the kind of performance that’s going to have Randy Brown fast tracked for big things, but he did what he needed to for two solid rounds before Trinaldo got on top of him and swallowed up the third round with control time. The result is four-straight wins for Brown and a chance to once again start knocking on the doors of top 15 competition. Opponents like Michel Pereira and Daniel Rodriguez or even Li Jingliang would all make strong next options. If the UFC wants to keep him in more mid-card action bouts, then fights with Muslim Salikhov, Jake Matthews, or Kevin Holland (had he not suddenly seemingly retired) would all be strong options. Given that Brown didn’t put much of a bow on this one, it seems to me that Randy Brown vs. Jake Matthews the right kind of high level fight outside the top 15 that ‘Rudeboy’ deserves.

RAONI BARCELOS

Utter domination from start to finish for Raoni Barcelos. Trevin Jones never got a chance to find a way into this one—between the right hands, the counter hooks and the takedowns and GnP it was entirely one-way traffic. He may not have got the finish, but it was absolutely a statement win that the Brazilian belongs among the elite at 135 lbs. Fights with Adrian Yanez, Jack Shore, or Umar Nurmagomedov would all be entirely deserved bouts. Hell, I’d even be fine seeing him face Heili Alateng or Casey Kenney. But with all the options on the table, the fight with Yanez seems like it’d be the most interesting. Can Yanez stand up to a wrestler and grappler of Barcelos’ quality? Can Barcelos match Yanez’s output, or will he risk falling behind like he did against Henry and Valiev? Barcelos vs. Yanez is a great way to see if Barcelos can finally find his spot in the rankings.

SODIQ YUSUFF

Sodiq Yusuff absolutely crushed Don Shainis. After the bout, he fully admitted that this was a high risk, low reward situation. But if a fighter is gonna put themselves in a situation like that, then this is exactly what they need to do with it. Yusuff pounded away at Shainis’ body with hard knees, baited him into the shot, then wrapped up his neck for the instant sub. Can’t make for a better win. After the bout, he called for a fight with the ‘Korean Zombie’ in January. It’s not a bad idea, and feels like a very winnable fight for Yusuff at this point in Chan Sung Jung’s career. Personally, I’d rather see a fight with Ilia Topuria, or a re-booking of the Chikadze fight. Hell I’d even say a bout with Calvin Kattar would be great, considering Kattar’s coming off a loss. Unfortunately for that idea, Kattar is already booked against Arnold Allen. That being the case, I’ll say the UFC should re-book the Chikadze fight, but I won’t be surprised if Yusuff gets that Korean Zombie booking he wants.

MIKE DAVIS

Mike Davis started this fight with the hot hand against Viacheslav Borshchev. Even while Borshchev had success landing in combination and targeting the body and legs, Davis clearly had a big power edge early, and compounded that with takedowns and heavy ground and pound. From there, the striking mostly became a landslide in favor of ‘Slava-Claus’, but the wrestling remained firmly in favor of ‘Beast Boy’ and he rode that path all the way to victory. A solid outing, especially for a fighter who has had trouble maintaining his energy into late rounds. Davis may have still struggled, but there was never a moment where he let the fight slip away from him.

Given all the stops and starts he’s had in his career so far, it’s tough to know just where Davis is at right now in the lightweight division. A good way to find out would be to pit him against another prospect on the rise. I like the idea of a bout with Terrance McKinney. Davis’ power and wrestling could make him a tough test much the way Dober was, and it’d be a great way to see if either of them could carry the fight if it goes past round 1. Davis vs. McKinney seems like a really fun lightweight scrap.

DANIEL SANTOS

Daniel Santos started out with his trademark volume and pressure, but it brought him nothing but pain in round 1. Castaneda was right there with tricky counters and combinations. Most notably, a couple of beautiful head kicks that had Santos on rubber legs for what felt like the bulk of round 1. Still, Santos never showed even on sign of tiring out—and by the final 30 seconds of the first frame he was starting to break Castaneda down. ‘Sexi Mexi’ stayed in the fight for the early parts of round 2, but the constant pressure and volume clearly wore him out. Eventually he just couldn’t find a moment to breathe in the midst of ‘Willycat’’s onslaught. A fantastic comeback KO for the Brazilian, and one that should have him primed for another great action bout. Aoriqileng just picked up a great win over Jay Perrin and has been in nothing but wars in the UFC. Santos vs. Aoriqileng would be a surefire blast.

ILIR LATIFI

Not a pretty fight from Ilir Latifi, who revealed that he was battling through a recently acquired staph infection and a fever on the night. After the bout, Latifi suggested that, with his UFC contract now complete, he may be retiring from MMA. Certainly worse ways to go out than a win, but if a few months off see the fire return and a willingness from the UFC to bring him back, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. If Latifi does want to keep on trucking, I’d be happy to see him take on the winner of Andrei Arlovski vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima. A quality battle of longtime UFC veterans.

BRENDAN ALLEN

Right out of the gate it seemed as though Brendan Allen was in trouble. He slipped on a kick attempt and gave Jotko the perfect chance to jump on top of him and start to bank control time. Fortunately for Allen, he’s never been one to go away easy, and a sweep and a sacrifice throw later and he was on top in prime position to put Jotko away. A quick submission win was followed by a great callout, either of Anthony Hernandez or Andre Muniz in Rio. Both those fights would be awesome, but I especially like the idea of the Muniz bout. Allen has been floating around the edges of the top 15 for a while now. Give him a chance to get a ranking and make a run. Muniz vs. Allen would be a fantastic, scrambling fight.

OTHER BOUTS: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Court McGee, Trevin Jones vs. Tony Gravely, Don Shainis vs. Daniel Argueta, Viacheslav Borshchev vs. Guram Kutateladze, John Castaneda vs. Batgerel Danaa, Aleksei Oleinik vs. William Knight, Joaquim Silva vs. Jai Herbert, Jesse Ronson vs. Alex Munoz, Krzysztof Jotko vs. Ian Heinisch, Chelsea Chandler vs. Norma Dumont, Julija Stoliarenko vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, Guido Cannetti vs. Frankie Saenz, Randy Costa vs. Jay Perrin


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