MMA Match Ups
Any MMA fan could sit back and play armchair match-maker, creating MMA match-ups. No armchair fan could compare with the likes of Joe Silva, or Sean Shelby – but it doesn’t mean we can’t fantasise.
So here’s 5 fights I want to see.
Instead of going for the obvious like maybe: Garbrandt vs Dillishaw, Conor vs Khabib, or Jones vs Cormier 2 – I’ve tried to include a couple that you may not have thought of already. And some that we all want to see, I think.
If you prefer living in the past rather than fantasising about the future, you should read our post – The Best MMA Fights of 2016.
So here’s #1.
1.) Kelvin Gastelum vs Donald Cerrone
When this fight was initially announced for UFC 205, it had fans very excited. When Kelvin missed weight, it had fans and fighters disappointed, and it made Dana White quite mad.
Kelvin was then matched up with UFC Middleweight Tim Kennedy. This was almost like Kelvin’s punishment for missing weight – fighting a deadly Special Forces soldier; an experienced fighter who fights at over 200lb – many expected Kennedy to bully Gastelum for 15 minutes, to throw him around the cage and break him down piece by piece. But Gastelum thought differently.
Gastelum put on a masterclass in that fight. In the first round, Kennedy was to get the clinch and manhandled Gastelum for the best part of 5 minutes. But although Kennedy dominated round 1, we got to see a glimpse of Gastelum’s expert boxing, and we began to see Kennedy fade, more in round 2 and then in round 3.
In round 3, Kelvin utterly embarrassed Kennedy! He opened up with beautiful combinations, after slowly picking Kennedy apart in the later rounds, he showed his smooth, fast, precise boxing – demolishing a tired and inferior Tim Kennedy. Making him look less like a trained soldier, and more like an old drunk trying to fend off a thuggish teenager.
If Kelvin had fought Cowboy, it would have been a different story. Cerrone’s striking is among the best and most unique in the UFC, although he doesn’t have the strength or wrestling ability of Tim Kennedy – he is 100x more capable of standing and trading strikes, which is where Gastelum was able to dominate in his more recent fight.
Donald Cerrone also fought at UFC 206 (on the same card as Kelvin). In that fight he faced the tried and tested Matt Brown – who is a very well-rounded brawler and grappler, but he was unable to compete with Cowboy’s more technical, explosive and effective striking. Cowboy ended the fight with a stunning head-kick KO in the final round, taking him to a 3 fight win streak at Welterweight.
Since moving to 170, Cowboy has looked healthier and more relaxed in the octagon. And with almost 40 professional fights, he has a wealth of experience and is beginning to put together all the elements of his game.
Cowboy has to get past Jorge Masvidal first, and Kelvin will have to make 170 for a change – but if they both happen, this would be a great fight to see in 2017.
2.) Dan Hardy vs Benson Henderson
Dan Hardy said quite recently that he would like to return to the octagon, mentioning that he would most likely drop down to Lightweight if he was to do so. After Mickey Gall heard this he took the opportunity to call out Dan, who said he wasn’t interested as he doesn’t want to fight young prospects, he would only return for a ‘super-fight’.
If Hardy can pass his medicals, I can’t think of a better opponent for him to fight than former UFC Lightweight champion, Benson Henderson. Of course this is speculation, but it would be a great match up worth thinking about.
Back in November, Henderson lost a split-decision to Michael Chandler for the Bellator lightweight belt. It was a 5 round war, in which Benson took one of the biggest beatings you could imagine in the first round, but he edged his way back in to the fight and was beginning to dominate Chandler just before the final bell rang.
Although he started slowly and was not as dynamic as the Benson Henderson of old, he still showed that he is one of the toughest and smartest fighters on the planet – and able to put on a spectacular fight. Although Chandler came out victorious, Benson showed that he can still compete at a very high level for at least another year. Enough time to arrange a super-fight, with Dan Hardy!
After joining the UFC in 2008, Dan Hardy went on a 4 fight win streak, earning him a title shot against Georges St Pierre. Unfortunately, Dan had no answer for GSP’s takedowns and ground-game, but he was able to go the distance thanks to gis good submission defence. Dan recalls a lot of people saying to him after the fight – “work on your takedown defence and you’ll be champ.” Although it sounded plausible, as Dan was such a prolific striker, it didn’t work out that way.
After his title fight, Dan lost to Carlos Condit via a vicious KO, then ‘Rumble’ Johnson by decision – after being controlled and dominated for 3 rounds – he suffered another loss via submission but returned 9 months later to win twice before retiring.
I think it would be fair to say that Dan has had an up-and-down UFC career. After going the distance with GSP, he may have underestimated Condit’s stand-up skills. At the very least, he made some silly mistakes. When fighting Rumble, he seemed to have his back against the wall against the bigger, stronger opponent, and from there on out he was questioning his desire to fight in the UFC – that, along with his medical condition, ultimately led to his retirement.
But now, Dan seems keen to get back in the cage – and with all the analyst work he has done, he seems to have learned a tremendous amount. I’m not saying that he could get in the cage next week and compete with Henderson, who has been fighting at a high level since Dan’s retirement. But I think that, if Dan were to go easy on the analysis work; dedicate 6 months to training and get a good camp – he could put together everything he has learned and come back better than ever.
Although Benson has a big advantage in terms of his activity, also his submission skills and experience, I think Dan, if he worked on a good gameplan and improved his defence, could put on a phenomenal fight with Henderson.
I don’t know much about contract issues; UFC vs Bellator etc. But if both fighters agreed, I’m sure they could sort it out.
3.) Rockhold vs Weidman 2
Luke Rockhold lost his title to Michael Bisping in quite a surprising fashion – well, surprising to most people, but I could see that Rockhold was getting cocky going in to this fight, while Bisping was calm and confident. Joe rogan noticed how overly relaxed Luke was before the fight started, which translated in to him fighting with his hands down and keeping his chin up. But the loss seemed to humble Luke, and he will be looking to make a statement in his return to the octagon.
Another fighter who will want to make a statement is Chris Weidman. He’ll be looking to avenge his loss to Rockhold, and prove that he is still a title contender after losing hs second fight in a row to Yoel Romero at UFC 205. In that fight, Weidman stuck to a great gameplan and was dominating a lot of the exchanges, but he made a crucial mistake and was caught by a vicious knee from Romero, who is now the #1 contender.
Before losing his belt to Rockhold, in quite a dominating fashion, Weidman looked like one of the deadliest and most well-rounded fighters in the UFC. So when Rockhold won the belt, he took a lot of Weidman’s momentum and was tipped to be one of the most dominant champions in the sport.
When Bisping won the belt, it opened the division up to a host of worthy contenders. I’m sure that either Rockhold or Weidman could rise to the top of that list in the near future. But even if this match up happens, the winner will have Jacare, Yoel and possibly Michael Bisping to get through.
You could make 10 great match ups out of those 5 fighters, but the fight I’d most like to see is Rockhold vs Weidman.
4.) Francis Ngannou vs Junior Dos Santos
I knew that I should add Francis Ngannou to this list. After seeing him fight Anthony Hamilton back in December, it was clear that he could be a future Heavyweight champion. He’s strong, fast, powerful; he seems to have good boxing and very effective, Ovince St Preux-like submissions.
Ngannou finished that fight in the first round by striking Hamilton’s arm from a standing position, throwing him to the floor and submitting him via Kimura. It was extremely impressive, and quite surprising to see from a fighter who has only been fighting professionally for 3 years.
After the fight, he stated that he’d fight anyone in the division. The UFC have scheduled him to fight Andrei Arlovski this month, with Junior Dos Santos vs Stefan Struve and Travis Browne vs Derrick Lewis happening shortly after.
Of course Arlovski will be a tough test for Ngannou – he has a wealth of experience, and is probably more polished in his striking game – but Ngannou, in my opinion, is too strong, fast and unpredictable. I also think that Junior Dos Santos will defeat Stefan Struve – I think he’s too technical, too composed and too experienced for Struve. Of course Struve could win; he has good skills, a big reach advantage, he’s younger and has previously defeated the current champ, Stipe Miocic – but I can’t see him beating JDS.
To be honest, you could create dozens of great match ups in the heavyweight division: I would be excited to watch Ngannou vs any of those guys, but the reason I chose JDS is because of his super technical boxing.
As I’ve mentioned, Ngannou is a freak athlete and a likely contender for the belt, but we haven’t seen him fight someone with world-class striking, a well-rounded game, and a wealth of experience in bloody, brutal championship fights – if he could overcome tat challenge, then we would know for sure that he is championship material.
It may sound like I was describing Arlovski there, so we will find out a lot about Ngannou’s capabilities in his upcoming fight. But I think Dos Santos’s boxing and movement makes him a lot harder to hit than Arlovski – which is why he would be a tougher test for Ngannou, and it’s why I’d really like to see that fight in 2017.
5.) Gunnar Nelson vs Lorenz Larkin
Maybe I am bias because I’m a Conor McGregor fan, but I’d really like to see his training partner, Gunnar Nelson back in the octagon soon. And I think, over the next couple of years, he could start to put together all the elements of his game and maybe break in to the top 5 of the Welterweight division.
One of the guys standing in his way is #6 ranked Lorenz Larkin, while Gunnar is ranked #10.
Lorenz Larkin is an extremely explosive and powerful striker. In his most recent fight against Neil Magny, we saw some of his unorthodox body kicks and vicious leg kicks which tore up Magny’s leg until he could barely stand on it. When Magny’s movement was prohibited, we saw Larkin open up with dangerous punches, more leg kicks, and when Magny shot for a takedown, deadly elbows which cause Magny to fall and curl up on the floor – with Larkin winning by TKO.
Not only would this fight be a great style match up, but it would be a great battle between two of the dark horses in the Welterweight division, in my opinion.
With Gunnar’s wide karate stance, it would be interesting to see if Larkin could attack Gunnar’s legs in the same way he did to Neil Magny. Also, as Gunnar likes to blitz his opponents and, when at range, fight with his hands down – it might leave him succeptible to Larkin’s deadly punches.
Gunnar, on the other hand, does not use strikes as his primary weapon. In most cases, he will use his karate style – his long range and back-and-forth movement – to draw opponents in to close range where he can take them down and, in many cases, submit them with relative ease.
After Gunnar’s decision loss to Damian Maia, where he survived 3 rounds on the mat with a BJJ World Champion – he returned to face #12 ranked Albert Tumenov. In that fight, we saw a vast improvement in his striking, we saw his effective use of kicks and control of range which allowed him to dominate the fight on the feet and get takedowns with relative ease, and from there he was able to finish the fight.
Larkin is faster than Tumenov however, and a more dangerous striker – so it would be interesting to see if Gunnar Nelson could rise to the challenge. I think he has all the tools to do so, but we must not forget that Larkin has a lot of KOs on his record, as well as a win over the former UFC champion, Robbie Lawler.
So there’s 5 fights I’d like to see in 2017. If you have any ideas for MMA match ups, comment below.
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