Marvin Vettori absolutely smothered Kevin Holland on Saturday. The question now is how much the win should move him forward in the middleweight contenders’ queue.
In the main event of UFC on ABC 2, “The Italian Dream” entered the cage as a greater than 3-to-1 favorite over the “Trailblazer” and delivered accordingly, taking next to no damage after the first round and racking up a mind-boggling 20 minutes of top control in a 25-minute bout. It may not have made him many new fans, and the fight is not exactly bursting with rewatch value, but Vettori made the best of a no-win situation, neutralizing a lower-ranked yet extremely dangerous short-notice opponent who had everything to gain. Will Vettori’s now five-fight win streak and ready-made storyline with divisional ruler Israel Adesanya be enough to earn him a title shot, or does he have more to prove?
Besides the headliner, the rest of the main card saw a mix of prospects and ranked contenders earning victories. Several of the winners delivered impressive finishes, and all need a next opponent. In the wake of “UFC Vegas 23,” here are some matches that should be made:
Marvin Vettori vs. Darren Till: It is certainly no fault of Vettori’s that Till, his originally scheduled opponent, withdrew at the 11th hour with a broken collarbone, and as stated above, he made the best of the situation, even if the result wasn’t pretty. However, the Holland win simply doesn’t do much for his stock, especially three weeks after Derek Brunson, who is ranked several spots behind Vettori, did more or less the same thing. Assuming that Till is good to go in four months or so, and that the winner of next week’s Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum headliner is sufficiently impressive to earn a rematch with Adesanya, the Vettori vs. Till matchup still makes sense. Till is above Vettori in the UFC’s middleweight rankings despite having only two fights in the division and despite being 1-3 in his last four. Frankly, both men could use another elite win before talk of a title shot. If the UFC wants to rebook this fight for mid-to-late summer, one of them will get one.
Arnold Allen vs. Calvin Kattar: Allen looked superb in taking a unanimous decision over fellow red-hot prospect Sodiq Yusuff in Saturday’s co-main event. The 27-year-old Brit has gotten to 8-0 about as quietly as one can in the UFC’s murderous featherweight division, due in large part to very sensible matchmaking early on. However, with the win over Yusuff, who was himself 4-0 in the UFC coming into the fight, it’s time for the “Almighty” one to start fighting contenders. Kattar has become a bona fide Top 10 fighter, but his attempts to rise higher than that have stalled out in lopsided main event losses to Max Holloway and Zabit Magomedsharipov. Kattar’s rise to contention included wins over some solid fighters including Shane Burgos, Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens. Allen has shown enough to skip that tier and fight someone like Kattar next. Make this one a five-rounder, please: UFC Fight Night “Kattar vs. Allen” sounds like a great time.
Julian Marquez vs. Trevin Giles: The good news is that “The Cuban Missile Crisis” is 2-0 in the Octagon since his return from a two-year layoff due to a major arm injury. The bad news is that the win streak comes with a whole lot of “yeah, but.” A win is a win, but Marquez’s sensational last-minute anaconda choke of Maki Pitolo in February had been preceded by about 13 minutes of losing to a borderline UFC-level fighter. His win over Sam Alvey at UFC on ABC 2 was set up by a protracted beating on the feet and ended with a vicious, opportunistic no-hooks choke that put Alvey all the way out. However, Alvey came into the fight on a miserable five-bout winless streak and was dropping back to middleweight at age 34 after four years in a heavier weight class. Marquez could use an emphatic, no-buts win over a viable UFC middleweight. Enter Giles, who beat Roman Dolidze by unanimous decision a couple of weeks ago, and has some of the same issues hovering over his own three-fight win streak. Dolidze is a physically impressive prospect but largely unknown quantity who was dropping to middleweight for the first time. Bevon Lewis, whom Giles smashed last November, had lost three of four and was promptly cut by the UFC. And before that, at UFC 247 last February, Giles had a surprisingly tough time in a split-decision win over a last-minute replacement, severely undersized James Krause…who just happens to be Marquez’s coach. The story practically writes itself. Book it.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Michelle Waterson: Dern’s win over Nina Nunes on Saturday was quietly one of the more impressive performances on the whole card. What was touted as a high-level striker vs. grappler matchup instead became a rout, as Dern landed a couple of hard shots on the feet, dumped Nunes to the canvas with a trip and then put on an absolute clinic in top position grappling. That extends Dern’s win streak to four straight since her lone career loss to Amanda Ribas. While it is tempting to vault the 28-year-old grappling ace straight into a fight with a Top 5 opponent, it would be better for all involved to tap the brakes. Strawweight is currently blessed with a bit of congestion at the top, and the winner of the upcoming Weili Zhang – Rose Namajunas title fight will have several good options for a next challenger, and that’s assuming there isn’t an instant rematch. Meanwhile, Dern is young, has been very active since coming back from maternity hiatus, and continues to improve from fight to fight; her standup and takedowns may never be beautiful, but they’re undeniably effective. Waterson may never challenge for a UFC strawweight title, but she has only lost to the best of the best. Despite her nickname, she has been just as much a wrestling hottie as anything else in recent bouts, using her athleticism and smarts to push larger women around, and would be a fantastic test for Dern. Not to mention, the pre-fight promo reels would be full of adorable mom footage.
Daniel Rodriguez vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov: Yes, Mike Perry is a shell of himself, a parody of the guy who arrived in the UFC four years ago in an explosion of brutal knockouts and inappropriate behavior. It was still impressive to see the complete shellacking “D-Rod” laid on him in the UFC Vegas 23 main card opener. Rodriguez landed 36 head shots in the first round alone, and scarcely let up in the remaining two frames. By the end, Perry’s beleaguered nose was Arlovski-esque, and Rodriguez had made a statement; namely, that while it’s notoriously hard to get a Top 10 fight in the UFC welterweight division, he at least needs a step up from the Mike Perrys and Dwight Grants of the world. Nurmagomedov, who won a solid unanimous decision over Jared Gooden last week, is in a similar place. Both Rodriguez and Nurmagomedov have looked spectacular in their wins, but are dogged by a recent loss. Both feel a bit like prospects because of their relative newness to the UFC, but are on the far side of 30, laboring in a division in which it can take several years of work, with practically no room for error, even to show up on the fringes of the Top 15. Whoever won would get a nice boost in that direction.