Matches to Make After UFC Fight Night 223
UFC Fight Night 223 attracted buzz for all the wrong reasons, with many using it as a bellwether for the decline of Ultimate Fighting Championship main events and cards as a whole, which I've noticed and written about for the past three years. Regardless, the main event was grappler, Mackenzie Dern, versus always tough Angela Hill at women's strawweight.
Dern came into the contest desperately needing a win, as she had lost 2 of her last 3, and most, myself included think it should have been 3 out of 3. After losing a unanimous decision to Brazilian striker Marina Rodriguez, she won a highly controversial split decision over Tecia Torres that most had for “The Tiny Terror,” including all three of Sherdog's scorers. After that, she lost again versus Xiaonan Yan. In a sign of how quickly fortunes can change in fighting, Dern was a big -250 favorite against her foe, before losing via majority decision. Yan is now one of the first names mentioned as the next challenger for the strawweight crown.
Hill, meanwhile, had been enjoying a nice resurgence. After losing 5 of 6 fights, some of them tantalizingly close split decisions that could well have gone her way, many wrote off Hill, who is currently 38 years old. However, Hill responded by winning back-to-back decisions as an underdog over solid foes in Lupita Godinez and Emily Ducote.
While Hill managed to win Round 2 by keeping it on the feet, Dern dominated the fight whenever she got takedowns, mercilessly abusing her opponent with ground-and-pound and deep submission attempts. Hill survived to the final bell, but Dern inflicted multiple 10-8 rounds en route to a lopsided, unanimous decision triumph.
In the co-main, Edmen Shahbazyan battled Anthony Hernandez. Shahbazyan was one of the most hyped fighters in all of MMA for most of 2020, with the then 22 year-old recording a beautiful head kick knockout of ranked contender Brad Tavares in just under half a round early that year. With a perfect record of 11-0, he seemed destined for a title shot soon. However, after three straight brutal losses, two by stoppage, and all featuring Shahbazyan gassing before being brutalized by ground-and-pound, the hype was gone, with the Armenian wisely taking a year off from fighting. He returned in late 2022 with a second-round knockout of dangerous Dalcha Lungiambula. There was no such hype around Hernandez, though he found himself a significant favorite for the affair. Hernandez had won three fights in a row in the UFC, including one as a giant +400 underdog against then undefeated Rodolfo Vieira. After submitting Vieira, one of the best grapplers in the world, Hernandez decisioned Josh Fremd and then tapped Marc-Andre Barriault.
Unfortunately, old demons returned to haunt Shahbazyan. After looking terrific in the first half a round, landing at will and hurting Hernandez, he couldn't handle the insane pace that his foe was fighting at. Hernandez took over at the end of the first round, tortured Shahbazyan throughout Round 2 with submission attempts that turned his face red and vicious ground-and-pound, and then finished him early in Round 3. Another highly impressive performance from the 29 year-old Hernandez, who is still improving.
Here are the few interesting fights that can be made after this card:
Mackenzie Dern vs. Virna JandirobaNo. 8 ranked Dern has fought a lot of those ranked ahead of her, and one rematch that would be very interesting would be her facing No. 6 Virna Jandiroba. Both are arguably the two best BJJ practitioners at women's strawweight, but their first encounter was a highly entertaining, toe-to-toe striking battle. If that happens again, it would certainly make the crowd happy. However, if there is more grappling this time, that would be fascinating, too. It's also an important ranking battle in the division, as the winner would keep some title hopes alive while the loser would remain a solid ranked foe, but likely be relegated to gatekeeper status.
Angela Hill vs. Luana PinheiroNo. 14 Hill may have lost, but she is still a tough veteran who can defeat a prospect who is lacking. With that in mind, it would be great to see her against fellow striker and No. 13 Luana Pinheiro, who is coming off a very controversial split decision over Michelle Waterson-Gomez that the vast majority felt she lost. Can Hill spring yet another upset against a younger foe? Will Pinheiro prove her striking chops and continue rising up the rankings? Regardless, this could be a fun back-and-forth stand-up war.
Anthony Hernandez vs. Jack HermanssonHermansson may be ranked No. 10, but he's been in a tailspin recently, having lost 4 of his last 6 (one of his two wins was also over Shahbazyan,) with the most recent being stopped by Roman Dolidze's ground-and-pound. It would be great to see Hernandez, who has now won 4 in a row, face a ranked contender, and with those ranked 11th to 15th all being unavailable for one reason or another, Hermansson makes a lot of sense, especially since he could use a win himself. Stylistically, this could be a fight of the night, as both men are terrific grapplers who compete at a furious pace, are always looking for a finish, and don't mind trading plenty of leather. Being an important encounter to assess Hernandez's potential and entertaining on paper, this would be a good one to book.
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