Opinion: Plotting the UFC’s Return

By Anthony Walker Apr 14, 2020

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship was clearly determined to go forward with a banger of a card for UFC 249, even as the spread of COVID-19 effectively shut down the rest of the world. While the powers that be at ESPN parent company Disney decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, it’s almost certain that when the greenlight is given for the Octagon to resume normal operations, the promotion will attempt to put its best foot forward.

Instead of simply just lining up all the best names and slapping together one of those generic posters, let’s take into account the real possibility that the rest of the world hasn’t returned to complete normalcy and the wide-reaching scope of mixed martial arts might have to narrow just a bit in order to pull this off without any logistical mishaps.

White’s promise to reward the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino with a major event for its willingness to circumvent commission oversight means that Lemoore, California, will for at least one night relive its World Extreme Cagefighting glory days as a West Coast mecca for MMA. Considering that infrastructure is reportedly still being built on the secretive Fight Island, here’s an attempt at constructing the perfect card to get back to our normal routine of sanctioned fisticuffs.

Jamall Emmers vs. T.J. Brown: These two Dana White’s Contender Series alums recently made their Octagon debuts. While neither man broke into the win column, they impressed and entertained. This matchup screams of wild scrambles, kickboxing exchanges and fast-paced action. Sounds like the perfect way to kick off the festivities.

Alonzo Menifield vs. Devin Clark: This light heavyweight scrap was set to take place on May 2 in Oklahoma City. Despite the cancellation of that event, this fight can easily be moved to the Tachi Palace when considering the location of both men. Since they already had their sights set on one another, it makes sense that they meet on the prelims.

Julia Avila vs. Sijara Eubanks: Avila was also getting ready for a bout in Oklahoma City. Original opponent Karol Rosa may not be able to get stateside and would have to wait for the grand opening of Zuffa’s answer to Mortal Kombat. Eubanks also had the rug snatched away from her when UFC 249 was put on ice. Putting them together seems to make sense.

Roosevelt Roberts vs. Matt Frevola: There’s no reason to disrupt this interesting style clash, which was originally booked for April 25 in Lincoln, Nebraska. With their records close to identical and approaches that are almost complete opposites, it’s easy to imagine a dramatic ending.

Angela Hill vs. Cynthia Calvillo: Calvillo was originally targeting Antonia Shevchenko at the end of April. With the possibility of international travel restrictions still being an issue, Calvillo can look toward Hill to step up instead; and of course, when doesn’t Hill want to fight?

Chris Weidman vs. Derek Brunson: Weidman, the former middleweight champion, was more than willing to take a late-notice spot against either Edmen Shahbazyan or Yoel Romero. Instead, let’s set him up with Shahbazyan’s original opponent. Brunson would probably enjoy the chance to add a higher-profile name to his resume, and Weidman is dead set on returning to 185 pounds. It wouldn’t be farfetched for the two wrestlers to cancel one another out and swing for the fences.

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Bryce Mitchell vs. Charles Rosa: This is another pairing that would have gone down at Tachi Palace had UFC 249 not fallen through. Considering the excitement for which both men are known, there should be no shortages of jaw-dropping moments. Plus, if Mitchell wins, we can get a memorable post-fight speech about his COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Urijah Faber vs. John Dodson: While staging an event in a venue that played host to the WEC, it seems appropriate to feature the face of the franchise. Faber made his debut in the promotion at the Tachi Palace when he captured the featherweight belt. Had Dodson spent more time at 135 pounds, it feels almost certain that these two would have already met. Better late than never.

Ryan Hall vs. Ricardo Lamas: Not much explanation needed here. A fight in which Hall is one of the participants is must-watch TV, and Lamas’ blend of wrestling and brawling should play well with world-class jiu-jitsu and awkward setups. Yes, please.

Uriah Hall vs. Edmen Shahbazyan: This middleweight battle between Top 10 fighters could have serious implications for the future of the division. The undefeated Shahbazyan has been storming up the rankings since his UFC debut in 2018. Hall, meanwhile, has managed to hang on the fringes of contention with his last two wins. Between Hall’s habit of getting into strange fights and Shahbazyan’s knack for stunning knockouts, this would have the potential to be unforgettable.

Tyron Woodley vs. Colby Covington: The two former welterweight titleholders have been staring at each other from across the room for far too long. Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop them from throwing shots on social media and in interviews. It’s time to get this over with. With Leon Edwards likely stuck across the Atlantic and Jorge Masvidal appearing to set his sights on Kamaru Usman, it makes sense for the other American Top Team civil war to be settled.

Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz: Personally, I don’t like Cruz being awarded a title shot after a four-year layoff that came on the heels of a clear-cut loss. In a just world, Aljamain Sterling or Petr Yan would be standing in the blue corner. However, with the need for star power and fellow undeserving title contender Jose Aldo confined to Brazil, Cruz becomes a viable option. A former WEC champion getting the chance to win UFC gold again is a great way to add intrigue to the event.

Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal: There’s no need to sell anyone on the fight itself, as Masvidal has earned a title shot after a stellar 2019 campaign. If we’re returning to the normal fight week routine, having these two highlight the card with their fellow 170-pound elites on the same bill should be fun to watch. Usman, Masvidal, Woodley and Covington interacting in press conferences would be a spectacle to behold.

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