Despite limping across the finish line with just four fights, the main card of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 173 had plenty at stake. Edmen Shahbazyan carried his undefeated record and next-big-thing status into the Octagon against Derek Brunson in the main event, while in the co-main, Joanne Calderwood risked her flyweight title shot in a perilous matchup against Jennifer Maia. Both suffered setbacks on Saturday, but all is not lost; it’s simply time to figure out what’s next.
Here are some matchup ideas for Saturday’s main card losers:
Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Brendan Allen: It appears Shahbazyan’s coronation as the future of the middleweight division may have been a bit hasty, but it would be equally premature to dismiss him as runaway hype, as his UFC record still stands at 4-1 with three first-round finishes. However, his liabilities have now been laid bare: While “The Golden Boy” is a dynamic athlete, he was at a clear strength disadvantage against Brunson; and win or lose, his gas tank has been a problem both times he was forced to go beyond the first round.
What the 22-year-old prospect needs is an opponent who can let him pace himself for the possibility that he doesn’t land a knockout blow in the first two minutes, without being too much of a step back from his previous victims Brad Tavares and Jack Marshman. My initial thought was Gerald Meerschaert, who finds himself suddenly in need of a fight, but that may not line up considering that “GM3” probably wants to fight as soon as possible. On our Sherdog radio recap show after the event, co-host Keith Shillan suggested Meerschaert’s young Roufusport teammate Allen, who won a tough fight against Kyle Daukaus just a couple of weeks ago. That sounds more like it.
Joanne Calderwood vs. Molly McCann: You have to feel for “JoJo” at least a little bit. She elected to take a fight rather than wait for her presumptive title challenge against Valentina Shevchenko—keep in mind that outside of a select few, most fighters don’t have the luxury of turning down a paycheck—and saw everything come crashing down, courtesy of a first-round armbar by Jennifer Maia. While it’s hard to escape the sneaking feeling that Calderwood’s best chance to fight for a belt might have flown on Saturday, what concerns us here is where she goes next. The difficulty there is that many of the fighters in the No. 10-15 range at flyweight either have fought her already (Andrea Lee) or are teammates and friends such as Roxanne Modafferi. “Meatball Molly,” on the other hand, is ranked roughly the same as Calderwood and is also coming off a loss. If the world is back to anything approaching normal by the end of the year, the fact that both women are from the UK also offers intriguing possibilities for a booking there.
Randy Brown vs. Nicolas Dalby: After Saturday’s brutal knockout by Vicente Luque, “Rudeboy” has now placed third in the informal yet extremely violent round-robin that played out between Luque, Niko Price and himself over the last couple of years. At 30 years of age and 5-4 in the UFC, Brown may never be much more than he is right now: a physical matchup problem for almost every welterweight in the UFC, who is dangerous everywhere but also defensively susceptible everywhere. Aside from the whole 6-foot-3 part, that could also describe Dalby, who lost a first-round stunner to Jesse Ronson last week in Abu Dhabi, to dampen the feel-good story of his return to the Octagon. Both men put on relentlessly entertaining fights and both want to prove they’re more than just another guy on the roster. Sounds like a recipe for fun.
Lando Vannata vs. Davi Ramos: Along with Randa Markos, Vannata may be the only fighter currently on UFC roster to reach 10 Octagon appearances without winning or losing back-to-back fights. In other words, the only thing Vannata has consistently delivered in the UFC is entertainment, which is not a bad thing. It was a bad thing, however, to drop a clear-cut decision to Bobby Green on Saturday night after their first fight ended in a split draw, especially as Vannata appeared to be out-strategized and out-adjusted by Green, who is himself one of the most inconsistent fighters in the UFC. If the “Groovy” one wants to find a groove other than alternating wins and losses for the next few years, the time is now. Ramos, who was blanked by Arman Tsarukyan at UFC Fight Night 172 a couple of weeks ago, finds himself in a similar place. At the very least, they’ll be in the running for a postfight bonus.
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