UFC Fight Night 174, also known as UFC Vegas 6, featured a couple of fan favorites making statements, as former middleweight champ Chris Weidman righted the ship—at least for now—and the ever-entertaining Derrick Lewis moved into sole possession of the record for most knockout wins in the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division.
However, for each feel-good story there is a corresponding tragedy, and for every fighter who survived and advanced, there is one who must go back to the drawing board. All is not lost, however; most of them, at least, will be back to fight another day. Here are some matchup ideas for Saturday’s main card losers:
Alexey Oleynik vs. Philipe Lins: It’s incredibly difficult to match up Oleynik right now. While he suffered a brutal knockout loss to Lewis on Saturday, he’s hardly alone in that regard, as “The Black Beast” now holds the record for KO/TKO wins in the UFC heavyweight division. The more pressing issue is that after getting knocked out just four times in the first 60 fights of his career, Oleynik has now been knocked out four times in his last eight, and all four were one-shot kills, savagely protracted beatings or some blend of the two. Despite being a chronically undersized and not especially athletic heavyweight for over two decades now, Oleynik had always been adept at avoiding the worst of his foes’ offense, but that seems to be fading.
If the 43-year-old “Boa Constrictor” wishes to keep fighting—and he has given no indication to the contrary—he needs to venture out of the top 15 for his next opponent. The true contenders in the UFC, such as Lewis, are simply too much for him now, and the lower reaches of the contender list, like Andrei Arlovski and Tanner Boser, are coming off of wins and finding dance partners in each other. Lins, who came into the UFC with some steam as the Professional Fighters League 2018 tournament champ only to fall to Arlovski and Boser in rapid succession, would be a suitable matchup.
Omari Akhmedov vs. Kelvin Gastelum: No, wait! Bear with me here. While Gastelum is the more recognizable name, as a fairly recent middleweight title challenger and a contender in two divisions, he is now riding a three-fight losing streak at middleweight and needs to look outside the top 10 for his next opponent. Akhmedov had a pretty miserable showing on Saturday, as he gassed out and was dominated on the ground late by Weidman, who came into the fight on a 1-5 skid. However, “Wolverine” had been on a six-fight unbeaten streak and the lone blemish, a majority draw against Marvin Vettori, should perhaps have been a win as well. The short version is that despite the disparity in name value, Akhmedov should probably be the higher-ranked middleweight right now, both men have losses to Weidman on their ledgers and the fight makes all kinds of sense. Do it.
Maki Pitolo vs. Zak Cummings–Alessio Di Chirico loser: Pitolo has had a rough run since earning a UFC roster spot through Dana White's Contender Series last summer, going 1-2 so far across two weight classes, with the only win coming against a 36-year-old Charles Byrd who had already lost two straight and retired immediately after their fight. Fortunately for “Coconut Bombz,” in the era of COVID-19, there is a different level of job security for fighters who can show up, make weight, get in the cage and put on a show, and middleweight Pitolo checks all those boxes. Cummings and former welterweight Di Chirico are scheduled to meet on Aug. 29 at UFC Fight Night 175 in a clash of dangerous fighters coming off of losses. Assuming the loser still has a job, he would be a fitting next opponent for Pitolo. Otherwise, let him meet the winner.
Julija Stoliarenko vs. Bethe Correia: The only Lithuanian in the UFC had a dismal outing on Saturday, losing all three rounds of the only really bad fight on the card. The immediate lesson is that Stoliarenko was at a serious disadvantage to Yana Kunitskaya—in strength as well as technique—that left her helpless to do anything about the clinch exchanges against the cage that seemed to take up 90 percent of the fight. The more general lesson is that she either gets a quick and easy armbar or she usually loses. Nonetheless, Stoliarenko came back to the Octagon on a five fight winning streak after her loss at the “TUF 28” finale, and figures to keep her job in the ultra-thin UFC bantamweight division. Assuming that is the case, Correia, who lost decisively to Pannie Kianzad a couple of weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, would be a suitable next opponent. While the matchup would be a step up for Stoliarenko in terms of name value and visibility, if Correia wants to keep fighting in the UFC, she badly needs a step down in competition, and at the very least the fight would offer a contrast in styles.
Scott Holtzman vs. Austin Hubbard–Joe Solecki loser: Holtzman had a difficult night at the UFC Apex on several levels. He faced his toughest opponent to date in Beneil Dariush, who missed weight but then proceeded to starch him with a spinning backfist in a “Knockout of the Year” candidate. That kind of result sends mixed signals that leave us wondering how much we really learned about the combatants involved. However, at worst “Hot Sauce” is a well-rounded fighter who has gone a quiet 7-4 in the UFC, beating the pretenders while losing to the contenders, with the exception of his win earlier this year over the ageless and resurgent Jim Miller. Hubbard and Solecki are scheduled to meet in two weeks at UFC on ESPN 15, in a matchup of lightweights with less tenure than Holtzman, but arguably more upside at this point. The loser will have something to prove, and so does Holtzman.