UFC on ESPN 15 featured several major underdogs defying the odds, including—mathematically, at least—the biggest upset in Ultimate Fighting Championship history.
What that means for this column is that we find ourselves matchmaking for several fighters unexpectedly coming off of losses, but that’s where the fun lies. With one possible exception, this doesn’t look to be the end for any of the losers, so let’s figure out where they go from here. These are some possible matchups for the UFC Vegas 7 main card losers:
Pedro Munhoz vs. Jose Aldo: Saturday’s loss had to sting for “The Young Punisher.” Going into his main event tilt against the ageless Frankie Edgar, Munhoz’s UFC record stood at 8-4 with one no-contest. The four losses had all been to Top 10 fighters, all ranked above himself, all had been by decision—two of them split decisions—and with the exception of his UFC debut against Raphael Assuncao in 2014, all had been very competitive. Munhoz had been bubbling along right underneath the logjam at the very top of the division, within striking distance of the belt once that logjam resolved itself, and an impressive win over former lightweight champ Edgar would be an excellent line on the résumé. Munhoz entered the Octagon as a nearly 3-to-1 favorite.
Instead of a win bonus and an inside track on a title shot in 2021, Munhoz finds himself the recipient of a “Fight of the Night” bonus and his third split decision loss in the UFC, one which, if not an outright robbery, was certainly controversial. What Munhoz needs now is a matchup with a Top 15 bantamweight, preferably one coming off a loss. While rematches with Assuncao or John Dodson are out there to be made, Munhoz is frankly in a better place than either of those two, competitively speaking. Meanwhile Aldo, whose three-fight losing streak belies just how competitive he has been against Marlon Moraes and Petr Yan since dropping to 135 pounds, would be a very suitable opponent.
Marcin Prachnio vs. Isaac Villanueva: Obviously, there is every likelihood that Prachnio’s third straight first-round TKO loss marks the end of his UFC tenure. However, the UFC’s roster moves have become more inscrutable than ever in the era of COVID-19, so if he gets one more shot at a win in the Octagon, set him up with fellow pink slip candidate Villanueva, who lost via doctor stoppage TKO on the prelims. “Hurricane Ike” has suffered back-to-back first-round TKOs since signing with the UFC this summer, but considering that one was at heavyweight on five days’ notice and the other was due to a hideous cut in 90 seconds, the former Fury Fighting Championship light heavyweight champ might be able to make a case that he hasn’t truly been able to show what he can do yet.
Austin Hubbard vs. Lando Vannata: The jury is still out on whether “Thud” belongs in the UFC right now, to be blunt. He has alternated wins and losses since his debut last spring, and both of the people he beat were cut immediately afterward. However, other than on Saturday night, when Joe Solecki took his back standing and choked him out in three minutes, Hubbard has been competitive in his losses while delivering solid entertainment.
Another man who knows a little something about alternating wins and losses in the Octagon while delivering solid entertainment is Vannata, who has done precisely that—with a couple of draws thrown in—for four years now, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 173 a few weeks ago. Vannata, whose best Octagon performances are still his first two UFC fights all the way back in 2016, is reaching the prove-it stage himself. At the very least, it would be a fun one.
Mariya Agapova vs. Ji Yeon Kim–Alexa Grasso loser: It has been a rough month or so for next-big-things in the UFC. Edmen Shahbazyan took the first loss of his career a couple of weeks ago courtesy of Derek Brunson, while Sean O’Malley has traded “Sugar” for salt in the wake of his TKO loss to Marlon Vera last Saturday, making it clear in interviews that he still believes Vera is not in his same class. Agapova, who went into Saturday’s main card tilt against Shana Dobson as high as a -1600 favorite, was pounded out in the second round, making her the biggest betting favorite ever to lose in the Octagon. Agapova’s loss resembled an even worse version of Shahbazyan’s, as she threw caution—and pacing—to the wind in a wild first round, then seemed completely unprepared to deal with an opponent who weathered that storm.
Even if she needs to go back to the drawing board, Agapova is far from ruined goods; the 23-year-old is still a powerful, athletic young woman with impressive offensive weaponry in all phases of MMA. However, the problem with calling out a 3-4 fighter and then losing to her is that it is very difficult to find an appropriate next opponent. That simply means that Agapova’s next foe is likely to be more accomplished—on paper, at least—than Dobson. "Fire Fist" Kim welcomes former Invicta FC and UFC strawweight standout Grasso to the flyweight division next weekend at UFC Fight Night 175. The loser would be a suitable matchup for Agapova, and hey—if it happens to be Grasso, they can bond over having to rebuild after being prematurely earmarked for stardom.
Dwight Grant vs. Randy Brown: Since signing with the UFC off of Dana White's Contender Series in 2018, Grant’s Octagon tenure has been the very picture of balance. A split decision win over Alan Jouban that he maybe should have lost is balanced by a split decision loss to Zak Ottow that he definitely should have won, and a wild first-round knockout of Carlo Pedersoli Jr. in a fight he had been losing is now balanced by a wild first-round knockout loss to Daniel Rodriguez, barely a minute after he looked to be close to finishing Rodriguez. Through it all, Grant has been thoroughly fun to watch, but now finds himself balanced at 2-2 in the UFC.
Brown, who succumbed to an absolutely brutal standing knee and punches from Vicente Luque three weeks ago on the Brunson-Shahbazyan main card, would make for a fantastic next opponent. With that loss, Brown has come out at the bottom of the de facto round-robin conducted between himself, Luque and Niko Price over the last two years or so, and in so doing, has cast himself as a reliable action fighter rather than a serious Top 10 contender. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, however. Brown’s highlight reel—as both the deliverer and receiver of violence—is one of the richest in the welterweight division, and looks a lot like Grant’s own reel will probably look in a couple of years. Let them collaborate on it.
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