UFC Vegas 71 looked like a fantastic Fight Night card on paper, and it delivered on that promise quite well. Merab Dvalishvili firmly announced himself as a title contender with a dominant win over Petr Yan in the main event. While Alexander Volkov and Nikita Krylov shut the door on rising talent in their respective divisions.
So is there any way we could see Merab Dvalishvili fight again in 2023 if Sterling doesn’t lose? Is there a top-5 matchup out there for Volkov? And is Jonathan Martinez a dark horse at 135 pounds?
To answer these questions—and a few other things—I’m going to use the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of yesteryear. This means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent against each other. Hopefully, following this model, some of these period ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the games!
There may have been an almost unbelievable consistency in his pace and pressure on Saturday night, but there’s no denying that Merab Dvalishvili produced a career-defining performance against Petr Yan. “The Machine” put the pedal to the metal from the get-go, hammering Yan’s leg with low kicks and forcing the Russian to defend an endless stream of single and double legs. He combined it with more than 400 hits, landing with a success rate of better than 50%. No matter how you slice or dice it, the Team Serra-Longo fighter dominated one of the best bantamweights in the world like he had never dominated before.
Unfortunately, what exactly this means for Dvalishvili in the long run is much less clear. He and Aljamain Sterling seem to have the kind of relationship that is truly rare among elite fighters in the same division, meaning they absolutely will not fight each other regardless of the prize on the line. Sterling has said he would move up to featherweight and drop his belt for Dvalishvili (an unprecedented move for a reigning UFC champion). Meanwhile, Dvalishvili seems willing to sit on the sidelines in the prime of his career and wait to see what Sterling does first. A fight between Dvalishvili and O’Malley would make a lot of sense at this point if either was interested in staying busy. Otherwise, the Georgian will just have to wait and see if Henry Cejudo or the ‘Sugar Show’ can upset his BFF and create a path to the belt for him. It’s either that or Sterling is as bigoted as he claims to be.
That must sting for “No Mercy.” In his 8+ year, 21 fight career, no man has ever truly “beat” Petr Yan. Sure, he’s taken a few losses, but every one a split decision (and that DQ of course). There was never a fight that Yan walked away from where neither he nor his fans could claim some sort of victory. Not until now. Yan has always been a fighter who likes to progress through attack modes. Which means there’s always a chance he’ll get stuck in one mode and be denied the ability to create another. This is exactly what Dvalishvili did. He set the pace so high and the wrestling attacks so steady, that Yan was never able to get past the pure counter-puncher stage. No time to establish his jab, and he had absolutely zero chance of pressure.
He’s still only 30, so there’s no reason to think he’s just finished as a top contender. But this might be a point where he has to ask himself what he can change with his game to win a match like this. Whatever the answer, it’s doubtful it will be easy. Meanwhile, Song Yadong and Ricky Simon have a match. The winner of this looks like he would be ideally placed to challenge Yan on the road to contender status. The winner of Petr Yan vs. Song/Simon would be another top elite fight for the Tiger Muay Thai mainstay.
I thought Alexander Volkov would be able to rally against Alexandr Romanov after surviving some strong damage early, but things didn’t even get that far. Volkov made the first effort with a single leg, began attacking Romanov’s doughy midsection with kicks, then laid him down heavy on a low single. After that it was all GnP for Volkov. To the point where Romanov looked more like he wanted out of the match than anything. Whatever sparked the Moldovan’s performance, it was an excellent display of Volkov’s continued venom as a top-level fighter at 265.
That being the case, and given the number of top UFC heavyweights he’s already fought, finding a next booking for the Russian may be difficult. Could he have a rematch with Cyril Gane or Ty Tuivasa or Sergey Spivak? The other obvious choice would be a rematch against Derrick Lewis. Unfortunately, Lewis is on a three game losing streak and may need a bigger step back. I already suggested Gane vs. Spivak last week, so I’m going to go ahead and say a Volkov vs. Ty Tuivasa fight. Even after a few losses, Tuivasa always comes out on top. It should be a thriller.
It wasn’t even Nikita Krylov’s wrestling that turned out to be a death sentence for Ryan Spann out there, but the wrestling was a big problem. Spann did well to fight through the takedowns, and get on top himself, but the more he messed with ‘Miner’ the more opportunities he left open, until he jumped right into a triangle choke. A big win for Krylov to keep him clear of the top 10 heavyweight conversation.
Considering Krylov said he wanted to take some time off after that last win, I think Aleksandar Rakic would make a very ideal matchup. The Austrian is currently recovering from a torn ACL. This should mean that Krylov can get a nice long break and return to the Octagon against a top-5 opponent. Krylov vs. Rakic is a great elite LHW booking.
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